War by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
A small but strong lamp was burning in the fo'c'sle of the schooner
Greyhound, by the light of which a middle-aged seaman of sedate
appearance sat crocheting an antimacassar. Two other men were snoring
with deep content in their bunks, while a small, bright-eyed boy sat
up in his, reading adventurous fiction.
"Here comes old Dan," said the man with the anti-macassar
warningly, as a pair of sea boots appeared at the top of the
companion-ladder; "better not let him see you with that paper,
The boy thrust it beneath his blankets, and, lying down, closed his
eyes as the new comer stepped on to the floor.
"All asleep?" inquired the latter.
The other man nodded, and Dan, without any further parley, crossed
over to the sleepers and shook them roughly.
"Eh! wha's matter?" inquired the sleepers plaintively.
"Git up," said Dan impressively, "I want to speak to you. Something
With sundry growls the men complied, and, thrusting their legs out
of their bunks, rolled on to the locker, and sat crossly waiting for
"I want to do a pore chap a good turn," said Dan, watching them
narrowly out of his little black eyes, "an' I want you to help me; an'
the boy too. It's never too young to do good to your fellow-creatures,
"I know it ain't," said Billy, taking this as permission to join
the group; "I helped a drunken man home once when I was only ten years
old, an' when I was only—"
The speaker stopped, not because he had come to the end of his
remarks, but because one of the seamen had passed his arm around his
neck and was choking him.
"Go on," said the man calmly; "I've got him. Spit it out, Dan, and
none of your sermonising."
"Well, it's like this, Joe," said the old man; "here's a pore chap,
a young sojer from the depot here, an' he's cut an' run. He's been in
hiding in a cottage up the road two days, and he wants to git to
London, and git honest work and employment, not shooting, an'
stabbing, an' bayoneting—"
"Stow it," said Joe impatiently.
"He daren't go to the railway station, and he dursen't go outside
in his uniform," continued Dan. "My 'art bled for the pore young
feller, an' I've promised to give 'im a little trip to London with us.
The people he's staying with won't have him no longer. They've only
got one bed, and directly he sees any sojers coming he goes an' gits
into it, whether he's got his boots on or not."
"Have you told the skipper?" inquired Joe sardonically.
"I won't deceive you, Joe, I 'ave not," replied the old man. "He'll
have to stay down here of a daytime, an' only come on deck of a night
when it's our watch. I told 'im what a lot of good-'arted chaps you
was, and how—"
"How much is he going to give you?" inquired Joe impatiently.
"It's only fit and proper he should pay a little for the passage,"
"How MUCH?" demanded Joe, banging the little triangular table with
his fist, and thereby causing the man with the antimacassar to drop a
couple of stitches.
"Twenty-five shillings," said old Dan reluctantly; "an' I'll spend
the odd five shillings on you chaps when we git to Limehouse."
"I don't want your money," said Joe; "there's a empty bunk he can
have; and mind, you take all the responsibility—I won't have nothing
to do with it."
"Thanks, Joe," said the old man, with a sigh of relief; "he's a
nice young chap, you're sure to take to him. I'll go and give him the
tip to come aboard at once."
He ran up on deck again and whistled softly, and a figure, which
had been hiding behind a pile of empties, came out, and, after looking
cautiously around, dropped noiselessly on to the schooner's deck, and
followed its protector below.
"Good evening, mates," said the linesman, gazing curiously and
anxiously round him as he deposited a bundle on the table, and laid
his swagger cane beside it.
"What's your height?" inquired Joe abruptly. "Seven foot?"
"No, only six foot four," said the new arrival, modestly. "I'm not
proud of it. It's much easier for a small man to slip off than a big
"It licks me," said Joe thoughtfully, "what they want 'em back
for—I should think they'd be glad to git rid o' such"—he paused a
moment while politeness struggled with feeling, and added, "skunks."
"P'raps I've a reason for being a skunk, p'raps I haven't,"
retorted Private Smith, as his face fell.
