The Long Trick
by Lewis Anselm da Costa Ritchie
THE LONG TRICK
Author of A Tall Ship, Naval Occasions, etc.
Much of what you have done, as far as the public eye
is concerned, may almost be said to have been done in
the twilight.Extract from address delivered by the Prime
Minister on board the Fleet Flagship, Aug., 1915.
Cassell and Company, Ltd London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
First Published. October 1917. Reprinted (Twice) October 1917,
Who, in moments of frenzy, is called
and answers readily to
TUNKS, TINKS or TONKS,
CHAPTER I. BACK
FROM THE LAND
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER IV. WAR
CHAPTER V. UNCLE
CHAPTER VI. WET
CHAPTER X. THE
BATTLE OF THE
CHAPTER XI. THE
INTO THE WAY OF
DEAR N AND M,
This is the first opportunity I have had of answering your letter,
although I am hardly to blame since you chose to write anonymously and
leave me with no better clue to your address than the Tunbridge Wells
Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum! I am sorry about Torps, though. I admit his death
was a mistake, and I fancy my Publisher thought so too: but we cannot
very well bring him to life again, like Sherlock Holmes. So please
cheer up, and remember that there are just as many fine fellows in the
ink-pot as ever came out of it.
I have borne in mind the final paragraph of your letter, which said,
We do beseech you not to kill the India-rubber Man. In fact, I
originally meant him to be the hero of this book. But as the book
progressed I found the melancholy conviction growing on me that the
India-rubber Man had become infernally dull. A pair of cynical
bachelors like you will, I know, attribute this to marriage and poor
Betty. For my part I am inclined to put it down to advancing years.
I have just finished the book, and, turning over the pages, found
myself wondering how you will like it. It has been written in so many
different moods and places and noises and temperatures that the general
effect is rather patchwork. But, after all, it was written chiefly for
the amusement of two people, and (as I believe all story-books ought to
be written) out of some curiosity on the Author's part to know what
Thus, you see, I strive to disarm all critics at the outset by the
assumption of an ingenuous indifference to anything they can say. But
there is one portion of the book on which I have expended so much
thought and care that I am willing to defy criticism on the subject. I
refer to the Dedication.
You probably skip Dedications, but they interest me, and I have
studied them a good deal. They are generally arranged in columns like
untidy addition sums, and no two lines are the same length. This is
very important. At the end you arrive, as it were by a series of
stepping-stones, at the climax. And there you are.
No. Let the critics say what they will about the book: but I hold
that the Dedication is It.
The Chapters headed Wet Bobs and
Carrying On appeared originally in
Blackwood's Magazine and are included in
the book by kind permission of the Editor.
THE LONG TRICK
CHAPTER I. BACK FROM THE LAND
Towards eight o'clock the fog that had hung threateningly over the
City all the afternoon descended like a pall.
It was a mild evening in February, and inside the huge echoing vault
of King's Cross station the shaded arc lamps threw little pools of
light along the departure platform where the Highland Express stood.
The blinds of the carriage windows were already drawn, but here and
there a circle of subdued light strayed out and was engulfed almost at
once by the murky darkness. Sounds out of the unseen reached the ear
muffled and confused: a motor horn hooted near the entrance, and quite
close at hand a horse's hoofs clattered and rang on the cobbled
paving-stones. The persistent hiss of escaping steam at the far end of
the station seemed to fill the air until it was presently drowned by
the ear-piercing screech of an engine: high up in the darkness ahead
one of a bright cluster of red lights holding their own against the
fog, changed to green. The whistle stopped abruptly, and the voice of a
boy, passing along the crowded platform, claimed all Sound for its own.
Chor-or-or-clicks! he cried in a not unmusical jodelling
The platform was thronged by bluejackets and marines, for on this
particular evening the period of leave, granted by some battleship in
the North, had expired. They streamed out of refreshment rooms and
entrance halls, their faces lit for a moment as they passed under
successive arc lights, crowding round the carriage doors where their
friends and relations gathered in leave-taking. Most of them carried
little bundles tied up in black silk handkerchiefs and paper parcels
whose elusive contents usually appeared to take a leguminous form, and
something of the traditional romance of their calling came with them
out of the blackness of that February night. It was reflected in the
upturned admiring faces of their women-folk, and acknowledged by some
of the younger men themselves, with the adoption of an air of studied
Some wore the head-gear of enraptured civilian acquaintances and
sang in undertones of unrequited love. Others stopped in one of the
friendly circles of light to pass round bottled beer, until an elderly
female, bearing tracts, scattered them into the shadows. They left her
standing, slightly bewildered, with the empty bottle in her hands. She
had the air, for all the world, of a member of the audience suddenly
abandoned on a conjurer's stage.
In the shelter of one of the great pillars that rose up into the
darkness a bearded light o' love stopped and emptied his pockets of
their silver and coppers into the hands of the human derelict that had
been his companion through the past week. 'Ere you are, Sally, he
said, take what's left. You ain't 'arf been a bad ole sort, mate, and
kissed her and turned away as she slipped back into the night where she
Farther along in the crowd an Ordinary Seaman, tall and debonair and
sleek of hair, bade osculatory farewell to a mother, an aunt, a fiancée
and two sisters.
'Ere, finally interrupted his chum, 'ere, Alf, where do I come
You carry on an' kiss Auntie, replied his friend, and applied
himself to his fiancée's pretty upturned mouth. This the chum promptly
did, following up the coup, amid hysterical laughter and face-slapping,
by swiftly embracing the mother and sisters.
You sailors! said the friend's mother delightedly, straightening
Don Jewans, all of 'em, confirmed the aunt, recovering the power
of speech of which a temporary displacement of false teeth had robbed
her. Glad there wasn't no sailors down our way when I was a girl, or I
shouldn't be 'ere now. A sally greeted by renewed merriment.
Indifferent to the laughter and horse-play near them a grave-faced
Petty Officer stood by the door of his carriage saying good-bye to his
wife and children before returning to another nine months' exile. A
little boy in a sailor-suit clung to the woman's skirt and gazed
admiringly into the face of the man he had been taught to call
Daddiethe jovial visitor who came to stay with them for a week once
a year or so, after whose departure his mother always cried so
bitterly, writer of the letters she pressed against her cheek and
locked away in the yellow tin box under the bed....
She held another child in her armsa wide-eyed mite that stared up
into the murk overhead with preternatural solemnity. Their talk, of an
inarticulate simplicity, is no concern of ours. The little group has
been recorded because of the woman. Mechanically rocking the child in
her arms, with her neat clothes and brave little bits of finery, with,
above all, her anxious, pathetic smile as she looked up into the face
of her man, she stood there for a symbol of all that the warring Navy
demands of its women-folk.
Beyond them, where the first-class carriages and sleeping saloons
began, the platform became quieter and less crowded. Several Naval and
one or two Military officers walked to and fro, or stood at the doors
of their compartments superintending the stowage of their luggage; a
little way back from the light thrown from the carriage windows, two
figures, a man and a girl, stood talking in low voices.
Presently the man stepped under one of the overhanging lamps and
consulted his wristwatch. The light of the arc-lamp, falling on the
shoulder-straps of his uniform great-coat, indicated his rank, which
was that of Lieutenant-Commander.
We've got five minutes more, he said.
The girl nodded.
I know. I've been ticking off the minutes for the last weekin my
head, I mean. She smiled, a rather wan little smile. Her companion
slipped his arm inside hers, and together they walked towards the
Come and look at my cabin, Betty, andlet's see everything's
He helped her into the corridor, and, following, encountered the
uniformed attendant. The man held a notebook in his hand.
Are you Mr. Standish, sir? he inquired, consulting his notebook.
That's my name as a rule, was the reply. At the moment though,
it's Mudspelt M-U-D. Which is my abode?
This way, sir. The attendant led the way along the corridor and
pushed open the door of the narrow sleeping compartment. Here you are,
sir. He eyed the officer's companion with a professionally reassuring
air, as much as to say, He'll be all right in there, don't you worry.
It certainly looked very snug and comfortable with the shaded light
above the neat bunk and dark upholstery.
Ah, said the traveller, we just wanted toersee everything was
Quite so, sir. Plenty of timelady not travelling, I presume? I'll
come along when we're due to start and let you know. He closed the
door with unobtrusive tact.
The lady in question surveyed the apartment with the tender scrutiny
of a mother about to relinquish her offspring to the rough usage of an
Bunje, darling, she said, and bent and brushed the pillow with her
lips. That's so that you'll sleep tight and not let the bogies bite.
She smiled into her husband's eyes rather tremulously. And take care
of yourself as hard as ever you can. Remember your leg and your poor
old head. His cap lay on the bunk, and she raised a slender forefinger
to trace the outline of the shiny scar above his temple. I've mended
you so nicely.
I'll take care of myself all right, and you won't cry, will you,
Betty, when I've gone? Promisesay:
'Sure-as-I'm-standing-here-I-won't-cry,' or I'll call the guard!
II can't promise not to cry a tiny bit, faltered Betty, but I
promise to try not to cry much. And you will write and let me know when
I can come North and be near you, won't you? A sudden thought struck
her. Bunje, will they censor your letters? How awful! And mine too?
Because I don't think I could bear it if anybody but you read my
No, they won't read 'em, reassured her husband. At least, not
yours. And if mine have to be read, the fellow who reads 'em just skims
through 'em and doesn't really take in anything. I've had to do it, an'
Still, I'll hate it, said Betty woefully, and started at a light
tap at the door. Passengers are taking their seats, sir, said the
warning voice outside.
Doors were banging and farewells sounding down the length of the
train when Betty stepped out on to the platform. A curly-headed
subaltern of a Highland regiment who had been in possession of the door
surrendered it, and, catching a glimpse of Betty's face, returned to
his compartment thanking all his Gods that he was a bachelor. A whistle
sounded out of the gloom at the far end of the long train, and a green
light waved above the heads of the leave-takers. A faltering cheer
broke out, gathered volume, and, as the couplings tautened with a jerk,
came an answering roar from the closely packed carriages.
Standish bent down. Good-bye, Bet and for a moment lips and
fingers met and clung. The train was moving slowly.
God bless you! she said with a queer little gasp, and stepped back
into one of the circles of subdued light.
For a few seconds he saw her thus, a slim, girlish, fur-clad figure
standing with her hands at her side like a schoolgirl in class, her
face rather white and her lips compressed: then a bend hid her and the
tumult of cheering and farewell died.
Good on you, little girl, he muttered, and withdrew his head and
shoulders to fumble fiercely for his pipe. Courage in the woman he
loves will move a man as never will her tears. There is also gratitude
in his heart.
He retraced his steps to his sleeping-compartment and was aware of
the faint fragrance of violets still lingering in the air. She had been
wearing some that he had bought her late that afternoon....
He sat down on the bunk and fervently pressed the tobacco into the
bowl of his pipe with his thumb. Oh, damn-a-horse! he said. For a
moment he sat thus sucking his unlit pipe and staring hard at the
carpet, and not until it sounded a second time did a knock at the door
of the compartment cause him to raise his head and say, Come in!
The door opened, and a clean-shaven, smiling countenance, followed
by a pair of broad shoulders, appeared cautiously in the opening.
Standish stared at the apparition, and then rose with a grin of
Why! he said, Podgie, of all people! Come in, you old blighter!
The visitor entered. How goes it, Bunje? he said. I saw you with
your missus just now, so I hidI'm in the next cabin. He indicated
the adjoining compartment with a nod.
Sit down, old lad. What are you doing here? I thought The
speaker broke off abruptly, and his glance strayed involuntarily to the
ground. The new-comer nodded, and, sitting down on the bunk, pushed his
cap back from his forehead.
That's right. He extended his left leg. Cork foot. What d'you go
on it, Bunje, eh? They contemplated the acquisition in silence for a
moment. I was in a destroyer, you know, pursued the speaker, and one
of Fritz's shore batteries on the Belgian coast got our range by
mistake one day at dawn. Dusted us down properly. He extended his leg
again. Hence the milk in the coco-nut, as you might say. However, we
had a makee-learn doctor on boardSurgeon-Probationer, straight out of
the egg, and no end of a smart lad: he dished me up in fine style. I
went to hospital for a bit, and they gave me six months' full-pay sick
leavenot a bad old firm, the Admiralty.
What then, asked the other, invalided?
The visitor nodded. But about a month ago I fell-in and said I
couldn't kick my heels any longer. Hadn't two to kick, in point of
fact! He laughed softly at the grim jest. So they lushed me up to
this outfit, and gave me a job as King's Messenger. I'm carrying
despatches between the Admiralty and the Fleet Flagship. Better'n doing
nothing, he added half-apologetically.
Quite, agreed Standish gravely: none knew better than he how
beloved had been the career thus abruptly terminated. He wondered, as
he met the speaker's smiling eyes with a sympathetic grin, whether he
himself could have carried it off like this. But it was rotten
The King's Messenger rose. I've got a drop of whisky somewhere in
my bag, he interrupted. Come along in there: I can't leave my
despatcheswe'll have a yarn.
He limped through the doorway, steadying himself with his hands
against the rocking of the train. Standish followed. Never again, he
reflected, would he follow those broad shoulders in a U.S. Forward
rush to the familiar slogan of Feetforwardsfeet!
You were wounded, too, last spring, weren't you? queried the
King's Messenger, burrowing in his suit case for his flask. Squat down
at the end theregot your glass? He measured out two portions of
whisky and from the rack produced a bottle of soda. Say when...
Standish nodded. Thankswhoa! Yes, I got a couple of 'cushy'
wounds and three months' leave.
The other turned, helping himself to soda-water. Lor', yes, and you
got spliced, too, Bunje! He contemplated the Benedict over the rim of
his tumbler with the whimsical faint curiosity with which the bachelor
Naval Officer regards one of his brethren who has passed beyond the
Yes. For a moment Standish assumed a thoughtful expression. Then
he looked up, smiling. What about you, Podgie? Isn't it about time you
toed the line?
The King's Messenger shook his head. No. It doesn't come my way.
His eyes rested contemplatively on his outstretched leg. Not very
likely to either.... How d'you like the idea of joining up with the
'Great Silent' again after the flesh-pots and whatnot?
For the second time he had changed the conversation almost abruptly.
Standish lit his pipe. What's it like up there now? He jerked his
head in the direction in which they were travelling. How are they
sticking it? Have you been up lately? I haven't been in the Grand Fleet
Yes, I was uplet's see, last week. Oh, they're all right. A bit
bored, of course, but full of ginger. They go out and try to coax Fritz
to come out and play from time to time. Fritz says 'Not in these
trousers, I don't think,' and then they go home again, dodging 'tin
fish' and raking up Fritz's 'warts' out of the Swept Channels.
Talking of 'warts' reminds me of a yarn going round last time I was
upit's a chestnut now, but you may not have heard it. One of the
mine-layers nipped down in a fog and laid a mine-field off the mouth of
the Ems. It was a tricky bit of work, and it seems to have touched up
the Padre's nerves a bit, because on the way back next morning, when he
was reading prayersyou know the bit about 'encompassed the waters
with bounds'?he said, 'Encompassed the bounders with warts,' which
was just what they had done, pretty effectively!
The door to the corridor was half-open, and a tall figure in Naval
uniform who was passing at that moment glanced in, hesitated, and
filled the doorway with his bulk. A slow smile spread over his face and
showed his white, even teeth. It was a very infectious grin.
How goes it, Podgie? he said quietly.
The King's Messenger looked up. Hallo! he retorted. Then came
recognition. Thorogood, surely! Come in, old lad. What are you doing
aboard the lugger D'you know Standish?
The new-comer nodded a greeting, acknowledging the introduction.
Station-mates in the East Indies, weren't we? said Standish.
That's right, replied the other. I remember you: we were both in
camp togetherway back in the 'Naughty Naughts.' We used to call you
the India-rubber ManBunje for short.
Standish laughed. They do still, he said, mine own familiar
Have a drop of whisky, interrupted the King's Messenger. 'Fraid I
haven't got a glass
The visitor hesitated. Well, I've got old Mouldy Jakes in my
compartment. Can I bring him along: the old thing may get lonely. He
was in your term in the Britannia, wasn't he?
He was. Fetch him along, said the King's Messenger. Standish
wants to know all about life in the Grand Fleet. You two ought to be
able to enlighten him a bit between you.
Thorogood contemplated the India-rubber Man thoughtfully.
Just joining up? Mouldy and I have been there since January,
'15I'll fetch him.
The speaker vanished and returned a moment later with a companion
who wore a Lieutenant's uniform, and carried a tooth-glass in his hand.
