“Captain The Honorable Sir George and Lady Granger,” boomed the chamberlain. Granger looked at Caroline and they gave each other conspiratorial smiles as they walked into the glittering world of Carlton House. Granger had received his knighthood only yesterday, and this is the first time he’d heard “Sir George” belted out by a chamberlain. He found that part of him was proud of the distinction, of being in an exalted group with the likes of Sir John Jervis and Sir Evelyn Fellowes, while the other part of him was a bit flustered at having this new title to grapple with. In Granger’s world, the apex of society, titles were usually inherited, not earned. It made the whole thing seem just a bit nouveau for him, as if he were just now joining the ranks of this social class instead of being there as his birthright. He looked over at his wife, admiring how beautiful she looked. She was wearing a somewhat provocative gown, with a low-cut bodice and a corset that seemed to push her breasts up so high he was convinced they would burst out of their restraints at any time. His eyes wandered higher, to the beautiful diamond necklace he’d bought her after they captured the Precieuse, and the sparkling diamond earrings that were a more recent gift. Caroline glittered, both from the jewelry, and from her sparkling personality. He wondered if she was having the same conflicts over his new honor that he was having.
Caroline Granger had no such qualms. She breezed into this familiar den of intrigue full of energy and full of pride in her husband. She returned her husband’s gaze and smiled back at him reassuringly, marveling at the luck fate had dealt her in giving her George for a mate. Her father had wanted to marry her off to the elder son of a peer, someone who would come with a title and land, and would already be set to take a prominent place in society. Caroline knew most of the men her father had fancied as her partner, and she had no use for any of them. The best of the bunch were just a little out of her reach, no matter how much money her father was willing to throw into her dowry, while the others were either bores or idiots. Instead, she’d gone out and picked her own man, the third son of an Earl. Not exactly the most inspired match, her father had thought, even though the Earl in question was a powerhouse. She remembered how mad he’d been when she’d basically trapped him into marrying her off to George. She smiled even more broadly as she thought about how her father would have to eat his words.
She walked with George through the group of people as they headed to greet the Prince of Wales and pay their respects. This world was their world, closed off to anyone not born into it. Those who weren’t could only try to work their way up the social ladder slowly, generation after generation, as they accumulated enough wealth and land, and made progressively better marriages, until they could finally demand and receive a place in this group of elites. Everyone knew each other, and everyone would close ranks in a heartbeat to protect their absolute and complete hold on the reins of power. There wasn’t an intense rivalry like there was on the Continent, where dukes and counts were a dime a dozen. The English model of primogeniture, where the oldest male inherited virtually everything, including the title, kept the great families wealthy and entrenched. She thought about her sister-in-law, Davina, and how that bitch was gambling away her father-in-law’s fortune, bit by bit. Even if she succeeded, the Earl would never be poor. His properties may end up mortgaged, and he may end up with fewer servants and the like, but he’d always be able to drum up a few more sinecures from the crown. This group of people, they’d take care of their own.
Caroline knew all of this, understood the system completely, and that’s why her political instincts were so well honed. She glanced at her husband, who was subliminally aware of these facts, but wasn’t crass enough to exploit them. So bright, so brave, and so handsome, George Granger had a modest air that made him irresistible. He was the darling of the mob, because when he was around them, his normal manners asserted themselves. He wouldn’t just breeze through the crowd with his head held high, he’d pause to stop and thank the people, to acknowledge that they existed. Caroline almost laughed out loud at the irony of the situation, at how those who treated the crowd with such disregard usually needed and thrived on their attention, while George was polite, but secretly detested their demonstrations of affection.
“Are you enjoying yourself, dear?” Granger asked his wife.
“I am with the handsomest and bravest man in the realm. How could I not?” she said. She giggled when he blushed, as she knew he would. She wasn’t exaggerating either, especially about the handsome part. As George got older, he just got more attractive. His long face with its features that were so straight and perfect they looked as if they’d been carved out of stone, were enough to justify that claim on its own. Add to that his full, thick blond hair and his piercing blue eyes and the man became even more attractive. But the thing that really made George stand out was his personality. His unimpeachable manners, his incredibly polite demeanor, and his boyish charm were augmented by his sense of humor. Some people used humor inappropriately, inevitably leading to those uncomfortable faux pas, but not George. He had a knack for gauging the moment and the amount of playfulness just right.
