Part 2 – Midshipmen
Chapter 2 – The Flying Squadron
Their Lordships in their wisdom decided that Sebold and Ephraim were not to go to the ironclad warship after all, but to a frigate. Sebold was annoyed and disillusioned, what had happened to his father’s influence? Ephraim did not care, he was still ambivalent about a future in the Navy. He did not think the type of ship would make much difference to his decision about whether to stay in the Navy or not, and he had already marked the arbitrariness of their Lordships.
The two Midshipmen were on the train to Portsmouth where the Thebe awaited them, ‘At least, she looks a fine frigate,’ said Sebold, mollified by consulting the Illustrated London News spread on his lap.
‘In that case, she should get a good posting,’ said Ephraim. He was looking out of the window and wondering how much difference a good posting might make to his final decision. He was older now and there were options: his uncle had been talking of an opening in Coutts Bank, he had even thought about the church, there were rumours of a new Dissenting college opening in Honiton, but perhaps after all, the Mediterranean would be more exciting? No, he would just give himself a few more months to take whatever happened as from the Lord, and then make up his mind finally. He had gone with his father to hear Charles Spurgeon speak in London and been much moved. He wondered if he also might not receive a call. That would make a difference.
When they got to Portsmouth, there was a muddle with their sea chests which had got lost. They were only found after a great deal of trouble in which a gentleman, travelling down with them had helped and got the chests into a wherry to take them over to the ship in the crowded harbour. He even refused to let them pay. Sebold was impressed,
‘Captain Cole was right, the Royal Navy is beginning to earn respect in the populace,’ he said with satisfaction as he watched his dunnage being taken aboard.
‘I don’t know about that,’ said Ephraim, thinking of the three bluejackets he had seen making an insecure and noisy way back to their ship with a floozy on each arm.
When they arrived in Thebe, no one took any notice of them; there were very few of the crew already on board but the First Lieutenant accosted them.
‘Oh, it’s you two,’ he said, ‘You can take the middle watch,’ and he went off down the deck with an armful of papers to sort out his other problems.
‘A fine welcome!’ said Ephraim looking after him.
‘Where is everybody?’ Sebold was querulous. ‘We need a rest if we are going to have to stand the middle watch. What about our dunnage? It’s just dumped on the deck.’
‘Doesn’t look as if there is going to be much to watch anyway. Perhaps we need not bother, leave the baggage here….I say, look at this!’ He was peering over the deck, a ship’s pinnace had arrived with a couple of officers seated in it. They saw the First Lieutenant step in and the Blue Jackets row him off to the shore.
‘Oh well, then,’ said Sebold and he stretched out on some sails lying on the deck.
‘Don’t do that, Seb. Orders are orders. We can’t ignore them, just walk around the deck for a bit.’
‘You can, I’m not.’
‘Don’t be stupid. We might get into trouble.’
‘Do it by yourself then, if you’re frit.’
‘I’m not frit, I just think it is right to obey orders.’
Sebold lay back and shut his eyes, ‘You obey them.’
Ephraim was shocked. This was not like Charles. What was the matter with him? Was he sulking because he wasn’t in the Chester?
‘Oh well, I’ll do it,’ said Ephraim.
He started off to do the rounds of the quiet ship. It was almost dark. The daily sounds of the harbour were ceasing as twilight muffled the evening. The oily, murky water was sucking against the hull. The deck rocked gently. He encountered no one. When he got back, Sebold was asleep. Ephraim sat beside him on the sails to think, it had been a long day, his eyes closed.
It was the sparkle of water on waves which woke them, shining slant into their eyes. Sunlight covered everything in this newly minted world. The harbour was coming to life.
‘Shake a leg there!’ an ancient Petty officer stood over them, ‘Get off them sails, you young ‘uns’ and don’t let it ‘appen again!’
They scrambled anxiously to their feet. It was all happening too fast! Pipes were shrieking, bells were ringing, seamen hammered away at shrouds and clews, blue jackets sluiced the deck making the Midshipmen jump out of their way, Spithead wherries, and bumboats dashed around the harbour carrying provisions and laundry out to the ships at anchor; officers hailed each other, arriving in gigs and cutters, and clattered their baggage along the gangways. The Pinnace brought the first Lieutenant back, the Commander arrived to be piped aboard. Where was the Captain?
