Potvin Of The Puffin

"Well, I'm damned!" ejaculated the first lieutenant, looking up from

his breakfast as a barefooted signalman held a slate under his nose.

"Just as I'm in the middle of painting ship!"

The navigator, doctor, and assistant paymaster looked up from their

plates. "What's up, Number One?" queried the former.

"Only that the new skipper's arrived in the English mail," said the

first lieutenant glumly.

"He's coming on board at nine o'clock in the _Spartan's_ steamboat!"

"Good Lord!" protested Cutting, the doctor. "So soon? It was only a

week ago we saw his appointment!"

"Can't help that," No. One growled. "He's arrived, and he'll be on

board in exactly three quarters of an hour's time. Lord help us!

You'd better put on a clean tunic and your best society manners, Doc.

You'll want 'em both."

"Why the deuce can't he leave us in peace a bit longer?" complained

Falland, the lieutenant (N).

"And why the devil does he want to come just at the end of the quarter

when I'm busy with my accounts?" grumbled Augustus Shilling, the

assistant paymaster, blinking behind his spectacles. "I know jolly

well what it'll be. For the next week I shan't be able to call my soul

my own, and he'll be sending for me morning, noon, and night to explain

things. The writer's gone sick, too. Oh, it IS the limit!"

"It is, indeed," echoed the doctor despondently. "Farewell to a quiet

life. By George! I haven't written up the wine books for the last

fortnight. Have I got time to do 'em before he comes?"

The first lieutenant shrugged his shoulders. "You'd better make an

effort, old man," he said. "He's a rabid teetotaler, and he's sure to

ask to see 'em first thing."

"Heaven help us!" cried the medical officer, rising hastily from his

chair and disappearing into his cabin.

"What sort of a chap did you say he was, Number One?" Falland queried,

with traces of anxiety in his voice.

"I only know him by reputation," the first lieutenant answered

lugubriously. "But he's got the name of being rather ... er, peculiar.

At any rate, he hates navigators, so you'd better mind your P's and

Q's, my giddy young friend."

"And I haven't corrected my charts for three weeks or written up the

compass journal for a month!" Falland wailed. "Oh, Lor!"

From all of which it will be understood that the wardroom officers of

H.M. Gunboat _Puffin_ were not overjoyed at the advent of their new


The date was some time during the last five years of the reign of Queen

Victoria; the month, September, and though at this season of the year

the climate of Hong-Kong is far too moist and too steamy to be

pleasant, the _Puffin's_ officers, adapting themselves to

circumstances, had had plenty of shore leave and had managed to enjoy

themselves. So had the men.

Their ship, an ancient, barque-rigged vessel of 1,000 odd tons;

auxiliary engines capable of pushing her along at 9.35 knots with the

safety valves lifting; and armed with I forget how many bottle-nosed,

5-inch, B.-L. guns and a Nordenfeldt or two, was swinging peacefully

round her buoy in the harbour. She had swung there for precisely two

months without raising steam, ever since her late commander had been

promoted and had gone home to England, leaving the ship in temporary

charge of Pardoe, the first lieutenant.

Captain Prato had been an easy-going man of serene disposition who

allowed little or nothing to worry him, not even the Commander-in-Chief

himself. As a consequence the wardroom officers swore by him, and so

did Mr. Tompion, the gunner, and Mr. Slice, the artificer engineer.

The ship's company were of the same opinion, so the little _Puffin_ was

what is generally known as a "happy ship."

But Commander Peter Potvin, R.N., Captain Prato's successor, was the

direct antithesis of the former commanding officer, for he had the

reputation in the Service of being a veritable little firebrand, and an

eccentric little firebrand at that. He was small and thin, and

possessed a pair of fierce blue eyes and a short, aggressive red beard,

and was even reputed to insist on naval discipline being carried on in

his own house ashore. At any rate, it is quite certain that his wife

frequently appeared at church with red eyes after her lord and master

had held his usual Sunday forenoon inspection of the house, and had

discovered a cockroach in the kitchen or a dish-clout in the scullery,

while it was true that he permitted his three children to wear good

conduct badges, each carrying with them the sum of 1d. per week, after

three months' exemplary behaviour. But only one of them, Tony, aged 18

months, had ever worn a badge for more than a fortnight.

