The Cook of the
"Gannet" by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
All ready for sea, and no cook," said the mate of the schooner
Gannet, gloomily. "What's become of all the cooks I can't think."
"They most on 'em ship as mates now," said the skipper, grinning.
"But you needn't worry about that; I've got one coming aboard
to-night. I'm trying a new experiment, George."
"I once knew a chemist who tried one," said George, "an' it blew
him out of the winder; but I never heard o' shipmasters trying 'em."
"There's all kinds of experiments," rejoined the other, "What do
you say to a lady cook, George?"
"A WHAT?" asked the mate in tones of strong amazement. "What,
aboard a schooner?"
"Why not?" inquired the skipper warmly; "why not? There's plenty of
'em ashore—why not aboard ship?"
"'Tain't proper, for one thing," said the mate virtuously.
"I shouldn't have expected you to have thought o' that," said the
other unkindly. "Besides, they have stewardesses on big ships, an'
what's the difference? She's a sort o' relation o' mine, too—cousin
o' my wife's, a widder woman, and a good sensible age, an' as the
doctor told her to take a sea voyage for the benefit of her 'elth,
she's coming with me for six months as cook. She'll take her meals
with us; but, o' course, the men are not to know of the relationship."
"What about sleeping accommodation?" inquired the mate, with the
air of a man putting a poser.
"I've thought o' that," replied the other; "it's all arranged."
The mate, with an uncompromising air, waited for information.
"She—she's to have your berth, George," continued the skipper,
without looking at him. "You can have that nice, large, airy locker."
"One what the biscuit and onions kep' in?" inquired George.
The skipper nodded.
"I think, if it's all the same to you," said the mate, with
laboured politeness, "I'll wait till the butter keg's empty, and crowd
"It's no use your making yourself unpleasant about it," said the
skipper, "not a bit. The arrangements are made now, and here she
Following his gaze, the mate looked up as a stout, comely-looking
woman of middle age came along the jetty, followed by the watchman
staggering under a box of enormous proportions.
"Jim!" cried the lady.
"Halloa!" cried the skipper, starting uneasily at the title. "We've
been expecting you for some time."
"There's a row on with the cabman," said the lady calmly. "This
silly old man"—the watchman snorted fiercely—"let the box go through
the window getting it off the top, and the cabman wants ME to pay.
He's out there using language, and he keeps calling me grandma—I want
you to have him locked up."
"Come down below now," said the skipper; "we'll see about the cab.
Mrs. Blossom—my mate. George, go and send that cab away."
Mrs. Blossom, briefly acknowledging the introduction, followed the
skipper to the cabin, while the mate, growling under his breath, went
out to enter into a verbal contest in which he was from the first
The new cook, being somewhat fatigued with her journey, withdrew at
an early hour, and the sun was well up when she appeared on deck next
morning. The wharves and warehouses of the night before had
disappeared, and the schooner, under a fine spread of canvas, was just
"There's one thing I must put a stop to," said the skipper, as he
and the mate, after an admirably-cooked breakfast, stood together
talking. "The men seem to be hanging round that galley too much."
"What can you expect?" demanded the mate. "They've all got their
Sunday clothes on too, pretty dears."
"Hi, you Bill!" cried the skipper. "What are you doing there?"
"Lending cook a hand with the saucepans, sir," said Bill, an oakum-
bearded man of sixty.
"There ain't no call for 'im to come 'ere at all, sir," shouted
another seaman, putting his head out of the galley. "Me an' cook's
lifting 'em beautiful."
"Come out, both of you, or I'll start you with a rope!" roared the
"What's the matter?" inquired Mrs. Blossom. "They're not doing any
"I can't have 'em there," said the skipper gruffly. "They've got
other things to do."
"I must have some assistance with that boiler and the saucepans,"
said Mrs. Blossom decidedly, "so don't you interfere with what don't
concern you, Jimmy."
"That's mutiny," whispered the horrified mate. "Sheer, rank
"She don't know no better," whispered the other back. "Cook, you
mustn't talk like that to the cap'n—what me and the mate tell you you
must do. You don't understand yet, but it'll come easier by-and-bye."
"WILL it," demanded Mrs. Blossom loudly; "WILL it? I don't think it
will. How dare you talk to me like that, Jim Harris? You ought to be
ashamed of yourself!"
"My name's Cap'n Harris," said the skipper stiffly.
"Well, CAPTAIN Harris," said Mrs. Blossom scornfully; "and what'll
happen if I don't do as you and that other shamefaced-looking man tell
"We hope it won't come to that," said Harris, with quiet dignity,
as he paused at the companion. "But the mate's in charge just now, and
I warn you he's a very severe man. Don't stand no nonsense, George."
