Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 14

A DRAUGHT IN A MAN-OF-WAR.


We were not many days out of port, when a rumour was set afloat
that dreadfully alarmed many tars. It was this: that, owing to
some unprecedented oversight in the Purser, or some equally
unprecedented remissness in the Naval-storekeeper at Callao, the
frigate's supply of that delectable beverage, called "grog," was
well-nigh expended.

In the American Navy, the law allows one gill of spirits per day
to every seaman. In two portions, it is served out just previous
to breakfast and dinner. At the roll of the drum, the sailors
assemble round a large tub, or cask, filled with liquid; and, as
their names are called off by a midshipman, they step up and
regale themselves from a little tin measure called a "tot." No
high-liver helping himself to Tokay off a well-polished sideboard,
smacks his lips with more mighty satisfaction than the sailor does
over this _tot_. To many of them, indeed, the thought of their
daily _tots_ forms a perpetual perspective of ravishing landscapes,
indefinitely receding in the distance. It is their great "prospect
in life." Take away their grog, and life possesses no further charms
for them. It is hardly to be doubted, that the controlling inducement
which keeps many men in the Navy, is the unbounded confidence they
have in the ability of the United States government to supply them,
regularly and unfailingly, with their daily allowance of this beverage.
I have known several forlorn individuals, shipping as landsmen, who
have confessed to me, that having contracted a love for ardent spirits,
which they could not renounce, and having by their foolish courses been
brought into the most abject poverty--insomuch that they could no longer
gratify their thirst ashore--they incontinently entered the Navy;
regarding it as the asylum for all drunkards, who might there prolong
their lives by regular hours and exercise, and twice every day quench
their thirst by moderate and undeviating doses.

When I once remonstrated with an old toper of a top-man about
this daily dram-drinking; when I told him it was ruining him, and
advised him to _stop his grog_ and receive the money for it, in
addition to his wages as provided by law, he turned about on me,
with an irresistibly waggish look, and said, "Give up my grog?
And why? Because it is ruining me? No, no; I am a good Christian,
White-Jacket, and love my enemy too much to drop his acquaintance."

It may be readily imagined, therefore, what consternation and
dismay pervaded the gun-deck at the first announcement of the
tidings that the grog was expended.

"The grog gone!" roared an old Sheet-anchor-man.

"Oh! Lord! what a pain in my stomach!" cried a Main-top-man.

"It's worse than the cholera!" cried a man of the After-guard.

"I'd sooner the water-casks would give out!" said a Captain of the Hold.

"Are we ganders and geese, that we can live without grog?" asked a
Corporal of Marines.

"Ay, we must now drink with the ducks!" cried a Quarter-master.

"Not a tot left?" groaned a Waister.

"Not a toothful!" sighed a Holder, from the bottom of his boots.

Yes, the fatal intelligence proved true. The drum was no longer heard
rolling the men to the tub, and deep gloom and dejection fell like a
cloud. The ship was like a great city, when some terrible calamity has
overtaken it. The men stood apart, in groups, discussing their woes,
and mutually condoling. No longer, of still moonlight nights, was the
song heard from the giddy tops; and few and far between were the stories
that were told. It was during this interval, so dismal to many, that to
the amazement of all hands, ten men were reported by the master-at-arms
to be intoxicated. They were brought up to the mast, and at their
appearance the doubts of the most skeptical were dissipated; but whence
they had obtained their liquor no one could tell. It was observed,
however at the time, that the tarry knaves all smelled of lavender,
like so many dandies.

After their examination they were ordered into the "brig," a
jail-house between two guns on the main-deck, where prisoners are
kept. Here they laid for some time, stretched out stark and
stiff, with their arms folded over their breasts, like so many
effigies of the Black Prince on his monument in Canterbury Cathedral.

Their first slumbers over, the marine sentry who stood guard over
them had as much as he could do to keep off the crowd, who were
all eagerness to find out how, in such a time of want, the
prisoners had managed to drink themselves into oblivion. In due
time they were liberated, and the secret simultaneously leaked out.

It seemed that an enterprising man of their number, who had
suffered severely from the common deprivation, had all at once
been struck by a brilliant idea. It had come to his knowledge
that the purser's steward was supplied with a large quantity of
_Eau-de-Cologne_, clandestinely brought out in the ship, for the
purpose of selling it on his own account, to the people of the
coast; but the supply proving larger than the demand, and having
no customers on board the frigate but Lieutenant Selvagee, he was
now carrying home more than a third of his original stock. To
make a short story of it, this functionary, being called upon in
secret, was readily prevailed upon to part with a dozen bottles,
with whose contents the intoxicated party had regaled themselves.

The news spread far and wide among the men, being only kept
secret from the officers and underlings, and that night the long,
crane-necked Cologne bottles jingled in out-of-the-way corners
and by-places, and, being emptied, were sent flying out of the
ports. With brown sugar, taken from the mess-chests, and hot
water begged from the galley-cooks, the men made all manner of
punches, toddies, and cocktails, letting fall therein a small
drop of tar, like a bit of brown toast, by way of imparting a
flavour. Of course, the thing was managed with the utmost
secrecy; and as a whole dark night elapsed after their orgies,
the revellers were, in a good measure, secure from detection; and
those who indulged too freely had twelve long hours to get sober
before daylight obtruded.

Next day, fore and aft, the whole frigate smelled like a lady's
toilet; the very tar-buckets were fragrant; and from the mouth of
many a grim, grizzled old quarter-gunner came the most fragrant
of breaths. The amazed Lieutenants went about snuffing up the
gale; and, for once. Selvagee had no further need to flourish his
perfumed hand-kerchief. It was as if we were sailing by some
odoriferous shore, in the vernal season of violets. Sabaean odours!


"For many a league,
Cheered with grateful smell, old Ocean smiled."

But, alas! all this perfume could not be wasted for nothing; and
the masters-at-arms and ship's corporals, putting this and that
together, very soon burrowed into the secret. The purser's
steward was called to account, and no more lavender punches and
Cologne toddies were drank on board the Neversink.

Herman Melville