Young Tom Bowling The Boys of the British Navy
By J.C. Hutcheson This book fills a gap about just how boy seamen were trained at the end of the nineteenth century. From first to last it is very credible, and also very readable. It was not very easy to transcribe, because the boys we meet come from a variety of country places, and hence have a variety of dialects. In particular one of the boys has a strong Irish brogue, and another has an equally strong west Hampshire accent. It is this boy, 'Ugly', that comes to a very sad and noble end.
Our hero, Tom, is trained for a little over a year in "Saint Vincent", after which he moves on to various postings in the Fleet. There is an interesting period during which he is serving in a vessel that is taking part in the British efforts to capture and punish slave-traders on the African east coast.
It all rings true to me, because your reviewer has been in the Royal Navy himself, and knows the way the Navy works. YOUNG TOM BOWLING THE BOYS OF THE BRITISH NAVY
BY J.C. HUTCHESON
FATHER AND I "ARGUE THE POINT."
"Hullo, father!" I sang out, when we had got a little way out from the pontoon and opened the mouth of the harbour, noticing, as I looked over my shoulder to see how we were steering, a string of flags being run up aboard the old Saint Vincent. "They're signalling away like mad this morning all over the shop! First, atop of the dockyard semaphore; and then the flagship and the old Victory, both of 'em, blaze out in bunting; while now the Saint Vincent joins in at the game of 'follow- my-leader.' I wonder what's up?"
"Lor' bless you, Tom!" rejoined father, still steadily tugging on at his stroke oar as we pursued our course towards the middle of the stream, so that we might take advantage of the last of the flood, and allow the gradually slackening tide, which was nearly at the turn, to drift us down alongside the old Victory, whither we were bound to pick up a fare for the shore—"nothing in pertickler's up anyways uncommon that I sees, sonny; and as for the buntin' that you're making sich a fuss about, why, they've hauled all that down, and pretty near unbent all the signal flags, too, and stowed 'em away in their lockers by this time!"
"But, father," I persisted, "they don't always go on like this for nothing, I know!"
"In coorse they don't, stoopid!" said he, giving the water an angry splash as he reached forwards, the blade of his oar sending up a tidy sprinkle across my face. "Why, where's your wits, Tom, this mornin'?"
"Where you put them, father," I replied with a laugh; "you know I'm your son, and mother says I'm 'a chip of the old block' whenever she's a bit put out with me."
"None o' your imporence, Tom," said he, laughing too; for he and I were the best of friends, and I don't think we ever had a serious difference about anything since first I was able to toddle down to the Hard, a little mite of four or five, to see him put off in his wherry, and sometimes go out for a sail with him on the sly when mother wasn't watching us, up to the time, as now, when I could help him with an oar. "None o' your imporence, you young jackanapes. But touching that there signallin', I'm surprised, sonny, you don't know by this time that when the commander-in-chief up at Admiralty House, in the dockyard, wishes for to communicate to some ship out at Spithead, he telegraphs from his office to the semaphore, which h'ists his orders, and then every ship in port's bound to repeat the signal till the craft he means it for runs up her answering pennant, for to show us how she's took the signal in and underconstubled it."
"Oh yes, father, I know that," said I, leading him on purposely. "But what is the signal they've been so busy about this morning? I can't make it out at all."
Father snorted indignantly.
"Tom Bowling, junior, I'm right down ashamed on you for a son o' mine!" he said, digging away at his oar savagely, as if trying to dredge up some of the silt from the bottom of the harbour. "You, turned fifteen year old, and been back'ard and forrud 'twixt Hardway and the Gosport shore for a matter of five years or more, and not for to know and read a common signal like that, which you must 'a seed run up at the semaphore or on board the Dook a hundred times at least. Lor'! I'm jest 'shamed of you, that's what I be!"
"But that ain't telling me, father," I retorted, "what is the signal. You needn't make such a blooming mystery of it, like that chap we saw t'other night at the theayeter!"
In return for my 'cheek' he splashed the water over me again.
"Well, if you don't know it, sonny, which I can hardly believe on, and wants for to know to improve your mind, which needs a lot of improvement, as I knows, that theer signal, Tom, was that cruiser we saw out at Spithead yesterday a-trying her speed at the measured mile, the Mercury, I thinks she is, axin' the port-admiral if she might have her sailin' orders; and look there, sonny, the 'affirmative' 's now run up at the mizzen aboard the Dook, over yonder!"
"Yes, father," said I, playing him artfully, like the wily old fish he was, with an object which you will soon learn—"and what does that mean?"
"What does that mean? You blessed young h'ignoramus! Why, Tommy, your brains be all wool-gathered this mornin'! Can't you see that old Sir Ommaney is tellin' the cruiser to 'carry on' as soon as she likes, and bid adoo to Spithead when she's weighed her anchor? See, too, sonny, the old Vict'ry and the Saint Vincent be now a-repeatin' the signal arter the Dook, the same as they did that first h'ist, jest now!"
"That is, father," said I innocently like—"the port-admiral gives that cruiser outside permission to go to sea?"
"Aye, Tom," he answered, without suspecting what my inquiry was leading up to—"that's just it. You've reckoned it up to a nicety, my hearty."
Now came the opportunity for which I had been waiting.
"The old port-admiral may be a martinet, as they say, in the dockyard," I said; "but he's a kinder chap than you are, father."
"The admiral kinder than me, sonny," he repeated, in a surprised tone—"why, how's that, Tom?"
"Because he gives leave when he's asked for a fellow to go to sea."
We were just then about midway between the Saint Vincent and the old Victory; and, startled by my thus unexpectedly broaching my masked battery, father dropped his oar and let the wherry drift along the almost motionless tideway towards the stern of Nelson's whilom flagship, which was slowly swinging round nearer us on the bosom of the stream, thus showing that the ebb was setting in, or, rather, out.
"You owdacious young monkey!" he cried, slewing his head round on his shoulders, even as the old Victory's hull slewed with the tide, so that he could look me full in the face. "So, my joker, that's the little rig you're a-tryin' to try on with me, Master Tommy, is it?"
"It ain't no rig, father," said I sturdily, sticking to my guns, now that the cat was out of the bag. "I can't see why you won't let me go to sea. I'm sure I've asked you often enough."
"Aye; and I'm sure I've had to refuse you jest as often."
"For your own good, sonny."
"I can't see it, father," I rejoined. "Look at them Saint Vincent boys in that cutter a-crossing our bows now. How jolly they all seems working at their proper calling, just as I'd like to be!"
"Aye, mebbe," said father, in his sententious way, cocking his eye as the cutter sped on its way towards the training-ship. "But jest you look at me, Tom, and see what forty years' sailorin', man and boy, have done for one o' the same kidney as them boys, jolly though they seems now. Poor young beggars, they all has their troubles afore 'em!"
"Most of us have our troubles, father," I replied to this bit of moral philosophy of his, speaking just in his own manner. "So our old parson said on Sunday last, when mother and Jenny and I went to church. We are all bound to have them, he said, whether on sea or on land; and I can't say as how a sailor has the worst chance."
"Ship my rullocks, Tom, can't ye? Jest you look at me!"
"Why, father?" I asked. "What's the use of that?"
"None o' your imporence, Master Tommy; jest you look at me!"
"All right, father," said I. "I am a-looking at you now!"
"Very good, Tom—one dog one bone! Well, what d'ye see?"
"I see a brave sailor and a gallant defender of his country," I answered, giving the bow oar I was pulling a vicious dig into the water as I spoke, like as if I were tackling one of the Queen's enemies; "I see a man who has got no cause to be ashamed of his past life, though he might be getting on in years—you are that, father, you know; and one who has won his medal with four clasps for hard fighting. In real wars, mind you, not your twopenny ha'penny Bombardment of Alexandria business!—aye, I see one who ought to wear the Victoria Cross if he had his rights. That's what I see, father."
"Bosh, Tom, none o' your flummery," said he, grinning as he always does at the mention of the Egyptian affair which they made such a fuss about, just when I was a little nipper learning to run about, and that old men- o'-warsmen thought all the more ridiculous from its contrast to Admiral Hornby's rushing the British fleet through the Dardanelles, and stopping the Russians in their march to victory at the very gates of Constantinople, shortly before, in the days of 'old Dizzy'—which was really a deed to boast of, if any one wanted to talk of the British Lion showing his teeth and waggling his tail, as he did when he 'meant business' in the good old days of Nelson! Aye, that was 'something like,' father says; and worth all the 'bronze stars' in the Khedive's collection of leather medals! "None o' your flummery, Tom; you only wants to put me off my course, you rascal, so as to make me forget what I were a-talking about. But I don't forget, sonny! Look at me, I says, and see what I've come to, with my forty year o' sailorin' all about the world an' furrin parts—a poor rhumenaticky chap as is half a cripple, forced to eke out his miserable pension of a bob an' a tanner a day by pulling a rotten old tub of a boat back'ards and forruds, up and down Porchm'uth Harbo'r, a-tryin' to gain an honest livin', an' jest only arnin' bread an' cheese at that!"
"Oh, father!" said I. "How about that rabbit smothered in onions we had yesterday for dinner, and the 'tidy little sum' you told me you and mother had in the Savings Bank? Besides that, we've bought the freehold of our little house at Bonfire Corner, I know, father, and there's the bird-shop and all the stock!"
