World Travel – Life in the Forecastle

REMAINED in my bunk the next morning until it was time to go on watch at noon, and by that time I was better of my illness. The afternoon passed quickly, there was so much that was interesting going on, and by evening I was in such good spirits that I felt like eating something. Mr. Casey said I could take my meals in what he called the ” petty officers’ mess-room.” When I went in there I decided that it was a ” mess-room” sure enough. It was a narrow, dirty room, entirely filled by a long table, which hardly left room for anyone to sit down around it, and at meal time the messman had to go outside into the passageway in order to pass things from one end of the table to the other. Mike, the messman, had spent most of his life in Coney Island restaurants, and the advantages of cleanliness in food were beyond his comprehension. He thought that as long as we had plenty of everything to eat, the condition of the food didn’t matter, and he had no idea that we would enjoy our meals better if the place were clean and wholesome.

I don’t think I will ever forget that first supper in the mess-room. I was taken in by Mr. Casey, and seated next to him at the table. I didn’t appreciate at the time how important this introduction would be to me, but I observed that the men all began to ask me questions immediately, and in a moment I was the centre of conversation. I tried my best to enter into the spirit of their jokes and to give them back as good as they gave, and before supper was over I felt I was on friendly terms with several of the crew. The men who ate with me were chiefly employed in the engine-room, though there were the two boatswains, the lamp-trimmer and the quartermasters from the deck department. Of course I was absolutely ignorant regarding marine engines, and I had never before heard of water-tenders and the other dignitaries of that region below. I naturally supposed, without thinking, that what the water-tenders had to do was to carry water for the firemen who were shoveling coal. I asked them whether the firemen drank much water, considering that they had such thirsty work. With grave faces, all the tenders began to explain that there were never known such drinkers as these firemen on the McClellan. ” Why,” said one of them, ” they drinks a two-gallon pail full every ten minutes, and they’re nasty as can be when we don’t have the water there on time. I had a beastly row with ‘em only this mornin’. Can’t you see that sore on me arm, where one of the guineas struck me because I was a little behind time with the bucket? ” He held up his arm, and I saw that he had a dreadful scar. ” I suppose he hit you with a poker, didn’t he? ” said I. ” Yes,” said my friend, ” and the poker was red hot. He said he’d murder me if I didn’t put three pounds of. oatmeal in every bucket of water after this. Oh, we has a sweet life down in the engine-room. A Jimmy Legs has a paradise compared to us and you’d better be glad you’re not a poor water-tender.”

Life in the Messroom

I was glad indeed, and always thought of the tenders as having a hard time, until one day I visited the engine-room and they told me I had been the victim of a hoax. They explained that if the firemen want any water to drink they carry it themselves, and that the water-tenders have only to look after the water pipes, which was comparatively easy work. I thought of how the tenders had told me every noon how many buckets of water they had carried, and decided to be not so easy in the future. I would never have found out my mistake if I hadn’t chanced to visit the regions below.

The food in the messroom was not at all tempting. I thought at first I would never be able to exist on it, but after a few days I was hungry enough to eat almost anything. In the morning, I always ate bread and coffee and perhaps a roll. At noon, the soup was usually tasty, though I would tremble to state what might have been in it, and I could make a good meal from bread and soup and potato. The meat was so tough that I hardly ever tried to eat it. In the evening we had tea and bread-and-butter, and occasionally fried potatoes. There was always plenty of everything, and no one need go hungry on shipboard if he can eat the food. After the first week I ate quite heartily, but in less than a month I had sickened of the whole bill of fare and had no appetite at all. Fortunately there was an army commissary on board for the benefit of the soldiers, and I could buy sardines, baked beans and other extras, which helped me to exist. Mr. Casey introduced me to the night watchman in the saloon, who was on hand to serve the passengers with food and drink during the night, and I always had coffee and sandwiches from him on my night watch. Mr. Casey was popular with everyone on the ship, from the Captain down, and a good word from him was always worth having. The more I saw of him the more I admired his unusual character. He had once been a captain of his own ship, and though it was a great descent to master-at-arms, he never intimated that he had been used to better things, or told of the time when he had a crew of fifty at his beck and call. He treated everyone with kindness and courtesy, and never lost an opportunity of giving me some bit of advice which might help me with my work. Of course I had various unpleasant experiences, even before the first week of the voyage had passed. I discovered that the sailing-master of the ship was very different in every way from the Quartermaster. He had been for years captain of a New England whaler, and when I learned this I decided that he still imagined himself on a ship of that sort. He was the terror of all the crew. If they saw him coming down the starboard deck they immediately turned about and went up the other side, for they were actually afraid to meet him face to face unless it was absolutely necessary. His facial expression was not one to be sought after. I think he didn’t realize how fierce he looked, and very often he frightened people when his only desire was to be pleasant. I had seen a good many hard faces in traveling about, but when I first met Captain Linder, I decided he was the worst I had yet encountered. It wasn’t long before I was as anxious as anyone to avoid meeting him on the deck, but accidents will happen, and on the Wednesday after we left New York he turned the corner just as I was hurrying aft to the wheel-house. My heart rose in my throat as he stopped and looked me in the eye.