It was also said, with what truth I do not know, that his servants

frequently had their leave stopped for not being "dressed in the rig of

the day," and for omitting to wear hideous caps and aprons of an

uniform pattern designed by Commander Potvin himself without the

assistance of his wife. It was bruited about that the cook, housemaid,

and parlourmaid,--the nurse alone being excused,--were turned out of

their beds at the unearthly hour of 5.30 a.m. and that, as a punishment

for "being found asleep in their hammocks after the hands had been

called," they were rousted out at 4 a.m. to chop firewood.

The Potvin menage was not a happy one, and as a consequence his

retainers usually gave notice en masse directly they heard the gallant

commander was about to come home on leave. Even the gardener and boot

boy followed the general example, so it was lucky for Mrs. Potvin that

she had an uncle at the Admiralty who generally managed to send, "dear

Peter" to a foreign station. He was rarely at home, or his wife would

have been wrought to the verge of lunacy.

No wonder the _Puffin's_ were not pleased at their future prospects,

for the milk of human kindness evidently did not enter into the

composition of their new commanding officer.

For twenty-four hours after his arrival on board Commander Potvin was

too busy paying official calls and unpacking his belongings to make his

presence really felt. The fun began the next morning, when, after

divisions, he sent for Pardoe to come and see him in his cabin.

"You may have heard, First Lieutenant," he began, very pompously, "that

I am a very observant man, and that I notice everything that goes on

board my ship?"

"Indeed, sir," said Pardoe politely, wondering what on earth was coming


"Yes," said the commander. "I am unnaturally observant, and though

some people may think I am a faddist, there is very little that escapes

my notice. To start with, I always insist that my officers shall wear

strict uniform, and at the present moment I am grieved to see that you

are wearing white socks."

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know you would mind. The officers in the

flagship wear them with white clothing."

"I was not aware that I had asked you a question, Lieutenant Pardoe,"

interrupted the skipper, his beard bristling. "Moreover, what they do

or do not do in the flagship is no affair of mine. The uniform

regulations lay down that socks are to be black or dark blue, and I

expect my officers to wear them. I also observed just now that the

Surgeon was wearing a watch strap across the front of his tunic, which

is in strict defiance of the regulation which says that watch chains

and trinkets are not to be worn outside the coat. I do not wish to

have to take steps in the matter, but kindly bear it in mind yourself,

and inform your messmates, that I insist on strict uniform."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"There are several more matters I wish to discuss," the captain

resumed, twiddling his moustaches. "You will doubtless have heard that

I like to keep my ship's companies happy and contented, eh?" He looked

up enquiringly.

"Er--yes, sir. Of course, sir," said the first lieutenant lamely,

having heard precisely the opposite.

"Very good. To keep the men happy and contented one has to keep them

employed, so in future there will be no leave to either officers or men

until four o'clock in the afternoon. We shall doubtless be able to

find plenty for them to do on board."

Number One opened his mouth to expostulate, but thought better of it.

"I like the men to feel that their ship is their home," continued the

skipper, "and to encourage them to stay on board in the afternoons and

evenings instead of spending their money and their substance in these

terrible grog shops ashore, these low and vicious haunts of iniquity,"

he rolled his tongue round the words, "I propose that the officers

shall prepare and deliver a series of lectures on interesting topics.

I have," he added, "brought a magic lantern and a good stock of slides

out from England, and some evening next week I propose to deliver the

first lecture myself. The subject is a most instructive one, 'The

effects of alcohol on the human body and mind,' and to illustrate it I

have prepared a number of most excellent charts showing the increase in

the consumption of spirits and malt liquor between 1873 and the present

time. The charts, compiled from the most reliable data, are drawn up

for most of the best known professions, sailors, soldiers, labourers,

policemen, clergymen, and so on, and I can safely promise you a most

interesting evening."

Pardoe, quite convinced that he had to deal with a lunatic, gasped and

began to wonder how on earth he could leave the ship unostentatiously

without damaging his subsequent career. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a

hand at lecturing, sir," he said with a forced smile. "In fact there's

hardly a subject I know enough about to----."

"Pooh, pooh," laughed the commander. "With due diligence in your spare

time you will be able to learn up quite a lot of subjects, and as for

the actual lecturing," he shrugged his shoulders, "practice makes

perfect, and I have no doubt that before very long we shall find you

quite an orator." He smiled benignly.

