Part 1 – Cadets
Chapter 2 – Love your Neighbours
As they were leaving the mess after dinner, Ephraim almost fell into the cadet in front of him who had bent down to touch the cabin wall.
‘It’s leaking,’ the boy turned round, ‘the whole place is a sieve!’
‘Ice box as well,’ said Ephraim, ‘Place needs proper heating.’
The cadet straightened up to look at a painting of Nelson at Copenhagen above him. There were other paintings of naval battles strategically placed around the wooden walls.
‘God! I hope I get the chance of a battle!’
Ephraim winced at the ‘God’, but as he saw it was the cadet who had produced the coin from his ear earlier, he thought he might start the neighbour commandment here:
‘I haven’t come for battles. My name is Browne’ and he held out his hand, ‘I rather fancy a bit of sightseeing in far off places. Actually’, his voice dropped, ‘ I don’t fancy anything much. I’m getting out of this as soon as I can persuade my father to let me go. I say what school did you go to? I suppose you went to a Crammer?’
The Cadet’s eyes left the picture and turned to Ephraim,
‘Good to meet you, Browne, I’m Sebold, Charles Sebold, Marlborough and Stubbington.’
‘I believe that was a good one.’
‘Alright if you didn’t get the wrong side of Fellingham,’ Sebold laughed.
‘My father crammed me. Don’t know many people here.’
‘That’s alright, I know a couple – wish I didn’t!
‘Who are they?’
‘Staines and Stollman.’ Sebold laughed again. ‘Stollman is the one you head butted. I was standing just behind you. You should have chosen someone else.’
‘That was an accident,’ protested Ephraim.
‘Don’t reckon he thinks so.’
‘Come along young gentlemen, – we don’t want any laggards. First things first if you want to look round your Training Ship.’ Jeffries was rounding up the cadets.
‘In this weather?’ Bowen was looking at the snow flakes, now drifting across the deck, ‘It’ll be blowing a blizzard soon!’
‘Do you think you are here to be pampered and coddled, mister? This is a training ship, not a picnic party. A bit of snow ‘aint going to hurt you and if you get blown overboard, well, that’s just for starters.’
Jeffries led the gathered cadets down the ‘best to go backwards’ accommodation ladders till they reached the stern of the lower gun deck. He pointed out cabins for studies and a larger space for the cadets’ mess room.
‘Just like school classrooms really,’ declared a disappointed voice.
‘Not quite. Think of the guns that used to be fired through these ports! A galley in front as you see, and a mess room and cabins for the men and seamen instructors who look after the ship.’ Then it was up to the middle deck which held the officers’ ward room and the French study, ‘Don’t want to know about that!’ Stollman screeched, but when they came to the fine exception of the seamanship study, the large space ranged across the deck, equipped with a model of a fully rigged man of war and various other sailing ships; sextants and navigational equipment laid out, ropes and knots and sails on display, benches and tables lay ready for use, their imagination was caught.
‘Can’t wait to have a go at these things!’
‘Look at this ship.’
‘What do you do with that?’
‘Don’t touch yet,’ commanded Jeffries. It was exciting, even Ephraim felt the attraction of this new esoteric knowledge.
‘Hey, not so bad!’ cried Stollman.
With growing enthusiasm, the cadets moved up to the main deck and were awed by the impressive captain’s quarter in the after part of the ship, with its big glass window and carved, decorated wood work bow. The captain had a day cabin, a dining cabin, a sleeping cabin and spare cabins for guests, also another small study adjacent.
‘For waiting offenders,’ groaned Bowen. Ephraim noted the sick bay at the fore end – perhaps some peace and quiet there. A drawing study and two other cabins under the poop for the evening recreation held under the dubiously watchful eye of a cadet captain, were also there. Finally, corporal Jeffries introduced them to the icon of the Training Ship: the 30ft jury rigged, main mast.