"You knows too much, Master Tom, I'm a-thinking," he rejoined, scratching his head again, as he always did, as now, when he was in a quandary about anything, especially when any one had got the better of him in an argument, or, as he said, 'weathered' on him, and he wasn't quite prepared with an answer, reaching over the sternsheets of the wherry and dipping the blade of his oar, ready to make a stroke. "But, look out, my lad! I think we'd better be a-going alongside now. Ain't that a jolly there, signalling to us from the entry-port o' the old Victory?"
"Aye, father," said I, for I had seen the marine holding up his hand to summon us before he spoke. "The court-martial must be over sooner than was expected."
"Not a bit of it, Tom," he replied, as he and I bent our backs and made the boat spin along towards the old flagship, fetching the gangway at the foot of the accommodation ladder on the starboard side in half a dozen strokes. "The ship's corporal told me it'd last all day. It's only them lawyer chaps wanting to get ashore to their lunch, that's all. Those landsharks be as hungry arter their vittles as they is for their fees, Tom; they be rare hands, them lawyers, for keeping their weather eyes open, and is all on the look-out for whatsomedever they can pick up. They be all fur grabbin' an' grabbin', that they be, or I'm a Dutchman!"
"Really, father?" I said innocently, as I stood up in the bows of the wherry and hung on by a boathook to one of the ringbolts in the side of the old three-decker that towered up above our heads, waiting to help in a couple of gentlemen who came hurrying down the accommodation ladder to take passage with us. "Why, I thought you and mother wanted me to go into a lawyer's office and become one of those very same sort of chaps!"
"I'd rayther see you an honest sailor, like your father an' grandfather afore you," he answered, with some heat, unthinkingly; and then, catching my eye, he grinned, recognising how seriously he had committed himself by this rash utterance after his previous advice respecting the unsatisfactory character of the vocation he now extolled, and he muttered under his breath while lending his arm to assist the gentlemen to pass astern on their jumping into the boat. "Ship my rullocks, you young rascal! Don't you sit there grinning and winking at me, like a Cheshire cat eatin' green cheese, thinkin' no doubt you've got to win'ard of me; though, I'm blest, sonny, if I didn't nearly slip my painter then!"
The rudder of the wherry being shipped, one of the gentlemen took the yoke lines as he sat down in the sternsheets facing father, handling them in a manner that showed he was no novice.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed presently, looking steadily at father, as he steered us aslant the tide so as not to check the way of the boat, while making straight for the pontoon across the stream, which was now running out, like a regular good coxswain. "Aren't you Tom Bowling?"
"Aye, aye, sir, that's my rating," said father, looking at him in his turn. "But I can't say as how I can place your honour;—though, ship my rullocks, if it ain't young Mister Mordaunt; 'Gentleman Jack' we used to call you on the lower deck aboard the old Blazer—beg pardon for taking the liberty, sir!"
"Yes, I'm that same, Bowling, only grown a bit since then in stature and likewise in years; for none of us can manage to work a traverse on old Father Time and grow younger," said the other, laughing lightheartedly and showing his white teeth as he stretched out his hand to father in the most cordial way, like a real gentleman, as if he were a friend and fellow-sailor. "I'm very glad to see you again—aye, and looking so hale and hearty, too, old shipmate!"
"So am I to see you, sir," rejoined father, resting on his oar, while the two exchanged a good grip of their fists; I also stopping pulling, of course, and grinning in sympathy. "Why, I were only talking about you last pension day to Bill Murphy—You remembers Bill; don't you, sir? He wer' cap'en of the foretop in the Blazer with us, Mr Mordaunt—a little chap with ginger hair."
"Oh yes, I recollect Murphy well enough. He was a mad Irishman, always full of fun and mischief," rejoined the other, smiling at the remembrance of some joke in which the chap of whom they spoke had part. "But you must put a handle to my name, Bowling; I'm posted now."
"Beg pardon, cap'en, I didn't know it, in course, or wouldn't have forgot my manners," said father, raising his hand in salute; and then, gripping the loom of his oar, he started a long steady stroke towards the pontoon at the foot of the railway jetty, on the Portsea shore, abreast of the old Victory; I following suit, of course. "You won't mind an old seaman, sir, 'gratulatin' you, sir, on getting your step so young? Ship my rullocks, why, it do seem but t'other day when you were a mite of a middy along o' me!"
"Time flies, my man; and if youth were the only bar to our promotion we'd soon be all admirals of the fleet," said the other, laughing again. "Why, it's more than twenty years ago, Bowling, since we were in the old Blazer together."
"Aye, I knows that, Cap'en Mordaunt," replied father, in his dry way; "an' I knows, too, that there's many a youngster o' yer own standing as ain't got further than liftenant yet, sir! It's only the smart officers like yerself that gits promoted."
"Well, well, we won't argue about that, Bowling; 'kissing,' you know, sometimes 'goes by favour,'" said father's old friend, smiling; and then, to turn the current of conversation from this rather personal theme, Captain Mordaunt, as I afterwards found out for myself when I sailed with him, being of a singularly modest and retiring disposition, he abruptly asked, "This your son, eh?"
"Yes, sir—Cap'en Mordaunt, I means, sir," replied father. "I've got one darter as is older; but he's my only son."
"How old is he now?"
"Fifteen years an' ten months," said father, after careful consideration and much counting on his fingers. "He'll be sixteen next April, on 'Primrose Day,' as they call it."
"Another Tom Bowling, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said father. "He's 'young Tom,' an' I'm the 'old un' now!"
"Humph! He's a fine grown young chip for his age. What are you going to make of him? He ought to be a sailor and serving the Queen by now, like his father before him!"
Father 'hummed' and 'hawed,' not knowing what to answer to this; while I burned all over with joy at having so potent an advocate coming to my aid in this unexpected way.
Captain Mordaunt saw this: though anybody could have seen it from one glance at my face; for if I grinned 'like a Cheshire cat eating green cheese' on ordinary occasions, as father used to say, why, I must have looked now as if I had bolted all the cheese in one lump, and it had stuck in my throat, keeping my mouth open on the stretch!
So, noticing this, father's old friend put the question to me point- blank.
"I think, youngster, you've pretty well made up your mind already in the matter, if I'm not very much mistaken," said he to me, as I unshipped my oar and stood up in the bow of the wherry, ready to fend her off from the pontoon as we ran up alongside, right under the stern of one of the Ryde steamers that was just backing out from the railway pier above us. "You'd like to go to sea, young Tom, I'm sure, eh?"
"There's nothing I should like better, sir," I answered glibly enough, catching hold of one of the piles of the pier with my boathook and bringing up the wherry easily to the landing-stage. "I only wish you'd coax my father, sir, to let me be a sailor!"
"Now, Bowling, my old friend," said this new ally of mine, who, it struck me, would turn out to be a very important factor in this decision anent my future destiny, "the matter rests entirely with you. 'Toby or not Toby,' as Hamlet says in the play. Is your son, young Tom here, to go to sea or not?"
Father took off his hat with his right hand and scratched his head deliberately and deliberatively with his left, 'humming' and 'hawing' over this crucial question.
"Well, sir—Cap'en Mordaunt that is, begging your pardon, sir, ag'in," said he—"as you goes on to make sich a favour on it, sir, we'll see about it, sir."
"See about it?—Stuff and nonsense, Bowling, my man, that won't do for me!" exclaimed the other, as, resting his hand lightly on my shoulder as he crossed the thwarts, he stepped out of the wherry on to the landing- stage. "I tell you what it is, young Tom must go to sea, my man—aye, and to-morrow too!"
"Lor' sakes, you're just the same, sir, as you were aboard the old Blazer twenty years ago!" said father, breaking into a regular horse- laugh, which he never did except something particularly funny tickled his fancy. "You allers gave your orders sharp as a youngster, and some of us used for to call you 'Commander Jack' sometimes. Lor', I remembers it all as if it wer' but yesterday!"
"All right, Bowling, I'm glad your memory is so good," replied Captain Mordaunt, standing on the pontoon and looking down at us, with a smile on his cheery, handsome face. "You will remember, too, that my word was always as good as any bond, and when I say a thing I mean a thing! I'm stopping for a day or two at the Keppel's Head, and if you'll come over there this evening after dinner, or send young Tom, should you like that better than a glass of grog, why, I will give you a letter for him to take on board the Saint Vincent to the commander, who's an old friend of mine like yourself, and we'll have young Tom entered on the books of the training-ship in a brace of shakes!"
"Thank you kindly, sir," said father, raising his hand to his cap again in salute as the captain turned to leave us. "You're very good, sir, for to h'interest yourself, sir, in this yere young scamp of a son o' mine, sir!"
"Not a bit of it, Bowling, not a bit of it," rejoined the other cheerily, as he chucked father a sovereign for his fare ashore, and told him to be sure to come up to the Keppel's Head on the Hard and see him in the evening for the letter of introduction for me. "It's a shame that such a likely young fellow should not be allowed to follow in his father's footsteps and turn out as brave and handy a sailor as himself. He's a born seaman, every inch of him, Bowling, and a regular chip of the old block!"
"A CHIP OF THE OLD BLOCK!"
"Oh!" exclaimed mother, when an hour or so later father set about explaining the matter of our meeting Captain Mordaunt, and his promise of sending me aboard the Saint Vincent to be trained for the service. "You just go and tell that to the marines! Don't you try on any of your old yarns with me!"
