Laying the Hose-pipe Ghost
Laying the Hose-pipe Ghost
BY JAMES B. CONNOLLY
SOMETIMES, for one reason or another, or perhaps without reason at all—it just happens so, say—a handful of gossiping yeomen find themselves together, and when that comes about, from some member (if the session stretches to any length at all) is sure to come a story of particular interest to the guild; and perhaps it ought to be explained that a yeoman’s story is never mistaken in the Navy for a stoker’s, a gunner’s, a quartermaster's—it is never taken for anybody’s but a yeoman’s.
One night, a pleasant enough night topside, but an even pleasanter night below—at least in our part of the ship below—a few of us were gathered in the flag-office, where Dalton, the flag yeoman, sometimes allowed us to call in to see him when his Admiral was ashore. Getting on toward middle age was Dalton, with a head of gray-flecked hair and an old-time schoolmaster's face. A great fellow for books. In the flag-office store room—to get into which he had only to lift a hatch in the deck under his revolving chair and let himself drop—he had a young library, which after-hours he used to delve into for anybody’s or everybody’s benefit. He was particularly strong on folk-lore, and could dig up a few fat volumes any time on the folk-lore of any nation we had ever heard of. He liked to lie flat on his back on the coffer-dam to read, with a row of tin letter-files under his head for a rest, and the electric bulk head and its shade so adjusted as to throw all the light on the page of his book. He had done a lot of reading and writing in his time, and his eyes were getting a little watery. If he had had his way he would have been an author. In the hours of many a night-watch he had tried his hand at little sketches; but somehow or other he could not catch on, he said. Perhaps if he had tried to write as he talked, tell the things just as they popped into his mind, he would have been luckier; but that wasn’t literature, he said, and so most of his written things read like one of’s speeches.
Taps had gone this night, and so it should have been lights out and every body below turned in; but this, as I said, was the Admiral’s office, and only separated from the Admiral’s cabin by a bulkhead. And even the busiest of Jimmy-Legs doesn’t come prowling into the cabin country of a flag-ship after taps.
There came a knock at the door, and following the knock came the Captain’s yeoman. Nothing wrong with the Captain’s yeoman, except that his name was Reginald and he was rather fat for a sailor. Also he had ambitions, which was all right too, only we knew that privately he looked on the rest of us as a lot of loafers who would never rise to our opportunities. He’d been wearing his first-class rating badge a month now, and before his enlistment was out he intended to be a chief petty officer; which was why he was working after hours. But the Captain’s yeoman, this particular Captain’s yeoman, has nothing to do with the story, except that his errand set Dalton off on a new tack.
The Captain’s yeoman had come for a little advice. He always was after advice—or information. A department document had come into the office that day with seventeen endorsements on it, and it had him bluffed. We all laughed at the face he drew. “But,” said Dalton, “so would most of you be bluffed if one of those winged-out documents came at you for the first time. But you’re foolish, son, to be worrying over any little thing like that. Seventeen endorsements! What’s seventeen endorsements? I wonder what you’d think if you’d— Sit down there and listen to me, and it ’ll be time well spent. If you don’t learn enough from it to get that C.P.O. you’re after, then— Well, I won’t call you any names here now. Listen.”
Now this story of Dalton’s is a classic among yeomen. Some of us had heard it before, and it had always been mangled in the telling, through the teller not knowing all the facts, or having perhaps never met any of the principal characters in it. But Dalton not only knew the tale from beginning to end; he was, though he would never admit it in a crowd, himself concerned in it. And now when he began to relate the history of the famous length of hose-pipe, we knew that he would have it right.
“I was in—well, call her the cruiser Savannah—this time—”
“Were you a yeoman, Dallie?”
“Yes, a yeoman, bright Reggie boy; what else d’ y’ think I’d be—a signal girl? A good old ship, the Savannah, and we were tied up to the dock at the navy-yard.”
“Boston yard, was it, Dallie?”
“Never mind what yard it was, son. And I’ll name no names, either, and then by no accident will there be a general court martial coming to me some day. There were three or four other ships fitting out at the same time, and after a while these other three ships got their stores aboard and proceeded to sea, leaving a lot of old gear behind them on the dock.