His lean, rather sallow face relaxed for an instant into a smile during
the process of introduction, and then resumed a mask-like gravity. He
up-ended a suit-case, sat down and silently eyed the others in turn.
What have you two been doing? asked the King's Messenger. Been on
Yes, replied Thorogood. I met Mouldy this morning, and we had a
day in town together.
Brave man! I should be sorry to have had such a responsibility.
What did you do?
Well, we lunched with my Uncle Bill at his club
That was nice for Uncle Billwhat then?
Uncle Bill had to go to the Admiralty, so I took Mouldy for a walk
in St. James's Parkthe speaker contemplated his friend
sorrowfullyand I lost him.
The King's Messenger laughed. What happened to you, Mouldy?
The officer addressed put his empty glass between his knees and
proceeded to fill a cherrywood pipe of villainous aspect from a Korean
oiled-silk tobacco pouch.
Took a flapper to the movies, was the grave and somewhat
Thorogood, lounging in any easy attitude against the door, took up
the tale of gallantry. Apparently the star film of the afternoon was
'Britain's Sea-Dogs, or Jack-Tars at War,' and that appears to have
been too much for our little Lord Fauntleroy. He slipped out
unbeknownst to the fairy, and I found him at the club an hour later
playing billiards with the marker.
The cavalier relaxed not a muscle of his sphinx-like gravity. Never
know what to do with myself on leave, he observed in sepulchral tones.
Always glad to get back. Like the fellow in the Bastillewhat? He
raised his empty tumbler and scanned the light through it with sombre
interest. Long ship, this, James.
The phrase is an old Navy one, and signifies much the same thing as
the Governor of North Carolina said to the Governor of South Carolina.
Sorry, apologised the host. There isn't any more soda, I'm
Don't mind water, said his guest, diluting his tot from the
water-bottle. He turned to the India-rubber Man.
What ship're you going to? he asked.
Standish named the ship to which he had been appointed. The other
took a sip of his whisky and water and nodded with the air of one whose
worst misgivings had been confirmed.
I remember now: I saw your appointment. James and I belong to her.
We're going to be shipmates, then. He blew a cloud of smoke
ceilingwards. It's all right in one of those new ships: no scuttles:
tinned air and electric light between decks: wake up every morning
feeling's if you'd been gassed. An' the turrets He plunged
gloomily into technicalities that conveyed the impression that the
interior of a turret of the latest design was the short cut to a
lunatic asylum. I'm the Assistant Gunnery Lieutenant in our hooker,
and I tell you it's a dirty business.
What d'you do for exercise? queried the India-rubber Man when the
Assistant Gunnery Lieutenant lapsed again into gloomy silence.
Plenty of that, said Thorogood. Deck-hockey and
medicine-ballyou mark out a tennis-court on the quarter deck, you
know, and heave a 9-lb. ball over a 5 ft. netfoursomes. Fine
exercise. He spoke with the grave enthusiasm of the athlete, to whom
the attainment of bodily fitness is very near to godliness indeed. You
can get a game of rugger when the weather is good enough to allow
landing, and there's quite a decent little 9-hole golf course. Oh, you
can keep fit enough.
How about the sailorsare they keeping cheery?
Thorogood laughed. They're amazing. Of course, we've got a real
white man for a Skipperand the Commander, too: that goes a long way.
And they're away from drink andother things that ain't good for 'em.
Everybody has more leisure to devote to them than in peace-time: their
amusements and recreations generally. Cinema shows and regattas, boxing
championships, and all the rest of it. There's fifty per cent. less
sickness and fewer punishments than we ever had in peacetime. Of
course, it's an exile for the married menit's rough on them, but on
the whole there's jolly little grumbling.
Yes, said the India-rubber Man. It must be rough on the married
men. He felt suddenly as if an immense period of time had passed since
he said good-bye to Betty: and the next moment he felt that he had had
enough of the others. He wanted to get along to his own compartment
where the scent of violets had lingered.
He rose, stretching himself, and slipped his pipe into his pocket.
Well, he said, 'Sufficient unto the day.' I'm turning in now.
There was a little pause after his departure, and Thorogood prodded
the bowl of his pipe reflectively.
I wonder what's happened to the India-rubber Man? he said. It's
some time since I saw him last, but he's altered somehow. Not mouldy
He's married, said the King's Messenger, staring at the shaded
electric light overhead, as he sprawled with one elbow on the pillow.
Mouldy Jakes gave a little grunt. Thought as much. They get like
that. He spoke as if referring to the victims of an incomprehensible
and ravaging disease. An' it's always the good ones that get nabbed.
He eyed the King's Messenger with an expression of melancholy
omniscience. Not so suspicious, you know.
Well, said Thorogood, that is as may be: but I'm off to bed. Come
The misogamist suffered himself to be led to the double-berthed
compartment he shared with Thorogood.
The King's Messenger locked the door after their departure and got
into pyjamas. For a long time he sat cross-legged on his bunk, nursing
his maimed limb and staring into vacancy as the express roared on
through the night. Finally, as if he had arrived at some conclusion, he
shook his head rather sadly, turned in, and switched out the light.
Good lad, Podgie, observed Thorogood reflectively to his
companion, as he proceeded to undress.
Mouldy Jakes, energetically brushing his teeth over the tiny
washing-basin, grunted assent.
Ever met my cousin Cecily? pursued Thorogood. No, I don't think
you did: she was at school when we stayed with Uncle Bill before the
Shouldn't remember her if I had, mumbled the gallant.
She's Uncle Bill's ward, and by way of being rather fond of Podgie,
I fancyat least, she used to be, I know. But the silly old ass won't
go near her since he lost his foot.
Mouldy Jakes dried his tooth-brush, and, fumbling in his trouser
pocket, produced a penny.
Heads or tails? he queried.
It's a head. Bags I the lower berth.
The India-rubber Man, in his compartment, had got into pyjamas and
was sitting up in his bunk writing with a pencil and pad on his knees.
When he had finished he stamped and addressed an envelope, rang for the
attendant, and gave it to him to be posted at the next stopping-place.
It bore an address in Queen's Gate, London, where at the moment the
addressee, curled up in the centre of a very large bed, was doing her
best in the darkness to keep a promise.
CHAPTER II. THE NAVY SPECIAL
Railway travel appeals to the sailor-man. It provides him with ample
leisure for conversation, sleep, or convivial song. When the
possibilities of these absorbing pursuits are exhausted, remains a
heightened interest in the next meal.
The pale February sunlight was streaming across snow-covered
moorland that stretched away on either side of the line, when the
Highland Express drew up at the first stopping place the following
morning. From every carriage poured a throng of hungry bluejackets in
search of breakfast. Many wore long coats of duffle or sheepskin
provided by a maternal Admiralty in view of the severe weather
conditions in the far North. The British bluejacket is accustomed to
wear what he is told to wear, and further, to continue wearing it until
he is told to put on something else. Hence a draft of men sent North to
the Fleet from one of the Naval depots in the South of England would
cheerfully don the duffle coats issued to them on departure and keep
them on until they arrived at their destination, with an equal
disregard for such outward circumstances as temperature or environment.
A night's journey in a crowded and overheated railway carriage,
muffled in such garb, would not commend itself to the average
individual as an ideal prelude to a hearty breakfast. Yet the cheerful,
sleepy-eyed crowd of apparently par-boiled Arctic explorers that
invaded the restaurant buffet vociferously demanding breakfast,
appeared on the best of terms with themselves, one another and the
world at large.
A score or more of officers besieged a flustered girl standing
beside a pile of breakfast baskets, and the thin, keen morning air
resounded with banter and voices. The King's Messenger, freshly shaven
and pink of countenance (a woman once likened his face to that of a
cherub looked at through a magnifying glass), stood at the door of his
carriage and exchanged morning greetings with travellers of his
acquaintance. Then the guard's whistle sounded; the noise and laughter
redoubled along the platform and a general scramble ensued. Doors
slammed down the length of the train, and the damsel in charge of the
breakfast baskets raised her voice in lamentation.
Ane o' the gentlemen hasna paid for his basket! she cried. Heads
appeared at windows, and the owner of one extended a half-crown. It's
my friend in here, he explained. His name is Mouldy Jakes, and he
can't speak for himself because his mouth is too full of bacon; but he
wishes me to say that he's awfully sorry he forgot. He was struck all
of a heap at meeting a lady so early in the morning.... The speaker
vanished abruptly, apparently jerked backwards by some mysterious
agency. The train started.
The maiden turned away with a simper. It was no his friend at all,
she observed to the young lady from the buffet, who had emerged to wave
farewell to a bold, bad Engine Room Artificer after a desperate
flirtation of some forty seconds' duration. It was himself.
They're a' sae sonsie! said the young lady from the buffet with a
At the junction where the train stopped at noon, Naval occupation of
the North proclaimed itself. A Master-at-Arms, austere of visage and
stentorian voiced, fell upon the weary voyagers like a collie rallying
a flock of sheep. A Lieutenant-Commander of the Reserve, in a tattered
monkey-jacket, was superintending the unstowing of bags and hammocks by
a party of ancient mariners in white working rig and brown gaiters. A
retired Boatswain, who apparently bore the responsibilities of local
Traffic Superintendent upon his broad shoulders, held sage council with
the engine driver.
The travellers were still many weary hours from their destination,
but the solicitude of the great Mother Fleet for her sons' welfare was
plain on every side. There were evidences of a carefully planned,
wisely executed organisation in the speed with which the great crowd of
blue-jackets and marines of all ranks and ratings, and bound for fifty
different ships, were mustered, given their dinners and marshalled into
the Navy Special that would take them on their journey.
Mouldy Jakes deposited his bags and rug strap on the platform and
surveyed the scene with mournful pride. Good old Navy! he observed to
the India-rubber Man, while Thorogood went in search of food. Good old
firm! Father and mother and ticket collector and supplier of
ham-sandwiches to us all. Who wouldn't sell his little farm and go to
Standish picked up his suit-case and together they made for the
adjoining platform, where the train that was to take them on their
journey was waiting.
They selected a carriage and were presently joined by Thorogood,
burdened with eatables and soda water. The bluejackets were already in
their carriages, and the remaining officers, to the number of about a
score, were settling down in their compartments. They represented all
ranks of the British Navy; a Captain and two Commanders were joined by
the Naval Attaché of a great neutral Power on his way to visit the
Fleet. An Engineer Commander and a Naval Instructor shared a luncheon
basket with a Sub-Lieutenant and a volunteer Surgeon. Two Clerks, a
Midshipman and a Torpedo Gunner found themselves thrown together, and
at the last moment a Chaplain added himself to their company.
The last door closed and the King's Messenger, carrying his despatch
case, came limping along the platform in company with the grey-bearded
Commander in charge of the base. The King's Messenger climbed into his
carriage and the journey was resumed. Along the shores of jade-tinted
lochs, through far-stretching deer forest and grouse moor, past
brawling rivers of snow-brew, and along the flanks of shale-strewn
hills, the Navy Special bore its freight of sailor-men.
No corridor connected the carriages to afford opportunities for an
interchange of visits for gossip and change of companionship. The
occupants of each compartment settled down grimly to endure the
monotony of the last stage of their journey according to the dictates
of their several temperaments.
The King's Messenger, in the seclusion of his reserved compartment,
read a novel at intervals and looked out of the window for familiar
landmarks that recalled spells of leave in pre-war days, when he
tramped on two feet through the heather behind the dogs, or, thigh deep
in some river, sent a silken line out across the peat-brown water.
In an adjoining compartment a Lieutenant of the Naval Reserve sat at
one end facing a Lieutenant of the Volunteer Reserve, while a small
Midshipman, effaced behind a magazine, occupied the other corner.
Conversation, stifled by ham sandwiches, restarted fitfully, and
flagged from train weariness. Darkness pursued the whirling landscape
and blotted it out. Sleep overtook the majority of the travellers until
the advent of tea baskets at the next stopping place revived them to a
more lively interest in life and one another.
The Reserve Lieutenant fussed over his like a woman. I wouldn't
trouble if I never smelt whisky again, he confided to his vis-à-vis,
but I couldn't get on without tea. He helped himself to three lumps
The ice thinned rapidly.
With fresh milk, said the Volunteer Reserve man appreciatively,
pouring himself out a cup. Eh, Jennings?
The Midshipman, thus addressed, grinned and applied himself in
silence to a scone and jam.
Ah, said the Reserve man with a kind of tolerance in his tone,
such as a professional might extend to the enthusiasm of an amateur in
his own trade. Cows scarce in your job?
A bit, was the unruffled reply. We've just brought a Norwegian
wind-jammer in from the South of Iceland.... He indicated with a nod
the young gentleman in the corner, who was removing traces of jam from
his left cheek. I'm bringing the armed guard back to our base.
The Reserve man drank his tea after the manner of deep-sea
sailor-men. That is to say, you could shut your eyes and still know: he
was drinking hot tea.
Armed Merchant-cruiser squadron? he queried. Imperceptibly his
tone had changed. The Armed Merchant-cruisers maintain the Allied
blockade across the trade routes of the Far North: fancy sailor-men
do not apply for jobs in one of these amazons of the North Sea, and it
takes more than a Naval uniform to bring a suspect sailing ship many
miles into port for examination under an armed guard of four men.
The Volunteer nodded. We had a picnic, I can tell you. It blew like
hell from the N.E., and the foretopmastshe was a barquewent like a
carrot the second day. We hove to, trying to rig a jury mast, when up
popped a Fritz. The speaker laughed, a pleasant, deep laugh of
complete enjoyment. I thought we were in for a swim that would knock
the cross-Channel record silly! However, I borrowed a suit from the
skipperand he wasn't what you'd call fastidious in his dress
The Volunteer made a little grimace at the recollection, because he
was a man of refined tastes and raced his own yacht across the Atlantic
in peace time.
It was too rough to board, but the submarine closed to within
hailing distance, and a little pipsqueak of a Lieutenant, nervous as a
cat, talked to us through a megaphone. Fortunately I can speak
What about the skipper of the wind-jammer? interrupted the other.
He kept his mouth shut. Wasn't much in sympathy with the company
that owned the submarine, having lost a brother the month before in a
steamship shelled and sunk without warning. You can't please everybody,
it seems, when you start out to act mad in a submarine. Well, this lad
examined our papers through a glass and I chucked him a cigar.... He
hadn't had a smoke for a week. Then he sheered off, because he saw
something on the horizon that scared him. He was very young, and, as
I've said, nerves like fiddle strings.
The Reserve man lit a cigarette and inhaled a great draught of
smoke. There was something in his alert, intent expression reminiscent
of a bull terrier when he hears rats scuffling behind a wainscot.
The war has evolved specialists without number in branches of Naval
warfare hitherto unknown and unsuspected. Among these is the Submarine
Hunter. The Reserve man belonged to this type, which is simply a
reversion to the most primitive and savage of the fighting instincts.
At the first mention of the German submarine he leaned forward eagerly.
Threw him a cigar, did you? he said grimly. Sorry I wasn't there.
I'd have thrown him something. That's my line of
The ribbon of the Distinguished Service Cross on the lapel of his
monkey-jacket showed that he apparently pursued this branch of sport
with some effect. Been at it from the kick-off, he continued.
Started with herring nets, you know! He laughed a deep bark of
amusement. Lord! We had a lot to learn. We began from an East Coast
fishing port, working with crazy drifters manned by East Coast
fishermen. There was a retired Admiral in charge, as tough an old
terror as ever pulled on a sea bootand half a dozen of us all
together, some Active Service and some Reserve like me. Navy? Bless
you, we were the Navy, that old Admiral and us six. The speaker
raised his voice to make plain his words above the rattle of the train.
There was a lot of talk in the papers about Jellicoe and Beatty and
the Grand Fleet and the Battle Cruisers, but they didn't come our way
and we didn't trouble them. We had a couple of score of trawlers and
drifters and four hundred simple fishermen to cram the fear of the Lord
into. That was our job!
He spoke with the peculiar word-sparing vividness of the man to whom
the Almighty had vouchsafed the mysterious gift of handling other men.
Long-shore and deep-sea fishermen, good material, damned good, but
they took a lot of coaxing. He paused and contemplated his hands
resting on his knees. Scarred by frost-bite they were, with huge bones
protruding like knuckle-dusters. Coaxing, mind you, he repeated.
I've been chief of an Argentine cattle-boat for four years and Second
on a windjammer round the Horn for three years before that. I know when
to drive and when to coax. Never touched a man, sir. He paused,
rubbing off the moisture condensed on the window, to peer info the
Here, then, was an Apostle of Naval Discipline among a community of
fishermen whose acknowledged tradition it was to get drunk when and
where it suited their inclinations, to put to sea in the top-hats of
their ancestors and return to harbour as weather or the fish dictated,
whose instinctive attitude towards strangers was about as encouraging
as that of the Solomon Islanders.
