Through the Mediterranean
( Originally Published 1903 )
IT was eight o'clock at night when we got back to the transport in Gibraltar Bay. Timmie and Mr. Casey were hanging over the rail on watch for me, and they had all sorts of questions to ask me about the trip while I was in the mess-room getting a bite to eat. I told them about the Eddy boys and how pleasant they were, and about the strange performance we had seen in front of the mosque. Timmie said he would have given anything to have seen it, but Mr. Casey said he had witnessed stranger things than that when he was mate of a schooner trading in the South Sea. Then he proceeded to regale us with one of his famous yarns, and before he had finished the room was crowded with soldiers and sailors. He cleaned the soldiers out when the story was over, for they had no right in the sailors' quarters, and Mr. Casey was a stickler for rules. It seemed good to be back in the mess-room among my friends after the long day in Tangier, and I realized for the first time that I was beginning to feel at home on the transport. I had looked forward to taking a nap in my bunk before beginning the midnight watch, but Mr. Casey said Captain Linder wanted to see us all on deck. I couldn't imagine why we should all be called up at once, and felt decidedly nervous when I presented myself in his cabin. He frowned in his usual manner, and then asked Mr. Casey who was on watch from eight to twelve. When he found that Timmie was on, he looked at me. " Well," he said, " you've been having a pretty good time to-day, so I guess you can go ashore and look up the missing men. You see the boatswain and find out who are away, and see that you get 'em back here before midnight." I saluted, and left the room, with Timmie and Mr. Casey following. When we got below I asked what the Captain meant. " He's given you a tough job," said Mr. Casey," " and I'd give a good deal if I could go and do it in your place. We're goin' to pull out in the mornin' at day-light, and every man must be on board by midnight so that we won't stand no chance of gettin' away short-handed. There's only two of 'em as hasn't turned up, and I can tell you where you'll likely find 'em ashore. They'll be in that first saloon on the right as you go down Waterport Street from the landin'. You can't miss it. There's Jim Syphers and Manuel Silva, an Irishman and a Spaniard, and you'll probably find 'ern there dead drunk. They may be tough customers, so you handle 'em careful, and if they make too much trouble call for the police. The officers here are used to handling drunken sailors, and they'll be glad to give you a helping hand."
I knew the missing men by sight, and wasn't very cheerful over the idea of rounding them up and getting them out to the transport. This was one of the duties of the master-at-arms that I knew nothing about, but of course I couldn't refuse to go, since the Captain had ordered. Timmie and Mr. Casey said they would stay up, and if I wasn't back by midnight they would go ashore and find out what was wrong.
I left the ship about ten o'clock and reached the saloon in Waterport Street about half-past ten. The men were nowhere visible, so I went on down the street and visited every public house in sight. I couldn't find them anywhere, and was greatly discouraged when I started toward the wharf again. I wouldn't dare return to the transport and tell Captain Linder that I couldn't find the men, and knew I must keep on looking. Happening to pass through the market where Timmie and I had spent the night, I observed two dark figures reclining on one of the fruit stands. Upon examination I saw they were just the men I was searching for. I shook them several times and finally roused them from their stupor. " Come," I said, " you must get up and come down to the wharf before the gate closes. The ship's going at daylight." They only grunted. " Let 'er go," murmured Syphers ; " we don't care." They seemed determined to stay where they were, then I decided to use heroic measures. There was a fountain in the neigh-boring square, so I went for some water. I doused them thoroughly, and, to my surprise, they took it very quietly. It had the desired effect, and in another minute we were on our way to the gate. We arrived there just in time to get out before eleven o'clock, and then I had to wait for a rowboat to come and take us out to the transport. It was eleven-thirty before we were at last nearing the gangway, and I thought that my unpleasant duty was practically accomplished. I was wrong, however, for the worst was yet to come. I suddenly noticed that each man had quart bottles of whisky in his pockets. I knew it would be against the rules for them to carry it on board, so I ordered them to throw it away. They simply stared at me in reply, and they appeared so stupidly drunk that I thought I could take it away from them without much trouble.
I reached for the bottles and they reached for me with an oath at the same time, and in ten seconds I found myself struggling in the waters of Gibraltar Bay. The struggle had been very short, for the men were not so drunk as they seemed, and were more than a match for an inexperienced master-at-arms. I yelled at the top of my voice for help, being badly frightened at the situation I was in. Al-though I could swim, I had no idea how long I would be able to keep afloat, and I couldn't be sure that anyone was on deck to come to my rescue. Syphers and Silva were trying to get from the boat to the gangway, and paid no attention to my cries. It seemed an eternity until I heard Mr. Casey's voice. He and the fourth officer ran down the gangway two steps at a time, and while Mr. Casey fished me out, the fourth mate devoted his attention to the sailors. He grabbed them by the collars and dragged them to the upper deck. There he took the whisky away from them and pitched them down headforemost into the sailors' quarters. When I reached the deck, all dripping and shivering, they were nowhere to be seen. Timmie was on hand to congratulate me on my escape from worse injury, and they all three laughed at my appearance. The officer said I should be glad that I had escaped so easily. " You ought to know better than to attempt such a thing in a rowboat," he exclaimed. " It's hard enough to get it away when they're on the ship, and you should have waited until you got here and could secure help. This ought to be a lesson to you."
