Transcriber's Note: A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.
FROM THE BOTTOM UP
The Life Story of Alexander Irvine
New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1910 All Rights Reserved, Including that of Translation into Foreign Languages, Including the Scandinavian Copyright, 1909, 1910 by Doubleday, Page & Company Published, February, 1910
MAUDE HAZEN IRVINE
CHAPTER PAGE I. Boyhood in Ireland 3
II. The Beginning of an Education 24
III. On Board a Man o' War 40
IV. Problems and Places 53
V. The Gordon Relief Expedition 63
VI. Beginnings in the New World 82
VII. Fishing for Men on the Bowery 90
VIII. A Bunk-house and Some Bunk-house Men 105
IX. The Waif's Story 119
X. I Meet Some Outcasts 126
XI. A Church in the Ghetto 144
XII. Working Way Down 156
XIII. Life and Doubt on the Bottoms 166
XIV. My Fight in New Haven 183
XV. A Visit Home 193
XVI. New Haven Again—and a Fight 207
XVII. I Join a Labour Union and Have Something to Do with Strikes 213
XVIII. I Become a Socialist 235
XIX. I Introduce Jack London to Yale 250
XX. My Experiences as a Labourer in the Muscle Market of the South 256
XXI. At the Church of the Ascension 274
XXII. My Socialism, My Religion and My Home 285
Alexander Irvine, 1909 Frontispiece
FACING PAGE Mr. Irvine's Birthplace 4
Where Irvine Spent His Boyhood 8
Alexander Irvine as a Marine 38
Officers of H.M.S. "Alexandra" Ashore at Cattaro 50
A Page from Mr. Irvine's Diary 54
Dowling, Tinker and Colporter 110
Alexander Irvine. From a sketch by Juliet Thompson 146
State Convention of the Socialist Party of Connecticut 238
The Lunch Hour in an Interborough Shop 248
Alexander Irvine and Jack London 252
In Muckers' Camp in Alabama 258
Irvine and Three Other Muckers as They Left Greenwich Street for the South 258
Irvine, Punching Logs in the Gulf of Mexico, 1907 270
The Church of the Ascension 276
"Happy Hollow," Mr. Irvine's Present Home Near Peekskill, New York 294
Happy Hollow in the Winter, Looking from the House 298
FROM THE BOTTOM UP
BOYHOOD IN IRELAND
The world in which I first found myself was a world of hungry people.
My earliest sufferings were the sufferings of hunger—physical hunger. It was not an unusual sight to see the children of our neighbourhood scratching the offal in the dunghills and the gutterways for scraps of meat, vegetables, and refuse. Many times I have done it myself.
My father was a shoemaker; but something had gone wrong with the making of shoes. Improvements in machinery are pushed out into the commercial world, and explanations follow. A new shoemaker had arrived—a machine—and my father had to content himself with the mending of the work that the machine produced. It took him about ten years to find out what had happened to him.
There were twelve children in our family, five of whom died in childhood. Those of us who were left were sent out to work as soon as we were able. I began at the age of nine. My first work was peddling newspapers. I remember my first night in the streets. Food was scarce in the home, and I begged to be allowed to do what other boys were doing. But I was not quite so well prepared. I began in the winter. I was shoeless, hatless, and in rags. My contribution to the family treasury amounted to about fifty cents a week; but it looked very large to me then. It was my first earning.
Our home was a two-room cottage. Over one room was a little loft, my bedroom for fourteen years. The cottage floor was hard, dried mud. There was a wide, open fireplace. Several holes made in the wall by displacing of bricks here and there contained my father's old pipes. A few ornaments, yellow with the smoke of years, adorned the mantelpiece. At the front window sat my father, and around him his shoemaking tools. Beside the window hung a large cage, made by his own hands, and in which singing thrushes had succeeded one another for twenty years. The walls were whitewashed. There was a little partition that screened the work-bench from the door. It was made of newspapers, and plastered all over it were pictures from the illustrated weeklies. Two or three small dressers contained the crockery ware. A long bench set against the wall, a table, several stools, and two or three creepies constituted the furniture. There was not a chair in the place.
There was a fascination about the winter evenings in that cottage. Scarcely a night passed that did not see some man or woman sitting in the corner waiting for shoes. A candlestick about three feet high, in which burned a large tallow candle, was set in front of my father. My mother was the only one in the house who could read, and she used to read aloud from a story paper called The Weekly Budget. We were never interested in the news. The outside world was shut off from us, and the news consisted of whatever was brought by word of mouth by the folks who had their shoes cobbled; that was interesting. In those long winter evenings, I sat in the corner among the shoes and lasts. On scraps of leather I used to imitate writing, and often I would quietly steal up to my mother and show her these scratchings, and ask her whether they meant anything or not. I thought somehow by accident I would surely get something. My mother merely shook her head and smiled. She taught me many letters of the alphabet, but it took me years to string them together.
My mother had acquired a taste, indeed, it was a craving, for strong drink; and, even from the very small earnings of my father, managed to satisfy it in a small measure, every day, except Sunday. On Sunday there was a change. The cobbler's bench was cleared away, and my mother's beautiful face was surrounded with a halo of spotless, frilled linen.
My father's Sunday mornings were spent in giving the thrush an outing and in cleaning his cage. Neither my father nor mother made any pretensions to religion; but they were strict Sabbatarians. My father never consciously swore, but, within even the limitations of his small vocabulary, he was unfortunate in his selection of phrases. I bounced into the alley one Sunday morning, whistling a Moody and Sankey hymn.
"Shut up yer mouth!" said my father.
"It's a hymn tune," I replied.
"I don't care a damn," replied my father. "It's the Lord's day, and if I hear you whistlin' in it I'll whale the hell out o' ye!"
That was his philosophy, and he lived it. Saturday nights when the town clock struck the hour of midnight, he removed his leather apron, pushed his bench back in the corner, and the work of the week was over—and if any one was waiting for his shoes, so much the worse for him. He would wait until the midnight clock struck twelve the next night or take them as they were.
The first tragedy in my life was the death of a pet pigeon. I grieved for days over its disappearance; but one Sunday morning the secret slipped out. Around that neighbourhood there was a custom among the very poor of exchanging samples of their Sunday broth. Three or four samples came to our cottage every Sunday morning. We had meat once a week, and then it was either the hoofs or part of the head of a cow, or the same parts of a sheep or a calf. On this particular occasion, I knew that there was something in our broth that was unusual, and I did not rest until I learned the truth. They had grown tired of nettle broth, and made a change on the pigeon.
There was a pigsty at the end of our alley against the gable of our house; but we never were rich enough to own a pig. One of my earliest recollections is of extemporizing out of the pigsty one of the most familiar institutions in our town—a pawn shop. If anything was missing in the house, they could usually find it in pawn.
At the age of ten, I entered the parochial school of the Episcopal Church; but the pedagogue of that period delegated his pedagogy to a monitor, and the monitor to one of the biggest boys, and the school ran itself. The only thing I remember about it is the daily rushes over the benches and seats, and the number of boys about my size I was pitted against in fistic battles. At the close of my first school day I came home with one of my eyes discoloured and one sleeve torn out of my jacket, as a result of an encounter not down on the programme. The ignominy of such a spectacle irritated my father, and I was thoroughly whipped for my inability to defend myself better. It was an ex parte judgment which a look at the other fellow might have modified.
After a few weeks at school I begged my father to allow me to devote my mornings as well as my evenings to the selling of newspapers. The extra work added a little to my income and preserved my looks. If there was any misery in my life at this time I neither knew nor felt it. I was living the life of the average boy of my neighbourhood, and had nothing to complain of. Of course, I was in a chronic condition of hunger, but so was every other boy in the alley and on the street. It was quite an event for me occasionally to go bird-nesting with the son of the chief baker of the town. He usually brought a loaf along as toll. My knowledge of the woods was better than his, for necessity took me there for fuel for our hearth. Sometimes the baker's son brought a companion of his class. These boys were well-fed and well-clothed, and it was when we spent whole days together that I noticed the disparity. They were "quality"—the baker was called "Mr.," wore a tall hat on Sundays, and led the psalm singing in the Presbyterian Church. In the summer time, when the church windows were open, the leader's voice could be heard a mile away. My childish misgivings about the distribution of the good things of life were quieted in the Sunday School by the dictum: "It is the will of God." My first knowledge of God was that He was a big man in the skies who dealt out to the church people good things and to others experiences to make them good. The Bible was to me God's book, and a thing to be handled reverently. We had a copy, but it was coverless, loose and incomplete. Every morning I used to take it tenderly in my hands and pretend to read some of it, "just for luck!" My Sunday School teacher informed me that work was a curse that God had put upon the world and from what I saw around me I naturally concluded that life was more of a curse than a blessing—that was the theory. My father, however, never seemed to be able to get enough of the curse to appease our hunger.
The lack of class-conscious envy did not prevent an occasional questioning of God's arrangement of the universe; occasionally, in the winter time, when my feet were bleeding, cut by the frozen pavements, I wondered why God somehow or other could not help me to a pair of shoes. Nevertheless, I reverently worshipped the God who had consigned me to such pitiless and poorly paid labour, and believed that, being the will of God, it was surely for my best good.