“We were making ready to pipe water into our ship, when Mr. Kiley, our bosun, always a forehanded chap, thought it all a pity to have to use a brand-new hose for that kind of work. You all know how hose gets lying chafing around, with people stepping on it, carts and wagons running over it, coal-dust grinding into it, and so on. A pity, our bosun thought, to subject our nice new hose to that kind of abuse, when in the condemned heap on the dock there was a length of hose that would do the work, and he put it up to Mr. Renner, the officer of the deck at the time.
“Now Mr. Renner was a new-made Ensign, and we all of us here been long enough in the service to know how it is about a middy that’s just got his commission. We all know how it is with ourselves when we first get our C.P.O.—except you, Reggie, and you’ll get yours some day. Am I right? Sure I am. If there’s one thing on earth we’re going to do then, it’s to live up to regulations.
"No, we’ll never again remember so much about rules and regulations as we do then. No catching us in anything irregular; no. sir. And so with Mr. Renner, the new-made Ensign. He brings out the blue book and shows the bosun.
“‘Look,’ he says. ‘Paragraph fourteen thousand four hundred and forty-two,’ or whatever it was. ‘Hose,’ he goes on to read, ‘is expendable property, to be surveyed and wiped off the property books by condemning to the scrap-heap and sold in the open market to the highest bidder. There,’ says our new-made Ensign to our bosun, ‘is what it says. And according to that, the admiral himself couldn’t take that hose from that scrap-heap without authority. No, not if it was no more than an old shoe-lace he couldn’t.’
“‘But that won’t fill our water-tanks, sir. I’d like to use that hose, sir,’ says the bosun.
“‘M-m!’ says Mr. Renner. ‘M-m! now if Mr. Shinn was aboard—’ Mr. Shinn was our executive. ‘But Mr. Shinn is ashore. However, I’ll tell you what; I will speak to the Captain about it,’ and he steps inside the bulkhead and writes a message to the skipper.
“Now our skipper was a good old soul, and thought a lot of his bosun, and wanted to do everything he could to help him out, but also, like a good many other good old captains in the service, he’d forgotten a lot of this stuff about regulations. Ordinarily—say if ’twas anything to be done out to sea—he’d have said, ‘Why, of course, Kiley; go ahead and do it.’ But this was in a navy-yard, ashore, and when he gets a note with something about regulations in it, he begins to haul to.
“And many a good seagoing old skipper is bluffed the same way about any thing that spells regulations, you betcher.
“So now our good old skipper begins to tumble his hair and pull his mustache and look again at Mr. Renner’s note. At last he tells the messenger to say to Mr. Renner that he will look into it and let him know.
“Another hour of studying, and the Captain calls in his new yeoman—”
“Was that you, Dallie?”
“Never you mind—and cut out the personal questions, Reggie son. And remember you don’t rate any more questions than anybody else here. I’m telling you the story, and I’ll tell all that’s good for you and just the way it happened.
“Now if this yeoman had been better acquainted with his skipper, he’d have been of some use just then. He might have suggested, in a way one of us can at times without interfering—you all know how, without jarring an officer even as topsided as a captain—how the thing could be fixed up without any correspondence game. But this new yeoman hadn’t yet learned what his captain’s steaming radius was. And the Captain, having regulations on his brain and not getting the right hint at the psychological time, he 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 seamen-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 spruce shoregoing chief clerk at his elbow. Toward him he didn’t have that same seagoing feeling that he’d have toward one of his old ship’s crew.
“He was a little man, the chief clerk, with a fierce mustache he was always twisting upward. ‘Heels’ and ‘High heel Bill’ 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 to 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 has his little spells, he says to the commandant, ‘I think, sir, we’ll have to refer it.’
“‘Refer it? To who?’
“‘The captain of the yard.’
“‘Captain of the— D’ y’ mean to stand there and tell me 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—’
“‘Well, 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 lazy 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 High-heel Bill, 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 offhand, 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. 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.
