Warnings: some language
Feedback: very welcome. Good or bad.
Author's note: for Eve and all my lovely navy girls :-)
Summary: How Mr. Gillette joined the Royal Navy.
"She's gone. No surprise, what with us hitting the powder magazine an' all, Sir."
"What an unfortunate - accident."
The boatswain was tempted to point out that this had been an act of incredible stupidity rather than an "unfortunate accident", but that wouldn't have accomplished anything and only got him into serious trouble. The merchantman was gone, blown to pieces, and the consequences of this accident would be dire for all involved.
"I don't think the French will like it, Sir. Not at all."
That was the understatement of the century. A French merchantman, blown up in a time of fragile peace by a sloop of the Royal Navy for no other reason but the lieutenant of said sloop being an idiot? That went beyond anything the French would dislike. This was more like a declaration of war. The French would demand to see Glover's head on a silver plate, and the boatswain had no doubt that the Admiralty back home would be more than happy to accommodate them.
Lieutenant Glover sighed. "What a tragedy. Well, I will report truthfully how pirates attacked the unfortunate French vessel, how we tried to intervene but unfortunately arrived too late, and that no survivors were found."
"Sir, with all due respect - there were no pirates. There haven't been pirates here for ages. There are no-"
"But of course there were," Glover interrupted him, sounding very annoyed. "I'm very certain the men firing the gun all saw them. And a boatswain who wishes to keep his position must have seen them too, Mr. Peters."
She had been a merchantman sailing under a French flag rather than a pirate ship, clear to see for everybody with a working set of eyes and half a brain. Peters had pointed that little, insignificant fact out to Glover, but as usual, the lieutenant had ignored him and given order to open fire. Peters was just about to return to the men and explain to them that there had been pirates even if there hadn't been any when he spotted someone floating in the sea, amidst debris and gun smoke.
"Sir! There seems to be a survivor!"
Not much could be seen but a small figure clinging to a spar, but that figure moved and was therefore obviously still alive. Glover arched an eyebrow; he was not amused.
"I think I did not make myself clear enough, Mr. Peters. I said: there were no survivors. Which is a pity as they could have confirmed that they had, indeed, been attacked by pirates. Have I made myself clear, Mr. Peters?"
"Very clear, Sir."
The lieutenant turned around to return to his cabin, only to hear someone screaming "man overboard!" and then splashing and further yelling. Glover hurried back to the railing where the men were gathering. Peters had jumped overboard and was now swimming towards the survivor. That fool - jumping into the sea to save someone whose evidence could bring his lieutentant before a court martial! Damned the Scottish and their pigheadedness! Glover watched with increasing annoyance as Peters and a boy were hauled aboard.
"I wish to talk to you, Mr. Peters. Immediately! And bring our - guest with you," he ordered.
"Aye, Sir," Peters gasped, trying to catch his breath. But as soon as Glover had closed his cabin door and was out of earshot, the boatswain cursed and swore a blue streak that made even the oldest seadogs blush.
"What are you doing there, standing around gawping like a couple of old women, eh? Get a blanket or two an' then back to work!"
* * *
"So once again you found it necessary to ignore my orders, Mr. Peters. Pray tell, what am I supposed to do with you now?"
Peters knew that HMS Indulgence was undermanned, so it was unlikely anything lethal would happen to him. A couple of lashes, maybe, and as it was usually him who carried out the punishments, he wasn't worried. No man would risk causing him more discomfort than necessary, for that might result in considerable pain the next time he was in charge of the cat.
Most of the time Glover's punishments were glaring and sulking, though. Peters could live with that; it was his last journey, anyway. His years of service were over, and upon his return to Glasgow, he'd find himself a nice woman and settle down.
"Sir, you may punish me, but this I have to say: it wouldn't have been the right thing to do, Sir."
Glover steepled his fingers.
"I'm just a simple man an' don't know much about politics, Sir. But my mother would've spat on my head from paradise above if I'd just stood by an' watched a child drown, French or not."
Glover looked at Peters, then at the boy standing beside the boatswain, wrapped in a towel. He was about ten years old, and the lad's angry glare made him suspicious.
"Is it possible that you speak our language, boy?"
Another glare, then a nod.
"Wonderful. Still a child, yet he already speaks our language. I think we agree that the peasants in France don't learn English on their fields. A spy, I suppose. Put him in the brig, Mr. Peters."
"Give me a sword and we'll fight! My father always said this was the only honourable death for a man!" the boy said in very stilted English.
Peters and Glover both stared at him with utter amazement.
"You're challenging me to a duel? Bold speech for a nipper, I say!"
"Are you afraid of losing, Lieutenant?"
