Granger had received word that Valiant was sighted off Margate the previous evening, and knew that with the winds and tides as they were, Valiant would arrive at Sheerness this morning.He’d started off on his journey back to his ship quite early, before it was even dawn, hiring a large shore boat to take him from the Admiralty Steps down to the ship.He had been fortunate in that the weather was balmy and calm, a typical August morning that promised to be hot and steamy by afternoon.
He sat in the stern on the thwarts, watching the morning traffic on the Thames as this massive commercial estuary awakened for another day.His staff was with him, including Winkler, Jacobs, Dr. Jackson, Andrews, and Patton, all of them focused on what they would find around the bend, hoping it would be their ship.
“My lord, I spoke to the haberdasher yesterday, and he promised that the supplies would be shipped down tomorrow at the latest,” Andrews said, as if he were mentally going through things he would need to check on and accomplish before they sailed.
“That is good news for our men,” Granger said with a smile.He’d spent his day yesterday shopping with Andrews for winter clothing for the crew, stocking some extra coats and thick winter stockings to help them survive the frigid temperatures they’d no doubt encounter in the Baltic.It was strange indeed to shop for such cold-weather items while simultaneously enduring the humid summer heat of London.“For the officers, I have a different surprise.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share that with us, my lord?” Dr. Jackson asked with a cheeky grin.
“I will share it with you, and you can keep it a secret until it arrives,” Granger said.“I have acquired another stove, similar to the one in my cabin, for the wardroom.”
“That is a wonderful and generous gift, my lord,” Andrews said, rare enthusiasm from him, which showed just how much he detested cold weather.
“I think it will also benefit the men, as I am hoping its warmth will perhaps penetrate to the lower deck, but we will have to see,” Granger said.Even if it didn’t, between the stove used for cooking in the forecastle and the stove in the wardroom, they may generate enough heat to make the ship less frigid for the crew.
“In any event, I know that I, for one, will appreciate having a source of warmth, my lord,” Jackson said.
The boat continued its journey, propelled mostly by the tide, with a bit of help from the oars.It passed first by Dartford, then Gravesend, and then emerged into the Thames Estuary.They had just passed Allhallows and were rounding the tip of the Isle of Grain when Sheerness came into view, and there, anchored, with her main topsail reefed for stability, was the Valiant.None of his staff members was ridiculous enough to point that out, since they were all of them marveling at this vessel that had been and would soon again be their home.
For George Granger, those emotions were magnified, but no one would know it from his cool exterior.Only Winkler, with his sensitivities to his captain’s moods, would have sensed the increased pitch in Granger’s internal functions as his pulse raced.But that façade was broken as soon as Granger saw Calvert, so handsome and so attractive, as he stood on the quarterdeck directing their activity, for indeed there was much activity.Granger and his party were approaching from the northwest, while from Sheerness, to the southeast, a bevy of craft were also approaching the Valiant.If it had not been already indoctrinated into Granger how important his mission was, the urgency with which the victualing barges arrived would have clarified that for him.
“Tie up on her starboard side,” Granger ordered the boat’s coxswain, getting an odd look from him.They should have used the larboard or weather side, but that side would soon be occupied by the approaching barges, so Granger was willing to eschew protocol to make this process easier.
“Aye aye, my lord,” the coxswain said.
“Boat ahoy!” came the expected cry from Valiant.
“If you will allow me, I will do the honors,” Granger said to the coxswain, getting a smile from the boat’s occupants.“Valiant!” he shouted across the water.
And so the time-honored ritual, where a ship made ready to welcome her new captain, began again.The four side-boys were assembled, along with the bosun’s mates, to welcome him aboard, and the ships’ company glanced anxiously over the side at this new arrival, braving reprimands from their petty officers.The boat tied on and Granger braced himself, and then leapt for Valiant’s chains.He was usually quite adept at boarding vessels, but this time, his hand and his feet slipped, and he fell back into the water up to his waist before he could recover himself and regain his grip on the chains.Under normal circumstances, that would put him in a foul mood, but he was so happy to be back aboard his ship, he ignored the cold water streaming down his legs.He climbed up the side and strode through the entry port, water dripping onto the deck, as he saluted the quarterdeck.
