"Pritch," said Pyecroft, "be warned in time. If we begin tellin' what we know about each other we'll be turned out of the pub. Not to mention aggravated desertion on several occasions--"

"Never anything more than absence without leaf- I defy you to prove it," said the Sergeant hotly. "An' if it comes to that how about Vancouver in '87?"

"How about it? Who pulled bow in the gig going ashore? Who told Boy Niven . . .?"

"Surely you were court-martialled for that?" I said. The story of Boy Niven who lured seven or eight able-bodied seamen and marines into the woods of British Columbia used to be a legend of the Fleet.

"Yes, we were court-martialled to rights," said Pritchard, "but we should have been tried for murder if Boy Niven 'adn't been unusually tough. He told us he had an uncle 'oo'd give us land to farm. 'E said he was born at the back o' Vancouver Island, and all the time the beggar was a balmy Barnado Orphan!"

"But we believed him," said Pyecroft. "I did - you did - Paterson did - an' 'oo was the Marine that married the cocoanut-woman afterwards - him with the mouth?"

"Oh, Jones, Spit-Kid Jones. I 'aven't thought of 'im in years," said Pritchard. "Yes, Spit-Kid believed it, an' George Anstey and Moon. We were very young an' very curious."

"But lovin' an' trustful to a degree," said Pyecroft.

"'Remember when 'e told us to walk in single file for fear o' bears? 'Remember, Pye, when 'e 'opped about in that bog full o' ferns an' sniffed an' said 'e could smell the smoke of 'is uncle's farm? An' all the time it was a dirty little outlyin' uninhabited island. We walked round it in a day, an' come back to our boat lyin' on the beach. A whole day Boy Niven kept us walkin' in circles lookin' for 'is uncle's farm! He said his uncle was compelled by the law of the land to give us a farm!"

"Don't get hot, Pritch. We believed," said Pyecroft.

"He'd been readin' books. He only did it to get a run ashore an' have himself talked of. A day an' a night - eight of us - followin' Boy Niven round an uninhabited island in the Vancouver archipelago! Then the picket came for us an' a nice pack o' idiots we looked!"

"What did you get for it?" Hooper asked.

"Heavy thunder with continuous lightning for two hours. Thereafter sleet-squalls, a confused sea, and cold, unfriendly weather till conclusion o' cruise," said Pyecroft. "It was only what we expected, but what we felt, an' I assure you, Mr. Hooper, even a sailor-man has a heart to break, was bein' told that we able seamen an' promisin' marines had misled Boy Niven. Yes, we poor back-to-the-landers was supposed to 'ave misled him! He rounded on us, o' course, an' got off easy."

"Excep' for what we gave him in the steerin'-flat when we came out o' cells. 'Eard anything of 'im lately, Pye?"

"Signal Boatswain in the Channel Fleet, I believe - Mr. L. L. Niven is."

"An' Anstey died o' fever in Benin," Pritchard mused. "What come to Moon? Spit-Kid we know about."

"Moon - Moon! Now where did I last . . .? Oh yes, when I was in the Palladium! I met Quigley at Buncrana Station. He told me Moon 'ad run when the Astrild sloop was cruising among the South Seas three years back. He always showed signs o' bein' a Mormonastic beggar. Yes, he slipped off quietly an' they 'adn't time to chase him round the islands even if the navigatin' officer had been equal to the job."

"Wasn't he?" said Hooper.

"Not so. Accordin' to Quigley the Astrild spent half her commission rompin' up the beach like a she-turtle, an' the other half hatching turtles' eggs on the top o' numerous reefs. When she was docked at Sydney her copper looked like Aunt Maria's washing on the line - an' her 'midship frames was sprung. The commander swore the dockyard 'ad done it haulin' the poor thing on to the slips. They do do strange things at sea, Mr. Hooper."

"Ah! I'm not a tax-payer," said Hooper, and opened a fresh bottle. The Sergeant seemed to be one who had a difficulty in dropping subjects.

"How it all comes back, don't it?" he said. "Why, Moon must 'ave 'ad sixteen years' service before he ran."

"It takes 'em at all ages. Look at - you know," said Pyecroft.

"Who?" I asked.

"A service man within eighteen months of his pension, is the party you're thinkin' of," said Pritchard. "A warrant 'oose name begins with a V, isn't it?"

"But, in a way o' puttin' it, we can't say that he actually did desert," Pyecroft suggested.

"Oh no," said Pritchard. "It was only permanent absence up-country without leaf. That was all."

"Up-country?" said Hooper. "Did they circulate his description?"

"What for?" said Pritchard, most impolitely.

"Because deserters are like columns in the war. They don't move away from the line, you see. I've known a chap caught at Salisbury that way tryin' to get to Nyassa . They tell me, but o' course I don't know, that they don't ask questions on the Nyassa Lake Flotilla up there. I've heard of a P. and O. quartermaster in full command of an armed launch there."

"Do you think Click 'ud ha' gone up that way?" Pritchard asked.