Having managed to deposit baggage and find their berth in the steerage quarters, they extracted surreptitious cocoa and refreshment from a trolley, left waiting outside the galley, and went cautiously to investigate their new abode. They found a vantage point for observation on the deck by a bulwark in the stern. Thebe bore little relation to the stationary Briton. Of course, they had read her specifications and knew she was 280ft long and her enormous masts were 160ft tall, her yards had a spread of 95 feet, her bunkers carried 340 tons of coal and she was home to 520 officers and men, but to see her in the flesh, so to speak, was daunting. Most surprising to Ephraim was that she had a flush deck without poop or forecastle, and bulwarks that were 8 feet high around most of the deck so nothing outboard could be seen except through a gunport or gangway port. He found it claustrophobic after the main deck of the Briton.
‘Makes you feel hemmed in,’ he said to Sebold, ‘Small.’
‘Hardly, old man, look at the size and strength of her! And we haven’t seen this before,’ he pointed to the steam driven screw propeller that was raised or lowered according to needs.
Ephraim was dismissive, ‘I gather she’s not the only frigate that has been cut in half and given a new middle piece for the engines.’
‘But the steam, screw driven propellers are only the start, I tell you we won’t even need sails soon.’
‘Bit premature, my friend. Passages from port to port are still made under sail; steam can only be used for going in and out of harbour or if the ship is in a hurry or becalmed. Look at Admiralty Instructions.’
‘I know that.’ But Sebold was thrilled at this evidence of advancing power and as they walked round the ship, he was transfixed to see that on the upper deck were six, muzzle loading, 64 pounder guns, and on the main deck, were four impressive new 7inch six and a half ton guns, rifled and mounted on iron or steel carriages that recoiled on slides.
‘I read about these,’ his voice was reverent, ‘These are the great show guns of the ship, they fire 120lb projectiles and some double shell weighing 210 pounds. And there are 30 smaller smooth bore guns. Can’t wait to see this great ship, our ship, put to sea and forge its way through the swirling ocean, hurling the foaming waves out of the way, crushing the enemy with broadsides, pounding their flag ships and sinking all before her.’
‘Goodness!’ said Ephraim. ‘You sound like Polwhele.’
As for Ephraim, these guns were giving him new sensations. He had never before seen or imagined the reality of naval fire power, these new guns were sitting like heavy serpents on the deck waiting to spit death. ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ He thought he had got rid of that concern in the Training Ship; he had studied Sepulveda and the just war and been convinced that pacifism was not always the way to justice. Keeping men alive and in order, was the way to justice. And now, here he was, perhaps actually going to see men killed by one of those 64 pounders as a result of a command on the deck of his own ship. Might even have to give the order himself one day. Or was it again that element of cowardice in him? Too afraid to see men die – or die himself. He thought of his reaction to the birching in the Training Ship. Perhaps it was just the feeling that life would be safer and easier for him outside the Navy. ‘Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant taste of death but once.’ It may have comforted Shakespeare, but it did not comfort him. How many more deaths by cowardice might he have to endure?
‘They’ve also got the remarkable new device of a bathroom for the gunroom,’ Sebold was saying eagerly.
‘But not for the likes of us!’ a voice from behind interrupted, ‘There’s not enough fresh water for it, so the Midshipmen and Subs of the gunroom have to use the old wash deck pump on deck.’
The voice presented itself,
‘Sam Hepplewhite, and …’
‘Good Heavens, Bowen! It’s you! What the devil?’ cried Sebold.
‘Nice to see you, as well. Didn’t ask to be here!’ Bowen was aggrieved.
‘Oh, they are messing up all the Midshipmen at the moment,’ said Hepplewhite, ‘Bowen here, came in last night with the latest passing out lot from the Training Ship. Smith here,’ he introduced his silent partner, ‘Arrived with me, earlier!’
‘Well, at least, we are not the only Mids on this ship,’ laughed Sebold, ‘We haven’t really seen anyone yet.’
‘What do you think of the gun room?’ inquired Hepplewhite.
‘Not seen it yet, either.’
