The first Glencannon omnibus (1938)
SCOTCH AND WATER (1931)
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
THE Inchcliffe Castle, Para to Naples, stuck her rusty snout around the bend of Andalucia and ambled into sheltered waters across which sprawled the purple shadow of Gibraltar. Behind the Rock the sun had climbed an hour high; but Britannia’s Lion, in its towering majesty, shut off all save a few ambitious rays which leaked around its edges, and framed it in a pinkly-glowing aureole.
The full moon, on the other hand — it would have been your left — swung over the white houses of Algeciras, in Spain, and sinking lower, paved a baleful pathway beyond Trafalgar for the wandering footsteps of Admiral Nelson’s unquiet love-sick ghost.
In this strange and lovely moment of borning day and dying night, the Inchcliffe Castle’s anchor let go with a shocking clatter of chains, a vulgar display of sparks, much profanity from the fo’c’sle head and even more from the bridge. The profanity was that of religious men, which is the kind that blisters paint.
The anchor caught in the mud, jerked loose once or twice, stirred up many bubbles and an evil smell, and finally hooked a fluke. Mr. Montgomery, hanging over the bow and seeing the chain stretch taut, waved his hands with the weary yet triumphant gesture of an orchestra leader bringing the Ninth Symphony to a glorious close.
Captain Ball, on the bridge, heaved a stertorous sigh. “Ring off the engines,” he directed; and somewhere down below, the telegraph jingled. Suddenly, disturbingly, the decks ceased to throb and the stanchions to tremble. After eighteen pulsing days the ship seemed no longer to be alive. Silence, torrents of silence, poured in from all sides. And just then the sun, conquering the traditionally-unconquerable, scaled Gibraltar’s heights and sent the night, its moon, and its lovely mystery scurrying away into Africa.
“Hell’s bones!” remarked Captain Ball, unbuttoning his overcoat and taking a cigar from his night-shirt pocket, “What a trip that was!” Resting his elbows on the bridge rail, his eye travelled aft over the battered gear and salt-streaked superstructure which told of a rough and troublous passage.
Mr. Glencannon, the Chief Engineer, appeared on the deck below. At the heels of his oil-soaked carpet slippers toddled a jet black female Scottish terrier with barrel chest, stump legs, and whiskers such as one associates with natives of Aberdeen. Mr. Glencannon strolled to the rail, spat copiously over it, and considered Gibraltar at length — meanwhile wiping his face with a handful of greasy cottonwaste. Then he lifted the dog in his arms, and placed her forepaws on the rail.
“Mary,” he said, “this is Geebraltar, an heestoric port. I’ll first deerect your attention to the street which runs peerpindicular to yon wharf. If ye’ll note the fourth — no, the fufth building on the left, ye’ll be notin’ a pub whuch sells the finest whusky South of the Firth o’ Clyde. And then, on the nuxt street, over toward the naval coal docks, ye’ll see a sma’ house wi’ a red roof. That’s a pub called ‘The Royal Oak,’ after an old ancient freegate ship whuch . . . oh, a vurra gude morning to you, Captain Ball!”
“Good morning, Mr. Glencannon,” and the Captain nodded over the canvas dodger. “How are you and Mary this morning — fit?”
Mr. Glencannon shook his head dolefully. “As fur my ain puir health, the less said the better. But Mary, the little lass, is ailin’ sore. I was aboot to crave yer kind permeesion, Sir, to tak’ her ashoor to a vetereenary, and get him to preescribe.”
“Right-o,” agreed the Captain cheerfully.
“Thanks kindly, Captain Ball,” said Mr. Glencannon, setting Mary on the deck and deftly brushing up her coat. “The lass and I are grateful. We are indeed. Come on, Sweetheart — we’ll ha’ a bit o’ brukfust, we will, and then Papa’ll put on his new uneefurrm, and dress his ain little lass in her tartan collar, and hoot! ashore fo a romp we’ll go!”
