Eventually, after an hour I dropped off to sleep, and woke at six, feeling a little groggy, as one does when one has insufficient sleep. I decided to skip the dining room, taking breakfast in my cabin instead. So I rang the bell for the steward. I was shaving when his knock came on the door. “Come in,” I said. “I’ll have breakfast please, Johnson? The usual thank you.”
“Certainly, Captain.” Surprisingly, the voice that answered was not as I expected, but belonged to Bob.
“Where’s Johnson?” I asked, while feeling a little embarrassed.
“He’s not well Captain. Stomach trouble. I’ll be looking after you until he’s better. Your usual is full English, isn’t it Captain.”
“Yes Bob. Thank you.” He left me alone, and I continued to shave. Johnson never called me Captain, so why should Bob? Then it dawned on me. Mervyn would have referred to me as the Captain. Although, it intrigued me to know why I should crop up in their conversation.
In no time, Bob returned with my breakfast tray. “Thanks Bob. I’ll have it on the table under the porthole.” As I towel dried my face, I saw reflected in the shaving mirror, Bob place down the tray.
“Are you intending to go ashore Captain?” he asked, while setting the table. “It looks to be a fine day.”
“I think I will, Bob. The cathedral seems worth a visit.”
“It is Captain. I can confirm that.”
“Have you been a steward on the Viceroy for long?”
“Since her maiden voyage Captain. Six years ago now. I was a bell boy.”
“You must have been very young.”
“Fifteen, Captain. They say I’m older than I look. Shall I run you a bath Captain?”
“But I’ll need to be quick. Won’t my breakfast get cold?”
“Don’t worry Captain. It’s on a warmer.”
“Certainly Captain. The Viceroy’s been my home. The other chaps are like family you might say. We rarely get shore leave longer than a few days. Then she’s away on a cruise or the Bombay run.”
“It must be very exciting.”
“Sometimes Captain. Only yesterday, we heard that when we get to Southampton, the Viceroy will be taking part in the Spithead Review for the King’s Silver Jubilee. But like everything Captain, if you do it often enough, eventually it becomes boring.”
Once the bath was half-full, Bob turned off the taps. However, as I removed my foulard dressing gown, even though the bathroom mirror was misting with steam, I saw him look up at me, taking more than a moment to glance at a particular part of my anatomy. “You must meet some interesting people,” I said, easing myself into the warm water.
“I do sir. Some more interesting than others, if you know what I mean.” His answer rather perplexed me, but as I began to wash, he commenced to tidy away my shaving things. “How about I scrub your back Captain.” The question so surprised me I lost the soap.
“Well, yes!” I stuttered, desperately searching for it in the water. “Why not. I haven’t had my back scrubbed in years.”
“I would have thought your friend would do it.”
“Do you have the soap Captain?”
“For the life of me Bob! I can’t keep hold of it.”
“Why don’t I try?” he said, kneeling down beside the tub.
“The last time I felt it,” I stammered. “It was somewhere near my feet.”
At the time, I remembered thinking how silly the situation must have appeared, but in the next instant, Bob dipped his hand into the water. Once again, I refuse to be graphic as to what happened next, and therefore leave the subsequent few moments to your lurid imagination. A while later, I decided to go ashore alone, as the early bath and subsequent events had left me relaxed and in a contemplative mood, just the state of mind in which to visit a cathedral.