Thorne Smith.

Out o' luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea online

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stealing our money and then asking us to loan it to him.
This we are necessarily forced to do, under the circum-

It is now time for us to shove off. I have said good-bye
to friend and enemy alike. Even the ship's painter smiled
when I apologized to him for the last time for having
dropped my hammock on him and knocking him off the
scow. The Quartermaster forgave me for losing the lead,
and everybody seemed to be happy and relieved to see me
go. I expericncd a similar feeling myself, and when I came
on deck and looked down the channel at a long, restive ex-
panse of putty-colored water it was with a sensation of
great thankfulness that I shouldered my bag and ham-
mock and left the ship upon which I had served with a
degree of uselessness hitherto unachieved by any sailor in
any navy.


Nov. 19th. — (Back at Pelham.)

"My God! Are you back again?" said an apparently
horror-stricken officer, as I stood before the mast on the
charge of having a dirty bag.

"Yes, sir," I reph'ed, cheerfully. "And I had earnestly
hoped never to see your face again, sir."

For a moment we stood gazing reflectively at each other.
Then a broad, friendly smile made its appearance on the
officer's face, lending to it a hitherto unsuspected human

"Well, what did you do to the ship you were on?" he

"Practically everything, sir," I replied, modestly. "In
fact, it is claimed that I almost ruined it."

"Not at all unlikely, if you ran true to form," he an-
swered, still smiling.

"I did, sir," I said. "I ran true to form, and in some
instances surpassed myself."

"Good!" said the officer, approvingly. "And now you're
going up for a shoot."

There was hardly any answer to this remark that I could
well make. However, my face assumed a sort of smeared
expression, and the more smeared my expression became the
more cheerful grew the officer.

"Well, it's hardly the way to welcome you back from
the sea, I'll admit," began the officer. "Perhaps your bag
got soiled, so to speak, in the process of transportation."

He looked at me and smiled strangely.

"It did, sir," I replied, without turning a hair. "It was
very dusty coming up."

"All right," says he. "Under the circumstances it's ex-
cusable, but remember, regulations are regulations in the

To my dying day I'll remember that sentence. Years
from now I expect to wake up in bed repeating it to my-
self. And with this I departed the spot.


Nov. 23rd. — More hitherto family-free sailors are dis-
covering unsuspected families and dependents than I ever
knew existed before. Every day some sailor breaks down
on my breast and sobs over the great suffering and depriva-
tion of an aged parent and seventeen brothers and sisters
caused by his absence from home. I myself am trying to
rake up a couple of perfectly helpless dependents, but I'm
having a tough time of it. I know one aged bar-keep who
more or less depended upon me in his declining years, but
somehow I haven't the nerve to write him into my applica-
tion, although I'm sure the old gentleman deserves having
some one to look after him. However, I'm afraid I'm not
that person, because in all likelihood I will need a great
deal of looking after once I'm mustered out of the service,
but that has nothing to do with my diary.

Dec. 1st. — Nothing to report save that this is another
month and my tapes are still dirty! Steps must be taken
or I'll be going to the mat with my P. O. for the seven-
teenth hundred time since my first jab. My spirit remains
unbroken, however. I exult in my ignorance and glory in
my mistakes.

Dec. 2nd. — (Holiday for some reason I haven't troubled
to enquire about.) Chicken, corn, pumpkin pie and trim-
mings. I saved the neck for Mr. Fogerty. The poor,
simple-souled dog had hardly the heart to eat it. There
are enough lovesick sailors In camp as it is without the dogs
getting the complaint. It seems that Mr. Fogerty 's sweetie
over in City Island has given him the go by. He's not the
first to meet such a fate in that quarter, I'll tell the world.

The smoking lamp was lighted all day and consequently
I was very popular with the "Spider" and his two com-
panions, Tony and Tim, on the strength of a shipment of
fags that mother left with me at the time of her last in-
cursion on the privacy of the camp. There was little drill-
ing to-day, but what there was was enough. Spent most
of the afternoon in washing my tapes, sewing on buttons,


scrubbing my bag and providing my friends with matches
to enable them to light the cigarettes they had borrowed
from me.