‘Come on then, I’ll show you, it’s partitioned off from the lower deck. Milesea will be giving a pie jaw later,’ and Hepplewhite lead them down to the cabin that was to be their mess and focus of life in the ship for the next two years.
‘I’ve measured it,’ he said, ’18ft long and 7 ft wide, 6 ft from deck to beams, hardly enough air to breathe! If it wasn’t for the two sliding doors, we’d die of suffocation. You can’t count the ventilation of the two scuttle ports, with holes barely 6 inches in diameter that can only be opened on very calm days. The Stewards pantry is only seven feet by three. How they manage with that tiny serving hatch I do not know. Personally, I spend my time in steerage as much as possible; bit more light there, constant semi-darkness here, though the gun room lamps are always lit, the only oils that are used are that foul smelling colza or whale oil.’
‘Think I might prefer the darkness,’ said Sebold, holding his nose.
Ephraim was horrified, he didn’t want to spend another moment in the, ‘Dark, evil smelling cave!’
‘Yes, I know,’ said Hepplewhite. They found a corner of the gun room table to squeeze themselves into.
‘At least it’s not too crowded at the moment,’ said Hepplewhite managing to get some cocoa from the pantry and passing it round. He started holding forth,
‘Let me explain the duties of a Middy here for the benefit of you new, less tutored chaps. My father was an instructor in Ardent – and you are going to be an ardent informer,’ Ephraim sighed as their new acquaintance leaned forward enthusiastically.
‘We’ll have all the regular drills, fire drills, going to general quarters, closing watertight doors, placing collision mats, rigging and unrigging the new torpedo defence nets they’re using now, signalling with flags and lights, drilling with the various guns, target practice and cutlass and pistol exercises, manning and arming boats, drilling landing parties ashore and afloat, running torpedoes, and laying and receiving mines.’
‘Hey, hey that’s enough,’ said Bowen. ‘I’m exhausted already.’
‘Yes, it’s a good list isn’t it? And you’ve got to keep watch and go aloft to make or shorten sail as necessary, and tack ship, and weigh anchor or work cables,’ and my father said we would have to be very smart running aloft in order not to be overtaken and trodden on by the upper yardmen and topmen.’
‘Think I’ll pack it in, then,’ said Bowen. The idea of a clerical college at Honiton began to appeal to Ephraim.
‘And,’ said Hepplewhite, ‘There will be classroom lessons!’
‘What do we need a classroom for now?’
‘Mathematics,’ Smith grunted.
‘And Seamanship. Have you forgotten we have exams on board every year before we can get our Sub certificates? I reckon the more classes, the better,’ and Hepplewhite sat back satisfied.
‘Oh, I should have said, the first task of the ship’s company is a week’s cruise in the Channel to prepare for commissioning inspections. Then we are off to Esquimalt in Vancouver Island, great station with a good prospect of ‘hunting, shooting, fishing’ leave. Can’t wait!’
However, it soon became evident that the dark hole of the gunroom was to be the immediate focus of their lives, not sporting holidays ashore. Sub Lieutenants ruled the empire of the gun room and Sub Lieutenant Trenchard was the silent emperor of the gunroom. He looked nondescript, old and greying and passed over, enthroned in his chair in the corner, always playing with some new toy or other, barely opening his eyes, he was a source of terror. He ruled with a rod of iron. He was obeyed and feared by the Mids, far beyond any Captain, Commander or First Lieutenant. It was he who directed the use of dirks, the timing of the fork when the gun room sub would push his fork up into an overhead beam at the end of a meal and all the junior Midshipmen would stampede out, the nearest senior Midshipman acting as ‘whipper out’ with a dirk scabbard.
‘Of course,’ said Sebold on one of these occasions, ‘You know what the trouble is, some of these Midshipmen and Sub Lieutenants are so old because the promotion lists have been so slow, too many yellow Admirals clogging up the system, they won’t get promoted now. They never knew the Training Ship, so they have nothing to do now except take it out on us.’
‘That’s no excuse for injustice and tyranny,’ said Ephraim looking at the object of disgust, sitting in his corner playing with a piece of string that looked remarkably like cat’s cradle.
‘Shut up,’ Bowen whispered, ‘He’ll hear you.’
‘Well apparently it could be worse. I got a letter from Falwell in Hazard – he reckons he’s cooped up in a gunroom full of drunken Subs who brandish broken bottles and a pistol!’
