Lt. Lemuel Didcot, R.N., first lieutenant of the British frigate Armagh, and officer commanding the boarding party that “impresses” Edwin Lawrence and Abraham Schwartzman. Second son of a farming family, he seeks his fortune on the sea, with enough sense of how the world works to spot the very man he needs, and enough boldness to take him despite the law.
Lieutenant Didcot bowed to each of the ladies, then turned to the elderly merchant and extended his hand. “And you, sir?”
“Josiah Goodbody, merchant of Boston,” the man replied. “And this is my niece, Mrs. Lawrence.”
The Lieutenant bowed to her and turned to the tall and broad-shouldered passenger. “Lieutenant Lemuel Didcot, at your service,” he said, extending his right hand.
“Edwin Lawrence, merchant of Boston,” replied the man, taking Didcot’s hand. Didcot extended his left hand and grasped Lawrence in a long two-handed greeting, then turned the merchant’s right hand over not in the manner expected of a Naval Lieutenant in His Britannic Majesty’s service but that of a gypsy fortune-teller. With his left hand Didcot turned Lawrence’s right hand palm-up and ran the fingers of his own right hand along the distinctive ridge of calluses on Lawrence’s fingers and the telltale callus which angled across the palm.
“Wither are you bound, Mr. Lawrence?”
“Lisbon, on business for my late father’s trading house, in company both with my uncle, whom you have just had the pleasure of meeting, and my wife, to whom you have also been introduced.”
“This is not your first sea-voyage, is it, Mr. Lawrence?”
“No. Before I joined my father’s trading-house I went before the mast two years on one of his vessels.”
“Ah,” said Didcot, dropping Lawrence’s hands and turning to the passenger next in line.
Later, Didcot talked with the midshipman and the senior petty officer of his boarding party,
“You found only six of the crewmen fit to take, Bosun?”
“I need ten men. Those six, plus the deserter, gives us seven. Take the tall, healthy passenger, who has had his hand in the tar-bucket and, I’ll wager, knows the ropes well enough to serve in the tops. Take the silvermith, who will serve the place of our late, lamented armourer’s mate. And take your dirk, Bosun, and determine at its point which of the Dagos speaks the most English, and that man makes our ten. Tell the sergeant of the marines to put the men apart, and stand by to bring them to this gangway.”
“Aye, sir,” said the Bosun, and hurried forward.
“You’re bold, Lieutenant Didcot,” said Midshipman Lewis. “’Tis most irregular to impress an American merchant.”
“‘Be bold, be bold,’ the poet Spenser says,” replied Didcot.