"I ain't a-tryin' on nothing, old woman," protested father, after a vain attempt to continue his dinner, bolting a piece of potato, which stuck in his throat and set him coughing. "I'm a-tellin' you the honest truth, Sarah, that I be!"
"Well, and suppose it is true," retorted mother, giving him a slap on the back to send the obstructive potato down, "p'raps you'll tell me, Tom Bowling, how Jenny and I are a-going to get along without young Tom? Who's going to look after the birds in the mornin's, I'd like to know— with twelve dozen fresh canaries a-comin' from Norwich the day arter to- morrow, too?"
"Oh, we'll manage all right, mother," put in my sister Jenny, with a merry laugh. "You'll make Tom conceited if you let him think we cannot get along without him!"
She was a bright, fairy-like little creature, with beautiful hazel eyes, and a wealth of brown hair on her tiny head that was a veritable crown of glory, reaching below her waist, and looking like a tangle of gold when the sun played upon it; and, somehow or other, she was the life and light of our home, always having a kind word for everybody, and ever acting as the peacemaker when any little difference arose between father and mother, as sometimes happens in most family circles.
Father and I when out together in the wherry, talking over home matters, would often wonder where Jenny could have come from, she was so different to all of us; mother being a big stout woman, with dark hair and eyes; while father 'belonged to Pharaoh's lean kine,' as the country folks say, being tall, and thin, and wiry, with as little flesh on his bones as a scaffolding pole. In this respect, I may add, he was said to resemble all the Bowlings ever mentioned in history, up to the time of our remote ancestor, the celebrated Tom Bowling of Dibdin's song, who 'went aloft' more than a hundred years ago.
Aye, she was a pretty little girl was my sister Jenny, though but a mere slip of a thing to me, who almost stood a head and shoulders over her, and she, the mite, quite a year my elder; but, what is more to the purpose, she was as good as she was pretty, taking all the cares of the household off mother's hands and winding her, aye and father too, round her tiny fingers in whatever way she pleased when the fancy took her.
I used to like best seeing her, however, amongst the birds.
We lived in a queer little double-fronted, old-fashioned cottage near Bonfire Corner. This is close up against the dockyard wall, and not far from the Marlborough Gate, you must know, if you be a stranger to the old town of Portsmouth and that labyrinth of narrow streets lying to the north of Hardway and the harbour. Yes, a labyrinth of rectangular rows, arranged in parallel lines and all precisely alike, of twin two-storied, russet-bricked houses of the same size and pattern, all looking as if they had been turned out of a mould, and all of them having little projecting circular bay-windows of wood, mostly English live oak, or teak from the Eastern Indies. All were painted green alike, and furnished with diamond panes, or bottle glass with bull's-eye centres, of the last century; and all, likewise, had similarly retreating doorways, sheltered by timber pent-houses to keep off the rain, access to them being gained by three or four perpendicular steps, so as to avoid flooding from the rivers of mud that covered the cobblestone roadway in wet weather, overflowing the narrow gutters, and narrower flagging along the side that did duty for a pavement.
Attached to our cottage was an out-house which ran flush along the side of Beacon Street, fencing off our bit of a garden from the road and an adjacent tenement; and this out-house, mother, who was of an inventive nature, with a strong proclivity for money-making, had converted into a shop for the sale of all sorts of birds, both foreign and native born, and pigeons, in addition to sundry specimens of the rarer species of poultry.
Mother said she had been forced into the trade from the necessity of her having to do 'something for a living' after grandfather's death, on account of her having us two children to keep, as well as herself, on only the allotment pay of father, who was away at sea at the time; but, in a weak moment she once confessed she had started the bird-keeping business more for the sake of having her hands employed than anything else, she not being partial to needlework, like most west-country women, while she was particularly fond of birds!
Not only that, she was certainly accustomed to their feathery ways, and learned in the art of their breeding and bringing up, even from the nest; for Jenny and I could bear witness to having seen her often enough poking pap with a stick down the outstretched throats of gaping young blackbirds and thrushes as soon as they had sufficiently developed beaks to open, and coddling up shivering little canaries and larklets in flannel before the fire when their proper parents would not attend to their infantile needs—mother tenderly feeding them with the point of a camel's-hair brush dipped in egg paste and weak wine and water before they were old enough even to 'peep' or flutter their nascent little wings.
Bye-and-bye, when my sister got big enough, she took charge of all this part of the business, and saved mother a world of trouble, as she thankfully acknowledged, without being a bit jealous of her greater success with the fledgelings; for Jenny handled the little things as tenderly as if she were a canary herself, and was so fortunate in her treatment of them, medical and otherwise, that she never lost even the most delicate of her bird baby patients, nursing them through their various ailments, and rearing them triumphantly up to the full perfection of their plumage and song.
You should only have seen her amongst them of a morning when I had the job of cleaning out their cages, while Jenny gave them all fresh food and water!
They did not pay much attention to me, save to flutter a bit as I moved them about, and especially when I put my hand between the bars of their little wooden prisons; but with Jenny the case was very different.
"Bless you!" as father would say, every one of them knew her and recognised her as a friend and fellow-comrade, for she would sing to them sometimes like a lark, which always set them all on the twitter; goldfinches, linnets, and bullfinches, of which mother kept a large stock, hopping about their cages trying by every means in their power to attract her notice on her entering the shop and coming near them; while the lemon-crested cockatoo, who was christened 'Ally Sloper,' on account of his fine flow of language, and a habit he had of ruffling up the feathers round his neck when spoken to, making him look as if he had a particularly high and stiff collar on, would shriek out 'Say-rah!' which was mother's name, just as if father were shouting for her to come downstairs in a sort of 'reef topsails' on a stormy night sort of voice.
Our pet thrush 'Jack' also liked her better than any of us, though he was tame enough to eat out of my hand, giving me a friendly nip with his sharp beak occasionally, just to show what he could do if he had a mind to and was not socially disposed.
But he never nipped Jenny's little fingers—not he!
On the contrary, he used to dance with delight if she only uttered his name in a whisper, chuckling first to express his great pleasure at the sight of her, and then breaking into a regular roulade that wound up with the call 'Jenny! Jenny!' or something which we all thought sounded uncommonly like it; for he used to keep it up for a good spell if she went away without speaking to him, or even failed to put in an appearance to wish him "good morning."
Avast there, however.
I'm afraid I am making a long circumbendibus from my original yarn; but, as mother says of father, it runs in the blood, all the Bowlings having their jaw tackle well abreast, and not knowing when to stop when once they begin; so, being a 'chip of the old block' and a Bowling all over in my love of talking and love for the sea, I hope you will excuse me and let me start afresh again.
I was saying when I went off my course on this tangent about the birds, that little Jenny stepped in just as father and mother were getting to loggerheads about my going on board the Saint Vincent, the old lady saying she couldn't possibly spare me, and that he, to put it mildly, was not a very sensible person to think so lightly of losing my services in the wherry just when I was beginning, as she pointed out to him, to be of some use to him.
"But it's no good my talking," she cried at the end of a long harangue, to which father politely listened, with his knife and fork expectantly in hand, and his dinner getting colder and colder on the plate before him. "It's just like you Bowlings all over! You're all headstrong and foolish, and always bent on having your own way, in spite of all the good advice one gives you!"
"All right, Sarah," said father, in his quiet way, bowing, wise man that he was, before the storm. "All right."
"No, it's nothing of the sort," retorted mother. "It's all wrong!"
At that moment a happy diversion was made by the lemon-crested cockatoo, who, by reason of his highly respectable deportment and polished manners, had been made free of our parlour, and could hop in and out from the shop when the mood seized him, through a small trapdoor or porthole, originally constructed for a window, and which served 'Ally Sloper' as a means of intercommunication between the two apartments, the wily bird being easily able to unlatch at pleasure the swing door of his cage.
"I'll wring your neck!" he screamed in his hoarse, sepulchral voice; "I'll wring your neck! Say-rah! Say-rah!"
This, of course, made us all laugh, even mother joining in, though the joke was certainly against her; and taking advantage of the opportunity thus afforded of 'throwing oil on the troubled waters,' little Jenny went on to speak of the advantages to be gained by my going to sea and earning my living as a gallant seaman in the service of my country, pointing out to mother how I had always hankered after father's profession, and that she was sure I would never be contented in any shore billet, and might possibly go to the bad if I had my inclinations thwarted!
"Who knows, too," she added, as a clincher to her argument, "whether Tom may not rise to be a leftennant, ay, and even an admiral, through this good Captain Mordaunt's introduction!"
"Right you are, my lass, bless you!" chimed in father, rising up enthusiastically from his seat and tossing off the glass of beer he held in his hand. "So he will too, you'll see, or I'm a Dutchman. Hurrah, Sarah, here's good luck to the boy and speedy promotion!"
"'Oo-ray, Say-rah!" screamed 'Ally Sloper,' the cockatoo, in cordial appreciation, apparently, of this sentiment. "'Ip, 'ip, 'oo-ray!"
That settled the matter.
So, early the following morning, after an affectionate hug from mother and a kiss from Jenny, who came to the corner to see the last of me, I started off for the Saint Vincent with father, who rowed me aboard himself, I being the very first fare he had for the day, though, of course, as you can imagine, he did not earn much by the job.
However, it pleased father at any rate; and, as soon as he had landed me safe and sound at the foot of the accommodation ladder on the port side of the old ship, which lay broadside on, almost on the mud abreast of Haslar Creek, the tide being out, he handed me a big official letter which Captain Mordaunt had given him overnight, as he had promised, recommending me to the commander of the training-vessel, and enclosing certificates of my birth and character.