“Oh, now, my eye!” exploded Mr. Montgomery, the mate, who had joined Captain Ball upon the bridge. “Did you ever ‘ear such blithering tosh in all your life, Sir?-Mr. Glencannon mykes a bit of an arss of ‘imself over that dog when ‘e sets ‘is mind to it, ‘e does!”
Captain Ball crinkled the corners of his eyes as do men who weren’t born yesterday. “Well, I’ll tell you, Mr. Montgomery, it’s like this. I know as well as you do that he’s going ashore to get drunk. Mr. Glencannon has his weaknesses, as who of us does not? Scripture says that ‘To sin is human,’ and though Mr. Glencannon drinks a full quart of whisky every day, and be damned if I haven’t seen him drink five quarts, we must remember to let he without sin cast the first stone. — Particularly when he’s the only Engineer on the high seas who can handle our rusty old tubercular junk pile of a blank-blanked engine.”
“Well, all I can say is, God ‘elp the Rock of Gibraltar!” grunted Mr. Montgomery, only half convinced. “‘Ere ‘e comes now.”
Mr. Glencannon, brave in his best white cap, the four gold stripes of his rank, and the medal awarded him for saving a German’s life by mistake, stood at the foot of the gangway and invited bids from the yammering bumboatmen to take him ashore. He cut the lowest bid in half, kicked the chin of the nearest competitor, who had sought to seize his arm, and made the trip to the Commercial Wharf for thruppence. With Mary frisking at his heels, he passed through cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses labelled, for example, “Sgt. MaJor Alfred Hoskins, 67th Rgt. R.G.A.,” and “Non-Com. Married Quarters — No Loitering.” The latter sign he felt to be distinctly offensive in its insinuation. “Ha’ no fear!” he muttered toward it. “I’ve better to do than loiter aboot with the she-beef o’ the Royal Garrison Arteelery!” And forthwith be turned into an establishment the window of which displayed a spirited lithograph of the Relief of Lucknow, depicting several bottles of MacCrimmon’s Very Old Liqueur Whisky being put to good use by the beleaguered defenders in the foreground.
He found MacCrimmon’s Very Old to be distinctly creditable stuff — as good, in some respects, as The Laird’s Selected Relics, Clammarty Royal Tartan Blend and Dunleven Particularly Choice. But none of them, of course, could compare with Duggan’s Dew of Kirkintilloch — most gorgeous of all liquids that ever dripped golden from the nozzle of a still to mingle its perfume with that of the heather in the cold Highland mists.
Now, like Duggan’s Dew, Mr. Glencannon hailed from the town of Kirkintilloch, in Dumbartonshire; and the picture on the label made him first happy, then sentimental, and finally homesick. A great grief overcame him; tears coursed his cheeks as he contemplated that label, and he was weeping copiously when he finished the bottle. “Look,” he sobbed, hoisting Mary to the table, “Gaze, Lass, upon the dear fameeliar scenes o’ your childhood! ‘Tis there that our Mothers live. Ye played there as a bairn, and so, alas, did I . . . .” And Mary, falling into the spirit of the occasion, tilted back her head and gave vent to piercing wails. Mr. Glencannon purchased six cases of the whisky, ordered five to be delivered aboard the ship and the sixth to be stowed in a cab. The cab proved to be a spidery victoria driven by a Spaniard in straw hat, short jacket and baggy trousers. Mr. Glencannon and Mary scrambled aboard with the God-speed of the publican and some assistance from the by-standers.
“Where to, Capitan?” inquired the Spaniard.
“How in the hell shud I know?” replied Mr. Glencannon. “Must I act as guide to ye, on ye’re ain native heath?”
“But I come from La Linea, Señor,” protested the Spaniard.
“Vurra weel — let’s go there, then,” and with Mary perched on the seat beside him, Mr. Glencannon dropped off to sleep.