"For goodness' sake, lad, shut up," Peters hissed, and whacked the boy on the head.
Glover came to the conclusion that this wasn't a cabin boy or the son of a peasant. His wet clothes were worn but had been made of expensive material, and he had the arrogance of the upper class. Not that it made any difference to Glover whether the boy was peasant or noble, but who knew how his superiors would view this?
"What is your name?" he asked.
The reply was lengthy, with many titles.
"There's no need to list your complete family tree," Glover snapped. He didn't speak more than five sentences of French and had no understanding of the language. "What's your Christian name?"
"Guillaume André Henri Amonton de Villeneuve."
"That's not a name."
"In the civilised part of the world, it is."
"France is not civilised, it's decadent."
"Chacun voit midi ŕ sa porte."
Glover hit his fist on the desk.
"As long as you are on my ship, you will speak English! Understood? Show some gratitude to those who have saved your life after a vicious attack by pirates!"
The boy stared at Glover, then he nodded.
"Pirates? So that is why... I can't remember much, there was an explosion, I hit my head and then I was suddenly in the water. In that case, you have my gratitude. My apologies for my words. They were not befitting a gentleman."
That was a turn in the conversation that Glover liked very much, and he produced a fake smile.
"You must be very upset, so I'll forgive your harsh words. Peters, find dry clothes for Monsieur... Guillaume and something to eat. I'll hand him over to the governor once we arrive in Port Royal."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
"Very well. Now get him out of my sight, and make sure he's not causing any trouble while on board. "
"No, Sir. I mean, yes, Sir."
Peters quickly left, young Guillaume in tow.
* * *
"Thank you for saving me," Guillaume said. Peters had placed him in his hammock, dressed in one of his spare shirts. The boy felt the curious looks of the seamen around him, and despite his attitude, he was scared. He knew that these men held no love for his countrymen; that one of them had risked his own life to rescue him went against everything Guillaume's father had taught him.
Peters patted his shoulder. "That's fine, lad. But now tell me who you are and what happened."
"The Belle Elise was attacked by pirates, so your lieutenant said. There was a fire, and an explosion, and I fell in the water. Then I don't remember anything."
Guillaume conveniently left out the part where he had run away from home to see the world and hidden as a stowaway on the merchantman that had been sunk. It wasn't really that important from his point of view, anyway.
"And what did you do aboard the ship? Were you a passenger?"
Guillaume shifted uncomfortably. As he hadn't mentioned the stowaway-part of the story, he thought it would be wise not to get into the impoverished-landed-gentry bit, either. There were probably a lot of English lords who had blown their fortune gambling, so there was nothing new he could tell his saviour.
Peters misinterpreted Guillaume's silence.
"You may trust me, Guillaume. I don't mean you any harm."
"I know," Guillaume replied, but Peters could still see suspicion in the brown eyes, and laughed.
"You're quite the doubting Thomas," he said, and ruffled the red hair.
"From the looks of him, you should call him Patrick," the seaman in the hammock next to him joked.
"Bugger off an' mind your own business, Combes."
"No reason to get upset, Peters. You have to admit he's the most unfrench looking frog we've ever seen. Just look at those freckles!"
"Better freckles than an arse for a face like you. An' how many French have you seen, anyway?"
"More than you, as I don't hide behind the rum barrels during a fight!"
The men laughed and Guillaume, who had followed the banter with great interest, began to relax. With his fears calmed, this all seemed to be one big adventure to him. He quite liked being among these men. Nobody had been unkind, he hadn't been tortured or marooned on a desert island or shot.
"My mother calls me Gillette," he said to Peters. "Or Gillette le pom-pon when I do something I shouldn't do."
Peters howled with laughter.
"Gillette le pom-pon? Oh good God above, you must be the strangest fish I've ever caught! Combes, you should've seen how he tore strips off the lieutenant. Never seen one like him! Mark my words, he'll rise high one day, that lad!"
Combes had to grin at the boatswain's enthusiasm. "Yes, as high as the gallows! Heh, maybe we should keep him then. What do you say, copper-top - want to join the Royal Navy?"
Peters elbowed Guillaume in the side. "Ignore the git, lad. Are you hungry?"
Guillaume nodded enthusiastically, and Peters lifted him out of the hammock.
"Well, let's see if we can't find a bite for you then, doubting Thomas Gillette."
* * *
Author's note: Guillaume Amonton was a 17th century French scientist. He improved various instruments (the barometer, for example) for their use at sea. He also tried to implement his water clock in the French Navy to keep the time aboard a ship.
|TOUTE VERITE N'EST PAS BONNE A DIRE
by Molly Joyful