We took 'em and trained 'emgradually, you understand. Taught 'em
to salute the King's uniform, an' just why orders had to be obeyed:
explained it all gentlythe stupendous hand made a gesture in the air
as if stroking something. Then after a while we moved 'em on to
something elsethe Game itself, in factand my merry men tumbled to
it in no time. It was in their blood, I guess. They'd hunted something
all their lives, and they weren't scared because they had to take on
something a bit bigger. I tell you, after a few weeks I just prayed for
a submarine to come along and show what we could do.
The Volunteer grinned understandingly. Well? he said.
We got one a week later. Just for all the world like a bloomin'
salmon. First we knew that there was one about was the Merrie Maggie, one of our trawlers, blowing up. Well, I'd been over the same spot in
the morning, and there were no mines there then, so I knew our friend
wasn't far off.... The Submarine Hunter mused for a moment, staring at
his clasped hands, with the faint blue tattoo-marks showing under the
tan. We got him at dawnoff a headland.... Oh, best bit of sport that
ever I had! The speaker's hard grey eye softened at the recollection.
We've got lots since, but never one as neat as that. He just came to
the surface and showed his tail-fin and the huge hands made a
significant downward gesture.
If you have ever heard a Regimental Bombing Officer describe the
clearing of an enemy traverse, you will understand the complete
expressiveness of that gesture.
I'm going North now to join a new base up there. There are one or
two dodges that I can put them up to, I reckon.
The Volunteer filled and lit a pipe.
Pretty work it sounds. Ours is duller, on the whole, but we get our
share of excitement. You never sight a steamer flying neutral colours
without the possibility of her hoisting the German ensign and slipping
a torpedo into you. That's why we introduced the Red Pendant business.
It meant inconvenience for all parties, but neutrals have only got the
Hun to thank for it.
Never heard of it, said the other. Fritz-hunting is my game.
Well, you see, ever since they've tried to slip raiders through the
blockade we can't afford to close a stranger flying neutral colours
within gun or torpedo range. So we had to explain to neutrals that a
red flag hoisted by one of our merchant cruisers is the signal to heave
to instantly, and that brings her up well out of range. Then we drop a
boat and steam off and signal her to close the boat, and the boarding
officer goes on board and examines her papers. If she's got a cargo
without guarantees she's sent into one of the examination ports under
an armed guard to have it overhauled properly.
Yes, and to see that the commodity she carries isn't in excess of
the ration allowed to the country of destinationif she's eastward
bound, that is. Also the passengers are scrutinised for suspects, and
so on; it's a big job, one way and another. That's all done by the
Examination Service at the port, though, and I don't envy them the job.
We only catch 'em and bring 'em in.
For a while longer he talked between puffs at his pipe of the
twilight service rendered by the Armed Merchant-cruisers. He spoke of
grim stern-chases under the Northern Lights, of perils from ice and
submarines and winter gales, while the Allied strangle-hold tightened
month by month, remorselessly, relentlessly.
It's a peaceful sort of job, though, on the whole, he concluded.
Nobody worries us. The public, most of 'em, don't know we exist.
Journalists don't want to come and visit us much, he chuckled. We
don't find our way into the illustrated papers....
That's right, said the Submarine Hunter. That's the way to work
in war-time. If I had my way
A jarring shudder ran through the train as the brakes were applied
and the speed slackened. The Reserve Man lowered the window and peered
out into the darkness. A flurry of snow drifted into the dimly lighted
Hallo! he ejaculated. We're here. Bless me, how the time goes
when one gets yarning.
The Volunteer rose and held out his hand.
My name is Armitage, he said, and named two exclusive clubs, one
in London and the other in New York. Look me up after the war if you
pass that way.
The Submarine Hunter took the proffered hand in his formidable grip.
Pleased to have met you. Mine's Gedge. I don't own a club, but the
Liverpool Shipping Federation generally knows my address. And the girls
from Simonstown to Vladivostock will tell you if I've passed that way!
He threw back his head, displaying the muscular great throat above
his collar, and laughed like a mischievous boy.
Good luck! he said.
Good hunting! replied the Volunteer.
He turned to the Midshipman. Come along, sonny, shake the sleep out
of your eyes and go and collect our little party.
Outside in the snowy darkness the great concourse of men was being
mustered: lanterns gleamed on wet oilskins and men's faces. Hoarse
voices and the tramp of heavy boots through the slush heralded the
passage along the platform of each draft as they were marched to the
barrier. A cold wind cut through the cheerless night like a knife.
Armitage paused for a moment to accustom his eyes to the darkness.
Here we are, Mouldy, said a clear-cut, well-bred voice out of the
darkness surrounding a pile of luggage. Here's our stuff. Get a truck,
Armitage turned in the direction of the voice: as he did so a
passing lantern flashed on the face of a Lieutenant stooping over some
I thought as much, he said. Thought I recognised the voice. He
stepped towards the speaker and rested his hand on his shoulder. James
Thorogood, isn't it? he said.
The other straightened up and peered through the darkness at the
face of the Volunteer Lieutenant. Yes, he replied, but it's devilish
I'm Armitage, said the other. Thorogood laughed. Great Scott! he
exclaimed. Were you in the train? I didn't see you before
Neither did I, was the reply, but I heard your voice and
recognised it. How is Sir William?
Uncle Bill? Oh, he's all right. Hard at work on some comic
invention of his, as usual.
The other nodded. Well, give him my love when you write, and tell
him I've struck the type of man he wants for that experiment of his.
I'll write to him, though. Now I must go and find my little party of
bravesbringing an armed guard back to our base. Good-bye and good
luck to you.
They shook hands, and the Volunteer half turned away. An
afterthought appeared to strike him, however, and he stopped.
By the way, he added, how's Miss Cecily? Well, I hope?
She's all right, thanks, was the reply. I'll tell her I've seen
Will you? Yes, thank you. And will you say II am looking forward
to seeing her again next time I come South?
The speaker moved away into the darkness.
At that moment appeared Mouldy Jakes, panting behind a barrow.
Who's that old bird? he queried.
Another of 'em, replied Thorogood.
'Nother of what?
Cecily's hopeless attachments. He's a pal of Uncle Bill's, and as
rich as Croesus. Amateur deep sea yachtsman before the war. He's
awfully gone on Cecily.
'Counts for him hanging round your neck, I s'pose, commented the
student of human nature. Sort of 'dweller-near-the-rose' business.
Heave that suit-case overunless you can find any more of your
cousin's admirers sculling about the country. P'raps they'll load this
truck for us and shove it to the boat. Ah, here's Podgie!
A moment later the King's Messenger joined the group.
Will you all come and have supper with me at the hotel? he said.
It's the last meal you'll get on terra firma for some time to come.
I've got a car waiting outside.
Mouldy Jakes heaved the last of the bags on to the hand-cart and
enlisted the services of a superannuated porter drifting past in the
darkness. The King's Messenger had slipped his arm inside Thorogood's,
and the two moved on towards the barrier.
Has your wife got a young brother? asked Mouldy Jakes abruptly as
he and the India-rubber Man followed in the wake of the porter and the
Yes, replied Standish. A lad called Joecadet at Dartmouth.
Did you ever ask him to dinnerbefore you were engaged, I mean?
pursued the inquisitor.
The India-rubber Man laughed.
Well, not dinner exactly. But I went down to Osborne College once
and stood him a blow-out at the tuck-shop.
His companion nodded darkly in the direction of the King's
Shouldn't wonder if Thorogood was feeling like that lad Joe. Useful
fellow to travel with, Thorogood.
CHAPTER III. ULTIMA THULE
Across the stormy North Sea came the first faint streak of dawn. It
overtook a long line of Destroyers rolling landward with battered
bridge-screens and salt-crusted funnels; it met a flotilla of
mine-sweeping Sloops, labouring patiently out to their unending task.
It lit the frowning cliffs, round which wind-tossed gulls wailed and
breakers had thundered the beat of an ocean's pulse throughout the
The Destroyers were not sorry to see the dawn. The night was their
task-master: in darkness they worked and in the Shadow of Death. They
passed within hailing distance of the Sloops, and on board the reeling
Destroyers here and there a figure in streaming oilskins raised his arm
and waved a salutation to the squat grey craft setting forth in the
comfortless dawn to holystone Death's doorstep.
The Mine-sweepers refrained from any such amenity. Anon the darkness
would come again, when no man may sweep for mines. Then would be their
turn for grins and the waving of arms. In the meanwhile, they preferred
to remain grim and restless as their work.
Presently the Destroyers, obedient to a knotted tangle of flags at
the yardarm of their leader, altered course a little; they were making
for an opening in the wall of rock, on either side of which gaunt
promontories thrust their naked shoulders into the surf. The long
black, viperish hulls passed through under the ever-watchful eyes of
the shore batteries, and the hooded figures on the Destroyer bridges
threw back their duffle cowls and wiped the night's accumulation of
dried spray and cinders out of the puckers round their tired eyes.
The Commanding Officer of the leading Destroyer leaned across the
bridge-rails and stared round at the ring of barren islands encircling
the great expanse of water into which they had passed, the naked,
snow-powdered hills in the background: at the greyness and desolation
of earth and sky and sea.
Home again! he said in an undertone to the Lieutenant beside him.
It ain't much of a place to look at, but I'm never sorry to see it
again after a dusting like we got last night.
The Lieutenant raised the glasses slung round his neck by a strap
and levelled them at a semi-globular object that had appeared on the
surface some distance away. There's old Tirpitz waiting to say good
morning as usual.
The Commander laughed. Rum old devil he is. That's where the Hun
has the pull over us. He's got something better than a seal to welcome
him back to harbourwhen he does get back!
When he does, yes. The other chuckled. Gretchens an' iron crosses
an' joy bells. Lord, I'd love to see 'em, wouldn't you? Just for five
The Commander moved across to the tiny binnacle. I'd rather see my
own wife for five minutes, he replied. Then, raising his voice,
Starboard ten, sir, repeated the voice of the helmsman.
The Commander stood with watchful eye on the swinging compass card.
Midships ... steady!
Steady, sir! sang the echo at the wheel. The Commander glanced aft
through the trail of smoke at the next astern swinging round in the
smother of his wake. Well, we shan't be long now before we tie up to
the buoycurse these fellows! Here come all the drifters with mails
and ratings for the Fleet.... Port five!
Port five, sir! The flotilla altered course disdainfully to avoid
a steam drifter which wallowed through the wake of the Destroyers in
the direction of the distant fleet, still shrouded by the morning mist.
That's the King's Messenger going off to the Fleet Flagship. There
come the others, strung out in a procession, making for the different
squadrons. Wake up, you son of Ham! The speaker stepped to the lanyard
of the syren and jerked it savagely. Obedient to the warning wail
another drifter altered course in reluctant compliance with the Rule of
the Road. I'd rather take the flotilla through Piccadilly Circus than
manoeuvre among these Fleet Messengers! They're bad enough on the high
seas in peace-time with their nets out, but booming about inside a
harbour they're enough to turn one's hair grey.
If the truth be told, the past had known no great love lost between
the Destroyers and the fishing fleet. Herring-nets round a propeller
are not calculated to bind hearts together in brotherly affection.
Perhaps dim recollections of bygone mishaps of this nature had soured
the Destroyer Commander's heart towards the steam-drifter.
On the outbreak of war, however, the steam fishing fleets became an
arm of the great Navy itself, far-reaching as its own squadrons. They
exchanged their nets for guns and mine-sweeping paraphernalia: they
became submarine-hunters, mine-sweepers, fleet-messengers and
patrollers of the great commerce sea-ways in the South. They became a
little Navy within the Navy, in fact, already boasting their own
peculiar traditions, and probably as large a proportion of D.S.C.'s as
any other branch of the mother Service.
They are a slow, crab-gaited community that clings to gold earrings
and fights in jerseys and thigh boots from which the fish-scales have
not altogether departed. Ashore, on the other hand (where their women
rule), they consent to the peaked cap and brass buttons of His
Majesty's uniform, and wear it, moreover, with the coy
self-consciousness of a bulldog in a monogrammed coat.
Link by link they have built up a chain of associations with the
parent Navy that will not be easily broken when the time comes for
these little auxiliaries to return to their peaceful calling. They have
worked side by side with the dripping Submarine; they have sheltered
through storms in the lee of anchored Battleships; they have piloted
proud Cruisers through the newly-swept channels of a mine-field, and
brought a Battle-cruiser Squadron its Christmas mail in the teeth of a
Northern blizzard. In token of these things, babies born in fishing
villages from the Orkneys to the Nore have been christened after famous
Admirals and men-of-war, that the new generation shall remember.
The drifter that had altered course slowly came round again when the
last of the Destroyers swept past, and the three figures in the bows
ducked as she shipped a bucket of spray and flung it aft over the tiny
wheel-house. One of the figures turned and stared after the retreating
Confound 'em, he said. Just like the blooming Destroyers,
chucking their weight about as if they owned creation, and making us
take their beastly wash. He took off his cap and shook the salt water
from it. One of the other two chuckled. Never 'mind, Mouldy, it will
be your turn to laugh next time we go to sea, when you're perched on
the forebridge sixty feet above the waterline, and watching our
Destroyer-screen shipping it green over their funnels.
Mouldy Jakes shook his head gloomily. Laugh! he echoed. Then I'd
get shoved under arrest by the skipper under suspicion of being drunk.
The drifter rounded an outlying promontory of one of the islands,
and Thorogood raised his hand. There you are, he said, there's our
little lot! He indicated with a nod the Battle-fleet of Britain.
And very nice too, said the India-rubber Man, staring in the
direction of the other's gaze. Puts me in mind, as they say, of a
picture I saw once. 'National Insurance,' I think it was called.
A shaft of sunlight had struggled through a rift in the clouds and
fell athwart the dark waters of the harbour. In the far distance,
outlined against the sombre hills and lit by the pale sunshine, a
thicket of tripod masts rose towering above the grey hulls of the
As the drifter drew near the different classes of ships became
distinguishable. A squadron of Light Cruisers were anchored between
them and the main Fleet, with a thin haze of smoke hovering above their
raking funnels. Beyond them, line upon line, in a kind of sullen
majesty, lay the Battleships. Seen thus in peace-time, a thousand
glistening points of burnished metal, the white of the awnings, smooth
surfaces of enamel, varnish and gold-leaf would have caught the liquid
sunlight and concealed the menace of that stern array.
Now, however, stripped of awnings, with bare decks, stark as
gladiators, sombre and terrible, they conveyed a relentless
significance heightened by the desolation of their surroundings.
From the offing came the rumble of heavy gunfire.
Don't be alarmed, said Thorogood to the India-rubber Man, who had
turned in the direction of the sound; we haven't missed the bus! He
looked along the lines with a swift, practised eye. It's only some of
the Battle-cruisers out doing target practice. That's our squadron,
there. He pointed ahead. We're the second ship in that line.
The drifter passed up a broad lane, on either side of which towered
grey steel walls, unbroken by scuttles or embrasures; above them the
muzzles of guns hooded by casemates and turrets, the mighty funnels,
piled up bridges and superstructures, frowned down like the battlements
of fortresses. Men, dwarfed by the magnitude of their environment to
the size of ants, and clad in jerseys and white working-rig, swarmed
about the decks and batteries.
There's the Fleet Flagship, continued Thorogood, pointing. That
ship with the drifters round her, flying the Commander-in-Chief's flag.
That's where Podgie was bound for. Rummy to think he'll be back in
London again in a couple of days' time!
A seaplane that had been riding on the surface near the Fleet
Flagship's quarter, rose like a flying gull, circled in wide spirals
over the Fleet and sped seawards. Across the lanes of water, armed
picket-boats, with preternaturally grave-faced Midshipmen at their
wheels, picked their way amongst the traffic of drifters, cutters under
sail, hooting store carriers and puffers from the distant base.
Mouldy Jakes contemplated the busy scene without undue enthusiasm.
Everything seems to be much the same as usual, was his dry
comment. They seem to have got on all right without me for the last
seven days. We've had a coat of paint, too. Wonder what's up. P'raps
the King's coming to pay us a visit. Or else the Commander reckons it's
about time to beat up for his promotion.
The skipper of the drifter jerked the miniature telegraph to Slow,
and a hoary-headed deck-hand stumped into the bows with a heaving line
coiled over his arm. The drifter crept up under the quarter of a
Battleship that towered above them into the grey sky.
A tall, thin Lieutenant with a telescope under his arm looked down
from the quarterdeck and made a gesture of greeting.
Hullo, Tweedledum, said Thorogood; and added, Bless me,
Tweedledum's shaved his beard off!
