James Thorne Smith, Jr. was an American writer of humorous supernatural fantasy fiction under the byline Thorne Smith. He is best known today for the two Topper novels, comic fantasy fiction involving sex, much drinking and supernatural transformations. Smith’s literary debut was „Biltmore Oswald” (1918), the comic fictional diary of a hapless naval recruit, drawing heavily on wartime experience with the Navy. Episodes had featured in Broadside. The book sold well enough to allow the appearance of a sequel, „Out o’ Luck” (1919). The book continues hapless sailor Oswald’s exploits in diary form throughout 1918 and the armistice and up to his eventual demobilization. Many of the entries have little or nothing to do with navy life and some of the best could easily stand alone as short stories, the best of which has Oswald looking for a bath and ending up in a duel.
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Sept. 7th.–My first impression of the ship was not a reassuring one. As I regarded the tall, slim masts, with a lookout or crow’s-nest forward that somehow reminded me of an egg-cup, a nervous sensation made itself manifest and enlarged in the pit of my stomach. The very idea of there existing a bare possibility of my being forced to ascend one of those masts in a pitching sea and ensconce myself in the crow’s-nest made the bitter, sweat-washed memory of the coal pile back at camp seem sweet. As I stood gazing at the vessel that was destined to bear me out upon the turbulent seas of the high adventure, I considered how unlike the sensations of the heroes of all the sea novels I had ever read were mine. The scent of tar, which is guaranteed in all the best-sellers to send a thrill through the stalwart young adventurer, served only to cast a gloomy and nauseating foreboding of future complications over my rather meager frame. The bustle and hurry on the dock, so dear to the valiant hearts of the youthful mariners, confused my addled brain to a point bordering closely on idiocy. The ship seemed to be altogether too large. There would be many decks to holystone–too many, I decided. Furthermore, there would be much bright work to brighten. I pictured long days of ceaseless toil and nights of extreme danger during which the ship would play leap-frog with a series of submarines stretching away into the mist.
“Well, thank God, it ain’t a Submarine Provoker at any rate,” said Tim in a relieved voice,
‘Well, thank God, it ain’t a Submarine Provoker.’
“Too big,” breathed Tony, “thata ship he much too big. Whata you think, Bilta?”
“Well, it could be smaller,” said I, “but she looks safe.”
“Wonder when they issue the life preservers,” said the Spider in a dispirited voice. “I’d sort of like to put mine on before we went aboard.”
A member of the guns’ crew, one of the hardest looking white men I have ever seen, unfortunately overheard this last remark, and almost barked. I thought for a moment that he was going to bite the Spider, but he seemed to think better of it.
“You fellers ain’t agoin’ ter git no life preservers,” said he, regarding our unheroic group through eyes that had recently looked on something other than water. “We drown such guys as you for the good of the service.”
“How’s your head, buddy?” says I all of a sudden, prompted by some mad impulse. He looked at me with extreme earnestness for a moment before he spoke, and when he did speak all he said was, “I’m going to remember you;” but that was quite enough for me. My first enemy! Tim threw a protecting arm around my shoulder and at the same time faced my avowed foe.
“Don’t worry about that guy,” says Tim, “if he’s got anything to do with the guns I’m glad that I took out insurance.”
“Oh, is that so?” says the sailor snappily.
“What a hot answer!” jeered the Spider. “He’s got a good line of stuff, that guy.”
“You think so, do you?” says the other, moving closer to us.
I expected the worst. He would at least break one of my arms. I wondered if sailors rated a wound mark for getting injured under such circumstances, but at that moment a diversion occurred in the form of a weather-beaten Chief.
“Grab your gear and get aboard, lads,” he said in a hearty voice. “Step lively now. Up with them outfits.”
Accordingly we shouldered our bags and hammocks and started for the ship. It was a great moment At last were going to be sailors, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out on which side of the ship we were entering, The excitement had caused me to forget all the knowledge I had so laboriously gained at camp.
And then a terrible thing occurred. I can scarcely bring myself to write these lines. But I must be truthful, or else the record of my life in the Navy would be of little value. Anyway, no one is going to see these pages, so possibly it doesn’t matter. How can I describe the horrible incident? It wasn’t my fault, I swear it. The blame lies on the guy that belonged to the guns’ crew. He “remembered” me with a vengeance. He said he would, and he was as good as his word. It came to pass this way or after this manner, for it all happened so suddenly that I have only a confused impression of the details. As usual I was among the stragglers, and finding it very difficult going. The plank was steep and my outfit extremely heavy. There were a few men behind me, and at my side I saw to my horror the guns’ crew guy. He was observing my efforts with a malevolent grin. And then it happened–this fearful thing. I had just reached the steepest pitch of the gangplank and was about to step aboard, when suddenly I felt myself pushed violently backward. Something became entangled in my legs, and I completely lost my balance. As my hammock and bag flew from my grasp I uttered a low, despairing cry and tumbled over backwards. Down the gang-plank I rolled with incredible speed, gathering momentum at every foot. Vague thoughts flashed across my mind in the course of my frantic evolutions. “Where is the bottom.” I wondered. “If Polly could only see me now,” came into my mind, and through it all I was fervently cursing my enemy. He had pushed me. I knew it. Furthermore, to make my ruin complete, he had tripped me. This I also knew. My flight was becoming more rapid every moment. I seemed to be hurtling through interminable leagues of space. Vaguely I remember encountering several pairs of legs on the way. The legs instantly disappeared and violent swearing broke out in my wake. Suddenly I brought up against something other than sailor legs. These legs seemed to be invested with all the slim, blue dignity of an officer. They, too, disappeared, and a body fell heavily upon me. My flight was over. I was lying on the dock at the foot of the gang-plank. Dreamily, I opened my eyes and stared into those of an incensed junior lieutenant. He was lying hardly five inches from me. Gravity is no respecter of gold braid.
“A thousand damns!” screamed the infuriated officer, trying to rise. He was unable to, owing to the fact that I was on one of his legs.
“A thousand pardons,” I moaned as he unceremoniously rolled me over.
At that moment I felt a heavy hand on my collar and I was violently placed on my feet. The Chief was glaring into my face. A low cheer arose from those on the ship.
“You simple-faced lubber,” grated the Chief, “you almost ruined our lieutenant”
“I have apologized to him,” I replied, “but he wouldn’t accept it”
“Out of my sight!” roared the officer.
I hastily looked for my bag and hammock, feeling a strong desire to withdraw not only from his sight but from the eyes of the world. The bag and hammock were nowhere to be seen. They had vanished in thin air. Several men were pointing to the water between the ship and the dock from which arose the most astounding volume of oaths I have ever heard. Peering over the dock I beheld my bag and hammock floating around in the water. A sailor was also floundering around in the oily substance, and there were several overturned buckets of paint on a nearby scow.
“Who dropped that hammock?” yelled the man water. “Just tell me who done it and I’ll cut his heart out.”
‘Who dropped that hammock?’
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