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Chapter 32


In men-of-war, the space on the uppermost deck, round about the
main-mast, is the Police-office, Court-house, and yard of
execution, where all charges are lodged, causes tried, and
punishment administered. In frigate phrase, to be _brought up to
the mast_, is equivalent to being presented before the grand-
jury, to see whether a true bill will be found against you.

From the merciless, inquisitorial _baiting_, which sailors,
charged with offences, too often experience _at the mast_, that
vicinity is usually known among them as the _bull-ring_.

The main-mast, moreover, is the only place where the sailor can
hold formal communication with the captain and officers. If any
one has been robbed; if any one has been evilly entreated; if any
one's character has been defamed; if any one has a request to
present; if any one has aught important for the executive of the
ship to know--straight to the main-mast he repairs; and stands
there--generally with his hat off--waiting the pleasure of the
officer of the deck, to advance and communicate with him. Often,
the most ludicrous scenes occur, and the most comical complaints
are made.

One clear, cold morning, while we were yet running away from the
Cape, a raw boned, crack-pated Down Easter, belonging to the
Waist, made his appearance at the mast, dolefully exhibiting a
blackened tin pan, bearing a few crusty traces of some sort of a
sea-pie, which had been cooked in it.

"Well, sir, what now?" said the Lieutenant of the Deck, advancing.

"They stole it, sir; all my nice _dunderfunk_, sir; they did,
sir," whined the Down Easter, ruefully holding up his pan. "Stole
your _dunderfunk!_ what's that?"

"_Dunderfunk_, sir, _dunderfunk_; a cruel nice dish as ever man
put into him."

"Speak out, sir; what's the matter?"

"My _dunderfunk_, sir--as elegant a dish of _dunderfunk_ as you
ever see, sir--they stole it, sir!"

"Go forward, you rascal!" cried the Lieutenant, in a towering
rage, "or else stop your whining. Tell me, what's the matter?"

"Why, sir, them 'ere two fellows, Dobs and Hodnose, stole my

"Once more, sir, I ask what that _dundledunk_ is? Speak!" "As
cruel a nice------"

"Be off, sir! sheer!" and muttering something about _non compos
mentis_, the Lieutenant stalked away; while the Down Easter beat
a melancholy retreat, holding up his pan like a tambourine, and
making dolorous music on it as he went.

"Where are you going with that tear in your eye, like a travelling
rat?" cried a top-man.

"Oh! he's going home to Down East," said another; "so far
eastward, you know, _shippy_, that they have to pry up the sun
with a handspike."

To make this anecdote plainer, be it said that, at sea, the
monotonous round of salt beef and pork at the messes of the
sailors--where but very few of the varieties of the season are to
be found--induces them to adopt many contrivances in order to
diversify their meals. Hence the various sea-rolls, made dishes,
and Mediterranean pies, well known by men-of-war's-men--_Scouse,
Lob-scouse, Soft-Tack, Soft-Tommy, Skillagalee, Burgoo, Dough-
boys, Lob-Dominion, Dog's-Body_, and lastly, and least known,
_Dunderfunk_; all of which come under the general denomination of

_Dunderfunk_ is made of hard biscuit, hashed and pounded, mixed
with beef fat, molasses, and water, and baked brown in a pan. And
to those who are beyond all reach of shore delicacies, this
_dunderfunk_, in the feeling language of the Down Easter, is
certainly "_a cruel nice dish_."

Now the only way that a sailor, after preparing his _dunderfunk_,
could get it cooked on board the Neversink, was by slily going to
_Old Coffee_, the ship's cook, and bribing him to put it into his
oven. And as some such dishes or other are well known to be all
the time in the oven, a set of unprincipled gourmands are
constantly on the look-out for the chance of stealing them.
Generally, two or three league together, and while one engages
_Old Coffee_ in some interesting conversation touching his wife
and family at home, another snatches the first thing he can lay
hands on in the oven, and rapidly passes it to the third man, who
at his earliest leisure disappears with it.

In this manner had the Down Easter lost his precious pie, and
afterward found the empty pan knocking about the forecastle.

Herman Melville