27 DECEMBER 1919, Page 8


WILL some one please kick me ? I understand that I have lately been giving off some high-toned thoughts about the sea and its attractions, and now I am sampling the practical nature of those aspirations and finding it but poor stuff. Never did the shore-job look more attractive than the day I left it, never did the chairs look bulgier and more inviting, and never did King's Cross look gloomier. Edinburgh Station when we reached it in the early hours looked like an unwashed female, and over the journey to the Dockyard where the Ship was let us draw a veil. Some things are too serious for words, and this Dockyard and its approaches are two of them. It did not make things any better to be addressed by the Officer of the Watch who met me on the Quarter-Deck as a " perishing old Beach- comber." My little address to him in return, touching lightly on the self-sacrifice of men who give up sea-life to defend their country in an important shore-job, met with no response except a slightly mumbled remark, of which I only caught a few words. " Cushy-armchair-job-dodger," were amongst the ones I did hear, so I did not ask for a repetition. I sometimes think that we, as a Service, somewhat overvalue the benefit of truth at any cost.

As I left the Quarter-Deck and passed through the Screen door, I was assailed by that strong() and never-forgotten

phenomenon, the ship-smell. I never have been aide to analyse it completely. I get a particular scent or two separated, and then I feel that I have only touched the shell of it, and that the real kernel of it is something outside my calculation and goes further back than I can. It doesn't vary in different ships, it's always the same, though it brings back strangely different places. I have got as far as recognizing paint, varnish, salt water, tar, hemp, and a touch of oil, but, as I say, that's only a beginning. It was my first real welcome. It seemed to shout at me like a brother returned to the brotherhood. It told me that I might live in a great Shore Establishment with all the trimmings of the Navy—the ship's bell, the bugles, the guns, the Mess, the men—but that it was not till I had sniffed that old scent again that I should know that I was really part of the Navy that floats. Like a war-horse sniffing the battle afar, I dived for my new cabin. I knew from ex- perience that I must steel my heart against despondency, as there is nothing so depressing as a cabin vacant and waiting its new occupant. A cabin, like a room, takes its atmo- sphere from its owner, so without an owner it has no atmosphere. A fatherly Admiralty considers a cane-bottomed chair and a coat of paint all that the most exacting sailor man can demand.

I have never yet met a man who dared, in the boldness of his heart, live a commission out in the nudity of a cabin as prepared for him by the Powers-that-be, so, shutting my eyes to staring white paint that suggested three months' without the option, I explored my baggage and drew out from its recesses gorgeous apparel which the laundries of various countries had not quite managed to ruin, though they had done their best. A door- curtain, a bed-spread, curtains for the scuttles, lamp-shades, cushions, soon appear, and my enjoyment of them is not a whit marred by the remembrance of The Girl's scathing remark last time she saw them that she always called my cabin The Struggle for Existence, as all the colours fought so hard with each other. What is that to me if only there is colour So pull out the last chintz in the box and shove it up somewhere.

My servant enters at this moment, and I look up in haste to see if my luck is in. Will he prove himself possessed of the great characteristics that ensure a happy life for me ? I must have an expert bath-pincher--a man who without a blush of shame will unhesitatingly remove from the chair in the bathroom the towel belonging to the Officer in the next cabin and substitute mine, thus giving me the right of way, and will afterwards be prepared in the face of damning evidence to hold to it that he is a misunderstood man suffering an injustice. Is he an artist with the needle who will keep my socks looking like socks, and not like a piece of playful crazy-patchwork produced by a child of ten? All these thoughts pass through my head as I look up to learn my fate. He is a tall, well-set-up Marine of about thirty, and he puts a copper can of water in the basin and says, apologeti- cally : " I'm sorry, Sir, I couldn't bring your hot water sooner, but the Carpenter ain't fitted us up with cans yet, so I 'ad to take this one which I found outside the Paymaster's cabin." My heart rose and chanted glad hymns. He had passed the first test and proved himself, thus early on, a robber of large calibre; but a still small voice within me expressed a hope that that copper can had been " outside " the Paymaster's cabin.

Fortified, I advanced into the Anteroom to meet my new Mesamates, always a bit of an ordeal at first. Still, I trusted to that huge acquaintanceship one collects in a few years in the Navy, and I was not disappointed. A big form rose from one of the chairs and came towards me. " Hello, what price that game we had against the Frenchmen at Algiers ? " That did it. The ice crumbled into fragments and I was at home again. Oh, it's not so bad after all. That shore-job seems a devil of a long way off now. The piano is going full bore turning out the latest Jazz music at the rate of knots. In the interval, a Lieutenant who is leaving the ship is auctioning some valuable (?) gear. His hammer is a putter, and the goods consist of three flower- vases, an inkstand, a china pig, and two lampshades. The money involved would not tempt Christie's, but the bidding, with rises of a halfpenny, is keener than anything that firm ever sees. The piano breaks out again during the Auction, but not before a crash has announced that the knocking down of one of the vases to the Surgeon Commander has been taken too literally. After