Must be the King, then, said Mouldy gloomily. Means I shall have
to order another monkey-jacket. A bull terrier thrust a python-like
head between the rails and wagged his tail. The drifter grated her
fenders alongside and made fast.
The three officers climbed the swaying ladder to the upper deck, and
were greeted in turn by the tall Lieutenant with the telescope. You're
Standish, aren't you? he asked, turning to the India-rubber Man. The
Commander wants to see youyou're an old shipmate of his, it seems?
He led the way as he spoke towards a door in the after superstructure.
Yes, was the reply. He was the First Lieutenant in my last
shipwith this Skipper.
Ah, said the other, she must have been a good ship then.
They skirted a hatchway in the interior of the superstructure that
yawned into the electric-lit interior of the ship, past cabins opening
on to the foremost side of them, and stopped at a curtained doorway. A
square of polished mahogany was screwed into the bulkhead beside it,
with the following inscription in brass letters:
The Officer of the Watch drew back the curtain and motioned to his
companion to enter. Lieutenant Commander Standish, sir, he said.
The Commander, who was writing at a knee-hole table, turned and rose
with his grave, slow smile.
Come in, Bunje, he said, holding out his hand. Very glad you've
got here at last. He laid his left hand for an instant on the
India-rubber Man's shoulder and searched his face with kindly grey
eyes. How're the wounds and the wife and all the other things you've
collected since I saw you last?
The India-rubber Man laughed.
They're all right, sir, thanks. He glanced at the cap, with its
gold oak leaves adorning the brim, lying on the desk. I haven't
congratulated you on your promotion yet, he added. I was awfully glad
to hear you had got your 'brass hat'!
The Commander laughed. I still turn round when anyone sings out
'Number One,' he replied. I was beginning to feel as if I'd been a
First Lieutenant all my life! Seems quite funny not to be chivvying
round after the flat-sweepers. He resumed his seat. Well, you'll find
a few of the old lot here: there's the Skipper of course, and Double-O
Gerrardd'you remember the A.P.? And little Pills: he's Staff Surgeon
now, and no end of a nut... Let's seeoh, yes, and young Bowses: he
used to be one of our snotties, if you remember. 'Kedgeree,' the others
called him. He's Sub of the Gunroom. That's about all of the old lot in
the Channel Fleet. But I think you'll like all the rest. It's a very
The India-rubber Man was roving round the cabin examining
Hullo! he said. You've got poor old Torps's photo here.
Yes, was the reply. II met a woman when I was on leave, of whom
he was very fond. She had two of his photographs and gave me that one.
The Commander had risen to his feet and was staring out of the scuttle
with absent eyes. But, come along. The Skipper wants to see you, and
then I'll take you along to the mess. It's getting on for lunch time.
What sort of a journey did you have?
Still chatting they left the superstructure and passed aft along the
spacious quarterdeck, where, round the flanks of the great superimposed
turrets, a part of the watch were sweeping down the deck and squaring
off ropes. The Commander led the way down a hatchway aft to an
electric-lit lobby, where a marine sentry clicked to attention as they
passed, and opened a door in the after bulkhead. They crossed the fore
cabin extending the whole beam of the ship, and entered the after
Unlike other cabins on the main deck, this was lit by scuttles in
the ship's side, and right aft, big armoured doors opened on to the
stern walk. It lacked conspicuously the adornments usually associated
with the Captain's apartment. Bare corticene covered the deck; the
walls of white enamelled steel were unadorned save for a big scale
chart of the North Sea and a coloured map of the Western Front. A few
framed photographs stood on the big roll-topped desk in one corner, and
a bowl of purple heather occupied the flat mahogany top to the tiled
stove where an electric radiator glowed. A bundle of singlesticks and a
pair of foils stood in the corner near an open bookcase; a padded
chesterfield and a few chairs completed the austere furnishing of the
The Captain was standing before a deal table supported by trestles,
which occupied the deck space beneath the open skylight. On the table,
amid the litter of glue-pots, cardboard, thread and varnish, stood a
model of a Super-Dreadnought. He turned at the entry of the Commander
and his companion, laying down a pair of scissors.
Good morning, Standish, he said. Glad to see you again. I won't
offer to shake handsmine are covered with glue. He smiled in the
whimsical humorous way that always went straight to another man's
heart. We're all returning to our second childhood up here, you see!
He indicated the model. This is my device for keeping out of mischief.
When finished I hope it will fill a similar role for the benefit of my
son, Cornelius James.
Standish examined the model with interest and delight.
What a ripping bit of work, sir, he said. It was, indeed, a
triumph of patient ingenuity and craftmanship.
It's an improvement on wood-carving, was the reply. All working
parts, you see. The Captain set in motion some internal mechanism, and
the turret guns trained slowly on to the beam. He pressed a button.
Electric bow and steaming lights! His voice had a ring of almost
boyish enthusiasm, and he picked up a tangle of threads from the table.
But this fore-derrick purchase is the devil, though. All last evening
I was on the sheaves of one of the double blocksmaddening work.
Hornby's designing a hydraulic lift to the engine-room; column of water
concealed in the foremast, d'you see? When's that going to be finished,
The Commander laughed. We'll have it done in time for Corney's
The Captain turned from the model. Well, Standish, he said, all
thishe nodded at the work of his patient handsall this looks
rather as if we never had anything better to do! As a matter of fact,
it's only during the winter that one finds time for anything. We're
pretty busy, one way and another, you'll find. It'll take you some time
to learn your way round your turret, I expect. Jakes appears to find
his an object of some interestdo you know him, by the way? The
Captain's humorous blue eyes twinkled.
Yes, I travelled up with him, sir. He mentioned the turret.
He probably did. He spends most of his life in his. Well, I'm glad
you've turned up in time for the Regatta. Our Wardroom crew wants a bit
of weight. I told the Admiral we were going to win the cockthe
Squadron trophythis year, so you must see what you can do about it.
Also, I want you to look after the Midshipmen. They're a good lot, and
there's one in particularHarcourt, isn't it, Commander?who ought to
pull off the Midshipmen's Lightweights if he can keep down to the
weight. One or two want shaking upLettigne's too fat However, you
probably want to sling your hammock; hope you'll be comfortable. The
Captain nodded dismissal. As they reached the door the Captain spoke
again. By the way, he said, the children send their love....
Now, said the Commander as they emerged, it's nearly lunch time.
Come along to the smoking-room.
They ascended again to the upper deck and forward of the
superstructure, descended a hatchway to the main deck. An open door in
the armoured bulkhead gave a glimpse forward of a gun battery and a
teeming mess-deck intent on its mid-day meal, where men jostled each
other so thickly round the crowded mess tables that it seemed
incredible that anyone could live for years in such surroundings and
retain an individuality.
They turned away and passed aft down an electric-lit alley-way. A
door on the right opened for a moment as they passed, and emitted the
strains of a gramophone and a boy's laughter.
That's the Gunroom, said the Commander. He led the way round a
corner and past the bloated trunk of an air-shaft to the other side of
the ship. Here we are, he said, and opened a mahogany door in the
white bulkhead, stepping aside to allow the other to enter a smallish
square apartment lit by a skylight overhead and hazy with tobacco
smoke. A few padded settees and arm-chairs and a piano of venerable
aspect, together with a table covered by magazines and papers,
comprised the furniture; half-a-dozen coloured prints and a
baize-covered notice board completed the adornment of the walls.
Through a doorway beyond came the hum of conversation and clatter of
knives and forks, where, in the Wardroom, lunch had already commenced.
About half-a-dozen members of the Mess, however, still occupied the
smoking-room; the nearest to the door, a short, slightly built Staff
Surgeon, in the act of shaking angostura bitters into a glass which a
steward proffered on a tray, turned his head as the newcomers entered.
Bunje! he cried, and put the bitters down. Bunje! my son, Bunje!
Oh, frabjous day, Calloo, Callay! My arms enfold ye.... He enveloped
the India-rubber Man in a bear-like embrace. Behold the prodigal
returning! Steward, bring hither a fatted calf and the swizzle-stick.
Put a cherry in it and a slice of lemon and eke crushed ice. My dear
life! He held the India-rubber Man at an arm's length. Bunje, these
are moments when strong men sob like little children. But let me
The occupants of the smoking-room, grinning, came forward to greet
the new messmate. The Staff Surgeon named them in turn.
This is the P.M.O. He's plus two at golf. I mention that in case he
offers to take you ashore and play you for half-a-crown. P.M.O., this
is Standish, a wounded hero and a friend of my care-free youth. The
speaker rolled his r's, thrust his hand into the bosom of his
monkey-jacket and struck a histrionic attitude.
Seated on the settee, he resumed, caressing an overfed bull
terrier, we have Tweedledee, likewise overfed. Get up and say how d'you
do to the gentleman, Tweedledee.
A short, chubby-faced Lieutenant rose and shook hands rather shyly.
Now, pursued the Doctor, casting our eyes round the room at
random we see the Pilototherwise known as the 'Merry Wrecker.' The
portly gentleman in clerical garb helping himself to a cigarette out of
someone else's tinHis Eminence the Padre. The Captain of Marines you
see consuming gin and bitters: title of picture, 'Celebrities and their
Hobbies.' This is the Engineer Commander. He is considerably senior to
me and I therefore refrain from being witty at his expense. Taking
advantage of the general confusion caused by your arrival, the First
Lieutenant selects this moment to peep into the turgid pages of an
illustrated Parisian journal I regret to say this mess contributes to.
The lecturer paused for breath. A tall, florid-faced Lieutenant
Commander with a broken nose, who had been leaning over the paper
table, pipe in mouth, straightened up with a chuckle and ostentatiously
fluttered the pages of the Times. He eyed the Staff Surgeon
reflectively for a moment and turned to the Captain of Marines.
Have we had enough, do you think, Soldier? he asked in a voice of
I almost think so, replied the Captain of Marines. He finished his
apéritif and stared absently at the skylight overhead.
Pills, dear, said the First Lieutenant in honeyed accents, we're
afraid you are showing off before a stranger. There is only one penalty
The Glory-hole, said the Captain of Marines, and hurled himself on
the Staff Surgeon. The First Lieutenant followed suit, and between them
they dragged their struggling victim to the door.
The bull terrier leaped around them with hysterical yelps of
Open the door, Padre, gasped the Captain of Marines as the
struggle swayed to and fro. Garm, you fool, shut up!
The Chaplain complied with the request with alacrity, and the three
interlocked figures and the ecstatic dog floundered through out into
Just outside, in an angle formed by the armour of the turret and the
Wardroom bulkhead, was a small cupboard. It was used by the
flat-sweeper and messengers for the stowage of brooms, polishing paste,
caustic soda and other appliances of their craft, and was just large
enough to hold a small man upright.
Into this dungeon, with the assistance of the Navigator, they
succeeded in stowing the Staff Surgeon, and despite his protests and
frantic struggles, shut and fastened the door.
Now, said the First Lieutenant, let's go and have some lunch.
But you aren't going to leave him there, are you? protested the
Oh, no, was the reply. The Padre is taking the time. Three
minutes we give him. They passed through into the long Wardroom where
a score or more of officers were seated at lunch round the table that
occupied practically the whole length of the apartment. Come and sit
here next to Thorogoodyou travelled up with him, didn't you?
The officer in question, who was ladling stewed prunes out of a dish
on to his plate, grinned at the new-comer.
Here you are, he said gaily. Pea soup and boiled pork, my lad,
and passed the menu. Mouldy's vanished since we got onboard. He's
probably lunching in his blessed old turret. I had some difficulty in
restraining him from trying to put his arms round it when he saw it
again. Hullo! Here's Pills. Pills, you look rather warm and your hair
So would yours if you had been set upon by Thugs, retorted the
Doctor as he took his seat. Pea soup, please. Ha! There you are,
Bunje. Sorry I had to slip it across Number One and the Soldier just
now. However, boys will be boys and the least said soonest mended. All
is not gold that glitters and a faint heart never won fair ladypass
the salt, please.
'Fraid we're rather a noisy mess, said the Commander. You don't
get much chance to sit and think beautiful thoughts when Pills is
about. Hope you'll get used to it.
The India-rubber Man laughed. I expect so, he said.
CHAPTER IV. WAR BABIES
Properly at ease.... Class, 'Shun! Left turn! Dismiss!
The dozen or so of flannel-dad Midshipmen composing the class sprang
stiffly to attention, turned forward, and made off briskly in the
direction of the hatchway. The India-rubber Man thrust his hands into
the pockets of his flannel trousers and strolled across the quarterdeck
to where the Officer of the Watch was standing.
Tweedledum, he said, elevating his nose and sniffing the keen
morning air, I can smell bacon frying somewhere. So could my class: I
could see their mouths watering. You might send for the cook and tell
him not to do it.
You're a dirty bully, Bunje, you know, said the Officer of the
Watch reprovingly. Fancy dragging those unhappy children out of their
innocent hammocks at this unearthly hour of the morning to flap their
legs and arms about and do 'Knees up!' and
'Double-arm-bend-and-stretch!' He raised a gloved hand and rubbed his
blue nose. Ashore a powdering of snow lay on the distant hills; in the
East the sky was flushing with bars of orange and gold athwart the
tumbled clouds. An armed drifter, coming in from the open sea, stood
out against the light in strong relief. Here's Mouldy Jakes coming
back from Night PatrolI bet even he isn't as cold as I am.
Rot! retorted the Physical Trainer. Do you good,
Tweedledum, to hop round a bit on a lovely morning like this!
Hop round! echoed the other. Hop round! He looked about him as
if searching for a weapon. The dew, which everywhere had frozen during
the night, was slowly thawing on the canvas covers of guns and
searchlights, dripping from shrouds and yards and aerials.
Lord alive! continued the Watchkeeper. Haven't I been hopping
round this perishing quarterdeck since four a.m. keeping the Morning
Watch? If Tweedledee doesn't come and relieve me soon I shall die of
frostbite and boredom. The India-rubber Man was moving towards the
hatchway. And if you're going along to the bathroom, for pity's sake
see there's some hot water left that I can sit and thaw in.
In the meanwhile the Midshipmen had descended to the cabin-flat
where their chests occupied most of the available deck space. Flushed
and breathless with exercise, the majority proceeded to divest
themselves of their flannels and, girt with towels, made off for the
bathroom. One, however, flung himself panting on to his chest, and
sprawled partly across his own and partly on his neighbour's.
I swear this is a bit thick! he gasped. I'm not used to this sort
of frightfulness. He waved his legs in the air. I shall get heart
disease. Anguis pecpec What's it called?
Peccavi, prompted his neighbour, slipping out of his clothes and
donning a great-coat in lieu of a dressing-gown. Otherwise 'The ruddy
'eart-burn.' Just move your greasy head off my till. I want to get at
That's the worst of these 'new brooms'the victim of heart
trouble surveyed his legs anxiouslyI know I've lost a couple of
stone since this physical training fiend joined. I don't suppose my
people will know me when I go home.
Well, you aren't likely to be going home for some time to come,
said another, a seraphic-faced nudity contemplating his biceps in the
small looking-glass that adorned the inside of his chest, so I
shouldn't worry. I say, I'm sweating up a deuce of an arm on me.
Shouldn't wonder if I pulled off the Grand Fleet Light-weights next
month, he added modestly, if this sort of thing goes on. I just
mention it in case any of you are thinking of putting your names in.
He turned from the glass, laughing. Hullo, Mally, going to have a
shave, old thing?
Yes, if I can get at my razor Oh, Bosh, get off my
chestsprawling all over my gear!
I'm in a state of acute physical exhaustion. I feel tender and
giddy. I know all this foul exercise is bad for me early in the
morning. The speaker sat up and juggled dexterously with a cake of
soap, a sponge and a tooth-brush. I'm getting rather good at this
My word, look at Mally's shaving outfit. One would think he was a sort
of Esau'stead of only having to shave once a blooming week!
Are you going to shave, Mally? queried a voice across the flat.
Because I'm not sure I shouldn't be better for a bit of a scrape
myself. Can I have a rub at your razor after you?
You can have it after me if you swear not to skylark with it,
replied the owner. Only, last time I lent it to you, you shaved your
Only for practice, admitted the petitioner, advancing with a
finger and thumb caressing his chin.
Well it blunted it, anyhow. Come on, I'm going to the bathroom
The Gunroom bathroom was situated in another flat, reached via the
aft-deck. Here about this hour an intermittent stream of figures in
quaint négligé passed and repassed to their toilets. Inside the
bathroom itself song and the splashing of water drowned all other
sounds. The owner of the enlarged biceps was seated, fakir-wise,
cross-legged in one of the shallow, circular baths in a corner, bailing
water over himself from an empty cigarette tin.
