James Brendan Connolly.

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dictates a regulation communication to the commandant of the yard, which
the new yeoman frames up just as he was told. It was a letter inquiring
of the commandant the status of the condemned hose in question, and
could it not be loaned for temporary use, to be returned in due
season - say, next day? and so forth.

"Now the commandant was a good old soul, too, and nothing would have
pleased him better than to accommodate his old friend and classmate, the
captain of the _Savannah_; but seeing this thing come to him in such
formal style, and himself being just off a three-years' cruise, and
always a little doubtful about these port regulations, anyway, and
wanting to do things up in a seaman-like way, he turns to his chief
clerk and says, 'What do we do about this?'

"Now what the commandant meant and what he would have said, if he'd put
it in more words, was: 'I want the _Savannah_ to have the use of that
condemned hose, but I suppose there are certain formalities to be
observed, and your business is to know what these formalities are. Here,
you attend to these formalities, but see that the _Savannah_ gets the
use of the hose.' That's about how he would have put it aboard ship, but
he hadn't quite savvied this shore-going chief clerk at his elbow.
Toward him he didn't have that same sea-going feeling that he'd have
toward one of his old ship's crew.

"And the chief clerk wasn't the kind that lost sleep trying to make
trouble for anybody; but he was the combination of being twenty-five
years on one job and having a manager of a wife - an upstanding,
marine-sergeant sort of a woman, with the beam and bows of a battleship,
and an eye - oh, an eye! - and the chief clerk and his missus, they'd just
finished paying for their house over in the city, and they'd had to
scrimp and scrape for the Lord knows how many years to get it paid for,
and there was a marriageable daughter to provide for, and his wife never
let him forget that he mustn't risk their real estate or jeopardize his
job or the marrying prospects of the daughter, who was just getting to
where she was making a lot of desirable acquaintances. There was a young
staff officer, a passed assistant surgeon, within easy range, and there
was a young paymaster above the horizon, and no telling but they might
yet capture one of the line, and that was all the old lady needed to be
happy. But if papa was shifted to another city, they'd have to sell the
house at a sacrifice and start making friends, all over again. They say
that the chief clerk used to get his instructions every morning like it
was the uniform of the day. Above all things he must never do anything
that the department or any superior officer could ever censure him for.

"He was a little man, the chief clerk, with an upturned moustache he was
always flattening fan-wise. 'Heels' they used to call him at the yard,
because he was so sensitive about his height that he wore regular female
opera-singer's heels on his shoes. Some said his wife made him wear
them. Even then he only came up to the top of her ear. Well, Heels
considers things now, and recollecting that this would come under the
jurisdiction of the captain of the yard, and that the captain of the
yard had his little spells, he says to the commandant, 'I think, sir,
we'll have to refer it.'

"'Refer it? To who?'

"'To the captain of the yard, sir.'

"'Captain of the - D'y' mean the _Savannah_ can't use that bit of rotten
old hose without authority?'

"'Well, sir, you see it is like this. You see, sir, I have to do things
the way they are laid down for me. The _Savannah_ could, perhaps, use
that section of hose, especially if you say so, sir, but - '

"'But what?'

"'But if, sir, the captain of the yard _should_ learn it, as he might,
sir, and he _should_ feel slighted, or if an inspector should happen
along when it was in use, and discover that the items in the scrap-heap
did not tally with his list, that there was a section of hose missing,
that it was being used without authority by the _Savannah_ - '

"'Oh, you and your coulds and your shoulds!' snaps the commandant. 'Give
me sea duty in place of any of these shore billets any time. Aboard ship
I have only to nod my head to my executive officer and a thing's done;
but here - O Lord! But go ahead, make out a request, or requisition, or
warrant, or whatever's necessary, and let's have it fixed up.'

"And Heels, who used to be in the army when he was young, but didn't
like - or, rather, Mrs. Heels didn't like - to be told of it, he snaps his
heels together, starts his arm as if to salute, but stops in time, says,
'Yes, sir,' goes off to his little desk, and typewrites Endorsement No.
1 to the back of the captain of the _Savannah's_ letter, gets the
commandant's signature, and sends the messenger with it to the captain
of the yard.