My first hero worship came to me while a newsboy. A former resident of the town had returned from America with a modicum of fame. He had left a labourer, and returned a "Mr." He delivered a lecture in the town hall, and, out of curiosity, the town turned out to hear him. I was at the door with my papers. It was a very cold night, and I was shivering as I stood on one foot leaning against the door post, the sole of the other foot resting upon my bare leg. But nobody wanted papers at a lecture. The doorkeeper took pity upon me, and, to my astonishment, invited me inside. There on a bench, with my back to the wall and my feet dangling six inches from the floor, I listened to a lecture about a "rail-splitter." It took me many years to find out what a rail-splitter was; but the rail-splitter's name was Lincoln, and he became my first hero.
From the selling of papers on the streets of Antrim, I went to work on a farm, the owner of which was a Member of Parliament for our county, one James Chaine by name. My first work on the farm was the keeping of crows off the potato crop. Technically speaking, I was a scarecrow. It was in the autumn, and the potatoes were ripe. I was permitted to help myself to them, so three times a day I made a fire at the edge of the wood and roasted as many potatoes as I could eat, and for the first time in my life I enjoyed the pleasure of a full meal.
In the solitude of the potato field came my first vision. I was a firm believer in the "wee people," but my visions were not entirely peopled with fairies. The life of the woods was very fascinating to me. I enjoyed the birds and the wild flowers, and the sportive rabbits, of which the woods were full. The bell which closed the labourer's day was always an unwelcome sound to me.
After the ingathering of the potato crop, I was given work in the farmyard, attending to horses and cattle, as jack of all jobs. In the spring of the following year, I went again to work in the potato field, and later to care for the crop as before. It was during my second autumn as a scarecrow that I had an experience which changed the current of my life. It was on a Monday, and during the entire day I kept humming over and over two lines of a hymn I had heard in the Sunday School. Nothing ever happened to me that remains quite so vividly in my mind as that experience.
I was sitting on the fence at the close of the day, a very happy day. I must have been moved by the colour of the sky, or by the emotion produced by the lines of the hymn. It may have been both. But, as I sat on the fence and watched the sun set over the trees, an emotion swept over me, and the tears began to flow. My body seemed to change as by the pouring into it of some strange, life-giving fluid. I wanted to shout, to scream aloud; but instead, I went rapidly over the hill into the woods, dropped on my knees, and began to pray.
It was getting dark, but the woods were filled with light. Perhaps it was the light of my vision or the light of my mind—I know not. But when I came back into the open, I felt as though I were walking on air. As I passed through the farmyard, I came in contact with some of the men; and their questions led me to believe that some of the experience remained on my face; but I naively set aside their questions and passed on down the country road to the town.
That night as I climbed to the little loft, I realized for the first time in my life that I had never slept in a bed, but on a pallet of straw. My bed covering was composed of old gunny sacks sewed together; and automatically, when I took my clothes off, I made a pillow of them. Many a night I had been kept awake by the gnawing pangs of hunger; but this night I was kept awake for a different reason. It was an indescribable ecstasy, a new-born joy. As I lay there with my head about a foot from the thatched roof, I hummed over and over again the two lines of the hymn, sometimes breaking the continuity in giving way to tears.
The second revelation came to me the following morning. I realized the condition of my body. I was in rags and dirty. I shook my mother out of her slumber and begged her to help me sew up the rents in my clothes. I had no shoes, but I carefully washed my feet, combed my tousled, unkempt hair, and took great pains in the washing of my face. All of this was a mystery to my mother. She wanted to know what had happened to me, and a very unusual thing ended the preparations for the day. My mother said I looked "purty," and kissed me as I went out of the door.
As I walked up the street that morning, I shared my joy with the first living thing I met—the saloon-keeper's old dog, Rover. I shook his paw and said, "Morrow, Rover." Everything looked beautiful. The world was full of joy. I was perfectly sure that the birds were sharing it, for they sang that morning as I had never heard them sing before. I resolved to let at least one person into the secret. I was sure that my sister would understand me. She used to visit me every noon hour, on the pretence of bringing my dinner. We had a secret compact that, whether there was any dinner to bring or not, she should come with a bowl wrapped in a piece of cloth, as was the custom with other men's sisters and wives.
There was a straight stretch of road a mile long, and, as I sat on the roadside watching for her, I could tell a mile off whether she had any dinner or not. When there was anything in the bowl, she carried it steadily; when empty, she would swing it like a censer.
When I told my sister about these strange happenings of the heart, she looked very anxiously into my eyes, and said:
"'Deed, I just think ye're goin' mad."
Before leaving the farm, I experienced an incident which, although of a different character, equalled in its intensity and beauty my awakening to what, for lack of a better term, I called a religious life.
A young lady from the city was visiting at the home of the land steward, and, as I knew more about the woods and the inhabitants thereof than anybody else on the farm, I was often ordered to take visitors around. The land steward's daughter accompanied the young lady on her first visit to the roads; but afterward she came alone, and we traversed the ravine from one end to the other. We collected flowers and specimens, and watched the wild animals.
I had never seen such a beautiful human being. Her voice was soft and musical. She wore her hair loosely down her back, and was a perfect picture of health and beauty.
One day I lay at full length on my back, asleep by the edge of the wood. When I awoke, this city girl was standing at my side. I jumped to my feet and stood erect, and I remember distinctly the emotions that swept through me. I was startled at first, startled as I had been on a previous occasion when, at a sharp turn in the footpath in the ravine, I met a fawn. I remembered my first impulse then was for a word, a word of conciliation, for I was fascinated by the beauty of the graceful beast. Graceful as a nymph it stood there, nerves strained like a bow bent for the discharge of an arrow, its head poised in air, fire shooting from its eyes. It remained only for an instant, and then with a frightened plunge it cleared the clump of laurel bushes and disappeared.
When I stood before this beautiful city girl, I remembered the fawn, and expected the girl instantly to vanish out of my sight. There was something of the fawn in her graceful form, some of the fire in her blue eyes, and in her girlish laugh a suggestion of the freedom of the mountain and glen. I think it was in that moment of intensity that I crossed the bridge which separates the boy from the man. An impassable gulf was fixed between this girl's station in life and mine. She was the daughter of a florist, and I was the son of a cobbler.
She returned home shortly after this, and I was promoted from the potato field to be a groom's helper in the stables of "the master." We called his residence the "big house." It was like a castle on the Rhine. A very wonderful man was this Member of Parliament to the labourers around on his demesne. Not the least part of this wonder consisted in the tradition that he had a different suit of clothes for every day in the year. He was very fond of fine horses, and gloried in the fact that he owned a winner of the Derby. He kept a large stable of racing, hunting, and carriage horses.
This was the advent of a new life to me. I was taken in hand by the head groom and fitted out with two suits of clothes, and in this change the first great ambition of my life was satisfied. I became the possessor of a hard hat. For two years, I had instinctively longed for something on my head that I could politely remove to a lady. The first night I marched down that village street, shoes well polished, starched linen, and hard hat, I expected the whole town to be there to see me. I had made several attempts at this hat business before. They organized a flute band in the town and I joined it for the sake of the hat. But it was too nice a thing to be lying around when people were hungry, and, as it was in pawn most of the time, I finally redeemed it, returned it, and quit. But this time the hat had come to stay.
With my new vision still warm in my heart, I became very active in the parish Sunday School. My inability to read relegated me to the children's class; but I had a retentive memory, and before I was able to read, I memorized about three hundred texts from the Bible.
The first outworking of my vision was on a drunken stone mason of our town. His family, relatives, and friends had all given him up. He had given himself up. I went after him every night for weeks; talked to him, pleaded with him, prayed for him, and was rewarded by seeing him make a new start. Together we organized a temperance society. I think it was the first temperance society in that town. I was much more at home in this kind of work than in the Sunday School; for, while I could be neither secretary, treasurer, nor president of the temperance society I had organized, my inability to read or write did not prevent me from hustling after such men as my first convert.
In the Sunday School, I felt keenly the fact that I was outclassed by boys half my age; but I persevered and went from one class to another, until I had gone through the grades, and was then given the opportunity to organize a class of my own. This I did with the material on the streets, children unconnected with any school or institution. I taught them the Bible stories and helped them to memorize the texts that I had learned myself.
Despite the fact that I was now clean and well groomed, I could not help comparing my life to the life of the horses I was attending, especially with regard to their sleeping accommodations. The slightest speck of dirt of any kind around their bedding was an indictment of the grooming. The stables were beautifully flagged and sprinkled with fine, white sand. The mangers were kept cleaner than anything in the houses of the poor, and, when I trotted a mount out into the yard, the master would take out his white silk handkerchief, run it along the horse's side, and then examine it. If the handkerchief was soiled in the slightest degree, the horse was sent back. Probably not once in a year was a horse returned under such circumstances. The regularity of meals was another point of comparison, and the daily washings, brushings, groomings.
It meant something to be a horse in that stable—much more than it meant to be a groom. When these points of comparison arose, I pushed them back as evil and discontent with the will of God. This master man used to talk to his horses, but he seldom talked to his grooms. Sometimes I was permitted the luxury of a look at the great dining-hall, or the drawing-rooms. That also was another world to me, a world of beauty for God's good people. Even the butlers, footmen, and other flunkies were superior people, and I envied them, not only the uniform of their servitude but their intimate touch with that inner world of beautiful things.
