Few Canadians realize that the deep-water ships of the Canadian Government Merchant Marine girdle the world. Here is what happens when one of them crosses the equator.
Norman Reilly Raine
THE ship’s bell struck musically—one-two! one-two! one-two! one-two! Eight bells. The Old Man and the ship’s officers, shooting the noon sun, retired to chartroom and cabin to work out the position. Flying fish skittered from under the gently dipping bows, scattering a wake of jewelled drops before plopping back into the Pacific blue.
At two o’clock the strains of a mouth-organ sounded in the fo’castle, accompanied by shouts and laughter, and the lip-tickling music of a “fou-fou” band. A strange procession emerged, passed along the for’ard well-deck and halted beside a huge tarpaulin, rigged up as a tank and containing four feet of salt water. The train was led by a noble bodyguard, in baggy trousers, crimson sash and headgear, sea boots, and piratical moustachios, preceding a stately figure garbed in a flowing robe, with gilded crown, a formidable trident and an inspiring set of rope-yarn whiskers. On his arm was a blushing maiden, his daughter, newly shaved for the occasion, whose cherry-lipped loveliness was well calculated to hasten the heartbeats of susceptible seafaring men. Next came a tall, spectacled figure in clerical garb, with white gloves and socks. After them followed the royal suite; the Court Doctor, in white drill suit and a straw hat, the Imperial Barber, with his implements, and minor members of the entourage.
Gullible seagulls paused to stare, and excited whales dashed home to blow about the strange events which were taking place on the deck of the S.S. Canadian Highlander, Vancouver to Fiji and the Antipodes, as this trade emissary of the Dominion crossing the equator, did homage to His Imperial Majesty, King Neptune I, Monarch of the Deep.
Upon receiving the customary obeisance of Captain Fisher, the ship’s master, now temporarily deposed, the royal party conducted itself in accord with the ancient ceremonial of the sea, and Neptune and his staff made ready to receive as loyal subjects those members of the crew who, for the first time, were crossing the equator.
The bodyguard disappeared, to return shortly with the first neophyte, a gentleman becomingly nervous in the presence of royalty. Neptune greeted him kindly, presented him to the princess and inquired benevolently concerning the health of his parents, if any. He then was led to a table for medical examination, for only those who are properly robust may become deep-water subjects.
The doctor, with gravely professional air, opened his instrument case, and tested the applicant’s heart with a boiler hammer; took his pulse and temperature, and sounded
his lungs by means of a stethoscope made of a piece of rubber tubing ending in a cork in which a needle was inserted. Demonstration of this peculiar virtue of this up-to-date instrument did not fail to win the approval of the spectators, not to mention the objections of the patient.
Dr. Sawbones then administered a pill which was more beneficial perhaps than relished, and his victim was then turned over to the Imperial Barber to be made sweet and sanitary before the consummation of the final rites. Thereupon the barber, who was an energetic and muscular person, well versed in his art, applied lather copiously to the face, and vicinity, of the neophyte. The barber, like the doctor, had his little idiosyncrasies, and insisted upon having his lather mixed with such efficacious ingredients as soft soap, slush, fuel oil, white lead, soot and other curious emollients. He was solicitous, however. Midway in the operation, when the lather brush was on its second round he enquired graciously how his customer did. Upon the latter opening his mouth to reply, the brush was observed to enter the opening thus created, and a quantity of the lather found its way down the neophyte’s throat.
The final act in the ceremony was left to the royal hands of Neptune. His Majesty, arming himself with a razor with a two-foot blade, and a three-foot handle, proceeded to shave his protege, interspersing skilled strokes with bits of airy badinage. A word to his varlets and the neophyte was hoisted from his seat by the bodyguard and submerged with perhaps more than strictly necessary enthusiasm in the four feet of cold sea water in the belly of the tarpaulin while the parson pronounced a blessing. Thus was he baptized a true and loyal subject of the Ruler of the Waves.
In the meantime, the Princess, who was a fast worker, had been carrying on a violent affair with the Wandering Jew, and it was felt that in the interest of decorum and a righteous life, a wedding ceremony should take place.
“Do you take this woman for your awful wife?” asked the parson. The bridegroom gulped, and the ring, a good-sized boiler nut, was produced. Cheers greeted the nuptials, and the happy couple entered a taxi, which had hastily been constructed for the purpose, and the Imperial aviator, having placed himself between the shafts, the happy couple were drawn rapidly away. As the newlyweds disappeared under the fo’castle head, the bride, in a fit of highbred petulance, belabored her spouse with the wedding ring.
Once more the Imperial orchestra took up a refrain and Neptune, with a final wave of his trident, returned to the deep. The Highlander had crossed the line.
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