"And right here was when it really got under way. You see, if the
commandant had 'phoned over to the captain of the yard and said in an
off-hand, fine-day sort of way, 'I suppose it will be all right to let
the _Savannah_ have that hose for a day or two, won't it?' why, the
captain of the yard would have said, 'Why, yes, sir, let 'em have it.'
But he hadn't yet sized up this new commandant. He only knew he had the
reputation of being a martinet aboard ship, and now came this formal
letter with its endorsement and right away the yard captain said to
himself, 'He's a strict one - an endorsement on it already, and that
_Savannah_ captain, he must be a strict one, too. What are they trying
to do - trying to catch me below when I ought to be on deck? I guess
not.' He had heard of chaps that you thought you were safe with and you
stretched a point or two to help them out, one of those little things
that anybody would think would get by all right; and then, when
something went wrong, they'd turn around and say, 'Why did you allow
this?' and you had no authority to show why you did allow it. There was
that last case at League Island, and a friend of his, only the year
before. There were two damaged rubber raincoats and a pair of old rubber
boots, and the commandant that time had said to his friend: 'See here,
I'm tired of looking at those things. Why don't you auction 'em off some
day and get rid of 'em?' And the captain of the yard's friend got busy
and hectographed letters were mailed to all the junk-dealers in the
city, and posted in the post-office and custom-house corridors, and the
sale advertised in the local papers, according to the law. And after the
sixty days required by the law, they were auctioned off with some other
junk. There were thirteen people attended the sale, but only one bid,
and that from a little stooped fellow with the beard of a prophet, who
offered sixty-seven cents for the lot, and took it off in a two-wheeled
hand-cart he'd brought with him. And they turned in the sixty-seven
cents, together with the bill for advertising - six dollars and
seventy-five cents - and considered they had done quite a stroke of
business. But back comes a letter from the Bureau of Profit and Loss - or
so the captain of the yard said he thought it was - wanting to know who
gave them authority to advertise and sell the property of the United
States without authority; and before the inquiry was concluded there
were three of them rolled through a G.C.M., and the captain of the
yard's friend was broke. And writing him about it, his friend had closed
his letter with: 'Don't ever, on your life, have anything to do with any
condemned property without you know where you're at every minute.'

"And this yard captain didn't intend to, and so he added Endorsement No.
2, saying he had no authority, and returned it to the commandant, who
sent it back, with Endorsement No. 3, asking to be informed, and so on,
and the yard captain tacked on Endorsement No. 4, respectfully
suggesting that in compliance with regulations, page 11,336, section
142, paragraphs 24-27, or whatever it was, that it be referred to the
Bureau of Replies and Queries at Washington. Which it was, and they
returned it to the yard, this time to the yard master, for further and
more specific information. And the yard master, after locking it in his
safe and going home and sleeping on it overnight, glued on an
endorsement that you couldn't have convicted a fish of swimming by, and
hoisted it over to the yard captain bright and early in the morning.

"By this time the yard captain was beginning to believe that some
politician was after his job, and if so - Well, they'd have to snap 'em
over pretty fast to catch him playing too far off his base, and he slid
it back to the Bureau of Replies and so forth, who passed it on to the
Bureau of Odds and Ends, where it steamed in and out among a lot of
swivel-chairs, who were not to be upset easily. They put in a couple of
heavy-eyed weeks on it, and rolled it back finally to the commandant for
further information. Above all, before an intelligent judgment could be
rendered, they especially desired to be informed where the hose came
from originally.

"Well, the poor commandant didn't know where the hose came from
originally. It might be from any one of three ships that had been lying
to in the dock just before the _Savannah's_ request was received; a
battleship, a cruiser, and a beef-boat they were. But he supposed he had
to do something about it, and so he looked up the latest orders. The
beef-boat was due back in the yard in a few days; but she rated only a
lieutenant-commander. The battleship had the rank: a two-starred red
flag from her main. She was about as far away as she could be when last
heard from; but no matter; rank had to be served. The commandant begging
leave to be informed passed it on to her. Did she know anything about
the section of hose in question, and if so, what? And forwarded it, care
of postmaster at Manila, P.I. And when it came back - after thirty or
forty thousand miles of travel that was - the battleship didn't know
anything about the section of hose referred to. Nor did the cruiser,
which was in the Mediterranean when caught, only she having lighter
heels and hopping around more, it took eight months to get her. There
was still the beef-boat, which in the meantime had gone to sea and
returned home again, and was now again to sea, on her way to the China
station. They went for her, and after a stern chase that lasted through
six months and two typhoons and all kinds of monsoons and trades, they
got her; whereat she begged leave to say that at the time of her
collision with the collier _Ariadne_ (for details of which see letter to
Secretary of the Navy on such a day and month of such a year) many files
of papers were lost. And evidently whatever pertained to the section of
hose in question was among the lost files; for certainly among the
existing files there was no reference to any section of condemned
hose-pipe. It took three months more to get that back to the yard, and
by that time the old commandant had been retired for age and a new
commandant had fallen heir to it.

