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D.C.O. Cargunka is a fictional sailor created by English writer William Hope Hodgson. Cargunka was an attempt by Hodgson to create a recurring character to use in short stories for magazine publication. Hodgson had previously achieved success with his series of stories about Carnacki, the detective of the supernatural. Hodgson's next attempt at a recurring character was Captain Jat, although Jat appeared in only two stories. The popular smuggler character Captain Gault was next. D.C.O. Cargunka was Hodgson's last recurring character and he appeared in only two stories.
The title "D.C.O." is somewhat obscure. We learn that it stands for "dot-and-carry-one," which is a reference to Cargunka's irregular gait. He is five feet, two inches tall, very muscular, and has one short leg and thus is slightly lame – in the same leg, as he is fond of pointing out, as the poet Byron. Cargunka curls his hair to try to look like the handsome Byron, and has aspirations to write poetry himself, although the bits of doggerel he produces in the stories indicate he is not in Byron's league. He also claims to be irresistible to women, although there seems to be little objective evidence for his claim. Cargunka may have chosen the title "D.C.O." to mislead people into believing that he holds a naval commission, since the abbreviation also means "Direct Commissioned Officer."
Unlike Hodgson's Captains Gault and Jat, Cargunka is a ship owner, and not a captain. He owns two ships. One is called the Happy Return, and the other is not named. Cargunka also owns a marine stores company in Appledaulf and two bars, one connected to the marine stores company called the Red Lyon, and one on the waterfront in San Francisco, called the Dot-And-Carry-One Saloon. Cargunka's ship is actually captained by one Captain Gell, while Cargunka assumes the role of ship's cook, allegedly to save money, since he does not need to hire a cook. We are told that cooking is his "hobby, almost his passion," and that sailors love to ship out with him because of the quality of the food he produces; however, the only actual cooking that Hodgson describes Cargunka doing is peeling potatoes, and he seems to do a lot of this, even in his office.
Nature of the stories
The two D.C.O. Cargunka stories, written late in Hodgson's brief writing career, represent some of his best and most sophisticated work. They are lively, fast-paced, and filled with dialogue (written in dialect), and make effective use of significant detail. Unlike the Captain Jat stories, which are quite dark, the D.C.O. Cargunka stories are gently humorous. While Captain Gault often makes others the butt of his jokes, he himself doesn't display very many of the character flaws that help to humanise a fictional character. By contrast, Cargunka is himself the butt of several running gags about his obsessions with his personal appearance, poetry, and potatoes. It can't be known, of course, whether Hodgson might one day have written more stories featuring Cargunka. But by taking the most interesting aspects of his earlier recurring character stories and improving on them, while discarding aspects that didn't work well, Hodgson created a character that both succeeded in the two completed stories and had great potential for future work.
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The Bells of the Laughing Sally
The story begins on dry land, which is rather unusual for one of Hodgson's nautical stories. Cargunka is in his office, peeling potatoes. He is also admiring his carefully formed curls in a mirror, reading poems of Byron, and listening to a phonograph. The phonograph plays a recording, on a wax cylinder, of a mournful song about a lost ship, the "Laughing Sally." Cargunka imagines himself as the captain of a ship lost forever at sea as well, and jots down his own rhymes inspired by the music. The third stanza begins:
The Laughing Sally sailed away
Into the Evermore that day,Across the deep in the evening grey..."
And the sound of her bells came back to me
He is interrupted by Jensag, a barman in the Red Lyon, which connects to Cargunka's office. Jensag demands that Cargunka stop the music. They quarrel over the phonograph, and Jensag smashes it. Cargunka takes off his coat and invites Jensag into a larger room so that they can fight properly. Cargunka mutters to himself that a fist-fight is his usual manner for making a new friend. Although Cargunka has a size disadvantage, he handily defeats the barman, knocking him unconscious, but pours brandy down the man's throat.
In Chapter 2, Jensag awakens and explains the reason for his anger: he tells Cargunka about the singer on the phonograph record, whose stage name is Stella Bavanga. The song, "The Fate of the Laughing Sally", about a lost schooner, had been a hit five years earlier. The singer herself was later sent on a sea voyage for health reasons, on a barque also named the Laughing Sally, captained by a man named Barstow. This ship, too, was lost at sea three years ago. The singer, presumed drowned, was Jensag's wife.
In Chapter 3, we learn from a "burly-looking man" that the second Laughing Sally stuffed with treasure:
Ole Barstow carried his brass wiv him, an' there should be a pile; he didn't trust no banks; same's he didn't trust no wimmin.
Cargunka agrees to split any findings in exchange for the location of the shipwreck.
Chapter 4 opens aboard Cargunka's ship, the Happy Return, as Cargunka sights the wreck just offshore of Three Finger Island. Jensag has accompanied him as ship's steward, hoping to find that his wife has survived the wreck. Cargunka gives the rest of the crew leave to go ashore and prepare for a picnic dinner while Carunka himself takes a smaller boat, called a "shore-punt," to view the wreck. He finds nothing unusual, and decides to come back at low tide, when more of the wreck will be uncovered; meanwhile, he goes ashore to cook for the men.