"We will have the lectures once a week, at 8 p.m., say on Thursdays,"

he went on, "and on Sundays I will conduct an evening service at 6.0.,

at which, of course, all officers will attend. You will read the

lessons and collect the offertory, Mr. Pardoe. That will leave us five

clear evenings a week for other harmless occupations, and I propose

that on one of them we have readings for the men from the works of

well-known authors. Something light and amusing from Dickens or Dumas

to start with, and then, as we get on, we might try the more learned

writers like Darwin, or--er--Confucius."

The wretched first lieutenant grew red about the face and started to

breathe heavily.

"Then on another evening we might encourage the men to play progressive

games like draughts, halma, picture lotto, spillikins, ping-pong, and

beggar-my-neighbour. My sole object in doing all this, you will

understand, is to keep the men amused and instructed, to divert their

minds and, therefore, to keep them happy and contented. After a few

weeks or so they will all be so anxious to come to our entertainments,

that they will have lost all desire to go ashore at all. It is a good

idea, is it not?"

The first lieutenant nodded grimly. The idea may have been excellent,

but he could hardly imagine Petty Officer Timothy Carey, the horny

captain of the forecastle, listening to Confucius; nor Baxter, the

Sergeant of Marines, sitting down to a quiet game of spillikins with

Scully, the cook's mate. In fact, he foresaw that when he informed the

men of the arrangements about to be made for their welfare, he would

have all his work cut out to repress the inevitable rebellion. Darwin,

Confucius, picture lotto, and beggar-my-neighbour for the hardened

ship's company of the _Puffin_! The _Police Gazette_, _Reynolds'

Weekly_, pots of beer, and the games known as "Shove ha'penny" and

"Crown and Anchor" were far more to their liking.

"Well," said Commander Potvin, "that is all I have to say at present;

but I am gratified, very gratified indeed, that you agree with my

ideas. I will draw up and issue detailed rules for our evening

entertainments, but, meanwhile, I should be obliged if you would cause

these to be distributed amongst the men. They will pave the way," he

added, smiling as pleasantly as he was able, and handing Pardoe a neat

brown paper parcel. "They will pave the way with good intentions, and

I have no doubt that within a few weeks we shall have the happiest

ship's company in the whole of the British Navy."

The first lieutenant, too astonished to reply, clutched the parcel and

retired to the wardroom, where, flinging his cap on to the settee, he

relapsed into the one armchair. "Lord!" he muttered, holding his head,

"I believe the man's as mad as a hatter!"

He opened the package to find therein a quantity of bound sheets. He

selected one of the pamphlets at random and examined it with a sigh.

"Drink and Depravity," he read. "Pots of beer cost many a tear. Be

warned in time or you'll repine."

"Great Caesar's ghost!" he ejaculated. "The man IS mad! To think that

it should come to this. Poor, poor old _Puffin_!"

A few minutes later Falland, on his way aft to visit the captain,

glanced into the wardroom. Pardoe still sat in the armchair muttering

softly to himself with his head bowed down between his hands. The

floor, the table, and the chair were littered with tracts of all the

colours of the rainbow. "Saints preserve us!" the navigator murmured.

The next really interesting incidents occurred on Sunday morning, when

the commanding officer made his usual rounds of the ship and inspected

the men. So far nothing had officially been said about the new

_regime_; but, in some mysterious way, the ship's company had an

inkling of the happy days in store for them, while, through a lavish

distribution of tracts, literature which, I am sorry to relate, they

solemnly burnt in the galley fire, they were fully aware of their new

captain's notions on the engrossing subject of drink. Accordingly, to

please him, and to show that they were not the hardened sinners,

seasoned reprobates, and generally idle and dissolute characters he

perhaps might take them for, they fell in at divisions on that Sabbath

morn wearing their most cherubic and innocent expressions, and their

newest and most immaculate raiment.

The _Puffin_ had always been a clean ship, but on this particular

occasion she surpassed herself, for all hands and the cook had done

their very utmost to uphold her reputation. Her burnished guns and

freshly scoured brass-work shone dazzingly in the sun; her topmasts and

blocks had been newly scraped and varnished, while the running rigging,

boat's falls, and other ropes about the deck were neatly coiled down

and flemished. The decks themselves were as white as holystones, sand,

and much elbow grease could make them, and, with her white hull with

its encircling green riband and cherry-red waterline, her yellow lower

masts and funnel, and a brand-new pendant flying from the main-truck

and large White Ensign flapping lazily from its staff on the poop, the

_Puffin_ looked more like a yacht than a man-o'-war. But Commander

Potvin also had a reputation to keep up, and he would not be Commander

Potvin if he could not find fault somewhere.

