Part 1 – Cadets
Chapter 4 – Know your Enemies
The unseasonably cold winter yielded to an early spring. The Training Ship dried out and warmed up, there was more movement on the river and the playing fields ceased to be quagmires of mud and became firm foundations for cadets to show off their sporting prowess. Came a Sunday afternoon and Ephraim and others were lounging at the edge of the cricket field ostensibly watching the ‘Cheeky News’ playing cricket against the ‘Threes’. Fitzmaurice strolled by.
‘Come and join us,’ called Sebold.
‘Can’t stop, my dear fellow. Got to see a dog about a cat.’
Sebold raised his eyebrows, ‘What’s up with him, Fraser?’
‘Aristocracy.’ said Fraser, ‘Never got any time for us.’
It was too warm and sunny to bother with a fight against the local cads, a Sunday activity the Cadets usually enjoyed. The town was full of local ‘cads’ and ‘cads’ needed putting in their place so Sunday was the day set aside for dealing with them but today was a day to rest in the sunshine and watch others disport themselves. It was already evident by the noise, that Stollman was at the crease.
‘Don’t run, you fool, you’ll have me out!’ and still the shrill voice would break. Gail covered his ears, ‘Ghastly sound!’ The errant batsman returned to his wicket just in time,
‘You’re supposed to bowl me out, not knock me out, Johnson!’ Stollman yelled as a ball narrowly missed his head.
‘Fatty Stollman cannot manage anything without shouting and swaggering,’ groaned Bowen. ‘Even when he is bowled out, he has to waddle off waving, as if it were a triumph. I really cannot stand the fellow.’
Fraser stripped a blade of grass with his teeth, ‘He’s a rotter, he thinks it’s fair game to come up behind a person and kick the back of his shins; very painful and bruising.’ He stretched out his legs to demonstrate.
‘And have you noticed,’ said Ephraim quietly, ‘half of it is to ingratiate himself with Staines, he always looks to see if Staines is around to notice. I hate the way he picks on young Gail.’
‘Yes, it’s usually the other way round. The fag wants as little to do with his master as possible, It’s odd!’
‘And the swine deliberately knocked ink all over my Euclid so I got reported,’ Polwhele complained. ‘I reckon he is in cahoots with Melrose, ‘O yes’ never bothers him.’
‘It seems to me it’s not injuria omnibus we need but justicia omnibus.
‘Not here my friend,’ Sebold lay back, ‘Just relax Cicero, enjoy the God given sunshine.’
Ephraim plucked a blade of grass, ‘Alright then, I will challenge him to a fight!’
There was laughter, disbelief, astonishment,
‘If he is challenged, he has got to accept, has he not? He will not want to, he will try and avoid it, bullies always try and avoid any chance they may get hurt but I will fight him and show him for the cowardly, ghastly, fat ass he is.’
‘Oh, very Ciceronian!’ Sebold laughed, ‘He may be shorter than you but he’s a lot bigger and heavier than you are. When have you ever had a fight, Browne, wrapped up in your father’s study? You just think your way out of any problem, cogito ergo fiat.’
‘One does try. No use relying on other people.’
Sebold looked at Ephraim, sitting there writing up his Journal. There was no doubt, the fellow was a bit of a prig.
‘Well, I have an idea.’ Sebold stood up.
‘The noble Odysseus speaks.’
‘Shut up then and listen. Listen to this for an idea to catch Stollman and Staines as well. You know the ghastly Melrose will report anything even blowing your nose in the wrong place – well how about this for your justicia? Might even get several birds with one stone. Might even get the Melrose – everybody hates him, except Fitzmaurice of course – he doesn’t hate anybody, he just pays them off.’
‘Oh, you don’t know that!’
Sebold unfolded his idea to the group. They looked dubious.
‘Are you sure?’ said Bowen.