They had clip-clopped out of the streets of the town and were well in sight of the Neutral Strip — a barb-wired belt of land which separates Spain from the Crown Colony of Gibraltar — when the driver reined in his nag. Mr. Glencannon, opening his eyes, saw that they were halted at a house before which paced a sentry in the uniform of the Royal Garrison Artillery. A sign on the place read “H.Q. Frontier Guard. Passes for Spain.” Across the road, under the flat face of the Rock, stretched a field filled with hurdles, water-jumps, cricket greens, polo goal posts, and aeroplane hangars. Upon this field, troops were playing football.
The driver dismounted, entered the house, and shortly emerged with a little green slip which read “North front. Permit until first evening gunfire. John Cochrane, Chief of Frontier Police.”
Mr. Glencannon was considering this suspiciously, and was just about to ask Mary what country they were in, when a disturbing sound came from the distance. At first he thought he only imagined it, and instinctively he glanced at Mary for confirmation. But, yes — her ears were cocked, her tail was wagging, and she was craning her neck around the side of the carriage. It was the sound of bagpipes; and they were playing “Piobair o’ Lochaber.”
“Foosh!” exclaimed Mr. Glencannon, lurching to his feet. “Why, it’s the Argyll and Dumbarton Highlanders!” Mary showed her front teeth in a broad smile and then her entire perfect set in a series of joyous barks. Her little hairy forepaws pattered on the cushions, and she wriggled with excitement. For there, down the long white road, was the head of the approaching column-kilts and sporans swinging to the time, white gaiters slogging up and down, tartan ribbons aflutter on the pipes, and the bass-drummer with his leopard-skin apron whirling his sticks cross-armed, overhead, and behind him in the wild inimitable Highland mannerl! — It was the Dumbartons, beyond a doot — and Mr. Glencannon’s own Cousin Douglas was a Sergeant of the Regiment!
Nearer and nearer they came — the shrill chant and basso drone of the pipes leaping into the air and echoing against the great grey face of the Rock above the plain. Then came the muffled clump of sixteen hundred hobnailed boots, the rhythmic swish of eight hundred tartan kilts! The Dumbartons — the great and glorious Dumbartons! — were marching by! Wheeling smartly before his very carriage, they deployed into the field.
They were going to play football, and so they weren’t carrying their rifles. Numerous sporting Majors, Captains and Subalterns had turned out with the team, and they swung along with their walking sticks beneath their arms and banter upon their lips. And over all, there was a friendly, comfortable smell of venerable Scotch whisky upon the soft Iberian air . . . .
Mr. Glencannon was sniffing deep when suddenly he and Mary beheld a sight which transfixed them. It was the regimental mascot — the handsomest, whiskeriest Scottish terrier in the whole wide world — a rakish, swashbuckling lad wearing a tiny Highland bonnet cocked over one ear, the silver-and-cairngorm badge of the Dumbartons pinned to the side of it. And he toddled along with a man who stood full seven feet high — a giant with a chest the size of the Inchcliffe Castle’s main boiler, and great hairy knees like the oak trees worshipped by the Druids of antiquity. This giant — there could be no mistaking him! — was Mr. Glencannon’s own Cousin Douglas.
Mary cast virginal modesty to the winds, and shrilly yapped her admiration. Cousin Douglas, spotting Mr. Glencannon, gave vent to a joyous “Hoot!” and promptly fell out of the ranks. Mr. Glencannon, not to be outdone, promptly fell out of the carriage.
“Heigh-nanny, lass!” said the terrier with the bonnet, swaggering up to Mary and kissing her full upon her luscious black lips without so much as a by-your-leave. “I’m Jock o’ the Dumbartons, senior dog o’ the reegiment. Welcome to Geebraltar!” Mary stood blushing, eyes downcast but heart throbbing wildly . . . . Mr. Glencannon and Cousin Douglas were slapping each other on the back, saying “Weel, weel, weel, I’ll be domned!” and repeating it over and over again.