‘Out of the frying pan into the fire, should have stayed in the Bristol.’
‘Gail says if you don’t climb the rigging fast enough on Orion, the Subs chase you with hunting crops.’
‘Good job he learned to get through those futtocks then.’
Gradually, as with all things, the Middies got used to their new status. They even accepted the mark of naval property, the broad arrow being engraved on the bridge of their noses, carved by the dirks of the Subs and rubbed with pepper to ensure a successful take. All that is but Ephraim, who, laid back on the gun room table, and had to be held down by two heavy Subs while Trenchard’s eyes gutted him.
‘Don’t worry old fellow. It doesn’t hurt much. We all have to have it done. It’s what they call a rite of passage – tradition,’ encouraged Hepplewhite, standing by.
‘Well, it’s not ‘right’ and it’s not going to be my ‘rite of passage’!’ Ephraim kicked out at the shins of his tormentors. The dirk went in a little further and the pepper was rubbed a little harder. ‘It’s ridiculous!’ he cried as he was released.
There were murmurs from other onlookers:
‘Couldn’t take it.’
‘What a fuss, all the Middies have it done.’
‘Ain’t you the one who was sick at birching on the Training Ship? Couldn’t take it? Well, it won’t wash here,’ and Trenchard got up and ran the scabbard of his dirk into Ephraim’s thin legs.
A recently decorated Middy called out. ‘I’m jolly proud of my arrow and so will my pa be. You can still make out his scar – or he says you can.’
‘That doesn’t make it right!’ Ephraim might be accused of cowardice, but he was not going to be cowed by his fellows, ‘And it’s nothing to be proud of, that you let yourself be used like that by someone just because he’s got the power and accept a cruel silly tradition that should have been got rid of years ago. And when he tries that sad argument, that because it has always been done it always should be done, he is a fool,’ his voice rose, his face reddened, ‘Justicia omnibus to Middies and Subs and ….’
‘Oh, shut him up some one, he’s always going on like that,’ and Sebold landed him a playful punch while the others fell on him. Ephraim was not amused, ‘Didn’t think much of your lack of support, Charles.’
Somebody else who was not amused was Admiral Curtis. Ephraim was given the job of Admiral’s ADC which necessitated following the Admiral around as he took inspection. He could not fail to notice the slits on Ephraim’s nose.
‘What is the matter with your nose?’
‘Oh, it’s nothing Admiral, just a rite of passage,’ said Ephraim significantly, and added, ‘I did complain.’
‘There are times when complaint is permissible,’ Curt said severely.
The Admiral called all the Midshipmen before him on the quarterdeck and examined them. He saw a series of slitted noses in various states of scarring. He dismissed them with no further comment but called at once for Captain Milesea.
‘What is the meaning of this disfigurement of your Midshipmen?’
‘Disfigurement?’ Milesea was astonished.
‘The mutilation of Midshipmen’s noses.’
‘Come Admiral, you must know that is just a bit of fun. It has been going on for years. I dare say you could show your own scar! It’s just an amusing way of denoting naval property.’
‘Nonsense. It denotes an outmoded and unnecessary cruelty and I assure you I have no scar. I shall report the matter to Admiralty, and I suggest you ensure that it does not happen again. And I assure you, I do not approve of your flippant attitude.’
Captain Milesea was outraged. Did not Admiral Curtis realise that he was talking to a Captain who possessed a first Victoria Cross? He who had daringly carried messages for the British Government during the Napoleonic wars. He who was certainly not going to worry about a scratch on junior noses. Did the Admiral want to ruin the hard won traditions of the service, a bit of light hearted rough housing which hurt no one and did something to encourage bravery and endurance in its young officers. Apparently, the Admiral did,
‘It is time our young officers knew something of Christian behaviour and civilized life. They do not need native initiation scars on their faces. I will be taking this up at Admiralty. In the meantime, I suggest you control your Sub Lieutenants. Now please send for my boat.’
There were mixed feelings in the gun room as in Admiralty, when the news came through that the naval insignia of the gun room would no longer be allowed. The Subs were furious, ‘We had to go through that, why shouldn’t they? It’s a ritual sign of the service. Like Gubbins said, they should be proud to bear the sign.’