"There's no saying. He was sent up to Bloemfontein to take over some Navy ammunition left in the fort. We know he took it over and saw it into the trucks. Then there was no more Click - then or thereafter. Four months ago it transpired, and thus the casus belli stands at present," said Pyecroft.

"What were his marks?" said Hooper again.

"Does the Railway get a reward for returnin' 'em, then?" said Pritchard.

"If I did d'you suppose I'd talk about it?" Hooper retorted angrily.

"You seemed so very interested," said Pritchard with equal crispness.

"Why was he called Click?" I asked, to tide over an uneasy little break in the conversation. The two men were staring at each other very fixedly.

"Because of an ammunition hoist carryin' away," said Pyecroft. "And it carried away four of 'is teeth - on the lower port side, wasn't it, Pritch? The substitutes which he bought weren't screwed home in a manner o' sayin'. When he talked fast they used to lift a little on the bed plate. 'Ence, 'Click.' They called 'im a superior man, which is what we'd call a long, black-'aired, genteely speakin', 'alf-bred beggar on the lower deck."

"Four false teeth on the lower left jaw," said Hooper, his hand in his waistcoat-pocket. "What tattoo marks?"

"Look here," began Pritchard, half rising. "I'm sure we're very grateful to you as a gentleman for your 'orspitality, but per'aps we may 'ave made an error in--"

I looked at Pyecroft for aid. Hooper was crimsoning rapidly.

"If the fat marine now occupying the foc'sle will kindly bring his status quo to an anchor yet once more, we may be able to talk like gentlemen - not to say friends," said Pyecroft. "He regards you, Mr. Hooper, as a emissary of the Law."

"I only wish to observe that when a gentleman exhibits such a peculiar, or I should rather say such a bloomin' curiosity in identification marks as our friend here--"

"Mr. Pritchard," I interposed, "I'll take all the responsibility for Mr. Hooper."

"An' you'll apologise all round," said Pyecroft. "You're a rude little man, Pritch."

"But how was I--" he began, wavering.

"I don't know an' I don't care. Apologise!"

The giant looked round bewildered and took our little hands into his vast grip, one by one.

"I was wrong," he said meekly as a sheep. "My suspicions was unfounded. Mr. Hooper, I apologise."

"You did quite right to look out for your own end o' the line," said Hooper. "I'd ha' done the same with a gentleman I didn't know, you see. If you don't mind I'd like to hear a little more o' your Mr. Vickery . It's safe with me, you see."

"Why did Vickery run," I began, but Pyecroft's smile made me turn my question to "Who was she?"

"She kep' a little hotel at Hauraki - near Auckland," said Pyecroft.

"By Gawd!" roared Pritchard, slapping his hand on his leg. "Not Mrs. Bathurst!"

Pyecroft nodded slowly, and the Sergeant called all the powers of darkness to witness his bewilderment.

"So far as I could get at it Mrs. B. was the lady in question."

"But Click was married," cried Pritchard.

"An' 'ad a fifteen-year-old daughter. 'E's shown me her photograph. Settin' that aside, so to say, 'ave you ever found these little things make much difference? Because I haven't."

"Good Lord Alive an' Watchin'! ... Mrs. Bathurst...." Then with another roar: "You can say what you please, Pye, but you don't make me believe it was any of 'er fault. She wasn't that!" .

"If I was going to say what I please, I'd begin by callin' you a silly ox an' work up to the higher pressures at leisure. I'm trying to say solely what transpired. M'rover, for once you're right. It wasn't her fault."

"You couldn't 'ave made me believe it if it 'ad been," was the answer.

Such faith in a Sergeant of Marines interested me greatly. "Never mind about that," I cried. "Tell me what she was like."

"She was a widow," said Pyecroft. "Left so very young and never re-spliced. She kep' a little hotel for warrants and non-coms close to Auckland, an' she always wore black silk, and 'er neck--"

"You ask what she was like," Pritchard broke in. "Let me give you an instance. I was at Auckland first in '97, at the end o' the Marroquin's commission, an' as I'd been promoted I went up with the others. She used to look after us all, an' she never lost by it- not a penny! 'Pay me now,' she'd say, 'or settle later. I know you won't let me suffer. Send the money from home if you like.' Why, gentlemen all, I tell you I've seen that lady take her own gold watch an' chain off her neck in the bar an' pass it to a bosun 'oo'd come ashore without 'is ticker an' 'ad to catch the last boat. 'I don't know your name,' she said, 'but when you've done with it, you'll find plenty that know me on the front. Send it back by one o' them.' And it was worth thirty pounds if it was worth 'arf a crown. The little gold watch, Pye, with the blue monogram at the back. But, as I was sayin', in those days she kep' a beer that agreed with me - Slits it was called. One way an' another I must 'ave punished a good few bottles of it while we was in the bay - comin' ashore every night or so. Chaffin' across the bar like, once when we were alone, 'Mrs. B.,' I said, 'when next I call I want you to remember that this is my particular - just as you're my particular?' (She'd let you go that far!) 'Just as you're my particular,' I said. 'Oh, thank you, Sergeant Pritchard,' she says, an' put 'er hand up to the curl be'ind 'er ear. Remember that way she had, Pye?"