"The new head read all the endorsements, by now forty-eight, and
pondered over them. For perhaps three days he paced the yard with it,
without being able to see where it concerned him; but he was very fond
of puzzling things out, and thinking he saw a way out of this, he
forwarded it to the old commander of the _Savannah_, who now had a
battleship, the _Texarkhoma_, which was in winter quarters with the
battle fleet at Guantanamo, Cuba, from where he figured on getting an
answer in three weeks at least. But before the mail reached Guantanamo,
the _Texarkhoma_ had been detached by cable and ordered to the West
Coast by way of South-American ports. The commandant at Guantanamo
thought he might overtake the _Texarkhoma_ at Rio Janeiro, and
forwarded the packet to the American minister there. But having meantime
got another cable from the department to hurry and make a steaming test
of the cruise, the _Texarkhoma_ had stopped only long enough in Rio to
coal ship, and so the packet missed her there. On to her next stop,
Punta Arenas in Magellan Straits, the minister forwarded it, but the
flying battleship, with her stops three thousand miles apart, was moving
along faster than the mail steamers, which were stopping every few
hundred miles. So they missed her in the Straits, and again at Callao.
Not till she lay to anchor in San Francisco Bay did they overtake her,
and then her commander had only to say that he didn't know where the
hose came from originally; but he didn't see that it mattered, as the
necessity for the use of the hose no longer existed.

"I might say that the captain's yeoman, having by now come to understand
his skipper, drew up that particular endorsement, and he thought it
pretty hot stuff", and that it would end the whole matter. And so did
the new commandant back in the yard when he got it, and he shipped it on
to the Bureau of Heavy Jobs with a flourish. But did it? Not much. Down
there the swivel-chairs revolved a few more hundred times and they
discussed it over a few dozen lunches, and then back it came with a new
touch. Why did the necessity no longer exist? they asked, and shipped it
by mistake to the new commandant.

"'And how the hell do I know?' says the new commandant, but not in
writing, and passes it on to the old _Savannah_ captain, who was now
rear-admiral, with a division in the East waiting him to come and hoist
his pennant. And so again it was a chase of the _Texarkhoma_, which was
on her way to the Philippines _via_ Honolulu and way ports. They were
too late for her at Honolulu, and at Guam, and again at Yokohama; but
they overhauled her at Hong-kong, where she'd been lying at anchor for a
week.

"The admiral had a lot of mail that morning in Hong-kong harbor, but
nothing to speed up his brain till he came to the hose-pipe thing. 'Twas
then he went up on the quarter-deck and did a Marathon for an hour or
so, while the officer of the deck and every blessed marine and flat-foot
on duty stepped softly till he ducked below again.

"By and by, in his cabin, the admiral presses the buzzer, and in comes
his trusty yeoman, the same he'd carried from the days of the
_Savannah_, and to him the admiral says: 'Willoughby' - call him
Willoughby - ' Willoughby, how long you been in the service?'

"'Nineteen years, sir.'

"'Nineteen? H'm! Then by this time you probably know a little something
of the ways that shore-going departments invent to worry us poor fellows
to sea,' He held up the hose-pipe thing. 'You've seen this before,
Willoughby?'

"'Oh yes, sir,' says Willoughby."

"'I dare say, and so have I, and if there's a sea-going or shore-going
officer in the service that hasn't bumped into it, then he must have
been on the sick-list for the last few dozen years. Well, Willoughby, do
you take it, this nightmare - that I thought was dead and buried a dozen
times - take it and study it over, from alow and aloft, from for'ard and
aft, inside and outside and topside and 'tween-decks, from mast-head to
keelson, from figure-head to jack-staff; study it and stay with it, and
from out of your nineteen years' experience - and you're no green
apprentice-boy, Willoughby - see if you can't construct an endorsement
that will lay the damned ghost of it for good and all.'