‘It’s common knowledge in the other terms – all the fags know. I was on watch and heard one of them talking about it, they’ve been using the blue boats to smuggle it in, seems there are a number of uses for those boats apart from drowning unpopular Captains – you heard Spencer got stuck in the river hunting ducks, and he had nearly gone under before the others pulled him out. Two corporals are supposed to patrol the river, but you hardly ever see them, so Staines and his gang have been getting fags to smuggle rum for them in the gigs. After all, it’s nothing to do with them if a ‘new’ is found to be carrying illicit liquor; cheeky news’ are fagged for blackberries, chestnuts, apples, bird’s eggs, why not rum?’
‘Don’t be daft. We all know perfectly well why not rum and if what you say is true, Staines would be run out of the ship and the fag with him.’
‘There would certainly be the most awful row if we got caught!’ said Fraser, ‘But how do they do it? They cannot land the gigs ashore under the eye of the officers at the jetty and carry a container of rum up the gangway and through the Briton without being seen?’
‘Oh, it’s easy enough. They just land the boat at a quiet bit of the river by the shore where Staines has arranged for a chap to meet them with a flagon of rum at the ready. Then they just have to carry it to a pre-arranged hiding place in Skippers, Staines and the others meet there and hold a drinking party in Skippers.’
Skippers Covert was a favourite spot along the shore with its own skiff and boathouse. Easy and legitimate to reach, once on shore the wooded bank provided all the cover nefarious cadets needed.
‘Who is this chap that just stands there? What if the chap decides to tell on them?’
‘Oh, he won’t. They call him ‘Alchie Mack’. They don’t even pay him. He just gets a jug for himself out of it.’
‘How is this going to catch Staines and his gang?’
‘Tell Stollman he has been invited to a party with Staines and his cronies. Tell him time and place and make sure Melrose just happens to be along and sees them in full glug.’
‘How’s Stollman going to believe Staines wants him along at a party. He’s only his fag for heaven’s sake!’ Simple? Fraser thought not.
Polwhele demurred, ‘Stollman may smell a rat and not accept.’
‘I doubt it. He will think his capacity as Staines’s fag is capable of sustaining such an invitation,’ Ephraim reflected.
‘Come on fellows, we should give it a try,’ Sebold urged.
‘I do not really like the deception.’
‘What does the Good Book say? We have to be shrewd as serpents to catch evildoers.’
Sebold hadn’t finished. ‘Now for part two. Pretty clever this…, Melrose will like it, oh yes, oh yes.’
‘Oh yes?’ Fraser was scornful.
‘It goes like this. We leave four notes and see what happens. Browne, you still got your notebook on you?’ Ephraim was in the habit of carrying one of the new moleskin notebooks around with him as well as his journal. Between the group, they quickly composed four notes.
Note to Staines from Alchie Mac:
Deer Sir, – I got rum you axed for cum and get it nex Sunday at 3 o clok usul place.
‘Supposing Alchie Mac turns out to be a good speller?’
‘Staines won’t know the difference. Don’t suppose Alchie Mac has ever written to him before.’
Note to Staines from Fitzmaurice:
Staines, old fellow, its my birthday next Sunday having a few to share a jug of rum at Skippers next Sunday, bring some rum and a couple of friends and ‘join us – usual place – top secret. Fitz.’
Don’t suppose Fitz has ever written him, either.’
‘No, but he’ll fall for that! Too thrilled at the invitation from Royalty!’
Note to Stollman from Staines:
Treat for you fag. Fitzmaurice’s birthday. Be at Skippers next Sunday at 3 o’clock. Usual pick up but you can be look out, share a jug with us. Tell no one. Staines.
If Stollman has seen Staines’s handwriting before, he will not want to see any difference when given such an invitation to hobnob with the aristocracy.
‘Now the note to Melrose,’ said Sebold: ‘We leave it in his cabin with a handkerchief and tell him it was picked up under the chestnut tree in Skippers Wood; the handkerchief is dipped in rum for proof. Gives Melrose a chance for his favourite occupation, sniffing out cadets.’