“And this yard captain didn’t intend to, and so he added Endorsement No. 2, saying that 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 swim ming 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 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 as she rated only a lieutenant-commander, they could never ask her first. 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 begged leave to be informed. Did she know anything about the section of hose in question, and if so, what? And forwarded it to the battleship Missalama, care of postmaster at Manila, P. I. And when it came back, after thirty or forty thousand miles of travel that was, she 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 mean time had gone to sea and returned home again, and was new 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; where at she begged leave to say that at the time of her collision with the collier Ariadne 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, be 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 mail-packet missed her there. On to her next stop, Punta Arenas in Magellan Strait, 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 Strait, 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 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 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 ’ve 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 seagoing or shoregoing 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-deeks, from masthead to keelson, from figurehead to jackstaff; 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. 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 bosun and the gunner. The bosun was Mr. Kiley, the same old bosun 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 bosun 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 bosun, ‘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 bosun 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 bosun. ‘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 mud-hooks 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. 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 nozzle 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 shoregoing 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 N0. 68
U.S.S. Texarkhoma, Hong-kong, China,
Date So and so.
Respectfully returned, with the information that the need for the section of hose-pipe no longer exists, for the reason that we filled the Savannah’s tanks with it seven years ago.
Your obedient servant,
and signs his own name and rating, 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 there, he had to admit to himself he didn’t have so very much the best of High-heel Bill of the navy yard. So he looks it over again; fat as a history of the Roman Empire, and weighed—Willoughby 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 deck-weight. He hated to lose that deck-weight, a relic of the Santiago fight, but a good cause this—a good cause. He unscrews 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 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 phosphorous 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 overboardl’ 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 seamen on watch on the for’ard bridge, ‘Man overboard, sir!’ they yell, and the watch-officer orders. ‘Hard over 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!—Away Gig No. 1! Away No. 2! Whale-boats away! Nos. 1 and 2—Cutters away!’ and it was, ‘Search-lights all clear, sir!’ 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, ‘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 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, his feet hanging, with heels drumming against the coffer-dam sides. After he had done he pushed himself by the palms of his hands, rolled on to his back, rearranged his row of tin letter-files, shifted his electric wall-light, readjusted his neck to his improvised head-rest, picked up a fat folk-lore volume, and waited, with his eyes twinkling down on us, for somebody to say something.
“And how long ago was that, Dallie?” asked somebody, at last.
“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 a yeoman, an enlisted man?”
“And nothing more from anybody? Not from Washington, either?”
“Nothing, inquisitive child. But there’s an old flat-footed friend of mine in the department—I spoke about him in the beginning of the story—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 almost sure to turn around and say to the man at the nearest desk, ‘What d’ y’ s’pose ever be =came 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 penholder, and after a while he’ll say: ‘That’s so; I wonder what ever did become of that? But that ’ll turn up again, no fear.’
“But it won’t,” concluded the flag yeoman, with a smile we could have buried one of his tin letter-files in; “for we were two hundred miles out of Hongkong at that time, steaming 14.6 miles an hour through the China Sea, and you know it’s good and deep there. And now”—he rolled flat on his back, balanced his neck on the head-rest under the bulk head light, and his fat book on his chest—“now I’m not advising anybody, and particularly not you, Fatty, but that’s the way a competent yeoman, with a little advice from a couple of shipmates, laid that hose~pipe ghost of other days. But mind, I’m not telling you to go and do anything like that.”
“No, of course not,” says our Captain’s yeoman, and rubs his fat chin.
“But if you do,” says Dalton, and sets his head sideways to see how Reginald was taking it—“if you do, you’d make a hit with your skipper, you betcher—only he’d never tell you.”
“Why wouldn’t he, if he liked it?”
“Why? ’Twouldn’t be regulations. And now, you fellows, beat it. Seven bells gone and the Old Man is due aboard at twelve o’clock. Besides, I want a chance to peruse a little improving literature before I turn in myself. So beat it, all of you.”
And out into the passageways and up the hatchways we beat it; all but our Captain’s fat yeoman, who went back to his office—with a contemplative look.