I spent one winter at the big house, and then the shame of my ignorance drove me forever from the haunts of my childhood. I entered the city of Belfast, seventeen miles distant, and became coachman and groom to a man who, by the selling of clothes, had reached the economic status of owning a horse. In adapting himself to this new condition, he dressed me in livery, and, after I had taught him to drive, I sat beside him in the buggy with folded arms, arrayed in a tall hat with a cockade. The wages in this new position were so small that when I had paid for my room and meagre board, I had nothing left for the support of my brothers and sisters, who were still in dire poverty.
The young lady I had met on the farm lived in this city and in my neighbourhood; but I would have considered it a matter of gross discourtesy to call on her, or, indeed, do anything save lift my hat if I met her on the street, our social stations were so far apart. But she had told me the name of the church she attended, and, as I was thinking more about her at that time than about anybody else, I stole quietly into the church as soon as the doors were opened, and, ensconcing myself in a corner under the gallery, I scanned the faces eagerly as they came in. From that obscure point I saw the young lady once a week. At the end of three months, her family came without her. The third Sunday of her absence I was almost on the point of asking about her; but I mastered the desire, held my station, and went to Scotland, where I entered a coal-pit as a helper to one of my brothers. My pay for twelve hours a day was a dollar and fifty cents a week. If I had not been living in the same house with my brother, this would not have sustained me in physical efficiency.
The contrast between my life as a groom and this blackened underworld was very marked, and I did not at all relish it. We were all, men and boys and sometimes girls, reduced to the common level of blackened humans, with about two garments each. The coal dust covered my skin like a tight-fitting garment, and coal was part of every mouthful of food I ate in that fetid atmosphere. I had a powerful body that defied the dangers of the pit; but the labour was exhausting, and my face was blistered every day with the hot oil dripping from the lamp on my brow.
Sometimes I lay flat on my back and worked with a pick-axe at the coal overhead. Sometimes I pushed long distances a thing called "a hutch," filled with coal.
I left my brother's pit with the hope of getting a larger wage; but there was very little difference between the pits. Everywhere I went, labour and wages were about the same. Everywhere life had the same dull, monotonous round. It was a writhing, squirming mass of blackened humanity struggling for a mere physical existence, a bare living.
The desire to learn to read and write returned to me with renewed intensity, and gave me keen discontent with the life in the pits. At the same time, the spiritual ideal sustained me in the upward look. There was just ahead of me a to-morrow, and my to-morrow was bringing an escape from this drudgery. I exulted in the thought of the future. I could sing and laugh in anticipation of it, even though I lived and worked like a beast. I was conscious that in me resided a power that would ultimately take me to a life that I had had a little taste of—a life where people had time to think, and to live a clean, normal, human life.
I do not remember anything about labour unions in that coal region. If there were any, I did not know of them—I was not asked to join. In those same pits and at that same time worked Keir Hardie, and "wee Keir" was just beginning to move the sluggish souls of his fellow labourers to improve their condition by collective effort. My ideal did not lead me in that direction. I was struggling to get into the other world for another reason. I wanted to live a religious life. I wanted to move men's souls as I had moved the soul of the drunken stone mason in my home town.
I made various attempts to learn to read, but each of them failed. I was so exhausted at the close of the day's work that I usually lay down in the corner without even washing. Sometimes I pulled myself together and went out into the village, praying as I went, that by some miracle or other I should find a teacher. Sometimes I made excursions into the city of Glasgow. One night I wandered accidentally into a mission in Possilpark, where a congregation of miners was listening to a tall, fine-looking young preacher. I had not sufficient energy to keep awake, so promptly went to sleep. I awoke at a gentle shake from the hand of the teacher. I returned, but succeeded no better in keeping awake. I returned again, and the teacher when he learned of my ambition, advised me to leave the pits entirely and seek for something else to do. There was something magnetic in that strong right hand, something musical and inspiring in that wonderful voice. And just when I was about to sink back in despair, and resign myself, perhaps for years, to the inevitable, this man's influence pushed me out into a new venture. The teacher was Professor Henry Drummond.
Trusting to luck, or God, or the power of my hands, I entered the great, smoky, dirty city of Glasgow to look for a job. I considered it a great shame to be without one, and a crime to be prowling the city at night, homeless and workless. God at this time was a very real Person to me and I spent the greater part of many a night on my knees, in some alley, or down by the docks, praying for a chance to work—to be clean—to learn to read.
I slept one night in a large dry-goods box on one of the docks, and, in searching for a place in the box to lay my head, I laid my hand on another human, and at daylight discovered him to be a youth of about my own age. We exchanged experiences, and in a few minutes he outlined a programme; and, having none of my own, I dropped naturally into his. He conducted me to a quarter of the city where the recruiting officers parade the streets, gayly attired in their attractive uniforms. We accosted one man, who had the special attraction of a large bunch of gay ribbons flying from his Glengarry cap. We passed the physical examination, "took the shilling," and were drafted, first to London, then to a training depot in the south of Kent.
THE BEGINNING OF AN EDUCATION
The first discovery I made in the training depot was that I had not, as I supposed, joined the army at all, but the navy. I was a marine. But there was no disappointment in the discovery, for I saw in the marine service a better opportunity to see the world. Here at last was my school, and schooling was a part of the daily routine. In the daily exercises of the gymnasium, I was made to feel very keenly by the instructors the awkwardness of my body; but I was so thrilled with the joy of the class-room, that it took a good deal of forcing to interest me in the handling of guns, bayonets, the swinging of clubs, vaulting of horses, and other gymnasium exercises. I could think only in the terms of the education I most keenly desired. This was my first source of trouble. Whatever else a soldier may be, he is a soldier first. His chief business in life is to be a killer—a strong, intelligent, professional killer; and nearly all energies of instruction are bent to give him that kind of power.
The depot is on the edge of the sea, and the sea breezes with six hours a day of drill, gave me, as it gives all recruits at that stage, an abnormal appetite, so that the most of the Queen's pay went for additional rations. I made rapid progress in school, and I attended all lectures, prayer meetings, religious assemblies and social gatherings, to exercise a talent which I already possessed, of giving voice to my religious beliefs. But my Irish dialect was badly out of place, and it took a good deal of courage to take part in these things.
But more embarrassing than my attempts at public speech were my attempts to keep up with my squad in the gymnasium and on the parade ground. My fellow recruits were thinking in the terms of drill only, and I was thinking in the terms of my new-found opportunity for an education. My awkwardness made me the subject of much ridicule and good-natured jest. It also earned for me a brief sojourn in the awkward squad. The gymnasium was open every evening for exercise and amusement. The first time I ventured in to get a little extra drill on my own account, I had an experience of a kind that one is not likely to forget. My drill sergeant happened to be there. I saw him engaged in a whispered conference with one of the gymnasium instructors. A few minutes later the instructor came to me and urged me to enter the boxing contest which was going on in the middle of the floor, and which was the favourite amusement of the evening. I had no desire for such amusement, and frankly told him so; but he was not to be put off.
He said, "There is a rule of the gym, that men who come here in the evening, who are very largely given their own way, are nevertheless obliged to do what they are told; and you may escape serious trouble by attending to my orders."
I still demurred, but was forced to the ring side, a roped enclosure, with a pair of boxing gloves and an instructor to take care of the proceedings. When the gloves were fastened on my hands, I noticed that my opponent was one of the assistant instructors, and it occurred to me that I was in for a thrashing; and I certainly was.
They must have made up their minds that a good thrashing would wake me up from the point of view of the parade ground, and the assistant instructor proceeded to administer it. I knew nothing whatever of boxing, and could put up but a weak defence. I was knocked down several times, one of my eyes partly closed, and my nose smashed, and one of my arms rendered almost useless.
When away from the gymnasium at my barrack-room that night, I did some hard thinking. A room-mate whose cot was next to mine, was something of a boxer. He possessed two pairs of gloves. He had often urged me to accommodate him as an opponent, but I had steadily refused.
On learning of my plight, he laughed loudly. So did my other room-mates as they learned of it. That night, before "taps," I bound myself to an arrangement by which I was to pay my room-mate two-thirds of my regimental pay per week for instruction in handling the gloves. He gave me an hour each night for six weeks. At the end of the first week, I had gained an advantage over him. I had a very long reach, and a body as lithe as a panther. I gave up prayer meetings, lectures, and socials, and devoted my self religiously to what is called "the noble art of self-defence."
If my drill sergeant imagined that a thrashing would wake me up, he was a very good judge. It did. Incidentally, it woke others up, too. It woke my new instructor up, and half a dozen of my room-mates. At the end of my six weeks' training, by dint of perseverance and application to the thing in hand, I had succeeded in this new type of education thrust upon me.
During all this time, I had not visited the gymnasium in the evening, but was remembered there by all who had noticed the process of my awakening. One night, I modestly approached the chief instructor and asked him if I might not have another lesson by the man who had taught me the first. He remembered the occasion and laughed, laughed at the memory of it, and laughed at the brogue and what he supposed to be the temerity of my asking. In asking, I had made my brogue just a little thicker, and my manner just as diffident and modest as possible.
