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Sea StoriesCurious Craft Of Many Lands
“Many men, many minds,” runs the proverb...
The climb had been a stiff one. The day was very hot, and, rather
purple about the face and breathing heavily, the sailor relapsed on the
springy, scented turf close to the cliff's edge and gazed pensively at
the vista of shimmering sea spread out before him.
He was a massive, rotund, bull-necked individual, with a face the
colour of a ripe tomato, and wore on the sleeves of his jumper two red
good conduct badges and the single gun and star of an able seaman,
seaman gunner, of His Majesty's Navy. His name was Smith, I
discovered, and he was home on seven days' leave. I had met him
halfway up the hill ten minutes before, toiling laboriously to the
summit like an asthmatic cart-horse, and with his crimson face shining
and beady with perspiration. A mutual glance and a casual remark about
the excessive heat had led to conversation.
He now sat on the turf mopping his heated countenance with a mottled
blue and white handkerchief; but a few minutes later, having recovered
himself sufficiently to smoke, produced a pipe, tobacco box, and
matches from the interior of his cap.
"You 'aint got a fill o' 'bacca abart you, I suppose, sir?" he queried,
exploring the inner recesses of his brass tobacco box with a horny
"I'm afraid it's rather weaker stuff than you're used to," I remarked
deprecatingly, handing my pouch across.
"Yus," he agreed, examining its contents and proceeding to fill his
pipe. "It do look a bit like 'ay, don't it? 'Owever, seein' as 'ow I
carn't git no more I'm werry much obliged, sir, I'm sure."
"It's expensive hay," I said weakly, as he handed my property back and
lit his pipe. "It costs well over ten shillings a pound."
The ungrateful old sinner puffed out a cloud of smoke. "'Arf a
Bradbury!" he grunted unsympathetically. "You're jokin', sir."
I shook my head.
"But we pays a bob a pound fur 'bacca on board o' the ship," he
expostulated. "It's something like 'bacca; grips you by the neck,
Evidently the delicate flavour of my best John Cotton did not
sufficiently tickle his brazen palate.
For a moment or two there was silence between us as we watched the
gulls screaming and wheeling over some object in the water far beneath
"Well," I asked, merely to start a conversation, "how d'you like the
"Suits me all right, sir," he said, "seein' as 'ow I've bin in it a
matter o' fifteen year. But between you an' me, sir," he hastened to
add, "it ain't like wot it wus when I fust jined. It's full o'
noo-fangled notions an' sichlike."
"What d'you mean?" I asked in some amazement.
"Carn't say no more, sir. Afore we wus sent on leaf we wus all
cautioned special not to git talkin' abart the Service wi' civvies."
I suppose I did look rather unlike a member of His Majesty's land
forces, for I was wearing plain clothes and had only come out of
hospital four days before, after being wounded for the second time on
the western front. (I am speaking of the fighting line in France, not
anatomically.) I hastened to explain who I was.
"Sorry I spoke, sir," he apologised. "I thought you wus one o' these
'ere la-de-dah blokes out fur an arrin'. Wot did you say your corpse
"Corpse! What corpse?"
"Corpse, sir. Rig'mint."
"Oh, I see. I'm only a doctor, a Lieutenant in the R.A.M.C. I'm on
sick leave, and crawled up here to-day to get some fresh air and to ...
er, meet someone I know." I looked at my wrist watch and glanced over
"Young lady, sir?" he queried in a husky, confidential whisper.
"I'm on the same lay meself," he told me, with a throaty sigh and a
lovelorn look in his blue eyes. "Expectin' 'er any minit now, seein'
as 'ow it's 'er arternoon art. 'Er name's Hamelia, an' I don't come up
'ere to look at the perishin' sea, not 'arf I don't. I gits fair sick
o' lookin' at it on board o' the ship."
I was not in the mood for exchanging confidences as to my prospective
matrimonial affairs, and my silence must have said as much.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir; but seein' as 'ow you're a doctor, I wonder
if you 'appens to know our bloke in the _Jackass_?"
