This explosion was followed by a simultaneous shout for Tom by his six angry masters.
The top-man put his head in at the slit.
“What the deuce have you been doing to this soup?” roared the indignant chorus.
“Soup, your honors? Nothing.”
“Nothing! Don’t tell me, you ruffian!” exclaimed Allison, the oldest of the midshipmen. “It’s poison! What have you been doing to it?”
“Well, your honor, the only way I can account for it is that a while ago I took off the lid to see if it was boiling nicely, when a bit of tallow candle I had in my fingers slipped and fell into it. I couldn’t get it out, though I scalded my fingers in trying, and it just melted away in no time. I skimmed the fat off the top, your honors, and didn’t think it would make no matter.”
The shout of laughter which greeted the explanation was loud and general.
“You’re a scoundrel, Tom!” Allison said, “and I shall have to ask Mr. Hethcote to disrate you, and get some one here who is not a born idiot. Here, take this horrible mess away! Pour the contents of your plates back into the pot, boys, and put the plates together. You must wash them, Tom, or the tallow will taste in everything we have.”
The things were passed out of the tent, and after five minutes the plates were returned, and with them a great tin piled up with Irish stew, the contents of five tins. A cheer rose as the smell of the food greeted their nostrils.
“Hurrah! This is something like! I don’t think there’s any mistake this time.”
Nor was there. The stew was unanimously voted to be perfect, and Tom was again called to the tent-door, and solemnly forgiven.
Then came fried rashers of ham, eaten with hard biscuit. Then came the great triumph of the banquet—a great plum-pudding, which had been sent out from England in a tin, ready cooked, and which had only required an hour’s boiling to warm it through.
In order to eat this in what the midshipmen called proper style, a tin pannikin half filled with brandy was held over the candles, and the brandy being then ignited, was poured over the pudding. Not a scrap of this was left when the party had finished, and the table being cleared, pipes were brought out and lighted; the drinking-cups refilled with grog, and the party set-to to enjoy a long evening.
“It is a beastly night,” the one sitting next to the door said, peering out into the darkness. “It is a fine rain, or rather a Scotch mist, so thick I can hardly see the next tent. It will be as much as you fellows will be able to do to find your way back to your camps.
“Now,” Allison said, “let us make ourselves comfortable. It is only seven o’clock yet, and you’ve got three hours before ‘lights out.’ It’s my duty as president of the mess to call upon some one for a song, but as I’m a good fellow I will set the example myself. Upon the present occasion we can’t do better than begin with ’The Red, White, and Blue,’ and, mind, a good chorus every one. Any one shirking the chorus will have no share of the next round of grog, and any one who does not sing when called upon, or who attempts to make any base explanations or excuses, will have to drink his tin full of salt and water.”