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"Their Lawful Occasions"
by [?]


… “And a security for such as pass on the seas upon
their lawful occasions.”–Navy Prayer.

Disregarding the inventions of the Marine Captain, whose other name is Gubbins, let a plain statement suffice.

H.M.S. Caryatid went to Portland to join Blue Fleet for manoeuvres. I travelled overland from London by way of Portsmouth, where I fell among friends. When I reached Portland, H.M.S. Caryatid, whose guest I was to have been, had, with Blue Fleet, already sailed for some secret rendezvous off the west coast of Ireland, and Portland breakwater was filled with Red Fleet, my official enemies and joyous acquaintances, who received me with unstinted hospitality. For example, Lieutenant-Commander A.L. Hignett, in charge of three destroyers, Wraith, Stiletto, and Kobbold, due to depart at 6 P.M. that evening, offered me a berth on his thirty-knot flagship, but I preferred my comforts, and so accepted sleeping-room in H.M.S. Pedantic (15,000 tons), leader of the second line. After dining aboard her I took boat to Weymouth to get my kit aboard, as the battleships would go to war at midnight. In transferring my allegiance from Blue to Red Fleet, whatever the Marine Captain may say, I did no wrong. I truly intended to return to the Pedantic and help to fight Blue Fleet. All I needed was a new toothbrush, which I bought from a chemist in a side street at 9:15 P. M. As I turned to go, one entered seeking alleviation of a gum-boil. He was dressed in a checked ulster, a black silk hat three sizes too small, cord-breeches, boots, and pure brass spurs. These he managed painfully, stepping like a prisoner fresh from leg-irons. As he adjusted the pepper-plaster to the gum the light fell on his face, and I recognised Mr. Emanuel Pyecroft, late second-class petty officer of H.M.S. Archimandrite, an unforgettable man, met a year before under Tom Wessel’s roof in Plymouth. It occurred to me that when a petty officer takes to spurs he may conceivably meditate desertion. For that reason I, though a taxpayer, made no sign. Indeed, it was Mr. Pyecroft, following me out of the shop, who said hollowly: “What might you be doing here?”

“I’m going on manoeuvres in the Pedantic,” I replied.

“Ho!” said Mr. Pyecroft. “An’ what manner o’ manoeuvres d’you expect to see in a blighted cathedral like the Pedantic? I know ‘er. I knew her in Malta, when the Vulcan was her permanent tender. Manoeuvres! You won’t see more than ‘Man an’ arm watertight doors!’ in your little woollen undervest.”

“I’m sorry for that.”

“Why?” He lurched heavily as his spurs caught and twanged like tuning- forks. “War’s declared at midnight. Pedantics be sugared! Buy an ‘am an’ see life!”

For the moment I fancied Mr. Pyecroft, a fugitive from justice, purposed that we two should embrace a Robin Hood career in the uplands of Dorset. The spurs troubled me, and I made bold to say as much. “Them!” he said, coming to an intricate halt. “They’re part of the prima facie evidence. But as for me–let me carry your bag–I’m second in command, leadin’-hand, cook, steward, an’ lavatory man, with a few incidentals for sixpence a day extra, on No. 267 torpedo-boat.”

“They wear spurs there?”

“Well,” said Mr. Peycroft, “seein’ that Two Six Seven belongs to Blue Fleet, which left the day before yesterday, disguises are imperative. It transpired thus. The Right Honourable Lord Gawd Almighty Admiral Master Frankie Frobisher, K.C.B., commandin’ Blue Fleet, can’t be bothered with one tin-torpedo-boat more or less; and what with lyin’ in the Reserve four years, an’ what with the new kind o’ tiffy which cleans dynamos with brick-dust and oil (Blast these spurs! They won’t render!), Two Six Seven’s steam-gadgets was paralytic. Our Mr. Moorshed done his painstakin’ best–it’s his first command of a war-canoe, matoor age nineteen (down that alleyway, please!) but be that as it may, His Holiness Frankie is aware of us crabbin’ ourselves round the breakwater at five knots, an’ steerin’ pari passu, as the French say. (Up this alley-way, please!) If he’d given Mr. Hinchcliffe, our chief engineer, a little time, it would never have transpired, for what Hinch can’t drive he can coax; but the new port bein’ a trifle cloudy, an’ ‘is joints tinglin’ after a post-captain dinner, Frankie come on the upper bridge seekin’ for a sacrifice. We, offerin’ a broadside target, got it. He told us what ‘is grandmamma, ‘oo was a lady an’ went to sea in stick-and string-batteaus, had told him about steam. He throwed in his own prayers for the ‘ealth an’ safety of all steam-packets an’ their officers. Then he give us several distinct orders. The first few–I kept tally–was all about going to Hell; the next many was about not evolutin’ in his company, when there; an’ the last all was simply repeatin’ the motions in quick time. Knowin’ Frankie’s groovin’ to be badly eroded by age and lack of attention, I didn’t much panic; but our Mr. Moorshed, ‘e took it a little to heart. Me an’ Mr. Hinchcliffe consoled ‘im as well as service conditions permits of, an’ we had a resume-supper at the back o’ the Camber–secluded an’ lugubrious! Then one thing leadin’ up to another, an’ our orders, except about anchorin’ where he’s booked for, leavin’ us a clear ‘orizon, Number Two Six Seven is now–mind the edge of the wharf–here!”