“Welcome aboard, my lord,” Calvert said, smiling broadly.
“It is good to see you,” Granger said genuinely.“I think Valiant was expressing her irritation at me for deserting her,” he said, gesturing at his wet breeches.
“She can be a moody mistress, my lord,” Calvert joked.
“I see you have taken care of my ship.”
“I would point out, my lord, that she is not yet your ship,” Calvert said playfully, then turned to Weston.“Call all hands!”Weston gave the orders for that, and then turned to welcome Granger.As the men were shuffled into the waist and forecastle, Granger warmly greeted his other officers.“The men are assembled, my lord.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Granger said.He then pulled out his orders from the Admiralty giving him command of this ship, noting proudly that the words ‘pro tempore’ were not in these instructions.When he was done, he paused only briefly, and then continued.“Men, I am glad to be reunited with all of you.We are going to revictual this ship as quickly as possible, then we are ordered to sea again.I am hoping that there will be some time in between those events to provide you with some shore leave.”They gave a rousing cheer, although it would be difficult to discern if it was because they were happy Granger was back, or if it was because of the hope of shore leave.“Mr. Weston, carry on.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and began rapping out orders to stow the stores Valiant needed.It was only after the excitement of Granger’s arrival on board had faded and as the standard routine of victualing had begun, that Granger sensed some tension on board.It largely seemed to emanate from Weston, Calvert, and Gatling, although it was hard to tell after such a brief time aboard.
“Captain, perhaps you can join me in my cabin and tell me of your adventures,” Granger said to Calvert.
“It would be my pleasure, my lord,” he said, and followed Granger back to his luxurious cabin.
“Join me in my sleeping cabin,” Granger said with a rueful grin.“I must change into dry trousers.”His personal fittings and decorations were aboard the boat and would be refitted here, so to ostensibly avoid the hubbub of that activity, he led Calvert into his sleeping quarters.Granger found himself surreptitiously sniffing the air, and looking about, as if seeking signs that Calvert had just had sex in this very room, but then their eyes met, and the love they shared was rekindled.
“As you are to remove your wet breeches, I am of a mind to take advantage of the opportunity that affords,” Calvert said playfully.Granger shed his lower garments, an action that fired up both of their libidos.They quickly but meaningfully coupled.The fact that there were people outside the cabin scurrying around meant that they had to be absolutely quiet, and that just added to the overall eroticism of their merging.Granger realized it had been quite a while since he’d been with another man, and strangely enough, found that amusing.
“I have missed you,” he said to Calvert, in between pants, as he tried to catch his breath.
“I doubt you have missed me as much as I missed you,” Calvert said with his trademark grin.
“That is probably true,” Granger teased, with faux arrogance.“So what did you do while you were gone?”
“We sailed about, chased a privateer, then were ordered back here,” Calvert grumbled.“What did you do?”
“I was given command of a 74-gun battleship, and I managed to capture a privateer and recapture a brig,” Granger taunted jovially.
“You are simultaneously the most admired and hated captain in the Navy,” Calvert teased, making them laugh.Granger led him out to his quarter gallery, where he poured them a glass of port and they sat in the leather chairs, a setting which they both knew indicated they were having a casual conversation.
“I am to be sent to the Baltic as soon as we reprovision and my passengers are ready to depart,” Granger said.
“The Baltic?” Calvert asked curiously.
Granger told Calvert about the Freya incident.“The ships of that convoy are supposedly anchored in the Downs, so you probably passed them.”
“We did indeed,” Calvert said.“I had wondered what all those Danish ships were doing there.Our passage was so slow, we spent almost a day amongst them.”
“It will not do well for us to have to battle Denmark, Sweden, and Russia,” Granger said.“This mission is to try and prevent them from shifting from belligerent neutrality to all-out war.”
“I am sure you will succeed spectacularly,” Calvert said in a loving and supportive way.
“I am sure you are being optimistic,” Granger said skeptically.“In any event, you will be too busy to notice what I’m doing.”
“George, you are always on my mind,” Calvert said firmly, his sincerity piercing Granger’s stoic armor.