Harcourt, old thing, said the shaving enthusiast, who had filled a
bath and dragged it alongside his friend, did you mean what you said
just now about the boxing showare you going to put your name down for
The fakir stopped crooning a little song to himself and nodded.
Yes, I'm rather keen on it as a matter of fact. Standish saw me
scrapping with Green the other night and sent for me afterwards and
told me to get fit. I'm going to have a shot at it, I think. Wouldn't
His friend tested the temperature of the water in his bath with his
toe, and got in. Yes, rather, he replied, and hesitated. I'm going
in for it too, he added.
Harcourt rose and reached for his towel. Are you, Billy?
For a moment his eyes travelled over the other's slim form. What a
rag! We may draw each otheranyhow we shall have to scrap if we get
into the semi-finals. Billy, I believe you'd bash me! He towelled
The other shook his head. You beat me at Dartmouth. But I'm going
to have a jolly good shot at it, cully! He looked up with his face
covered with soap-suds and they laughed into each others' eyes.
* * * * *
Breakfast in the Gunroom was, to employ a transatlantic
colloquialism, some breakfast.
There was porridge to start with and then a bloater, followed by
hashed mutton and cold ham (for them as likes it, the Messman would
saywhich meant he pressed it on nobody) and marmalade: perhaps an
apple or two to wind up with to the everlasting honour of the Vegetable
Products Committee who supplied them gratis to the Fleet. Then pipes
and cigarettes appeared from lockers, and the temporarily-closed
flood-gates of conversation reopened. The Wireless Press Message was
discussed and two experts in military strategy proceeded to demonstrate
with the aid of two cruet-stands, a tea-spoon, and the Worcester Sauce,
the precise condition of affairs on the Western Front. Mark you, said
one generously, I'm not criticising either Haig or Joffre. But it
seems to me that we should have pushed hereand upset the
This mishap to the Loos salient was in process of being righted when
the door opened and a short, square-shouldered figure, with a
wind-reddened face and eyes of a dark, dangerous blue, entered the
mess. He came in stamping his feet and blowing on his hands, calling
loudly for breakfast the while. My, there's a good fug in here, he
observed appreciatively, and proceeded to divest himself of a duffle
coat, and a pair of night glasses which were slung round his neck in a
leather case. He stumped across to the table, dragging his legs in
heavy leather sea-boots rather wearily.
Am I hungry? he demanded, insinuating himself with some difficulty
between the long form and the table, and sitting down. Oh, no! Nothing
to speak of. Cold? Not a bit: only frozen stiff. Any sleep last night?
Rather! Nearly ten minutes. Porridge, please, and pass the brown
sugar. The remainder of his messmates appeared disposed to return to
strategical discussion. Did we have any fun last night? continued the
speaker, raising his voice slightly. Well, nothing to speak of. Only
downed a Fritz.
Downed one? roared the Mess, galvanised suddenly into rapt
interest in the new-comer and all his works.
Yep. We were Outer Night Patrol last night. Me and Mouldy Jakes. He
does make me smile, that official. A plateful of porridge proceeded to
pass rapidly to its last resting place.
He might have taken me, said one of the others wistfully.
You don't belong to his Division or his turret or anything.
It was my turn. You went last time. But you missed something, I can
What d'you mean, said the Sub over the top of his paper. Just
cough up the details and let your beastly breakfast wait.
The Night Patroller extracted the backbone from a bloater with swift
dexterity. Well, he continued, it was very dark last night and foggy
in patches: rum night. Very little wind and no sea. We were right
outside and the Engineer sent up to say he thought there was something
foul of the propeller. So we stopped and investigated with a boathook.
There was a lot of weed and stuff fouling us. We were playing about
with it mit boathook for nearly a quarter-of-an-hour, and
suddenly old Mouldy Jakes put up his head and sniffed about a bit and
He's got a nose like a hawk, said the Midshipman of that officer's
Division with a tinge of pride in his voice.
The Mess perforce had to possess its soul in patience while the
raconteur swiftly disposed of the bloater.
So I sniffed too, and I could smell it quite plain. We were lying
stern to the wind; 'sides it wasn't decent baccy like ours, but sort of
Scorp stuff, so we knew it wasn't one of our fellows smoking. Hashed
mutton, please; and another cup of coffee. It was pitch dark and for a
moment we couldn't see a thing. Then, suddenly, right on top of us came
a submarine! She was on the surface and there was a fellow on the
conning tower and a couple of figures aft. She must have been smelling
about on the surface having a smoke and recharging her batteries.
The remainder of the Gunroom had crowded round the speaker, some
kneeling on the form with their elbows among the débris of breakfast,
others sat on the edge of the table hugging their knees.
My word, Matt, said one, his eyes dancing, I bet you got cold
Cold feet! snorted the hero of the moment. There wasn't time for
cold feet. It was too sudden. They just grazed past us, going very
slow, and there was a devil of a bobbery. I fancy they thought they
were properly in the consommé. A trap or something. Anyhow the
two braves aft lost their heads and jumped overboard, and the bird in
the conning tower disappeared like a Jack-in-the-boxproperly
What price old Mouldy? asked the listeners. Utterly unmoved, I
suppose! Lord, I'd love to have seen him!
Oh, bored stiff by the whole performance, of course. Still he did
make one wild leap for the gun and got off a round at point-blank
range. Hit her just below the conning tower. She must have been in
diving trim, because she went down like a stone, bubbling like an empty
What about the Huns in the water? demanded the enthralled Clerk.
We could only find one. The other must have got mixed up with the
submarine's propeller. The one we picked up was nearly done and awfully
surprised because we gave him dry clothes and hot drinks and a smoke,
and didn't spit in his eye or anything of that sort. Said their
officers always told them we illtreated our prisoners. Aren't they
Nature's little Nobs?
There was a little silence, each one busy with his own thoughts.
Finally one broke the silence, voicing the opinion of the rest:
Well, he ejaculated, some people have all the blinking luck. I've
done about twenty night patrols since I've been up here and never seen
anything 'cept a porpoise.
The Night Patroller lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke with
the air of a man who had earned it. You were at Suvla Bay and the
landing from the River Clyde, he retorted. You can't have
every ruddy thing in life.
* * * * *
A fine day in Ultima Thulethey were rarewas an occasion for
thankfulness and rejoicing. Directly after luncheon the members of
Gunroom and Wardroom made their way on deck to bask in the sun and
smoke contemplative post-prandial pipes in the lee of the after
superstructure. Forward, in amidships, the band was playing a slow
waltz and fifty or so couples from among the ship's company were
solemnly revolving to the music with expressions of melancholy
enjoyment peculiar to such exercise.
It's make-and-mend this afternoon, said the Senior Midshipman,
tilting his cap over his eyes and lazily watching the antics of a gull
volplaning against the light wind. He sat on the deck with his back
against the superstructure and his hands clasped round his knees.
It's a topping day, too, added Malison from his vantage astride
the coir-hawser reel. Too good to waste onboard. The footer ground's
baggedlet's have a picnic in one of the cutters. Have tea ashore, an'
fry bangers over a fire.
The project found favour generally. We might ask one or two of the
Wardroom, suggested Harcourt. Some of the cheery ones; Standish and
Thorogood and the Doc, say.
And old Jakes, supplemented the Midshipman of that
officer's Division jealously. I'd like to ask him. He loves picnics.
Mouldy Jakes was included in the invitation list by general consent.
His half-humorous, resigned air of chronic boredom had a peculiar
attraction for all the Midshipmen; in the case of the Midshipman of his
turret it amounted to idolatry.
Go an' ask 'em, Harcourt, said the Senior Midshipman. You're the
Blue-eyed Boy with the Wardroom. I'll go and tackle the Commander for
Then Bosh and I will go and ginger-up the Messman, said another,
and get a basket packed. What shall we have for tea?
Sloe-gin, promptly responded a tall, pale Midshipman with a
slightly freckled nose and sandy hair. Sloe-gin and bangers. And
get strawberry jam: see the Messman doesn't try and palm off any of his
beastly gooseberry stuff like he did last time. What about bacon and
eggs, and some tins of cocoa and milk, and a cake and some
Wonk, interrupted the caterer, we're only going to have tea
ashore. We aren't going to camp out for the week-end.
I tell you what, said Mouldy Jake's patron, I'll bring my line
and we'll catch pollack and fry them for tea too.
Well, I'm going to shift, said Malison, and the Committee of
Supply broke up and passed down below.
Half an hour later the cutter, manned and provisioned, with the
skiff in tow, hoisted her foresail and sheered off from the after
gangway. The India-rubber Man, as Senior Officer of the expedition,
took the helm and banished the Young Doctor into the bows, where, to
judge by the ecstatic shouts of merriment that floated aft, his
peculiar form of wit was much appreciated. Thorogood, at the main
sheet, with an old deerstalker on his head and a pipe in his mouth, led
the chorus in the sternsheets. Mouldy Jakes had usurped the skiff, and
having satisfied himself that he was required to take no further part
in the navigation of the expedition, made himself comfortable in the
bottom of the boat and blinked at the sky through puffs of smoke from
He was followed into this voluntary exile by the Midshipman of his
Division, one Morton, who sat in the bows contemplating him
Precisely what it was that inspired this apparently one-sided
attachment was never very apparent. The almost passionate loyalty and
affections of youth are hardy plants, thriving abundantly on the
For a while only the drowsy swish of the water past the bottom of
the boat, and snatches of merriment or song drifting aft from the
cutter, broke the silence in the skiff. Then Mouldy Jakes's companion
apparently tired of this silent communion.
Sir, he said, would you like to fish?
No, said Mouldy Jakes.
His host proceeded to unwind his line. Do you mind if I do? he
No, was the reply.
The Midshipman watched his line in silence for a little while. Do
you think you sank that submarine last night? he asked presently.
Mouldy Jakes closed his eyes and gave a grunt with an affirmative
It must have been a topping show. Weren't you awfully bucked, sir?
I suppose you didn't get a wink of sleep all night?
A vague confirmatory noise.
You must be jolly tired, sir. Wouldn't you like to sleep a bit now,
Right ho, sir. You can carry on and have a jolly good caulk. I'm
going to fish, and I'll call you when we get to the island where we're
going to land.... Is your head quite comfortable?
Silence reigned in the skiff.
The cutter had passed beyond the outskirts of the Fleet, and the
decorum required of the occupants of a Service boat in such
surroundings no longer ruled their behaviour. They sang and shouted for
sheer joy of bellowing, full-lunged, across the untrammelled water. No
one whose life is not spent in the narrow confines of a man-of-war,
walking paths sternly ruled by Naval Discipline, can realise the
intoxicating effect of such an emancipation. The mysterious workings of
the Midshipman-mind found full play on these occasions, as they tumbled
about in the bottom of the boat in the unfettered enjoyment of a
whole-hearted scrap. If you have ever seen young foxes at play,
buffeting each other, yelping with simulated anguish, nuzzling
endearments half savage and half in play, you have an idea of the
bottom of a cutter full of Midshipmen proceeding on a picnic. It was an
embodiment of youth triumphant, shouting with laughter at the Jest of
Where shall we go? asked Standish, smiling, during a lull when the
crew sat panting and flushed with exertion, grinning at each other over
the tops of the thwarts.
Any blooming where, shouted Thorogood. As long as it is out of
sight of the Fleet. I feel I've seen enough of the Silent Navy for an
hour or two. Then raising his voice he chanted:
Put me upon an island where the girls are few...
Right, retorted the Indian-rubber Man. We'll go round this little
headland. Ready about! Check the fore sheet! Come aft out of the bows,
Pills, you clown, unless you want us to miss stays.
I don't want to go to an island, cried the Surgeon plaintively,
where the girls are few. He surveyed the heather-crowned islets
surrounding them on all sides, the lonely haunts of cormorants and
black-backed gulls. I'm all for houris and sirens and whatnots
The foresail swung across and knocked him into the bottom of the
You frail Ulysses! exclaimed Thorogood, as they set sail on the
new course. You aren't to be trusted in these populous parts. We must
lash you to the mast!
And stop his ears with cotton-wool, said a Midshipman whose
acquaintance with the classics was still a recent, if sketchy
A party set off into the bows to put the proposal into immediate
execution, but the imminence of land and a shout from the helmsman
arrested them in their purpose:
Down foresail. Top up mainsail! The cutter, with the skiff towing
peacefully astern, glided into a little bay where miniature cliffs,
some twenty feet in height, rose from a narrow shale-strewn beach. The
anchor plashed overboard.
Here we are, here we are, here we are again! carolled the
Surgeon lustily. Come alongside, skiff! The landing of the Lancashire
Fusiliers is about to commence under a withering fire!
A letter received that morning from a soldier brother who had taken
part in that epic of human gallantry had apparently inspired the Young
Doctor. He pointed ahead with a dramatic gesture at the cliffs. Yonder
are the Turks! See, they fly, they fly! A pair of agitated cormorants,
sunning themselves on the rocks, flew seaward with outstretched necks.
Lead on, brave lads, and I will follow!
The skiff came bumping alongside, and Mouldy Jakes, galvanised into
wakefulness by the confusion and laughter, found himself inextricably
entangled in the fishing-line, holding a kettle that someone had thrust
upon him in one hand and a frying-pan in the other. Half a dozen partly
clad forms, followed by the Doctor, flung themselves headlong into the
skiff and made for the shore. The bows grated on the shingle and they
For drill purposes only, explained the Surgeon breathlessly, we
Under his direction they proceeded to collect pebbles. A withering
volley will accordingly be opened on the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Despite a heavy fire of pebbles, the landing was ultimately
effected; the invaders abandoned their trousers and floundered
gallantly through the bullet-torn shallows. Ensued a complete rout of
the Turks, who were pursued inland across the heather with triumphant
shouts and the corpse of a seagull, found on the beach, hurled after
them from the point of a piece of driftwood.
The evicted snipers eventually returned with their caps full of
plovers' eggs, to find a fire of bleached twigs blazing and sausages
frizzling in the frying-pan. They were handed mugs of hot tea.
In the phraseology of chroniclers of Sunday-school treats, ample
justice was done to the varied repast. Then it was discovered that the
tide was falling, and a hasty re-embarkation followed.
Sails were hoisted, the anchor weighed, and the cutter, with the
empty skiff in tow, headed for the West, where the sun was already
setting in a great glory of gold.
The brief warmth of a Northern spring day had passed, and, as they
rounded the promontory and the Fleet hove in sight once more, duffle
coats and mufflers were donned and a bottle of sloe-gin uncorked.
Mug-up! cried the Sub. Mug-up, and let's get 'appy and chatty.
They crowded together in the stern-sheets for warmth, and presently
Thorogood started John Brown's Body Lies A-mouldering in the Grave,
without which no properly conducted picnic can come to a fitting
conclusion. The purple shadows deepened in the far-off valleys ashore,
and anon stole out across the water, enfolding the anchored Fleet into
the bosom of another night of a thousand vigils.
It was dusk when they reached the outlying Cruisers, and nearly dark
when the first ship in the Battle Fleet hailed them. Then hail answered
hail as one Battleship after another rose towering above them into the
darkling sky, and one by one passed into silence astern.
Silence also had fallen on the singers. Seen thus from an open boat
under the lowering wings of night, there was something
awe-inspiringeven to these who lived onboard themin the stupendous
fighting outlines limned against the last of the light. Complete
darkness reigned on board, but once a dog barked, and the strains of an
accordion drifted across the water as reminders that each of these
menacing mysteries was the habitation of their fellow-men. A tiny
pin-point of light winked from a yard-arm near by to another pin-point
in the Cruiser line: Somebody was answering an invitation to dinner at
7.45 p.m., with many thanks; then, reminder of sterner things, a
searchlight leaped out spluttering over their heads, and swept to and
fro across the sky like the paint-brush of a giant.
A half-drowsy Midshipman in the bows of the cutter watched the
message of hospitality blinking through space; he consulted the
luminous dial on his wrist. H'm, he observed to his companion, I
thought it was getting on for dinner-time. Funny how quickly one gets
A hail challenged them from the darkness, and a towering outline
loomed familiarly ahead.
Aye, aye! shouted the voice of the India-rubber Man from the
stern, adding in lower tones, Boathook up forward. Fore halliards in
Home again! said another voice in the darkness. And so the long
day wears on...
* * * * *
Dinner in the Gunroom was over. One by one the occupants became
engrossed in their wonted evening occupations and amusements.
Mordaunt, said the sandy-haired Midshipman, rising and opening the
gramophone, would you like to hear George Robey?