The cadets gazed up at the lofty spars and yards now juddering and shifting in the rising winter storm. The corporal explained that the topmast would be a destination to be achieved every morning before breakfast in practice for evolutions, the mainstay of shipboard life. Since this was their first day, and the weather was unusually bad, he would leave explanation of evolutions and appropriate drill until tomorrow. He would just say that first term had to climb the ratlines to the cross trees of the lower masts which provided the futtock platform, and second term were expected to get all the way up to the truck.
‘Tomorrow you will have the chance to try your hand – and your feet – at the futtocks.’ Ephraim had already heard at Paddington how all decent cadets were expected to climb over the futtock shrouds and not through the ‘landlubber’s hole’. Gail had heard that it was like climbing almost upside down!’ It gave him the jitters.
By now the cadets had had enough. It was getting cold. They wanted to get to their mess room and have the tea and plum cake they had heard promised. But the redhead who had tried to stand up to Stollman, looked up at the swaying mast and rigging and fearfully asked,
‘Corporal, do we have to climb in all weathers, won’t the ship pitch and toss too much?’
‘Bless you Mister Gail, you ‘ave to climb even if you fall off and end up in ‘eaven’!’
William Gail thought being sea sick as bad enough for a prospective naval officer, but he hadn’t reckoned on being frightened of climbing as well, until he saw the mast. It had sounded good in books but now it looked terrifying. It was going to be impossible! He knew he would have nightmares about it. What a dunderhead he was.
‘Oh, what a jelly,
To choose a career
Without a strong belly
And live in fear
Of climbing the tops
With a belly of slops
Too easily spread
In fatal wreck
Upon the deck.’
And why did he keep wanting to put everything into verse? Well rhyme, anyway. He must stop it. He’d always done it, but what would the fellows say if they knew! Anyway, he already loved this ship. He loved its dank, sea salt smell; the way it rode on the water complaining and creaking with every impertinent wave, its small hatchways with their little accommodation ladders, the tight, cosy private cradle of a hammock and a sea chest to oneself – and what a lark to be away from all those siblings! Anyway, it was true, it was the nautical life he wanted despite the seasickness and climbing, and after all had not Nelson himself suffered from sea sickness all his life? He would be another Nelson.
The cadets shivered now, snowflakes were starting to whip at eyes and ears, ‘Not always like this’, said corporal Jeffries as he escorted them hurriedly back to the mess, ‘The estuary is relatively sheltered but it sure is a wild winter we are having this year.’
‘Does it always smell like this?’ a laconic, peeved voice came from Fitzmaurice.
‘Bless you, young sir, you mean that wonderful musty, fusty perfume you get with ‘er Majesty’s ancient vessels.’
‘I mean that constant, damp, stink that’s everywhere. Makes me want to throw up!’
‘You’ll find more than that to make you throw up before you’re finished, Mister.’
Jeffries gave his final instructions: ‘Right gentlemen, I hope you benefited from that and are now ready to get off to a good start at crack sparrows’ tomorrow morning. Now to the mess for a bit of relaxation and tea. Get to know each other. The senior terms will leave you alone there. I’ll see to that. Make the most of it.’
As they exercised their unready sea legs and felt their way along the bulwarks and down the ladders the inclement weather made several of the cadets feel queasy. Gail thought he would throw up before he got to the mess. The sound of the small arms, rattling in the racks, excited Polwhele. Ephraim rather liked the comforting creak of the old timbers.
Assembled in the mess, they quizzed each other,
‘Where did you come from?’
‘What school did you go to?…’
‘Who are your people?….’
‘I’m not sure I’ve got ‘people’,’ Ephraim said to Sebold, ‘My father was a naval instructor till he left the Navy and became a Minister. Now he instructs at the Taunton Dissenting Academy. My mother died when I was born. I only had father and my tutor, but quality over quantity – they are brilliant. I didn’t need a crammer.’
‘Lord, I did!’ laughed Polwhele.