"I think so," said the sailor.

"Yes, 'Thank you, Sergeant Pritchard,' she says. 'The least I can do is to mark it for you in case you change your mind. There's no great demand for it in the Fleet,' she says, 'but to make sure I'll put it at the back o' the shelf,' an' she snipped off a piece of her hair ribbon with that old dolphin cigar cutter on the bar - remember it, Pye? - an' she tied a bow round what was left - just four bottles. That was '97 - no, '96. In '98 I was in the Resiliant - China station - full commission. In Nineteen One, mark you, I was in the Carthusian, back in Auckland Bay again. Of course I went up to Mrs. B.'s with the rest of us to see how things were goin'. They were the same as ever. (Remember the big tree on the pavement by the side-bar, Pye?) I never said anythin' in special (there was too many of us talkin' to her), but she saw me at once."

" That wasn't difficult?" I ventured.

"Ah, but wait. I was comin' up to the bar, when, 'Ada,' she says to her niece, 'get me Sergeant Pritchard's particular,' and, gentlemen all, I tell you, before I could shake 'ands with the lady, there were those four bottles o' Slits, with 'er 'air ribbon in a bow round each o' their necks, set down in front o' me, an' as she drew the cork she looked at me under her eyebrows in that blindish way she had o' lookin', an', 'Sergeant Pritchard,' she says, 'I do 'ope you 'aven't changed your mind about your particulars.' That's the kind of woman she was - after five years!"

"I don't see her yet somehow," said Hooper, but with sympathy.

Continued


[[Kipling introduces the theme of naval desertion.]<

[[A small preliminary story, theme desertion. Some readers think it parallel in theme to the main story. Used as a transition device. Vancouver Island is a large island off the southwest coast of British Columbia, just north of America's Washington State.]<

[[1. A pointed stake driven into the ground to . . . serve as a defense. 2., Military, "A detachment of one of more soldiers advanced or held in readiness to give warning of enemy approach," from piquer, to prick, pierce. AHD.]

[[Now the narrators, in casual conversation, follow the stories of all of the deserting party.]

[[Mormons are widely known for their polygamy. Moon had "a woman at every port." Vickery was involved in the same sort of naval "polygamy."]

[[The next full story shifts from another desertion story to a mismanaged ship. The Moon story is moving closer to our central narrative, as Moon deserted because of a woman or women.]

[[After Kipling sets the scene in a leisurely fashion, introduces his group narrators, then has them talk about naval men deserting at sea, he finally reaches his actual story.]

[[warrant officer: "an officer of the U.S. armed forces ranking above a noncommissioned officer but below a commissioned officer and holding office on a warrant instead of a commission." Kipling's tale takes place in the social stratum of petty officers.]

[[A large lake bordering NW Mozambique.]

[["Naut. a petty officer or mate trained to steer a ship, perform navigational duties, etc." In military, a quartermaster supplies quarters, clothing, equipment.]

[[Close to the center of South Africa. Now the capitol of Free State.]

[[the status of the war]

[[left hand; "so named because the side toward the part (dock), since the steering oar (see starboard) prevented docking to the right"]

[[Vickery is slightly higher on the social scale then Pyecroft or Pritchard.]

[[1, The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow, forward of the foremast. 2, A superstructure at the bow of a merchant ship, where the crew is housed. AHD] [

[L, "state in which", i.e., "existing condition or state of affairs," AHD.]

[[Pyecroft and Pritchard had not actually spoken this name yet.]

[[Auckland is on the northeast coast of North Island in New Zealand. Kipling had visited New Zealand in October 1891 and stayed at Auckland. Carrington, 146, writes, after a short description of his trip, "Nothing else survives of Rudyard's visit to New Zealand except a memory of a boating picnic in Wellington harbour, and a phrase he heard spoken at Christchurch, which, years afterwards, he made the starting-point of a story called `Mrs. Bathurst.'" I have not yet found Hauraki, but Hauraki Gulf is the wider bay just outside of Auckland's Waitemata Harbor.
Map of New Zealand ]

[[This story is remarkable for its sexual frankness, but Kipling had dealt with adultery frequently in his early stories, e.g., "Three and--An Extra" and "A Wayside Comedy."]

[[This is a story of human goodness (Mrs. Bathurst), just as it is a story of human betrayal and torment (Vickery)]

[[noncommissioned officer: an enlisted person of any of various grades in the armed forces, as, in the U.S. Army, from corporal to sergeant major inclusive: see also petty officer." Commissioned officer: "an officer in the armed forces holding rank by a commission" -- lowest, second lieutenant or ensign in Navy and Coast Guard]

[[=boatswain, from OE swegen, "servant"; "a ship's warrant officer or petty officer in charge of the deck crew, the rigging, anchors, boats, etc."]