Once we used to work together,
Which we works together still
Used to sit and watch the heather,
Green and purple on the hill.
Now we oils the cranks together,
Ho ! and works together still.
[Note: Much of this reads better if you can adopt a cockney and the Irish accent]
WE were sitting under the gun-shield discussing matters of weighty interest - Carey flat on his back across the platform, staring at the breech mechanism and drumming occasionally with his heels ; Haing, smoking his everlasting cutty-pipe, hunched up against the loading-tray; myself between them.
" No," said Carey decisively, as if he were summing up evidence of a trial for murder, " ye may say phwat ye like till yer black in the face, but I say it's no place fer a dasint man. Out at four in the black mornin' an' swallow yer cocoa an' keep flappin' round all day, it's bad business it is, an' it's mysilf that 'ud be out av it cud I go." He rolled over on to his side as he spoke. " Beam defence at three bells, with the stand-easy lyin' acrost yer chest, an' unrig at six whin the sun comes down ; man an' arm an' return stores after dinnertime, an' the johnty everywhere where he ain't wanted, like the poles at a fair. Tin years I've done in it, man an' bhoy, an' the first is nearly done. But if I keep on fur the next tin afther that's done, may the divil protect my sowl ! "
" Give 'em your thirteen next month an' chance it," suggested Haing, cockney and reformed street-arab, the despair of his divisional officer and the joy of the lower-deck, who had seen this thing before. It is a terrible disease while it lasts, but the bluejacket is very like a child ; he frets occasionally, yet not for long. Haing was humouring him as a careful nurse humours a fretful child, and he did it very cleverly because he understood the complaint. He had seen how now and then even the best men, sick and tired of a wearisome, unbroken routine, of never-ending drills and bugles instituted for no apparent reason, and carried on day by day and year by year, and, worst of all, tired of each other's company and faces, break out and curse the evil moment in which they joined. It is not wonderful that this should be so ; it is the natural outcome of the situation, and it affects men and officers alike. And it is one of the reasons why life on board a man-of-war is the most wonderful life in the world.
Haing sat looking straight in front of him, blowing small blue clouds from his evil-smelling pipe. Carey lay on his side, staring gloomily at the sea.
" It's 'ump, ye know, sir," said Haing suddenly indicating the prostrate lump with his pipe-stem ; "it's always 'ump as makes 'em like that. I've seen 'ole ship's companies like that in the dinnerhour, watchin' the cockroaches crawlin' over the 'at-racks. But they gits over it by `clean guns,' like 'im. 'E 'as it awful bad sometimes, but it don't last. Sometimes it's the grub, an' sometimes it's the bloomin' job an' one thing an' another. But the orficers makes a good difference, too. Some of 'em's enough to give you the rats to look at 'em, let alone anythink else."
Carey's features relaxed into something like a grin.
"'Arris," he said, "d'ye remember ? "
" Ah ! " said Haing reflectively, " Lootenant 'Arris. That's jest so. D'you know 'im, sir ? Smart-lookin' young chap, an' very pleased with isself. Goes afore 'im for leave to go ashore, 'avin' missed the liberty-men. Up 'e comes in 'is shiny new belt an' a collar you cudn't 'ardly jump over, swingin' 'is tellyscope in front of 'im.
" ` Hah,' sez 'e, `my man,' 'e sez, ` an' wot's the matter 'ere ? ' 'e sez.
" ` Leave to go ashore, sir, please,' sez I, as bold as brass.
" ` Why didn't you go wi' the liberty -men?' sez 'e.
" ` Bin away in the picket-boat,' sez I, which was a lie.
" ` An' you want to go ashore now, do you ? ' sez 'e, lookin' at me over 'is four-inch collar.
" ` It you please, sir,' sez I, thinkin 'e was game.
" ` Oh, you reckin' I'm a damn fool, do you?' sez 'e, playin' with 'is slings. ` Well, you can go to 'ell,' ;e sez, `an' then you won't go ashore,' 'e sez, an' ` Dismiss the case,' 'e sez ; `the man's a fool.' An' I 'ad to stop aboard."
He looked at me with the air of injured amazement which had brought him triumphant out of many a battle with authority.
" But why did you bring in the picket-boat ? " said I. His look changed to one of open astonishment. This was an aspect of the affair which had never occurred to him, and he wasn't quite sure whether I was taking him seriously.
