An Officer but No GentlemanBy: M. Donice Byrd
Following his companions’ lead, Charlie pulled a passing wench into his lap. What else could he do? Had his father or he known ahead of time the crew had decided he was long overdue for his first woman, he would not have gone ashore with the rowdy sailors. By their standards, to be nineteen years old and green was unacceptable. As the recently promoted second mate, he was not likely to get their respect when they thought of him as nothing more than a fledgling boy. The time had come for Charlie to prove his manhood, so he slid his hand over the wench’s round hip and gave her a pinch on her upper thigh. She gave a yelp more of surprise than pain and slapped playfully at his hand. The others at the table let out a roaring laugh of approval. Perhaps this would not be so difficult after all.
The woman fingered the high collar of Charlie’s black broadcloth coat and the white cambric stock around his neck. Her smile was definitely lusty though he suspected she cast that same smile on every tar who had extra coin in his pocket which might come her way.
“Never had me a cap’n before,” she mewed cattishly, slipping her arm around Charlie’s shoulder, bringing her breasts startlingly close to his face.
Sitting directly across from Charlie, Morty Ness slammed his tankard down on the table. A wide grin creased his fellow American’s rugged face as his amber eyes lit up under a shock of unruly flaxen hair. “That’s all right,” he bellowed, drunkenly. “He ain’t never had a woman before.”
The rowdy men took delight in Charlie’s discomfiture.
“Have ye ever seen a lad turn that shade of red before,” Hugh asked taking pleasure in rolling the R’s, emphasizing his Scottish brogue.
“He hasn’t been that close to a teat since he was suckling on his mama’s.”
“Ah, come now,” Morty said. “We all know Captain Sinclair suckled Charlie.”
Michel Dupre began choking on his ale, making Morty slap him on the back.
“Well, that explains a lot,” Hugh said between chortles.
Charlie knew his face burned red under his dark tan, but pretended he had not heard the men. “I’m not captain, yet,” he said to the Aussie wench, knowing she was not as addle-brained as she wanted him believe. Then he added for the benefit of the others, “I hope you’re not contrary to being bedded by the second mate.”
After casting a wide smile at the woman he hoped looked lustier than he felt, Charlie grinned like a fool at his companions. “This may be a night none of us will forget, by George, except you, Morty. You’re already so skunked; I doubt you remember your name, much less why we’re here.” Then, like a banty rooster, Charlie crowed to the wench, “I hope you’re ready for an experience the likes of which you’ll tell your grandchildren when you’re old and feeble. In fact, you’ll give me a second go-round free just for the sheer pleasure of it.”
“Not likely, that, you little braggart,” she scoffed tartly.
She climbed off his lap and led him by the hand to a small room upstairs. When he noticed she was content to leave the door unlocked, he slid the bolt home; distrusting his drunken shipmates not to see for themselves the act was accomplished.
Charlie turned and found the woman sitting on the edge of the bed divesting herself of her high-heeled shoes. Once the first shoe was off, she gave her foot a massaging squeeze.
“Too tight,” she explained when she noticed Charlie watching. “Get to shuckin’, sailor. I ain’t got all night.”
Charlie put a coin on the table. “This is what you usually get?”
She nodded and he placed two more on the first. A moue puckered her mouth as she eyed the money speculatively.
“I ain’t supposed to stay up here for that long while the tavern’s open. The other girls get testy if they have to cover for me for too long. Maybe you’d like to come back up after we close,” she offered hopefully, her eyes darting to the money.
Sitting down at the foot of the bed, Charlie shook his head.
“Lay on your back.”
“Good-night! Ain’t you in a hurry all the sudden? Can’t a girl a least take off her drawers first?”
“I was going to rub your feet for you.”
She complied and Charlie pressed his thumbs into the bottom of her feet and slowly rotated them in wide, massaging circles. When an unexpected low moan of pleasure escaped her lips, Charlie hoped Hugh or Michel was standing outside the door.
After a few minutes, what he was doing dawned on the woman. “You had no intention of bedding me.”