"There, sonny, them's yer papers," said he, thus laconically wishing me good-bye, sheering off out of the way of an approaching galley from the shore whose sternsheets were chock-full of big quartern loaves of bread, and then laying on his oars as I skipped up the ladder. "You jest give that there letter to the cap'en when you sees him, and good luck to you, my lad!"
I waved my hand in reply as he sculled away, all alone now in the wherry, towards the flagship to try and pick up some stray passenger for Gosport or Hardway; and the next instant I had gained the top of the accommodation ladder, and was standing within the entry-port leading on to the middle deck.
"Hullo!" cried a bluejacket stationed at the gangway, who, I noticed, had a red stripe on his arm, and subsequently learnt was one of the ship's corporals, who serve as police always aboard a man-of-war. "What do you want here, boy?"
"I've come to join the ship, sir," said I to him respectfully, seeing that he was some one in authority, and having been taught by father to be deferential to everybody, especially those who were my superiors, respect to rank and station being the very essence of the discipline of the service. "Got a letter for the cap'en."
"Give it here, my lad," said the man more civilly to me, calling to a marine close by. "I'll have the letter passed off to him at once; and you'd best step into the office there and wait till the master-at-arms can see you."
So saying, he pointed to a large open sort of cabin, with glass sides to it, immediately adjoining the entry-port, where I found a couple of boys of about my own age, and who had evidently come aboard on a similar errand.
One of these was a red-haired, short, thickset fellow, with an ugly, bulldog sort of a face, whose beetle-brows met over a pair of ferrety eyes, giving him a most forbidding appearance, and I did not like the look of him at all.
The other was a poor ragged chap, without any shoes to his feet; but he had a jaunty devil-me-care air, and such a pleasant smile and merry twinkle about the corners of his mouth, that I could not help taking a fancy to him, at once hoping that we might be chums.
However, I did not have much time for reflection anent either of them; for hardly had we taken stock of each other, when a stoutish middle-aged man, dressed in a tight-fitting monkey-jacket, ornamented with the letters 'NP' on the collar, and a row of bright crown-and-anchor buttons down the front, besides having a gold badge bearing the same device over the mohair band of his blue peaked cap, appeared at the doorway of the cabin, or 'police office,' as the place is properly called, where we three boys were waiting anxiously to learn our fate.
"Ha, humph! A nice lot of raw material to be licked into shape!" observed this gentleman, whose uniform denoted that he was the master- at-arms, or head of the ship's police. He was evidently cogitating within himself as to our respective and collective capabilities, for he eyed us critically the while as we stood before him, hats off and mute as mice. "Hi, my lads! I fancy I know what you're after this fine morning. You want to join the service, I can see, eh?"
"Yes, sir," the three of us shouted in three different keys—"yes, sir— yes, sir!"
"Keep your hair on, lads," he said, amused at our eagerness. "Got your papers all right, eh?"
To this the ugly chap, as well as the one to whom I had taken a liking, responded by handing over to the master-at-arms certain official documents representing their certificate of birth to show they were of the proper age, and a declaration of their parents that they were joining Her Majesty's Service with their full consent and goodwill.
When it came to my turn, though, I had absolutely nothing to show.
"Hullo!" exclaimed the master-at-arms. "Where are your papers, young 'un?"
I was about to explain; but the ship's corporal who had first spoken to me at the entry-port and taken on to the captain the letter from Captain Mordaunt which father had handed to me, saved all further trouble.
"Here are Tom Bowling's certificates, sir," said he, giving the couple of sheets of foolscap in question to his superior officer. "The cap'en says they're all right, and he's to be entered if he passes the schoolmaster and is medically fit."
"That's all right, then, Mister Bowling," said the master-at-arms to me, with a mock bow. "Hullo, though, Bowling—Bowling? It strikes me I've heard that name before, my lad. Father in the service, eh?"
"He has served in the navy, sir," I replied. "But he's a pensioner now, and works as a waterman up and down the harbour."
"Ah, I thought so! He and I were old shipmates together out in the Ashantee War on the West Coast, and I recollect him well. You are very like him, too, I can see now from the cut of your jib, youngster! You're a regular chip of the old block."
"So everybody says, sir," I said with a grin. "I only hope, sir, I will turn out as good a sailor!"
"Only act up to that wish, my boy, and you'll do! I say, corporal, take these three lads down to the schoolmaster and see what he makes of them."
With that, giving me a friendly nod, the master-at-arms dismissed us, and the ship's corporal conducted us down the nearest hatchway to the lower deck.
At the other end of this we three neophytes were ushered into a large apartment, fitted with rows of desks and benches, arranged in parallel lines, which gave it the appearance of an ordinary schoolroom ashore; the only difference being that there was a harmonium on one side, and a cottage piano on the other, while a large circular band-stand stood in between the two in the centre.
Here one of the assistant-masters took charge of us, placing 'Ugly' and 'Rattlebrains,' as I had mentally christened my two companions, along with myself at a table in a corner of the room, away from the rest of the boys, some three hundred odd in number, who were all busy at their lessons.
No great obstacle to our joining the service was put in our way by the examination which we underwent; for, after being asked to spell a few easy words, tested as to our arithmetic with a sum in simple addition, and the multiplication table as far as six times six, besides being given a short sentence from some reader to write from dictation, the head schoolmaster filled up a form, which he attached to our papers, notifying that we were sufficiently educated to become Saint Vincent boys.
Our ordeal was thus ended.
The three of us were then escorted back again to the police office on the middle deck, where our papers were again handed to the master-at- arms to show that the regulations had been complied with.
This functionary did not seem at all surprised at our reappearance.
"Ha, Bowling, so you've passed your schooling all right, my lad, eh?" he said to me. "I thought you'd manage to pull through, somehow or other; and you, too, young shaver—you with that fine pair of flesh-coloured stockings on, I mean! I can't quite make out your name here from the writing. It looks like 'Damerum,' or 'Dunekin,' or 'Donkeyvan,' or something of that sort! What do you call yourself, my lad, when you're at home, eh?"
"Donovan, sor," promptly answered my friend the ragged boy without any covering to his feet, whom, of course, he was addressing. "Me name's Mick Donovan, sor."
"An Irishman, eh?"
"No, sor; Oi'm an Oitalian, yer honour."
The master-at-arms burst out laughing, for really the devil-me-care chap's brogue was strong enough to have hung a kettle full of potatoes on it. Even the ship's corporal could not help smiling, though in the presence of his superior officer.
"Nonsense, boy, don't you try to gammon me," cried the master-at-arms, as soon as he was able to speak. "An Italian from the county Cork, I'm thinking!"
"Oi'm that same, yer honour," protested the other, as grave as a judge. "Me fayther came over here harvestin' last summer, sor, an' turned organ-grinder; an' now, sure, he's an Oitalian."
"Was it him that signed this paper?" asked the master-at-arms, when he was able to control his speech again after a second burst of merriment at the Irish boy's droll way of expressing himself, and comical look. "I s'pose it's his new foreign style of writing and spelling that prevented my making out your name at first?"
"Sure, sor, he wanted the praste fur to soign it," said the other in his racy brogue. "But Father Maloney said he'd be persecuted for bigummy if he did it, an' he'd have fur to do it himsilf; an' so, bad cess to it, fayther stuck the ind of his dhudeen in the ink-bottle, I'll take me oath, sor, an' soigned his name thare, sor, jist whare ye say it, wid his own hand, as Oi'm a livin' sinner!"
"Well, well, Donovan, that's enough. I'll take your word for it," said the master-at-arms, anxious to get rid of him, feeling his gravity giving way again. "But you'll first have to pass your medical examination, my lad, before you can join the ship. Corporal, take all three of them to the doctor in the sick-bay, at once!"
With that, the lot of us started off, in company with the corporal.
I BECOME AN "UNCLOTHED BOY!"
"Look sharp, my lads!" sang out after us the master-at-arms, or "Jaunty" as he is always called on board ship. "The sick-bay's away there forrud on the starboard side; and if you're spry and pass the doctor soon, before the bugle sounds for 'cooks to their messes,' why, you'll be able to eat your first meal at Her Majesty's expense, my lads, afore you're a day older."
"Faith an' sure," rejoined our ragged comrade Mick Donovan innocently enough, as we hurried along the middle deck towards the fore part of the ship, under the tutelage of the corporal, "I'll pass the gintleman aisy an' civilly if he ounly comes foreninst me an' gives me a chance, begorrah, to go by him!"
The corporal sniggered at this audibly, not being any longer in the presence of his superior officer the master-at-arms, and therefore not now bound in the interests of discipline to repress his emotions; and, in another minute, pushing aside a red curtain that hung in front of the open door of a cabin on the starboard side, forward of the galley, where there was an appetising smell of cookery going on that made my friend Mick sniff approvingly and wink at me, our conductor led the three of us into the doctor's quarters, or hospital of the ship, nautically styled the sick-bay.
Here, the sick-berth steward, distinguished by a red-cross badge within a circlet of gold on his arm, took us in tow, the corporal handing him our papers, which he in turn handed to the doctor, who was in the usual undress uniform of an officer, a thin line of red braid interlarded between the rows of gold lace on the cuff of his tunic sleeve betokening his special medical rank.