“Foosh, Cousin Colin, and it’s gude to see you!” roared the giant at length. “Why, ye domned old ghoul, ye, when did we meet, the last?”
“Let me think, let me think,” said Mr. Glencannon, closing his eyes and grasping the carriage lamp for support. “Why, o’ course! — it was Nineteen-fufteen, when I was Second on the transport takin’ ye oot to G’llipoli.”
“Thurteen years ago — eh, to think of it!” sighed Cousin Douglas and the sigh was as the sound of a locomotive plunging into a tunnel. “Weel,” — and he wrinkled his nose, smacked his lips, and cast his eye on the case of whisky partly concealed by the carriage rug. “Weel, it’s customarra in such happy ceercumstances . . .”
“— I was aboot to suggest it!” hastened Mr. Glencannon. “Coach man, I’ll thank ye for the loan o’ a corkscrew.”
“Dinna trouble yersel’,” said Cousin Douglas, seizing a bottle and smiting it so lustily against his palm that the cork leapt out as from the choicer vintages of Rheims. “Come, Cousin Colin, do we mount yon carriage the twa o’ us, an’ go see the bullfight over in Spanish Town. T’wull be better than the futball. But feerst, let us drink a drap to our happy meeting. Here — I’ll open another bottle so we’ll both have one.” . . . He tilted his own quart beneath his bristly red moustache; and when he took it down again, lo, it was only a pint.
“Haw!” he snorted, closing his eyes ecstatically and holding the bottle at arm’s length, “Tis the Dew o’ Kirkintilloch! I dinna ha’ to look at the label — I reccognize the way it treeckles doon an cozeys my sluggish liver! ‘Tis a happy meetin’, Cousin Colin — a happy meetin’ indeed!”
He climbed aboard the carriage, which groaned in every joint and took an alarming list to starboard as he settled into the seat. Mr. Glencannon was about to join him, when he saw Mary and the mascot joyfully gambolling across the troop-filled field.
“‘Tis a-richt, peerfectly a-richt,” Cousin Douglas assured him, “Let the little tykes frusk aboot while the lads are playin’ futball. I’ll tell MacPheerson and MacColquhoun to keep an eye on them, and leave them with Corporal MacClintoch at the Frontier guard house. — Ye see,” he explained, “We’re off juty today to play the 67th Arteelery — attendance optional. My time’s my ain till evening gun. So, carra on, coachman!”
The driver beat several clouds of dust out of the hide of his nag, and headed for the border. At the British side they were halted by a Highlander who blanched perceptibly as he recognized Sergeant Douglas Glencannon.
“I’ll thank ye for a look at your passes, gentlemen,” he said, saluting.
“Tak’ a gude look at this, Corporal MacClintoch!” replied Cousin Douglas, extending a fist the size of a hoof, and quivering it threateningly beneath the guardian’s nose. “Tak’ a verra gude look, while ye’re still alive to see it!”
“Thank ye,” said Corporal MacClintoch, backing up a trifle, and saluting again, “Yere passes are sateesfactorra.”
They jogged across the Neutral Strip — a stretch of meadow in which the kine of Castile and Britain browsed in sisterly contentment — and paused again, for inspection at the Spanish Customs. The aduanero was a fat gentleman in a blue uniform and a sword left over from the American War. “Have you tobacco or spirits?” he asked in perfect English.
“I dinna ken your lingo,” replied Cousin Douglas, smacking a fresh bottle against his palm, and watching the cork sail into a roadside cactus. “Drive on, gilly!”
The coachman was plainly troubled. “Tell heem you have no the tobacco, no the alcohol,” he whispered.
Without removing his feet from the opposite cushions, Cousin Douglas leaned halfway across the road and seized the aduanero by the throat. Dragging him to the side of the carriage he shook him playfully.