"'Aye, aye, sir,' says the trusty yeoman, and takes it off to his office
and looks it over. A wonderful thing it was by now, with its sixty-seven
endorsements winged out on the back of it. Just to read them took the
Admiral's yeoman an hour, and he wasn't too slow a reader, either. Well,
he spreads it out and sizes it up. And sucks three pipefuls, and takes a
cruise down the passageway and has a chat with his old-time shipmates,
the boson and the gunner. The boson was Mr. Kiley, the same old boson
of the _Savannah_, been with the Old Man when he was a middy in
sailing-ship days - couldn't lose each other. A lot of things about the
new Navy the boson and the gunner couldn't savvy, and when they got
talking things over together they left their blue-book etiquette in
their lockers. The admiral's yeoman tells 'em what the Old Man has
caught in his mail, and then he asks the boson, 'Did you try to use that
hose at all that day?'

"Try to? No, but I did. D' y' s'pose I was goin' to lose out on a little
thing like that 'cause of regulations? And 'specially after the officer
of the deck goes inside the bulkhead to give me a chance?'

"'He didn't go inside to give you any chance,' says the admiral's
yeoman. 'That was to write a message to the skipper.'

"' Sho-oo boy - bubbles! He was young enough, was Mr. Renner, but not so
young he didn't know enough not to bother the ship's boson when he's
gettin' results. And I snakes the hose off that scrap-heap, and before
he's back on the quarter I had it bustin' with navy-yard water-pressure,
and you betcher he sees it over the side, but he don't look too hard at
it. No, sir, he don't,' goes on the boson. 'And now take a word from
me - and it ain't out of any drill-book your division officer 'll read
to you. Let me have that endorsement gadjet and I'll lash it to the
fluke of one of our mudhooks next time we come to anchor, and after it's
laid a while on the bottom of Singapore harbor, or wherever it is we
next let go, under twenty, thirty, or forty fathom of water, whatever it
is, I'll let you see what it looks like.'

"'No, no, Kiley, don't you do it,' says the gunner. 'Don't you do it.
Some crazy Parsee diver might spot it and go down and bring it up; and
besides, you oughtn't let it get wet - it'd spoil all that nice
typewriting. Give it up to me and I'll take it up on the after-bridge,
and if it's too stiff for wadding, I'll tie it across the muzzle of the
first six-pounder we salute the port with, and let you see how it looks
then.'

"'What you two pirates need,' says the admiral's yeoman, 'is to learn a
little respect for the shore-going departments where your orders are
made out,' and goes back to his office and takes that hose-pipe
communication and reads through the sixty-seven endorsements again, and
then he carefully typewrites on a new leaf:

"'_Endorsement No_. 68
U.S.S. _Texarkhoma_,
Hong-kong, China,
Date So and so.

"'Respectfully returned, with the information that the need of the
section of hose-pipe no longer exists, for the reason that we
filled the _Savannah's_ tanks with it seven years ago.

"'Very respectfully,

"'Your obedient servant,'

"and signs his own name and rating, Percy Algernon Willoughby - call him
that - Chief Yeoman, U.S. Navy, and glues that on behind the other
sixty-seven endorsements and gloats over it, and for a few minutes feels
like a bureau chief himself. Then for another minute or two he thought
of mailing it to them. And he could see them reading that in Washington!
There would be an endorsement to go ringing down the departmental
ancestral halls! And as for the other yeomen, his colleagues in the
service, for generations his name would resound among 'em. But he
decided that that would be too much glory for one yeoman, and besides,
he didn't know where he could start in at $70 a month (with additions)
and all found, at his age, after being nineteen years on one job. And
right here, he had to admit to himself, he didn't have so very much the
best of Heels of the navy-yard. So he looks it over again; fat as a
history of the Roman Empire, and hefted it and - well, there were young
apprentice-boys aboard that didn't weigh any more. But to make sure, he
lashes it to the butt-end of a fourteen-pound shell the gunner had once
given him for a desk-weight. He hated to lose that desk-weight, a relic
of the Santiago fight, but a good cause this - a good cause. He starts to
unscrew his air-port, but come to think, it was still daylight, and so
he waits for the shades of night to fall.

