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False Colours
by [?]

“Of course, there is a deal of bullying done at sea at times,” said the night-watchman, thoughtfully. ‘The men call it bullying an’ the officers call it discipline, but it’s the same thing under another name. Still, it’s fair in a way. It gets passed on from one to another. Everybody aboard a’most has got somebody to bully, except, perhaps, the boy; he ‘as the worst of it, unless he can manage to get the ship’s cat by itself occasionally.

“I don’t think sailor-men mind being bullied. I never ‘eard of its putting one off ‘is feed yet, and that’s the main thing, arter all’s said and done.

“Fust officers are often worse than skippers. In the fust place, they know they ain’t skippers, an’ that alone is enough to put ’em in a bad temper, especially if they’ve ‘ad their certifikit a good many years and can’t get a vacancy.

“I remember, a good many years ago now, I was lying at Calcutta one time in the Peewit, as fine a barque as you’d wish to see, an’ we ‘ad a fust mate there as was a disgrace to ‘is sects. A nasty, bullying, violent man, who used to call the hands names as they didn’t know the meanings of and what was no use looking in the dictionary for.

“There was one chap aboard, Bill Cousins, as he used to make a partikler mark of. Bill ‘ad the misfortin to ‘ave red ‘air, and the way the mate used to throw that in ‘is face was disgraceful. Fortunately for us all, the skipper was a very decent sort of man, so that the mate was only at ‘is worst when he wasn’t by.

“We was sitting in the fo’c’s’le at tea one arter-noon, when Bill Cousins came down, an’ we see at once ‘e’d ‘ad a turn with the mate. He sat all by hisself for some time simmering, an’ then he broke out. ‘One o’ these days I’ll swing for ‘im; mark my words.’

“‘Don’t be a fool, Bill,’ ses Joe Smith.

“‘If I could on’y mark ‘im,’ ses Bill, catching his breath. ‘Just mark ‘im fair an’ square. If I could on’y ‘ave ‘im alone for ten minutes, with nobody standing by to see fair play. But, o’ course, if I ‘it ‘im it’s mutiny.’

“‘You couldn’t do it if it wasn’t, Bill,’ ses Joe Smith again.

“‘He walks about the town as though the place belongs to ‘im,’ said Ted Hill. ‘Most of us is satisfied to shove the niggers out o’ the way, but he ups fist and ‘its ’em if they comes within a yard of ‘im.’

“‘Why don’t they ‘it ‘im back?’ ses Bill. ‘I would if I was them.’

“Joe Smith grunted. ‘Well, why don’t you?’ he asked.

“”Cos I ain’t a nigger,’ ses Bill.

“‘Well, but you might be,’ ses Joe, very softly. ‘Black your face an’ ‘ands an’ legs, and dress up in them cotton things, and go ashore and get in ‘is way.’

“‘If you will, I will, Bill,’ ses a chap called Bob Pullin.

“Well, they talked it over and over, and at last Joe, who seemed to take a great interest in it, went ashore and got the duds for ’em. They was a tight fit for Bill, Hindoos not being as wide as they might be, but Joe said if ‘e didn’t bend about he’d be all right, and Pullin, who was a smaller man, said his was fust class.

“After they were dressed, the next question was wot to use to colour them with; coal was too scratchy, an’ ink Bill didn’t like. Then Ted Hill burnt a cork and started on Bill’s nose with it afore it was cool, an’ Bill didn’t like that.

“‘Look ‘ere,’ ses the carpenter, ‘nothin’ seems to please you, Bill–it’s my opinion you’re backing out of it.’

“‘You’re a liar,’ ses Bill.

“‘Well, I’ve got some stuff in a can as might be boiled-down Hindoo for all you could tell to the difference,’ ses the carpenter; ‘and if you’ll keep that ugly mouth of yours shut, I’ll paint you myself.’