“Pass!” gurgled the guard, retreating into his hut and swallowing diligently — “Vaya con Dios!” The driver clucked to his horse, and five minutes later they turned into the main street of La Linea de la Concepcion, headed for the bull ring. Evidently, from the cheering, the corrida was already in progress.
Arrived at the Plaza, Mr. Glencannon dismounted first. “Do ye please tak’ charge o’ the refreeshments, Cousin Dooglas, while I pay for the cab,” he said, handing the driver a counterfeit Costa Rican colon and three brass Chinese coins with holes in them. The Spaniard raised his voice in protest, whereupon Cousin Douglas, standing in the carriage with the case of whisky under his arm, jumped into the air thrice and so mightily that the vehicle broke into two distinct halves. As he stood triumphant in the splintered wreck of the rear section, the terrified horse, the driver and the front wheels vanished in a dust-cloud down the street.
A crowd collected, and through it five cocked-hatted policemen shouldered their way. They took one look at Cousin Douglas, and shouldered their way out again.
Mr. Glencannon placed a shilling on the ledge of the ticket booth. “Twa!” he ordered, holding up two fingers. The Spaniard shook his head and pointed at the scale of prices. “Dos duros, Señores,” he said.
“Twa duros!” snorted Cousin Douglas, “Why, ‘tis rank extortion! Dinna submeet to it, Cousin Colin, dinna submeed” Seizing the ticket booth by one of its upper corners, he rocked it back and forth so violently that the Spaniard, the cash-till and two chairs went rattling about the interior like peas in a withered pod. Then, reaching through the window, he seized a sheaf of tickets and led the way through the cool shadowy tunnel which gave access to the seats.
They entered the first vacant box and were about to sit down when the audience burst into a storm of frenzied “vivas!” Ortiz, the Seville Sticker, had manoeuvred his bull into a perfect pase de la firma, and dispatched him with a masterly thrust. “Oreja! Oreja!” screamed the crowd; and at a sign from the President of the corrida, a man sliced an ear off the bull and handed it — the highest of honors — to the matador.
Ortiz, in his heelless slippers, strutted bowing around the sombra side of the arena, amid a shower of hats, fans, and flowers.
“Oh!” exclaimed Mr. Glencannon, “Look, Cousin Dooglas — you can throw things! Foosh! what fun!” And falling wholeheartedly into the spirit of it all, he tossed a chair over the barrier and knocked the matador flat.
In that instant the cheers turned into the menacing roar of a mob whose idol has been desecrated. Wheeling about, Cousin Douglas saw a thousand Spaniards descending upon them with murder in their eyes. His bottle was almost empty; so hesitating only to empty it completely, he hurled it into the front rank with withering effect. Four chairs were handy, and he flung them with unerring aim. A policeman appeared with drawn sword. Cousin Douglas seized the sword, spanked him with it, and grasped him by the belt and threw him across seven tiers of seats. The seats were vacant — in fact by this time they had an entire section of the arena to themselves.
“Weel,” he said, languidly settling himself beside Mr. Glencannon, who had been busy uncorking bottles, “We can better enjoy the speectacle the noo, without the fumes o’ garlic from yon feelthy Spaniards.”
“Ye’re richt,” agreed Mr. Glencannon, impatiently viewing the group which bore Ortiz from the arena on a stretcher, “But if they dinna proceed with their domned bull-sticking soon, I shall deemand our money back.”
“A verra reasonable and tolerant deecision, Cousin Colin! We’re being imposed upon by these swundling foreigners, and it’s time we asseerted oursel’s!”
Grasping the captured sword, he was about to go out and complain to the management when a fanfare of trumpets gave him pause. A herald appeared upon the bloody sand below.
“Hoot!” applauded Mr. Glencannon, pounding his bottle on the ledge of the box, “He’s aboot to eloqute! Lusten closely, Cousin Dooglas!”