Granger approached his future sovereign and bowed low, as his wife curtsied next to him. “Granger! You’ve got a new medal, and this one is actually English!” the prince exclaimed, sparking laughter as his comments always did, regardless of whether they were actually witty or not.
“Indeed, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. “I owe it all to you and your example.”
“Nice piece of work, conquering a whole city on your own,” the prince said, grinning.
“All in a day’s work, sir,” Granger said, grinning back at him.
The prince turned his attention to Caroline, which was no great surprise, knowing what a ladies’ man he was. “You look absolutely radiant tonight, Caroline.”
“Your Royal Highness is too kind,” she replied, blatantly flirting.
“Granger, I need a favor,” the prince said.
“What may I do for Your Royal Highness?” Granger asked, barely hiding the caution in his voice. What could he possibly offer the Prince of Wales?
“Lady Jersey’s younger son, a spritely lad of 14, wants to pursue a naval career. Would you be willing to offer him a position as midshipman on your ship?”
Granger smiled. “It would not only be a pleasure, sir, but convenient, as I am short a midshipman.” His mother would be outraged, since she and Lady Jersey had an ongoing feud. He saw Caroline stifle a giggle, no doubt thinking the same thing.
“Excellent! Now you must join us.” Caroline went off to socialize, while Granger stayed with the prince and gambled. He was having a good time, enjoying these powerful men and their conversation, when a dark cloud seemed to fall over the group.
Granger saw Charles James Fox out of the corner of his eye, but pretended that he hadn’t. “As the mood has suddenly darkened, and your expressions have become dour, I can only suspect that either some great disaster has befallen us, or Mr. Fox is present,” Granger said to the crowd in general. They all laughed uproariously, all except Fox, who eyed him with disapproval.
“I fear you are correct, Granger,” the Duke of Portland said. “Good evening, Fox.”
“Your Royal Highness, Your Grace,” Fox said, acknowledging the two most powerful men there. Turning to Granger, he continued, “I see you have a new bauble, this one from the King.”
“I would hardly call it a bauble, Mr. Fox. Your irreverence borders on an insult to His Majesty,” Granger said pompously.
“Something I would never contemplate,” Fox said smoothly.
“Indeed, Fox? Then where do the newspapers get all that wonderful fodder?” Lord Fitzwilliam asked. Fox was a notorious thorn in the side of the King.
“And why does His Majesty keep introducing legislation calling for you to be drawn and quartered,” William Windham, another Whig politician, asked, causing more laughter.
“You’re quite funny tonight, Windham,” Fox sneered, and then turned his attention back to Granger. “You are quite a polarizing figure Granger. Sir John raves about you, while Admiral Mann is less kind.”
“Your words are flattering, Mr. Fox. Sir John Jervis is one of England’s best admirals,” Granger said authoritatively.
“Are you implying that Admiral Mann is not?” Fox asked, baiting him.
“On the contrary, Mr. Fox. I think Admiral Mann should be given command of any fleet that needs to return to England as speedily as possible,” Granger said. Everyone laughed at that, everyone but Fox, but even he had a small twinkle in his eye. In the end, he took his leave of the group, leaving Granger to enjoy his evening and acquire another 5,000 pounds.
Granger left the group and was looking for Caroline when he spied the Earl Spencer talking to a few naval officers. He saw Granger and excused himself. “You look like a debutante here, Granger, with your new ribbon and star.”
“Thank you, my lord. I think I look handsome as well.”
“I didn’t say you looked handsome,” Spencer said, pretending to be gruff. “I have to see the Prince, so I can’t waste too much time with you.”
“I will have to try to be more charming in the future, my lord, so spending time with me is not wasted,” Granger said, being cheeky.
Spencer shook his head and smiled. “Your Frenchman, Monsieur Meurice, is in conflict with one of his countrymen at the dockyards, a Jean-Louis Barrallier. It seems that if you put two Frenchmen together, they cannot get along.”
“That is unfortunate, my lord,” Granger said, merely to acknowledge that he had heard Spencer’s words.