"Oh, certainly," he replied, chuckling to himself.
The man who gave me my first lesson, a man of my own build and height, appeared, also laughing as he noticed who the applicant for another lesson was. My barrack-room instructor was on hand also, for I had confidentially communicated to him that evening my intention to try again.
There is something fiendish in the Celtic nature, some beast in the blood, which, when aroused, is exceedingly helpful in matters of this kind. In less than sixty seconds, I had demonstrated to the onlookers, and particularly to my opponent, that I had been to school since last meeting him. I had not been particular about fancy touches, or the pointless, gingerbread style of showing off before a crowd. There was a positive viciousness in my attack, which was perfectly legitimate in such circumstances; but it was the first time I had ever felt the beast in my blood, and I turned him loose; and if I had been made Prime Minister of England by a miracle, I could not have felt one-hundredth part of the pride that I did, when, inside of the first thirty seconds, I had stretched my instructor on his back at my feet, and in the absolute joyfulness and ecstasy of my soul, I yelled at the top of my voice, "Hurry up, ye blind-therin' spalpeen, till I knock yez down again!"
The man got up, and was somewhat more cautious, but utterly unprepared to be completely mastered at his own game in five minutes; and, when the chief instructor interfered and ordered his assistant out of the ring, I begged for more; and so a fresh man was put in, and another, and another, until six men had failed to tire me, or to disturb me in the least. After the first two I laughed, laughed loudly, in the midst of my aggressive work, and enjoyed it every moment of the time, and, when occasionally I was the recipient of a stinging blow, it merely added to my zest.
Next morning I found myself a hero. In the course of the night, I had become famous in a small circle as a bruiser. In accomplishing this, I had thrown aside for the time being my religious scruples on the question of boxing, not only on boxing, but fighting, and I had set aside a good deal of my prejudice in my struggle for an education, and my success in the thing I started out to do almost unbalanced me.
I had for the first few days after this encounter a terrific struggle, a struggle of the human soul, between my character and my reputation. Only about one hundred and fifty men saw the encounter, but, before parade time next morning, fifteen hundred men were acquainted with it. It had reached the officers' mess, and, as I went back and forth, I was pointed out as the new discovery. I finally reached a state of mind that filled me with disgust, and I took an afternoon stroll down the road to Walmer Castle; and just opposite the window of the room in which the Duke of Wellington died—on the sands of Deal beach I knelt on my knees and promised God that I "wudn't put th' dhirty gloves on again," and I kept the promise—while in the training depot.
Early in 1882 I was drafted to headquarters near London—a trained soldier. My forenoons were spent in parades, drills, fatigue and other duties. In the afternoons I continued my studies. I entered into religious work with renewed vigour, connecting myself with a small independent church not far from the barracks. My thick Irish brogue militated against my usefulness in the church, and in expressing myself with warmth, I usually made it worse. In the barrack-room, my brogue brought me several Irish nicknames which irritated me. They were names usually attached to the Roman Catholic Irish, and having been brought up in an Ulster community, where part of a boy's education is to hate Roman Catholics, I naturally resented these names. A Protestant Irishman will tolerate "Pat," but "Mick" will put him in a fighting attitude in a moment. The only way out of the difficulty was to rid myself of the brogue, and this I proceeded to do.
All around me were cockney Englishmen, murdering the Queen's English, and Scotchmen who were doing worse. I had not yet become the possessor of a dictionary, and my chief instructors in language, and particularly pronunciation and enunciation, were preachers and lecturers.
With regard to literature, I was like a man lost in a forest. I had no guide. One night I attended a lecture by Dr. J.W. Kirton, the author of a tract called, "Buy Your Own Cherries." This tract my mother had read to me when a boy, and it had made a very profound impression upon me. The author was very kind, gave me an interview, and advised me to read as my first novel, "John Halifax, Gentleman." Inside of a week I had read the book twice, the second time with dictionary, and pencil. The story fascinated me, and the way in which it was told opened up new channels of improvement. I memorized whole pages of it, and even took long walks by the seaside repeating over and over what I had memorized.
The enlargement of my opportunities in garrison life revealed to me something of the amount of work required to accomplish my purpose. In the midst of people who had merely an ordinary grammar school education, I felt like a child. When discouragement came, I took refuge in the fact that several avenues of usefulness were open to me in army life. I had shown some proficiency in gunnery. For a steady plodder who attends strictly to business there is always promotion. As a flunky, there was the incentive of double pay, the wearing of plain clothes, and some intimate touch with the aristocracy. Many a time one of these avenues seemed the only career open for me. I hardly knew what an education meant; but, whatever it meant, it was a long way off and almost out of reach. One day in going over my well-marked "John Halifax," I came across this passage:
"'What would you do, John, if you were shut up here, and had to get over the yew hedge? You could not climb it.'
"'I know that, and therefore I should not waste time in trying.'
"'Would you give up, then?'
"He smiled: there was no 'giving up' in that smile of his. 'I'll tell you what I'd do: I'd begin and break it, twig by twig, till I forced my way through, and got out safe at the other side.'"
This was a new inspiration. The difficulty was not lessened by the inspiration, but a new method appealed to me. It was the patient plodding method of "twig by twig." The quotation from "John Halifax" was reinforced by one of the first things I ever read of Browning:
"That low man seeks a little thing to do, Sees it and does it: This high man with a great thing to pursue, Dies ere he knows it. That low man goes on adding one to one, His hundred's soon hit; This high man, aiming at a million, Misses an unit."
The most powerful speaker I ever heard was Charles Bradlaugh. I attended one of his lectures one Sunday afternoon in a large auditorium in Portsmouth. I shall never forget that wonderful voice as it thrilled an audience of four thousand people. Bradlaugh was engaged in one of his favourite themes, demolishing God and the theologians. It was the most daring thing I had ever heard, and my mind and soul were in revolt. When the time for questions came, I pushed my way to the front, was recognized by the chairman, and mounted the platform. My lips were parched and I could scarcely utter a word. The big man with the homely face saw my embarrassment, and said, "Take your time, my boy; don't be in a hurry."
He had been a soldier himself, and, I supposed, as I stood there in my scarlet tunic, Glengarry cap in hand, Bradlaugh became reminiscent.
When I got command of my voice, I said: "I want to ask Mr. Bradlaugh a question. I have very little education and little opportunity to get more, but I have a peace in my heart; I call it 'Belief in God.' I don't know what else to call it and I want to ask Mr. Bradlaugh whether he is willing to take that away from me and deprive me of the biggest pleasure in my life, and leave nothing in its place?"
He rose from his chair, came forward, laid his hand on my shoulder, and amid a most impressive silence, said:
"No, my lad, Charles Bradlaugh will be the last man on the face of the earth to take a pleasure from a soldier boy, even though it be a 'belief in God!'"
The crowd wildly cheered, and I went out grateful and strengthened. This incident had a very unusual effect upon me—an intense desire to tell others of that belief possessed me. I was already doing this in a small way, but I became bolder and sought larger opportunities.
About ten days later I was ordered to London as the personal bearer of a Government dispatch. I made requisition for seven days' leave of absence. My mission was to the Horse Guards, and after its accomplishment I went to Whitechapel and rented a small room for a week. I had with me a suit of plain clothes that I wore during the daytime, but the scarlet uniform was conspicuous and soldier Evangelists very rare, so in the mission halls and on the street corners with the Salvation Army and other open-air preachers, I exercised my one talent, and told the story of what I had now found a name for—my conversion.
In the daytime I talked to costermongers, street venders, the unemployed, and the corner loafers. One night I put my plain clothes on and spent the night with the "wharf rats" on the banks of the Thames.
For seven days and for seven nights I continuously told that simple story—told it in few words, closing always with an appeal for a change of life. I had spoken to the officer of the Horse Guards with whom I had business of my intention, and he told me of a brother officer who was very much interested in religious work among soldiers, and directed me to his quarters.
The interview resulted in an invitation to a Sunday afternoon meeting at the town house of a duke. It was the most gorgeous place I had ever been in, and the audience was composed of the most aristocratic people in London. I felt very much out of place and conspicuous because of my uniform and station in life.
The first part of the meeting partook of the nature of a reception. I watched the proceedings from the most obscure corner I could find. Somebody rapped on the table. The hum of voices ceased, and there stepped out, as the speaker of the afternoon, my friend of the Possilpark Mission, Professor Drummond.
Up to that hour my theology related largely to another world, but his explanation of a portion of Scripture was so clear and so convincing to my simple mind, that I could neither miss its meaning nor avoid its application. The professor was telling us that religion must be related to life. Many years afterward I came across the treatise in printed form. It was entitled, "The Programme of Christianity." The officer of the Horse Guards by whose invitation I enjoyed this privilege, introduced me to the lecturer and this personal touch, though very slight, marked a distinct period in my development. Drummond had pushed me out of one stage, and, by inviting me to render an account of myself to him, inspired me into another.
My Bible studies had given me a longing to see the Holy Land. Perhaps the longing was super-induced by the possibility of being drafted to the Mediterranean Squadron. On inquiry I learned that the flagship of that squadron—the Alexandra—had a library and a school on board, so I made this kind of a proposition to the Almighty. I did it, of course, with a humble spirit and a devout mind; but I did it in a very clear and positive manner: "Give me the flagship for the sake of the schooling I will get there, and I will give you my life!"
