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   Chapter 4 CHARACTERS

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 4244

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It may be very amusing to read about "Kipps" and those commonplace people whom Mr. H.G. Wells describes so cleverly, but to have to live with them in barracks is far from pleasant.

There were shop-assistants, dental mechanics, city clerks, office boys, medical students, and a whole mass of very ordinary, very uninteresting people. There was a fair sprinkling of mining engineers and miners, and these men were more interesting and of a far stronger mental and physical development. They were huge, full-chested, strong-armed men who swore and drank heavily, but were honest and straight.

There were characters here from the docks and from the merchant service, some of whom had surely been created for W.W. Jacobs. One in particular-Joe Smith, a sailor-man (an engine-greaser, I think)-was full of queer yarns and seafaring talk. He was a little man with beady eyes and a huge curled moustache. He walked about quickly, with the seamen's lurch, as I have noticed most seagoing men of the merchant service do.

This man "came up" in bell-bottomed trousers and a pea jacket. He was fond of telling a yarn about a vessel which was carrying a snake in a crate from the West Indies. This snake got into the boiler when they were cleaning out the engine-room.

"The capt'in ses to me, 'Joe.' I ses, 'Yes-sir.' 'Joe,' says 'e, 'wot's to be done?'

"'Why,' ses I, 'thing is ter git this 'ere snake out ag'in!'

"'Jistso,' says the capt'in; 'but 'oo' ter do it?'-'E always left everythink ter me-and I ses, 'Why, sir, it's thiswise, if sobe all the others are afeared, I ain't, or my name's Double Dutch.'

"'Very good, melad,' ses the capt'in, 'I relies on you, Joe.'-'E always did-and would you believe it, I upped an' 'ooked that there great rattlesnake out of the boiler with an old hum-brella!"

There was a clerk who stood six-foot eight who was something of a "knut." He told me that at home he belonged to a "Lit'ry Society," and I asked him what books they had and which he liked.

"Books?" he asked. "'Ow d'yow mean?"

"You said a Literary Society, didn't you?"

"Oh yes, we 'ave got books. But,

you know, we go down there and 'ave a concert, or read the papers, and 'ave a social, perhaps, you know; sometimes ask the girls round to afternoon tea."

I had a barrack-room full of these people to look after. Most of them got drunk. Once a young medical student tried to knife me with a Chinese jack-knife which his uncle, a missionary, had given him. He had "downed" too much whisky. Just as boys do at school, so these men formed into cliques, and "hung together" in twos and threes.

Some of them, like the "lit'ry society" clerk, had never seen much of life or people; had lived in a little suburban villa and pretended to be "City men." Others had knocked about all over the world. These were mostly seafaring men. Savage was such a one. He was one of the buccaneer type, strong and sunburnt, with tattooed arms. Often he sang an old sea-song, which always ended, "Forty-five fadom, and a clear sandy bottom!" He knew most of the sea chanties of the old days, one of which went something in this way-

"Heave away Rio! Heave away Rio!

So fare thee well, my sweet pretty maid!

Heave away Rio! Heave away Rio!

For there's plenty of gold-so we've been told-

On the banks of the Sacrament-o!"

An old Irish apple-woman used to come into the barracks, and sit by the side of the parade ground with two baskets of apples and a box of chocolate.

She did a roaring trade when we were dismissed from drill.

We always addressed her as "Mother." She looked so witch-like that one day I asked-

"Can you tell a fortune, Mother?"

"Lord-love-ye, no! Wad ye have the Cuss o' Jazus upon us all? Ye shud see the priest, sor."

"And can he?"

"No, Son! All witch-craftin' is forbid in the Book by the Holy Mother o' Gord, so they do be tellin' me."

"Can no one in all Ireland read a fortune now, Mother?"

"Ach, Son, 'tis died out, sure. Only in the old out-an'-away parts 'tis done; but 'tis terrible wicked!"

She was a good bit of colour. I have her still in my pocket-book. Her black shawl with her apples will always remind me of early barrack-days at Limerick if I live to be ninety.

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