"Seaman's division--'shun!" shouted Falland, the officer in charge, as

the commander and first lieutenant made their appearance from under the

poop. "Off--caps!"

The men clicked their heels punctiliously and removed their headgear,

and the captain, passing down the front rank with his sword trailing on

the deck behind him, began his inspection.

"What is your name, my man?" he inquired condescendingly, halting

opposite to a burly bearded able seaman.

"Joseph Smith, sir."

"I seem to remember your face," said the commander.

"Yes, sir. I served along 'o you in th' _Bulldorg_ five year ago."

"Indeed. That is most interesting. Well, Smith," eyeing him up and

down, "I am always most pleased to see my old shipmates again."

"Yes, sir," answered the burly one, trying hard to look pleased

himself, and turning rather red in the effort. As a matter of fact he

was wondering if his commanding officer was blessed, or cursed, with a

good memory, and if, by any chance, he remembered the occasion when

he--Joseph Smith--had last stood before him on the quarterdeck of

H.M.S. _Bulldog_. He had stood there as a defaulter, to be punished

with ten days' cells and the loss of a hardly-earned good conduct

badge, for returning from leave in a state of partial insobriety, and

for having indulged in a heated and more than acrimonious discussion

with the local constabulary. It had happened several years before, and

since then he had turned over a new leaf, but he grew quite nervous at

the recollection.

But the skipper, apparently, had quite forgotten it, for he went on

speaking. "I am sorry to see, Smith, that, although you have served

with me before, you have forgotten what I must have taken the greatest

pains to teach you. Your hair is too long, and your beard is not

trimmed in the proper service manner. Your trousers are at least two

inches too tight round the knee, and six inches too slack round the

ankle, while the rows of tape on your collar are too close together.

It will not do," he added, glaring unpleasantly. "The uniform

regulations are made to be strictly adhered to. Mr. Falland!"


"Have this man's bag inspected in the dinner hour every day for a

fortnight. See that his hair is properly cut by next Sunday, and see

that he either shaves himself clean, or that he does not use a razor at

all, according to the regulations. I am surprised that you should have

allowed him to come to divisions in this condition."

"Very good, sir."

The Commander passed on, leaving the delinquent with his mouth wide

open in astonishment and righteous indignation. Smith was firmly of

the opinion that his beard was everything that a beard should be,

while, quite rightly, he had always prided himself on being one of the

best dressed men in the ship. Any little irregularities in his attire,

irregularities not countenanced by the regulations, were merely

introduced for the purpose of making himself smarter than ever. It was

a sad blow to his pride.

But many others suffered in the same way, for hardly a man in the

division was dressed according to the strict letter of the law. Some

had the tapes on their jumpers too high or too low; others had the

V-shaped openings in front a trifle too deep; many, in their endeavours

to make their loose trousers still more rakish, wore them in too

flowing a manner over their feet, and still more, in their anxiety not

to spoil the set of their jumpers, carried no 'pusser's daggers,' or

knives, attached to their lanyards. Altogether the first Sunday was a

regular debacle for the _Puffin's_ but an undoubted triumph for

Commander Potvin.

"Mr. Falland," he said, having walked round the ranks. "I am sorry to

find all this laxity in the important matter of dress, and I rely upon

you to take immediate steps to have it rectified."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"And," the skipper continued, "I notice that you fall your men in

according to size. I know that some commanding officers like to

inspect the men in this way, but personally I prefer to have them

grouped according to appearance. For instance, tall men together,

short men together, and the same thing with the fat and the thin, the

bearded and the clean-shaven."

"Very good, sir. But--" the navigator hesitated.

"But what, Mr. Falland?"

"Suppose a man is tall, thin, and bearded, sir?" asked Falland, in

utter perplexity.

"Seize upon his predominant feature, Mr. Falland, and use your own

discretion in the matter," said the Captain, half suspecting that his

subordinate was trying to make fun of him, but knowing full well that,

whatever the navigator did, he could always find fault with it.

He marched forward to continue his rounds, leaving the astonished

divisional officer wondering if he was also to form special detachments

of red-faced sailors, white-faced sailors, snub-nosed sailors, and

bandy-legged sailors.