This gentleman was seated at a writing-table in a larger cabin amidships, opening out of the first apartment; and here I noticed there were a couple of hospital cots rigged up at the farther end, for the treatment, no doubt, of any urgent cases, such as a fall from aloft or other mishap which might happen on board the ship, prior to the removal of the patients to Haslar, which lay within convenient reach up the creek opposite.
The doctor looked up on our entrance from what seemed suspiciously like a copy of one of the daily journals, which he had been apparently studying with great interest; but, of course, I might have been mistaken.
He was a pleasant, easy-going gentleman, I thought; and when I spoke about him subsequently to father, he said he was probably like most of the 'sawbones' he had met with in his time in the Navy—"chaps as wouldn't let their sense of duty ever fret their minds too much!"
I could not help seeing now, that, though the steward held out our papers to him, he did not take the trouble to stretch out his hand for them; allowing the man to lay them on the table before him when he was tired of holding them out.
"Oh, that you, Trimmens?" he said languidly, as if he were too tired almost to get out the sentence, though he had a nice, agreeable voice. "What! You don't mean to say you've brought in another batch of boys to be examined?"
"Yes, sir," replied the sick-berth steward, opening his mouth, and closing it again with a sort of snap, and uttering the two words as one. "Three of 'em now, sir!"
"Why, that makes the fourth lot this morning!" exclaimed the other plaintively. "The ship'll be chock-full if they keep on coming in like this. Only at the beginning of the month, too!"
"Yes, sir," agreed the steward. "Shall I make a start with 'em, sir?"
"Oh yes, carry on, Trimmens," said the doctor, looking at his watch, and then sitting bolt upright in his chair with more alertness than he had yet displayed. "But, by Jove, you must look sharp! It's close on lunch time, and we haven't much time to spare."
"Yes, sir," answered the sick-berth steward in the same snappy, mechanical way; and then, turning to us, he said, "Which of ye came first, boys?"
"Me, zur," replied 'Ugly,' stepping forwards. "I were first aboard this mornin'; an', by rights, I comes first."
"Boys have no rights in the Navy, or wrongs either if they behave themselves properly," observed the doctor, giving my joker a 'snop' for his bumptiousness. "What's your name?"
"Reeks," replied 'Ugly,' a bit abashed. "My name be Moses Reeks, zur."
"No-a, zur, Reeks. We spells it with a 'har,' double 'he,' and a 'k' and a 'hess,' zur."
"Oh, all right, Reeks; but it looks uncommonly like Leeks on your paper here; and I thought you were a Welshman," said the doctor, smiling at his queer Hampshire pronunciation; for some of the chaps down our way speak just as badly as the cockneys in the east end of London, especially those coming from the country part beyond Cosham and Fareham. "Now, strip off your clothes to the waist, Reeks, and you, Trimmens, just take his chest measurement, please. You need not take off your trousers, boy!"
He added this caution in the nick of time, for 'Ugly' appeared about to peel off everything, to his naked pelt!
The sick-berth steward then proceeded to put a tape-measure round his body, just under the armpits, compassing his chest.
"He's just the regulation, sir," he said, after inspecting the measure. "Thirty-one inches, sir, exactly."
The doctor looked at Reeks's papers again.
"Ah, yes, all right, his age is under sixteen, I see," said he. "Just test his height, Trimmens."
The sick-bay steward took Reeks to the bulkhead opposite, where was a standard for measurement, the same as they keep in barrack-rooms.
"He's five feet two, sir," he called out—"to a h'inch, sir."
"All right, that'll do," said the doctor. "I don't think Mr Reeks will grow much more, though; he's too thickset. Get me my stethoscope, Trimmens, and I'll sound his lungs and heart."
The doctor's examination appeared satisfactory, for he made a note on 'Ugly's' papers; and he was then made to hop across the cabin on each foot alternately and swing from a hook suspended to the deck above with either hand; after which his sight was tested, to see whether he could distinguish colours at a distance, besides being made pick out variously formed letters placed six feet or so away from him. The ordeal was completed with an inquiry as to the state of his bowels!
"You'll do all right," said the doctor, signing his papers to show he had complied with the requirements of the service. "Next boy!"
This, of course, was Mick Donovan, who gave out his name clearly enough; but, on the order being given him to strip, he seemed somewhat abashed, as if reluctant to comply with this request.
The doctor, very kindly, I thought, seemed to anticipate the poor lad's reason for hesitating.
"Never mind, my boy, if your shore toggery is a bit seedy," he said. "You'll soon be blooming out in a bran-new sailor's rig, and be as good as anybody!"
At this, Mick slipped off his ragged jacket at once, dragging an even more tattered shirt over his head. But I noticed though, and so did the doctor too, who had pretty sharp eyes of his own in spite of his somewhat indolent demeanour, that, if poor Mick's garment was ragged, as indeed it was—aye, and 'holy' enough to have served his patriot saint, Saint Patrick, for a vestment—the shirt, or rather the remnant of the article, was scrupulously clean. The Irish boy's skin also appeared much more accustomed to soap and water than that of the ugly Reeks, who, I saw, regarded my new friend with contempt, though he seemed to me a very dirty fellow, if outwardly better dressed.
However, in spite of his dilapidated raiment, Mick passed all the medical tests; though he had a narrow squeak in regard to the dimensions of his chest, failing in the proper measurement for his age by just an eighth of an inch.
"Faith, sor, I'll fill out soon enough whin I git outside ov a good male or two," pleaded the defaulter, on the sick-berth steward noting the deficiency. "An' sure, yer anner, if Oi arn't broad enough in the chist, I make up for it by being taller for me age—Bedad, Oi'm that, sor!"
The doctor seemed tickled by this unanswerable piece of logic.
"We'll see about that, Paddy," he said. "Trimmens, measure his height!"
"Five feet five, sir," ejaculated the steward, after adjusting the sliding roll of the standard and reading the index. "That's three h'inches over the h'average, sir, for his age, I think, sir."
"Very good, that'll do; I'll pass you, Donovan," said the doctor, wheeling round his chair and facing Mick. "But, mind, you'll have to fill out, my boy."
"Faith, I will that same, sor; and thank you kindly, sor, for your goodness to a poor misfortenate gossoon:" replied the other, all full of gratitude. "Your honour won't know me, bedad, in a wake's toime if I ownly git enough praties an' mate!"
The doctor laughed outright at this; whereat, the somewhat demure sick- berth steward smiled grimly, allowing himself this slight indulgence amid the stormy austerities of duty, the only departure from the gravity he had all along displayed.
As for me, I was on the broad grin the whole period of my examination.
This lasted from the time I unbuttoned my braces till I threw them over my shoulders again, my grin expanding as I passed each test with flying colours, and broadening all over my face to express my inward joy. For, thank God, I proved to be not only 'sound in mind and limb,' but taller and broader-chested than most lads of my age. While as for my sight—
"By Jove, Trimmens," observed the doctor, "I think he could pretty nearly see through that bulkhead and the Bill of Portland beyond! He has eyes like gimlets!"
With that, the sick-berth steward, hailing the ship's corporal, who had been waiting all the while at the entrance to the doctor's sanctum, handed him our papers; and the three of us were then escorted to the paymaster's office, aft there, to undergo our last ordeal.
Here, each of us had to sign a document, binding us to serve Her Majesty for a period of twelve years after we should have attained the age of eighteen.
A number was thereupon given to Reeks and Donovan, as well as myself, and these numbers entered in the ship's books against all three of our names; the one apportioned to me being 2799, which I looked upon as a happy omen, there being always luck in the odd figures.
Then, finally, one of the clerks noted down in turn the respective colours of our hair and eyes, asking also if we had any special markings on any part of our several persons; so that the authorities would be able to identify us should we 'cut and run' at any time, and try to leave the service before we worked out our allotted spell of twelve years as bluejackets "under the flag."
"Now, lads," said the corporal, as we emerged from the ship's office, as the paymaster's domain is styled, after going through all these formalities, "you're entered on the ship's books and you've signed the watch bill, and can call yourselves Saint Vincent boys at last!"
"Be the powers, sor," exclaimed Mick Donovan, at once executing a caper which had some remote resemblance to an Irish jig, "it's deloighted Oi am at that same! Oi fale so glad, alannah, Oi could dance for joy, loike the piper that played before Moses!"
"What d'you mean?" retorted Reeks, thinking he was taking liberties with his name. "We don't have no Irish pipers or pigs in this country!"
"Faith an' sure," retorted Mike, "that's bekase ye don't want 'em, avic. Ye've got so many pigs, me darlint, amongst ye, bedad, ov yer own, sure, an' not fur off, nayther, I'm a-thinkin'!"
Before 'Ugly' could make any reply to this sharp home-thrust, a bugle rang out loudly throughout the ship fore and aft, putting a stop to the interesting conversation.
"Look sharp, lads!" cried the corporal, hurrying us on to where we had left the master-at-arms. "There's 'cooks to their messes,' and you're just in time for dinner."
"Dinner, faith!" ejaculated Mick Donovan. "Oi'm the boy for ye, begorrah. Where shall we go, sor, for to git it? Sure, the docther, God bless him! Towld me Oi wor to fill mesilf out; an' the sooner I sit about it, the betther, Oi'm afther thinkin'!"
"Come along with me and you'll be all right," said the corporal kindly. "You novices will mess here on the middle deck, along with us police, till you pass your bag and hammock drill and get your uniforms. You're only what they calls 'unclothed boys' at present, my lads!"
So saying, he led the way to the aftermost mess on the port side of the ship.