I prayed daily and nightly, for nearly six months for that object, and in my anxiety over the matter I made a dicker with a man who was to embark at the same time—that, if he should be lucky enough to get the flagship and I should be appointed to some other ship, I would give him a money consideration and request the commander to permit us to exchange. This was a break in my faith, and I quickly corrected it, leaving the entire matter in supernatural hands.
There came a time when I was sure in my mind that I would get that ship—a time when there was no longer zest in praying for it; and there entered into my praying phrases of gratitude instead of request. There came also a time when I confided this assurance to my closest friend, to whom it was all moonshine. He laughed and poked fun at the idea. It became a barrack-room joke and I was hurt and chagrined.
The eventful morning arrived. Those for embarkation were called out for parade in full marching order, and the roll was called. The universe seemed to hang in the balance that morning. Finally the moment arrived. My name was called. I took one pace to the front, ported my arms and awaited the verdict. My name and company were called, and this assignment: "To Her Majesty's ship Condor!"
My comrades giggled and were sharply rebuked: I gave vent to an inarticulate guttural sound and was also rebuked. After parade I went to my barrack-room, changed my uniform, and disappeared to escape ridicule.
"What cheer, Condor?" were the first words that greeted me at reveille next morning, and my room-mates kept it up. Sometimes the ridicule worked overtime. Often I was on the edge of a wild outburst of passion and resentment, but I mastered these things and went on with my duties. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon of the day following my assignment, we "mustered kits." This is the ordinary pre-embarkation inspection. After inspection we packed our kits and were stood to attention. Several corrections were made in the instructions of the previous day. My heart almost stopped beating when my name was called a second time.
"A mistake was made——"
The officer got no farther.
"I knew it, begorra!" I exclaimed, with flushed face and beating heart.
The officer came close to me, looked straight into my face, and said, "I have a good mind to put you in the guard room."
I stood still, motionless, silent.
"A mistake was made yesterday," he continued, "in appointing you to the Condor. You are to go, instead, with a detachment to the Alexandra, flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron."
Parade was dismissed. I went to the officer, saluted him, and begged the privilege of an explanation. In a few words I told him my story and of the hope of my life, and asked him to forgive me for the interruption. He looked astonished and replied very quietly, "I am glad you told me, Irvine. I shall be interested in your future."
On the way to the barrack-room, the spirit of exuberant merriment took possession of me. I wanted to do something ludicrous or desperate. I threw my pack into a corner, quickly divested myself of my tunic, rolled up my shirt sleeves, and struck the table such a blow with my clinched fist as to make the dishes jump off. Everybody looked around. My face must have been a picture of facial latitude.
"Boys," I said, "here's yer last chance to oblige an Irishman!"
"What is it, Pat?" half a dozen shouted in unison.
"I want to box any three blinderin' idiots in the room, and all together, begorra! Come on now, ye spalpeens, and show the stuff yer made of!"
The only answer was a loud outburst of applause and laughter.
In my exuberance, I danced an Irish hornpipe, and my career in the barrack-room was over.
ON BOARD A MAN O' WAR
In January, 1883, the big troop-ship bearing reinforcements for the Mediterranean Squadron steamed into Malta Harbour and we were transferred to our respective ships. The Alexandra was supposed to be the most powerful ship in Victoria's navy at that time. She carried the flag of Admiral Lord John Hay. She was a little city of the sea with her divisions of labour, her social distinctions, her alleys and her avenues. She had a population of about one thousand inhabitants. These were divided into officers, petty officers, bluejackets and marines. Around the flagship lay half a dozen other ships of the fleet. I was fascinated with the variety of things around me in that little city, and for the first few days on board spent all my leisure time in exploring this mysterious underwater world. Her guns were of the heaviest calibre. Her steel walls were decorated with ponderous Pallasier shot and shell. I was struck with the marvellous cleanliness. Her decks were white. Every inch of brasswork was shining; everything in order; everything trim and neat; neither slovenly men nor slovenly conditions.
Malta Harbour is one of the finest in the world. The old City of La Vallette looks like an immense fortress, which it really is, and the next thing to explore was the Island.
It seemed as if I had entered an entirely new world. My heart was full of joy, my mind full of hope, and my uniform for the time being was more the uniform of a student than of a fighter. My first great discovery on the ship was the thing I had prayed for—a school. I hid myself behind a stanchion out of sight of the instructors and took my bearings. Later, I found a place where I could sit within hearing distance, but was discovered and forced to explain. The chief instructor was interested in my explanation and in my story, and gave me valuable advice as to how to proceed in my studies. Once again my brogue militated against my advancement. Being the only Irishman in the mess, I had to bear more than my share of its humour. I made application to be employed as a waiter in the officers' wardroom, so that I might improve my pronunciation and add to my vocabulary. I had a little pad arranged on the inside of my jacket with a pencil attached, and every new word I heard I jotted down; and every night I gathered together these new friends, looked up their origin, meaning, and pronunciation. I was appointed bodyservant to the paymaster of the ship, a bucolic old Bourbon of the most pronounced aristocracy. This excused me from military and naval duty, and I was privileged to wear plain clothes. I attached myself to a small group of pietists called Plymouth Brethren, orthodox theologians, literalists in interpretation of the Scriptures and exceedingly straight-laced in their morality. They were fine Bible students, indeed, Bible experts. This was a great joy to me at first, but the atmosphere to a red-blooded, jubilant nature like mine was rather stifling after a while. I was fond of a good story and was full of Irish folklore and fairy stories, and I noticed my brethren did not relish my outbursts of laughter. It was explosive, spontaneous and hearty, but not contagious among them. Their faces assumed a rather pained expression, a kind of notice of emotion that a sense of humour and religious beliefs occupied different compartments in the human mind. It was intimated to me that such "frivolousness" was out of kelter with the profession of a Christian. It was merely by accident that I pulled out of a shelf in the library "Adam Bede" by George Eliot. When I was discovered eagerly devouring its contents under the glare of the fighting lamp one night after the crew had "piped down," I was upbraided for spending such precious time on such "worldly trash."
"Suppose the Lord should come now and find you reading that; what would you say to Him?"
My reply added to their sorrow.
"I should say, 'Begorra, Yer Honour, it's a bully good story!'"
The judgment of my brethren was that there was good stuff in me for a Christian if I had only been born somewhere else, a judgment I could not be expected to agree with. My disagreement with these men on various lines was no barrier to my participation in their propaganda. There was only one thing in the world to do—get men converted. Each man in this small group picked out another man as a subject of prayer and solicitation and persuasion. At our weekly meetings we reported on our work. Then we worked for each other. Of course, I was a subject of prayer myself. When these men shook hands in parting, they usually said, "If the Lord tarry," for the Lord was expected to come at any moment. This they could not get into my speech or mind. As I looked around me, I got the idea that there was a good deal of work to be done before the Lord came, and I put emphasis rather on the work than on the expectation. The ship was a beehive of activity, not merely the activity of warlike discipline or preparation, but social activity. Of course, this activity was largely for the officers. We had to go ashore for most of ours, and the social activity of the rank and file was rather of a questionable character ashore, but the officers had their dinners, their dances, and their afternoon receptions.
The social centre for a portion of the rank and file was a sailors' institute. As this was a temperance institution, it was only patronized by a small percentage of them. Here we had frequent receptions, afternoon teas, lectures, and religious meetings. Here the secret societies met—the Free Masons, Odd Fellows, Foresters, Orangemen, etc. Thursday afternoons we had a half-holiday on board. It was called "Make-and-Mend-Clothes Day." The upper decks belonged to the crew that afternoon, and every conceivable kind of activity was in operation. It looked something like an Irish fair. It was a day on which most men wrote home; but there were sewing, boxing, fencing, and on this afternoon at least almost every man on the ship worked at his hobby. My hobby at this time was mathematics and I could not do that in the crowd, but on Thursday afternoons I rather enjoyed watching the boxing and fencing. My experience in the game had given me at least a permanent interest in it, and as I stood by the ropes the blood tingled in my veins. I was anxious many a time for a rough and tumble, but my religious friends saved me from this indulgence. There were sixteen men in my mess. It was in a corner of the main gun battery alongside one of the big "stern-chasers." We had a table that could be lowered from the roof of the gun battery, and eating three times a day with these men, I knew them fairly well and they knew me. Each man-of-war's man is allowed a daily portion of rum, and I was advised by the small group of Christians to follow their example and refuse to permit anybody else to drink my portion. It took me a long time to make up my mind to follow their advice. It was, of course, considered an old-womanish thing to do, but I finally came to the point when I asked the commissariat department to give me, as was the custom, tea, coffee, and sugar instead. I took very good care, however, not to indulge myself in these things. I handed them over to men on the night watches. This did not save me from the penalty for such an offence. It brought down on my head the curses of a good many men in the mess, but especially of one man who was a sort of a ship's bruiser. It came his turn to be cook about once in ten days. The cook of the mess had as his perquisite a little of each man's ration of rum. With the others, the abuse was mixed with good-humour, for on the whole I managed to lead a fairly agreeable life with my messmates. They looked upon me as a religious fanatic, but my laughter, my funny stories, and my willingness to oblige offset with most of them my temperance principles and religious fanaticism. The insults of the bruiser I usually met with a smile and passed off with a joke; but when they were long continued, they irritated me.
