Loose Lips Sink Ships
Bessie Stormont folded closed the latest edition of the Kingston Tribune and placed it on the side table beside her empty teacup.
She would like another half-cup before she started on her afternoon correspondence, and perhaps a biscuit or two to help fortify her. Unfortunately, her latest housekeeper had left suddenly and the new one wasn’t scheduled to start until tomorrow. She rose reluctantly to her feet and then chastised herself. Self-pity had no place in this house.
Since no one else was home, if she wanted a cup of tea, she’d just have to make it herself. She did know how to boil water, for heaven’s sake.
The front door chime rang out, making her frown. Who on earth could that be?
She wasn’t in the mood for visitors and without a housekeeper she had no way to send whoever it was away. I suppose I could ignore it.
The bell chimed again followed by several hard raps of the brass knocker.
What if it’s important. Memories of police officers and army captains delivering bad news still haunted her.
Bessie didn’t recognize the man standing on the doorstep. He looked to be in his mid-30s with shaggy blond hair and blue-green eyes. But it was the long, red gash down his cheek that drew Bessie’s focus.
“May I help you?” she asked.
The man kneaded the cap between his hands nervously, although he boldly looked her in the eye. “Is the lady of the house at home, ma’am?”
“That would be me.”
“Oh!” He took a step back and lowered his gaze. “Excuse my ignorance, ma’am.” He motioned to the house. “I just didn’t expect you to be answering your own door.”
“That makes two of us.” Bessie shook her head and sighed. “But it’s a new world, as my granddaughter likes to say. Now, what can I do for you?”
“Let me introduce myself. I’m midshipman Eric Fryer. I’m collecting funds on behalf of the widows and orphans of the men who served in the merchant marines.”
“Merchant marines?” Bessie had heard from Rose Cannon that the Canadian government had conscripted all merchant ships at the beginning of the war and ordered the construction of many more. The result had been a short-lived boon for the Cannons’ shipbuilding business. Although merchant crews weren’t compelled to sail on the dangerous ocean passages delivering needed supplies for the war effort, most bravely did bearing much of the brunt in the Battle of the Atlantic.
“Yes, ma’am. A lot of us fought alongside the proper navy. Used our own boats and everything.”
“Ah, I see.” Bessie’s eyes narrowed. “You saw action in the war. Is that how you got the injury to your face?”
“Yes, ma’am. We was sailing to England when we encountered one of them German wolf packs—you know them groups of U-boats. Must‘ve been a dozen or more.” Fryer’s voice rose in volume and confidence. “I’ve spent my life on the sea, but I ain’t never been through anything like it. They were right in front of us and coming full steam, intending to surround and sink us.”
“Oh, you poor man. It must have been frightening.”
“Yes, ma’am. They were so nimble, you know. Our old boat could barely keep up. We heaved to the right, then to the left. Rolling back and forth, trying to trick ’em into thinking we was sailing one way when we was really wanting to go another.”
Bessie found herself swaying along with Fryer as he rocked side-to-side with his tale.
“I was standing aft when the first mate made a sharp turn and I tripped on the hatch and was sent headlong into the gunwale. I broke my arm and got this ugly scar on my face.” His blue eyes stared earnestly into hers.
“But you got away. Obviously.”
“Yes ma’am, but not before losing most of the crew. I was one of the lucky ones.”
“And now you’re helping the widows and orphans of your crewmates.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Fryer nodded. “It’s the least I can do, seeing as how I survived while their husbands and fathers didn’t.”
“Yes, I agree, it’s very admirable of you. Or at least it would be if any of what you said was true.“
“Beg your pardon?”
Bessie took a small step back into the foyer, her hand resting on the back of the door. “You, sir, are no sailor. And you should be ashamed of yourself, using the misfortunes of others to line your pockets.” She slammed the door closed.
Now, about that tea…
How did Bessie know Eric Fryer was lying?
Scroll down to see if you are correct.
Bessie’s husband and son were both avid sailors. She knew that no seaman would use the terms right, left, front or back of a boat. As Charley learned in Rigged for Murder, the proper terminology is crucial. If Eric Fryer had truly been a midshipman with the merchant marine, he would have used port, starboard, forward, aft, and (definitely) ship.