The two things responsible for such perversion in the navy are: first, the herding of the male sex together and for long periods; second, the mode of dress in which little boys begin their sea life. These are the problems before which all others sink into utter insignificance. The army and navy of Great Britain, is recruited very largely from the slums of great cities. The most ignorant, the most brutal and most immoral of mankind are drafted by the incentive of a better life than they have ever known; but they are only changed outwardly. Their nature, their habits of life, their mental make-up, does not change; or, if it changes to the automatic action by which they become part of a war machine they lose that individual freedom that is the boast of the Anglo-Saxon race.
On the other hand, I must say that in all my contact with life, I have never met nor been associated with a group of men more gentlemanly, better educated, or whose total sum of right thinking and right living was higher than that group of officers on that ship. I certainly attribute a great deal of my quickening of mind to contact with them.
THE GORDON RELIEF EXPEDITION
The incarceration of Gordon in Khartoum was a matter of deep concern to every soldier and sailor in the British Empire, particularly to those of us who were in and around Egypt at the time. It has not always been plain to the British soldier in Egypt, why he was there; but he seldom asks why he is anywhere. In the matter of Gordon, however, the case was different. They all knew that Gladstone had sent him and refused to relieve him; at least, the relief was so long-drawn-out, so dilatory, that it was practically useless.
I had made application for my discharge from the service by purchase—a matter of one hundred dollars—and had my plans made out for further study; but the plight of Gordon gripped me as it gripped others, and I determined to throw every other consideration aside, and get to the front. There was one chance in a thousand, and I took it. A marine officer of the ship was called for and his valet was a man who had almost served his time; had seen much service and was not at all anxious for any more. I went after him, bank-book in hand:
“I will give you all I possess if you will let me go in your place.”
“It’s a go,” said this man as a gleam of joy overspread his face. The officer himself was glad, and the whole thing was arranged; and in forty-eight hours, I was on board the Peninsula and Oriental steamship Bokhara bound for the Red Sea. The officer was the most brutal cad I have ever met. He strutted like a peacock, and seemed to take delight in humiliating, when an opportunity would present itself, anybody and everybody beneath him in rank—he was a captain.