"Well, that night - three bells just gone in the mid-watch it was - the
marine guarding the patent life-buoy on the port side of the
quarter-deck, fell into a reverie. He ought to have been on the _qui
vive_, so to speak - alert, active, wide-awake, pacing his post briskly
of course, according to instructions; and if it was daylight when the
officer of the deck could see him, you betcher he would. But it was the
middle of the night, and a night in the Orient, with a sky of studded
velvet and a sea that flowed by like a smooth roll of dark belting, and
he was only - Tolliver was his name, from Georgia - only a slim young
Southern boy dreaming of home and mother, and maybe of a girl he had
left behind him, and he looked up at the emblazoned firmament and again
at the flashing sea, and then he rested his head on the top chain-rail.

"For just a second. He had said to himself he wouldn't go to sleep; but
all at once he heard a move below him, as of somebody unscrewing an
air-port, and then he heard a voice say, 'Well, here goes a ghost that
will stay laid!' and then a plash, a pl-m-p! and looking over quickly,
he saw plain as could be the phosphorus hole in the sea, then a quarter
of a second later something white as a man's face, and then it was gone
into the ship's wake.

"'Man overboard!' he yells, and snaps the patent life-buoy over the
side, and the marine on the starboard side of the quarter he yells, 'Man
overboard!' and the marine on the after-bridge he yells, 'Man
overboard!' and the two seaman on watch on the for'ard bridge, 'Man
overboard, sir!' they yell, and the watch officer orders, 'Hard on your
wheel, Quartermaster!' and to the bosun's mate on watch the watch
officer yells, 'Pipe the deck division to quarters!' and the watch
officer pulls a few bells and talks through three or four tubes, and in
no time the ship is coming around in a circle, and up on deck came
piling about two hundred lusty young seamen, and it was, 'boats away,'
and over the side went hanging gigs and cutters and whale-boats, and
then it was, 'Search-lights all clear!' and in about one minute the big
ship was back on the spot, and in another minute and a half there were
eight boats with half-dressed crews rowing around, and six big
search-lights playing tag on the waters. An hour and a half they stood
by, but no sign of him and no call from him. And then it was return to
your ship, sound quarters and call the roll. But everybody was present
or accounted for, and the skipper gave the captain of marines the devil,
and the marine captain gave the devil to his marine guard, the Georgia
boy, who by this time was beginning to doubt that he hadn't been asleep.

"Next afternoon the admiral was on deck taking the air, and after a
while he asks, 'Where was that marine guard standing when he says he
heard that air-port unscrewing and that splash last night?' And they dug
the marine out of the brig and brought him up, and he stood on the same
spot leaning over the rail, and the old man stands there and takes a
look down. And he looks to see if there was an air-port handy. And there
was - the air-port of the flag office. 'H'm! - h'm!' he says. 'That's all
now, Lyman,' to the marine officer. Nothing more; but an hour later the
marine was released from the brig - nobody knew why."

Throughout all the story Dalton had been sitting atop of the coffer-dam,
hands with flat palms pressing down, and feet hanging, with heels
drumming against the coffer-dam sides. After he had done he pushed
himself up by the palms of his hands, rearranged his row of tin
letter-files, shifted his electric bulkhead light, picked up a fat
folk-lore volume and waited, with eyes twinkling down on us, for
somebody to say something.

"And how long ago was that, Dallie?" asked somebody, at last.

"Five years."

"And never a word from the admiral?"

"Never a word."

"H-m-ph! Don't you suppose - "

"Suppose what, fat Reggie? D' y' mean to hint at conspiracy between a
rear-admiral of the United States Navy and an enlisted man - a yeoman?
Why, Reggie!"

"Of course not. But nothing more from anybody? Not from Washington,
either?"

"Nothing, inquisitive child. But there's an old flat-footed friend of
mine in the department - and he, whenever he writes me, never forgets to
mention that every once in a while the chief clerk, or somebody or other
in his division, is sure to look out the window and across the street at
the White House grounds, as if trying to remember something; and
whenever he takes a particularly long look he is always sure to turn
around and say to the man at the nearest desk, 'What d' y' s'pose ever
became of that hose-pipe spook used to haunt this place?' And the man at
the nearest desk he'll look up and nibble at the end of his pen-holder,


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Online LibraryJames Brendan ConnollyWide Courses → online text (page 2 of 17)