“I need to separate the two, and Barrallier has more friends. I’m of a mind to appoint Meurice as Master of Belvidera, if you have no objections.”
“I would be most appreciative, my lord,” Granger said. Meurice was a very talented naval architect, and he was familiar withBelvidera’s design and construction. “I only hope that he is agreeable to this new assignment?”
“Actually Granger, he asked for it,” Spencer said.
“Then that is truly excellent, my lord,” Granger said sincerely. “With his help, perhaps I can move on from ransoming city-states to conquering small countries.”
Spencer really laughed at that. “I wouldn’t put it past you. And now I must be off. I’ll instruct him to report to you at once.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Granger said. He wandered off to find Caroline chatting with some ladies. “Are you ready to go home, dear?” The other ladies looked at him with barely concealed lust, while Caroline put her hand on his arm possessively.
“I am,” she said simply, and smiled at the ladies as they left. “I do believe every woman here wants you, George.”
He gave her his most flirtatious grin. “I have eyes only for you.”
“You have been at Carlton House for but a few hours, and already you talk like a politician,” she teased. They hopped into their carriage for the brief ride home.
“It was a most productive night,” he told her. “I am 5000 pounds richer; I have a new midshipman, and a new master.”
“I do love your mother dearly, but I am looking forward to seeing her reaction when she finds out that Lady Jersey’s youngest son is on Belvidera.” Caroline sighed. “Sometimes their bickering seems counter-productive, especially since Lady Jersey is so well-liked by the Queen.”
“I suspect she will realize I really had no choice,” Granger said nervously. He really had no desire to cause his mother any anguish.
“Do not worry about it, George. She may feign irritation, but it will all be an act. You got a new master as well?”
“You remember Lieutenant Meurice, who came back with me from Toulon?” She nodded. “He has apparently been wrangling with one of his former comrades, and now there is need to separate them.”
“Does his appointment please you?”
“It does. He is familiar with Belvidera, and he was the one who suggested reducing her quarterdeck armament, a change which has made her much more maneuverable.”
“If you are glad, then I am glad. And you are 5,000 pounds richer. That will give you some extra money as you fit out your ship.”
“Yes it will,” he said, noting the sadness in her voice, not about his winnings, or that he would be spending money on his ship, but because his time ashore was limited, and he would probably be back at sea in a fortnight.
“Sir George, there is a gentleman here to see you,” Cheevers said, interrupting his breakfast.
“Who is calling?” Granger asked. It was a bit early for social calls.
“The Spanish Ambassador,” Cheevers said. “Señordel Campo.”
“Please have another place set,” Granger said, as he rose. “I will escort him back myself.” Granger walked into the grand foyer to find the Spanish Ambassador looking somewhat nervous. “Your Excellency, what an honor you do me with your visit.”
“The honor is most assuredly mine, Sir George,” del Campo said, bowing in return to Granger’s polite bow. “I hope I am not intruding by calling on you this early, and without an appointment.”
“You are always welcome in my home,” Granger said. “But you have interrupted my breakfast. Make it up to me by joining me.”
Del Campo returned Granger’s smile. “It would be my pleasure.” Granger led him into the dining room, where another plate was already waiting for the ambassador. “I understand you were at court recently, that you went to the Alhambra.”
“I was, Your Excellency. I had the honor of being received by both His Most Catholic Majesty and His Excellency the Prince of Peace.” Granger regaled the Spaniard with the tale of his trek to the Alhambra, and with what little gossip he’d managed to pick up.
“I must thank you for your hospitality, Sir George. I have a request to make, asking yet another favor from one who has already done so much for my country.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to accommodate Your Excellency, as long as that is possible.”
Del Campo’s expression changed to one of sadness. “As you are no doubt aware, our two countries will soon be at war again, if they are not already. I must take my leave of your beautiful country, and of my English friends. It saddens me to the core to think we will be enemies.”
“I have found, Your Excellency, that it is possible to have enemies who are also friends. I am saddened as are you, but I hope you will live for the day when peace will restore the fullness of those friendships.”
“I hope so as well,” del Campo said. “In the mean time, it is inappropriate for me to remain in England. My mission here is done, and most of my retainers have returned already. There is only myself and a small suite of aides, four gentlemen, who must return to Spain. I have come to ask you if you will convey us home.”