Dec. 3rd. — Took an unnecessarily long walk with an un-
necessarily heavy gun to an unnecessarily stupid place, then
the reel was reversed and we proceeded back to camp,
astounding the populace by our unnecessarily intricate for-
mations. I have never been able to master the company
square for the same reason, I reckon, that I was always a
bum at ring-around-a-rosie in my childish days. Kissing
games I could play, but no one would ever play them with
me. "What's the use," they used to say. "You're too
willing." I will admit it was more of an arrangement than
a game when I took part in them.

Dec. 4th. — Rose early and went to the mat with the
Master-at-arms. He said I lashed my hammock like a
dowdy woman laced. I hardly consider this a very nice
thing to say and would not put it down here were it not
that I want to show the low order of the man's conversa-
tional attainments. I told him that I was unable to appre-
ciate the full purport of his remarks for the reason that all
my sweeties were trimly stayed fore and aft and sailed
before the wind. My remark, however, did not prevent me
from relashing my hammock and doing it over again. I
could not help thinking of what the Jimmy-legs had said
about, it, however, and kept laughing to myself at the idea.
I now call my hammock "My Sloppy Old Jane." Such
simple things amuse us isolated sailors.

Dec. 5th. — Tony, Tim, the Spider and I have taken to
calling each other "Shipmates" around the barracks. It
breaks the Jimmy-legs' heart, as he has never been to sea.

Dec. 6th. — ^An orderly almost kissed me this morning,
but thank God, was able to suppress his burning desires at
the sight of my repellent face.


"A lady is calling you on the wire," he said jealously.

"My dear," I said, not wishing to get in wrong with
him. "Fm sure there must be some mistake. I have no
interests outside of camp."

He departed, relieved, but I answered the call in my
quiet, unassuming way. It was from Polly, my permanent
sweet; the beautiful woman I hope to make my jailer.

"Biltmore, dear," she said, just like that, "I'm just crazy
to announce our engagement, and I want you to ask the
Captain if you can get off soon and come down to the affair.
Maybe he'd come too, do you think so, dear?"

"Well, hon," says I, for once bold, "he's awfully busy
now, but I'm sure he'd love to come if he could."

You see, I'd told the poor girl, as sailors do, that the
skipper and myself were awfully clubby and that he rec-
ognized me as the most dependable man on the station and
that we often played croquet together on the lawn of the
officers' club. In fact, I had to tell her lots of things in
order to induce her to become permanent instead of prom-
issory. All men do under the circumstances — and all wom-
en, too, for that matter. As a rule both sides know the
other is lying, but they respect each other for their ability
and consideration. A man that won't lie to the woman he
loves, loves truth more than the woman and women can't
stand that. However, my observations are dropping to a
low moral plane which is not good for those who are not
rugged at heart and ragged at ethics.

"But you will come, won't you, Biltmore?" she continues,
pulling the dear stuff again. "The party wouldn't be com-
plete without you."

"You mean the calamity," says I.

Then she wanted to make arrangements for next Satur-
day and I let her because she seemed so happy and excited
about it all.

"Where shall I meet you?" she says. **We must kave
tea all by ourselves first."

I thought for a moment, for the presence of gold lace





"the beautiful woman I HOPE TO MAKE MY jailek"— Page S9

mmmlmmmammmammmmmimmmmmmmmammmmmmmmmmmmmmmammmmmmmmmimmmmmfmm 1

'my eye, what a walkI she did everything but loop-the-loop "

— Page 66


hanging furtively around in the background made me a
little anxious.

"You'd better stay home, sweetie," I said, "there are too
many young Ensigns sticking about here for me to give lo-
cations. I don^t put anything past them."

With this I hung up and v^^alked past several of the
above mentioned race of people, w^ho eyed me with venom,
I must keep Polly away from the Ensigns at all cost. No
matter how white your tapes are, gold lace has the edge.

Dec. 7th. — A personal and unconditional triumph in the
grim, continuous battle between myself and my superiors.

Early in the afternoon we were told to go out on the
parade ground and brush up a bit on our semaphore.
"Brush up!" thinks I to myself. "How are you going to
brush up when there ain't anything to brush. The ship that
depended on me for signalling would remain deaf and
dumb." I thought this, but to myself. The only letter I
felt sure about was A and I didn't remember quite whether
it was optional which hand you used.