Choosing his words according to the conventions of the Corrida, the herald announced that El Vaquerito, the thrice-eminent espada from Bilbao, would match wits with a bull “con buenos adornos en la pensadora” — which meant a most intelligent bull indeed. The bull, he went on to say, was none other than El Maquinista . . . .
“L. MacKinister!” exclaimed Mr. Glencannon, “Did ye hear that name, Cousin Dooglas?”
“I canna believe my ears! Why, he must be a MacKinister o’ Kirkintilloch! A Scottish bull!”
Mr. Glencannon grasped him by the arm. “Cousin Dooglas,” he hissed, “We canna permeet it!”
“Ye’re domned richt we canna!” boomed Cousin Douglas, seizing his sword, shoving the two remaining bottles into his sporan, and rising to his full seven feet, “Come, Cousin Colin — the Glen- cannons are gaein’ to the wars!”
They vaulted the rail of the box and clambered over the barrier into the arena. Three thousand Spaniards shouted, but only twenty interfered. Cousin Douglas attended to fourteen, and Mr. Glencannon disposed of six. “‘Twas dry and theersty work,” observed Mr. Glencannon, surveying the scene of carnage, — “Thank ye, Cousin Dooglas — I ha’ a bottle o’ my ain.”
Occupied as they were, neither of them saw El Maquinista as he rushed snorting into the sunlight. Spotting Cousin Douglas’s flaming scarlet kilt from afar, he thundered toward it. A mighty shout came from the audience.
“Lusten to them, Cousin Dooglas — why, I do believe they’re giving us a cheer!” Mr. Glencannon raised his cap in a graceful gesture of acknowledgment, and Cousin Douglas made a courtly bow. As he did so, El Maquinista’s horn very neatly removed his kilt, and left him with nothing below the waist save gaiters, shoes and stockings.
“Oh, shame, shame, Cousin Dooglas!” cried Mr. Glencannon, “Quick, lad — do ye stand in back o’ me and pull down your sporan!”
“‘Twull be inadeequate,” announced Cousin Douglas, “Look yonder, Colin — that domned bull has trompled my kilt all to nowt!”
A great rage came upon him. Despite Mr. Glencannon’s scandalised protests, he strode across the arena and addressed the bewildered bull.
“Ye lout, ye!” he shouted, shaking his fist in the animal’s face, “Ye ruddy garlic-eating impostor, ye! Ye’re no Scot — ye’re a feelthy, treecherous, back-knifing Spaniard, that’s what ye are!”
El Maquinista bellowed, put down his head, and charged. Cousin Douglas stood his ground and met the charge with a right to the nose and a left jab to the eye. Stepping in, he landed blow after blow, every one of which jolted the bull from stem to stern.
“I’ll knock ye oot, ye big booby, ye!” panted Cousin Douglas, “Another minute, and I’ll uncoork the uppercut that made me Champion o’ the Breetish Army.”
Mr. Glencannon took out his watch, and stood solemnly by, ready to time the count. El Maquinista, both eyes closed and bleeding at the nose, was groggy on his feet when the bullfighters intervened. As they drove the bull out of the arena Cousin Douglas knocked out a couple of toreros for good measure. “Quick, Cousin Colin!” he shouted, “Help me borrow their troosers!” Together they had yanked most of the clothing off the limp Spaniards, when they saw five picadors galloping toward them, lances couched.
“Run for yere life, Cousin Dooglas — here comes the cavalry!” warned Mr. Glencannon; and dropping most of their spoils, they sprinted for the runway down which El Maquinista had vanished. He was standing just within the entrance, but he hastily stood aside when he recognized Cousin Douglas.
Climbing over the wall of the runway, they plunged into the labyrinthian foundations of the stadium. In the distance, they heard the hue and cry raised after them. Groping on their way, they came to a hole in the wall, and they crawled through it to find themselves in the back yard of a wine-shop.
“Foosh!” said Mr. Glencannon. “What a happy coeencidence! Let us gae in, Cousin Dooglas, and subdue the proprieter.”