The inspection of the upper-deck and mess-deck passed without much

comment, the Captain even saying that he was glad to see that the ship

was 'quite clean,' a term which made the zealous Pardoe writhe with

annoyance; but the next thing which caught his attention was a small

hencoop containing eight or nine miserable, bedraggled-looking fowls.

"Bless my soul, First Lieutenant!" said he. "Look at these fowls!"

They were sorry looking birds, it is true, but Chinese chickens are not

renowned for their beauty and sprightliness of appearance at the best

of times.

"They seem quite healthy, sir," the First Lieutenant answered, putting

his head on one side in a most judicial manner.

"Yes, yes," murmured the Commander. "But they are all the colours of

the rainbow. White, yellow, brown, grey, and black."

"So they are, sir," said Pardoe, as if he had observed the astounding

fact for the first time.

"Who do they belong to?"

"They're yours, sir. Your steward looks after them."

"Does he, indeed?" said the skipper, rather nonplussed. "Well, send

for my steward."

The portly and dignified Ah Fong presently appeared.

"Is it not possible for you to buy fowls of all the same colour?" the

"Owner" wanted to know.

Ah Fong stared in hopeless bewilderment, trying to grasp his master's

meaning. "My no savvy, sah," he said, shaking his head.

"Can you not buy your chickens, or my chickens, rather, all one colour?

White, for preference, as the weather is hot."

"I savvy, sah," exclaimed the Chinaman, with a beatific smile slowly

spreading over his countenance. "You no likee black piecee hen, sah?"

"No, no, that's not what I mean at all," said Potvin, going off into a

long explanation.

At last Ah Fong began to understand what was wanted. "No can do, sah!"

he expostulated. "S'pose I go 'shore catch piecee hen. I say to one

man, I wanchee plentee fat piecee hen, no wanchee olo piecee, wanchee

young plenty big piecee hen for capten...."

"I really cannot waste my time listening to this senseless

conversation!" interrupted the Captain, with some petulance. "Mr.

Pardoe, you will kindly explain to him that in future all the fowls on

board are to be white in the summer, and blue... 'er, I mean black, in

the winter. I will have them in the proper dress of the day like the

ship's company, do you understand?"

"I do, sir," said the wretched Pardoe with an inaudible sigh, as the

little procession moved on.

He did explain to the steward what was required, and Ah Fong was

confronted with a dilemma. However, he had his wits about him, and the

next Sunday morning, to Number One's intense astonishment, every

wretched fowl in the coop, black, grey, or brown, had been freshly

whitewashed. Their feathers were all plastered together, and they

looked supremely unhappy and more bedraggled than ever, but the

captain's aesthetic eye was apparently satisfied, for he passed them by

with a glance and made no adverse remarks.

After the ordeal of divisions the mess-stools, chairs for the officers,

and reading desk were brought up and placed on desk under the awnings,

and at 10.30, when church had been "rigged," the tolling of the bell

summoned the officers and ship's company to divine service. Pardoe,

after satisfying himself that everything was ready, went aft to report

to the Captain, and, somewhat to the surprise of everyone, Commander

Potvin presently appeared without his tunic, advanced to the reading

desk, and started the service.

At first people thought that he had discarded his jacket merely for the

sake of coolness, and, as the day was unusually hot, some of the other

officers were half inclined to follow his sensible example. But when

at last church was over and Pardoe had occasion to see the Captain

again, he discovered the real reason for the "Owner's" removal of his

outer garment.

"You may have noticed, Lieutenant Pardoe, that I took the precaution to

remove my tunic before reading the Church service," said the skipper.

"I did, sir," answered the First Lieutenant. "In fact, it was so hot,

that I nearly followed your example."

Potvin glared. "I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Pardoe?" he

said with asperity. "The fact of its being hot or cold does not effect

my religious ideas."

"I beg your pardon, sir. I thought that..."

"Kindly do not impute these motives to me," the Commander went on to

say. "I consider that we should all attend divine service in a state

of the utmost humility, and I removed my tunic so that I should appear

before the Almighty in the same simple garb as the men, not as their

commanding officer!" He puffed out his chest with importance.

Pardoe merely gasped, for the idea that the Almighty might be unduly

influenced by the sight of the three gold stripes and curl on his

captain's shoulder-straps was quite beyond his comprehension.