The officer addressed, who was sitting at the table apparently in
the throes of literary composition, raised his head. No, he replied,
I wouldn't; I'm writing a letter. 'Sides I've heard that record at
least seven hundred and eighty-one times already.
Can't help it, retorted the musical enthusiast, winding the handle
of the instrument. I think he's perfectly priceless! He set
the needle, stepped back a pace and stood beaming appreciatively into
the vociferous trumpet while the song blared forth.
Reminds me, said Harcourt, laying down a novel and rising from the
corner of the settee where he had curled himself, I must write to my
young sister for her birthday. Lend me a bit of your notepaper, Billy.
His friend complied with the request without raising his eyes. How
d'you spell 'afford'? he enquired.
Two f's, replied Harcourt. 'Least I think so. Can I have a dip at
I thought it was two, but it doesn't look right, somehow. The two
pens scratched in unison.
Matthews, the Midshipman of the previous Night Patrol, had stretched
himself on an adjacent settee and fallen asleep immediately after
Lettigne, otherwise known as Bosh, amused himself by juggling with
a banana, two oranges and a walnut, relics of his dessert. His
performance was being lazily watched by the Sub from the depths of the
arm-chair which he had drawn as near to the glowing stove as the heat
would allow. It presently attracted the notice of two other Midshipmen
who had finished a game of picquet and were casting about them for a
fresh distraction. This conversion of edible objects into juggling
paraphernalia presently moved one to protest.
Why don't you eat that banana, Bosh, instead of chucking it about?
'Cause I can't, said the exponent of legerdemain.
Why not? queried the other.
Too full already, was the graceful response. I'm just
waitingwaiting till the clouds roll by, so to speak.
The two interlocutors eyed each other speculatively.
Did you have any dessert? asked one.
No, was the sorrowful reply. My extra-bill's up.
Thereupon they rose together and fell straightway upon the juggler.
An equal division of the spoil was made while they sat upon his
prostrate form, and eaten to the accompaniment of searching prods into
their victim's anatomy.
Bosh, you ought to be jolly grateful to us, really. You'd probably
have appendicitis if we let you eat all thisphew! Mally, just feel
here.... Isn't he a hog! ...
Just like a blooming drum, replied the other, prodding judicially.
Over their heads the tireless voice of the gramophone trumpeted
forth its song. The Sub who had kept the Middle Watch the night before,
slept the sleep of the tired just. The door opened and a Junior
Midshipman entered hot-foot. Letters, he shouted. Any letters to be
censored? The mail's closing tomorrow morning.
Yes, replied the two correspondents at the table, simultaneously
bringing their letters to a close.
Hurry up, then, said the messenger. The Padre's waiting to censor
them. He sent me along to see if there were any more.
Mordaunt folded his letter and placed it in an envelope. Got a
stamp, Harcourt? I've run out. He extended a penny.
Harcourt looked up, pen in mouth, thumping his wet sheet with the
blotting paper. In my lockerI'll get you one in a second.
Oh, do buck up, wailed the messenger. I want to turn in, an' the
All right, retorted Harcourt. He rose to his feet. I forgot:
little boys lose their roses if they don't get to bed early. Billy,
shove that letter in an envelope for me, to save time, while I get the
stamp. His friend complied with the request and picked up his pen to
address his own epistle. As he did so the prostrate juggler, with a
sudden, spasmodic recrudescence of energy, flung his two assailants off
him and struggled to a sitting position. They were on him again like
wolves, but as they bore him prostrate to the deck he clutched wildly
at a corner of the table-cloth.
The next moment the conflict was inextricably involved with the
table-cloth, letters, note-paper, envelopes and ink descending upon the
combatants in a cascade.
You clumsy owls, roared Harcourt, returning from his locker. Now,
where's my letter.... He searched among the débris.
I say, do buck up, wailed the sleepy voice on the threshold.
Buck up? echoed Harcourt. Buck up! How the devil can I buck
upah, here we are. He picked up an envelope, glanced carelessly
under the still open flap and sat down to address it. Got yours,
Billy? Here's the stamp.
Yes, replied the other, grovelling in the darkness under the
table. This is it. He reappeared with a letter in his hand.
The Padre again began the impatient envoy.
All rightall right! Mordaunt hurriedly affixed the stamp and
addressed the envelope without looking at the contents. Here you are,
he said, holding it out. The messenger departed hastily.
The bang of the door awoke the Sub.
Now, then, he said. Enough of this. Switch off that cursed
gramophone. Get up off the deck. Mop that ink up and square off the
table-cloth. Knock off scrapping, you three hooligans.
The hooligans obeyed reluctantly, and sat panting and dishevelled on
the settee. By degrees the Mess resumed its tranquillity.
Harcourt stretched his slim form and yawned sleepily. I'm going to
turn in now. And to-morrow know all men that I start training.
That's right, said Lettigne, still panting and adjusting his
disordered garments. Nothing like being really fitready to go
anywhere an' do anythingthat's my motto. He rang the bell and
ordered a bottle of ginger beer.
 Tinned sausages. A delicacy peculiar to Gunrooms of the Fleet.
CHAPTER V. UNCLE BILL
Sir William Thorogood rose from the table on which lay a confusion
of papers, drawings and charts. He walked across the cabin to the tiled
fireplace, selected a cigar from his case, and lit it with precise
You're right, he said. You've put your finger on the weak spot.
No one in Whitehall saw it, and they're seamen. I didn't see it,
andand I'm called a scientist. He made an imperceptible inclination
of his head towards his companion as if to convey a compliment.
The other occupant of the broad cabin smiled a little grimly. It's
a question of actual experience, he said. Experience of this
particular form of warfare, and the means of meeting it hitherto at our
He pencilled some figures on a piece of paper and studied them with
It's a pity, he said presently. You're on the brink of the most
stupendous discovery of our day. The submarine was a wonderful
invention, and there's no limit to the possibilities of its
developmentor abuse. Until an effective counter can be devised it
remains a very terrible menace to civilisation in the hands of an
Sir William smoked in silence. His thin, aristocratic face, and his
level grey eyes, had a look of fatigue. I was particularly glad to
avail myself of your invitation, he said. I wanted practical
experience of the conditions in the North Seaweather and visibility.
And, later on, in the North Atlantic. I'm going over to Ireland next
month. His tired eyes followed the blue smoke curling upwards. Of
course, the experiments we tried down South answered all right for
short distances. That's what rather deceived us. They were harbour
trials, no more. We want something more exhaustive than that. And, as
you say, there's the pull of the tides to consider.... Confound the
His companion smiled. That's what Canute said. Or words to that
effect. But it didn't help matters much.
Quite, replied Sir William dryly. Well, I should like to take a
patrol boat and one of our submarines for a day or two and test that
new theoryto-morrow if I may. Andwhile I think of itI have
promised a young nephew of mine to dine with him to-night in his ship,
if it in no way inconveniences you?
The other nodded, and, reaching out his hand, pressed the button of
an electric bell beside his desk.
* * * * *
It was the hour preceding dinner, and the majority of the members of
the Wardroom had congregated in the ante-room to discuss sherry and the
day's affairs before descending to their cabins to change. It was a
cheerful gathering, as the hour and the place betokened, and the usual
mild chaff flowed to and fro in its mysteriously appointed channels.
In Naval communities, as in most others where men are segregated
from wider intercourse by a common mode of life and purpose, each one
occupies the place designed for him by Destiny for the smooth working
of the whole. These types are peculiar to no trade or profession. A
gathering of farmers or elders of the Church, or even Christy
Minstrels, would, if thrown together for a sufficient period of time,
and utterly dependent on one another for daily intercourse, fall into
the places allotted to each by temperament and heredity. Each little
community would own a wit and a butt; the sentimentalist and the cynic.
The churl by nature would appear through some veneer of manner, if only
to bring into relief the finer qualities of his fellows; lastly, and
most surely, one other would jingle a merciful cap and bells, and
mingle motley with the rest.
The First Lieutenant had just come down from the upper-deck, and
stood warming his hands by the fire. Big-boned, blue-eyed, health and
vitality seemed to radiate from his kindly, forceful personality. Of
all the officers on board Jimmy the One was, with perhaps the
exception of the Captain, most beloved by the men. A seaman to the
fingertips, slow to wrath and clean of speech, he had the knack of
getting the last ounce out of tired men without driving or raising his
voice. Working cables on the forecastle in the cold and snowy darkness,
when men's faculties grow torpid with cold, and their safety among the
grinding cables depends more upon the alert supervision of the First
Lieutenant than the mere instinct for self-preservation, Jimmy the
One was credited with powers allied to those of the high Gods. 'Tween
decks, where the comfort and cleanliness of close on eleven hundred
men was mainly his affair, they abused, loved and feared him with
whole-hearted affection. His large football-damaged nose smelt out dirt
as a Zulu witch-doctor smells out magic. The majority of the vast
ship's companyseamen ratings, at all eventshe knew by name. He also
presided over certain of the lower-deck amusements, and, at the
bi-weekly cinema shows, studied their tastes in the matter of Charlie
Chaplin and the Wild West with the discrimination of a lover choosing
flowers for his mistress.
His own personal amusements were few. He admitted possessing three
books which he read and re-read in rotation: Peter Simple, Alice in
Wonderland, and a more recent discovery, Owen Wister's Virginian. A
widowed mother in a Yorkshire dower house was the only relative he was
ever heard to refer to, and for her benefit every Sunday afternoon he
sat down for an hour, as he had since schooldays, and wrote a boyish,
detailed chronicle of his doings during the past week.
The two watch-keeping Lieutenants sat one on each arm of the
deep-seated chesterfield opposite the fire. They were the Inseparables
of the Mess, knit together in that curious blend of antagonistic and
sympathetic traits of character which binds young men in an austere
affection passing the love of woman. One was short and stout, the other
tall and lean; an illustration in the First Lieutenant's edition of
Alice in Wonderland supplied them with their nicknames, which they
accepted from the first without criticism or demur.
The Fleet Surgeon sat between them cleaning a pipe with a collection
of seagull's feather gathered for the purpose on the golf links ashore.
He was thin, a grey-haired, silent man. His face, in repose, was that
of a deliberate thinker whose thoughts had not led him to an entirely
happy goal. Yet his smile when amused had a quality of gratitude to the
jester, not altogether without pathos. He had a slightly cynical
demeanour, a bitter tongue, and a curiously sympathetic, almost tender
manner with the sick. He was professedly a fierce woman-hater, and when
ashore passed children quickly with averted eyes.
Of a different type was the Paymaster, sunny as a schoolboy,
irresponsible in leisure hours as the youngest member of the Mess.
Perhaps there had been a time when he had not found life an altogether
laughing matter. He had an invalid wife; his means were small, and most
of his life had been spent at sea. But misfortune seemed to have but
tossed a challenge to his unquenchable optimism and faith in the mercy
of God. He had picked up the gage with a smile, flung it back with a
laugh, and with drawn blade joined the gallant band of those who strive
eternally to defend the beleaguered Citadel of Human Happiness.
Others came and went among the gathering; the Engineer Commander,
fiercely bearded and moustached, who cherished an inexplicable belief
that a studied soldierly accent and bearing helped him in his path
through life. The Major, clean-shaven and philosophic; the Gunnery
Lieutenant, preoccupied with his vast responsibilities, a
seaman-scientist with a reputation in the football-field. The Torpedo
Lieutenant, quiet, gentle-mannered, fastidious in his dress and not
given to overmuch speech. The Engineer-Lieutenant, whose outlook on
life alternated between moods of fierce hilarity and brooding
melancholy, according to the tenour of a correspondence with a
distracting Red Cross nursing sister exposed to the perils of caring
for good-looking military officers in the plains of Flanders. Lastly,
the Captain of Marines; he was the musician of the Mess, much in demand
at sing-songs; editor, moreover, of the Wardroom magazine, a periodical
whose humour was of a turn mercifully obscure to maiden aunts. A
first-class cricketer and racquet-player, a student of human nature
with a tolerance for the failings of others that suggested a strain of
Latin blood, and a Marine with an almost passionate pride in the great
traditions of his Corps.
Such were among the occupants of the anteroom when Thorogood entered
the crowded room and crossed over to the door leading to the Wardroom
where the Marine waiters were laying the table.
Tell the Messman I've got a guest to dinner, said Thorogood to the
Corporal of the Wardroom servants.
The Young Doctor, who was leaning against the overmantel of the
stove warming himself, crossed over to Thorogood with an expression of
portentous solemnity on his face.
James, he said, and laid a hand on the other's shoulder, before
you get busy on the wassail-bowl, my lad, I should like to remind you
that the boat's crew will commence training for the Regatta at 7 A.M.
to-morrow. No fatheads wanted. Enough said.
The Gunnery Lieutenant looked up from a game of draughts with
Double-O Gerrard, the Assistant Paymaster. Who've you got dining with
you, Jimmy? he asked. The introduction of new blood into a Mess,
even for the evening, is generally a matter of interest to the inmates.
An old uncle of mine, was the reply. He signalled from the
Flagship that he was coming to dinner. I don't know what he's doing up
Mouldy Jakes, who was sitting on an arm of the sofa watching the
game of draughts, looked across at Thorogood.
Sir William? he asked. Is that man of mystery up here? What's he
Don't know, replied Thorogood. Dirty work, I suppose.
The Young Doctor assumed an expression of rapture. What! he cried,
my old college chum Sir William! Then with a swift change of mimicry
he bent into a senile pose with nodding head and shaking fingers,
mumbling at his lips:
Ah! Ah! he wheezed, how time flies! I mind the day when he and I
were lads togetherhee-heebrave lads ... Eton and Christ Church
together He broke off into a decrepit chuckle.
Dry up, Pills, you ass, cried the Torpedo Lieutenant, laughing.
You aren't a bit funnyin fact, I'm not sure you aren't rather bad
Bad form? echoed the First Lieutenant. Let us see now. What's the
penalty for bad form, Pay? I've forgotten.
To be devoured by lions, said the Paymaster calmly, with an eye on
the sofa where Garm, the bull-terrier, sprawled as usual.
That's right, said the First Lieutenant, so it is: devoured of
The next moment the Doctor was tripped up into the depths of the
sofa, the bull-terrier, thus rudely awakened from slumber, dumped on
top of him, and his struggles stifled by the bodies of the Paymaster
and First Lieutenant. Eat him, GarmHi! good beastie! Chew his nose,
lick his collar...!
The great bull-terrier, accustomed to being the instrument of such
summary execution, entered into the game with zest, and sprawling
across the Surgeon's chest with one massive paw on his face, nuzzled
and slavered in an abandonment of affectionate gusto.
Oh!oh!oh!pah!phew! The victim writhed and spluttered
protests. Dry upGarm, you great donkey!
Piff!you'resmotheringmebeast! Ugh! my collarcleanno
offenceJimmy, I 'pologiselemme get up ... Faugh!
In the midst of the uproar the door opened and the Midshipman of the
Mr. Thorogood, sir, he called. Someone to see you.
The group on the sofa broke up. The Surgeon sat up panting and
wiping his face. The dog jumped to the deck and accompanied Thorogood
across to the door, wagging a friendly tail.
Sir William Thorogood, hat in hand, with his cloak over his arm,
entered the ante-room. His eyeglass fell from his eye.
Hullo, Uncle Bill, exclaimed his nephew. You're earlynice and
earlywe've just started training for the Regatta and we're straffing
the coxswain by way of a start! ErStaff Surgeon Tucker, Sir William
The Surgeon advanced with a rather embarrassed grin and shook hands
with the eminent scientist.
I fancy I knew your father once, said the latter smiling. He held
the chair of Comparative Anatomywe were at college togetherbless
me!a good many years ago now. He stood smiling down at Pills from
his lean height.
The Mess chortled at the Surgeon's discomfiture. Thorogood turned to
the Commander who had just then entered. This is Commander Hornby, he
said, and introduced the two men. There's Mouldyyou remember him?
Mouldy Jakes came over and shook hands gravely. And this is the rest
of the Mess. He included the remainder with a wave of his hand, and
Sir William acknowledged the informal general introduction with the
grave, smiling self-possession of the perfectly bred Englishman.
Now, said his nephew, what about a cocktail, Uncle Bill?
Yes, said Mouldy Jakes, sharing with his friend the responsibility
of entertaining this eminent guest. We've got rather a good
brandfizzy ones. Do you a power of good, sir!
Sir William laughed. Thank you, he said, but fizzy cocktails and
I came to the parting of the ways more years ago than I care to
remember. Perhaps I may be allowed to join you in a glass of
Rather, said his host, and gave the order. Well, Uncle Bill, he
said, what brings you up to Ultima Thule and on board the Flagship?