Its number was '52,' near at hand to the office of the ship's police, and adjoining the entry-port where we had come on board that morning, and on reaching it we were directed to seat ourselves at the table, one of the oldsters being 'told off' to look after us, and supply our wants as soon as the boatswain's pipe was heard; when some six hundred and fifty odd boys came tumbling down the hatchways from 'divisions' on the upper deck, diving below, to their dinners on the lower.
"You're in luck, my lads," said patronisingly the first-class boy, with a double stripe on his arm, who had been deputed to fetch our food, we having no cook or captain of our mess appointed yet. "Not many gits sich a chance on first j'ining!"
"Why?" asked I—"how's that?"
"It's pay-day to-day, being Thursday; and so you'll have roast mutton and gammy duff for dinner, let alone your pay, mate."
"I don't fancy any of us will get fat on our pay," said I, with a grin, in response to his chaff. "But, what's 'gammy duff'—I never heard tell of such a thing before?"
"Plum puddin', with raisins in it, stoopid," he quickly sang out, we darting off, on catching sight of our friend the ship's corporal, who just then popped his head out of the office to see how we were getting on. "I means a puddin', Johnny Green, with as many 'gammies' as the boys don't 'sneak' when the cook's working up the duff!"
I AM "CUT DOWN IN MY PRIME."
After dinner, which, by the way, my friend Mick Donovan appeared to enjoy mightily, not having had a decent meal for more than a month past, as he confessed to me afterwards, the bugle loudly sounded the 'assembly,' when all the boys below came rushing up the hatchway near us, trooping onwards by the ladder above to the upper deck. They jostled and shoved past each other, I thought, as if Old Nick were after them, none wishing to occupy the unenviable position of last man, or rather boy.
There wore eight other new boys in addition to us three, the latest of the novices, who had joined the ship that morning; and, although we all rose up from the mess-table, where we had very satisfactorily polished off our dinners in company, the lot of us hung together about the spot, not knowing what to do, or where we should go.
We were, besides, pretty well confused with all the bustle and hurry, and scurry catch-me-who-can business, going on around us.
It seemed, indeed, to bewilder even 'Ugly,' free and easy chap as he appeared to be.
Our friend the master-at-arms, however, solved the difficulty for us before we were many minutes older, as you will see.
"Ha, my lads!" said he, advancing towards us from the office with the glass windows, through which he could overhaul all that was going on on deck, and where he probably had been enjoying his own meal on the quiet; "got through your dinners, eh?"
"Yes, sir," we shouted in chorus, Mick Donovan adding a very appropriate grace, which most of us had forgotten. "Thanks be to God, yer 'anner!"
"Ah, I needn't have asked the question," said the 'Jaunty' to this, glancing meaningly at the empty plates that littered the table, not a scrap or a crumb being left by any of us. "But now, my lads, you must set to work to pay for your grub. Here, look sharp and clear up! We always have things shipshape aboard here, and the sooner you learn your duties the better."
The same first-class boy who had previously got our dinners for us from the cook's galley, and who, you may remember, had tried a 'barney' on me when he brought them, happening to be passing by at the time again, the master-at-arms hailed him.
"Where are you going, my joker?" said he. "You seem to be having a good time of it!"
"Jist goin' a message fur the bosun," stammered he. "He sent me to ax the gunner, sir, fur a copy o' the mornin' paper."
"That's a bouncer," rejoined the 'Jaunty,' who, no doubt, was up to such tricks. "Why, you're going away from the gunner's cabin and not towards it, as you very well know. You just stop here and show these new boys how to clean up the mess-table."
"Yes, sir," replied the boy very humbly; and then a grin came over his face as he looked at the empty plates, like as the master-at-arms had done previously, asking demurely, "Shall I show 'em where to chuck the scraps, sir?"
"Yes, if you can find them," answered the 'Jaunty' shortly. "It strikes me, Larrikins, you'll soon be on short allowance yourself if you don't keep a better hold on your tongue! Let me see these mess-tables all cleared up before I come back from the wardroom, or you'll smell powder before Six Bells, I promise you, and shan't go ashore to-day."
This threat had the effect of sobering down our lively friend, who then put us in the way of what we were to do; and, all of us lending willing hands, we soon had the place as trim as it was before we had sat down to our dinners.
After this, taking the dirty plates back to the galley, we washed all of them up in a bucket of water and restored them to their proper racks, returning to the entry-port just as the master-at-arms came sauntering back along the deck from the officers' quarters aft.
"Ha, done that job all right, I see," said he in an approving tone. "Now, let me see what we can find for you, to keep your hands out of mischief. Corporal, have they told off any hands yet to clear the bilge?"
"Yes, sir," replied one of the ship's corporals who had just come up the forward hatchway from the lower deck. "I jest heered the bosun givin' orders for a gang to go down on the orlop deck."
"Then, take th's lot of new boys with you and show them the way down. They're almost enough to man the pumps all by themselves!"
"Aye, aye, sir," responded the corporal, turning to retrace his steps down the hatchway which he had just ascended. "Come along, my lads, follow me!"
Down we all trooped accordingly, on to the lower deck, where we saw a number of the boys, who had been dismissed from quarters, busy at their various instruction drills; which we, unhappy 'unclothed' ones, could not participate in till we had been clad in uniform and become part and parcel of the ship's company.
Giving these the go-by, and also passing the schoolroom, leaving that astern on our starboard hand, we descended yet lower to the orlop deck, the lowest in the ship, being just above the hold where lies the ballast, and the water-tanks are stowed, as well as spare gear.
Here, some twenty other boys, under the superintendence of one of the petty officers, were working away at the cranks of the Downton pumps with the energy of so many convicts on the treadmill; clink-clanking at such a rate, that one could hear the suck of the pumps and the rush of the water through the pipes, ending with a sort of gurgle at the end of the stroke!
In the 'dim religious light' produced by a couple of ship's lanterns hung at the head of the hatchways, widely apart, not very much could be seen of the interior, save the broad substantial deck beams and curved knees at the sides; but I noticed that the faces of two or three of the boys nearest one of these lights were streaming with perspiration, which showed that the work was "taking it out of them."
"Tail on here!" shouted out the petty officer, who seemed a rather grumpy individual, on our coming down to join the gang. "We don't want no idlers here!"
With that, Mick Donovan and I gripped the handle of one of the cranks, two others of the new boys facing us; and we soon all found our places, clink-clanking away like the rest had done before we joined in. Indeed, we couldn't stop once we had started, but had to 'sling on' whether we liked it or not, the handles of the pumps keeping up their up and down motion through the action of the others; so that if we had let go, we should have got either a tidy crack under the chin, or else been tumbled over on the deck.
After half-an-hour's experience of this exhilarating labour, the petty officer sang out, "Spell ho!" and we left off the job, the pumps having sucked dry, and the bilge being thus clear for the day.
We then returned up the two hatchways to the middle deck above, the boy messenger Larrikins being sent down by the direction of the master-at- arms to fetch us to be measured for our uniforms, the tailor having come aboard.
The 'snip' did not take long over his business; for he and his assistant, after putting their tapes round us, and punching 'Ugly,' who would stoop, to make him really stand upright, promised that we should all have our new clothes by the following Saturday.
"Hurrah!" said one of the novices near me. "I'll then be able to go home and see mother again!"
"G-a-a, cry babby!" jeered 'Ugly.' "Yer oughter 'a bin tied to yer mother's aprun string!"
"Begorrah!" interposed Mick Donovan, "that's more'n ye could be afther! I doesn't think ye're afther havin' a moother at all. Faith, ye're too ugly fur inny one to own ye, save the divvle; an' he'd be a born fool fur his pains if he did."
A laugh went round amongst us, which was only quenched by the master-at- arms singing out "Silence there!" and then; the lot of us were taken by Larrikins to the ship's steward, who served out to each of us a hammock and a pair of blankets, part of the outfit to which all second-class boys are entitled on joining the Navy, when a grateful country makes them a present of six guineas to furnish themselves with a rig-out!
Mind you, though, this sum is not allowed to be spent at the sucking seaman's own discretion, but is laid out for him in a wardrobe of the most approved nautical type, suited alike to his wants and the requirements of the service.
The afternoon, through these means, passed away so quickly, that though I was once or twice near the entry-port on the starboard side, close by to which the tailor had measured us, I declare I never once thought of looking out over the waterway to see what had become of father and his wherry; albeit, from the tide having ebbed, my outlook was now much more circumscribed than when I had come afloat in the morning, it seeming but a stone's throw to Point; while on the port side of the ship one could almost have walked ashore, the mud flats of Haslar Creek being out in all their glory, and stretching up almost to the old Saint Vincent's rudder-post!
On account of its being Thursday, a lot of the boys were allowed ashore; and in the quiet that generally reigned, the majority of the others being occupied drilling below, the middle and upper decks were comparatively deserted, and things apparently at a standstill.
At Eight Bells, however, all this was altered, the boys scuttling about to their respective messes to supper, or what we call 'tea' time ashore.
This meal was as fairly nourishing as the dinner that was served out, each boy having ten ounces of bread, an ounce of sugar, and one-eighth of an ounce of tea, to his own cheek.
Tea, you must know, is styled 'plew' on board, in the slang of the training-ship; possibly, through some association with the 'sky blue' known in the boarding-schools of shore folk.