Granger kept his facial expression blank, despite his surprise. “Your Excellency, I would readily grant your request here on the spot, but as you will no doubt understand, I must first make sure that such arrangements are consistent with my orders.”
“But of course. I appreciate your willingness to help me.”
“I am surprised, Your Excellency, that you do not seek passage in a packet, which would be more comfortable. Or perhaps conveyance to France, where you would no doubt be able to return to Spain on land.”
“I have no desire to visit France. They have done more to make my mission of peace a failure than anything else has. And to be honest, I am nervous about being at sea in a merchant vessel. The seas are a dangerous place for those who are virtually unarmed.”
Granger chuckled. “I would venture to agree with you, Your Excellency. I personally have found my cannon to be quite useful.”
“I have taken up enough of your time already. I must thank you for a wonderful breakfast. I would be obliged if you would send a messenger to let me know if you can accommodate my request or not. I will not take it amiss if you are unable to.” Del Campo stood up as he said this.
“Your company has made my breakfast superb, Your Excellency. I will of course communicate with you as soon as I receive my orders.” Granger stood up and escorted the Ambassador out of his house and to his carriage as a sign of respect. Then he went back into his study and dashed off a letter to Spencer asking his permission to take del Campo to Spain.
He was planning to go out to the ship today, but his departure was interrupted by another visitor: Meurice. Cheevers guided him into Granger’s study.
“I hope I am not interrupting you, Sir George,” Meurice said smoothly.
“Not at all Mr. Meurice. I am glad that you are to be part of our crew,” Granger said as he greeted him.
“I thank you, sir,” Meurice said. “I am hoping I can go somewhere where I will be useful. Here in London, I do nothing but argue, mostly with Monsieur Barrallier.”
“I would have thought a fellow Frenchman would be a welcome companion in this land of strangers,” Granger said, baiting Meurice to go on.
“He is a fraud, and claims to have knowledge where he has none. I can see though him as if he were a pane of glass, so that makes me dangerous to him and it means I must be removed, sir.” Meurice had let himself get bitter, and his light brown eyes had flashed with anger as he made his statement. “Besides, I miss the sea.”
“The dockyard’s loss is our gain,” Granger said diplomatically. “What are those bundles?” Granger pointed to several rolls of papers that Meurice had with him.
“I have some ideas to propose to you regarding Belvidera, sir,” Meurice said. “I hope you do not think me impertinent.”
“Not at all,” Granger said. “I am always open to ways we can improve my ship.”
Meurice laid out one of the rolls. “A recent experiment was done on two prototype vessels. Instead of using wooden barrels to store water, they used iron tanks. The water stayed fresh much longer.”
“Indeed?” Granger asked. “That would be a great advantage.”
“The only problem, sir, was that they were built into the ships, and the pumps were not efficient enough to fully empty them. If we had some iron tanks built that were removable, like barrels, that problem would be solved. They would also be strong enough that other things could be placed on top of them.”
Granger thought about that, and decided it was an inspired idea. “That is certainly worth experimenting with.”
“Yes, sir,” Meurice said enthusiastically. “Unfortunately it will cost money, and I am sure the Admiralty would not pay for it.”
“I am not averse to spending my own money on such a venture,” Granger said. And with that, Meurice rolled out another paper, one that showed a potential system for capturing rainwater as well. It had a copper pipe that went up to each masthead, where a funnel was opened to gather rain. Meurice wanted to put one on each mast, but Granger allowed him to plan an experiment for one mast only, the mizzen. It was fascinating to work with Meurice, and to see how some of the more progressive designs were languishing in the Admiralty for one reason or another.
“I was planning to go to the ship today. Come with me and we will brief Mr. Roberts,” Granger said. Granger had them driven to the Whitehall Steps, where he hired a boat to take them to the ship.
“Another thing to consider, sir, is boat davits,” Meurice said.
“Boat davits?” Granger hadn’t heard of them.
“Some captains have experimented with them. They are wooden hoists attached to the stern or side of the ship to hold the boats. It makes lowering the boats much easier and much faster, and it makes the deck much less cluttered,” Meurice observed.
“Wouldn’t they wash away in high seas?” Granger asked.
