Gutenbergery IIII: In the Navy!

I’m still not done with the OCR, but I have another humorous chapter from a different book, “Frank on a Gun-Boat” by Harry Castlemon. Note that the name is a pen name.

So far: Frank and his cousin Archie enlisted in the USN during the Civil War and are assigned to a Mississippi river gunboat. They are still learning their way around the boat and the navy with the assistance of a friendly “old salt”, Simpson.

By degrees the boys became accustomed to their new situation, and began to feel much more contented. The only thing that troubled them was the food they received. It consisted, for the most part, of salt pork and beef, and hard crackers, with now and then a little flour and dried apples. Simpson, who had been in the navy nearly all his life, and had become well acquainted with its rules and regulations, asserted that they did not receive half their allowance, and promised that, if he could detect the paymaster’s steward in the act of cheating them, he would pay him back in his own coin.

Now Blinks, for that was the steward’s name, was a notorious cheat; he never gave the men their full rations. On the contrary, he often boasted that he cleared not less than a hundred pounds of provisions every day. He was the caterer of the steerage mess, and many a pound of flour and apples, which should have been given to the men, found its way to his table, in the shape of pies and puddings. Blinks always rose early, and as soon as he was dressed, the steerage steward, every morning, brought to his room a lunch, consisting of coffee and apple-pie. He was very fond of pies, and had several made every day. Every time the men passed the galley, they saw long rows of them set out to cool.

Many a midnight plundering expedition had been planned against the galley, but without success. The door and windows were securely fastened at sundown, and all attempts to effect an entrance were unavailing. It was also useless to attempt to bribe the cook, for Blinks, who was a strict accountant, always knew how many pies were made every day, and if any of them were missing, the cook was sure to suffer. One evening, while Frank and Simpson were engaged in washing up the supper-dishes, the latter inquired:

“Would you like one of those pies we saw in the galley to-day?”

“Yes,” answered Frank; “they looked very tempting.”

“Well,” said Simpson, lowering his voice to a whisper, “we’ll have some of them to-night.”

“How will we get them?” inquired Frank.

“Why, we’ll steal them. We can’t beg or buy them. Besides, the stuff they are made of rightfully belongs to us. I don’t care a snap for the pies, but I don’t want to see that rascally steward growing fat off our grub.”

“I’m in for it,” answered Frank, who had long wanted an opportunity to revenge himself on Blinks.

“Will that cousin of yours lend us a hand?” inquired Simpson.

“Yes, without any coaxing. He does not like the steward any better than I do. But I’d like to know how we are going to work to get at the pies? The doors and windows are all fastened.”

“We will pry up the galley, so that one of us can crawl under it. I’ve put a handspike where I can find it in a moment. We shall have no trouble at all.”

As soon as the dishes were washed and stowed away in the mess-chest, Frank went to find his cousin, who was always ready for any mischief of that kind, and readily agreed to the proposal. When bedtime came, the three slung their hammocks together, and, to all appearances, were soon fast asleep. At nine o’clock the ship’s corporal put out all the berth-deck lights, which left the place shrouded in darkness. As soon as he had gone forward again, Simpson raised himself on his elbow, and whispered:

“Turn out, lads. Now’s our time.”

The boys crept noiselessly out of their hammocks, and followed the sailor, who led the way directly to the galley, which was, in fact, a small house, about ten feet square, built on the deck, to which it was insecurely fastened. Simpson found his handspike without any difficulty, and placing one end of it under the alley, easily raised it from the deck, while Archie threw himself on his hands and knees, and crawled in under it. It was as dark as pitch inside the galley, but he knew exactly where the pies were kept, and had no difficulty in finding them. He handed three of them to his cousin, and then crawled out again, and the galley was lowered to its place. After stowing the pies safely away in their mess-chest, they again sought their hammocks. The next morning, when the steward entered the galley to prepare the usual lunch for Blinks, he was surprised, and a good deal terrified, to find that some of the pies were missing. He immediately went on deck, and reported it to Blinks, who furiously asked:

“Where have they gone to, you rascal?”

“I don’t know, sir, I’m sure,” answered the steward, while visions of double-irons danced before his eyes. “There were eight pies in the galley when I locked it up last night.”

“I don’t believe it, you scoundrel. You sold the pies, and think that, by telling me they are missing, you can make me believe that they were stolen.”

“I have never done any thing of the kind since I have been your steward, Mr. Blinks,” said the man, with some spirit. “I have always been as careful of your interests as I would be of my own. Did you ever detect me in a mean or a dishonest act?”

“No; but I have often caught the cook stealing things. I’ll report you to the executive officer, and have you punished. Go below.”

The man sullenly withdrew, and Blinks hurried to the executive officer’s room and reported the affair.

“Are you sure the steward stole the pies, Mr. Blinks?” inquired the officer; “perhaps some one broke into the galley. It would be well for you to go down and see, before punishing the steward.”

Blinks hurried below, and commenced a thorough examination of the locks and window-fastenings, but all to no purpose; and he was still more surprised when the steward affirmed that he had found all the doors and windows closed, just as he had left them. This was also reported to the executive officer, who advised Blinks to say nothing about the affair, but to set a watch over the galley, and, if possible, discover the offender.

Blinks resolved to act upon this suggestion; and, the following evening, he posted a sentry over lite galley, with instructions to arrest any one who might be discovered prowling around. After fastening the doors and windows himself, he put the keys in his pocket and walked away.