With the utmost confidence, however, I took my flags
and proceeded to the middle of the parade ground where I
hid myself behind the huge figure of Tim and began to
wave my arms about in an aimless manner. Aside from
becoming a trifle tired I was getting away fine until a
C. P. O. hotchels up to me and stands observing my move-
ments with horrified, dilated eyes. This made me so ner-
vous, that my arms began swinging around convulsively at
a tremendous speed. I looked like a gaudy, but conscientious
electric fan. Perspiration streamed down my face and neck,
and still he watched. His expression gave way from hor-
ror to amazement and from that to fury.

"Time !" he shouted suddenly. "Time ! Stop what you're
doing, whatever it may be."

I threw myself into low and gradually slowed down to
a neutral.


"What," asked the Chief with much deliberation, "what
in the world do you think you've been doing?"

"Semaphoring, Chief," says I promptly.

"Ah," says the Chief, drawing a deep breath preparatory
to a long burst of eloquence, insult and invective. "So
that's what you've been doing. Well, I've been observing
you closely for more than half an hour and although the
semaphore system is so arranged that it is almost impossible
for a man not to make a letter in the natural evolution of
his arms, you seem to have been able to achieve this truly
remarkable, well nigh unbelievable feat. How did you ever
do it? Do you know one letter, even one?^'

"I can spell words," I said proudly, but lyingly, "great
long words."

"Spell one," said the Chief briefly.

"All right," says I.

"What's the word?" he asks.

"Oh, no," says I, cagey-like. "I ain't agoing to tell you
the word. You just watch."

At this point I gave Tim the wink and he stood by to
assist. Thereupon I began to wave my arms around fran-

"What's that?" I asks the Chief after coming to a stop
with a particularly catching flourish.

"Nothing," says the Chief. "Absolutely nothing."

"Wrong," says I snappily. "What is it, Tim?"

"Our little home," says Tim.

"Right," says I. "Now, Chief, I'll send you another one.'*

This time I did some really startling evolutions and added
several elaborate extra wiggles.

"Get that, Chief?" says I.

"No, nor nobody else," says the Chief.

"Wrong," says I. "What is it, Tim?"

"The camp we love," says Tim.

"Right," says I. "Watch me close, Chief, I'll send you
another one."

By this time quite a crowd of sailors had gathered around


to observe the circus. Among them I saw the rat-like
"Spider's" eyes gleaming forth.

'What's that, Buddy," I cried to him after I had fin-
ished my contortions.

"Sweetie," cried the Spider promptly.

"Right," I shouted. "See, Chief, anybody seems to be
able to read my signals. Try this."

Here I went through some mystifying passes before the
man's perplexed eyes and came to an abrupt finish.

"What's that ?" I shouted to the crowd.

"Great, big, blue eyes," some one replied.

"Right," says I, with finality, before anyone else had a
chance to guess. The poor Chief's amazement was really
pathetic. He turned away a broken man.

"Oh, go to hell the all of yers," he muttered. "Get out
of my sight. Period's over. Into your barracks."

We left him in the midde of the parade ground in a
crumpled condition. He was passing his hands over his
dazed eyes. Later in the day we caught sight of him read-
ing signals sent by another Chief. He was evidently con-
vincing himself that he wasn't crazy. He turned around
and saw me — but not for long.

Dec. 8th. — The favor of the gods was withdrawn from
me to-day. Probably as a result of my yesterday's success.
Failed to catch a 43 hours' liberty. Been washing windows.
I can see the Chief's fine hand in this.

Dec. 9th. — Special war extra: Mr. Fogerty has the
cooties. He has no pride. I am crushed.

What with scratching Mr. Fogerty and scrubbing my
whites I have had scant time for availing myself of the
solace of intellectual recreation derived from writing my
diary. The depraved dog approaches me and gazes into
my eyes in such a miserable and pathetic manner that I
cannot withhold the craved for assistance. What a virile
race the cooties must be! What families! What dili-
gence! What fun!


Dec. loth. — ^The trench dog Fogerty seems now to con-
sider his unsavory visitation as being a mark of special honor.
He passed one of our most aristocratic goats to-day with-
out even so much as flopping an ear. As a matter of fact,
Fogerty is a well born dog himself and displayed all the
characteristics of a careful and gentle rearing when I first
knew him. I am sure he must have come from a home of
culture and refinement. Now look at him — fleas, late hours
and the primrose road.