‘How are you going to get hold of the rum?’ Fraser was sceptical.
‘Fellows going down with measles now all over the place. I’ll have a go with the red paint, just a few spots, and say I’m ill and pop into the san. They keep rum there for emergencies. I’ve been in before and seen it in a cupboard. They don’t keep it locked. We only need a teaspoonful – I’m sure I can swing it. Browne you’d better compose the note to Melrose.’
Browne tore out another precious page from his notebook. He didn’t often get the chance for literary expertise. Perhaps if he kept it accurate and truthful the deception would be legitimate. He picked up his pen,
‘Dear Corporal Melrose,’…
‘You can’t call him, dear!’
To Corporal Melrose, then:
Some of us have noticed how assiduously you endeavor to keep good discipline in the Training Ship. You do not allow for the smallest infringement of the rules but inform the officers at once to ensure that offences are properly punished. At times you take it into your own hands to administer corporal severities to keep us all in good order. You will be glad to know that cadets have been improperly imbibing illicit rum behind the boathouse at Skippers covert and will be found there next Sunday afternoon at three o’clock, doing just that. We trust to see justice done – justicia omnes. From cadets who appreciate good administration.
He handed Sebold the note. ‘I don’t really like it Charles. I’m not sure it is right.’
‘Don’t be silly, it’s always right to give people their just desserts. You wanted justicia omnes.. Leave the delivery of the notes to me.’
The group broke up.
‘Good luck, Sebold,’ said Gail. He hadn’t quite understood it all but it was exciting and Sebold was wonderful.
Ephraim thought when it came to it that even Stollman must smell a rat but when Stollman opened the note that Staines had sent him next day, it did not occur to him that there was anything unusual in such an invitation; that it was hardly likely Staines and his cronies would invite him even as a fag to share a jug with them.
But what a fag! Not a namby pamby milk sop fag! Staines must know he, Stollman, was getting a following of his own and was coming to be regarded as a man to be reckoned with – one of the hard men of his term. Staines had probably noticed that incident where he had thrown young Ford across the chains for answering back. Bullies liked to stick together. Yes, he was a bully. It was a noble calling, demanding strength and popularity, the Navy needed fighting officers, men who carried a following, his rightful place was with the likes of the mighty Staines and the noble Fitzmaurice. He was flattered to be privy to such an occasion even as a fag.
The fateful Sunday brought another warm and sunny afternoon. Various gigs and blue boats were on the river. By dint of his fists Stollman had managed to get a small gig to himself and was in good time to arrive at the pick-up place on the way down to the covert. Alchie Mack was waiting under cover. The other gigs were busy on the water. The deal was done, and the rum quickly concealed in a picnic basket in the gig. Down at Skippers jetty several other blue boats were gathered for an afternoon spree. There were no officers about. Stollman sat in his gig waiting. It was five minutes to three and the jug of rum was weighing heavier with every minute. He was relieved to see Staines coming down the river in his blue boat rowed by his two usual toadies, Mace and Fletcher. Fitzmaurice would surely be following. Staines acknowledged Stollman and took the picnic basket but seemed surprised not to see Fitzmaurice.
‘Guess Fitz must be at the place already. Tie up the boat and we’ll go on.’
The drinking area was easily disguised by the growth of the untamed bushes and trees around the jetty and along the bank. Low growing Laurel was particularly useful. There were one or two cunningly cleared areas for private activities. If the Corporals knew anything of this, they turned a blind eye. Not so Melrose. He had one exceptionally good eye. And it was even better when someone had the courtesy to drop him a note indicating his presence was required here or there for observation. And such a note had surprisingly appeared on his table indicating that nefarious doings were to be found that afternoon at Skippers. He was already cunningly concealed, ready to follow and pounce. Staines guessed Fitz would come along later if he was not already there – perhaps he had trouble getting a gig on such a lovely afternoon. He called Stollman and the others and they made their way through a tunnel of laurels to one of the clearings amongst the bushes. They settled themselves in. The toadies shed their jackets and spread them on the dry grass for their leader.