Larrikins was put by the master-at-arms to 'show us the ropes' in getting our supplies from the galley for this supper, as previously; and amused himself considerably at our expense, chaffing some of the new chaps about their not having "smelt such a thing as tea before," so he hinted.
"I s'pose now," he said to Mick Donovan, whose queer description of himself had already got wind through the ship. I'm afraid from the corporal who took us to the sick-bay having 'split' upon him, "in your country you'd eat them tea leaves, instead o' wettin' on 'em, stooed in ile, same as the I-talians cook everything I'm told, hey?"
"Faith, if I had ye in the ould counthry," answered back Mick, not for a moment nonplussed, "I'd soon show ye how an Oitalian of the raal sort, loike me fayther, sor, lives! Bedad, it's praties an' crame we hev fur tay, sure, ivvery day in the wake!"
This created a good deal of noisy merriment as we sat round the mess- table near the entry-port, causing the sharp-eared, lynx-eyed 'Jaunty' to spot the offender from his convenient post of observation hard by.
"Be quiet there, Paddy!" he sang out, poking his head above the window- sill. "Do you think you're in your own mud cabin in the wilds of Connemara? As for you, Larrikins, I have warned you before, and you had better keep your weather eye open, my joker!"
We were all as quiet as lambs in an instant, not a sound being heard above the clatter of the cups and saucers, and the gulps made by 'Ugly' in swallowing his tea, that individual being as piggish in his habits as he was in his appearance; and, presently, this clatter was increased by our collecting the mess-traps after finishing our meal, when the same process of cleaning up was effected as before, everything being left as tidy in and around the vicinity of Mess Number 52 as we had found it when first installed there.
From Six to Eight Bells, in the second dog-watch, the boys, I found, were allowed to skylark about the upper deck and aloft, playing 'follow my leader' up and down the rigging, without any interference or interruption from the officers and instructors, save when it seemed to them the larking might degenerate into horseplay.
Then, it was put a slop to, so far as the particular incident was concerned, in a twinkle.
Not being in uniform, I kept aloof from these mad pranks, sticking close to Mick Donovan, who I saw was ashamed of his ragged clothes, being afraid of the boys jeering him, like Larrikins.
That worthy soon picked us out, though; aye, in spite of our sheltering under the lee of the bridge, and being almost concealed in the evening gloom.
"S'pose yer afeerd o' clim'in' riggin'?"
"Divvle a bit!" replied Mick in a moment. "Oi'd cloimb in a jiffey; ounly the jintleman downstairs, faith, tould us all we wasn't."
This allusion to the 'Jaunty' silenced the incorrigible Larrikins for the nonce; though he sniggered at Mick saying 'downstairs' instead of below, as most landsmen do when new to board-ship life.
The next moment, however, Master Larrikins was at it again, trying to 'take a rise out of me,' Mick having thus discouraged his advances in that direction.
"You'll be havin' orful times when yer goes aloft," he said, in a sort of awesome tone meant to frighten me. "I've bin up theer on the main crosstrees when yer jist couldn't 'old yer 'air on yer 'ead, let alone 'oldin' on with one 'and fur yerself and t'other for the Navy."
"Stow that," said I, laughing in his face. "Why, I've been up to the main truck of a line-o'-battle ship before to-day and am not afraid of climbing! I'm not strange to the sea, my smart chap, let me tell you. My father, though he's a waterman now, is an old sailor, and has taught me pretty well all he learnt."
"Aye, aye, that's right enuff; but 'earin of it an' a-seein' it's two different things. You jist wait till yer gets to sea and ain't a-plying bark'ards and forruds in Porchmouth 'arbour. My stars, won't yer be flummuxed then."
"Don't you believe it," I retorted. "I've been to sea, I tell you, before to-day."
"Oh aye, that's right enuff; but there's goin' to sea, an' goin' to sea. Lor! Yer 'aven't ever bin out in the Martin brig, have yer, now?"
"No, of course not," I replied. "I've only just joined the service, I tell you."
"Ah, you jist wait then," said he, taking this observation of mine for a fresh lead. "I wer' out once, I tells yer, in the brig when the sea wos mountings 'igh, an' the wind—Lor'! Yer shood 'a 'errd it blow! It took the mizzen to's'le right clean out of 'er; an' there wos four on us at the wheel, ay, 'sides old Jellybelly."
"Why," I exclaimed, "who is he?"
"The quarter-master, in course," rejoined Larrikins indignantly. "Where wos yer raised not fur to know that afore? He allers goes by that name aboard ship, as everybody knows."
He was proceeding to tell me some thrilling and highly adventurous experiences he had had in the Channel and off the Isle of Wight, out on the autumn cruise in the training-brig, when the bugle sounded, and the boys all mustered at quarters before turning in for the night.
Staying on the upper deck for a time, Mick Donovan and I witnessed the mad race which presently took place on the order being given to sling hammocks; each boy scurrying to the nettings and hurrying below, hammock under arm, to rig up the same in the billet allotted to him on the lower deck.
Ere long, the idea struck both Mick and myself, almost simultaneously, that it was high time for us to think of our sleeping accommodation for the night; and so, we hurried down at the tail end of the crowd of other fellows, to seek the aid of our old friend the master-at-arms, the 'Deus ex machina' of our hopes and fears.
Our new hammocks had been left in the police office of the ship under his immediate eye; so, on ascertaining the doubt that harassed our minds anent the night-lodging question, the 'Jaunty,' as heretofore, solved the difficulty at once by saying that we were to sling our hammocks on the middle deck, adjacent to the mess-place where we had dined and supped so sumptuously. Just then, as luck would have it, Larrikins, our old cicerone, came up abreast of where we were standing.
"Hi there!" sang out the master-at-arms. "Come and show these boys how to sling their hammocks."
"Yes, sir," replied Larrikins, with a scrape and a touch of his cap. "Werry good, sir."
So saying, he set about knotting the lanyard of Irish Mick's hammock; and, after slinging it from the hooks in the deck beams, over the mess- table where the famished lad had enjoyed such a rare 'tuck out' that day, Larrikins went on to explain how the blankets should be 'tucked in' to the frail structure and wrapped round the occupant, so as to prevent him from tumbling out, which Larrikins declared, almost with tears in his eyes, he should deeply regret were such a catastrophe to occur.
"Lor'," he asseverated, "I'd never forgive myself—strike me silly if I would!"
"Faith an' sure, is it ai'ther expectin' me now for to schlape in that thare outlandish consarn yez are?" exclaimed Mick, to whom a hammock was an entire novelty. "It's jokin', faith, ye are entirely, sure!"
However, after, like 'vaulting ambition,' overleaping himself when trying to jump into his unaccustomed bed-place, falling, equally unceremoniously, 'on t'other side,' Mick succeeded in ensconcing himself very comfortably in his hammock.
Now came my turn, my friend Larrikins being even more obsequious in his aid to me than to Mick.
The result amply justified his solicitude, for, although I managed to jump in all right, and even to go to sleep presently soundly enough, wearied out with all the excitement of the day, I was in the midst of a terrible dream, in which I thought I was at sea in the Martin brig, in a fearful tempest, with the waters overwhelming us, and the vessel on the point of foundering, when I was awakened by a crash that seemed to resound through the ship, and then I'm sure I saw more stars than were ever seen by mortal in the bright blue firmament of heaven!
I had been 'cut down,' as the nautical phrase goes.
BOXING THE COMPASS.
Sudden as had been my downfall, I was sufficiently awake, after the first momentary giddiness caused by the sharp crack with which my head came against the deck had passed away, to have a shrewd idea as to who had brought about my sad calamity; the giggling and whispering, that went on around, in the semi-darkness, telling me, had I needed any such assurance, that my fall was due to no accident.
"Hullo, my joker!" I sang out, recognising the voice of Larrikins as I fumbled about amongst the blankets and loose hammock cloth, feeling very much as if I were tightly tied up in a sack, part of the lanyard having taken a round turn round my neck. "I say, you first-class boy, there! You with the mug on you like a vegetable marrow! Wait till to-morrow morning and I'll serve you out for this—see if I don't!"
"Lor', yer doesn't mean fur to say as how ye've gone a downer?" cried my tormentor, in a tone of great commiseration, lending a hand to extricate me from the folds of the blankets. "I never seed a chap go down so suddink. Lor'! Yer must hev made a slippery hitch when yer fastened up the end on yer lanyard to the hook. Lor', I am that orful sorry!"
"Oh yes," said I, shaking myself free from the last of my encumbrances and standing up erect, "you can just tell that to the marines!"
I was not, however, at all out of temper, having learnt long since from my father, even were I not fond of a bit of practical-joking myself, not to take umbrage at the skylarking of any of my comrades on board ship where no malice was really intended. As he told me, the more a fellow shows he's 'riled,' the more his shipmates ever will tease him.
"If you want to have a happy life at sea, Tom," said he, "you must always bear everything good-humouredly—everything; aye, should you tumble from aloft and risk losing the number of your mess into the bargain!"
Hearing the row and the sound of our talking after 'lights out!' had been called, one of the ship's corporals came up with a lantern to see what was the matter; and he at once spotted Master Larrikins.
"Hi, young feller!" said he to that arch-conspirator; "what are you doing here? How's it you haven't turned in on the lower deck, in your proper billet?"
"The master-at-arms told me, sir, as how I wer fur to see as these novices wos slung their hammicks propingly," replied Larrikins glibly. "An' I wer jist a-seein' to do it, sir."