The tabernero was alone among his wine barrels, so Cousin Douglas imprisoned him within one, and sat upon it. “Oh, deary me, but I’ve a theerst on me!” he said, “Mak’ haste, Cousin Colin, and let us quaff our fill.”
“Verra weel,” agreed Mr. Glencannon, inspecting the rows of bottles on the shelf, “I canna read any o’ them, so we’ll ha’ to sample them all.”
At this point things became curiously garbled. It seemed that a great deal was transpiring over a long period of time, but Mr. Glencannon’s next really definite impression was of a splitting headache. He lay with eyes closed, his very soul cringing as white hot twinges of migraine surged through his brain.
Opening his eyes, he found that he was in his own room aboard the Inchcliffe Castle, and that he was wearing the green velvet jacket of a Spanish matador. Painfully hoisting himself to a sitting posture, he saw Mary Queen of Scots upon the floor, contentedly chewing a bull’s ear.
“Bless me, I remember noo!” he chuckled, “Daddy brought it hame to his lass as a souvenir of Spain.”
Mary wagged her tail and continued chewing.
“Weel,” sighed Mr. Glencannon, lurching to his feet, “I wonder if we’ve coaled yet. Why! I do believe we’re at sea!” He peered through the port at a blue expanse of Mediterranean across which trailed a long black smudge from the Inchcliffe Castle’s funnel. He opened the port and gratefully gulped down the fresh, cool breeze. In the corner of his room were piled the five new cases of the Dew of Kirkintilloch, and uncorking a bottle, he poured himself a brimming tumblerful.
“Thur’s no cure for dog-bite like the hair of the dog that bit ye!” he remarked to Mary, tossing it off and smacking his lips. Then, donning his working clothes, he made his way to the engine room — head clear, step brisk, and hand steady.
“Strike me ruddy, but the Chief’s a wonder!” observed Mr. Swales, the Second Mate. “To look at ‘im, this arfternoon, you’d think ‘e was the H’Archbishop of Canterb’ry!”
“‘Is recuperating powers are remarkable,” agreed Mr. Montgomery. “I ‘ad ‘Ell’s own time gettin’ ‘im out of the tender larst night. There was ‘im and another wild man — a non-com. ‘Igh- lander nine foot tall, with nothing on below the wyste but one of them ‘airy Scotch tobacco-pouches, like. Singin’ ‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,’ they were, and drinking out of bottles. They ‘ad another of them black tykes with ‘em, syme as Mary — wearing a little Scotch bonnet, ‘e was.”
“Well, the Scotch are a mad race,” said Mr. Swales.
“Mad as ‘Ell,” agreed Mr. Montgomery, “And Mr. Glencannon’s the maddest of the lot. But despite ‘is quart a day, not counting ‘olidays, he’s a great engineer, Mr. Swales, a great engineer.”
Some weeks later, though (they had called at Naples, gone to Cattaro, thence to Odessa, and were westward bound in the Sea of Candia) Mr. Glencannon’s madness took a disquieting form. He became preoccupied, morose. He spent long hours in his room with Mary. His appetite dwindled.
At first there was only a rumor. Then the rumor spread throughout the ship’s company until it was discussed incredulously from fo’c’sle to engine room. Mr. Glencannon had sworn off liquor!
“The thing is serious,” declared Captain Ball, shaking his head ominously. “A man who has drank all his life like Mr. Glencannon has drank, can’t shut down on it all at once.”
“‘E can’t indeed!” said Mr. Montgomery, “But are you sure ‘e ‘as really sworn orff, Sir?”
“Yes. Last night I asked him if he’d lend me the loan of a little whisky to rub on my corns. He said ‘Take all I’ve got and welcome, Captain — I’m quit o’ the feelthy stuff!'”
“H’m,” mused the Mate, “That looks bad, Sir. — Specially, offering you all ‘e’s got, ‘im being of the Scottish persuasion, as you might say.”