‘Golly, I think that’s going a bit far don’t you?’ a Mid who had been secretly impressed by Ephraim’s reaction, appealed for support.
‘Anyway Milesea didn’t agree with him, thinks Court is a martinet. But he won’t be able to allow it any more.’
Another more thoughtful older Midshipman, who had been missed on the way up, having no training ship experience and no interest, expressed his opinion,
‘It’s difficult to know whether all these service rituals should be kept or superseded. I fancy it might be the time now for a change but on the other hand it’s the sort of thing that helps to inculcate endurance and courage at a junior level and promote the ethos of the service, so that we can expect the same from those that come after us, and honestly when you think of it what else can they cut their teeth on in peacetime?’
‘Tain’t our teeth we cut!’ said another young Middy, as they ran out under the fork in the beam, rubbing his recently carved nose, and leaving the gunroom to the care of the Subs.
‘Golly, I think that’s going a bit far, don’t you?’ a Mid who had been secretly impressed by Ephraim’s reaction, appealed for support.
‘Anyway, Milesea did not agree with him, thinks Curt is a martinet, but he won’t be able to allow it anymore.’
A few days later, the visit to Esquimalt was cancelled at the last moment. The first they got to hear of it was from another Midshipman who had just been released from the sick bay. He bounced into the gun room,
‘Gosh, glad to get out of that place! McDuff is a devil – Honorable John Hatherly, chaps. Sorry about the title – got it, can’t get rid of it, don’t you know. Don’t reckon much to the Subs on this ship. None of that nose stuff on my last ship. I was in Albion for three months before I joined the Flying Squadron.’
‘Flying Squadron – what’s that?’
‘You don’t know? You haven’t heard? That’s what they are calling us now. Rabbiting on about it in the sick bay. We’re to meet up with another six ships in Bahia bay, take on the Princes and then we go on a round the world trip – two year voyage don’t you know, showing off the British Royal Navy. Supposed to be a chance to train up the Mids, impress the world with the wonderful skills in the British Royal Navy.’
‘I say, that sounds jolly.’
‘Yes but we have Uncle Jim in charge, you know.’
‘James Formby, Rear Admiral of the Fleet – stickler for discipline.’
‘I believe he is much to be admired,’ said Ephraim soberly.
‘Maybe, but he will put us through our paces. Better look out…’
‘Trust the Hon Hath to know all that, first,’ grumbled Hepplewhite as they went off to their watch duties.
Admiral Jim Formby showed his mettle even before they arrived in Bahia. He inspected all the ships, and made clear his disapproval of any Captain whose Midshipmen did not show an advance in seamanship knowledge. He sent a Lieutenant in Tiffy home for being found drunk as Officer of the Watch. In Thebe the distance of 420 miles to Bahia Bay was run without incident, the willing ship sailed peacefully under close reefed topsails, fore reefed topsail and mainsail, into Bahia Bay and the crew and Captain were docile.
As their destination came into view, the light clouds cleared from the land and the Mids went up to watch the novelty of the screw being raised.
‘Interesting that we make seven and a half knots sailing and only five when we are steaming,’ said Hepplewhite.
‘And using more coal on entry makes the ship dirty and means more coaling. Give me a ship that can sail into harbour, flags flying and blue jackets mounted, without being obscured by a swirl of smoke,’ Bowen objected, but he was impressed as they drew into the bay, and saw the Flying Squadron fleet was already assembled, like ‘puffy white clouds cushioned on a blue satin sea.’
Sebold was thrilled. ‘Four frigates and two corvettes. An actual fleet!’
‘Of course, the Princes, George and Albert, are already aboard, don’t you know,’ declared Hon Hathaway. ‘My father has been overseeing their schedule. Got a letter. He says we might get some more Mids sent to Thebe today. We are two down and they want to fill all the gaps and even out the numbers. Bristol is being sent back to England.’
‘Probably, the state of the ship. Can’t be trusted to make the length to Australia – at least twenty days straight sailing from Monte Video. Trenchard says the sails are getting so thin they won’t make Australia.’
‘You getting friendly with Trenchard?’ Sebold queried.