"This'll be your bunk," interposed Dan hastily; "put your things in
there, and when you are in yourself you'll be as comfortable as a
oyster in its shell."
The visitor complied, and, first extracting from the bundle some
tins of meat and a bottle of whiskey, which he placed upon the table,
nervously requested the honour of the present company to supper. With
the exception of Joe, who churlishly climbed back into his bunk, the
men complied, all agreeing that boys of Billy's age should be reared
on strong teetotal principles.
Supper over, Private Smith and his protectors retired to their
couches, where the former lay in much anxiety until two in the
morning, when they got under way.
"It's all right, my lad," said Dan, after the watch had been set,
as he came and stood by the deserter's bunk; "I 've saved you—I've
saved you for twenty-five shillings."
"I wish it was more," said Private Smith politely.
The old man sighed—and waited.
"I'm quite cleaned out, though," continued the deserter, "except
fi'pence ha'penny. I shall have to risk going home in my uniform as it
"Ah, you'll get there all right," said Dan cheerfully; "and when
you get home no doubt you 've got friends, and if it seems to you as
you 'd like to give a little more to them as assisted you in the hour
of need, you won't be ungrateful, my lad, I know. You ain't the sort."
With these words old Dan, patting him affectionately, retired, and
the soldier lay trying to sleep in his narrow quarters until he was
aroused by a grip on his arm.
"If you want a mouthful of fresh air you 'd better come on deck
now," said the voice of Joe; "it's my watch. You can get all the sleep
you want in the daytime."
Glad to escape from such stuffy quarters, Private Smith clambered
out of his bunk and followed the other on deck. It was a fine clear
night, and the schooner was going along under a light breeze; the
seaman took the wheel, and, turning to his companion, abruptly
inquired what he meant by deserting and worrying them with six foot
four of underdone lobster.
"It's all through my girl," said Private Smith meekly; "first she
jilted me, and made me join the army; now she's chucked the other
fellow, and wrote to me to go back."
"An' now I s'pose the other chap'll take your place in the army,"
said Joe. "Why, a gal like that could fill a regiment, if she liked.
Pah! They'll nab you too, in that uniform, and you'll get six months,
and have to finish your time as well."
"It's more than likely," said the soldier gloomily. "I've got to
tramp to Manchester in these clothes, as far as I can see."
"What did you give old Dan all your money for?" inquired Joe.
"I was only thinking of getting away at first," said Smith, "and I
had to take what was offered."
"Well, I'll do what I can for you," said the seaman. "If you're in
love, you ain't responsible for your actions. I remember the first
time I got the chuck. I went into a public-house bar, and smashed all
the glass and bottles I could get at. I felt as though I must do
something. If you were only shorter, I'd lend you some clothes."
"You're a brick," said the soldier gratefully.
"I haven't got any money I could lend you either," said Joe. "I
never do have any, somehow. But clothes you must have."
He fell into deep thought, and cocked his eye aloft as though
contemplating a cutting-out expedition on the sails, while the
soldier, sitting on the side of the ship, waited hopefully for a
"You'd better get below again," said Joe presently.
"There seems to be somebody moving below; and if the skipper sees
you, you're done. He's a regular Tartar, and he's got a brother what's
a sergeant-major in the army. He'd give you up d'rectly if he spotted
"I'm off," said Smith; and with long, cat-like strides he
disappeared swiftly below.
For two days all went well, and Dan was beginning to congratulate
himself upon his little venture, when his peace of mind was rudely
disturbed. The crew were down below, having their tea, when Billy, who
had been to the galley for hot water, came down, white and scared.
"Look here," he said nervously, "I've not had anything to do with
this chap being aboard, have I?"
"What's the matter?" inquired Dan quickly.
"It's all found out," said Billy.
"WHAT!" cried the crew simultaneously.
"Leastways, it will be," said the youth, correcting himself. "You'd
better chuck him overboard while you've got time. I heard the cap'n
tell the mate as he was coming down in the fo'c'sle to-morrow morning
to look round. He's going to have it painted."
