Part 3 – Lieutenants
Chapter 6 – Recovery
To Ephraim it had felt like his own death. The funeral had passed in a blur, a dim memory of the church being filled with naval officers, Emily’s beloved baroque music circling up to the roof of Heaven, and then the fall into the black abyss. He had been invalided home immediately, waves of sickness between wind and water, rolling breakers of consciousness, the oblivion of sleep. There were rumours of Malta fever. He never knew. Waiting for his discharge from the hospital he only knew he was living in some hell of his own making in a world he no longer recognized, with a self he no longer knew, and a God he could no longer speak to. Nor could he speak to father or friends. He would hide himself away. He was glad he had given the Captain his resignation letter for Their Lordships before the funeral. Tomorrow the MO was sending him home. He would find an obscure job in Portsmouth. Pay the bills. That was all.
There was a knock on the door, and to Ephraim’s astonishment, Captain Turner appeared. Surely not! Was Greatheart in Portsmouth? But Captain Turner indeed, stood before him. He pulled a letter from his pocket and handed it to the erstwhile invalid,
‘Thought you might have second thoughts about this, Lieutenant Browne,’ he said, ‘I don’t allow my officers to resign from their sick bed. I have had words with Admiral Yelberton. He understands the situation and has arranged with Admiralty that you should have paid leave for three months to think over the situation before anything else is done.’ He started for the door and turned back,
‘You should consider the advantages of your staying in the service, young man. The long lee after Trafalgar is over, things are hotting up in Egypt and West Africa, there’s work in China and the Solomons, and we shall be crying out for Lieutenants soon. Stead’s Pall Mall Campaign is going to ensure the Navy will be funded for its growth, an unusual event in peace time, so I should not leave now if I were you – bit of a hiatus with your career but nothing you cannot get over!’
The Captain did not stay to hear Ephraim’s confused response.
In an agony of pain and indecision, Ephraim tried to form his response. He must post the letter or keep it. He would not allow himself to think of Emily so he would think of nothing. If he could not pray to God, he would pray to no-one. The numb, soulless days passed, helped by whisky and sleep. What was the point of staying awake? He went to stay with his father, now retired to a local ministry in Gosport.
Gradually something stirred in Ephraim’s frozen brain. He started thinking again. God had deserted him! Or had he deserted God? He must, he would, work things out: He started reading again. He began reading De Sales and De Caussade, the sixteenth century Quietists. He was impressed by their devotion. He was impressed by Pascale’s logic and passion. They seemed to offer him the best emotional and intellectual path at the moment and give him that trust in the Divine Providence which would answer all his problems and guide his life. He immersed himself in the Psalms. He allowed them to sweep over him. The God who would ‘deliver my soul’, the Lord who was the good shepherd, could that God still be his? Did he love God? Did God love Him? He had come so far.
The Psalms made him think of his unknown mother and his Jewish heritage. His mother had called him Ephraim. Why? He had always hated the name. He set about looking up Biblical references. Ephraim was referred to as ‘a mighty village’, the Ephraimites were the second tribe after the Israelites, he had been given a mighty name in Ephraim, the leader of the Ephraimites. At least it was encouraging.
Could he return to past ideologies? Was it right that he should? How could he know?
Did he still love God? Yes
Did God love Him? He didn’t know.
Was God good?
Yes – so as Paul said, God works together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. Perhaps his calling was the Royal Navy. The Lord had shown him the significance of his name, now he must observe the significance of his calling.
He would not post the letter but wait in the Providence of the Lord for the next communication from Their Lordships.
It was certainly providential that he should bump into Admiral Gladwell in Portsmouth. The Admiral had come to give a talk on Nautical Astronomy at the Seamen’s Institute. He had written many pamphlets on the subject and was always glad of a chance to speak, especially when it meant supporting the Institute. He wondered if Gladwell would even remember him although he had given Ephraim his nomination and provided the only interest for his brief time in the Navy. Gladwell went out of his way to greet him and offer his sympathy and support,
‘Heard about your wife, dear boy. So Sorry!’
He wondered whether Ephraim would be returning to the Royal Navy; he spoke of the need for more future Lieutenants now that the service was growing and said it was a shame to waste his training. He reminded Ephraim of his father’s pleasure when he had received the nomination for his son. If Ephraim was happy to think of it, Admiral Gladwell would be glad to try and arrange a suitable opening for him. He happened to know there was an opening for a Lieutenant on the new Transit of Venus ship – a berth in Hera. Ephraim said he had just started to think about it and would consider returning if the Admiral thought it possible.
