To: Mrs. Polly Lickspittle,
Captain Ernest Brine,
April 16, 1814.
My Dear Polly,
I have thought naught of any but yourself since my impressment, these many months past, and I wish I could simply walk up the path to the door of the kitchen with you to open it but I have taken the King’s Shilling and must do my duty or be flogged to the bone. In truth, I must not talk of this matter for they are hard task masters here, and would have the skin from my back for less.
Things have improved since my letter to the Doctor, that grand learned man, and I am no longer required to climb the masts to set sails as before. Instead, I have become the Wardroom Steward and serve the dinner to the lesser officers. Usually, this means I don’t have to go on deck where I might fall overboard or be washed away in storms as waves sweep over the ship! Being on the berthing deck, it is amongst the driest and warmest places aboard. But for the surprising events of this evening’s dinner, I would be as content as I could be away from my snug bed in Portsmouth.
It is my duty to bring the vittles and drink as the officers demand and at dinner this evening, I was about these tasks. There are three Lieutenants on Acasta and they and the Master would eat in the Wardroom together with the Surgeon and some of the senior warrant officers. As there is always a commissioned officer on duty, this was the 1st Officer’s watch and he was walking the quarterdeck. Another of the Lieutenants was a guest of the Captain, together with one of the Midshipmen and so, the remaining Lieutenant Ramsay and the sailing master MacLachlan and the Doctor and the purser were the seniors present, and one of the midshipmen too, as a guest of the Wardroom.
The plates for the food had been removed and the Lieutenant called for port for the toasts and I was as fast as I could be, producing the bottle. Glasses were filled and then the loyal toast was made. “The King!” and a curious thing happened. The Master, before he drank, passed his wine over a cup of water and then drank. The Lieutenant had seen this and became very angry. “You…!” he spluttered at the master and then, glared at me! “Why did not you remove the water from the table?” and the master, seeing that he had been observed, began to laugh. “Auld habits”, he said in a low voice and leans back, still smiling.
“You fool!” says the Lieutenant to me. “Do you not recollect the date?”
“No, Sir. Is there some significance to the date? Your birthday perhaps? Happy Birthday, Sir.” says I, as humbly and cheerfully as I can. I offer to fill his glass.
After another burst of laughter, the master, a Scot says “Come noo Ramsay! It was a lang time ago and the last o’ the Stuarts are lang dead. Leave off the puir mon, he’s scar’t white!”
“And you!” yells Lt. Ramsay! “What of your oath of loyalty?”
The master is now angry too.
“Loyalty? There’s none more so, but my grandfather and his eldest son were lost at Culloden Moor in ’46 and so I do this for my broken-hearted father, now passed.” He looked hard into his glass. “Toadie!” he calls to me.
“You’re to ensure the water is removed from the table before bringing out the port, aye?”
“Oh, yes Sir!” says I.
“That make ye happy, Ramsay?” and they all just sat in silence for the rest of the meal.
I admit to being completely baffled by this turn of events.
Otherwise, duty herein the Wardroom has been uneventful.
I will send this by the first ship that leaves for Halifax and you shall receive it soon. I wish I could follow it home.
Your ever faithful,
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