Looking for the title of a old sci-fi short story about two men on a Liberty ship (reporter & soldier) discussing how the soldier became immortal. He was wounded in the middle ages, near death, when a passing doctor poured his "digestive" on the soldier's exposed brain. He healed and became unkillable. Spent centuries trying to recreate the "digestive" which required four ingredients including oil of roses and honey. Reporter explains he can never recreate it because of the differences in every batch of honey, etc. Soldier runs off. The title may have been "Does Anyone Know the Whereabouts of Private Coo-coo?" Or similar. Or wildly different. Soldier cuts thumb mostly off in story to demonstrate his immortality. That was memorable at age nine.
Looking for the title of a old sci-fi short story
"Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo?", a novelette by Gerald Kersh; also the (unaccepted) answer to the questions "An immortal soldier story" and "Immortal Soldier - Cured with Honey based salve, wounds heal, fears drowning?".
about two men on a Liberty ship
Surely, there must be scores of men who retain some memory of Cuckoo, whom they must have seen hundreds and hundreds of times on the Queen Mary between July 6th and July 11th, 1945?
(reporter & soldier)
I said, "I'm a war correspondent, and newspaperman, and so I have the right to ask impertinent questions. I might, you know, write a piece about you for my paper. What sort of name is Cuckoo? I've never heard it before."
For the sake of appearances I had taken out a notebook and pencil. The corporal said, "My name isn't really Cuckoo. It's a French name originally—Lecocu. You know what that means, don't you?"
discussing how the soldier became immortal. He was wounded in the middle ages, near death, when a passing doctor poured his "digestive" on the soldier's exposed brain.
"Corporal Cuckoo," I said, "you have told me that you are four hundred and thirty-eight years old. You were born in 1507, and left Yvetot to join the army after your wife made a fool of you with a linen merchant named Nicolas. Your name was Lecoq, and the children called you Lecocu. You fought at the Battle of Turin, and were wounded in the Pass of Suze about 1537. Your head was cut open with a halberd, or poleax, and some of your brains came out. A surgeon named Ambroise Paré poured into the wound in your head what you call a Digestive. So you came back to life—more than four hundred years ago! Is this right?"
He healed and became unkillable. Spent centuries trying to recreate the "digestive" which required four ingredients including oil of roses and honey.
"So you have the Secret of Life?" I said. "You're four hundred years old, and wounds can't kill you. It only takes a certain mixture of egg yolks, oil of roses, turpentine and honey. Is that right?"
"That's right," said Corporal Cuckoo.
Reporter explains he can never recreate it because of the differences in every batch of honey, etc.
Corporal Cuckoo was still silent. I continued, with a kind of malicious enthusiasm. "You must reflect on these things, Corporal. Take turpentine. It comes out of trees. Even in the sixteenth century there were many known varieties of turpentine—Chian Terebinthine, and what not. But above all, my dear fellow, consider honey! There are more kinds of honey in the world than have ever been categorized. Every honeycomb yields a slightly different honey. You must know that bees living in heather gather and store one kind of honey, while bees in an apple orchard give us something quite different. It is all honey, of course, but its flavor and quality are variable beyond calculation. Honey varies from hive to hive, Corporal Cuckoo. I say nothing of wild bees' honey."
Soldier cuts thumb mostly off in story to demonstrate his immortality.
"Look," he said calmly, and cut through the soft flesh between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand until the knifeblade stopped on the bone, and the thumb fell back until it touched the forearm. "See that?"
I saw it though a mist. The great ship seemed, suddenly, to roll and plunge. "Are you crazy?" I said, as soon as I could.
"No," said Corporal Cuckoo. "I'm showing you I'm not, see?" He held his mutilated hand close to my face.
"Take it away," I said.
"Sure," said Corporal Cuckoo. "Watch this." He pushed the almost-severed thumb back into place, and held it down with his right hand. "It's okay," he said, "there's no need to look sick. I'm showing you, see? Don't go—sit down. I'm not kidding. I can give you a hell of a story, a fact-story. I can show you Paré's little notebook and everything. You saw what I showed you when I pulled up my shirt? You saw what I've got right here, on the left side?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well, that's where I got hit by a nine-pound cannonball when I was on the Mary Ambree, fighting against the Spanish Armada—it smashed my chest so that the ribs went through my heart—and I was walking about in two weeks. And this other one [. . . .]"
P.S. Corporal Cuckoo is mentioned (and promoted to Colonel) in Chapter 3 of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century. From the Wikipedia summary:
In 2009, the male Orlando is serving in the British Army and stationed in Q'mar. He receives a medal after apparently surviving a massacre, but he privately confesses to a fellow immortal soldier – Colonel Cuckoo – that he actually committed the massacre himself in a moment of violent madness.