There is a monotony in the life of the average soldier or sailor which has a very deadening effect upon character—seeing the same faces, hearing the same things, performing the same routine in the same kind of way every day, year in and year out, makes him a sort of automaton. Kipling has told us something of the effect of this thing in "Soldiers Three." There came a time when I broke under the strain of this man's continued insults. For nearly a year I got comfort from the advice of the brethren. We had a weekly meeting where our difficulties were considered and prayed over, but the consolation of my brethren finally refused to suffice, and, being a healthy, normal, vigorous animal with some little experience of looking after myself, I began to resent the insults and make some show of defence. This change of front incensed the bully, and one day he hurled an exceedingly nasty epithet at me—one of those vulgar but usual epithets current in army speech. The reference in it to my mother stirred me with indignation and I announced in a fit of anger my willingness to be thrashed or thrash him if the thing was repeated. It was not only repeated at once, but seizing a lump of dough, he hurled it at my head. I ducked my head and it hit another man on the jaw, but the gauntlet was on the floor and an hour afterward the port side of the gun deck was a mass of solidly packed sailors and marines. My brethren came to me one after another. They quoted scores of texts to make me uncomfortable. I tried to joke, but my lips were parched and my tongue unwilling to act. I was pale and trembling. I knew what I was up against, but determined to see it through. One text only I could remember in this exigency and I quoted it to Lanky Lawrence, the big sailmaker who was the leader of our sect. "Lanky, m' boy," I said to him, "I'm goin' to hing m' hat on one text fur the space of a good thrashin'."
"What is it?" asked the sailmaker.
"'As much as lieth in ye, live peaceably wid all men.' Now I have done that same, and bedad, I have done it to the limit and I'm goin' to jump into this physical continshun so that of out it I will bring pace!"
"Ye're all wrong!" said the sailmaker.
"I know it, but from the straight-lacedness of your theology I want a vacation, Lanky, just for the space that it takes to get a lickin' wan way or th' other." So the thing began. My chief endeavour was to escape punishment, but the space was exceedingly small between the two big guns and I didn't succeed very well. During the first five minutes I was very badly bruised and beaten. One of my ribs was broken and both eyes almost closed. Half the time I could not see the bully at all. In one of the breathing spells, the sailmaker, who, despite his quotations of Scripture, had remained to see the proceedings, whispered something in my ear. It was a point of advice. He told me that if I could stand that five minutes longer, my opponent would be outclassed. The support of Lanky was a great encouragement to me, and a good deal of my fear disappeared. I began to think harder, to plan, and to plant blows as well as to avoid them. This excited the crowd and it became frenzied.
Up to that point it was a one-sided thing. Now, I was not only taking but giving; and not only giving, but giving with laughter and ejaculations. Our Bible study for that month was the memorizing of the names of the minor prophets; and once when I managed to toss my opponent's head to one side with a blow on the point of the chin, I shouted full of glee, "Take that, you cross-eyed son of a seacook—take it in the name of Hosea!" The crowd laughed, but above the roar of laughter rang out the voice of a Scotchman who was one of our best Bible students: "Gie him brimstone, Sandy!" A few minutes later I ejaculated, "And, bedad, that's for Joel!" In this new spirit and in this jocular way, I pounded the twelve minor prophets into him one after another, while the rafters of the ship rang with the cheers of the crew. By the time I had exhausted the minor prophets, I was much the stronger man of the two. My opponent was wobbling around in pretty bad shape. Once he was on his knees, and while waiting, I shouted, "I want to be yer friend, Billy Creedan. Shake hands now, you idiot, and behave yourself!"
The only answer I got was a string of vile oaths as he staggered to his feet. I pleaded with him to quit, but that is not the way that such fights end. Men fight while their senses last, while their legs keep under them, and at such a moment a blood-thirsty crowd becomes crazed for the accomplishment of something that looks like murder. The injection of the minor prophets made a ludicrous ending of a thing that had at the beginning almost paralyzed me with fear. So the thing ended with the bully of the mess lying prostrate on his back. I was not presentable as a waiter for several days, but inside of an hour everybody on the ship knew what had happened, and for the second time in my life I was hailed as a bruiser.
To impress a thousand men in such a manner creates an egotism which is very likely to be lasting. I had not accomplished very much in my studies. I was nothing in particular among my religious brethren. My general reputation up to this moment in the ship was that of a simple-minded Irish lad, who was a religious fanatic, a sort of sky pilot or "Holy Joe." I became flushed with the only victory worth while in the army or navy, and the second experience lasted twice as long as the first.
The next thing to be done, of course, by my friends and admirers, was to pit me against the bruisers of other ships. Two of the officers wanted to know my plans. This recognition heightened my vanity. Prayer-meeting night came along, and I was ashamed to attend. A committee was sent to help me out, and the following week the prodigal returned. The proper thing to do on my return was to confess my sin and ask the brethren to pray for me; but when I failed to do this, I became a subject of deep concern and solicitude. I tried to cultivate a sense of conviction, but succeeded indifferently. The deference paid me by the men of the mess was not calculated to help me out. I felt very keenly the suspicion of my brethren, but it was compensated for by the fact that among the ordinary men I had now a hearing on matters of religious interest. I was rather diffident in approaching them on this subject, since, from the viewpoint of the pietists, I had fallen from grace. At the end of a month, a loathing of this cheap reputation began to manifest itself. The man I had beaten became one of my closest friends. I wrote his letters home to his mother. A few weeks later, he entrusted me with a more sacred mission—the writing of his love letters also.
Creedan was a Lancashire man, as angular in speech as in body, and lacking utterly a sense of humour. As we became acquainted, I began to suggest some improvements, not only in his manner of writing, but in the matter also. I could not understand how a man could make love with that kind of nature. One day I suggested the idea of rewriting the entire epistle. The effect of it was a huge joke to Creedan. He laughed at the change—laughed loud and heartily. The letter, of course, was plastered all over with Irish blarney. It was such a huge success that Creedan used to come to me and say:
"Hey, Sandy, shoot off one of them things to Mary, will ye?"
And the thing was done.
The summer cruise of 1883 was up the Adriatic. All the Greek islands were visited. I knew the historical significance of the places, which made that summer cruise a fairyland to me.
There were incidents in that summer cruise of more than ordinary interest. One morning, while our ship was anchored in the harbour of Chios, the rock on which our anchor lay was moved by a sudden convulsion: the mighty cable was snapped, and the ship tossed like a cork by the strain. The guns were torn from their gearing and the shot and shell torn from their racks. Men on their feet were flung prostrate, and everything loose scattered over the decks. The shrill blast of the bugle sounded the "still." Such a sound is very seldom blown from the bugles, but when it is, every man stops absolutely still and awaits orders. The boatswain blew his whistle which was followed with the Captain's order, "Port watch on deck; every other man to his post!" Five minutes later, on the port side of the ship, I saw the British Consul's house roll down the side of the hill. I saw the people flock around a priest who swung his censer and called upon God. The yawning gulf was there into which a part of the little town had sunk. A detachment of marines and bluejackets went ashore, not knowing the moment when the earth would open up and swallow them. The boats were lowered, and orders were given to stand ready to pack the ship to the last item of capacity and carry away the refugees from what we supposed to be a "sinking island." Of course, in a crisis like this, the sentiment of religion becomes dominant. Some of my comrades at once jumped to the conclusion that it was the coming of the Lord, and in the solemnity of the moment I could not resist the suggestion for which I was derided for months:
"Gee, but isn't He coming with a bang!"
PROBLEMS AND PLACES
In 1884 I kept a diary—kept it the entire year. It was written in the straggling characters of a child of ten. As I peruse it now, twenty-five years afterward, I am struck not so much with what it records, as with what it leaves unrecorded. The great places visited and the names of great men are chronicled, Bible studies and religious observations find a place—but of the fierce struggle of the human soul with destructive and corrupting influences, not a word!
The itinerary of the year included Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Crete and Sicily. Of these Syria was of the greatest interest to me. Of the men whose pathway crossed mine, General Gordon was of the most importance; of the others, the King of Greece and the second son of Victoria were unique, but not interesting. One in my position could only meet them as a flunky meets his master, anyway.
Gordon, on his way to his doom in the Soudan, disembarked at Alexandria. It was early in January. There was no parade, no reception of any kind. Gordon was dressed in plain clothes with a cane in his hand. Gladstone had sent him thus to bring order out of chaos in the Land of the Mad Mullah. Officers with a penchant for religious propaganda are scarce either in the army or navy, but into whatever part of the world Gordon went, he was known and recognized and sought after by men engaged in religious work. It was an officer of the Royal Naval Temperance Society, who was at the same time a naval petty officer, who said to me on the wharf at Alexandria—"That's Chinese Gordon!"
"Where is he going?" I asked.
"Down the Nile to civilize niggers who are dressed in palm oil and mosquitoes," was the answer. A year later Gladstone sent an army and spent millions of money to bring him back, but it was too late.