“As you are on mine,” Granger said softly.“You are to be given a new command.”
“Indeed?” Calvert asked, unable to hide his excitement. “Have you arranged for me to captain a scow?”
“Unfortunately, that was not within my powers, so instead, my understanding is that you are to be given the Cleopatre,” Granger said.
Calvert smiled broadly at that.“She is a beautiful ship.I saw her when she was refitting in Portsmouth before I joined Valiant.”
“If she is still there, you must make use of my home there, both for your own purposes, and to water your ship,” Granger insisted.He explained briefly the system he’d set up to do that.
“Your stove would have been a godsend if it weren’t so damn hot,” Calvert said, thinking of other innovations Granger had introduced him to.“I suspect you’ll get plenty of use out of it where you’re going.”
“I suspect,” Granger agreed ruefully.“It would have been very useful during our passage through the Horn.”
Calvert smiled softly with Granger over that memory, of a danger and an achievement shared.“We managed to stay warm in other ways.”
“Well, I will not have you with me to help with that this time, so it is good that I have a stove,” Granger said.It annoyed him that Calvert seemed pleased at his reference to being celibate, enough to raise a less pleasant topic.“I sensed some tension on board.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re talking about,” Calvert lied, his posture defiant.
“I am stunned that you would think, after all we have been through and mean to each other, that you can utter such a lie and that I would not be able to detect it,” Granger said, his voice rising slightly.
“You are calling me a liar?” Calvert demanded, a bit too loudly.They suddenly realized that there were other people within earshot, at least if they were elevating their voices.If Granger were dealing with any other man, this may possibly be the prelude to a duel, but he knew Calvert, and this was just part of their tempestuous relationship.
“No, I am saying that your denial of the tension I referred to was a lie, and that surprises me, since that is not something you usually do,” Granger said, then modified his tone.“I can only assume that what is causing the tension and your reaction was something that has caused you a considerable amount of anguish.”
“You are right, and it was idiotic of me to think I could hide something from you, but it is sometimes a bit frustrating the way you can dive into my mind and read it so well,” Calvert said, relenting.
“Yet a while back, in my sleeping cabin, when I read your mind so well, you had no objection,” Granger flirted, making Calvert smile. That smile soon faded, as he spoke of what bothered him.
“There was an incident aboard, one that was personal, involving me, Mr. Gatling, and Mr. Weston,” Calvert said uncomfortably.
“That is an erotic vision, a ménage a trois with the three of you,” Granger said, trying to ease his tension.
“It was nothing so interesting,” Calvert said, then swallowed hard.Granger put his hand on Calvert’s to support him, but Calvert instinctively pulled his away, more a sign of his internal distress than any sort of rejection.“While I was with you in Ryde, the night before we sailed, Gatling was with Weston.”
Granger raised his eyebrows, because that statement contained multiple shocking facts.The most surprising to Granger was that Weston was with another man, something Granger had never known he’d even contemplated.He pushed that erotic vision aside, and forced his mind onto the greater issue Calvert was dealing with.“Are you vexed with Gatling or Weston?”
“I can hardly be vexed at Weston, now can I?” Calvert demanded a bit too loudly.
“It would seem, from your reaction, that you are,” Granger said calmly, as if to force him to emulate Granger.
“I am irritated with him even though I have no grounds to be, so I try to hide it, and that perhaps fosters some of the tension you feel,” Calvert admitted.Granger smiled gently to encourage him.“I am angry with Gatling, while Weston was only an accomplice.”
“I suspect it is easy to piece this together.You were with me, and that made Gatling jealous, so he lashed out at you by sleeping with Weston?” Granger asked.
“He would make it seem that he was vulnerable, while Weston was a wolf who swept in and took advantage,” Calvert said bitterly.
“I suppose that is plausible, but it hardly excuses Gatling’s behavior,” Granger said. He could see Calvert’s defenses rising as he prepared to justify what Gatling had done, so he hastily moved to preclude that.“Was sleeping with Weston something that wasn’t allowed?”
“Our relationship is exclusive with one exception: you,” Calvert said.
“It appears that doesn’t seem to work for Gatling,” Granger observed ruefully, then tried to lighten the mood a bit.“Perhaps he was just upset because he didn’t get to sleep with me.”
