the officer of the watch paced slowly, his telescope of office under his arm.

High up the mighty mainmast nearly overhead, on the sturdy platform of the main fighting top, figures could be seen preparing for some maneuver. As Kydd watched, one man swung out and appeared to hang down from the main yard. He moved out, the men in the top paying out a rope as he made his way along the hundred-foot spread of the yard. Even at this distance Kydd could see that the sailor was disdaining to cling on, instead balancing between the tiny footrope he stood on while leaning familiarly against the big spar.

Kydd watched in awe. Then there was movement and the Master-at-Arms growled, “To yer front!”

The First Lieutenant strode briskly out from the cabin spaces aft, accompanied by a junior officer. His clerk hurried after him with books and paper, quill and ink. Two men set up a table at which Tyrell and the clerk then sat.

Tyrell looked up at them from under his bushy eyebrows and nodded to the lieutenant, who touched his hat and went over to the pressed men to address them. “Pay attention! You will now be assigned your watch and station. This is very important. It will tell you your duty for every motion of this vessel, be it by the actions of the sea or the malice of the enemy. You will present yourself at your place of duty immediately when you are called by the boatswain’s mates or any other in lawful authority over you.” The men stared at him with attitudes ranging from dumb resentment to outright fear. “And if not found at your post, you will answer for it at your peril!”

The proceedings were efficient and rapid. In a short while Kydd was left standing holding a piece of paper bearing terse details of his future existence aboard Duke William. It appeared that the officer of his division, a Lieutenant Tewsley, and his deputy, Mr. Lacey, master’s mate, would also have these details to hand. Possession of these particulars seemed to Kydd a mark of finality. With them he could no longer claim, even to himself, that he was a temporary, unwilling visitor to their world. He was now unarguably an official part of it, and therefore subject to the most solemn penalties under the Articles of War.

A tendril of his dream brushed briefly over his mind and he felt lonely, vulnerable and frightened. Apart from the hotheaded Stallard, there was not a soul aboard whom he knew, someone he could trust, to whom he could reveal all his present fears and anxieties. One thing was sure: from now on he could rely only on himself, his own strength of mind and will. Blinking, he focused his attention on the First Lieutenant.

Tyrell finished scrawling in the margins of the book and rose. For a long moment he paused, his deep-set eyes fixed on the disconsolate group. Then he turned to the junior officer and snapped, “For God’s sake, arrange an issue of slops immediately. I’ll not have this ship looking like a dago doss-house!”

The bird-like purser’s assistant held up a blue and white striped opennecked shirt. “Here’s a fine rig for a sailor,” he said. With it were some white duck trousers and a wide black leather belt.

Kydd took them. The material was strong but coarse; it would never do in Guildford, but he could see that here its robustness would serve its purpose. He couldn’t help noticing how soft and pale his fingers were, and he wondered how long they would take to become brown and tough like a sailor’s. There was no escaping it – soon he would be a very different person from the one he was now.

The assistant rummaged about and produced a short dark blue jacket adorned with plain anchor buttons and with it a glossy black tarpaulin hat and other seaman-like gear, and added them to the small pile. “Try them on.”

It felt like dressing up, but it was plain that the short jacket and loosebottomed trousers gave a great deal of freedom for movement. There was need, perhaps, for a bit of work with needle and thread to smarten them up, but they would do.

Trousers – these free-swinging garments were peculiar to the sea profession, and they felt loose and strange. Kydd had been in “kicks” – tight knee breeches – all his life, and so had everyone else of his acquaintance, high and low. He put on his glossy tarpaulin hat at a rakish angle and chuckled grimly at the sheer incongruity of it all.

“So you’ll not be wanting these again,” the assistant said, disdainfully holding up Kydd’s sorry-looking country clothes. Without waiting for a reply he stuffed them into a sack.

A ship’s boy led the way up the ladder for several of the group who had mess numbers on the lower gundeck. It was deserted, and at a point where the bows began their curve in, forward on the starboard side, Kydd took a long hard look at the place that would be his home in his new life.

It was the space between two monster long guns, now with their fat muzzles lashed upward against the ship’s side. As he had seen the previous night, there was a table that could be lowered, revealing neat racks for the mess traps – wooden plates, pewter cutlery and bowls. Selfconsciously Kydd added his new canvas ditty bag to the others hanging up along the ship’s side. Each bag had an access hole halfway up the side, which was a practical means of keeping clothing and personal effects ready for use. Even in the dimness the impression he had was of extreme neatness and order, a Spartan blend of lived-in domesticity and uncompromising dedication to war. The whole purpose of the ship’s existence was as an engine of destruction to be aimed at the mortal enemies of his country.

He emerged warily on deck to slate-colored skies and fretful seas. The sails were braced round at an angle to the northerly, and there away to starboard, from where the wind blew, was a mottled coastline, all in greens and nondescript browns. There was no way of telling where this was. To Kydd it might be England or a hostile foreign shore. It was entirely different from what he could remember of the rolling greensward of the North Downs.

“Damn you, sir! Do you think this is a cruise, that you are a passenger on my fo’c’sle?”

Kydd had not noticed the officer standing among the men at the foot of the foremast. In confusion he faced him and attempted to address him.

“Respects to the officer when you speaks to him, lad,” a petty officer said testily.

Kydd hesitated.

Exasperated, the petty officer said more forcefully, “You salutes him, you lubber.” Seeing Kydd’s continued puzzlement, he knuckled his forehead in an exaggerated way. “Like this, see.”

Kydd complied – it was no different from when he had to address the squire at home. “Kydd, sir, first part of starboard watch.”

“Never mind your watch, what part-of-ship are you?” the officer asked tartly.

The question left Kydd at a loss. He saw the great bowsprit with its rearing headsails soaring out over the sea ahead. “Th’ front part, sir?”

The men broke into open laughter and the officer’s eyes glittered dangerously. Kydd’s face burned.

A petty officer took his paper. “Ah, he’s afterguard, sir, new joined.”

“Then he’d better explain to Mr. Tewsley at the forebrace bitts why he is absent when parts-of-ship for exercise has been piped!” The officer turned his back and inspected the clouds of sail above.

“Get cracking, son!” the petty officer snapped. “You’ll find ’em just abaft the mainmast – that’s the big stick in the middle.”

Kydd balled his fists as he set off in the direction indicated. He had not been treated like this since he was a child.

Around the mainmast there were scores of men, each in defined groups. They were all still, and tension hung in the air. A group of officers stood together in the center, so he approached the most ornate and saluted. “Kydd, first part of starboard watch, and afterguard,” he reported.

The officer’s eyebrows rose in haughty astonishment, and he looked sideways in interrogation at the young officer at his side.

“One of the new pressed men, I think, sir,” the officer replied, and turned to Kydd. “Report to Mr. Tewsley at the forebrace bitts – over there,” he added, pointing impatiently to the square frame at the base of the massive mainmast. Kydd did so, feeling every eye on him.

“Thank you, Kydd,” a lined, middle-aged lieutenant replied, looking at Kydd’s paper. “Bowyer, your mess,” he told a seaman with iron-gray hair, standing near the maze of belayed ropes hanging from their pins at the square framing of the bitts.

“Aye, sir,” the man replied. “Over here, mate. Jus’ do what I tells you to, when I does,” he muttered. The group of officers in the center of the deck conferred, the rest of the ship waiting.

Bowyer leaned forward. “That was the Cap’n you spoke to, cully. Don’t you do that again, ’less you’ve got special reason.”

The discussion among the officers grew heated in the inactivity, the Captain standing passive.

Bowyer looked curiously at Kydd and said in a low voice, “’Oo are you, then?”

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