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The Custom of the Service

As told (in an alehouse) by Preserved Killick.

In the year six we was sent to the north west coast of America in the old Surprise. Captain Aubrey were out of sorts with the Admiralty but the Doctor got Sir Joe Banks and the Royal Society coves to send us out on some make work mission in those parts. Nothing came of it, except that the captain couldn't make a go of his garden at Ashgrove Cottage, and he weren't around to show Ma Williams the door when she decided to move in. That was when we had the mutiny, which we don't usually mention.

Dr Maturin crossed to the weather quarterdeck and assaulted the captain, which he took him by the arm, saying the while "D--n you Jack Aubrey; you have debauched my sasquatch.", which we believe him to have been taken in Drink at the time.

"Pray unhand me sir and recall your duties." says the Captain, civil like, which it goes to show that some hofficers can act like gentlemen - and there are some as don't need to act, which the Captain was always one of the latter.

The doctor and the Captain argues on in foreign for the next bell, which the lobster near forgot to strike, we all being so busy watching these goings on, what with them two jawing away nineteen to the dozen and Johnny Sasquatch jumping through the rigging like a wild thing.

Old Johnny had the build for it, being too tall by half a fathom to sling his hammock with the rest of us. In fair weather Mr Pullings let him sling it 'twixt fore and main, else he'd curl up by the galley stove. Slushy didn't care for it but wouldn't say so to Johnny's face neither. Couldn't unless he stood on a stool.

The doctor and the Captain kept on arguing and Johnny kept on screeching and whooping and hollering in the rigging until the Captain shouted for Mr Pullings to take that man's name. "What's your name Johnny?" says Mr Pullings, which it were his little joke like as Johnny never spoke no Christian tongue. Then Mr Pullings reports back "Beg pardon sir but I believe it to be Johnny Sasquatch." At this we all laughs so much that the Captain asks if he has the command of a man o' war or a Margate hoy, which recalls us all to our duties sharpish, even the doctor who asks all innocent like what special advantage was to be had from commanding a Margate hoy, and should he endeavour to procure one?

The doctor and the Captain stopped their arguing and looked up at Johnny. "He is your sasquatch no longer." says the Captain. "He has signed the articles and received the bounty and now he belongs to the King."

"Then you have debauched the King's sasquatch." says the doctor, which is coming it a bit strong. "You bade him come on deck and receive that iniquitous grog, commanded that he drink it at once, and promised him more tomorrow. I say again Jack, you have debauched this sasquatch.

The Captain sighs and says "Stephen," that being the doctor's name and a sign that the storms are passed, "When a man joins the ship's company he is entitled to his daily tot. I can no more stop his tot without he ask, except by way of punishment, than sail this ship across the Panamanian isthmus. It would be alien to the custom of the service."

Now I will not say what the doctor said at this point, saving only that it started with eff and ended with "the custom of the service". Then the doctor asked whether stoppage of grog might be a suitable punishment for the display that day. The Captain agreed that it was and so the doctor suggested that Johnny's grog be stopped until he apologised and requested it be served again.

The Captain agreed to this and sent for Johnny. "Sasquatch," he says "You're a prime topman but this drunkenness must cease. Until you apologise you are to have no more rum. No more, d' you hear?"

"Sorry." says Johnny in a slow creaking voice like a church door hinge. "He start it." and he points at Awkward Davies who tries innocent like to put down a pannikin holding what's left of Johnny's tot.

"Why did you never speak before?" asks the doctor.

"You never stop grog before." says Johnny. "He never steal grog before. I never need speak before." And my old shipmate Johnny never spoke again 'less'n someone took his drink, like you picked up that there quart pot that didn't rightly belong to you mister. Now walk slowly to the door and nobody'll get hurt. Ain't that right Johnny?

© 2001 Martin Watts