Staines was king of his castle now; his retinue around him, Stollman standing reverently before him. ‘Sit!’ Staines commanded, and Stollman spread his large behind uncomfortably on the stony grass.
‘No need to wait for the birthday boy. Pass over the rum then, Stolly – let’s be having it.’ A nickname! Stollman was in his element. It was a privilege to serve such men as these.
‘And we’ll have a welcome for Fitz when he gets here.’
‘INDEED WE WILL!’
The heavy figure of Melrose came crashing through the bushes. He caught his foot on the root of a bush and fell forward, his glass eye rolling before him. ‘Pick that up!’ he shouted and Mace astonished and embarrassed handed the strange glass object back to the Corporal. Melrose, nothing fazed, brushed the eye with the evidential handkerchief and pushed it back in. He straightened up just in time to grab Stollman, who was about to lead the escape. He grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held him.
‘So, what have we here then – a nice pack of little rats oh yes, I’ll take this oh yes.’ He pulled the flagon of rum away from Staines towards him and took a recovering swig. ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’ He wiped his mouth and sat on the ground. ‘Now, young gentlemen, I know all your faces and you and I, Mister Stollman, oh yes,’ he brought his odorous face close up to Stollman, ‘Have had run ins before. But, if you and I can ‘ave a regular little picnic like this nobody shall know about it. And if a flagon be left under ‘ere every Sunday, oh yes, he indicated one of the bushes and pulled a branch down, ‘We won’t say any more about it, will we Mister Stollman.’
‘I, er…, I…’ Stollman hesitated, why wasn’t he talking to Staines? The Corporal stood over him. ‘Will we, Mr.Stollman?’ he demanded.
‘No Sir, no, thank you.’
‘Hah, now you may indeed call me Sir. I seem to recall, oh yes, a cadet was sent away only last year by Admiralty for bringing in rum and you Mr Stollman, a pathetic ‘new’, oh yes, would be marched off these premises tomorrow if I decided to tell what I know, for I know ’tis you that brings the stuff in, oh yes.’
He turned to Staines and took him by the arm.
‘Oh yes Mr Staines, I have your measure! I don’t know how you do it and I don’t want to know – just keep it coming and we will both get on very well together.’
Swigging from the jug and ostentatiously wiping his mouth, Melrose stoppered the flagon and hid it under a branch.
‘This is where I will see one next week, oh yes.’ Now get off you lot and forget you’ve ever been here.’
Staines and toadies slunk away speechless. Stollman ran. Melrose looked after them with a grin. Cadets would never learn.
‘Sorry old fellow, that didn’t work,’ said Sebold as he and Browne emerged from their own hiding places and went back to the jetty. ‘I thought it would do the trick and he would turn them in. I never thought he might be an alchie himself.’
‘I thought I was going to laugh and give the game away.’ Bowen said with relief, brushing brambles from his shirt as he crept out.
‘It would seem to be a standoff,’ said Ephraim, ‘They bring Melrose down and they all get sacked or he brings Stollman and the others down and he gets sacked. It is amazing what men will do for alcohol! Perhaps they’ll all start signing the pledge now!’
‘Why do you think Melrose concentrated on Stollman?’ asked Polwhele, ‘He was only the small fry. He hardly touched Staines and the others!’
‘Top bullies, like Staines, always carry sway with the corporals. Most corporals like to be in with them, they recognize kindred spirits – or they are afraid of them, too. Anyway, Stollman is the fag that ferries the liquor in and he was the weakest link in the chain. We’ll just have to think of something else,’ and Sebold led the thoughtful return to their own boats moored up river.