"Well, I 'ad to bring in something," he said at last.
" Yes, but why did you lie about it ? " said I.
" Well, you 'ave to lie somewheres," said he, and there is no doubt whatever that he was right.
After this there was silence for some minutes, during which Haing relighted his pipe, striking the match on the bowl. Presently he continued
"But others is all right, ye know, sir. Did you ever 'ear of the skipper of 81 ? Ah, 'e was a gentleman an' no mistake ! Nice a little chap as ever breathed. Torpeder lootenant 'e is now, but it aint is fault, an' 'e knows that. Shall I tell you the yarn, sir ? "
He pressed his pipe down with his little finger and regarded me out of the corners of his eyes.
I nodded assent. Bluejackets' stories are always worth hearing. Haing re-adjusted his shoulders against the loading-tray, and proceeded.
" In the beginnin' we was lyin' in Pompey 'arbour," he said. " Six fust-class boats swingin' round the buoys under banked fires, time o' the manoeuvres. They said they expected we'd 'ave a job before long, an' we used to run in an' out o' the 'arbour, lookin' out for the Blue Fleet. But w'en it never come, the subs used to say it never wos comin', and used to go ashore every evenin'. But our skipper said 'e knew better'n that, an' used to stay on board drawin' pictures to 'imself. 'Is dad commanded the Blue Fleet, an' that made 'im keen as mustard. 'E used to draw out 'ow 'e'd 'ave 'im w'en the Fleet come along. I reckon they 'ad a bet on or somethin'. 81 wos the number of our boat, leader o' the lee line, and the cleanest in the 'ole flotilla'er paint was somethin' to look at, an' the youngster kep' it up. An' there was ikey little fittin's along the lower deck, an' 'er side wos like a bit o' glass, an' the wardroom shone like the bloomin' Tivoli on a Saturday night. Leave every night w'en the work wos done, an' yer 'arf-pint as reglar as clockwork. But you 'ad to do yer bit - my word, there wasn't no 'Arris about 'im ! 'E knew 'is job, an' 'e wos the chap as done it. You cudn't weather 'im, though, an' we knew it, too. I reckon it was the best commission I ever done, takin' it all round. These beggars don't know wot it is nowadays - ships is getting too big. Look at 'em ! "
He waved his pipe towards the Fleet.
" The youngsters doesn't git 'arf a chance to do nuthin' at all, an' the others is too old. They only thinks o' messin' about an' gettin' their seatime in. But it's the youngsters as done the work, an' always will be. There ain't a hadmiral going cud run a bloomin' beef-trip, an' that's the solemn truth. But the young uns 'll do anythink - any bloomin' thing. Talk about a 'appy ship in this Fleet - w'y, there ain't none; they don't know what it is. The ships is too big for it."
I listened respectfully.
" Glorious it wos - glorious. But it wos too good to last, an' one day come the rub. The youngster gets a signal from 38, the nex' boat, askin' 'im to some bloomin' 'op they wos 'avin' somewheres ashore. There wos a girl in it somehow, I believe, too; but any'ow, 'e cleared out an' went. I knew wot it 'ud be w'en we pulled 'im ashore. 'E 'ad a bag with 'is dress clothes in, an' the gunner wos ashore, too, so 'e 'adn't no excuse ; but no one didn't like to say nuthin' to 'im, 'cos 'e wouldn't ha' liked it. We just come back aboard an' messed around the boat. But no one went ashore ; they didn't seem to want it that night, an', besides, there wasn't a orficer aboard to give no leave. So we 'ung on w'ere we wos. An' a good job, too, we did, for about 'arf-past nine the Tower lamp begun to work like mad, an' I give 'em a shout down the 'atch as brought 'em up like monkeys.
" ' Wot is it?' sez Ginger Cook - 'e was the coxswain - grabbin' 'is way to the after rail.
" ' Steam fer full speed, execution o' previous orders,' sings out Jimmy, the Buntin', bangin' 'is light up an' down over the garden seat. 'E'd 'eard the other boats answerin' 'fore I'd looked round, an' didn't waste much time, neither.
" ' We'll 'ave to go,' sez 'e, slewin' round, " it's orders to sail.'
