[Illustration: Alexander Irvine as a Marine, at the Age of Nineteen]
“Boys,” I said, “here’s yer last chance to oblige an Irishman!”
“What is it, Pat?” half a dozen shouted in unison.
“I want to box any three blinderin’ idiots in the room, and all together, begorra! Come on now, ye spalpeens, and show the stuff yer made of!”
The only answer was a loud outburst of applause and laughter.
In my exuberance, I danced an Irish hornpipe, and my career in the barrack-room was over.
ON BOARD A MAN O’ WAR
In January, 1883, the big troop-ship bearing reinforcements for the Mediterranean Squadron steamed into Malta Harbour and we were transferred to our respective ships. The Alexandra was supposed to be the most powerful ship in Victoria’s navy at that time. She carried the flag of Admiral Lord John Hay. She was a little city of the sea with her divisions of labour, her social distinctions, her alleys and her avenues. She had a population of about one thousand inhabitants. These were divided into officers, petty officers, bluejackets and marines. Around the flagship lay half a dozen other ships of the fleet. I was fascinated with the variety of things around me in that little city, and for the first few days on board spent all my leisure time in exploring this mysterious underwater world. Her guns were of the heaviest calibre. Her steel walls were decorated with ponderous Pallasier shot and shell. I was struck with the marvellous cleanliness. Her decks were white. Every inch of brasswork was shining; everything in order; everything trim and neat; neither slovenly men nor slovenly conditions.
Malta Harbour is one of the finest in the world. The old City of La Vallette looks like an immense fortress, which it really is, and the next thing to explore was the Island.
It seemed as if I had entered an entirely new world. My heart was full of joy, my mind full of hope, and my uniform for the time being was more the uniform of a student than of a fighter. My first great discovery on the ship was the thing I had prayed for—a school. I hid myself behind a stanchion out of sight of the instructors and took my bearings. Later, I found a place where I could sit within hearing distance, but was discovered and forced to explain. The chief instructor was interested in my explanation and in my story, and gave me valuable advice as to how to proceed in my studies. Once again my brogue militated against my advancement. Being the only Irishman in the mess, I had to bear more than my share of its humour. I made application to be employed as a waiter in the officers’ wardroom, so that I might improve my pronunciation and add to my vocabulary. I had a little pad arranged on the inside of my jacket with a pencil attached, and every new word I heard I jotted down; and every night I gathered together