Nevertheless, Commander Potvin was quite serious, and on leaving his

presence Pardoe repaired to his cabin, and wrote a fervent appeal to a

former captain of his, asking that officer to use his influence to have

him removed from his present appointment. He loved his little

_Puffin_, it is true. He would be very sorry to leave her; but

anything was better than serving in a ship commanded by a lunatic.

For a week the gunboat's officers and men endured the new routine with

what fortitude they could muster. On Monday they had their progressive

games, when the watch on board,--the watch whose turn it was to go on

leave had gone ashore to a man,--were compelled, much to their disgust,

to squat round on the upper deck with draughts, halma, and

picture-lotto boards spread out before them. The proceedings were not

exactly jovial, for the men looked, and were, frankly bored, while a

party of four able seamen, finding the innocent attractions of Happy

Families hardly exciting enough, were subsequently brought up before

the First Lieutenant on a charge of gambling.

Half an hour after the games started, moreover, two other men, one a

marine and the other the ship's steward's assistant, fell in to see him.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Well, sir," the marine explained. "It's like this 'ere. I was told

off to play draughts along o' this man, an' all goes well until I makes

two o' my men kings an' starts takin' all 'is. Then 'e says as 'ow

I've been cheatin', so I says to 'im, polite like, as 'ow I 'adn't done

no such thing, an' wi' that 'e ups an' 'its me in the eye, sir, which

isn't fair."

"He hit you in the eye?" asked Number One.

"Yes, sir," said the sea-soldier, exhibiting a rapidly swelling cheek.

"What have you to say?" the First Lieutenant asked the alleged


"What he says isn't true, sir. I did say he had been cheatin', becos

he had, becos he was movin' all his other pieces over the board how he

liked. I says he mustn't do that, becos it isn't the game, but he says

that as he's been told off to play, he'll play how he bloomin' well

likes. I says it's cheatin', and he hits me on the nose, so I hits him

back, and we has a bit of a dust up." He exhibited a gory handkerchief

as proof of his injuries.

"Do either of you men bear any grudge against the other?" asked Pardoe,

knowing that they had often been ashore together.

"No, sir," came the immediate reply.

"Well, go away, and don't make such fools of yourselves again. We

can't have all this bickering and fighting over a simple game of


The two combatants retired grinning, and Pardoe, sighing deeply, walked

up and down the deck wrapped in thought. One fact was quite patent,

and that was that if the innocent amusements for the ship's company

were suffered to continue, he would require the wisdom and patience of

a Solomon to arbitrate between the disputants.

On Tuesday they had a reading from Shakespeare, conducted by the

Captain, and, to judge from the _sotto-voce_ remarks of the audience,

they were neither amused nor instructed.

"'E must be wet if 'e thinks we liken listenin' to this 'ere stuff!"

muttered Able Seaman McSweeny dismally. "'E talks abart 'is ruddy

merchant o' Venice, but I doesn't want to 'ear nothin' abart a....

Eyetalian shopkeeper. I expec's 'e was one o' these 'ere blokes wot

wheeled an ice-cream barrer. S'welp me I do!"

A loud titter greeted his utterance, and Commander Potvin stopped

reading for a moment, and glanced round with a fierce expression,

without being able to see whence the sounds of merriment emanated.

No, judging from the trite remarks from the men, the reading from the

works of England's most famous poet and playwright was not an

unqualified success.

On Thursday came the Captain's lecture on the effects of alcohol, at

which, to Pardoe's great astonishment, there was an unusually full

attendance. Even men belonging to the watch ashore were present, some

of them bringing friends from other ships with them.

The audience, suspicious at first, eventually became strangely

enthusiastic, loud cheering, much stamping on the deck, and even

shrieks and cat-calls completely drowning the lecturer's voice for

moments at a time. The applause became more vociferous still when the

man attending the magic lantern inadvertently placed his hand on its

almost red-hot top, and interrupted the proceedings with a loud and

very startled: "Ow! The bloomin' thing's burnt me!"

Anyone but the Commander might have detected something sarcastic and

ironical in the excessive applause, but he, the possessor of a skin

like unto that of an armadillo, was very pleased with the reception of

his discourse.

"I told you I had an interesting subject," he said afterwards to the

First Lieutenant. "The hearty applause was very gratifying, and it is

wonderful how a little straight talk goes down with the men."

"I only hope my lecture will be an equal success, sir," answered

Pardoe, rather at a loss what to say.