“Well you should have plenty of time to rectify that on this next voyage,” Calvert snapped, then apologized with his eyes.
“The thought of the two of us together obviously causes you much jealousy,” Granger noted firmly, since he was irritated by that slip.“Which one of us sparks that emotion?”
“Both of you do,” Calvert answered honestly.“But I told you before that if I have to choose between the two of you, there is no choice.”
That really irritated Granger, as it piqued his pride, at the thought that he had to settle for this relationship that was solely at Calvert’s discretion.“I am not sure what I can do to help you with this situation.I feel involved against my own will as it is.”
“I am sorry that I am not worth the extra effort,” Calvert snapped.They just stared at each other, fire in their eyes as their anger flared, then it dissipated simultaneously as they grappled with their emotions.“This is why I was reluctant to involve you.I know this is not easy for you, even though you tell me otherwise.At the same time, you are the person I am closest to, and the only one who can probably help me work through the feelings it roils inside me.”
“And that is why I prodded you to tell me about it,” Granger said.They heard commotion on the deck as Valiant continued to gorge herself, and their instincts were first to rush out and assist in the process, but Granger wanted to show Weston that he had confidence in him, so he relaxed in his chair and Calvert followed suit.
“When I think of his reactions, and as we talk, I think of myself when I was a young lieutenant, so lacking in maturity, and we had a fight over something not too dissimilar,” Calvert said.He had to be referring to Granger’s encounter with Sir Evelyn Fellowes in St. Helena, one that had left Granger with a love bite on his neck, a bite Calvert had found and had been devastated by.
“You were headstrong and difficult to deal with, as I recall,” Granger teased.
“Perhaps, or perhaps I was just lacking in maturity, and perhaps that is what he is dealing with,” Calvert mused.
“I had a brief conversation with Rodney Roberts,” Granger said, diving into a topic he felt very uncomfortable with.
“He was the officer who all but used Gatling then turned him out?” Calvert demanded, full of outrage.
“Rodney is not a bad person, and I would ask you to try to be a bit impartial in this situation,” Granger all but demanded.
“I will try,” Calvert promised, smiling to show that he knew it was probably futile.
“Rodney wanted to explain what happened between the two of them, lest I harbor a bad impression of him,” Granger said. “He said that what started out as a lovely relationship became more difficult as he prepared to take up his own command.He said that where he had felt satisfied before, he subsequently felt entrapped.”
“Perhaps that was more of an indication of the realities of getting a command,” Calvert said, throwing out defenses for Gatling.Granger ignored him.
“He said that it got to the point that even a mildly flirtatious conversation with another evoked a pronounced jealous response from Gatling,” Granger said.
“So you and Roberts have decided that Gatling is a jealous fiend?” Calvert demanded.
“I have decided nothing,” Granger spat in anger, then calmed himself.“I am merely explaining what I heard, and what Rodney’s perceptions were.I do not see how any of this is damning toward Mr. Gatling, as we are certainly all flawed creatures, but merely suggesting that maybe that is one of his weaknesses.”
“I am sure if I have time to mull this over, I will be in a better position to talk about it.I fear now all you are seeing is my instinctive need to defend Mr. Gatling’s honor,” Calvert said.
“You are being loyal, and that is an admirable trait,” Granger said.“I know this is not easy for you to hear, but I know that when you have time to think about it, you will be able to better evaluate it than anyone.”
“Let us hope you are right,” Calvert said.
“I fear I am the catalyst in this issue you face with Weston and Gatling, and I am worried that you will harbor bad feelings toward me,” Granger said, exposing his own insecurities.
“George, more than anyone of us, you have conducted yourself honorably and honestly,” Calvert said sincerely, then got playful.“While you are certainly used to being the center of attention, in this case, you are but a peripheral figure.”
“It is most frustrating that you are all not my loyal idolaters,” Granger joked.
“And who says we are not?” Calvert responded.“In any event, he will be here with you, so it is I who will have to curb my jealous tendencies.”