Some like Bowen wanted to familiarize themselves with the ship’s routine and were quietly studying the notice boards and reading up instructions. Stollman was indulging in some rowdy horse play with his new cronies, while others like Ephraim were ready for some privacy, a moment of peace, he wanted a chance to get back to Newman and forget all this. He was reading the Apologia – exciting reading for a young evangelical. Gail was keeping a wary eye on Stollman. Did the horror have a welcoming arm round one of them or was it some new torture? He had been reading ‘The Three Midshipmen’ and now thought of Stollman as ‘bully Pigeon’. He found a seat near Browne who looked safe. He was glad when they were joined by two other boys who looked much older and bigger than he was.
‘Hello, Browne,’ Charles Sebold turned to Gail, ‘We haven’t met, have we? Sebold, Stubbingtons and Marlborough.’ There was something patrician in the older Cadet that made the young Gail feel honoured in his presence.
‘W, William Gail,’ he stammered, ‘Southsea and Winchester.’ He wished it had been Marlborough.
A third cadet came up and plumped himself down beside them.
‘Mason, John – Eastmans and Winchester.’ Gail was happy to see one of his own.
Mason was a solid, happy looking fellow. He clapped Ephraim on the shoulder.
‘Cheer up old fellow, you look a bit down in the mouth. Missing home already? Soon get used to it.’
Ephraim was affronted. He hated to be touched and he hated even more to be patronized. What right had Mason to be so familiar? Was his father in trade? No sooner had he been accosted by Mason than another confident cadet approached. He addressed Sebold,
‘I say, it’s Sebold isn’t it? I remember you from Stubbingtons.’
‘I remember you, James – how could I ever forget? That last winning six against Eastmans!’
Soon Sebold and James Fraser were in animated discussion about Stubbingtons reminiscing about masters:
‘Remember that one who threw a Bible at Smithson and cut his head, said he ‘would teach him not to know Jesus’! I had to give him my handkerchief to soak up all the blood!’
‘Remember old Froggie who tried to teach us to dance Sur le Ponte and ended up in tears and we all had to miss dinner and had to run round the grounds for hours instead. Still, he got us through the exam. I bet you did well in the list, Sebold.’
‘Not bad, number four.’
Fraser looked at Browne, ‘I say, what number did you come in?’
‘Well, number one actually – don’t suppose it will last,’ he added in placation.
‘That was pretty good. I was number 22 – hope it won’t last!’
Ephraim did not bother to point out that having never been to a crammer or a school, he had no instructors to talk about besides Mr Moulton and his father. The conversation moved on.
Amongst all the similar accents from the South of England, a new one could be heard.
‘Hey, Polwhele!’ someone shouted, ‘Didn’t know you were coming up from the Styx into this elite of distinguished men. What did we do to deserve this?’
Polwhele swung round and threw himself at the speaker. Not expecting such a response, the speaker was knocked off his feet but before he could regain his balance and the use of his fists, corporal Jeffries was at his side, a restraining hand on his arm, ‘Now, now, Mister, ’tis only the first day, we save all the fighting till later….’ Polwhele glowered, but the sound of a bell removed any further action,
‘Eight bells, gentlemen, time for tea. A bit more time after that for you to relax as it is still your first day, then time to turn in.’
By that time, the new cadets were only too glad to scramble their way back to the Hustan although it was more difficult to negotiate the ladders down to the sleeping deck when the ship was listing to the incoming tide and a fellow hadn’t got his sea legs. As he manoeuvred himself backwards down the first hatchway Ephraim felt a kick on his shin. He knew it was Stollman but would not acknowledge it. Stollman greeted him at the bottom with a grin.
‘Ablutions!’ a corporal called from the deck head. ‘Attention, oh yes!’
It was Melrose again. He was standing at the shower heads, by the bathing place with its large roses to accommodate all. ‘Misters must keep themselves clean and healthy, oh yes. I refer you to Admiralty manual and regulations. You will be rostered for a hot bath at regular intervals, oh yes, no excuse for filth, till then you can all enjoy the effects of a cold shower on your predilections.’
