From Valletta to Port Said
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE were anchored in the interesting harbor of Valletta for four days, and during that time Timmie and I went ashore together several times. One morning Timmie remained on board the transport, that Mr. Casey could go ashore, and I remained that same afternoon. Our chief master-at arms thought that one day ashore was enough for anyone, and I really think that he saw more during that one day than Timmie and I saw during all the stay in port. The British soldiers were visiting the ship in large numbers all day long, and they became great friends with our recruits. Most of them appeared to be dissatisfied with life in Malta. " It's all right for a short visit," said a little corporal, " but you'd get jolly well sick of it after a year or two." Several Tommies said they would give a good deal to be going out to fight in the Philippines, and that they would be only too glad to exchange places with the men on the McClellan.
Some English residents of Valletta came out to a dance which was given on the transport one evening, but they didn't have a very good time. They didn't dance the American dances, and of course none of our people could dance as they do in England. So the entertainment degenerated into a conversation party, and it was all very stupid. Few of the Americans had ever been in London, and none of the English people had visited America, so they had no common ground at all. We sailors were rather glad that we weren't invited to take part in such festivities.
No Maltese Cats in Malta
Every time we boys went ashore we found some new and wonderful thing, but somehow I didn't see the very thing I had expected to find. One of the few bits of information I possessed concerning Malta before my visit, was that it must be the place from which Maltese cats come. And in going about I kept my eyes open for cats of that description, thinking that I would take one back to the ship if I found any especially fine. But I didn't see any at all. There were black cats and yellow cats, and cats of nearly every sort except the sort we call Maltese. 'When T met the American Consul, I asked him if he had seen any during his stay on the island, and he said he had discovered only one. " I asked the owner where she got it," he said, " and she told me it had been imported from Sicily." So it seems that all the Maltese cats have turned emigrants long ago.
They had in Valletta a great number of little white, woolly dogs, which are known as Maltese poodles, and these were very popular with the sailors. They bought several to take back to the ship, and when we finally left port there was quite a menagerie on the forward. We already had there an old cat with four kittens, and three cages of birds, and I wondered whether they would all live together in peace. We got two monkeys a little later in the voyage, and I some-times thought that if they all started fighting there would be a worse disturbance than even the masters-at-arms could stop. But each animal had its owner, who was careful to keep it out of trouble, and there was seldom any quarreling. Both the monkeys and the poodles were afraid of the cats, and the birds were hung out of harm's way.
We had the blue peter up, and were all ready to sail out of the harbor on Thursday evening, when a launch came out from the custom-house with a message from the Governor. It stated that five privates were missing from the garrison, and that they were probably stowed away on the McClellan. The Governor asked that a thorough search be made. Captain Linder ordered Mr. Casey and Timmie and I to do our best to find the men, but although we looked in every likely place, there was no sign of them anywhere. Captain Logan then sent back word that he would have a more thorough search conducted on the way to Port Said, and if the men were found he would turn them over to the authorities in that port.
Deserters from the British Army
We were no more than out of the harbor when we all sat down for supper in the mess-room. We observed that Mike, the messman, had an assistant whom we had never seen before. When we inquired concerning him, Mike said he was an American who had been beached from a liner at Malta, and that he had obtained permission from the Captain to work his passage out to Manila. As the fellow was pleasant and made a good appearance, he was accepted as a valuable acquisition to the mess, and he was soon friendly with us all. About seven o'clock Captain Linder sent for the masters-at-arms, and when we were lined up before him he said we would have to find those soldiers before we did anything else. " I'm convinced they're on board," he said, " and you've got to find 'em." Timmie and I looked at Mr. Casey and then at each other. We didn't relish this task before us, for if the soldiers wanted to escape we felt more like helping than hindering them. But we had our orders, and Captain Linder expected them to be obeyed. We armed ourselves with electric torches and started out. I was so unfortunate as to find one of them within five minutes. There was a pile of wooden boxes outside the commissary, and when I looked behind them I saw the poor Tommie lying fast asleep. I thought of the punishment he would have to undergo when he was returned to Malta, and it was hard to wake him and take him to the Captain. There was no doubt about him being a deserter, for he still wore his uniform.
After this we all three made a thorough search in the hold. The place was so ill-smelling and the air was so close that I said no person could live down there, even if he hid himself, but after a while we came upon two of them huddled in an army wagon which was being taken out to the Philippines. They were almost exhausted after remaining in the place several hours, and they were glad to go on deck, even if they were arrested. Of course those Tommies could never have entered the hold and closed it up after them, and there was only one explanation of how they got there. The recruits had told them it was a good place to hide, and they were going to pass them food and drink until it would be safe for them to appear on deck. It was too bad to spoil their plans, but, as Captain Logan said, " It wouldn't do for a transport to go around carrying off the soldiers of a friendly government." The fourth one wasn't found until Jim Syphers went up into the crow's nest at eight bells, and there the poor fellow was, drenched to the skin in the driving rain, and wishing that he had stayed with his regiment in Malta. The fifth was never found at all, for when we reached Manila, it was discovered that Mike's mess-room assistant was one of the deserters. He landed before the officers knew anything about it, and the British army is still minus one man.
