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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

The Tasters

The Tasters.

Every Monday morning a supply of porter and arrack had to be brought from the commissariat store, some distance away, and for this purpose two or three good judges of liquors were taken on a bullock dray to sample the various barrels. Those not considered good were at once emptied out on the ground. Those men generally came home gloriously tight. This being a duty, they were of course privileged.

To relate the system of liquor supply to the men will not be out of place here. Each man was allowed to purchase two pints of porter and two glasses of arrack a day. The check was thus: A roll of each company was placed on a board page 40 which hung on the wall. Opposite each name were four small holes. Through each was a tape with a knot on each end to prevent its being pulled through. The string was about an inch long. Before any drinks were issued (the first supply was at noon) all the strings were pulled back, hanging behind the board. According as a man had a drink a string was pulled out, and when they all hung to the front a man was supposed to be done for the day; but as the profits of the canteen sergeant depended on the quantity sold, he was not always inquisitive enough to ask names. He knew who could stand extra allowance. Sometimes the strings would by mistake or some other cause get pulled back, so that he would not be seen serving a man who had four knots hanging opposite his name.

As proof that canteen sergeants were not too exacting in seeking names, here is an instance:—

Mick Kervin made an exception once in sharing with another, three annas. He decided to drink their worth himself. As time was short, and he thought if he shouted for anyone he was running a certain risk in not getting a return that night, so he went into the canteen and called for "three glasses of arrack."

"Who are they for?" said the Sergeant.

Mick replied, "there's one for me, one for Kervin, and one for Ladawacks (a nickname)."

He got the three lots, took them aside, and put them out of sight. Now this Sergeant knew every man of the detachment just as well as I do the number of my own children; indeed, I think better, for I have often had to pause when asked how many boys and how main-girls there were—rough, isn't it?

Mick was a very innocent man, as harmless as a babe. Officers and all shared this opinion of him. Mick did not know his age, and he was one of those whose age you could not get at within a dozen years or so. The nearest approach Mick could go to it was that he could "jist remember the night of the big wind." When and where Old Boreas had displayed his power which Mick could remember none of us could guess.

Mick wanted an advance of pay one day. His Captain was present to see it paid, and Mick walked up to him, and put his mouth close to his ear and whispered, "I want ten rupees to-day."

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The Captain, good humoredly, put his mouth to Mick's ear and replied, "all right."

When the others had been paid the Captain said to the pay Sergeant that Kervin wanted ten rupees.

"His account won't stand it," was the reply.

The Captain then turned to Mick and said, "whatever do you want of so much money? Do you want to get married?

"Well," said Mick, "I'd not mind that same, but, be gorrah, there's none here would have me but blacks, and if I took one of them to ould Ireland, I'd be kicked out of the house, so I would."

It ended in Mick receiving only five rupees; this would not last him long, as he rarely went to bed worth an anna. Mick was usually blessed with a remarkably good appetite, and his regular rations did not at all times satisfy him, so he often ran to the canteen for what he called a "chest opener," this was a pound loaf. Salt beef was issued once a week, and Mick would frequently be heard wishing the day to come round, for he always got a good fill that day. It made him so thirsty that he had to resort to the water chatty.