“No sir, not if they are well secured. Seas that are strong enough to wash them away are probably seas so large that a ship would not survive anyway.” Meurice paused to let Granger internalize that. “The Admiralty has expressed concern about having boat davits on the stern; because they are afraid it would put too much strain on the aft part of the ship.”
“But you do not think they would?” Granger asked.
“No, sir. I think that having a boat such as your gig, or the jolly boat, secured there would be fine. I would not fancy the launch or cutter hanging there, though.”
“What do you think the Admiralty would say if we installed them here at Woolwich?” Granger asked.
“I think you would perhaps have some older admirals grousing about it, sir,” Meurice said, grinning. “However, it would be easy to install them when we are at sea. There you would have only to answer to Sir John Jervis.”
“I suspect he would be a proponent of anything that would make a ship more efficient,” Granger observed, as much to himself as to Meurice. “Let’s plan to incorporate your water storage and retrieval systems into the ship. Make sure you have what you need to try out the davits, and we’ll consider installing them at sea.”
“Aye aye sir,” Meurice said, the only answer that was appropriate in the Navy. They rounded the bend in the river and Belvidera came into view. “She is beautiful, sir.”
“Yes, she is,” Granger said as he observed his ship. Granger was convinced she was the best frigate in the fleet. She was built in Toulon during the throes of the Revolution, but that had not seemingly affected the work done by her builders. She represented the latest incarnation of frigate design: she was long and sleek, designed for speed. Older frigates that were shorter were supposedly more maneuverable, but Granger hadn’t noticed a pronounced difference. Her gold leaf gleamed in the sunlight, and Granger noted that Roberts had gotten her sides painted. When they’d arrived in London, she’d had huge streaks where the paint had been carved away by the seas.
“She seems to be down a little in the bows, sir,” Meurice observed. He was referring to the trim of the ship, something that was the master’s responsibility.
“She does. Let us see how many more stores we have still to ship before we pronounce final judgment.”
“Boat ahoy!” came the cry from Belvidera. Granger was quite sure they’d recognized him, but Roberts would tolerate no slackness, and not hailing a passing or approaching boat would definitely be a sign of slackness.
Granger nodded to the boat’s captain, who cupped his hands and yelled back “Belvidera!” If there were any doubt aboard Belvidera that the captain was returning, that would now be dispelled.
“Pull around her,” Granger ordered. The boatman looked at him dubiously but did as he was told. They passed her bow, with its shrewish figurehead and abundant gold leaf, then passed her larboard side. Granger looked up at the gunports that were open for ventilation, and could see the muzzles of Belvidera’s main armament just behind them. Eighteen-pounders, the largest caliber frigates would carry, with the exception of the massively large frigates like Endymion, which actually carried 24-pounders. Then they arrived at her ornate stern, where Granger’s great cabin extended across the whole after section of her main deck. Her name was proudly emblazoned across the stern. The boat worked around to her starboard side and hooked on to the main chains. In calm river water, grabbing onto the chains and hauling himself up was no problem. Doing the same thing in roiling seas was a different maneuver entirely.
Granger pulled himself through the entry port to the sound of bosun’s whistles. “Welcome aboard, Sir George,” Roberts said, grinning. It was so pleasant to see that they were as excited about his knighthood as he was.
“Thank you, Mr. Roberts. This is Mr. Meurice. He is our new master.” Granger paused while they exchanged greetings. “He has some interesting ideas to improve our ship. Perhaps you will join me in my cabin while we review them.”
“Aye aye sir,” Roberts said. “Mr. Robey went ashore, sir.” Granger saw the pain and anguish in Roberts’ eyes. He and Robey were lovers, so losing him would be painful.
“He will convalesce better ashore,” Granger said, trying to reassure him.
“Yes, sir,” Roberts said, although he wasn’t convinced.
“We are to receive a new midshipman. Lord Jersey’s son, Albert Villiers will be joining us.”
“Aye aye sir,” Roberts said. Granger led them below and spent the next few hours reviewing Meurice’s plans. Roberts was less enthusiastic than Granger was, but then again, he usually was more conservative. To Granger’s logical mind, anything that would enhance Belvidera as a fighting machine was something that should at least be considered.