With these brave words the skipper disappeared below, and the mate,
after one glance at the dauntless and imposing attitude of Mrs.
Blossom, walked to the side and became engrossed in a passing steamer.
A hum of wondering admiration arose from the crew, and the cook,
thoroughly satisfied with her victory, returned to the scene of her
For the next twenty-four hours Mrs. Blossom reigned supreme, and
performed the cooking for the vessel, assisted by five ministering
seamen. The weather was fine, and the wind light, and the two officers
were at their wits' end to find jobs for the men.
"Why don't you put your foot down," grumbled the mate, as a burst
of happy laughter came from the direction of the galley. "The idea of
men laughing like that aboard ship; they're carrying on just as though
we wasn't here."
"Will you stand by me?" demanded the skipper, pale but determined.
"Of course I will," said the other indignantly.
"Now, my lads," said Harris, stepping forward, "I can't have you
chaps hanging round the galley all day; you're getting in cook's way
and hindering her. Just get your knives out; I'll have the masts
"You just stay where you are," said Mrs. Blossom. "When they're in
my way, I'll soon let 'em know."
"Did you hear what I said?" thundered the skipper, as the men
"Aye, aye, sir," muttered the crew, moving off.
"How dare you interfere with me?" said Mrs. Blossom hotly, as she
realised the defeat. "Ever since I've been on this ship you've been
trying to aggravate me. I wonder the men don't hit you, you nasty,
ginger-whiskered little man."
"Go on with your work," said the skipper, fondly stroking the
"Don't you talk to me, Jim Harris," said Mrs. Blossom, quivering
with wrath. "Don't you give ME none of your airs. WHO BORROWED FIVE
POUNDS FROM MY POOR DEAD HUSBAND JUST BEFORE HE DIED, AND NEVER PAID
"Go on with your work," repeated the skipper, with pale lips.
"WHOSE UNCLE BENJAMIN HAD THREE WEEKS?" demanded Mrs. Blossom
darkly. "WHOSE UNCLE JOSEPH HAD TO GO ABROAD WITHOUT STOPPING TO PACK
The skipper made no reply, but the anxiety of the crew to have
these vital problems solved was so manifest that he turned his back on
the virago and went towards the mate, who at that moment dipped
hurriedly to escape a wet dish-clout. The two men regarded each other,
pale with anxiety.
"Now, you just move off," said Mrs. Blossom, shaking another clout
at them. "I won't have you hanging about my galley. Keep to your own
end of the ship."
The skipper drew himself up haughtily, but the effect was somewhat
marred by one eye, which dwelt persistently on the clout, and after a
short inward struggle he moved off, accompanied by the mate.
Wellington himself would have been nonplussed by a wet cloth in the
hands of a fearless woman.
"She'll just have to have her own way till we get to Llanelly,"
said the indignant skipper, "and then I'll send her home by train and
ship another cook. I knew she'd got a temper, but I didn't know it was
like this. She's the last woman that sets foot on my ship—that's all
she's done for her sex."
In happy ignorance of her impending doom Mrs. Blossom went blithely
about her duties, assisted by a crew whose admiration for her
increased by leaps and bounds; and the only thing which ventured to
interfere with her was a stiff Atlantic roll, which they encountered
upon rounding the Land's End.
The first intimation Mrs. Blossom had of it was the falling of
small utensils in the galley. After she had picked them up and
replaced them several times, she went out to investigate, and
discovered that the schooner was dipping her bows to big green waves,
and rolling, with much straining and creaking, from side to side. A
fine spray, which broke over the bows and flew over the vessel, drove
her back into the galley, which had suddenly developed an
unaccountable stuffiness; but, though the crew to a man advised her to
lie down and have a cup of tea, she repelled them with scorn, and with
pale face and compressed lips stuck to her post.
Two days later they made fast to the quay at Llanelly, and
half-an-hour later the skipper called the mate down to the cabin, and,
handing him some money, told him to pay the cook off and ship another.
The mate declined.
"You obey orders," said the skipper fiercely, "else you an' me'll
"I've got a wife an' family," urged the mate.
"Pooh!" said the skipper. "Rubbish!"
"And uncles," added the mate rebelliously.
"Very good," said the skipper, glaring. "We'll ship the other cook
first and let him settle it. After all, I don't see why we should
fight his battles for him."
The mate, being agreeable, went off at once; and when Mrs. Blossom,
after a little shopping ashore, returned to the Gannet she found the
galley in the possession of one of the fattest cooks that ever broke
"Hullo!" said she, realising the situation at a glance, "what are
you doing here?"
"Cooking," said the other gruffly. Then, catching sight of his
questioner, he smiled amorously and winked at her.