"This," said Dan, in the midst of a painful pause, "this is what
comes of helping a fellow-creature. What's to be done?"
"Tell the skipper the fo'c'sle don't want painting," suggested
The agonised old seaman, carefully putting down his saucer of tea,
cuffed his head spitefully.
"It's a smooth sea," said he, looking at the perturbed countenance
of Private Smith, "'an there's a lot of shipping about. If I was a
deserter, sooner than be caught, I would slip overboard to-night with
a lifebelt and take my chance."
"I wouldn't," said Mr. Smith, with much decision.
"You wouldn't? Not if you was quite near another ship?" cooed Dan.
"Not if I was near fifty blooming ships, all trying to see which
could pick me up first," replied Mr. Smith, with some heat.
"Then we shall have to leave you to your fate," said Dan solemnly.
"If a man's unreasonable, his best friends can do nothing for him."
"Chuck all his clothes overboard, anyway," said Billy.
"That's a good idea o' the boy's. You leave his ears alone," said
Joe, stopping the ready hand of the exasperated Dan. "He's got more
sense than any of us. Can you think of anything else, Billy? What
shall we do then?"
The eyes of all were turned upon their youthful deliverer, those of
Mr. Smith being painfully prominent. It was a proud moment for Billy,
and he sat silent for some time, with a look of ineffable wisdom and
thought upon his face. At length he spoke.
"Let somebody else have a turn," he said generously.
The voice of the antimacassar worker broke the silence.
"Paint him all over with stripes of different-coloured paint, and
let him pretend he's mad, and didn't know how he got here," he said,
with an uncontrollable ring of pride at the idea, which was very
coldly received, Private Smith being noticeably hard on it.
"I know," said Billy shrilly, clapping his hands. "I've got it, I
've got it. After he's chucked his clothes overboard to-night, let him
go overboard too, with a line."
"And tow him the rest o' the way, and chuck biscuits to him, I
suppose," snarled Dan.
"No," said the youthful genius scornfully; "pretend he's been upset
from a boat, and has been swimming about, and we heard him cry out for
help and rescued him."
"It's about the best way out of it," said Joe, after some
deliberation; "it's warm weather, and you won't take no harm, mate. Do
it in my watch, and I'll pull you out directly."
"Wouldn't it do if you just chucked a bucket of water over me and
SAID you'd pulled me out," suggested the victim. "The other thing
seems a downright LIE."
"No," said Billy authoritatively, "you've got to look half-drowned,
and swallow a lot of water, and your eyes be all bloodshot."
Everybody being eager for the adventure, except Private Smith, the
arrangements were at once concluded, and the approach of night
impatiently awaited. It was just before midnight when Smith, who had
forgotten for the time his troubles in sleep, was shaken into
"Cold water, sir?" said Billy gleefully.
In no mood for frivolity, Private Smith rose and followed the youth
on deck. The air struck him as chill as he stood there; but, for all
that, it was with a sense of relief that he saw Her Majesty's uniform
go over the side and sink into the dark water.
"He don't look much with his padding off, does he?" said Billy, who
had been eyeing him critically.
"You go below," said Dan sharply.
"Garn," said Billy indignantly; "I want to see the fun as well as
you do. I thought of it."
"Fun?" said the old man severely. "Fun? To see a feller creature
suffering, and perhaps drowned—"
"I don't think I had better go," said the victim; "it seems rather
"Yes, you will," said Joe. "Wind this line round an' round your
arm, and just swim about gently till I pull you in."
Sorely against his inclination Private Smith took hold of the line,
and, hanging over the side of the schooner, felt the temperature with
his foot, and, slowly and tenderly, with many little gasps, committed
his body to the deep. Joe paid out the line and waited, letting out
more line, when the man in the water, who was getting anxious, started
to come in hand over hand.
"That'll do," said Dan at length.