It was easier said than done. Stollman may have been docile in relation to the mighty Staines but in relation to other ‘news’ he became an even more constant trial, always on the look out to cause trouble. He never bothered Sebold or Polwhele, but he never gave ‘carrots’ a moment’s peace and never missed anything vindictive that he could do towards Ephraim, who was in the maths study one evening a couple of weeks later with one or two others, all mugging up their Euclid for the forthcoming exams, when he noticed Gail in a corner, his books open before him but his head in his hands. He went up to him, ‘Something the matter, old chap?’ He put his hand on Gail’s shoulder. Gail shrugged him off, ‘Go away!’
‘Only trying to help.’
‘Then don’t! I can manage! Oh, sorry Browne.’
‘I know you can manage, you’re good at mathematics, so what is the matter?’
‘I can’t tell you – not here.’
‘Well, come outside then.’
Gail picked up his books and they went out to find a quiet spot behind a bulwark on the deck.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s that beast, Stollman, he put oil in the ink in the French study and then told M. Renouf I had done it. The other fellows said I hadn’t done it but nobody said they had, so Renouf told Corporal Melrose about the ink which wouldn’t work, Melrose told the Commander and now I’ve got musket drill for two hours. And he keeps stealing things from my chest – I know he took my soap yesterday – and he keeps punching my back before I can get at him – look, bruises!’ and he showed Browne the weals under his shirt. ‘And he twists my ear whenever he passes. And he’s so much bigger than me he can hold me away pressing has hand on my forehead and I can’t reach him to kick him or punch him. And his breath smells!’ To Ephraim’s horror, it looked as if Gail was about to cry, but they were tears of anguished fury, not fear. ‘I’m going to kill him!’
‘And how are you going to do that?’
‘I’ve got a knife.’ Gail produced his pen knife from under his Euclid. ‘I’m going to stab him while he’s asleep. I don’t care if I go to prison.’
‘Gail, that is rubbish! And you can’t do much with a penknife.’
‘Then I’ll get something bigger from the galley.’
‘No’ cried Ephraim, ‘Definitely not, William. You cannot. It is wrong as well as ridiculous. Don’t be silly! Anyway, I have had enough of him on my own account. You may not be aware of it but he doesn’t exactly leave me alone. He is a disgusting example of the human race, let alone a naval officer. He is an insult to mankind. I am going to challenge him to a fight.’
‘Oh, Browne, he would slaughter you,’ laughed Gail, ‘And I can do my own fighting. Please don’t do anything or say anything to him.’
Nevertheless, it quickly went all round the Training Ship that a couple of ‘news’ were up for a fight; the pale, anaemic looking Browne was challenging one of his own, the big, fat fellow Stollman. Stollman could not believe his good fortune in having an official fight in full view of the fellows, in his first term. To have Staines and his gang watching would make up for the debacle over the rum and would do a lot to enhance his career.
But Ephraim felt sick and blamed himself. Why did he do it? Why was he attracting attention to himself in this way? What good would it do? What about forgiving seventy times seven and peacemaking? He would only look a fool and Stollman would be worse than ever as a victor. It was always the same – he was always making decisions that seemed right at the time and made him feel sick afterwards.
It was the first proper fight of the year. Enthusiastic cadets made their way to the traditional area behind the cricket pavilion.
‘Browne is tall, that should tell in his favour,’ said Fraser.
‘But he doesn’t weigh anything – a feather could blow him away and Stollman is no featherweight! ‘
‘Stollman would only have to sit on him to crush him to death,’ Mason observed.
‘I’m standing by to see Cicero gets his justicia, wouldn’t put any trick past Stollman,’ Bowen declared.
The ‘niner’ Newman was adjudicator He marked out the ring and shouted to the cadets to keep back.
‘Come on fellows. Give them room to get through.’
Stollman arrived with his retinue. He had slicked his hair in place and ostentatious towels were placed around his shoulders. Mace handed him a silk scarf for his neck. His toadies made as much noise as they could, short of carrying him upon their shoulders. Browne came up quietly with an extra sweater and Polwhele, his enthusiastic supporter, champing at the bit. Sebold had commandeered a bit of the field for Browne supporters to raise their voices. The field filled up as cadets arrived and trickled in to watch the fun.