A Lesson Learned
It was indeed a lesson, and one that I was careful to remember. I had to go ashore after derelicts several times before the voyage was over, but after this night I was careful to leave the liquor alone until I reached the transport and Mr Casey was handy with the shackles. I had no dry uniform to put on in place of my wet clothing, so Timmie insisted on standing my watch while I went to bed. I slept soundly and awoke at five o'clock, just in time to see the great Rock as it was fading away astern. We were bound east through the blue Mediterranean, with the historic Island of Malta as our next stopping-place.
The four days following were among the most pleasant of the whole trip. I was by this time acquainted with most of the crew and was never at a loss for company. We spent the long, beautiful evenings together on the fo'c'stle head, listening to the interminable yarns of old Dan Driscoll or Frisco Murphy. They told about the early days of navigation between the California ports, and how they had so nearly struck it rich in the gold mines. They described exciting events of the South American revolutions, and how they had fled for their lives more times than they could mention. Old Dan had been once in San Francisco, and desiring to reach New York, he had shipped on a vessel bound for the Isthmus of Panama. When he landed there he knew of no way to get across unless he walked, so he started out to foot it to the other side, where he hoped to get a ship for New York. He became ill on the way, was thrown into jail, and was finally two years on the journey. He said he wished afterward he had stayed in 'Frisco, as he got landed in New York in January and nearly froze to death. Some of these tales were wildly imaginative, but nearly all had some foundation in fact, and they told them in a way that made it all seem as real as real could be.
Since I had become friendly with the Eddy boys they spent much time on the forward deck, and keenly enjoyed what they saw of sailor life. They said they envied me my position, but I told them they'd change their minds if they had to eat in the mess-room and were called out of bed at all hours of the day and night. I occasionally stopped on the after deck while on my rounds and visited with some of the passengers with whom I had become acquainted. They were always interested in hearing about my experiences up forward and were anxious to see whether I could stand the life there until we reached Manila. Sometimes when I was talking with my friends, Captain Linder would watch me with flashing eyes and darkened face, so that he took away all the pleasure of conversation. It seemed to make him angry to see me anywhere on the saloon deck, so I wasn't surprised when he sent for me one day and ordered me not to speak to the passengers while I was on the ship. Of course he couldn't order me not to see my friends when I was ashore, and I even talked with them on board, while on my midnight watch. They would sometimes sit up until one or two o'clock, and then we'd talk over the news of the day.
The sailors didn't have much of an opinion of the passengers who travel on army transports. They insisted that they had seen too many strange things to have any faith in " them army folks," and of course there was ground for their opinion. But there are exceptions to every class, and some of the men and women were decidedly worth knowing. The Congressmen were in a crowd by themselves, since they were traveling as one delegation, but they had a hard time keeping together and on speaking terms with one another. More than once the silence of the open sea was broken with angry voices of the Republicans and Democrats who couldn't agree regarding the Government's policy in the Philippines. Sometimes they weren't even on speaking terms with one another, and it was a popular subject of conversation in the fo'c'stle that the Congressmen behaved like a lot of children on a Sunday-school picnic.
Through the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean was dotted with ships every day. There were picturesque sailing boats from North Africa, and ocean greyhounds on their way to America or the Far East. We never missed seeing one if it could be discerned with an opera-glass, and there were some warm arguments about the nationality of the different boats. One afternoon, two days before we reached Malta, we sighted a fleet of five warships, and there was immediately great excitement on board. The passengers insisted that Captain Linder change the course of the transport so that we could observe them at close range, and he did so. We were finally so near that we could see figures on the decks, but strange to say the cruisers paid no attention to all our signaling. They were flying no ensign, so it was impossible to say what nationality they might be. They were proceeding due south in line of battle, and the flagship was continually signaling to the others. It was very humiliating to our Captain that they ignored his signals, and he finally ordered that the gun be discharged. It was then that I was glad I hadn't signed on as gunner, for I wouldn't have known anything about how to proceed. There was a great scurry in the forward quarters, and old Bismarck, who kept the supplies, was almost crazy with excitement. He was running everywhere with his face all flushed and a wild look in his eyes. It was soon evident that something was gone wrong, and there was a laugh among the sailors when it was discovered that there was no powder on board. Of course the cannon wasn't fired that day, and I thought to myself that I would have been quite safe in signing as a gunner since they couldn't possibly discharge the cannon without powder.
The warships kept on their course without noticing us in any way, and that evening there was a great discussion in the messroom as to what nationality they were. Some insisted they were French and others claimed they were either German or Russian. Mr. Casey held that only an Italian would act with such discourtesy, and there was no end to the talk. This subject remained paramount in the mess-room conversation for several weeks, and I suppose we will never know what country claims those indifferent men-of-war.