“I was asked by Lord Spencer if I wished to retain Mr. Gatling aboard Valiant, or if I would prefer to transfer him to Cleopatre,” Granger said, watching Calvert carefully to see how he reacted.
“Which did you choose?” Calvert asked, hiding his feelings on that so deeply not even Granger could read him.
“I told him that while Mr. Gatling was an excellent officer, I would not want to deprive him of an opportunity aboard Cleopatre,” Granger said.
Calvert sat there for several seconds and said nothing, he merely thought about what Granger said.“You did this for me, because you love me.”
Instead of a long-winded rationale, Granger simply replied, “Yes.”They heard a boat hailed, and then heard additional commotion as someone came aboard.Supply boats usually didn’t create such a fuss.That fuss was explained shortly after that when Mr. Genarro entered the cabin.
“Sir, the guardboat brought packets for you and for Captain Calvert,” he said.He was perhaps more handsome since the day he first came aboard Valiant, Granger decided.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the two packets.“Will you please inform Mr. Weston that I would be obliged if he and the other officers could join me for dinner?”
“Aye aye sir,” he said smartly, then left the cabin.Granger handed Calvert his packet, and summoned Winkler to tell him of the dinner plans before opening his own directives.
Granger read his orders with a bit of surprise, but put his feelings aside and focused on Calvert.“I have been ordered to take command of the Cleopatre, just as you said,” Calvert said with a broad grin. “I am to leave for Portsmouth at once to finish readying her for sea.”
“Did they say where you are going?” Granger asked.
“It says I am to report to Lord Seymour, and since he is in the West Indies, I suspect that is where I am going,” Calvert said, with just a hint of sadness.
“I wish you were to be closer than that,” Granger said. “But it could be worse.”
“You will be freezing in the Baltic, while I am sweating in the Caribbean, or dodging hurricanes,” Calvert said ruefully.
“Surely there is a happy medium,” Granger joked.“I, on the other hand, have been ordered to complete victualing this ship then move her to the Tower of London to receive Lords Whitworth and Daventry.”
“The Tower?I don’t suppose they’re planning to lock you up in there,” Calvert joked.
“I suspect that is being done so my admirers may more readily hound me as I go to and from the ship,” Granger said.He was sensitive to the public relations machinations of the Admiralty, and this had all the signs of being such a maneuver.
“It will make going home easier,” Calvert joked.
“Indeed it will,” Granger agreed.
“My orders task me to leave for Portsmouth, and do not appear to give me much time to dally,” Calvert said, biting his lower lip slightly, showing how this upset him.
“Then perhaps, before you leave, you can join me one more time,” Granger said.And so they retreated to Granger’s sleeping cabin and coupled again, an encounter that was even more meaningful than the first.Within an hour of their final orgasm, Calvert, Gatling, and Calvert’s staff had left Valiant.
Granger hid his melancholy by forcing himself to focus on his ship.Most of that entailed inspections, the most interesting of which was done with Meurice, her master.He showed Granger the experimental iron knee braces that they had installed, and how well they’d worked, and asked Granger’s permission to install ten additional braces to shore up other knees that were sagging.Granger readily agreed.He had been skeptical about using the newfangled contraptions before, but he was glad he had done so.They would immeasurably add to Valiant’s strength and endurance.He was so engrossed in his work that he was surprised when Winkler announced that dinner was ready.Only then did he let the aroma of Lefavre’s cooking whet his appetite.It was a hungry but happy crowd that assembled around Granger’s dining table in his great cabin, enjoying their dinner while the men enjoyed their own feast, courtesy of Granger’s generosity.
“Welcome gentlemen,” Granger said, raising his glass to his officers. Weston sat to his right, his large frame and handsome face reassuring and, after Calvert’s revelations, not a little erotic.Weston was usually a happy and cheerful person, and it was nice to see that with both Calvert and Gatling gone, he had gotten those pleasant attributes back.Major Treadway all but leered at him, further fueling his libido, reminding him of what an excellent lover the handsome marine was.Lieutenant Kingsdale was the only other commissioned officer at the table, and he looked at Granger with wide-eyed hero worship, while Granger’s gaze toward him was a combination of fraternal and paternal.Andrews, his redoubtable and honest purser, sat next to his friend, Dr. Jackson, the man who had all-but saved Granger’s life when he had the fever. Meurice, the master, looked at the food approvingly, since it would be more like his native French fare.And finally, the three midshipmen, Llewellyn, Genarro, and Travers, sat at the end of the table, focusing mostly on the food in front of them, as adolescents were wont to do, and otherwise trying to remain inconspicuous.