‘Not quite. He was making me work on a seam. But father says there have been complaints in the House about these ships. Half of them are past it. You picked up your Admiralty mail yet? The post boat is going around,’ and Hatherly flourished the bunch of envelopes he was carrying.
Ephraim was coming back along the deck with his booty of envelopes when he saw to his astonishment that Fraser was coming up the accommodation ladder carrying a clarinet and a valise.
‘Hey, give us a hand with this, old fellow,’ Fraser said, as he tumbled aboard.
‘What the blazes are you doing here?’
‘Don’t sound so pleased!’ Fraser was annoyed, ‘The Bristol did not want me any more – too many Mids there now. What are your lot like?’
‘Not too bad, just look out for the Subs. There’s one called Trenchard…Didn’t know you played the clarinet?’
‘Don’t much, just learning.’
‘Sebold will be pleased to see you. And there are a couple of other junior Mids here, Hepplewhite and Smith. Hepplewhite is alright, a bit verbose, but Smith is odd. I’ll take you down to steerage – get your berth. Hammocks piped up at 6.45. I’ll have to leave you in the gun room. Got to be on watch in an hour. Good to see you – just a surprise.’
Before he had time to open his mail, Ephraim bumped into Hatherly again. The Hon. was excited,
‘Our buddy ship from the Flying Squadron is in!’ and then, seeing Ephraim’s quizzical look,
‘It’s the Broomward, don’t you know, buddy ship, our special group of friends in the fleet, it’s customary to meet them on the first day of shore leave.’
Shore leave came sooner than expected. Captain Milesea disagreed with Commander Trowley and thought it would be a good thing for the Midshipmen to be given some time ashore at Bahia before leaving for Monte Video and the long stretch to Australia. Hence, two days later, a group of Broomward middies were already waiting for the men from the Thebe, on the quay at Bahia. One young Broomie could be seen jumping up and down waving his cap.
‘Good Lord, I do believe that’s Gail,’ said Ephraim.
‘And Richard,’ exclaimed Sebold, ‘Polwhele! Polly!’ he yelled, ‘I say, how splendid – all the Notables together – they really do want to plug the Flying Squadron with Middies!’
‘Look out Evans, you’ll smash us,’ said Fraser as the Thebe Pinnace bumped against the landing stage and its Mids jumped out.
Some of the Broomies had been to Bahia before and knew where to go. They were enthusiastic and led the way. It was hot and steamy after the fresher air at sea. The harbour was on the fringe of the town and rich Plantation houses could be seen along the way. ‘It’s a slaving place!’ cried Ephraim as they saw new establishments being measured out by white surveyors, and black men digging under the lash of a whip.
‘Perhaps we can do some slave rescue runs,’ said Gail, ‘Capture a slaving dhow, like when Rosario seized the blackbirding schooner Daphne and freed the victims.’
Bahia took on a different look as they walked across the fine stone bridge into town.
‘Certainly seems an upcoming place,’ said Sebold, observing some motorised vehicles on the new road before them. Fraser admired the number of mercantile buildings of trading companies on the shore, the shops of ambitious entrepreneurs, the houses of exchange,
‘Seems to be doing well commercially,’ he observed.
Polwhele had an eye for the crinolined ladies in Sedan chairs, being carried about by black liveried slaves. Hatherly was intrigued by a top hatted white man in bright checked trousers and high collared jacket and scarlet silk stock, leading a chained group of black men holding a fine horse. Might they get some racing here? But as they moved through the commercial area into the outskirts of the town, it seemed a less upcoming place. Black, and white men, lounged in the streets and children scurried in and out of doorways. There were many small shops and bars and dark, intriguing places that also seemed to be shops in some way, selling anything from the local Brazilian liquor to European fineries. They passed a small Mission Station with an old worn sign hanging disconsolately on a dilapidated door. Difficult to tell whether it was in business or not, Ephraim thought, an old notice said OPEN, but the rickety door looked shut. He would like to have taken a closer look.
They started to explore the back streets. Some of the houses seemed no more than adobe huts. Polwhele looked through a dark window where a jolly looking sort of girl and her friend sat in a window seat and smiled at them. He smiled back.
‘I think I know what this is,’ Fraser whispered to Sebold as they were walking along, ‘My Pater told me about them – said to take care.’
‘Care about what?’
‘Nothing to do with you young Gail.’