"Who, your doctor?"
"Yessir. Tall orficer 'e is, close on six foot 'igh, wi' black 'air,
wot jined the Navy special fur the war. Name o' Brown."
"I'm afraid I don't know him," I said, puzzling my brains to fit any
medical man of my acquaintance to his very loose description.
"'E's a fair corker, sir," my companion grinned.
"In what way?"
"The way 'e gits 'is leg pulled, sir."
I scented a story, and as there was still no flutter of a white skirt
down the slope to our right, I desired him to continue.
"Well, sir," he started, "it wus like this 'ere. The _Jackass_ is one
o' these 'ere light cruisers, and one mornin' at 'arf parst nine, arter
the fust lootenant,--Number One, as we calls 'im,--arter 'e 'ad
finished tellin' off the 'ands for their work arter divisions, the
doctor 'appened to be standin' close alongside 'im, Number One beckons
to the chief buffer..."
"I beg your pardon," I put in, rather mystified. "I'm afraid I don't
know very much about the Navy. What's a chief buffer?"
"Chief Bos'un's Mate, wot looks arter the upper deck, sir. Name o'
Scroggins. Well, sir, Number One sez to 'im, 'Scroggins,' 'e sez.
'You knows them buoys we was usin' yesterday?'--'Yessir,' I 'ears the
chief buffer say. 'You means them wot we 'ad fur that there boat
racin' yesterday?'--'Yes,' sez Jimmy the One. 'I wants 'em all bled
before seven bells this mornin'.'--'Aye, aye, sir,' sez Scroggins, and
goes off to see abart it."
"Bleed the boys!" I murmured in surprise. "Do you mean to tell me they
still have these archaic methods in the Navy?"
"Course they does, sir," answered the A. B. "They won't float else."
"What, in case the ship is torpedoed or sunk by a mine?" I asked
innocently, very perplexed. "I'm a medical man myself; but I never
knew that bleeding people made them more buoyant!"
"If you arsks me these 'ere questions, sir, I carn't spin no yarn," the
sailor interrupted with a twinkle in his eye. "Well, sir, the fust
lootenant tells the chief buffer to 'ave the buoys bled, but it so
'appens that the doctor 'eard wot 'e said, so up 'e comes.--'Did I 'ear
you tellin' the Chief Bos'un's Mate to 'ave the boys bled?' he
arsks.--'You did indeed, Sawbones,' Number One tells 'im.--'But surely
that's my bizness?' sez the doctor.--'Your bizness!' sez Number One,
frownin' like. ''Ow in 'ell d'you make that art?'--''Cos I'm the
medical orficer o' this 'ere ship.'--'Ah,' sez Number One, slow like
and grinnin' all over 'is face and tappin' 'is nose. 'You means, doc.,
that I've no right to order the boys to be bled, wot?'--'That's just
'xactly wot I does mean,' sez the doctor, gittin' a bit rattled like."
"I quite agree with him," I put in. "The First Lieutenant had no
business at all to order the boys to be bled. Besides, bleeding is
"Is it me wot's spinnin' this 'ere yarn or is it you, sir?" interrupted
the narrator. "'Cos if it's me, I loses the thread o' wot I'm sayin'
if you gits arskin' questions."
"I'm sorry," I sighed. "Please go on."
"Well, sir, Number One and the doctor 'as a reg'lar hargument and
bargin' match on the quarterdeck, though I see'd Number One wus larfin'
to 'isself the 'ole time. The doctor sez to 'im as 'ow they'd best
refer the matter to the skipper; but the fust lootenant sez they carn't
do that 'cos the skipper's attendin' a court-martial and won't be back
till the arternoon. Then the doc. wants to know if Number One'll give
'im an order in writin' to bleed the boys; but Number One larfs and sez
'e won't be such a fool, and sez that in 'is opinion the buoys should
be bled. The doctor then sez the boys don't want bleedin', and arsks
Number One if 'e's prepared to haccept 'is advice as a medical orficer.