While lying off Piraeus, the seaport of Athens, I was doing guard duty on deck in the first watch. I was substitute for a comrade who had gone to visit the ancient city. There had been an informal dinner, and there were whispers among the men that some high mogul was in the Admiral's cabin. Toward the close of the first watch I was joined on my beat by a man in plain clothes, who, with a lighted cigar in his mouth, marched fore and aft the star-board side of the ship with me. In anticipation of entering Greek waters, I had read for months, and this stranger was astonished to find a common soldier so well informed on the history of Greece. I had not yet been ashore, but I had arranged to go the following day. The gentleman, on leaving, handed me a card on which he had pencilled what I think was an introduction. I had only time to ask him his name, and he said, "George—just George." Next day I discovered I had been pow-wowing with a king. The effect on me was almost as bad as a successful go with the gloves. The Channel Squadron, flying the flag of the Duke of Edinburgh, entered Malta Harbour that year, and for some weeks the combined fleets lay moored alongside each other. The Royal Admiral was a frequent visitor to our ship. On one of these visits I had the experience of serving him with luncheon. He was the guest of our skipper. During the luncheon I handed him a note from his Flag Lieutenant. A dealer in mummies had come aboard with some samples. They were spread out on the quarter-deck. The note related the facts, but the Queen's son was not impressed, and said so.
"Tell him," said he, "to go to —— Oh, wait a moment"; then he pencilled his reply on the back of a note and handed it to me. When the Flag Lieutenant read it, he laughed, tore it up and handed the pieces to me. The Duke's reply read—"He may go to the D—— with the whole boiling. A."
Right off the coast of Sicily, we encountered a bit of rough water, and Commander Campbell, a seaman of the old school, took advantage of it for sail drill.
"Strike lower yards and top masts," was the order, "and clear the decks for action!"
"Away aloft!" he roared, as the wind soughed through the rigging, and a moment later I heard—"Bear out on the yard-arm!"
Something went wrong in the foretop that day, and its captain fell to the hatchway grating below. I was standing a few feet from the spot, and it took me the best part of the day to sponge his blood out of my clothing. We stopped the evolution for a day, and the following day another man was killed performing the same drill, and we buried them both that afternoon in the old cemetery at the base of Mt. Etna. At noon on the third day the ship was ordered to go through the same evolution. Meantime a petty officer named Hicks had been promoted captain of the foretop. He was one of the finest men in the ship. He could dance a hornpipe, sing a good song, make a splendid showing with the gloves or single-sticks; was something of a wag, and when he laughed the deck trembled. His promotion was not wholly a thing of joy, for the superstition of the sea gripped him tight. He was the third man, and to most of us the number had an evil omen. Within an hour after his promotion, the red flush had gone from his cheeks. He was silent and managed to be alone most of the afternoon and evening of that day. He had been a signal boy and was an expert in the language of flags and in flashing the electric light. He was unable to sleep and passed most of the night on deck with the sentries. It was noticed that he begged permission to "monkey" with the electric-light signalling apparatus aft on the poop. When we began the sail drill the following day, the attention of every man on the ship was focused on the captain of the foretop, and at the order—"Away aloft!" he sprang at the rigging like a cat. We stood from under. There was a breathless hush as the second order was given—"Bear out on the yard-arm!" It was the fatal order at which the other men had lost their nerve and their lives! As it rang out over the old ship, we gulped down our lumps and secretly thanked Him in the hollow of whose hand lie the seas. The evolution was completed, and when the man of the foretop descended to the deck, half a dozen men gripped Hicks, and hugged him and kissed him with tears in their eyes.
Something really did happen in the foretop that day—something happened to its captain, though nobody knew just what it was. He came to the deck a changed man, and those who knew him best, felt it most. We could not analyze it—he could not himself. I got into the secret by accident. Some weeks later, it may have been months, an officer from another ship was lunching with a friend in our wardroom. I served the lunch and overheard the following conversation:
"Have you a signal man by the name of Hicks—Billy Hicks—on board?"
"Yes, what about him?"
"Well," the officer said, smiling, "we were ten miles out at sea a few weeks ago when I noticed the signals flashing all over the heavens. I was officer of the deck. It was about seven bells in the first watch. I called my signal officer, told him to take down what he read." He pulled out his notebook, still smiling and, spelling out the words, read:
"God this is Billy Hicks. I ain't afraid of no bloomin' man nor devil. I ain't afraid of no Davey Jones bleedin' locker neither. I ain't like a bawlin baby afussin' at his dad for sweeties. I doant ask you for no favours but just one. This is it—when I strike the foretop to-morrow let me do it with the guts of a man what is clean and God dear God from this here day on giv me the feeling I use to have long ago when I nelt at my mother's knee an said Our Father. Good night dear God."
I went out into the pantry of the wardroom, jotted down as much of this as I could remember, and it gave me a splendid introduction to the captain of the foretop.
The greatest problem of my life, and perhaps of any life at the age of twenty-one, was the problem of sex instinct. I have often wondered why that problem is discussed so meagrely. I have often wondered why, for instance, Kipling and Frank Bullen and W. Clark Russell, in discussing the life of soldiers and sailors with whom this is a specialized problem, have not frankly discussed the terrific battle that every full-blooded man must fight on this question.
The moment I arrived in that foreign port I was overwhelmed with a sense of personal freedom. There I was, with a splendid physical organization that had just come into its own, and around me in the mess and on the ship's deck and on the streets of the cities—everywhere—I heard nothing else but conversation on this problem. To nine out of every ten men it was a joke. It was laughed at, played with, and I knew, of course, that young men of my own age were being smashed on the rocks of this problem.
The British Navy serves out once or twice a week a ration, which is one of the biggest jokes of naval life. It is a small ration of lime juice, and the rumoured purpose of it is to modify in some degree this tremendous natural sex instinct. To most of us it was like spitting on a burning building—the battle went on fiercer every day of life! I tackled it from two points of view; first, the moral point of view. My religion demanded purity, continence and self-mastery. The other point of view—I don't think this was clear to me at the time; I don't believe that I intentionally pursued this course with the object in view that it actually accomplished; nevertheless, whether intentional or unintentional, planned or unplanned, the effect was produced. The physical work required of me was light, very light, and all my leisure time was spent in study. I studied so hard and so conscientiously that I tired not only my mind, but my body. There came a time when I was dimly conscious, however, that I was doing two things by hard study: I was preserving my body, conserving my vital energy, and at the same time training my mind, gathering information and equipping myself intellectually. At the present moment my body is as lithe, as powerful and as enduring as the body of a youth of twenty, and I attribute this wealth of health to the fact that twenty-five years ago, I tackled this problem of self-mastery and laid the foundations for my present strength.
Who will give the world a novel or a book dealing with this terrific problem? Who will tell millions of young men around the age of twenty that they cannot burn their candle at both ends? With the ordinary man in civil life the temptation is a negligible quantity compared to the life of a soldier or sailor. In the army and navy it is talked incessantly so that a man has a double battle to fight. He fights the thing and he fights a multitude of suggestions that come to him every day of his life.
The most revolting, disgusting and degrading thing I ever heard talked about on a man o' war was the perversion of the sex instinct—the unnatural use of it! This, too, is a joke and laughed at and talked lightly about; but the records of the British Navy, and I think of other navies, would reveal something along this line that would shock civilization. I did not believe this possible, but the first six months on board changed my mind.
To the great credit of the British Navy, be it said that this crime is held almost equal to murder, and when an officer is convicted of it, the trial is in camera, and the findings kept secret; but no matter how high his rank, he is stripped of his standing and marched over the side of the ship as a degraded criminal and an outcast. A man of the ranks convicted of it usually spends the rest of his natural life in prison.
The two things responsible for such perversion in the navy are: first, the herding of the male sex together and for long periods; second, the mode of dress in which little boys begin their sea life. These are the problems before which all others sink into utter insignificance. The army and navy of Great Britain, is recruited very largely from the slums of great cities. The most ignorant, the most brutal and most immoral of mankind are drafted by the incentive of a better life than they have ever known; but they are only changed outwardly. Their nature, their habits of life, their mental make-up, does not change; or, if it changes to the automatic action by which they become part of a war machine they lose that individual freedom that is the boast of the Anglo-Saxon race.
On the other hand, I must say that in all my contact with life, I have never met nor been associated with a group of men more gentlemanly, better educated, or whose total sum of right thinking and right living was higher than that group of officers on that ship. I certainly attribute a great deal of my quickening of mind to contact with them.
THE GORDON RELIEF EXPEDITION
The incarceration of Gordon in Khartoum was a matter of deep concern to every soldier and sailor in the British Empire, particularly to those of us who were in and around Egypt at the time. It has not always been plain to the British soldier in Egypt, why he was there; but he seldom asks why he is anywhere. In the matter of Gordon, however, the case was different. They all knew that Gladstone had sent him and refused to relieve him; at least, the relief was so long-drawn-out, so dilatory, that it was practically useless.
I had made application for my discharge from the service by purchase—a matter of one hundred dollars—and had my plans made out for further study; but the plight of Gordon gripped me as it gripped others, and I determined to throw every other consideration aside, and get to the front. There was one chance in a thousand, and I took it. A marine officer of the ship was called for and his valet was a man who had almost served his time; had seen much service and was not at all anxious for any more. I went after him, bank-book in hand:
"I will give you all I possess if you will let me go in your place."
