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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

by
a Fore‑top-man


published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York
1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p175  The Galley Marauders

"Truly, mine host, I must indeed confess

This is forsooth a curious, novel mess."

Hail to thee, galley of a man-of‑war, — place of frying-pans, grid-irons, and tea‑kettles, — sanctum sanctorum of thick lips, woolly heads, and countenances as multiform and varied in their hues, as the tints of the dying dolphin, — thou club-room of a tight Yankee frigate, wherein are discussed not only the past and passing events of yesterday and to‑day, but where also the coming incidents of futurity are sagely analyzed, — thou inexhaustible mint, wherein is coined news the most preposterous that imagination can possibly devise, — thou storehouse of falsehoods, from whence emanates fabrications so barefaced, as to be sufficient to put Munchausen or Major Longbow to the blush, — thou haunt of the happy tar, whilst anxious to while away the watch below in sweet forgetfulness, — thou resort of story-tellers, within whose precincts yarns are spun of such durability and toughness, as to have a complete somniferous effect upon the orbs of the most attentive auditor, — thou elysium of the lover of the Virginian weed, wherein he puffs away all his cares in smoke: Thus do I apostrophize thee, and indeed thou art all I have mentioned; for the jokes, witticisms, twisters, hair-breadth 'scapes, slanders, and lies of the most enormous magnitude, that are daily sent the rounds of the ship from the confines of the galley, would furnish in themselves, without embracing any other topic, matter sufficient to form two or three sizable volumes.

The disciples of the range, vulgarly called galley-cooks, are often-times tormented to a great extent by the frequent petty depredations of a wild, harum-scarum set of mortals to be met with on board every man-of‑war; who, by the aid of a no small stock of bare-faced impudence, and the expert agility of their fingers, monopolize to themselves without the least scruple divers little tit‑bits, which the man of gridirons and stew-pans might chance to have laid by, to  p176 regale himself with after his culinary duties were concluded; or, mayhap, a nice delicious morsel reserved to satisfy the inner man of some assistant or chummie, who, for their little services around the environs of the galley, were daily in the habit of receiving such gifts, became alike the spoils of those remorseless plunderers. To detect them would be almost a matter of impossibility, for their sallies were generally made after the hammocks had been piped down; the whole affair being arranged with such complete generalship, that pursuit was of little or no avail, so well would the marauders have their retreat covered; and the lower deck of a frigate, with two or three hundred hammocks pendent over one's head, together with a due proportion of mess-chests, clothes-bags, and loafers lying around, is certainly not the most favourable place in the world, for one to overtake a fugitive, who has had the odds of the first start in his favour. The plan they generally have recourse to, in order to effect their purpose, is as follows: — One of the gang engages poor quashee the cook in conversation upon some subject or another, and endeavours by every means in his power to divert his attention from the oven, wherein lies warming, in all its savoury richness, the delicious morsel they have doomed to be their own; and whilst poor Snowball is showing his ivory at what he considered to be his own wit, and his sonorous yaw yaw re‑echoes loudly around the deck, completely unconscious of the unseen dangers that lurk near him, another lays violent hands upon the smoking delicacy, passes it into the insatiate clutches of a third, and by the time our galley-cook becomes sensible that his sanctorum has been violated, our lads are securely seated in some dark and distant corner of the ship, devouring with the greatest gusto, the well-seasoned dish they have procured so easily.

It happened upon one delightful dog‑watch, in the month of November, whilst on our passage from Callao to Valparaiso, as I was listlessly lounging upon the booms, thinking perhaps of days that had long passed, and scenes that I had but a glimmering hope of ever again beholding, or perhaps pondering upon the many dull and tedious months I had yet to drag my weary existence along in  p177 my present monotonous thraldom, of which I was almost surfeited, or perhaps — but no matter what I was thinking of, there I lay stretched out at full length, gazing intently upon the setting sun, as his departing rays threw a halo of rich light upon the face of the deep-blue waters, over which our lofty frigate, as if proud of her speed, was bounding merrily, — my attention was directed towards a crowd, that I perceived accumulating around the mainmast, (that tribunal of justice in a man-of‑war,) and knowing that some affair or another was about being investigated, I wended my way aft, to hear the particulars. A laughable scene now presented itself: Nathan Dobbs, a green Vermonter, whose name has appeared more than once in some of the foregoing Sketches,​a was making dolorous plaints to the first lieutenant and officer of the deck, concerning the loss of a panfull of a most novel delicacy, and of pure sailor origin, ycleped dunderfunk, which some evil-disposed shipmate or shipmates had unceremoniously abstracted from the interior of the oven, without caring a single whit whether the owner's stomach became the loser thereby or not. The individuals whom he suspicioned for purloining the same were also in attendance, as well as a whole posse of witnesses who stood ready to corroborate our Vermonter's assertions. "Well, Dobbs," cried our first lieutenant, suppressing a smile, "what's the difficulty now?" "Why sir," cried Nathan, with a piteous whine, and a countenance as bland and innocent as that of a new‑born babe — "these here fellows, Flukes and Bowser, walked away with an elegant pan of dunderfunk out of the oven, as slick as grease, and had it all devoured up before I could say beans." "A pan of what?" inquired the first lieutenant, the name of this mess sounding as strangely in his ears, as would a sentence of cramp Chinese. "Why, dunderfunk, sir a cruel nice dish as ever man put inside of him, I swear." "Well, I've followed the sea these many years," remarked the first lieutenant, "and I thought I was pretty generally acquainted with all the several dishes that are held in repute by the Sons of Ocean, from a dogs-body to a lob‑dominion, but such an affair as this dinde — dun — don" — The jaw‑breaking cognomen got the better of his gravity, and he burst out into a  p178 hearty laugh, which the crowd, although infringing in some measure upon the etiquette of the quarter-deck, joined heartily in. "But what is this dondledunk, or whatever you call it, composed of," continued the first lieutenant, when he had again resumed a serious countenance — "what ingredients are in it?" "No 'gredients in it at all sir," replied Bowser, the forecastle‑man — "nothing but molasses and bread, and a little dab of slush, to give it a flavourality like; then shove it in the oven, and 'tis fit for scoffin in less than no time." "Bread, molasses, and slush," soliloquized the first lieutenant, "and this is what you give such an infernal hard name to, eh — what do you call it, again?" "Dunderfunk, sir," replied a dozen voices from amongst the crowd. "Aye, dunderfunk, a mighty mellifluous name truly; but Bowser, how came you and Flukes to meddle with his pan of dundle-clump, eh? You know monopolizing any article to yourself, which is not lawfully your own, is in direct opposition to the rules laid down for the salutary benefit of the Navy; what have you to say to this charge?" "Why, the fact of the matter is, sir," remarked Flukes, the sharp-witted, long-tongued sea‑lawyer, "that myself and Bowser had as much concern in the pan of dunderfunk, as Dobbs." "I have no doubt from the statement that has been made," remarked the first lieutenant, with a humorous smile playing around his other with serious countenance, "but what you were more concerned in it, for you had the satisfaction of staying your stomachs with the delicious morsel, whereas Dobbs, by his own assertion, never had the pleasure of putting a single particle within the portals of his mouth." "I mean we were on the shares, sir," cried Flukes — "I found the molasses, Nathan found the bread, and Bowser found the slush." "Yes, sir, that's correct, chimed in Bowser, "I found the slush, Flukes found the molasses, and Dobbs found the bread."