The sympathetic attitude of Admiral Gladwell certainly proved to be the valuable ‘interest’ provided by the Admiral’s early relationship with his father. Shortly after the fortuitous meeting he received a note from the Admiral,
My dear boy,
I am a friend of second Lord Goodman. We served in Intrepid together in the Crimea and went through Sebastopol as young men, shouting to each other through the noise and the smoke. I am afraid there is no longer an opportunity in the Transit, but Goodman says Captain Harford has a vacancy on the battleship HMS Fractious and he will ask Admiralty to consider you for the post. I urge you to accept, if offered. I am sure you will now make a success of your future life in our admirable Royal Navy.
So, man proposes, God disposes. This was his providential future. He would accept the appointment to the battleship Fractious. There was surely no better work to be done than that which the Royal Navy offered in its conquest of the British Empire. The empire was a force for the good; there were mutterings about something called a Pax Britannica. He would make the best of his future life in the service now for the benefit of humanity. He might also make himself known to the Seamen’s Institute, since even an Admiral associated himself with it these days.
It was going to the Seamen’s Institute that Ephraim met Mason. He was going up as Mason was going down.
‘Great to see you Browne. Where have you been? Sorry, cannot stop now. Drink in the Lion about eleven, when I’ve finished here? I’m seeing some poor devil who was pressed when he was younger and says he can’t get out now.’
Ephraim still felt a withdrawing from Mason’s bouncing evangelical persona. His increasingly Anglican self withheld total accord. However, a morning whisky in the Lion sounded attractive.
‘Thanks Mason. Sounds good. See you in the Lion at eleven?’
When Ephraim got there, the sun was streaming through the glass cobbled windows, fragmenting reflections of sunlight from left over glasses on the rickety wooden tables. Ephraim took a seat at a corner table for two. There were the remains of a fire in the inglenook hearth. One or two coals still smouldered. A couple of old seamen were ensconced uncomfortably on benches at the side. Obviously not really a place for officers in Portsmouth, thought Ephraim, ‘Hope none of the others come in…’
He did not have to wait long. He saw Mason bid goodbye to another man on the opposite side of the road and come over to join him,
‘Enjoying the break, are you?’ Mason put a pile of papers on the table, ‘I was surprised to see you.’ He beckoned a nonchalant pot boy over, ‘Half a pint of your best bitter.’
‘Thought you might have signed the pledge, Mason.’
‘I have thought of it, but I prefer to keep on the side of the officers as well as the ratings.’ Mason laughed, ‘Might change my mind later. It all turns on what we can do to win the men for Jesus, doesn’t it?’
‘I suppose so.’ Why did Mason’s fervour always rub him up the wrong way?
‘There is going to be a rally at the Seaman’s institute on Saturday. Will you come ? We need as many of the officers as we can get. Wilberman is speaking.’
‘I don’t really go along with too much emotional stuff you know.’
‘Yes, but once saved, hard not to express it. The other reason is for naval reform. You don’t have to be emotional to see that we need changes and especially for the ratings, poor devils.’
‘Oh, not all of them, some of them are proud to be bluejackets and serve the cause of freedom and order in the world.’
‘Some of them, no doubt. Others are just for rum and rumpy. And it is the sex that gets them as much as the alcohol. You should ask the MO.’ Ephraim thought ruefully of Polwhele.
‘Well, I’ll think about it. I will certainly do all I can to deter the flogging of ratings. Though in fairness, we don’t get so much of it nowadays. There was that disgusting business on Merlin. I don’t know if you heard about it – Captain who flogged for pleasure, and the boatswain won.
‘Too much of that, some of our captains do need weeding out.’
‘Seems there might be a movement in that direction. I hear the First Lord is looking for a way of reports for officers that will read more than just ‘served with sobriety…’ Of course, some of the Captains do that in a private memorandum to Admiralty but they are talking about producing something more systematic in the way of sorting out the merits of individual officers. Seems we are getting a bit more professional. Lot of the fellows won’t like that.’
‘Bet they don’t! What would happen to the Gala Lieutenants like old Fitz.’
‘Oh well, we all do our best,’ Ephraim sighed.
‘Must go now, have an appointment with Aggie Weston. Can’t miss the opportunity while I am in Portsmouth – she is going to do great things. She will be at the big meeting on Saturday. See you then?’ Mason left, Ephraim finished his whisky. He was glad to get out and return home. We’ll do what we can.