" ' S'pose so,' sez Ginger ; ' 'e'll lose 'is chances else: We wos all standin' round 'im. then. ' It's that or nuthin',' 'e sez, 'arf to 'isself. ` Yus, we'll ,ave to go awright,' 'e sez ; 'but Gawd 'elp the young 'un if they finds out - that's all!'
There wasn't no moon, an' the night was dark as pitch, so it was all 'ands in. But we'd never ha' gone if we'd knowed wot wos comin'. Lucky we didn't!
" Ten minutes more we wos runnin' out of 'arbour in line a'ead, trustin' to 'Eaven's 'elp our guide an' the lights o' the next a'ead, an' if ever there wos a bleedin' miracle, I reckon that wos. Ginger got the youngster's coat on, an' the blue stripe round 'is flannal showin' through the top.
" ' Ah ! ' 'e sez, shovin' 'is 'ead up the 'atch, 'I'm skipper o' this craft now,' 'e sez, 'an' I 'ope we'll ,ave a good trip,' 'e sez. ` Make ready to proceed.' Jimmy wos layin' out 'is books atop o' the connin' tower, rollin' wi' laughter. 'Capting Cook,' 'e sez, an' laughs fit to bust. I seed it from inside, an' talk about a tableau vivong - it fairly capped it !
" ''Arf speed!' sez Jimmy, starting in and workin' 'is lamp.
" ' 'Arf speed!' 'ollers Ginger, 'an' stiddy port,' 'e sez, ' or we'll be up the 'Igh Street.'
" 'Arf speed it is,' sez I, at the telegrafts. Hover they goes, an' 'er stern begun to settle down. We 'ad a good lot below. Nosey Trelawney wos the 'tiffy *-called 'im Nosey 'cos 'is nose wos 'arf-a-dozen sizes too big. But 'e knew the ingines proper. 'Nother minute we wos clear o' the forts - six first-class boats goin' like 'ell, an' us leadin' the lee line with not a sextant 'and among us. I'd never ha' believed we'd ha' got out - much less back. But we did things that night as 'ave give me the jumps ever since. Not a man cud use the charts nor yet the sextant. We worked that boat by instink, an' she felt like it. We didn't 'ave no orders, an' no one didn't know wot 'nd turn up or wot we wos come out for. We was prospecting.
* Engine-room Artificer.
" ' Full speed ! ' 'ollers Jimmy, off the Warner Light, winkin' 'is lamp an' dodgin' round the tower like a flappin' ape, gettin' orders from across the other line.
" ' Full speed it is,' sez I, ringin' down: an' she begun to travel.
" ' Any orders ? ' sez Jimmy.
" ' Lord knows,' sez Ginger; ' we got to chanst that,' 'e sez, an' Jimmy begun to laugh agen. ' But we got to go through with it now,' 'e sez. We wos racin' round the Wight then, an' beginnin' to feel the swell. There wos a nasty lop of a sea on an' as dark as 'ell. We judged our distance by the shine out o' the leader's funnel across the lines a'ead, an' dippin' about like we wos, it wasn't none too easy, neither. But we wasn't far out all through.
" Presently they started manoeuvrin'. 'Strewth it wos wonderful!
" ' Divisions in line a'ead, turnin' to port,' sez Jimmy, takin' in the flashes.
" ' Wot's that ? ' sez Ginger, grabbin' the books.
" ' 'Old on,' sez Jimmy, bangin' 'is light; 'nuthin' yet - look now,' an' the boats swung up smilin' on our port 'and. We wos clear. ' In agen,' sez Jimmy, an' I cud see the leader's lamp goin' w'en she come in sight over the seas. It wos lucky we 'ad Jimmy; they kep' us at it nearly an hour, an' we come through all right, thanks to 'im. Tattics at full speed, an' no one but 'im knowin' ' line a'ead' from line abreast'! D'ye think 'e know 'is job, sir ? Begad 'e did well. D'ye know Piccadilly Circus after the 'alls is shut ? Like that - but worse."
Carey took up the tale.
" Prisintly they made signals for the divisions to separate and act accordin' to previous orders. Begad ! 'twas a nasty smack whin the division turned off and left us.