The four were turned over to the British Consul at Port Said, and they received a rousing send-off from our recruits, who sympathized with them from the bottom of their hearts. Some of them had already discovered that army life isn't exactly the same as life on a Georgia farm, and they realized what the Tommies were going back to in Malta.
My Friends Among the Passengers
We had some warm days during the voyage from Malta to Port Said, and the men employed in the engine-room went about their work with no clothing on except their trousers. They came into the mess-room in the same attire, but I was used to most anything by this time and didn't care what they wore. My stay in the mess-room was very short at every meal. My appetite was beginning to leave me, and I could no longer enjoy the tough meats and canned fish which were served up every day. With bread and coffee and soup, and what fruit I was able to get, I managed to exist during the day, and at night I could always get some-thing in the saloon pantry. Timmie didn't eat much more than I did, and Mr. Casey was the only one of the three who seemed to enjoy his meals. But Mr. Casey was an old sailor, and may have eaten even worse food than that given us on the McClellan. Occasionally my friends among the passengers would save me some fruit and cakes, and very often the Eddy boys brought me delicacies they had been able to obtain from the saloon waiters.
Having been more than three weeks on the transport, I was beginning to feel very much at home. The sailors were still friendly and. with some of them I was almost intimately acquainted. Beside Mr. Casey and Timmie, I liked the boatswain best of the fellows up forward. He was a nice fellow and happened to know some friends of mine on Long Island. All the crew treated me as if they had known me always, and the " Kid " came to be a much-discussed person. The mess-room conversation always centered about me, and they were continually trying to get my opinion on various subjects in which they pretended to be interested. When I expressed an opinion it was sure to be made the subject of a joke, so I was always careful what I said. When we gathered on the fo'c'stle head in the evening to watch the sunset, I was sure to be the butt of all the sailors' humor. I didn't mind this in the least and enjoyed it as much as any of them.
Most of the crew were anxious to reach Port Said, for everyone had heard that it is the most wicked, filthy city in the world. They expected that shore leave would be granted, but in this they were mistaken. We remained at anchor only one day before starting through the great canal, and there wasn't sufficient time for anyone to go ashore. It was a good thing the sailors couldn't go, for they had just received their month's pay, and it wouldn't have lasted long in such a place.
I wasn't particularly anxious to go ashore myself, for the harbor at Port Said was filled with interesting sights. A number of great ships were waiting to start through the Suez Canal, and several came out while we were at anchor. There was a great deal of visiting between the different vessels and back and forth to the custom-house, and there were the usual number of bum-boats. The chief article of trade in this harbor seemed to be Egyptian cigarettes, and they were so very cheap that most of the crew laid in a large supply. I don't know whether they were good or not, but after I visited one of the Egyptian factories I didn't think I'd care to smoke the product. It could hardly help being filthy.
Music on the Water
During the afternoon a boat-load of Italian musicians came out from shore and entertained us for more than an hour. There was a string band, and they sang all the most beautiful Italian and Spanish songs. It was delightful to hear, and they carried away a lot of money when they finally went away. It is said that they make a large income by going from one ship to another in the harbor and playing their repertoire. Such music would be appreciated at any time, and it is especially welcome during the long wait which is necessary before a ship can start through the canal. On this same afternoon the regimental band we had with us gave a concert, but we all felt that we would rather listen to the Italian string musicians.
No one seemed to know at what hour we would be able to start through the canal. It seemed that several vessels were on their way through, and it was deemed inadvisable to start others until the earlier ones had made some progress. During the afternoon the electricians of the canal company came aboard to make ready for the passage. They fixed two great searchlights to our prow, and said that they would make the country along the canal as light as day. We were glad to hear this, for everyone was anxious to see the great waterway, and its surroundings, too.
About six in the evening we saw a great ship emerging from the canal, and as she came nearer we could see that she was a German troop-ship, homeward bound with troops from China. She was fairly covered with men in khaki, and I'm sure I never before saw a ship with so many passengers. She steamed slowly past us, and when the men saw that we were a United States transport bound for the Philippines they began to cheer. Then Captain Logan ordered our band to play " Das Wacht am Rhein," and it seemed that those German cheers must have roused the sleeping Pharaohs from their graves. The band on the troop-ship re-turned our compliment by playing " The Star-Spangled Banner," and it turned out to be a very effective international incident. We cheered the Germans until they were out of hearing, and they cheered us in turn.
It was nearly dark when we lifted anchor and started through the world-famous Suez Canal, and every person who could possibly be on deck was there to see it. As masters-at-arms, Timmie and I had to keep the fo'c'stle head clear for the electricians, and we had a good opportunity to see everything along the banks.