Trouble Begins to Brew

” Look here, young man,” he growled, ” where be you sleepin’ ? ” I told him that I had a berth on the saloon deck. ” Well, you git your duds out o’ there and go up forward where you belong,” he said. ” But,” I stammered, ” Captain Logan told me to sleep there.” At this his expression was simply terrible and I fairly trembled in my boots. ” That don’t cut no ice with me,” he exclaimed, with an oath, ” Captain Logan ain’t runnin’ my end of this ship.”

I touched my cap and hurried away as fast as possible. It seemed foolish for me to be so frightened, but there was no denying that I was. I tried to convince myself that no harm could came to me on a government ship, even if the captain was a brute, but I thought the safest way was to see Captain Logan and tell him what had occurred and ask his advice. He was angry when I told him my orders. ” You stay where you are,” he said, ” and I’ll speak to Captain Linder.” But I had no idea of doing any such thing. I didn’t want to meet the Captain again and have him glare at me and ask me if I’d moved, and then swear and perhaps lay hands on me. I told Captain Logan that I couldn’t feel comfortable in my bunk any longer, and that I’d much rather move and avoid trouble. So I went to see Mr. Casey, and he said that Timmie and I could now have the little room which had been cleaned. It was newly whitewashed, and when I saw it I decided that we would be very comfortable. It was so narrow that we could hardly undress, and the lower bunk, which was mine, was too short to permit of lying at full length, but I soon got used to everything, and after a while felt very much at home. Mr. Casey said he could have told me in the beginning that I wouldn’t be allowed to keep my bunk on the saloon deck. ” I knew the old man wouldn’t be satisfied while you were comfortable,” he said, ” and you would have had a miserable time if you’d insisted on staying there.”

Timmie proved to be a pleasant roommate. He kept his belongings in good order, and our house-keeping arrangements were the wonder of the ship. We took care of our own bunks, and kept our linen good and clean. One week Timmie washed the sheets and pillow-cases and the next week I did it. I had to wash on an average of twice a week because I hadn’t started out with many wash clothes, and things became soiled very soon up around the fo’c'stle. There were three wooden benches on the forward deck, which were being used by some of the crew or the soldiers for washing purposes at all hours of the day and night. We had only salt water to wash in, and the only way we could remove the dirt was to spread the garments on the benches, soap them thoroughly, and then rub them with scrubbing-brushes until they appeared clean. This operation was decidedly hard on the clothes, but it made the dirt fly.

In a few days I felt as if I had known Timmie all my life. We were con-genial in most ways, and as I look back upon my life on the McClellan I wonder whether I could have existed without him. He had been born and reared in New York City, and had shipped as master-at-arms because he knew Mr. Casey, and thought it would be good experience for him to see something of the world. He had made two trips to Cuba on the transport, so he was now a full-fledged sailor, and suffered no longer from the dreadful maladies of seasickness and home-sickness. He knew all of the sailors, and gave me lots of information concerning them, warning me which ones to avoid and whose friendship was really worth cultivating. Every evening after supper we’d join the crowd on the fo’c'stle head and listen to the yarns the sailors told. We usually sat there from half after five till half after seven, and the time passed quickly while listening to the wonderful tales of old Dan Driscoll and Jimmy Callahan, who had been in the” British navy and sailed all over the world. Sometimes I told about some of my experiences in Europe, and they seemed to find them interesting because they were so different from their own. Within a week I was so thoroughly a member of the fo’c'stle crowd that they called me ” Kid,” and that was the name I went by throughout the voyage.

The Routine of Ship Life

The days passed quickly after I had become accustomed to the routine of ship life. I was of course on watch during eight hours of every day, eight other hours I spent in sleeping, and the remainder were passed in eating, reading, writing, washing, mending clothes and keeping our tiny room in order. Timmie and I were never asleep at the same time, because when he was on watch I was sleeping, and he was asleep when my turn came. Mr. Casy kept the same hours week in and week out, while we boys changed watches every week.

Every evening there was a concert on the after deck by the regimental band, which was going out to the army in the Islands, but we sailors had no opportunity to listen to the music. I caught snatches of some popular air as I went my rounds, but with Captain Linder around I didn’t dare stop to hear a piece played through. I had learned my lesson thoroughly and was careful to avoid him as much as possible. He had very strict ideas as to where a sailor belonged, and if I hadn’t been master-at-arms I think he would never have permitted me to visit the after deck at all.

We were due to reach Gibraltar on the thirteenth day from New York, and no one on board could have been more anxious for that day to arrive. Thirteen days without sight of land was quite a hardship, and after so many mess-room meals I was indeed anxious to go ashore to get something fit to eat. I had no idea how much time the Captain would allow me to spend ashore, but I felt sure Captain Logan would arrange for me to see all the sights, and I determined to ask him for permission, in preference to seeing ” the old man,” as the sailing-master was known on board.

There was great excitement among the passengers when at last the coast of Spain was visible, and when we passed between the Pillars of Hercules and anchored off the great Rock of Gibraltar, I breathed a prayer of thankfulness that I had accomplished one lap of the journey around the world without misadventure.