“My lord, as much as we appreciated Captain Calvert’s leadership, it is good to have you back,” Weston said.
“I do not think it is any great admission to tell you that I have all but pined away for your return,” Granger said to the table at large.After that, he proceeded to act as the diligent host, focusing their attention on the various courses and dishes Lefavre had prepared.The talk was general, mostly of standard shipboard events that had happened when Granger was gone or on things these men had missed while being at sea and away from London, including the Freya affair.It was only after they had done eating, and the toast to his Majesty had been drunk, that Granger broached the topic they’d all been waiting for.“And as you may imagine, I have news to share.”
“You have our undivided attention, my lord,” Treadway said.
“I have already told you of the Freya affair,” he began.“The government is anxious to dispatch Lord Whitworth to Copenhagen to treat with the Danes, and we are tasked to take him.”
“That shouldn’t be a very long voyage, begging your pardon, my lord,” Meurice said appropriately enough, since he was responsible for navigating the ship.
“It would not be, but our mission does not end there,” Granger said with a smile.“We are then tasked to carry Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg, so he may work to avoid hostilities with His Imperial Majesty Tsar Paul.”
“And explore the Russian brothels, begging your pardon, my lord,” Treadway joked, alluding to Daventry’s reputation as a rake.
“Undoubtedly,” Granger said, laughing with them.
“Won’t it freeze soon, my lord?” Meurice asked.
“It is unwise to attempt to navigate the Gulf of Finland after November, so that is why time is of the essence for us,” Granger answered.“We are to finish victualing, then we are to move to the Tower to make it easier for Lord Whitworth to board the ship.”
“We should be ready for that by tomorrow, my lord,” Weston said.“After that, we’ll just have to stow water.”
“We’ll get that from a different source than the Thames,” Granger said, making them laugh.“Sadly, I have no personal reservoir here to help us take on water.”
“That is most unfortunate, my lord,” Treadway said.
“As for the more immediate news, we are to get a new lieutenant,” Granger said.Kingsdale and Weston both looked concerned: Kingsdale, lest he be booted back to the Midshipman’s berth; and Weston, lest he be superseded by a superior officer.“Mr. Grenfells will serve as our second lieutenant.” He noted the relief evident on the faces of both of his lieutenants.
“Wasn’t he aboard Sceptre, my lord?” Treadway asked.
“He was the only officer to survive that tragic loss,” Granger confirmed.“Do you know him?”
“I met him once,” Treadway said.“Seemed to be a decent chap.”
“We shall have to hope he is a good officer, and I will trust you gentlemen to help him fit in when he arrives,” Granger said.“Mr. Kingsdale, you have apparently endeared yourself to the Admiralty to the degree that they have agreed to confirm your posting as lieutenant.”That got a round of congratulatory remarks, as they were all rather fond of Kingsdale.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, a bit stunned.
“You must still pass the examination,” Granger said severely.“There is one scheduled next week.I would recommend that you use your spare time to prepare.”
“Aye aye sir,” he said, and got a sympathetic look from Weston, who had endured that hell when he’d gotten his commission.In such an examination, the acting-lieutenant was subjected to being pelted with questions by three to five captains, none of whom were very happy to be serving in that role.
“After we have finished victualing the ship, I would like to let the men have some shore leave.I think we can rotate them through for a few days at a time, about 75 men for each cycle,” Granger said.“I would like to pull them from each mess, and make sure the other men of the mess know they cannot have leave until their messmates return.”
“That may help reduce desertion, my lord,” Weston said.
“That, and the fact that they still have a considerable amount of prize money left to be paid when the ship pays off may also influence their decision,” Granger said with a grin. Desertion was not something to take lightly, but with his reputation, Granger didn’t have trouble getting a crew for his ship, and he suspected that the few who did leave would be easily replaced.