" ' Wot'll we do now?' sez Ginger. 'We're senior boat:'
" ' Kape 'em movin', me bhoy, kape 'em movin',' sez Jimmy, divin' at his books; an' begad ! he did that till I wondered if I'd ever see Donegal agin. 'Twas the most owdacious manoovrin' ye ever saw. No one iver saw the loike. ' 'Twill niver do for 'em to mistrust their leaders, ' sez Jimmy, an' he turned 'em up an' down an' twisted 'em about, an' jinerally played the divil with 'em, till they didn't know which way their noses wos, an' the subs in charge wos cursin' like all the saints. By the powers! 'twas a fine bit o' dhrillin' - the foinest I'll iver see. Hours we kep' at it - hours an' hours. Only, we kep' hold o' St. Catharine's Light whoile we was at it, so's to bring 'em back whin 'twas over, an' the boats tearin' round an' round wan another in the black night. Hours an' hours an' hours.
" Prisintly we sees the light o' ships on the horizon, an' 'twas the lights of a Fleet at sea.
" ' D'ye see that ? ' sez Grant. ' 'Tis the fleet o' the inimy for shure,' sez he.
"`Go on wid yer,' sez Ginger, but 'e straightens up tremenjous.
" ' The first division 'll miss 'em entoirely,' sez Jimmy, I an' 'tis us 'll have the glory av it if 'tis them.'
" But we misdoubted if 'twere them bekase av their lights burnin' clear; plain we cud see 'em shinin' like howtels.
Clap on the funnel-plates,' sez Ginger. ' If 'tis them, it's mesilf wud like some ordhers.'
" We had none, ye see, an' no one didn't know phwat we was ordhered out for. But we guessed it, an', begad ! it came right. The sea was gettin' up, an' we rowled enormous as we lay watchin' 'em come up. Auld Cookie, with his cap over his eyes, leanin' acrost the tower, an' Jimmy, leanin' on his lamp, laughin' to warm hisself. The ingines was runnin' dead slow, ye see, just to keep her head up sea, an' the boats layin' out behint us rowlin eighteen to the dozen. So we watched 'em come. 'Twas a big fleet, but if 'twas inimy or if 'twas frind divil a bit cud we know. An' the whole division o' boats behint us! We cud do nuthin' - fur we didn't know nuthin'. So we lay an' watched 'em come. Prisintly we heard the sound av 'em - 'tis a big sound, as you knowan' just forninst us they come walkin' past, two an' two, the leaders bobbin' an' bowin' acrost the lines like a couple at a wake, an' the rest in close ordher behint 'em-all goin' easy an' in perfect line an' station. No sign nor sound did we make, hopin' they'd go by.
" Suddinly, an' by the finger o' God, as I believe it was, they altered course an' come straight for us! I seed it - seed it clear from where I was - the leaders openin' their port lights together, an' no sound nor flash nor light to give 'em word. Down they came, goin' gently into the sea an' dippin' their black noses straight for the midst of us. Mother av Moses! d'ye see it ? We'd no one aboard! "
He stopped an instant and drew a deep breath.
Haing snapped up the thread on the instant.
" D'ye see that? We come fallin' over each other aft to tell Cookie, but 'e seed as soon as us. Jimmy was on it, too.
" ' Go on, man,' says 'e ; " you'll have to do it now:
" ' Is it enemy ? ' sez Ginger, grabbin' the wheel. I Fer Gawd's sake, let's know!'
" ' Go on !' sez 'e ; `'ow in 'ell shud I know ? Ye must make it what you please,' 'e sez.
" Ere goes, then,' sez Ginger, an' 'e shoves 'is 'ead down the engine-room 'atch an' 'ollers,
Stan' by to let 'er go.' We dussn't touch the gongs, for the ships was nearly atop of us then, an' we 'ears some beggar in the Flagship 'ailin' like mad. Ginger come crawlin' up to the tower.
" Oo's that?' sez I.
" ' It's one o' their dam buntin's,'[signalman] sez 'e.
"Then we're'ad,' sez I. "Ide yer light, Jimmy.'
" ' Ship ahoy!' hollers the buntin', an' devil a word did we answer. Suddinly, out comes a searchlight right a'ead, missin' the tops o' the funnels by a 'arf-inch, an' sweepin' round like mad.