As eight bells are rung to signal that dinner is ready, Cargunka and the men hear, mysteriously, the sound of eight bells from the submerged, wrecked barque: "eight eldritch, sharp, thin-sounding strokes on a bell." The bell is visible now that the tide is lower, but there is no explanation for how it was rung. Cargunka and the men row out to the barque to investigate the bell, and find that its striker is missing. Uncomfortable near the dark and gloomy wreck, the men return to eat their meal. Jensag, however, disappears in the shore-punt. In the dark, the men hear him calling, but ignore him, drinking rum around the fire and singing and telling tall tales. The men again try sounding eight bells on the brig, to see if the echo from the Laughing Sally is repeated... and it is!
The men, believing that Jensag is playing a trick on them, listen, but hear him calling "Agnes! Agnes!" from far away; he does not seem to be near the wreck. The men again row out to the wreck to investigate, but find no explanation. Cargunka asks the mate to ring the ship's bell at half past twelve, and rows out quietly to wait and watch the wreck. As Jensag is heard in the distance singing "And the sound of her bells came back to me," the half past twelve bell about the Happy Return rings, and again is echoed by the bell of the Laughing Sally, even though the bell is now underwater. Cargunka feels the bell underwater to see if he can determine how it was struck, but finds nothing. Upon returning to the island, Durritt, the bo'sun, tells Cargunka that the sound is a "dead man's bell," and that "no good'll come messin 'round wiv that!" The men round up the drunken Jensag.
In Chapter 5, the men search the island while Cargunka, Gell, Durritt, and the ship's carpenter investigate the wreck; Durritt wears a diving suit. During his dive, Durritt's lifeline is jerked violently, and Cargunka swims into the wrecked ship, without a diving suit, to aid the man. Cargunka rescues him, but there seems to be no explanation as to how the became twisted around an interior door-handle, or for the blow he received to the back of the neck, which knocked him unconscious.
Durritt dives into the wreck again, and the same thing happens: Cargunka again finds the diver unconscious and the line wrapped around a door-handle. Cargunka sees "projected towards him an awful, sodden, bearded face, huge and horrible and blurred," although it quickly disappears. Although Durritt is hauled out, this time he does not recover; he is dead.
Cargunka takes a turn in the diving suit. Captain Gell gives him a revolver. Cargunka again confronts a mysterious underwater enemy with a "sodden, white hand" and a "weed-entangled face," manages to fire the pistol at the apparition three times, but then loses consciousness. When he awakens, he is back in the boat; Gell and the ship's carpenter have pulled him out of the wreck, accompanied by "an enormous, naked, sodden-looking human body, that was gripped fiercely to Cargunka, and lashed about with its great legs." The creature is Captain Barstow; he dies of three bullet wounds, although given his waterlogged appearance, it is amazing that he was not already dead by drowning.
In Chapter 6, we find that the bo'sun, thought dead, has actually recovered. Cargunka discovers that while was away at the wreck, Jensag's lost wife has been found alive and well on the island!
Chapter 7 summarises the strange events surrounding the wreck of the Laughing Sally. Captain Barstow survived the wreck, but went mad trying to recover his treasure, some of which was hidden below heavy iron plates he could not move. Agnes survived in a small cave at the far end of the island. It was Captain Barstow, who spent much of his time diving in the wreck, surviving in trapped air pockets, who had rung the ship's bell, even when it was underwater. A great deal of recovered gold is found in Barstow's own cave, and more gold in Barstow's hiding place below the iron plates.
The story ends where it starts for D.C.O. Cargunka, who is back in his office, peeling potatoes and listening to "The Fate of the Laughing Sally." Only this time, Cargunka is listening to Agnes Jensag sing the song herself.
The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers
The second story begins with D.C.O. in San Francisco at his saloon. A customer is taking a little too much advantage of Cargunka's offer of a free lunch with drinks purchase, stuffing cheese into his pocket. Cargunka knocks the man unconscious in the requisite fistfight. Another man comes barrelling into his saloon, carrying a gun and looking for someone named Buck Kessel. Kessel is the very same man that Cargunka has just knocked unconscious, and who is still lying on the floor of the saloon.
Cargunka manages to prevent the newcomer, George Monkton, from murdering Kessel, who upon regaining consciousness promptly runs away. Monkton is weak with hunger and Cargunka feeds him, while listening to his story. We learn that Monkton is a gold miner who recently staked a claim. Claim-jumpers have muscled in on his claim; Kessel is the man who actually filed the paperwork. Monkton recruits Cargunka to help him drive off the claim jumpers, and recover his gold in exchange for half the proceeds.
What follows is the story of a daring nighttime raid. Wearing blackface, Cargunka and his partner sneak ashore by boat in the dead of night and trap the claim jumpers in their cabin, using ammonia to render the men temporarily unconscious. Cargunka invades the cabin and scoops up numours bags of gold, and escapes just as the claim jumpers are regaining consciousness. There is some shooting, although Cargunka is loath to kill anyone, and the partners in crime eventually lose their pursuers and split the proceeds.