"Not at all, sir! the way them 'ere fellows are lying now, is a caution to hardened sinners," broke forth poor Nathan, in a complete ferment — "Swampseed, the cook at the range, knows that I found every thing, and cooked it in the bargain." "If I were to investigate the affair thoroughly," remarked the first lieutenant, "I think it would appear that all those articles were found before they  p179 were lost; but send Swampseed here, and let us hear what he has got to say about it." The "coloured gemman" alluded to accordingly stepped forth, doffed his hat, scratched his wool, turned up the whites of his eyes, and looked unutterable things. "Well, Swampseed, what do you know about this scrape between Dobbs, Bowser and Flukes?" "Why, Mr. C–––––, sir," stammered forth our galley-cook, "dat dere Flukes is the slickest feller at hooking anyting dat ever I seed in all my born days; he'd steal the coppers off a dead man's eyes — he is de jackall, and Bowser is de lion around de galley, after de hammocks are down; and de way dey overhaul a range of every pan, dish, and kettle, to find de manavalins, is nobody's business." "I don't ask you what their general character is," cried the first lieutenant, "I merely want to know about this dunderfunk;" here his gravity again gave way, and he broke forth into another laugh. "Well, sir, it strikes me werry forcibly," responded the sable witness, "dat both Flukes and Bowser, mittened on to de article in question, wid de rapidity of greased lightning. — You have no conception, sir, of dere audacity in affairs of dis nature; many a good panfull of delightful manavalins have dem same fellers deprived me of — many are de pots of coffee dey have chiseled me out of, and I am certain, sir, dey are the depredators." "If I had you out of the range of the quarter-deck," muttered Flukes, in an under tone, which he was not disposed should reach the ears of the officer of the deck, or first lieutenant, — "I'd strike you very forcibly, as you call it, Mr. Snowball, and so confounded sharp at the same time, that you would'nt feel disposed to shove your lip in amongst white folks again." "But did you see them take this pan of duff?" enquired the first lieutenant. " 'Twarnt duff, sir," replied Dobbs, 'twas as elegant dunderfunk as ever man put inside of him, I swan." "Well, well," cried Mr. C–––––, somewhat impatiently, for he was growing tired of the colloquy, "dunderfunk, or whatever it may be, did you see those men take it Swampseed?" "No, sir, I did'nt see dem take it, but I've a kind of conclude like, dem 'ere are de criminals." "I want none of your conclusions, I want you to be certain; by-the‑by, I see but little probability of bringing this affair to a conclusion at all;  p180 have you any more witnesses Dobbs?" "Why, sir," replied Dobbs, glancing his eye around the crowd, "Spindle, there, the steady-sweeper, says as how he knows considerable about it." "Send Spindle here then," cried Mr. C–––––. The crowd made way, and a long cadaverous-looking Johnny Raw presented himself. "Well, my man, you know all about this affair I suppose," enquired the first lieutenant: "let us hear the particulars." "When I was stowing my spit-boxes away, sir, after the hammocks were down," proceeded our knight of the broom, "I heard Bowser, the forecastle‑man, whisper to Bill Garnet, to let Shakings, the captain of the hold know, that he wanted him to tell Tubbs, the berth-deck scavenger, to ask Firehawk, the foretop‑man, if he would'nt just speak to the cook of number‑six mess, and say it was all right." "I declare," cried the officer of the deck, suppressing a laugh, "your intelligence is of the most vital importance in this affair, it throws great light on it, I must confess." "Well, well," cried the first lieutenant, good-humouredly, and smiling at the circumlocuitous manner in which Spindle delivered himself, "I find I can make neither head nor tail out of this, so go about your business all of you; and for the future Dobbs, instead of using your molasses, butter, and bread, in making those novel compositions, take my advice and let your messmates have the benefit of them; and after all," he continued, addressing himself to the officer of the deck at his elbow, "I have gained some information by this affair however, for never till this moment have I heard amongst all a sailor's vocabulary, of a compound with such an infernal cramp, out of the way name as dunderfunk."


Thayer's Note:

a pp38, 143164.


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