" ' Let 'er go ! ' bellers Ginger, an' we 'card the steam turned on. Nosey was fallin' about in the engines, an' things begun to 'um. The other boats come poundin' be'ind us as we ran. Straight for the Flagship's beam we held 'er, an' they didn't find us till we wos nearly there. Then, begod ! we knew were we wos. They was loosin' off everything at oncst. But, Lord! we'd ha' sunk 'em four times over with that start. Ginger turns down an' runs for the stern then, the six-pounders an' machine-guns goin' like mad. We wos off, an' no mistake. As we pass the after bridge, we sees a crowd there by the light, an' Ginger waves 'is cap werry polite. We cudn't 'ear wot they said, though, nor see 'em proper, for the light wos fair in our eyes an' blindin' us. After that, we 'ad to run for it, an' run we did, turnin' an' doublin' an' edgin' an' twistin' out o' the way o' the lights. We shook 'em off at last, an' left the fleet behind us 'ummin' like a bee-'ive an' ablaze wi' searchlights. Gawd 'elp the fleet as gits took like that ! They'll never get 'ome no more."
He thrust his pipe between his teeth and shook his head sorrowfully. I watched and waited.
"What happened after you got clear?" I said at last.
"Jimmy wos leanin' up against the chart-table, rollin' to an' fro' wi' laughin' ; an' Ginger Cook sat up acrost the tower, danglin' his legs an' waitin' fer the other boats to come up. ' Im an' me wos for'ard, watchin' the lights o' the fleet go down, an' two stokers wos wipin' their faces atop o' the 'atch.
" 'Ave we finished ?' sez one.
" ' Ope so,' sez another. ' Are y' goin' in, Cookie ? '
" Ginger slided off o' the tower.
" ' Oh, yus,' 'e sez, ' we're goin' in fer a little trip to Lewes [prison], I reckon,' 'e sez. ' We're a lot o' mutineers, we are. In my belief, we've 'it the wrong lot, but that we'll know later. Any'ow, they seed us, an' we'll 'ave to pay for it. I don't believe 'twas the Blue lot at all, an' that's the solemn truth.'
" An' we reckoned 'e was right, too. That was a 'appy mornin' ! We was wet through an' filthy dirty an' 'arf-dead wi' cold, too. Presently we seed a lamp workin' be'ind us - 'twas one o' the other boats tryin' to find us. Jimmy 'auls out 'is lamp an' brings 'er in.
" 'Ave you seen 48 ?' sez Ginger, w'en she was come close enough. That wos the
" ' Not a sign of 'er,' 'ollers the youngster, bobbin' up on the beam under a 'ead o' steam. ' I expec' she's gone in. Rather spoilt the old man's beauty-sleep, eh ? 'E ought to increase your allowance. Did you see 'im w'en you went by ? 'E wasn't cursin' you much, neither ! '
" ' Hah ! ' sez Ginger, ' did you see 'im plain ? ' " You'd ha' thought it wos the youngster talkin'
" ' Plain as daylight,' sez my lord; I cudn't mistake 'im at a thousand. And 'e'll note you for it, too, or my name ain't Dickson. W'en are we goin' in ? It's cold 'ere.'
" ' Directly,' 'ollers Ginger, dancin' round the garden-seat. ` We done it lovely, just lovely,' 'e sez, 'an' no one 'elping - not a soul!'
" ' Ooray ! ' sez Jimmy. `Come on, keptain, take 'er in,' 'e sez, an' we all begun to cheer like 'ell. We seemed to want it, some'ow ! "
A bugle sounded along the decks, and men began to rouse up and shake themselves awake. In three minutes the dinner-hour would be over. Haing sat up, and spreading out a horny palm, emptied his pipe into it. The cinders burnt into his flesh. He didn't seem to mind. Fitting the pipe lovingly into the fold of his cap, he placed it firmly on his head.
" 'Did you come back, then, at once ? " I ventured. The minutes were very precious now.
" Come back an' tied up, an' met the Skipper on the steps," he said. " It was just gettin' light; 'bout four o'clock I s'pose it wos. The other division 'ad come in before, 'avin' seen nuthin'. The youngster wos waitin' on the steps.
" ' W'ere the devil 'ave you bin to ? ' sez 'e, as ,er stern swings in. ' I've been waitin' 'ere since midnight.