The "Spider" has just come oflt of guard duty. There
were a lot of stray visitors up to-day and they evidently
came too near the fence. He showed me a fake silver cig-
arette case half full of fags, one gold cufiE link, a stick pin
and an exemption card. I have made him promise to send
the exemption card home to the rightful owner. The cig-
arettes we smoked and then gave Tim the case as a joint
token of our great respect and devotion. We told him that
we had sent to New York in order to get it. The poor
dub was really quite touched about it, as, no doubt, was
its original owner. The "Spider" told me in strict confi-
dence that he frequently had picked up (or out) a great
deal more at parades and six-day bicycle races. Between
that and showing up the safe manufacturers I decided he
must have eked out an existence.

Dec. nth. — "Good-bye my fancy," as old Walt said, or
was it "farewell." Anyway it doesn't matter. How can I
speak of poets after what has happened. It is all ofE with
Polly. I am a co-respondent — almost. It will all come out
in the paper soon, I dare say. What will people say?

I have drunk deep of the waters of jazz in the course of
my turbulent career and "shimmied" my share of miles
around the clock. Frankly I admit that I have had my full
quota of sweeties in the past and earnestly look forward
to more in the future. In spite of which I have struggled
manfully to retain that purity of character for which I was
noted at the age of three. It is lost now. Already the head-
lines seem to be staring me in the face, crisp and clear.





I can see it all now. Tony takes it as a huge joke. Tim
says I did not go far enough. Polly says I went altogether
too far, and the unscrupulous "Spider" only regrets not
being able to sell me one of those diamonds he gained ill
possession of through the biting process in his dark civilian
days. I couldn't help it and I told Polly so, but she re-
fused to listen to reason.

"In every port," she kept repeating almost to herself, "and
on every comer," this more emphatically. And nothing I
can say seems to do any good. Women will forgive any-
thing but another woman's good looks and a man's bad
dancing. I am very bitter about women. When Polly
told me that I was nothing more nor less than a low-
minded, brawling sailorman I turned on her and said :

"A man is as bad as the occasion demands, but the woman
creates the occasion," which I thought was a pretty good
comeback on the spur of the moment, but instead of crush-
ing Polly, she merely retorted that a man's whole life was
devoted to hanging around waiting for that occasion. You
can see just how briskly we milled it up.

It all happened so quickly and so innocently. There I
was standing by the road waiting bashfully for some one to
come by in a nice comfortable automobile and pick me up
and carry me along to New York to see my permanent
sweetie, who doesn't seem to be quite so permanent now,
when all of a sudden a plush looking motor draws up by
me and a woman I scarcely looked at asks me to step in.
What could be more natural than to comply with so gra-


cious a request? I asked Polly this and she said "any-
thing.'* Of course, I didn't realize that the lady was a
great, big, beautiful woman, naturally forward with men,
particularly sailors, and a little dangerous. As soon as I
saw how pretty she was I slid quickly over to the opposite
corner which seemed to be just what she was waiting for
me to do, because she had me where she wanted me with
all avenues of retreat cut off. When she put her head on
my shoulder and called me a cute little thing, what was I
to do? I couldn't scream or call out the guard, and no
gentleman can push a woman's head off his shoulder as if
it were a bag of potatoes, and an5rway she was an extremely
nice looking woman. One had to be kind to her. It was
the only thing to do. So, in this brotherly manner I went
rolling along toward New York trying to make this lady
as comfortable as possible. It was "Louise and Billy" from
the start. She was an exceptionally swift worker. Once
in the city she swore that she just couldn't let me go. Noth-
ing would content her but that we go to tea together and
as I had still a couple of hours before meeting Polly I re-
luctantly consented. Gasoline is high nowadays and I had
shared quite a lot of this fair woman's. Going to tea with
her was the least I could do. But I didn't plan on going
to the exact spot where I was to meet Polly. Nevertheless
this was just where we went — swell hotel with a twilight
tea room. One of those places where one feels at least
compromised after having sat in it with a woman for a
couple of hours. My protests were of no avail. She merely
turned her eyes on me and I felt like a brute for having
interposed an objection. But I hadn't counted on her walk.
This was the most surprising thing. It began at the feet
and progressed by slow, undulating stages along her rakish
frame until it terminated at her shoulders. My eye, what
a walk! She did everything but loop-the-loop. Dimly I
recalled having seen modifications of it before, but never
in my most flapperish days had I seen anything so exag-
gerated as this. At any moment I expected an out of town