The fust lootenant sez of course 'e will, and sez as 'ow 'e'll arrange
to 'ave all the buoys mustered in the sick bay at six bells, and that
they needn't be bled if the doctor sez they don't want it."
"It wus all I could do to stop meself larfin', 'specially when Number
One sings art fur the chief buffer. 'Scroggins,' 'e sez, ''ave all o'
them there buoys wot I wus talkin' abart in the sick bay by eleven
o'clock punctual.'--Scroggins seems a bit startled. 'In the sick bay,
sir?' 'e arsks.--'Yus,' sez Number One, grinnin' to 'isself and winkin'
at the chief buffer. 'In the sick bay by six bells sharp.'--'Werry
good, sir,' sez Scroggins, tumblin' to wot wus up, 'cos 'e saw the
doctor standin' there. I 'eard all o' wot 'appened, and I tells all my
pals. The chief buffer does the same, and so does Number One, so at
six bells, when the sick bay stooard 'ad bin sent by Jimmy the One to
tell the doctor as 'ow the buoys wus ready for bleedin', almost all the
orficers and abart 'arf the ship's company 'ad mustered artside the
sick bay under the fo'c'sle to see wot 'appened.
"Presently the doctor comes along, sees the crowd, but goes inside
without sayin' nothin'. But soon we 'ears 'im lettin' go at the sick
bay stooard inside. 'Wot the devil's the meanin' o' this?' 'e wants to
know.--'Fust lootenant's orders, sir,' sez the stooard.--'Fust
lootenant be damned,' the doctor sings art. 'I'll report 'im to the
captain. S'welp me, I will!'--And wi' that 'e comes artside werry
rattled and walks aft without sayin' a word to no one. I feels a bit
sorry for 'im, sir," the story teller went on, "'cos Number One 'ad bin
pullin' 'is leg agen."
"Pulling his leg?" I echoed.
"Yes, sir," said the seaman, bursting with merriment. "'Cos the sick
bay, and it weren't none too large, was all but filled up wi' six 'efty
great casks, wi' flagstaffs and sinkers complete. They wus the buoys
Number One 'ad bin talkin' abart all along."
I could not help laughing.
"I see," I said. "The First Lieutenant meant BUOYS and the doctor the
ship's BOYS, what?"
"But tell me," I asked. "What about the bleeding?"
"Bleedin', sir! Why, d'you mean to tell me you don't know wot bleedin'
a buoy is?"
"I'm afraid my nautical knowledge is very limited," I apologised.
"It's surprisin' wot some shoregoin' blokes don't know abart th' Navy,
sir," said the burly one with some contempt, chuckling away to himself.
"But if you reely wants to know, bleedin' a buoy means borin' a small
'ole in 'im to let the water art, 'cos they all leaks a bit arter
they've bin in the sea. But I must say good arternoon, sir," he added
hurriedly, glancing over his shoulder and rising to his feet. "'Ere's
my gal comin', and there's another abart 'arf a cable astern of 'er wot
I expec's is yourn. Good arternoon, sir, and don't git stoppin' no
more o' them there bullets." He touched his forelock.
"But tell me?" I said. "Did the first lieutenant and doctor make it up
"Bet your life they did, sir," he said with a laugh, moving off. "Them
haffairs wus almost o' daily hoccurrence."
"Good luck to you," I called out after him, "and thank you for a most
instructive twenty minutes!"
He looked back over his shoulder; his bright red face broadened into a
huge smile, and he deliberately winked twice.
I had to hurry away, for already the sailor nearly had his arm round
his housemaid's waist, while my Anne, at least half an hour late, was
panting wearily towards where I stood.
"Who is your sailor friend?" was her first question.
"Ananias the Second," I answered, for at the back of my mind I had a
vague suspicion that the first lieutenant of the _Jackass_ was not the
only member of her ship's company who delighted in pulling people's
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