"It's a go," said this man as a gleam of joy overspread his face. The officer himself was glad, and the whole thing was arranged; and in forty-eight hours, I was on board the Peninsula and Oriental steamship Bokhara bound for the Red Sea. The officer was the most brutal cad I have ever met. He strutted like a peacock, and seemed to take delight in humiliating, when an opportunity would present itself, anybody and everybody beneath him in rank—he was a captain.
The trip through the Suez Canal might be considered a new stage of development, for I travelled as a second-class passenger. To be consulted as to what I should eat or to have any choice whatever, was not only new, but startling. In turning a curve in the Canal, we encountered a sunken, water-logged ship which stopped the traffic. We were there four or five days, and the life of ease and luxury, with opportunity for reading and social intercourse with well-gowned people, was so enjoyable that, had it not been for the fact that Gordon was in danger in Khartoum, and I wanted to have a hand in his relief, I should have enjoyed staying there a month. We disembarked at Suakim on the Red Sea, and we were—the officer and myself—immediately attached to the staff of General Sir Gerald Graham in the desert.
The seven months in the desert were months of waiting—monotonous, deadening waiting. The greatest difficulty of that period of waiting was the water supply. We were served out with a pint of water a day. Water for washing was out of the question. Our laundry method was a kind of optical illusion. We took our flannel shirts, rolled them up as tightly as possible, tied them with strings, and then thumped them laboriously with the butt end of a rifle; then they were untied, shaken out, brushed, and they were ready for use. Most of this was a make-believe laundry, but the brushing was real. Being attached to the General Staff, I had a little more leeway in the comforts of life, but it was mighty little.
Off in the hills, ten miles distant, was encamped the black horde under Osman Digna, and every night of the seven months the Arabs kept up small-arm firing upon us. Sometimes they were bold enough to make an approach in a body in the darkness, but we had powerful electric lights that could search the desert for miles. We got accustomed to this after a while, and would simply lie prostrate while the light was turned on them. Of course, the searching of the desert with the electric lights was always accompanied with the levelling of our artillery on whatever the light revealed. Not very much destruction was accomplished on either side, however. Occasionally a stray bullet would carry off one of our men in his sleep. Sometimes these naked savages would stealthily creep in upon our sentries and with their sharp knives would overpower them and mutilate them in an indescribable manner.
To prevent this, we laid dynamite mines in front of our encampments. I watched, late one afternoon, the young engineer officer as he connected the wires for the night—perhaps his hand trembled as he made connections, or perhaps some mistake was made. Anyway, there was an explosion. Great masses of desert sand shot into the air like a cloud, and when it fell again, the mangled body of the engineer fell with it; but the mines were laid, connections made for the night, just the same, by another engineer.
At other places we had broken bottles fixed in the sand, for the black men came barefooted, and they were more seared by broken bottles in the sand than they were by the musketry fire.
A night of great excitement was that of the capturing of some of our mounted scouts in a sortie near the hills. That night we saw half a dozen immense bon-fires on the hilltops, and the impression we got was that our comrades were being burned alive. There were half a dozen brushes or skirmishes with the natives during my stay in the desert, but I did not experience what might be called a decisive battle. There had been decisive battles of one sort or another, but I was not present. They were before my time.
They began the laying of a railway from Suakim to Berber, but afterward they pulled the rails up. The soldiers cursed Gladstone for the laxity of his foreign policy. Gordon, we knew, was in Khartoum, and hard pressed, and outside were the Mahdi and his multitude; and why the Government should hold us back, we could not understand. The desert life was so deadening that any kind of a change would have been welcome. Every man would have been glad of even a repetition of the charge at Balaklava, though only few men would come out. Anything was preferable to rotting in the desert!
The sun was striking dead one out of every two men. I thought my time had come when I had a sunstroke. Being the only man on the General's staff stricken, I was well looked after. The General had ice, and I was privileged to have the luxury of it. I was also given a glass of the finest French brandy. I asked the attendant to put it by my side, and when he disappeared out of my tent—my tent was so small that it barely covered my body—I went through a fierce battle with my prejudices. I was a fanatic on the drink question. I had sworn eternal hostility to it, and with good reason. The use of it was partly responsible for my lack of early schooling. It had robbed me of a great deal of the life of my kind-hearted old mother, and I had determined to put up a tremendous fight against it. Here the thing was in my hands, ordered by the doctor; but I tipped it into the sand and made them believe that I had drunk it. I had seen so many stricken men with sunstroke die during the same day, that I had little hope of my own recovery; but inside of twelve hours, I was on my feet again, and, though weak, at work.
It was recorded that we lost fifty per cent. of our strength by sunstroke and enteric fever. It was very noticeable that the men of intemperate habits were the first to go. They dropped like sheep in the heat of the day, and by sundown they lay beneath a winding sheet of desert sand. The actual conflict of civilized with savage forces was responsible for the loss of very few men. The sun was our arch enemy!
To break the monotony, we tried whatever sport was possible in the sand. The national game, cricket, came in for a trial, but was more laughter-provoking than recreative: a bundle of rags tightly rolled up in a sphere served as a ball, and pieces of boards of old packing-cases served as bats and wickets. Leapfrog and the three-cornered game of "cat" were favourite pastimes, but nothing broke the monotony. It was depressing, and it was not an unusual sight to see men weeping from homesickness—utterly unable to keep back the tears. There were attempts at suicide also, and men eagerly sought opportunity to endanger themselves. Actual fighting on the desert was to us the greatest possible godsend, for it meant either death or relief from the game of waiting.
Despite the fact that the love of Gordon had brought me there, I was not enamoured of the way in which the campaign was carried on. Of course, when in actual conflict, I wanted this black horde wiped off the face of the earth; but when I saw boys and girls, ranging from six to ten years of age, approaching the phalanx of British bayonets with their little assagais ready to do battle, I was thrilled with admiration for them. Some of our officers described this as fanaticism, and I remember a discussion that took place between two of them as to whether it was fanaticism or courage, and a unique experiment was tried. We had with us always a contingent of friendly natives, and in order to test the question, one of them was to bare his back (for a shilling) and an officer applied to it, with all his strength, a horsewhip. I saw the black man's body writhe for an instant as he puckered his mouth; but it was only for an instant—then he smiled and asked for another stroke for another shilling. This seemed to indicate to the officers that there was something more than fanaticism in the Soudanese. Their warriors were tall, powerfully built men—we used to say they were dressed in palm oil and mosquitoes. Their hair stood straight up, and their bodies were greased. I think it was the general opinion of our officers that if these men could be disciplined and drilled as European soldiers are, they would make the finest fighters in the world. Perhaps Kipling has described this opinion better than anybody else when he says:
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan; You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man; An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air— You big black boundin' beggar—for you broke a British square!
There was somewhat of a mixture of my sentiment and feeling on this war. I wanted Gordon released, I wanted the war ended and the Soudanese beaten; but when I contrasted the spirit of the campaign with the spirit of Jesus, I often wished that I could lend my assistance to these black men of the desert who were fighting for the thing under their feet, and the home life of their tribe. But it was not until I was completely out of the desert that I was possessed of a loathing and disgust for the game of war, as such. This disgust grew until I had completely ridden myself not only of the war spirit, but of the paraphernalia of the soldier. The officer whose servant I was, was so hated by everybody who knew him that if he had ever gotten in front of the ranks, as was the ancient custom in war, he would have been the first man to drop, and he would have dropped by a bullet from one of his own men. But leaders no longer lead on the field of battle—they follow!
I had some books with me, but the power to interest myself in them had almost completely vanished. I occupied my mind very largely with military tactics. On a large sheet of brown paper I outlined the plan of campaign. On it I had the position of every regiment in our army. The dynamite mines, the region of broken glass, the furze bushes, fort and redoubts were all minutely detailed, and one night an exigency arose in which this paper plan of campaign was called into evidence. Tired of waiting, and very restive and discontented under the privations of the desert, Graham determined to move. The electric-light apparatus was out of order, and the advance forts were too far away to be touched with any less powerful signal of the night. A non-commissioned officer was ordered to take a corporal's guard and deliver marching orders to the advanced forts. When questioned as to the route he was not quite certain as to the exact location of the dynamite mines or broken glass, and as I overheard the entire conversation, I produced my brown-paper map and begged the honour of carrying the dispatch. This was not granted me until several others had been questioned and failed. I was so sure of every inch of the ground, that I was commissioned to take two men with me and deliver the orders. This made my heart leap with joy—it was a relief, an excitement, an opportunity!
Osman Digna's men were stealthy. They hid behind the furze bushes in the darkness so often, and so many of our men had been hamstrung, that, of course, we were on the alert; but every furze bush we approached covered an imaginery "Fuzzy-Wuzzy," and this, often repeated, created an unutterable fear, so that by the time we reached our destination, our khaki clothing was black with sweat, and we were literally drenched with fear. Of course, we put on a brave front and smiled complacently as we delivered the orders, and when it was suggested that we remain overnight in the fort, I nonchalantly refused the offer under the pretence that we were expected back. The same thing happened on the return journey, and when the thing was over, we were the most pitiful-looking objects—fear-stricken soldiers!