" Roun' the Wight an' back, sir,' sez Cookie, turnin' up a 'awser.
" ' An' by what orders, pray ? ' sez 'e, starin' at the boat.
" Don't know, sir,' sez Cookie.
" That flummoxed 'im, an' 'e didn't say nuthin more, but 'e waits till we gits alongside proper, an' then 'e jumps aboard.
" W'y did you come to the steps ? ' 'e sez.
" Signal from the Tower,' sez Ginger.
" ' Strewth, 'e did look mad ! But 'e didn't see yet. 'E shifts into uniform, and 'as us up, after we wos made fast, an' calls us all the names 'e cud lay 'is tongue to. 'E thought we'd all gone mad, an' told us so. A lot o' lumpin' grocers, an' oughtn't never to 'ave left our mammas! Ho! we got a proper dressin' down - an' the sweat not off our faces! But we didn't say nuthin' - 'eard 'im right out, an' then someone started to spin the proper varn. 'E 'eard us right through, an' w'en we come to the end 'e sat on the tower an' looked at us. An' we looked at 'im. An' someone says, ' It's the solemn truth, sir' ; an' 'e gets up off of the tower an' says, very low-like, `Good Gad !' 'e sez, an' ups an' runs below.
"All that mornin' 'im an' Ginger wos writin' in the cabin, an' w'en the papers come back they said we wos reckoned to 'ave sunk the Blue Flagship in mortial combat off the Wight - though whether they wos 'avin' us out for a walk or not I'm darned if I know. Any'ow, the youngster wos that pleased with us 'e didn't know wot to do with isself, an' w'en we paid off 'e give us a thunderin' great sardine supper at the ' Devil's 'Ead,' an' as much champagne as we cud lap. An' 'e said if ever we wos wantin' anythin' we wos to let 'im know, an' we drunk 'is 'ealth fourteen times, an' carried Nosey careful up to bed. An' I 'aven't never seed 'im nor yet 'eard of 'im since. Where 'e is now, I don't know. But 's a thunderin' nice little chap, an' any man as wos in 81 with 'im 'll tell the same - won't they, my son ? "
Carey hoisted himself to his feet and grunted.
" They will that, sorr," said he. "'Tis not phwat ye say they care about, nor yet phwat ye look like - in the Service - begad ! 'tis phwat ye do! "
Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra, to-ta-ra ! The bugle rattled out its notes, and the decks were alive with hurrying, hulking, bare-footed men. Jumping off the platform and breaking into the halting shufe which, under the more dignified title of " the double," is the recognised duty-pace of the ship, they instantly disappeared from view.
On my way below I reflected that I had heard an interesting story. But perhaps the most interesting part was yet to come.
Two days later Haing left the ship under arrest. He had been openly and grossly insubordinate, and would spend ninety good days at Bodmin Gaol for the benefit of his moral health, and to satisfy the wounded honour of a young Lieutenant. He appeared at the gangway, ready to go, in his best serge suit, with his bag over his shoulder. A seaman's bag stands four feet high, and contains his whole worldly goods.
As he passed me in the corner of the gangway it slipped heavily round his shoulder, and he stopped to re-adjust the weight. Bending down, he touched my hand. " I'd never ha' done it but for that yarn," he whispered. "'Twas thinkin' o' the Youngster, an' 'im. naggin' like a babby. 'E don't know no better now - but 'e will later. Good-bye, sir."
The escort closed behind him, and he trundled down the ladder, bag on shoulder. In a moment he was gone.
On discussing the matter afterwards with the officer of the watch, I found that it had been a one-sided business.
For whether Haing was pure villain and deserved what he got, or whether he was merely a fool and should have been treated as such, are questions which were considered very carefully before sentence was passed. Personally, I think he was neither.
But exactly how far Haing had been responsible and exactly how far the Lieutenant - well, that is a question which had no place on the charge sheets, and, therefore, presumably, was never considered at all.
At any rate, he paid the full penalty for his sin, and was branded for ever as a " bad hat." Which must have been a great salve to the wound of the little Lieutenant.
A year ago he was bought out of the Service to be body-servant to a rising young naval officer who first drew attention to himself by a daring and successful night torpedo-boat attack on his father's fleet during the Naval Manoeuvres. Occasionally he writes me a scrawly letter. He says he is very happy.
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