“Exactly! And he went moping off to his room saying he had to fix some medicine for Mary. She’s sick or something, too.”
“Sick my aunt, Sir! It’s only the way ‘e pampers the poor tyke! Meanwhile, ‘e’s letting ‘is engines go to ‘Ell.”
“H’m. I noticed we were quite a bit shy on yesterday’s run.”
In the engine room things went from bad to worse. The Assistant Engineers, though diligently they slaved, lacked the great genius of their Chief which could make the old coffee grinder behave like clock work.
South of Kapsali they ran into dirty weather, and the poor old Castle took a sorry buffeting. She went rails under every roll, and the forward well-deck was a surge of green water.
Captain Ball, a notorious coal saver, had laid his course close. They were less than a mile off the thundering white breakers, when the engines sighed, wheezed, and stopped. From the gratings and ventilators came clouds of steam, and the sound of hammers and scurrying feet. Mr. Montgomery leaped to the speaking tube, and addressed the engine room. “‘Urry up, you bleddy tinkers!” he screamed, “If you don’t get way on ‘er smartly you’ll swim out through the condenser pipes!”
Captain Ball then stepped to the tube, and said a few words of his own. Those nearby could smell the rubber gums of his false teeth burning. When he had finished he went alone into the starboard wing of the bridge and considered the situation. Things were bad — very bad. In an hour, at most, they would pile up on a lee shore. He started toward his room to gather the ship’s log, his Bible, chronometers and hair tonic preparatory to ordering away the boats. Half down the ladder he was blinded by a stinging gust of spray, and as he groped on his way he encountered some one coming up.
“Hoot, Captain!” shouted Mr. Glencannon, grasping his superior officer in a joyous and drunken embrace. “I was just gaein’ up to get you! Stup into my room a moment, Sir — stup into my room!”
“Hell’s bones, not now!” gasped the Captain, as he dragged Mr. Glencannon into the lee of the house, “We’re due to pile up any minute, man! Can’t you feel that the engines are stopped?”
“I was aboot to mak’ appropreeate comment on the fact,” said Mr. Glencannon, feigning a polite interest, “But if you’ll just come wi’ me a moment, Captain, and stup into my room, I’ll go below in pairson and reepair them. It reminds me of a story I once heard aboot a . . .”
In desperation Captain Ball led the way across the rolling deck to Mr. Glencannon’s room, and threw open the door.
“There, Captain,” said the Engineer proudly, indicating the bunk with one hand and seizing a bottle with the other. “Look what the Angels ha’ brought to Mary and her puir old Dad!”
On the center of the bed lay Mary Queen of Scots, feebly wagging her tail, and caressing six tiny squirming black shapes with a tender maternal muzzle.
“The responsibility! — Ah, the reesponsibility’s been terrible Captain! But noo I’m my ain old self again! Do ye mak’ yersel’ comfortable for half a moment, Sir, while I just stup below and start those engines.”
Weak and trembling, Captain Ball settled in a chair. This, he thought, would be as good a place to die as any. For the first time in his life be felt his years, and the tragic grief of a master about to lose his ship. Smiling bitterly, be patted Mary’s hot little head. She raised it from her puppies and gratefully licked his hand. And at this instant there commenced a rhythmic throbbing underfoot! The Inchcliffe Castle became alive again! Mr. Glencannon, the wizard of steam, had worked a miracle with the engines!
Captain Ball arose slowly to his feet. Yes, the Inchcliffe Castle was ploughing along on her course. “Thank God — and three rousing cheers for Scotland!” he said.
In less than an hour, the Castle was around the Cape and in calm waters. Mr. Glencannon, oily, happy and thirsty, came back to his room.
“Weel, Lass!” he said, picking up the bottle, “I see that the Captain has gone. And — why, the domned old teetotal hypocrite! Look, Mary — he drank up half a pint o’ Papa’s Dew o’ Kirkintilloch!”