"Aye, and a precious fine way you have done it, too!" rejoined the ship's corporal, whose face I could clearly see by the light of his own lantern had a broad and beaming grin on it, as he proceeded to inspect the lashings now of my hammock, the foot-end of which was still attached to its hook in the deck beam. "Why, you've been and activally gone and triced the poor beggar up with a bit of spunyarn. No wonder he come down all standing on his cocoanut!"
The other fellows near me had wakened up by this, and there was a good snigger all round; until the ship's corporal, having rigged up my hammock again in the way it should have been rightly done at first, with a double turn of the lanyard round the hook, shoved me in and kindly tucked my blankets round me, before going off to complete his rounds; telling us, as he disappeared forwards in the darkness, that if we did not "keep quiet for the rest of the night we'd each get 'four dozen' on the quarter-deck next day, besides being spread-eagled in the weather rigging as a caution to all novices about to join the ship!"
This warning, uttered in a deep, sepulchral voice, no doubt awed most of the new boys, but it only made me laugh to myself, as I was pretty well up to such 'barney'; and, with little dread of any penalties in store— though for that matter there was not much that could be said against me, for I certainly had not tried the strength or the softness of the ship's planks of my own free-will—I cuddled into my hammock and went to sleep as soundly as if I were in my own old bed at home, in spite of the snoring and choking noises made in his dreams by that ugly chap Moses Reeks, who occupied the next hammock to mine.
"Whe-e-e-e-e! Who-e-o-e-o! Whe-eep!"
So the boatswain's whistle rang out through the ship with a shrill iteration that pierced my ears in the fresh and chilly air next morning, awaking me, if possible, in even yet more startling fashion than Larrikins' successful trick of the previous evening.
There it was again; and, should this not be sufficient to disturb the slumbers of heavy sleepers, the sharp boatswain's pipe was supplemented by the hoarse shouts of his 'mates' up and down the hatchways far and near, a very legion of voices!
"Rouse out! Rouse out! Rouse out! Show a leg."
I really thought the nor'-east wind had brought up a great haul with the flood-tide, and that innumerable costers were calling out some strange fish in the streets round Bonfire Corner; while our white cockatoo, 'Ally Sloper,' was having a bit of fun with himself and mother by imitating the cry!
Presently, though, a rough shake of my hammock and the hail of one of the boatswain's mates close by me told a different tale.
"Here, out of this, my lad!" said he, giving a twist to the swinging concern that landed me on the deck in a twinkling. "You can't stop there snoozing any longer! Don't you see the sun is scorching your eyes out?"
He had a good deal of imagination, had that man; for it would have puzzled the 'Philadelphia lawyer,' whom father was so fond of quoting, to have discovered the ghost of a ray of sunlight this cold, foggy, February morning at Four Bells!
The rest of the novices—there being, as you know, ten other 'unclothed' boys besides myself—had been roughly aroused in like fashion; and to a by-stander all of us must have looked a forlorn lot of shivering creatures, adrift there on the cheerless deck in the half light of early day, not knowing what to do with ourselves until somebody told us what to do and bearing, I fancy, a strikingly strong resemblance to a flock of lambs in some strange pasture deserted by their dams!
I make a mistake there, however, for the muttered growling exclamations I heard uttered by one of the warrant-officers, who came past where we stood clustered together, certainly sounded uncommonly like the name of the lambs' mothers I have just mentioned, showing that its 'eidolon' remained.
The observation made by this officer, who, to my surprise, I subsequently found was the boatswain, brought our old police friend, the master-at-arms, on the scene.
"Here, boys," said he to us, "you must bestir yourselves, and not stand star-gazing there, like so many country bumpkins at a fair! Tom Bowling, if you're the son of your father, you ought to know that you've got to unsling your hammock when the 'lash up and stow' is sounded! And you, too, my Irish-Italian friend over there, roll up your hammock, my lad!"
"Sure, an' is it manin' me yez afther?" inquired Mick Donovan, unhitching the lanyard of his hammock from the hook above in a brace of shakes. "Faith, it's makin' a rowly-powly puddin' of it I will, sor, entirely!"
The 'Jaunty' grinned at Mick's naive remark, but soon mastered the difficulty of teaching us by passing the job on to other hands.
"Ah, perhaps you'd better 'go through the ropes,' my lads, properly, and begin at once at your 'bag and hammock drill,' as all new boys should; though sometimes, they wait till they get uniforms first," said he, hailing, as he spoke, one of the first-class boys standing by the police office, detailed to act as messengers, like our friend Larrikins. "Boy, there! See if you can find one of the instructors handy, and tell him, with my compliments, I should like to see him for a minute!"
"Yes, sir," replied this chap, saluting. "I seed Mister Saunders by the fore-hatchway jist now."
"He'll do," said the master-at-arms. "Carry on, my lad. Look sharp!"
The next instant, back came the boy with one of the instructors in his wake, a stalwart seaman, dressed in the usual bluejacket rig, with a petty officer's badge.
"These boys here, Mr Saunders," said the master-at-arms, pointing us out with a collective sweep of his long brawny arm, "are all novices, who came aboard yesterday, and don't know what to do with themselves till they join the ship's company. Hadn't they better pass their 'bag and hammock' while waiting for their rig, instead of loafing about here? Mr Gadgett, the bo'sun, was complaining just now of their taking up all the fairway of the deck, and told me I must get rid of them from here somehow or the other!"
"All right," responded the seaman-instructor to this suggestion of the master-at-arms; and, turning to us, he said, "Take up your hammocks, my lads, and follow me down to the lower deck. You'll have a practical lesson in seeing how your shipmates do it, lads. We're just in time!"
We were, barely so; for, as we passed down the hatchway from the middle deck to the lower region he had previously indicated, it was hard work for us to shove by the surging crowd of boys who were hurrying up, each with his hammock neatly made up and lashed in the regulation form, to be stowed in the nettings on top of the bulwarks amidships the upper deck, according to nautical routine.
Some, however, were slower at the work, and, taking stock of these, in obedience to the instructor's orders, I got a very fair notion of how the thing was done; the more especially, as father had shown me the way he used to lash up his hammock in the old days when he was at sea, by the aid of a biscuit bag and a piece of string.
But our instructor was not satisfied by our now having mere ocular demonstration and doing nothing further; not he. On the contrary, he took us up to make another requisition on the ship's steward for our regular kit, which was promptly served out to us; and all the morning, after a good breakfast, which made Mick Donovan open his eyes wider than ordinarily and stare like a stockfish, consisting as it did of cold salt pork and bread, with some splendid hot cocoa, that was more like chocolate, and such as he had never tasted before, we were kept hard at it till the 'assembly' was bugled out before dinner—going through the details of 'bag and hammock drill' seriatim, from the initiatory stage of plaiting the ends of the 'nettles' to lashing it up with the specified number of turns.
We new boys returned to Number 52 Mess on the middle deck for dinner, when 'cooks to their messes' was sounded.
Our meal this day, it being a Friday, was of a different kind, though quite as substantial as we had experienced on the previous day; a well- piled plate of beef and potatoes being allotted to each of us by the presiding genius of the galley, the sight of which viands made our mouths water.
"Lor', it ain't much to holler about!" exclaimed the fastidious Larrikins, on Mick rubbing his hands at seeing those appetising viands; while 'Ugly' cried out joyously, on noticing his mealy mass of potatoes, "Them's the raal jockeys fur I," thus paraphrasing the remark of a once celebrated millionaire possessed of much lucre but boasting of little conversational power, when at a state banquet, "Why, we only calls this aboard 'two spuds and a Jonah!'"
"I can see the 'spuds' all right," said I; "but where's the Jonah?"
"That be the bone, silly!"
With which withering rejoinder, Larrikins left us to enjoy ourselves with the food he contemned; though he probably went away to make a hearty dinner off the same at his own mess on the deck below, where his division "hung out."
Nothing further of any note occurred during the afternoon to mar the harmony or vary the monotony of our 'bag and hammock drill,' at which we were religiously kept up to the time to leave off work; when we enjoyed again our tea-supper, and skylarked afterwards till it was time to 'turn in,' which we managed to do now more comfortably as well as expeditiously than on the night before; while, I may add, my dreams happily were not disturbed by any storms and thunder-claps of that imp Larrikins' contrivance.
The next day, Saturday, it was a case of 'wash and scrub decks,' and wash and scrub everything, I think, from early morning till dewy eve.
A very 'dewy' eve it was, too, if dampness made it so; but if one did feel wet and miserable, as I confess I was, the remembrance it brought back to my mind of my mother's house-cleaning at home being almost too vivid to be pleasant, still, everybody on board had the satisfaction of knowing that the ship was as smart as holystone and sand could make her, from upper deck to keelson, I verily believe!
I was none the less miserable, either, the following morning, when all the boys were rigged out in their best and inspected by the captain; for the tailor, true to the character of all 'snips' since the days when Adam started in that line with his fig-leaf costume, never sent on board, as he promised, the uniforms of us unfortunate novices, so we could neither make a decent appearance with the rest of our comrades, nor have permission to go ashore—'unclothed' scarecrows, as some of us were, would have seemed queer fish to come from a well-ordered ship.
On Monday, however, all things were made right in this respect; and, having satisfactorily passed 'bag and hammock drill,' the test of our novitiate, I and my fellow-unfortunates became not only clad like our fellows, but were enrolled amongst the rest of the second-class boys, and appointed to our proper place in the ship.