The Scientist helped himself to a biscuit from the tray on a little
table near the door. I'm staying withwith an old friend for a few
days, for a change of air, he said. He took the proffered glass of
sherry and sipped it appreciatively. May I congratulate you on your
It's not bad, said Mouldy Jakes. I'm the wine caterer, he added
At this juncture dinner was announced and they passed through into
the long Wardroom.
Shaded electric lights hung down above the table that traversed the
length of the Mess. A number of ornamental pieces of silver and
trophies adorned the centre of the table and winked and glistened
against the dark mahogany. Slips of white napery ran down on either
side, on which the glasses, silver and cutlery lay. They took their
places, the presidential hammer tapped, and the Chaplain, rising,
offered brief thanks. Immediately after a buzz of conversation broke
Sir William, on the right of the President, indicated the glittering
trophies. I see you keep your plate on board, he said, smiling, even
The Commander laughed. Well, he said, all these things we
actually won ourselves. There's a lot more stuffthe things that
belong to the ship itself, one commission as much as another, and those
we landed. Then, if we get sunk, successive ships bearing our name will
carry them, you see ... yes, half a glass, please. But all you see here
we won at battle practice just before the war, boat-racing and so
on.... Incidentally we hope to win the Squadron Regatta this year. That
big one over there was from the passengers of a burning ship we
rescued.... If we're sunk they may as well go down with us; at least,
that's how we look at it. It is only in keeping with our motto, after
He pushed across a silver menu-holder, bearing the ship's crest and
motto on a scroll beneath it. The guest picked it up and examined it.
What we hold we hold, he read. Yes, I see. It's not a bad
Sir William looked round the table at the laughing, animated
facesmany of them little more than boys seen through the long
perspective of his own years.
The Chaplain was having his leg hauled. The joke was obscure, and
concerned an episode of bygone days which appeared to be within the
intimate recollection of at least half the number seated round the
The other half were demanding enlightenment, and in the laughter and
friendly mischief on certain faces Sir William read an affectionate,
mysterious freemasonry apparently shared by all.
For a moment he leaned back, contemplating in imagination the scores
of great ships surrounding them on all sides, invisible in the night:
in each Wardroom there was doubtless a similar cheerful gathering
beneath the shaded electric lights. Musing thus, glancing from face to
face, and listening, half uncomprehending, to the laughing jargon, he
glimpsed for an instant the indefinable Spirit of the Fleet. Each of
these communities, separated by steel and darkness from the other,
shared it. It stretched back into a past of unforgotten memories,
linking one and all in a brotherhood that compassed the waters of the
earth, and bore their traditions with unfailing hands across the hazard
of the future.
The meal drew to a close and the decanters went slowly round. Mouldy
Jakes, from his seat opposite the President, was attempting to catch
Sir William's eye. His nephew intercepted and interpreted the
gesticulations. Mouldy's recommending the Madeira, Uncle Bill, said
his nephew; he evidently feels that his reputation as wine caterer is
at stake after your comments on the sherry!
Sir William laughed and filled his glass accordingly.
Obedient to a signal conveyed to the Bandmaster by a Marine waiter,
the band in the flat outside came suddenly to a stop.
Down came the President's hammer, and the name of the King preceded
the raising of glasses. Then the violins outside resumed their
whimpering melody; coffee followed a second circulation of the
decanters, and presently the smoke of cigars and cigarettes began to
eddy across the polished mahogany.
A few minutes later the Master-at-Arms entered the Wardroom, and
stepping up to the Commander's chair, reported something in a low
voice. The Commander turned sideways to the guest of the evening. Will
you excuse me if I leave you? he said. I have to go the rounds. And
rising from the table left a gap at Sir William's side. Intimate
conversation between uncle and nephew, hitherto impracticable, was now
How's Cecily, Uncle Bill? asked James. Which reminds me, he
added, that I met Armitage when I was coming back from leave.
Sir William removed his cigar and contemplated the pale ash with
I heard from Armitage, he replied. Did you by any chance meet his
companion on the journey up?
James shook his head. No, I only saw Armitage for a moment, and
that was in the darkness at the rail-head. But you haven't told me how
She wants to go to America, replied his uncle.
America! echoed his nephew. Why?
To stay with an old school friend. It seems she wants to go over
for a Newport season.
But, said James and paused, are you going to let her go, Uncle
She says she's going, was her guardian's reply.
James smoked in silence for a moment.
But Newport, he said. Where on earth did Cecily develop a taste
for that sort of life?
Read about it in a book, I fancy, said Sir William.
But it isn't the sort of thing I can imagine appealing to Cecily in
the least, objected her cousin. I know what Cecily likespottering
about in old tweeds with a dog, sketching and fishing. I can't see her
at Bailey's Beach surf-bathing with millionaires in the family
diamonds. Besides, what about her war workher Hospital Supply Depot?
Sir William made no answer.
Is she unhappy about anything? pursued James. Has Armitage been
making love to her? I know he used to follow her about like a sick dog,
but I didn't know it upset her.
Sir William smiled. No, he said, I shouldn't have said so either.
But I don't claim any profound insight into the feminine mind. All I
know is that she looks rather pale, and she has grown uncommonly quiet.
At times she has restless moods of rather forced gaiety. But the reason
for it all, I'm afraid, is beyond me.
Do you remember d'Auvergne? asked his nephew suddenly. Podgie
d'Auvergne. He spent a summer leave with us once, and he used to come
up to town a good deal from Whale Island when he was there. Do you
think Cecily is in love with him?
Bless me, said Sir William helplessly, I don't know. I never
remember her saying so. Do you think that would account forfor her
present mood? Women are such curious beings
I know he's fearfully gone on her, said James, but he lost a foot
early in the war. He hasn't been near her since.
Why not? asked the Scientist vaguely.
Oh, becausebecause he's fearfully sensitive about it. And he's
frightfully in love with her. You see, a thing like that tells
enormously when a fellow's in love.
Does it? enquired Sir William. Well, granted that your theory is
correct, I fail to see what I am to do. I can't kidnap this young man
and carry him to my house like the alien visitor you once brought to
disturb my peaceful slumbers.
Ah, said James, Crabpots! He chuckled retrospectively.
If he has really developed a neurotic view of his injury, as you
imply, continued the older man, it's no use my inviting him, because
he would only refuse to come.
You'll have to work it somehow, replied his nephew. Sea voyages
aren't safe enough just nowwe'd never forgive ourselves if we let
Cecily go and anything happened to heror Podgie either, he added
By twos and threes the members of the Mess had risen from the table
and drifted into the ante-room to play bridge, or to their cabins,
there to write letters, read, or occupy themselves in wood-carving and
kindred pursuits. At a small table in the comer of the long Mess the
officers of the Second Dog Watch had finished a belated meal, and were
yarning in low voices over their port.
James and his uncle alone remained seated at the long table.
Well, said the former, let's move on, Uncle Bill. Would you like
a rubber of bridge?
I can play bridge in London, replied his guest, rising. No, Jim,
I think I'd like to take this opportunity of paying a visit to the
Gunroom. When you are my age you'll find a peculiar fascination about
youth and its affairs. Do you think they'd object to my intrusion?
They'd be awfully bucked, said James. Come along. As they passed
out of the door they met the Marine postman entering with his arms full
of letters and papers. Hullo, he continued, here's the mailyou'll
see a Gunroom devouring its letters: rather like a visit to the Zoo
They came to the door of the Gunroom, and James, opening it,
motioned his guest to enter. One end of the table resembled a bee
swarm: a babel of voices sounded as those nearest the pile of letters
shouted the names of the addressees and tossed the missives back over
The two men stood smiling and unobserved in the doorway until the
distribution was complete. Then they were seen, and the Sub advanced to
extend the hospitality of his realm.
Kedgeree, said James, this is my uncle. He's getting bored with
the Wardroom and I've brought him along here. The Sub laughingly shook
hands, and the inmates in his immediate vicinity gathered round with
the polite air of a community of whom something startling was expected.
Won't you sit down, sir? asked one, drawing forward the battered
wicker arm-chair. It's all right as long as you don't lean backbut
if you do we must prop it against the table. He suited the action to
the words, and the guest sat down rather gingerly.
Won't you have something to drink? queried Kedgeree. Whisky and
soda or something?
Sir William smilingly declined.
Would you care to hear the gramophone? queried the champion of
that particular form of entertainment. We've got some perfectly
priceless George Robey oneshave you ever heard 'What there was, was
Good?' He moved towards the instrument.
Never, said Sir William, taking advantage of the support afforded
by the table and leaning back, but nothing would give me greater
The disk had no sooner commenced to revolve when Lettigne advanced
with a soda-water bottle, a corkscrew and half a lemon, collected at
random from the sideboard.
I don't know if you like watching a bit of juggling, he said
shyly, and began to throw into the air and catch his miscellany, while
the trumpet of the gramophone proclaimed that What there was, was
Good, in stentorian, brazen shouts.
Sir William screwed his eyeglass tighter into his eye. Remarkable!
he said warmly. A remarkably deft performance! Capital! Capital!
The Gunroom eyed one another anxiously. It was only a question of
moments before the perspiring Bosh smashed something; the gramophone
record was palpably cracked; their powers of entertainment were rapidly
reaching their climax. Then came a diversion. The door opened and the
Midshipman of the Watch entered.
The Flagship's barge has called for you, sir, he said.
The gramophone stopped as if by magic, and the overheated juggler
caught and retained the soda-water bottle, the corkscrew and the half
lemon with a gasp of relief.
Sir William rose regretfully and held out his hand. I have to thank
you all for a very delightful quarter of an hour, he said, smiling,
and took his departure amid polite murmurs of farewell, followed by
James. Proof of his appreciation of the entertainment reached them a
week later in the form of an enormous plum cake, and was followed
thereafter at regular intervals by similar bounty.
Lettigne sat down and wiped his forehead. Phew! he said when the
door had closed behind the visitors. Who was that old comic? I didn't
catch his name.
Sir William Thorogood, replied another. He's full of
grey-matter. He tapped his forehead, and stepping across to the common
bookshelf indicated the back of a text book on advanced mechanics.
That's one of his little efforts, he said.
Lettigne followed the other's finger. Good night! he ejaculated.
Have I been giving a display of my unequalled talents for the benefit
of the man who has caused me more sleepless nights than Euclid himself?
Here is poor old George Robey been shouting himself hoarse too
And I haven't even looked at my mail yet, said Harcourt, drawing
an unopened letter from his pocket. He slit the envelope and sat down
in the vacated arm-chair. It was from his sister at school in
Eastbourne, and enclosed another written in a vaguely familiar hand.
Boy like he read the enclosure first:
DEAR FATHER [it ran],I have just put my name down for the boxing
championship, and I'll do my best to win, because I know how awfully
keen you are. All the same, I think it's a pity you took up that bet
with Harcourt's father at the club. He probably can afford to lose and
you can't. There are lots of things that Mother wants that ten pounds
would buy. Besides, Harcourt is my best friend, and if we both get into
the finals it would be beastly and like fighting for money. I wish you
hadn't told me. I must end now. With love to Mother and Dick. In haste.
Your loving son,
Harcourt, grown suddenly rather pale, picked up his sister's letter
and read with puzzled brows:
DEAR HARRY,When I opened your last letter I found the enclosed. It
had evidently been put in by mistake, because the envelope was in your
handwriting. I am sending it back....
Harcourt pursed up his lips into a whistling shape and refolded the
enclosure. It was in Mordaunt's handwriting. But how did it get into
the envelope he himself had addressed to his sister?
At that moment Mordaunt came across the mess holding out a letter.
Harcourt, he said, my father has just sent me this letter. Isn't
it your handwriting?
Harcourt took the sheet of paper and glanced at it. Yes, he said,
it's one I wrote to my sister for her birthday. And here's one that
she has just sent back to me. Is it yours by any chance?
He carelessly extended the folded missive, and summoning all his
self-possession, looked his friend in the eyes and smiled wanly. I've
only just read my sister's letter, he went on. She seemed rather
Mordaunt took the proffered letter and nodded. Yes, he said, it's
mine. He, too, paled a little. I think I know what's happened. Do you
remember that scrap just as we were finishing our letters the other
night? Bosh pulled the table-cloth down and capsized everything. Our
letters got mixed up, and we must have addressed each other's
He stood turning the letter to his father over and over in his
Well, said Harcourt reassuringly, it doesn't matter much, old
thing, does it? I'm just going to put this in another envelope and send
it off to my sister, with a note to explain. There's no harm done! I
don't suppose your letter was a matter of vast importance either, was
it, Billy? He spoke lightly, in a tone of amused indifference, and
turned to the locker where he kept his writing materials.
The other walked over to the stove, slowly tearing his letter into
No, he said. Oh, no ... none at all.
CHAPTER VI. WET BOBS
A flurry of sleet came out of the east where a broad band of light
was slowly widening into day.
The tarpaulin cover to the after hatchway was drawn aside as if by a
cautious hand, and the rather sleepy countenance of the Young Doctor
peered out into the dawning. An expression of profound distaste spread
over it, and its owner emerged to the quarterdeck. There he stood
shivering, looking about him as if he found the universe at this hour a
grossly over-rated place. After a few minutes' contemplation of it
thus, he turned up the collar of his great coat, pulled his cap down
until it gave him the appearance of a sort of Naval Artful Dodger,
and walked gloomily to the port gangway. The Officer of the Watch, who
was partaking of hot cocoa in the shelter of the after superstructure,
sighted this forlorn object.
Morning, Pills! he shouted. She's called away: won't be long
now. He wiped his mouth and came across the deck to where the other
was standing. Fine morning for a pull, he observed, throwing his nose
into the air and sniffing like a pointer. Smell the heather? Lor'! it
does me good to see all you young fellow-me-lads turning up here bright
and early with the roses in your cheeks.
The Young Doctor turned a gamboge-tinted eye on the speaker.
Dry up, he said acidly.
The Officer of the Watch was moved to unseemly mirth. Where's your
crew, Pills? I don't like to see this hanging-on-to-the-slack the first
morning of the training season. You're too easy going for a cox, by a
long chalk, my lad. You ought to be going round their cabins now with a
wet sponge, shouting 'Wet Bobs!' and 'Tally Ho!' and the rest of it.
Dry up! was the reply.
An even temper, boundless tact, a firm manner and an extensive
vocabularythose were the essentials of the cox of a racing boat when
I was a lad at College. Why did they make you cox, Pills?
'Cos I'm light, retorted the Doctor. 'Cos I'm a damn fool, he
added with a sudden access of bitterness. Look here, Tweedledee, what
about this bloomin' boat? Here I've been standing for the last five
minutesah, there she is.
He gazed distastefully at the lower boom, where two members of the
galley's crew were casting off the painter that secured the boat to the
Now, then, said a loud and cheerful voice at their elbows,
where's this boat we've been hearing such a lot about? A tall,
athletic figure in football shorts and swathed about with many
sweaters, with a bright red cushion under his arm, stood gazing in the
direction of the lower boom. Well, I'm blowed, he said, not
alongside yet? You're a nice person, Pills, to leave the
organisation of a racing boat's crew to. He looked round the
quarterdeck. Where're all the others? Lazy hogs! Here we are with the
sun half over the foreyard and the boat not even manned.
The Surgeon eyed him severely. You're none too smart on it
yourself, Bunje. Where's Thorogood? Where's Number One? Where's
Gerrard? Where'sah, now they're coming.
A sleepy-eyed procession, athletically clad, but not otherwise
conveying an impression of vast enthusiasm in the venture, trooped up
the hatchway and congregated in a shivering group at the gangway.
When I go away pulling, said the First Lieutenant, apparently
addressing a watchful-eyed gull volplaning past with outstretched
wings, when I go away pulling, I like to get straight into the boat,
shove off and start right in. It's this hanging about
It's Tweedledee's fault, protested the coxswain bitterly. I wrote
it down last night on the slate. He's too busy guzzling cocoa to attend
to his job, that's the truth of the matter. Are we all here now,
anyway...? He scanned the faces of his little band of heroes.
Derreck! he said suddenly. Now, where's Derreck? Really, this is
just about the pink limit. How could anyone
Hullo, hullo, hullo! The form of the Engineer Lieutenant emerged
from the superstructure and came skipping towards them. Sorry,
everybody! Am I late? My perishing servant forgot to call me. And then
I couldn't find my little short pants. Tweedledee, I've just been
having a lap at your cocoa: the Quartermaster said it was getting
Not mine, replied the Officer of the Watch. I've finished mine.
You've probably drunk the Commander's. He put it down for a minute
The face of the Engineer Lieutenant grew suddenly anxious. Well,
what about getting into the boat and shoving off? What are we all
standing about getting cold for? I vote we have a jolly good pull, too.