As he continued to rub her feet, he shook his head, quirking an amused eyebrow. “No, but I’ll still give you the money on the table if you don’t say anything to my friends.”
“For that much, Cap’n, I’ll tell them I did give you an extra for nothin’. I’m a good actress. I’ll have ‘em believing Don Juan was a school boy compared to you.”
“No! Whatever you do, don’t do that. They might believe you tonight, but tomorrow when they’re sober, they’ll smell the lie. If you have to say anything at all, just say….” Charlie stared at the feet in his hands trying to remember every conversation he heard from jack about their first times. “Tell them I was quick. They’d believe that. What man wasn’t his first time?"
“Whatever you say.” She shrugged, and then a grimace crossed her countenance. “You’re not one of those…?”
“I assure you, my desires lie with the opposite sex,” Charlie said truthfully. “It’s just that there is this girl in our homeport….” Charlie looked her in the eye and tried to gauge her reaction.
“Where’s your home?”
He nodded. “She promised to marry me when I became first mate. In return, I promised I would not risk bringing home a disease. I didn’t mean to imply that you aren’t clean,” he added quickly, hoping not to offend her when he needed her on his side to get away with the farce. “It’s just I promised I wouldn’t risk it.”
“Then why not tell that to them instead of wasting your money?”
“I’m afraid they would begin to think I was making excuses to hide something. At nineteen, I’m supposed to have had a dozen women at least. They wouldn’t understand my vow to a wholesome girl.”
She smiled sweetly at Charlie and he knew she had believed him. “You don’t look nineteen.”
He rubbed his finger along his smooth jaw. “I know,” he said easily. “I’m sure that’s why this day has not happened before tonight. Do you think it’s been long enough? I have a feeling my friends are eager for my report.”
The woman thanked him for the foot massage as she squeezed her feet back into the too small shoes. It was hardly the intimate act for which they had come upstairs, but he thought it was a small gesture to get her on his side in this sham. The knowledge he would someday be captain of their ship and needed the respect of the ship’s crew, made him perpetuate the lie. Once his father, the ship’s captain, learned of this escapade, Charlie knew he’d be banned from fraternize with the crew. Charlie was a newly appointed officer now and would lose most of his friendships because of it. John Sinclair was a my-word-is-law, by-the-book type of captain. He, himself, would not dine with his only child because he didn’t want the crew to think he favored Charlie. The only way Charlie had been shown preferential treatment had been that Charlie had shared his father’s cabin until he had been promoted and received his own cabin.
A tugging at his stock brought Charlie back to the present. “You can’t go back out there like that,” the wench said. “Do you see any mirrors in here?”
“Thanks, you’re a sweetheart.”
Charlie unfastened the plain white stock and opened his collar leaving the points down. After he stuffed the stock in his pocket, the buckle end carelessly hanging out, he relocated the stickpin haphazardly in the frill of his shirt. She suggested he remove his coat and waistcoat and descend with them over his arm, but that was something Charlie would never do. His father had ingrained in him who he was and who he would someday be, too deeply for him to shed his officers’ garb in front of jack—jack being any or all common sailors. As the captain’s son, one day he would be captain himself.
An ironic smile touched Charlie’s lips. The clothes make the man, after all.
When Charlie and the wench returned to the smoky taproom, he found his shipmates subdued compared to their high spirits when he had left them. The barmaids had returned to their duties leaving Hugh and Michel with cold laps. Neither seemed to notice nor care as a man Charlie had not seen before had joined them. The men, deep in conversation, did not see Charlie approach.
“Get me a tankard of ale, love,” Charlie said to the buxom woman as they neared. A moment later, she was gone.
Morty was the first to see Charlie. He let out a howl and lifted his tankard. “A toast to our second mate: A man among men!”
All but the newcomer joined in the revelry as Charlie slipped into the empty chair between Hugh and Michel he vacated earlier. Charlie accepted their good-natured gibes in the manner in which they were intended and laughed as loud as or louder than anyone.