buyer to rush up and say that he'd take a couple of dozen
of model m-243. Casting a frightened looked down the
street, I hastened after her into the portals of the hotel.
By the time we entered the tea room I was so fascinated
by that walk, so hypnotized, as it were, that I began, in
spite of every effort to resist, to imitate it, following along
in her tracks very much in the same manner as a trained
collie dog does on the stage. Putting one foot directly be-
fore the other, overlapping them a trifle if possible, and
wiggling all wiggable parts, we swept under full steam
into that fatal tea room, intriguing and intimate under
the soft glow of its dim little blobs of light. A regular
Emile Zola sort of a dump. As luck would have it we
ran smack into a brace of Ensigns hopefully drinking tea
in the shadows. The poor chaps almost lost an eye. Gladly
would I have exchanged places with them if only to be al-
lowed to sweat quietly in a corner and collect my sadly
shattered morale. It is my belief that one of them delib-
erately tripped me as I passed by, but I might be wrong.
The room was impenetrably dark. My statuesque vamp came
to in the middle of the room and after much uncalled for
undulating picked out a clubby little table in a particularly
sombre corner, wiggled herself into it and proceeded to
hold my hand as if she was afraid of losing me, which
she had every justification of being. I have never met a
more unfortunately affectionate woman. Force of habit, I
fancy, or probably just natural good will. As I sat there
I thought bitterly to myself that I knew of exactly 16,999
sailors that would be glad to go on report to change places
with me and I envied each and every one of them. How-
ever, it was a little better when she was sitting. She
couldn't wiggle so much although she managed to toss in a
series of snake-like evolutions from time to time. I swore
by all my gods in Harlem that I would never walk out of
the place in the wake of that woman. Not that I had any
personal objections to it, but I knew that I would be a
marked man if I did, and then there was Polly. At the


thought of Polly I fairly sickened. I would have drowned
myself in the tea cup if my nose hadn't been so long.

"Lady, all I asked for was a hitch," I said huskily.

"I can never let you go," she whispered tragically across
the oppressive gloom, and my God, I believed her !

"So kind," I muttered with lame politeness. "I don't
deserve it."

"We were made for each other," she thrilled back — a
remark that struck me as being quite unreasonable and
without any logical foundation in fact. It terrified me. In
my desperate imagination I could see myself trailing this
woman through life, the both of us vamping like a couple
of licorice sticks on a hot day, with an infuriated Polly on
every corner.

For a long time I had been unpleasantly aware of a
couple of gleaming eyes glaring steadily at us from across
the waste of darkness and there seemed to be something un-
friendly in the way they gleamed; in fact, after watching
them furtively for some time I decided that they were de-
cidedly hostile.

"And to think," says my captor, sighing deeply as she
snuggled up close to me and unlimbered her head on my
shrinking shoulder once more. "And to think," she re-
peated, "that I am married."

Appalled silence.

"But it doesn't matter," she added dream.ily, "nothing

"But it does matter," I almost screamed. "A great many
things matter — I — I'm deeply engaged myself."

"You must break it to her gently," she murmured, kissing
my neck — a sailor's most undefended spot.

"Break it to her gently," I began, and then my voice
failed me — the eyes were approaching us through the dark-
ness, they were growing larger all the time. .

"It's Jack! My husband!" screamed the woman suddenly,
and all the world grew still. Nothing could have been


neck" — Page 68

'aren't there any other beds save mine between here and the
SOUTH?' " — Page 79


more horrible. I found myself almost falling into those
wild, fire-touched eyes.

*'A poor sailor defending his country. Shake hands with
him Jack. Show your patriotism," whispered Louise with
trembling assurance.

Jack proceeded to show his patriotism by uttering a
howl of fury and snatching the cloth clean off the table.
There was a smashing of china, general commotion and
above it all I heard Jack's voice:

"Git outter here,'" he was shouting. "Git outter here
this minute or I'll baste yer one."

I looked up and saw Polly standing in the doorway. She
was pale, but she had nothing on me. A ghost would
have appeared tanned in comparison. There was Polly in
real life standing in the doorway — oh, the horror of it!

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Online LibraryThorne SmithOut o' luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea → online text (page 4 of 7)