"I think it will," said Joe, and, putting his hand to his mouth,
gave a mighty shout. It was answered almost directly by startled roars
from the cabin, and the skipper and mate came rushing hastily upon
deck, to see the crew, in their sleeping gear, forming an excited
group round Joe, and peering eagerly over the side.
"What's the matter?" demanded the skipper.
"Somebody in the water, sir," said Joe, relinquishing the wheel to
one of the other seamen, and hauling in the line. "I heard a cry from
the water and threw a line, and, by gum, I've hooked it!"
He hauled in, lustily aided by the skipper, until the long white
body of Private Smith, blanched with the cold, came bumping against
the schooner's side.
"It's a mermaid," said the mate, who was inclined to be
superstitious, as he peered doubtfully down at it. "Let it go, Joe."
"Haul it in, boys," said the skipper impatiently; and two of the
men clambered over the side and, stooping down, raised it from the
In the midst of a puddle, which he brought with him, Private Smith
was laid on the deck, and, waving his arms about, fought wildly for
"Fetch one of them empties," said the skipper quickly, as he
pointed to some barrels ranged along the side.
The men rolled one over, and then aided the skipper in placing the
long fair form of their visitor across it, and to trundle it lustily
up and down the deck, his legs forming convenient handles for the
"He's coming round," said the mate, checking them; "he's speaking.
How do you feel, my poor fellow?"
He put his ear down, but the action was unnecessary. Private Smith
felt bad, and, in the plainest English he could think of at the
moment, said so distinctly.
"He's swearing," said the mate. "He ought to be ashamed of
"Yes," said the skipper austerely; "and him so near death too. How
did you get in the water?"
"Went for a—swim," panted Smith surlily.
"SWIM?" echoed the skipper. "Why, we're ten miles from land!"
"His mind's wandering, pore feller," interrupted Joe hurriedly.
"What boat did you fall out of, matey?"
"A row-boat," said Smith, trying to roll out of reach of the
skipper, who was down on his knees flaying him alive with a
roller-towel. "I had to undress in the water to keep afloat. I've lost
all my clothes."
"Pore feller," said Dan.
"A gold watch and chain, my purse, and three of the nicest fellers
that ever breathed," continued Smith, who was now entering into the
spirit of the thing.
"Poor chaps," said the skipper solemnly. "Any of 'em leave any
"Four," said Smith sadly.
"Children?" queried the mate.
"Families," said Smith.
"Look here," said the mate, but the watchful Joe interrupted him.
"His mind's wandering," said he hastily. "He can't count, pore
chap. We 'd better git him to bed."
"Ah, do," said the skipper, and, assisted by his friends, the
rescued man was half led, half carried below and put between the
blankets, where he lay luxuriously sipping a glass of brandy and
water, sent from the cabin.
"How'd I do it?" he inquired, with a satisfied air.
"There was no need to tell all them lies about it," said Dan
sharply; "instead of one little lie you told half-a-dozen. I don't
want nothing more to do with you. You start afresh now, like a
"All right," said Smith shortly; and, being very much fatigued with
his exertions, and much refreshed by the brandy, fell into a deep and
The morning was well advanced when he awoke, and the fo'c'sle empty
except for the faithful Joe, who was standing by his side, with a heap
of clothing under his arm.
"Try these on," said he, as Smith stared at him half awake;
"they'll be better than nothing, at any rate."
The soldier leaped from his bunk and gratefully proceeded to dress
himself, Joe eyeing him critically as the trousers climbed up his long
legs, and the sleeves of the jacket did their best to conceal his
"What do I look like?" he inquired anxiously, as he finished.
"Six foot an' a half o' misery," piped the shrill voice of Billy
promptly, as he thrust his head in at the fo'c'sle. "You can't go to
church in those clothes."
"Well, they'll do for the ship, but you can't go ashore in 'em,"
said Joe, as he edged towards the ladder, and suddenly sprang up a
step or two to let fly at the boy, "The old man wants to see you; be
careful what you say to him."