‘What do you think, Seb?’ Polwhele had stopped walking.
‘You going in?’ said Sebold, ‘I might come with you. Give it a look round!’
‘I shouldn’t. My father too, warned me about this sort of thing. They look like trollops. Gail and I will go and look round the fort,’ said Ephraim severely.
‘Rather,’ rejoined Gail, ‘My father fired guns at that fort.’
Bowen was looking a bit bemused, ‘You come with us, Bowen,’ said Ephraim. ‘We’ll meet you on the ramparts you two, and don’t be long.’
‘Oh, we are only going to introduce ourselves,’ laughed Polwhele.
‘We’ll just go and see the senoritas,’ said Sebold as they moved towards the empty window.
‘Meet you at the fort then, and don’t be long.’
In the event it seemed they needed no introduction. Within minutes the girl in the window had her arms around Polwhele, ‘…nice time, I give you jig a jig,’ and another girl appearing from an even darker back room flung her arms around Sebold, ‘Give good time, good time…’
So this was it! This was what he had read about, talked about in knowing terms with other innocent young Mids or heard tales from older ones who professed to be in the know. Surely he was on the verge of a new language. He felt it throb between his legs and rise to new heights. He was ready for it whatever it was. Polwhele, as to the manner born, was enjoying himself.
Ten minutes later they emerged dazed into the sunlight. What an experience for a dollar! Sebold hardly knew what had happened. They had all been on this bed pushed into a corner. One of the girls had got her hand down into his trousers and that was it. Polwhele had seemed to have one of the girls lying on top of him, his trousers pulled down round his knees. Then the girls got up and demanded a shilling from each of them. Polwhele was in no condition to pay. Sebold handed over the coins for both of them and they staggered out. It would take time to unravel its meaning when they got back to the privacy of hammocks.
‘I shouldn’t say anything about it to Ephraim, Richard.’
‘I should say not.’
‘Well, we shan’t get any more opportunities in Bahia, that’s for sure. We start for Buenos Aires tomorrow, then Monte Video and the Cape and Australia.’
Gail and Ephraim were by the guns on the rampart. They were in the company of a Brazilian Militia Sergeant. Gail welcomed them enthusiastically. Ephraim did not turn round. He went on ostentiously asking for details of the elevations and loading of the guns. He remarked on the fact that they were all muzzle loaded. Then he turned to Sebold,
‘Had a good time?’
‘You should try it,’ said Sebold.
‘Where’s Fraser?’ said Ephraim. ‘I thought he was with you.’
‘No, he decided he wouldn’t bother. Don’t know where he went.’
Darkness fell quickly on Bahia, and Sebold judged they should be getting back to their ship at the Quay. They would have to say goodbye to Gail and Polwhele with the men of Broomward. It was a shame but if they met each other so soon after the Training Ship, it boded well for other meetings in the future despite the scattered nature of the Navy.
Fraser appeared and happily greeted the others,
‘Interesting afternoon, I went into the bank.’
But Smith had not returned. The Broomward Sub was just about to insist that they left without him, when he arrived breathless, carrying a gun. It was a flintlock pistol.
The Broomward Mids were impressed, they gathered round.
‘How could you afford that?’
‘Where did you buy it?’
‘Didn’t buy it.’
‘You gonna be allowed to keep it?’
‘Why not?’ Smith slipped the pistol under his jacket. ‘They don’t search officers.’
That evening Sebold felt the atmosphere between him and Browne had cooled. He decided to tackle it,
‘Something the matter, Browne?’
‘Well, I know what you were doing – unless you tell me you weren’t.’
‘Why should I tell you anything?’
‘Because I thought we were friends and I’d like to remain so.’
‘Of course we are friends, but I don’t know for how much longer, if you are going to be such a ‘pi’ stick.’
‘Just because I have certain standards and think naval officers should uphold them, you are always complaining that I am pious. Well, if pious means believing in God and trying to keep his commandments, and be a decent citizen you are right and I am not ashamed of it.’ Ephraim was flushed and agitated.
‘Anyway, it was good to see Richard.’ Sebold thought he might leave it at that for the moment.
He believed in God, but perhaps not the same one as Ephraim. He thought God had shown himself to be rather more liberally minded of late.