"Don't you wink at me," said Mrs. Blossom wrathfully. "Come out of
"There's room for both," said the new cook persuasively. "Come in
an' put your 'ed on my shoulder."
Utterly unprepared for this mode of attack, Mrs. Blossom lost her
nerve, and, instead of storming the galley, as she had fully intended,
drew back and retired to the cabin, where she found a short note from
the skipper, enclosing her pay, and requesting her to take the train
home. After reading this she went ashore again, returning presently
with a big bundle, which she placed on the cabin table in front of
Harris and the mate, who had just begun tea.
"I'm not going home by train," said she, opening the bundle, which
contained a spirit kettle and provisions. "I'm going back with you;
but I am not going to be beholden to you for anything—I 'm going to
After this declaration she made herself tea and sat down. The meal
proceeded in silence, though occasionally she astonished her
companions by little mysterious laughs, which caused them slight
uneasiness. As she made no hostile demonstration, however, they became
reassured, and congratulated themselves upon the success of their
"How long shall we be getting back to London, do you think?"
inquired Mrs. Blossom at last.
"We shall probably sail Tuesday night, and it may be anything from
six days upwards," answered the skipper. "If this wind holds it'll
probably be upwards."
To his great concern Mrs. Blossom put her handkerchief over her
face, and, shaking with suppressed laughter, rose from the table and
left the cabin.
The couple left eyed each other wonderingly.
"Did I say anything pertickler funny, George?" inquired the
skipper, after some deliberation.
"Didn't strike me so," said the mate carelessly; "I expect she's
thought o' something else to say about your family. She wouldn't be so
good- tempered as all that for nothing. I feel cur'ous to know what it
"If you paid more attention to your own business," said the
skipper, his choler rising, "you'd get on better. A mate who was a
good seaman wouldn't ha' let a cook go on like this—it's not
He went off in dudgeon, and a coolness sprang up between them,
which lasted until the bustle of starting in the small hours of
Once under way the day passed uneventfully, the schooner crawling
sluggishly down the coast of Wales, and, when the skipper turned in
that night, it was with the pleasant conviction that Mrs. Blossom had
shot her last bolt, and, like a sensible woman, was going to accept
her defeat. From this pleasing idea he was aroused suddenly by the
watch stamping heavily on the deck overhead.
"What's up?" cried the skipper, darting up the companion-ladder,
jostled by the mate.
"I dunno," said Bill, who was at the wheel, shakily. "Mrs. Blossom
come up on deck a little while ago, and since then there's been three
or four heavy splashes."
"She can't have gone overboard," said the skipper, in tones to
which he manfully strove to impart a semblance of anxiety. "No, here
she is. Anything wrong, Mrs. Blossom?"
"Not so far as I'm concerned," replied the lady, passing him and
"You've been dreaming, Bill," said the skipper sharply.
"I ain't," said Bill stoutly. "I tell you I heard splashes. It's my
belief she coaxed the cook up on deck, and then shoved him overboard.
A woman could do anything with a man like that cook."
"I'll soon see," said the mate, and walking forward he put his head
down the fore-scuttle and yelled for the cook.
"Aye, aye, sir," answered a voice sleepily, while the other men
started up in their bunks. "Do you want me?"
"Bill thinks somebody has gone overboard," said the mate. "Are you
In answer to this the mystified men turned out all standing, and
came on deck yawning and rubbing their eyes, while the mate explained
the situation. Before he had finished the cook suddenly darted off to
the galley, and the next moment the forlorn cry of a bereaved soul
broke on their startled ears.
"What is it?" cried the mate.
"Come here!" shouted the cook, "look at this!"
He struck a match and held it aloft in his shaking fingers, and the
men, who were worked up to a great pitch of excitement and expected to
see something ghastly, after staring hard for some time in vain,
profanely requested him to be more explicit.
"She's thrown all the saucepans and things overboard," said the
cook with desperate calmness. "This lid of a tea kettle is all that's
left for me to do the cooking in."
* * * * *
The Gannet, manned by seven famine-stricken misogynists, reached
London six days later, the skipper obstinately refusing to put in at
an intermediate port to replenish his stock of hardware. The most he
would consent to do was to try and borrow from a passing vessel, but
the unseemly behaviour of the master of a brig, who lost two hours
owing to their efforts to obtain a saucepan of him, utterly
discouraged any further attempts in that direction, and they settled
down to a diet of biscuits and water, and salt beef scorched on the
Mrs. Blossom, unwilling perhaps to witness their sufferings,
remained below, and when they reached London, only consented to land
under the supervision of a guard of honour, composed of all the
able-bodied men on the wharf.