2151468Aurora Australis — A Pony WatchPutty

In the stables


AFTER watching the man painting the lamp post with a brush fixed on a breast drill, for some time in silence, I say to the boy with green hair, ‘I believe I could do it better myself.’ The brush catches me a blow in the ribs, and the man rushes at me with a chopper in one hand and a hammer in the other, when realising that I can fly I take huge leaps without any effort, a most delightful sensation.

To my horror I find that though the leaps are high yet they do not carry me far; and on the fourth or fifth the man is waiting for me with the hammer. I give myself up for lost, and come down receiving a fearful blow on the head. A voice says, “Come on, this is your pony watch and it has gone two.”

By the dim light of the oil lamp, I see standing by the side of my bunk, a figure clothed in oilskins streaming water. Joyce is sitting on his bunk growling out in a voice hoarse with sleep, “Now then Chucks, you’ve been called twice”. The first time must have been the paint-brush in the ribs.

I realise that I have to stand ‘my two hours watch in the stables, so struggling out of my blankets, I grope sleepily for the socks I have been sleeping on, in the vain hope of drying them; stepping on the spot where a box should be, I land with a bump on the deck.

Down “Oyster Alley” I am thrown by a roll of the ship, ‘Sorry’, I say to the bunk into which I am thrown, before I notice it is empty. Clutching everywhere I return to where my clothes should be, only to find that the box has returned, and I stub my toe against it. I don’t say ‘sorry,’ but make a grab at my trousers and gingerly push one leg into their damp cold recesses. I wish I had not taken them off, but before I can settle in my mind which would have been the better plan, I am thrown violently against a moving box, and together we roll and slide until the deck is fairly level; then as Joyce runs up the ladder with practised steps, I struggle into the rest of my clothes and follow as best I can.

The watch we are relieving come along muttering, “Rough night, pony still down,” and literally dive below. I am deafened by the roaring wind, blinded by the driving spray, but struggle past the black motionless figure of the helmsman, and get safely under the shelter of the deck house. We seem to be sliding into a gigantic bowl of water, I shudder, but continue to fight my way stableward.

Watching for what I think to be a favourable moment I release my frantic hold of the motor car stays and dash forward; I am caught by a sea which fills my boots but does not upset me, then as I walk confidently past the galley, the lee rail is buried under water; I am more than ever convinced that it is a rough night and long for daylight.

A wild struggle through the stable entrance; and I am greeted by: a pained silence from Joyce. The ship is fairly level but the ponies have obviously had a bad time; one is down and all efforts to raise it having been useless, we wait for daylight to decide its fate. We stare ahead listening to the gale screaming overhead, and feel the ship giving-sudden plunges as the cable strains at her bows.

The timbers of the stable groan and creak, and we doubt their ability to carry the weight of boats and gear resting on them. Gaining confidence we seat ourselves on a sack of wet bran and fall to talking fitfully, the lamp splutters, goes out, and is lit with difficulty; the ponies snort, stamp, kick and keep us anxious.

Crash! a sea aboard and the sack on which we are sitting is swept from under us, we are rolled into the smother of sea, mixed up with trusses of hay, sacks of oats, food-boxes etc.. The ponies on the weather side kick frantically, one has his fore legs, over the bar; Joyce is up and pushing him back before I can extricate myself from the tangle, when I do I only hold on to a rope and render what assistance I can.

This is followed by a succession of seas aboard, and we heap curses on the helmsman for letting us fall off our course. Occasionaly we are swept off our feet, and can only hold on and do little to soothe the ponies. They suffer continually and we pity them, hoping for finer weather. The mats are slipping from under their feet, we replace them with difficulty and repeat the performance at intervals.

Another period of comparative calm follows; I volunteer to raid the galley and make some cocoa. Here there is a scene of wild confusion; the floor is flooded, littered with coal, and slippery with grease; after many 'mishaps, “Scottie” coming along gives valuable assistance.

Crash! a huge sea strikes us, and the ship literally staggers with the weight of it; water pours through the door, roof, and every available crevice; the fire is smothered and the galley fills with steam; another rush of water and I am carried through the door into the scuppers, clinging to everything within reach, then as the water pours off, “Scottie,” soaked but quite unconcerned, says he is afraid that there is some sea water in the cocoa, but I abandon the idea of cocoa and rush for the stables.

Joyce is having a rough time, the bulwarks are stove in and we are now constantly awash. The rest of the watch consists of fierce inrushes of water, which terrify the ponies and send every loose article, regardless of weight, swinging about the confined space. The grey dawn at length appearing, we begin to have faith in the coming day.

At four o’clock I go aft, report to the officer on watch, then dive into the fearsome depths of ‘Oyster Alley;’ rouse the watch, and when they are up, tumble into my blankets with a sigh of relief; despite a wild medley of scientific snores, sleeping on until “Rouse and shine, rouse and shine,” from Wild brings me out to a welcome breakfast, and I learn with regret that the pony has been shot; and so another day begins.