With a very unsuccessful attempt to appear unconscious of the
figure he cut, Smith went up on deck for the interview.
"We can't do anything until we get to London," said the skipper, as
he made copious notes of Smith's adventures. "As soon as we get there,
I'll lend you the money to telegraph to your friends to tell 'em
you're safe and to send you some clothes, and of course you'll have
free board and lodging till it comes, and I'll write out an account of
it for the newspapers."
"You're very good," said Smith blankly.
"And I don't know what you are," said the skipper, interrogatively;
"but you ought to go in for swimming as a profession—six hours'
swimming about like that is wonderful."
"You don't know what you can do till you have to," said Smith
modestly, as he backed slowly away; "but I never want to see the water
again as long as I live."
The two remaining days of their passage passed all too quickly for
the men, who were casting about for some way out of the difficulty
which they foresaw would arise when they reached London.
"If you'd only got decent clothes," said Joe, as they passed
Gravesend, "you could go off and send a telegram, and not come back;
but you couldn't go five yards in them things without having a crowd
"I shall have to be taken I s'pose," said Smith moodily.
"An' poor old Dan'll get six months hard for helping you off," said
Joe sympathetically, as a bright idea occurred to him.
"Rubbish!" said Dan uneasily. "He can stick to his tale of being
upset; anyway, the skipper saw him pulled out of the water. He's too
honest a chap to get an old man into trouble for trying to help him."
"He must have a new rig out, Dan," said Joe softly. "You an' me'll
go an' buy 'em. I'll do the choosing, and you'll do the paying. Why,
it'll be a reg'lar treat for you to lay out a little money, Dan. We'll
have quite an evening's shopping, everything of the best."
The infuriated Dan gasped for breath, and looked helplessly at the
"I'll see him—overboard first," he said furiously.
"Please yourself," said Joe shortly, "If he's caught you'll get six
months. As it is, you've got a chance of doing a nice, kind little
Christian act, becos, o' course, that twenty-five bob you got out of
him won't anything like pay for his toggery."
Almost beside himself with indignation, the old man moved off, and
said not another word until they were made fast to the wharf at
Limehouse. He did not even break silence when Joe, taking him
affectionately by the arm, led him aft to the skipper.
"Me an' Dan, sir," said Joe very respectfully, "would like to go
ashore for a little shopping. Dan has very kindly offered to lend that
pore chap the money for some clothes, and he wants me to go with him
to help carry them."
"Ay, ay," said the skipper, with a benevolent smile at the aged
philanthropist. "You'd better go at once, afore the shops shut."
"We'll run, sir," said Joe, and taking Dan by the arm, dragged him
into the street at a trot.
Nearly a couple of hours passed before they returned, and no child
watched with greater eagerness the opening of a birthday present than
Smith watched the undoing of the numerous parcels with which they were
"He's a reg'lar fairy godmother, ain't he?" said Joe, as Smith
joyously dressed himself in a very presentable tweed suit, serviceable
boots, and a bowler hat. "We had a dreadful job to get a suit big
enough, an' the only one we could get was rather more money than we
wanted to give, wasn't it, Dan?"
The fairy godmother strove manfully with his feelings.
"You'll do now," said Joe. "I ain't got much, but what I have
you're welcome to." He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out
some loose coin. "What have you got, mates?"
With decent good will the other men turned out their pockets, and,
adding to the store, heartily pressed it upon the reluctant Smith,
who, after shaking hands gratefully, followed Joe on deck.
"You've got enough to pay your fare," said the latter; "an' I've
told the skipper you are going ashore to send off telegrams. If you
send the money back to Dan, I'll never forgive you."
"I won't, then," said Smith firmly; "but I'll send theirs back to
the other chaps. Good-bye."
Joe shook him by the hand again, and bade him go while the coast
was clear, advice which Smith hastened to follow, though he turned and
looked back to wave his hand to the crew, who had come up on deck
silently to see him off; all but the philanthropist, who was down
below with a stump of lead-pencil and a piece of paper doing sums.