At half-past nine o’clock our young sailors and Simpson were again on hand. After a careful reconnoissance, the sentry was discovered fast asleep at his post. They immediately set to work as before–the galley was raised up, and three more pies secured. It was all done in a moment, and the sentinel was not awakened; and as they retreated to their hammocks, they could scarcely refrain from laughing outright, when they thought how nicely the trick was performed.

The next morning Blinks opened the galley at an early hour, and was surprised and enraged to find that some of his pies were again missing. He carefully examined every nook and corner of the galley, but failed to discover a place where any one could effect an entrance.

For four nights more, in succession, Frank and his accomplices visited the galley, each time taking pies enough to last them a whole day; and Blinks, in the mean time, was making unavailing efforts to discover the offenders. On the fifth night, Archie, who was the one that always went into the galley, was much longer than usual in finding the pies. At length he whispered,

“I say, Simpson!”

“Ay, ay, my hearty; what is it?”

“I can’t find but one pie.”

“You can’t, hey?” said Simpson; “I smell a rat. Bring the pie out here.”

Archie accordingly handed it out, saying, as he did so–

“I’m hungry as blazes; I believe I’ll eat a piece of that pie to-night.”

“Not in a hurry,” said Simpson, as they began to crawl back toward their hammocks; “not in a hurry; I’ve been in such scrapes as this before, and can’t be fooled easy.”

“What do you mean?” inquired Frank.

“Why, I mean that this pie was made on purpose for us,” said Simpson; “it has got some kind of medicine in it that will make a fellow sick. If we should eat it, they would not be long in finding out who stole the pies.”

“I’ll tell you what to do with it,” said Frank, suddenly; “let’s give it to Jenkins, the boatswain’s mate; he’s a mean fellow, and I shouldn’t be sorry to see him sick.’

[Jenkins has previously plaid a dirty trick on Frank in order to get a friend of his out of trouble]

“That’s just what I was going to do with it,” said Simpson. “Now, you go back to your hammocks, and I’ll carry him the pie.”

“As Simpson had taken particular notice of the place where Jenkins was in the habit of slinging his hammock, he had no difficulty whatever in finding it.

“I say, shipmate,” he whispered, shaking the mate by the shoulder.

“What do you want?” he growled.

“Wake up,” said Simpson; “I’ve got a nice pie for you; do you want it?”

“Of course I do,” answered the mate, taking it from Simpson’s hand. “But who are you?” he inquired, for it was so dark that he could not have recognized the features of his most intimate friend.

“I’m Jack Smith,” answered Simpson; “but I can’t stop to talk with you, for some one may discover me;” and before Jenkins could detain him, he had slipped off quietly in the darkness.

[Since this was a receiving ship there would be plenty of new names he would not have known]

It was as Simpson had said–the pie had made “on purpose for them.” When Blinks saw that it was impossible to discover the guilty party, he ordered his steward to make a nice large pie, into which he put two doses of jalap. It was his intention to make the offender sick; and he told the doctor what he had done, and requested him to keep an eye on all who came to him for medicine.

The next morning Jenkins was not heard blowing his whistle, but was seen moving slowly about the ship, with a pale, woe-begone countenance; and as soon as the doctor appeared, he made application to go on the “sick-list.”

[Botswain’s mates would blow whistles to notify the ship of various events, similar to a bugler in the Army]

“What’s the matter with you?” inquired the doctor.

Jenkins then explained how he had been suddenly taken very ill during the night, and was afraid he was going to die. The doctor, who knew in a moment that it was the effect of the medicine contained in the pie, exclaimed:

“Why, you’re just the man Mr. Blinks has been wanting to see for the last week. Orderly, ask Mr. Blinks if he will have the kindness to come here a moment.”

The orderly disappeared, and Jenkins stood, looking the very picture of despair, too sick to know or care what was going on.

“Mr. Blinks, I’ve found your man,” said the doctor, when the paymaster’s steward made his appearance.

“Well, my fine fellow,” said Blinks, turning to the mate, and smiling grimly, “how do you feel by this time? Very pleasant morning, isn’t it! I knew I’d catch you, you scoundrel,” he exclaimed, suddenly changing his tune; “I’ll teach you to steal my pies!”

“I–I–don’t know what you mean, sir!” said the mate, in surprise.

“Don’t talk to me, you villain,” said Blinks savagely; “didn’t you eat a pie last night?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Jenkins, hesitatingly, “but”–

“I knew you did, you rascal.”

“But the pie was given to me, sir,” said the mate.

“Oh, that story won’t do at all. I’ll fix you. Go below.”

In a short, time the mate, who was so weak that he was scarcely able to stand alone, was summoned before the captain, who gave him a severe reprimand, and disrated him. He came down on deck, looking very forlorn indeed; and as he passed by Simpson, who, with Frank and Archie, was standing in the starboard gangway, the former exclaimed:

“That’s what I call squaring the yards; I’m even with him now.”

As soon as Jenkins had recovered from the effects of the physic, he began to make efforts to find Jack Smith. One day he approached Simpson who was seated on a coil of rope, spinning one of his forecastle yarns to Frank and Archie, and said:

“Shipmate, do you know any one aboard here named Jack Smith?”

“No,” answered Simpson, with the utmost gravity, “I don’t know any one who goes by that name.”

“Well, there is a chap here by that name,” said Jenkins, “and I wish I could find him. He got me into a bad scrape.”

But, it is needless to say, he never found Jack Smith.


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