‘What does he mean?’ Gail whispered to Bowen.
‘Means you can’t do nothing when you’re frozen to death.’
There was a movement to the front where the cold shower heads hung. Ephraim took care to keep away from Stollman’s large and flabby frame. He installed his own lean body at the end under the hose, enjoying the sense of cleanliness even if the sea water was freezing. Gail also made sure ‘bully Pigeon’ was at the far end.
‘Paradise! Warm water,’ thought Ephraim, remembering the water jugs kept on his night stand by the faithful Lizzie at home. Then it was time for him to pull down his hammock and arrange his habitation. After a couple of tip outs, he got himself comfortably set and found the intermittent swinging provided by the storm soothing. He was pleased to find the helpful Bowen next to him on one side and the inoffensive young Gail on the other. He cursed his lack of foresight in not having secreted the Apologia into his hammock beforehand. He’d just got to Newman’s conversion at fifteen – same ideas as his,’Two luminously self-evident beings, God and himself,’ – he could not climb out now to ferret in his sea chest. Gail was also a reader, tonight he wanted his Three Midshipmen, but the book was in his chest and the three midshipmen would have to stay threatened by the crocodile for a bit longer.
Cadets were tired and after a little desultory talk, the deck became quiet. They lay peacefully in the safety of the ship, listening to the growing storm outside. Hammocks rocked satisfactorily. Ephraim settled down. Of course, he would normally have knelt at his bedside for his evening prayers, but you couldn’t do that here, God would not expect it, a private prayer in his hammock would be quite acceptable. Peace reigned.
It was broken by a sudden shout.
Heads turned in hammocks.
‘What the blazes is he doing?’ ‘Who?’ ‘What? ‘Where?’
A cadet was on his knees.
‘We don’t want any of that here!’ Stollman’s boot crashed across the room, he reached for a second. One or two other cadets joined in the fun; the praying cadet was hit by a boot, that caught him on the temple; he picked it up and hurled it back.
‘Right, that’s enough! You’ll bring the corporal,’ Sebold restrained the praying cadet and wiped the blood from his forehead. ‘Shut up the rest of you and get some sleep. We’ve got to be up that mast in the morning.’ They saw the sense in that and peace returned. But Ephraim was shocked. He was shocked that the cadets could behave like that to a man at prayer, and he was shocked to find that that man was the over familiar, least gentlemanly, Mason!
There were strange sounds coming from the hammock next to him and a muffled movement under the blanket.
‘Are you alright, Gail?’
‘Yes, sorry Browne. It’s this frightful wind, I can’t stop hearing it. I can’t keep my hammock still. I’m going to be sick. I don’t know what to do. I’ll throw up before I get to the heads. I’ll have to use my wash bowl. Can you help me out of my hammock, Browne, and I’ll get it.’ There was a sound of retching.
‘You stay there, I’ll get your wash bowl.’
Ephraim fell out of his hammock just in time to get Gail’s bowl and hand it up to him. Gail vomited into it.’
‘Oh thank you Browne.’
‘Is that it? Will there be any more?’
‘Perhaps, just a little – I didn’t eat too much.’
‘You’d better have mine as well, then,’ said Browne and got his own bowl out of his chest.
‘It’s horrible. I’m scared what will I do with them after?’
‘Give them to me – I’ll wash them out.’
‘Oh Browne, you are good!’
The sound of retching continued for a while accompanied by the suspicious sounds of a sob. Ephraim could not attempt sleep. He lay and listened until an empty belly quieted the distressed Gail. A couple of other cadets crept out to the heads but eventually all were asleep. Ephraim slid out of his hammock and took the bowls of vomit to the heads and scrubbed them clean. He was pleased with himself. He thought this was what Jesus would have done; God would be pleased. The storm gradually made its way out to sea, the ship stilled, the hammocks ceased to rock, and Jeffries made sure that no second termers would molest their first night on the Training Ship.