The opponents took their places. Stollman stood in the corner striking threatening poses and trying to locate a few muscles to demonstrate to his admirers. Then he threw off his towels and strode out into the ring, his blubber blown up to an enormous size in Ephraim’s nervous eyes. Ephraim removed the jumper he kept to the last minute for warmth and got ready to face the opposition. The bright blue and red silk affair ‘fat ass’ wore round his neck flashed and dazzled in the windy sunshine. He must be careful not to be distracted by it. He shivered. He was forcing himself to remember the things his father had told him: right fist clenched at the ready, thumb held down on top to prevent it getting ripped off and give extra pressure with the punch, stand sideways with left hand up guarding the mouth and jaw, start moving feet a minute before ref gives starting order, and if first blow fails be ready to come up with a quick feint before next attack. There was no more time for reflection. Newman had got control of the crowd and called time. The excited buzz subsided as the two antagonists faced each other and the marker flag was raised. Newman started the countdown: ‘Ten, nine, eight….three, two, one.’ The flag dropped.
The excited Stollman with a shout, made a rush at Browne, fists flailing. Browne deftly stepped aside. Stollman lost balance. Before Stollman could right himself, Browne was in position. The big cadet came at him again. Ephraim was ready, he brought up his right fist and struck the opposing face as it presented itself, with one perfectly angled professional upper cut to the jaw. Stollman was down in one stroke. Browne’s man was felled and the fight hardly started! Polwhele led the cheers, ‘Good old Cicero!’
Stollman’s cronies slunk away. Their star was not as shining as they had thought. The watching cadets were disappointed. What a sell! What else to do for the afternoon?
Ephraim shook hands with his supporters. He thanked his father for the lessons in boxing and the Lord for his salvation.
However, the cadets were not the only ones trying to resolve the problem of bullying in the Training ship. Their Lordships at Admiralty had begun to stretch their minds along the same lines. Admiral Franks, a Third Lord at Admiralty and an earlier Captain in Briton, had occasion to peruse the punishments record when he had recently paid a visit to Captain Cole. He was perturbed.
‘There are too many offences of bullying on the yards, skylarking in classes and cheeking the instructors,’ he declared, ‘And what’s this about obscene notes? This bears out what Gladwell and Fulsome are saying at Admiralty, Cole. Personally, I think we are approaching anarchy. The boys are left too much to themselves. They need a heavier hand and some discipline.’
‘A lot of fuss about nothing! Boys will be boys and thank God they have all proved fine naval officers in the past and will do so in the future. If they complain in the House remind them at least we keep records of poor behaviour and punishment here which is more than you can say for most of our public schools.’ Captain Cole was sanguine.
Their Lordships took a different view. There were not only more tales of bullying emanating from the Training Ship than they liked to hear; they were also concerned that it was having an effect on the poor showing of Cadets in final exams. They were not only failing to pass final exams but more were being plucked at the first hurdle. It was decided something must be done about it. Words were had with the first First Lord, Sir Alexander Mile, who was well disposed to agreeing. MacMillan had published Tom Browne’s Schooldays in 1857 and the great popularity of further editions were making the public sensitive to the issue of misbehaviour and discipline in public schools. He didn’t want the Training ship’s failings to be discussed in Parliament. He would have words with the Earl of Derby. The PM had already proved himself something of a reformer: he had helped the working classes to get the vote and allowed Jewish men to become Members of Parliament. No doubt he would see the importance of making changes at Admiralty.
His words became evident when a rumour went round the Training Ship that the it was to have a new Captain.
‘I believe we are having a new Skipper.’
‘I hope he will be nice.’
‘I believe he is not.’
‘Baker says that his father was on board Orlando with him and we shall all have to look out!’
The cadets had hoped for an easier ride now the first term was over. It did not bode well for the return.