Thankfully, all this kept his mind away from Emily. He could not prevent himself dreaming of her but he could prevent himself thinking of her. He would take no part in any unnecessary socialising which involved the female sex. It had been a wonderful experience but he never intended to undertake it again and would devote himself to study. The study of the Navy would involve every atom of his interest. The US Navy Admiral Mahan was coming up with some real theological input on the subject and it might just get taken up by the British interest. He would give himself entirely to his new life.
Captain Harford was dubious about this appointment. If it had not been that Admiral Gladwell was in favour, and that to have said no would have meant it possible that his own hopefully forthcoming appointment to Rear Admiral might have been in the balance, he would not have agreed. He did not know 2nd Lieutenant Ephraim Browne. He had managed to pick up a few reports of his past services but they did not tell him much and his services on Greatheart had been distinctly unimpressive but then, he supposed, there had been mitigating circumstances. He cast his own mind back to when he had had a run in with Commander Lewin who would not even pass on his request for marriage, to Captain Blythe. Little Lucy Heatherley – my goodness, she had been captivating – but what a mercy he had been saved from her – she went on to ruin Peter Graveney’s life! He was not unaware of the tragedy of Emily Browne but these things happened and a man could not allow them to affect his career. Perhaps he should give this young officer a second chance since he was keen enough to return and clever enough to persuade Gladwell of his worth. And to to tell the truth, he would be glad of another Lieutenant. It was possible that affairs were going to hot up in the Med and he could do with an extra pair of hands to improve their times with the evolutions. Anyway, Fractious was a first class battleship, the chap was lucky to have got such a posting, but the people needed a bit of harrying. He trusted that Brown was blessed with young lungs that would give instructions that could be heard. These young fellows must learn to hail properly. It was no use blaming it all on the screw when the command to reef sails could hardly be heard. Second Lieutenant Brown had been suitably gracious for the appointment and gave every impression of being prepared to devote his life now to the enhancement of the Royal Navy. Harford hoped that all would now go well for the young officer
Since his father had now taken a house in Gosport for his retirement, it was a good opportunity for an extended visit at home with him until his next commission was arranged. His father had enjoyed picking up with the Seaman’s Institute where he might found some like minded officers. His father had been a ‘blue light’ and Ephraim’s continued faith was one of the things which had somewhat alleviated his father’s anger at what he still referred to as ‘the Emily business’. Ephraim thought it might do something to improve relationships if he saw that his son was now following more actively in his father’s religious footsteps, even if perhaps in a different direction.
Ephraim hoped that this visit would seal his relationship with a father for whom he had considerable respect but not love. He had only known love for Emily.
To see his parent less occupied with Sunday Services would surely, he hoped, give them a chance to talk. He knew his father looked to him to provide the success in life, that his father had always felt he had missed, be it spiritual success in the church or success in the Navy, and when he had married Emily, he felt his son had given up on both. Not only his alliance to Emily but his increasing attraction to the high Anglican life was alienating his father. He wondered if they might mend bridges.
‘Father what do you think of Newman now?’ Ephraim asked him as they sat together in the library after dinner; he with his whisky, father with his brandy. ‘We have not spoken of this since I joined the Briton and you gave me the Apologia to read. You were interested in him in those days.’ Ephraim did not want to launch into his own opinion until he saw which way the wind stood with his father.
‘Interested, yes, but only as one is interested in strange species.’
‘Well, as Darwin says, we must have evolution.’
‘It is my opinion that when a man cannot hold to the church he joined and be loyal to the students he has led throughout his life, and then sends out tracts he later rejects and retracts, he has something to apologise for, not to be shouting the odds from the treetops!’
Ephraim decided not to join battle with his father. It was obviously too late for that thoughtful and careful discussion he might have had with his father as a younger man. Now, the blinds of senile certainty were being drawn down and there was little room for the enlightenment of new thinking.
‘You might like to come and hear Mr Moody and Mr Sankey speak at the Trade Hall this Sunday. It will be quite an occasion. The men are popular with many of the traditional clergy as well as us and it will shake Newman out of your system,’ the Rev. Browne said hopefully.
‘I’ll think about it. Meanwhile I will go back to John Keble.’ He lifted a book from the library shelf and took himself to bed.
As he prepared to sleep, his father put his head round the bedroom door,
‘What happened to that baby Emily was supposed to have?’
‘Father, what a way to put it!’ exclaimed Ephraim.
‘Sorry, just wondered…you never speak of it. Don’t like to mention it.’
‘I got a letter from Lord Gail. Doctor said it would not last more than a couple of days. Emily’s grandmother took it. Never heard any more. Good night. Don’t worry about it. I will try and come and hear Moody and Sankey.’