His subject was "Cities of Ancient Greece."

But at last came the time when the _Puffin_ was ordered to sea, and at

8.30 on that fateful morning the gunboat, with her gallant commander

standing on the poop in the attitude of Sir Francis Drake starting on

his circumnavigation of the world, paddled gently down the crowded

harbour and out through the Lye-mun pass. It was in this narrow

passage that they had their altercation with a lumbering Chinese junk

tacking slowly to and fro against the tide.

"Hard a-port!" ordered Falland, who was conning the ship.

"Hard a-starboard!" contradicted the Commander excitedly. "What are

you thinking about, Mr. Falland?"

The Navigator's order would have taken the ship well clear, but the

helmsman, perplexed by having two diametrically opposite commands

hurled at his head simultaneously, and not knowing which to obey, did


There came a howl from the gunboat's forecastle and a frantic,

blasphemous yelling from a party of Chinamen clustered on the junk's

high poop.

"Full speed astern!" roared Potvin.

But it was too late, for a moment afterwards the _Puffin's_ flying

jib-boom slid neatly through the very centre of the matting sail on the

junk's mizzen mast. More shrill cursing and strident execration from

the junk, followed by a series of bumps and crashes as the two vessels

collided, bow to stern. A large pig, suspended, according to the

pleasant habit of the Chinese, in a wicker-work basket over the junk's

quarter, also two similar baskets filled with fowls, became detached

from their moorings and fell overboard. Then the junk's mizzen-mast

began to bend ominously, and before long, amidst more shrieks and

yells, it snapped off short and collapsed on the poop, knocking one

elderly Chinaman and two children into the water as it fell. It was

followed almost immediately afterwards by the _Puffin's_ flying


The gunboat's engines were stopped and the two vessels drifted together

side by side, while a party with axes set to work to clear away the


"Why on earth don't you look where you're going?" the Commander bawled

at the junkmaster.

"Yah me ping wi taow!" howled the Chinaman, which, being interpreted,

means, "You tailless son of a devil," the greatest possible insult.

It was followed by more mutual abuse and recrimination, but the

gentleman in the junk, since Commander Potvin could not understand a

word he said, was popularly supposed to have got the best of the wordy


But the skipper was quite determined to have somebody's blood, and

seeing he could make no impression on the junk, vented his spleen on

the Navigator.

"Mr. Falland!" he exclaimed, his eyes flashing and his heart full of

rage. "The collision was entirely your fault. I shall report the

matter to the Admiral, and meanwhile you will remain in your cabin

under arrest!"

"But, sir. I really----"

"I require no explanations, sir. You are guilty of gross neglect and


Falland left the poop.

The damage was not sufficiently serious to delay the ship, and, having

chopped herself free, she proceeded on her journey, her Commander

taking upon himself the duties of the deposed Navigator.

It was unfortunate that, in calculating the course to be steered, he

applied 3 deg. deviation the wrong way. It was equally unfortunate that he

miscalculated the set of the current, since it was these two things

which, at 11.53 a.m. precisely, caused the gunboat to come into violent

contact with a ledge of rocks with barely six feet of water over them

at high water.

"Good heavens! What's that?" shouted the skipper, as there came a

series of muffled, grinding crashes under water and the ship stopped


"We've hit something, sir," said Pardoe, who was on the poop. They

had, and for some hours remained stuck fast. In fact, the _Puffin's_

bones would have been there to this day if she had not been steaming at

her leisurely, economical speed of 7 1/2 knots, and it was only by

sheer good luck, and with the assistance of salvage tugs and appliances

from Hong-Kong, that she was ever got off at all. As it was she was

merely badly damaged, and came back into harbour in tow of one tug,

while a couple of others, with their pumps working at full speed and

gushing forth streams of water, were lashed alongside her.

Falland was not court-martialled, but a week later Commander Potvin,

after an interview with the Admiral and certain medical officers, found

that the climate of Hong-Kong was too rigorous for his constitution,

and embarked on board a P. and O. steamer for passage home to England

_en route_ for Yarmouth.

The gunboat's officers watched her until she was out of sight, and then

repaired to the wardroom and indulged in cocktails.

"I'm sorry for him," said No. One, lifting his glass with a grin.

"Here's luck to him, and to us."

"Salve," nodded the doctor, swallowing his potion at a gulp.

The Royal Naval Hospital for mental cases is situated at Yarmouth.

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