“May I help you, Sir George?” the equerry asked him politely. It was a much more affable reception than Granger had gotten the first time he’d called at Clarence House.
“I have come to call on His Royal Highness, if His Royal Highness is available,” Granger said politely.
“If you will follow me, Sir George,” the equerry said. He led Granger into the Duke of Clarence’s study. “His Royal Highness should be with you shortly.”
Granger walked around the study, admiring the perfectly carved desk and the books that lined the bookshelves. “Granger! How good to see you,” the Duke said as he came into the room.
“It is good to see Your Royal Highness as well,” Granger said as he bowed. “I hope you don’t mind me coming by so soon after my last visit.” Granger had visited just the day before yesterday.
“You are welcome to visit me any time you like,” the Duke said. He stifled Granger’s response by planting his mouth on Granger’s. Their lips wrestled, then their tongues. Granger pulled his own trousers down and turned around to face away from the Duke, then forced himself to relax as he welcomed the Duke’s big dick inside his body. The Duke pistoned in and out of him, sending shockwaves of pleasure through both their bodies, until Granger felt the Duke stiffen as he came, blasting his load straight into Granger’s ass. Granger expected that to be the end, but the Duke kept himself firmly planted in Granger’s ass while he reached around and stroked Granger’s engorged dick. It only took a few seconds for Granger to ejaculate as well. He watched as his cum flew across the Duke’s beautifully polished desk.
“I live for your visits,” the Duke said. “I fear I have another appointment to make.”
“I’ll just clean up this mess and then show myself out, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said politely. “I suspect I will be sailing soon, so I’m not sure if I will be able to call on you again.”
“No matter when it is, I will look forward to our next meeting,” the Duke said. He gave Granger a final kiss, and then strolled from the room. Granger took out his handkerchief and wiped his cum off the desk, then went home to see Caroline.
Or so he thought. When he arrived at home, he found an agitated Admiralty messenger. “Sir George, Lord Spencer has asked you to call on him as soon as is convenient.”
“Then I will come at once,” Granger said, and found himself back in his carriage. He was at the Admiralty in short order, and waited almost no time at all before he was escorted into Spencer’s presence.
“Ah, Sir George. I’m sorry to summon you so quickly,” Spencer said politely. “War with Spain is official. His Majesty has directed that all Spanish ships in our ports will be impounded at once. I’ll need you at sea as soon as possible to carry the news back to Sir John, and any other ships you may encounter.”
“I can sail at once, my lord,” Granger said.
“I think sailing on the morning tide will be adequate,” Spencer said, smiling. “That will give you and Caroline a chance to join me and Lady Spencer for dinner tonight.”
“We would be honored, my lord,” Granger said.
“I have discussed your request to convey the Spanish Ambassador back to Spain with the Foreign Office, and they think such a gesture will be a positive move on our part.”
“Then I will notify His Excellency at once,” Granger said.
“One more thing, Granger,” Spencer said, stopping his energetic and eager Captain. “I have another crew member for you.”
“My lord?” Granger asked, wondering what reprehensible creature Spencer was going to foist onto him.
“A Mr. Elijah Ramsey has orders to join Belvidera. He’ll be rated as your clerk,” Spencer said.
“That will give me two clerks, my lord,” Granger said, wondering what this was about.
“Don’t worry about that. Mr. Ramsey will be on board to better document Belvidera’s actions,” Spencer said. “He will be drafting dispatches and drawing sketches designed for the consumption of the press.”
“I am to carry a reporter to sea, my lord?” Granger asked. He was completely unable to hide the irritation in his tone, something he’d never done with Spencer before.
“Those are your orders, Captain,” Spencer said firmly.
“Aye aye my lord,” Granger said resignedly.
Spencer relented. “The government wants to exploit your future achievements. It seems your reports are too dry for public consumption.”
“My lord, I am concerned that if my reports are embellished, it will make me look like a braggart.”
“I understand. You are expected to work with Mr. Ramsey, but you of course retain final say over anything he writes. You may have to curb your modesty just a bit.”
“It appears I will have a full ship, my lord,” Granger said gracefully, trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“I will see you tonight,” Spencer said, dismissing him. Granger strode from the Admiralty, his cheeks red with fury at being saddled with a reporter, who would be little more than a spy.