Stay away for half-an-hour or soeh?
The long, slim galley came at length alongside under the
manipulation of the two rather apathetic members of the galley's crew,
and the officers' racing crew descended the gangway and took possession
Now then, said the Young Doctor, sort yourselves out: Number One
stroke, Gerrard bow, Bunje
I'm going bow, said the Engineer Lieutenant. I pulled bow at
Keyham for two years, and in China
If you stand there kagging we'll never get away, interposed the
coxswain, and the Commander will want to know who drank his cocoa.
Bunje second stroke, James third stroke. Derreck, you're second bow,
and Tweedledum third bow, and for heaven's sake sit down and stop
gassing, all of you.
Thorogood leaned forward and extended a stretcher for inspection.
How the devil am I to pull with a stretcher like this, Pills? he
demanded. It'll smash before we've gone a yard.
When I was at Keyham, said the Engineer Lieutenant, slopping water
over the canvas parcelling on his oar in a professional manner, we
used to have stretchers made with
We don't want to hear about Keyham, said the First Lieutenant, we
want to get to work. Shove the perishing thing away, James, and stop
chawing your fat. If it's good for Nelson it's good enough for you.
Do we start training in earnest to-day? demanded the India-rubber
Man, gloomily rubbing his calves. Because I don't mind admitting that
I like to start gradually. 'Another-Little-Drink-Won't-Do-Us-Any-Harm'
sort of spirit.
We shan't start at all if Double-O Gerrard doesn't find that
blessed boat-hook an' shove her off soon, retorted the long, lean
third bow, speaking for the first time.
I can't see without my glasses, complained the bow, fumbling among
the blades of the oars. Where is the bloomin' thing? Ah, here we are!
Shove off forward! bellowed the voice of the coxswain for the
The bow leaned his weight behind the boathook against the ship's
side, and the bows of the galley sheered off slowly.
We're awa', said the India-rubber Man, we're awa'! Lord, 'ow
They paddled desultorily for a few strokes. Then the bow bucketed
and sent a shower of icy spray over the backs of the two after oarsmen.
Their loud expostulations were followed by protests from Tweedledum.
My oar's got a kink! he announced lugubriously.
Oars! said the coxswain. Now, he said grimly, with the air of a
man who had reached the limit of human patience, I'll give you all a
minute. Ease up your belts, tie your feet down, have a wash and brush
up, say your prayers, spit on your hands, and get comfortable once and
for all. It's the last stand-easy you'll get. We're going to pull round
the head of the line if it breaks blood-vessels.
The minute passed in invective directed chiefly against the oars,
the stretchers, the crutches, the boat generally and the helmsman in
particular. At the expiration of that time, however, they all sat up
facing aft, with their hands expectantly gripping the looms of their
oars and profound gloom on every countenance.
The coxswain contemplated them dispassionately.
You're a cheerful-looking lot to start out with to win the cup
back! was his comment. Oars ready! 'Way together!
The crew, like a child that suddenly tires of being naughty, bent to
their oars, and the boat slid through the water under long, swinging
* * * * *
Regatta-day broke calm and clear. The hands were piped to breakfast,
and the Quartermaster of the Morning Watch, as the latest authority on
the vagaries of the barometer, entered the Petty Officers' mess with
the air of one in the intimate confidence of the High Gods.
Glass 'igh an' steady, he announced, helping himself to sausage
and mashed potatoes. We'll 'ave it calm till mebbe five o'clock, then
it'll blow from the south'ard. That's down the course. But we won't
'ave no rain to-day.
The Captain of the Forecastle, who read his Old Moore's Almanac,
and was susceptible to signs and portents, confirmed the optimism of
I 'ad a dream last night, he said. I was a-walkin' with my missus
alongside the Serpentinein London, that is. There was swans sailin'
on it, an' we was 'eavin' bits of bread to 'em. 'Fred,' she says,
'you'll 'ave it beautiful for your regatta. You'll win,' she says, 'the
Stokers' Cutters, the Vet'rans' Skiff's, the Orficers' Gigs, an' the
That's along of you eatin' lobster for supper last night, said the
Ship's Painter, a sceptic who had a sovereign on a race not mentioned
by the Captain of the Forecastle's wife. Wot about the perishin' Boys'
Cutters? Didn't your old Dutch say nothin' about them?
The seer shook his head and performed intricate evolutions with a
pin in the cavernous recesses of his mouth.
Mebbe she would 'ave if she'd 'ad the chanst, was the reply. But
she didn't 'ave time to say no more afore the Reveille interrupted 'er,
an' I 'ad to turn out.
The Quartermaster of the Morning Watch concluded his repast. Well,
he said, Mebbe she'll tell you the rest to-night. Then we'll know
'oo's 'oo, as the sayin' is. But there's one crew as I'll put my shirt
on, an' that's the Orficers' Gigs.
'Ow about the Boys' Cutters? demanded the Ship's Painter whose
sovereign was in jeopardy.
An' the Vet'rans' Skiffs, echoed the Captain of the
Forecastle, what my wife mentioned? 'Fred,' she says
An' the All-comers, interrupted the Captain of the Side, wiv the
Chief Buffer coxin' the launch?
The Quartermaster of the Morning Watch made a motion with an
enormous freckled paw as if stroking an invisible kitten. I ain't
sayin' nothin' against 'em. Nothin' at all. What I says is, 'Wait an'
see.' I ain't a bettin' man, not meself. But if anyone was to fancy an
even 'arf quid
The shrill whistle of the call-boy's pipe clove the babel of the
A-a-away Racing Whaler's Crew!
shouted the cracked high tenor. Man your boat!
There you are! said the Blacksmith, a silent, bearded man. What
are we all 'angin' on to the slack for? Come on deck. That's the first
Regatta-day, even in War-time, was a day of high carnival. The dozen
or so of Battleships concerned, each with its crew of over a thousand
men, looked forward to the event much in the same spirit as a Derby
crowd that gathers overnight on Epsom Downs. The other Squadrons of the
vast Battle-fleet were disposed to ignore the affair; they had their
own regattas to think about, either in retrospection or as an event to
come. But in the Squadron immediately concerned it was, next to the
annihilation of the German Fleet, the chief consideration of their
lives, and had been for some weeks past.
For weeks, and in some cases months, the racing crews of launches,
cutters, gigs, and whalers, officers and men alike, had carried through
an arduous training interrupted only by attentions to the King's
enemies and the inclemencies of the Northern spring. And now that the
day had come, both spectators and crews moved in an atmosphere of
holiday and genial excitement heated by intership rivalry to
A regatta is one of the safety valves through which the ships'
companies of the silent Fleet in the North can rid themselves of a
little superfluous steam. Only those who have shared the repressed
monotony of their unceasing vigil can appreciate what such a day means.
To be spared for a few brief hours the irksome round of routine, to
smoke Woodbines the livelong day; to share, in the grateful sunlight,
some vantage point with a Raggie, and join in the full-throated,
rapturous roars of excitement that sweep down the mile-long lane of
ships abreast the sweating crews. This is to taste something of the
fierce exhilaration of the Day that the Fleet is waiting for, and has
awaited throughout the weary years.
A Dockyard tug, capable of accommodating several hundred men, lay
alongside. The ship had swung on the tide at an angle to the course
that obscured full view of the start. Those of the ship's company who
desired a full complete spectacle from start to finish were to go away
and anchor at some convenient point in the line, from which an
uninterrupted panorama could be obtained. The device had other
advantages: by anchoring midway down the course a flagging crew could
be spurred on to mightier efforts by shouts and execrations, the
beating of gongs, hooting syren and fog-horns, whistles and impassioned
Accordingly the more ardent supporters of the various crews, armed
with all the implements of noise and encouragement that their ingenuity
could devise, embarked. They swarmed like bees over the deck and
bridge-house, they clung to the rigging and funnel stays, and perched
like monkeys on the mast and derrick. Thus freighted the craft moved
off amid deafening cheers, and took up a position midway between two
Battleships moored in the centre of the line. The anchor was dropped,
and the closely packed spectators, producing mouth-organs and
cigarettes, prepared to while away the time until the commencement of
the first race.
They belonged to a West-country shipthat is to say, one manned
from the Dockyard Port of Plymouth. The master of the tug, whose
interest in such matters was, to say the least of it, cosmopolitan, had
anchored between two Portsmouth-manned Battleships. The position he had
selected commanded a full view of the course, and there his
responsibilities in the affair ended. On the other hand, the crews of
the two Battleships in question, assembled in full strength on their
respective forecastles in anticipation of the forthcoming race,
regarded the arrival of the tug in the light of a diversion sent
straight from Heaven.
The tug's cable had scarcely ceased to rattle through the hawse-pipe
when the opening shots, delivered through a megaphone, rang out across
'Ullo! Web-feet! bellowed a raucous voice. Yeer! Where be tu?
A roar of laughter followed this sally.
The occupants of the tug were taken by surprise. Their interests had
hitherto been concentrated in the string of whalers being towed down to
the distant starting-point by a picket boat. Before they could rally
their forces a cross-fire of rude chaff, winged by uproarious laughter,
had opened on either side. Catch-word and jest, counter and repartee
utterly unintelligible to anyone outside Lower-deck circles were hurled
to and fro like snowballs. Every discreditable incident of their joint
careers as units of that vast fighting force, personalities that would
have brought blushes to the cheeks of a Smithfield porter, the whole
couched in the obscure jargon of Catwater and Landport taverns, rang
backwards and forwards across the water, and withal the utmost good
humour and enjoyment wreathing their faces with smiles.
The distant report of a gun sounded and a far-off roar of voices
announced that the first race had started; straight-way the tumult
subsided, and an expectant hush awaited the approach of the line of
boats moving towards them like a row of furious water-beetles.
The race drew nearer, and ship after ship of the line took up the
deep-toned roar. The names of the ships, invoked by their respective
ship's companies as might the ancients have called upon their Gods,
blended in one great volume of sound. The more passionately interested
supporters of the crews followed the strung-out competitors in
steam-boats, and added their invocations to the rest.
A rifle cracked on board the end ship of the line, and the crew of
the leading boat collapsed in crumpled heaps above their oars. The race
was over. On board a ship half-way down the line a frantic outburst of
cheering suddenly predominated above all other sounds, and continued
unabated as the rifle cracked twice more in quick succession,
announcing that the second and third boats had ended the race.
A hoist of flags at the masthead of the Flagship proclaimed the
names of the first three crews, dipped, and was succeeded by the number
of the next race. Again the gun in the bows of the Umpire's steam-boat
sped the next race upon its way, and once more the tumult of men's
voices rose and swelled to a gale of sound that swept along the line,
and died to the tumultuous cheering of a single ship.
A couple of hours passed thus, and there remained one race before
dinner, the Officers' Gigs. The events of the forenoon had considerably
enhanced the reputation of the Captain of the Forecastle as a prophet.
Furthermore, the result of the Boys' Race had enriched the Ship's
Painter to the extent of a sovereign. It needed but the victory of the
Officers' Gigs to place the ship well in sight of the Silver Cock,
which was the Squadron Trophy for the largest number of points obtained
by any individual ship.
The starting-point was the rallying-place for every available steam-and motor-boat in the Squadron, crowded with enthusiastic supporters of
the different crews. The Dockyard tug, with its freight of hoarse yet
still vociferous sailor-men, had weighed her anchor, and moved down to
the end of the line preparatory to steaming in the wake of the last
The Umpire, in the stern of an officious picket-boat, was apparently
the only dispassionate participator in the animated scene. The long,
graceful-looking boats, each with its crew of six, their anxious-faced
coxswains crouched in the sterns, and tin flags bearing the numbers of
their ships in the bows, were being shepherded into position. A tense
silence was closing down on the spectators. It deepened as the line
straightened out, and the motionless boats awaited the signal with
their oars poised in readiness for the first stroke.
Up a little, number seven! shouted the starter wearily through his
megaphone. Two hours of this sort of thing robs even the Officers' Gigs
of much outstanding interest to the starter.
Goo-o-o! whispered one of the watching men. 'E don't 'arf know
'is job, the coxswain of that boat.
The boat in question with a single slow stroke moved up obediently.
Stand by! sang the metallic voice again. Then
Bang! They were off.
As if released by the concussion, a wild pandemonium burst from the
waiting spectators' throats. The light boats sprang forward like things
alive, and in their churning wakes came the crowded steam-boats.
For perhaps two minutes the racing boats travelled as if drawn by
invisible threads of equal length. Then first one and then another
dropped a little. The bow of one of the outside boats broke an oar, and
before the oarsman could get the spare one into the crutch the boat
slipped to the tail of the race. The spare oar shipped, however, she
maintained her position, and her crew continued pulling against
hopeless odds with pretty gallantry.
Half-way down the mile course there were only four boats in it. The
Flagship's boat led by perhaps a yard, with a rival on either side of
her pulling stroke for stroke. Away to the right and well clear, the
Young Doctor urged his crew on with sidelong glances out of the corner
of his eye at the other boats.
You've got 'em! he said. You've got 'em cold. Steady does it!
Quicken a fraction, Number One. Stick it, Bow, stick it, lad!
The Flagship's boat had increased her lead to half a length ahead of
her two consorts: the Young Doctor's crew held her neck and neck. Then
the Young Doctor cleared his dry throat and spoke with the tongues of
men and fallen angels. He coaxed and encouraged, he adjured and abused
them stroke by stroke towards their goal. The crew, with set, white
faces and staring eyes fixed on each other's backs, responded like
heroes, but Double-O Gerrard was obviously tiring and the First
Lieutenant's breath was coming in sobs. They were pulling themselves
The roar of voices on either side of the course surged in their ears
like the sound of a waterfall. Astern of them was the picket-boat, a
graceful feather of spray falling away on either side of the
stem-piece. A concourse of Wardroom and Gunroom officers had crowded
into her bows, and the Commander, purple with emotion, bellowed
incoherencies through a megaphone.
Then, with one keen glance at the Flagship's crew and one at the
rapidly approaching finishing line, the Young Doctor chose the
Stand by! he croaked. Now, all togetherspurt!
His crew responded with the last ounce of energy in their exhausted
frames. They were blind, deaf and dumb, straining, gasping, forcing
heart and nerve and sinew to drive the leaden boat through those last
few yards. Suddenly, far above their heads, rang out the crack of a
rifle, and the next instant another. The crew collapsed as if shot.
For a moment none was capable of speech. Then the First Lieutenant
raised his head from his hands.
Which is it, he asked, us or them?
The Young Doctor was staring up at the masthead of the Flagship. A
tangle of flags appeared above the bridge-screen.
I can't read 'em, he said. Which is it? Translate, someone, for
The crew of the Flagship's boat, lying abreast of them a few yards
away, answered the question. They turned towards their late adversaries
and began clapping. The next moment the Dockyard tug burst into a
triumphant frenzy, and the picket-boat, full of cheering, clapping
mess-mates, slid alongside to take the painter.
The First Lieutenant stretched out a large, blistered hand. Shake,
Pills, he said.
* * * * *
One race is, after all, very much like another. Yet the afternoon
wore on without any appreciable abatement in the popular enthusiasm.
And it was not without its memorable features. The Bandsmen's Race
crowned one of the participators in undying fame. This popular hero
broke an oar half-way through the race, and rising to his feet promptly
His spectacular action plunged the remainder of the crew in hopeless
confusion, and he himself was rescued with difficulty in a half-drowned
state of collapse by the Umpire's boat. Yet for some occult reason no
feat of gallantry in action would have won him such universal
commendation on the Lower-deck. Nobby Clark'im as jumped overboard
in the Bandsmen's Race was thereafter his designation among his
The last racethe All-comersdid not justify universal
expectation. The treble-banked launch was indeed coxed by the Chief
Boatswain's Mate. A Funny-party in the stern, composed of a clown, a
nigger and a stout seaman in female attire, added their exhortations to
the Chief Buffer's impassioned utterances. But the Flagship's galley,
pulling eight oars, with the coxswain perched hazardously out over the
stern, won the three-mile tussle, and won it well.
As the Quartermaster of the Morning Watch had foretold, a breeze
sprang up towards the close of the day. It blew from the southward and
carried down the lines a medley of hilarious sounds.
A drifter hove in sight, shaping course for the Fleet Flagship. She
was crowded to suffocation with singing, cheering sailor-men, and
secured to her stumpy bowsprit was a silver cock. As she approached the
stern of the Flagship, however, the uproar subsided, and the densely
thronged drifter was white with upturned, expectant faces.
A solitary figure was walking up and down the quarterdeck of the
Battleship. He paused a moment, suddenly stepped right aft to the rail,
and smilingly clapped his hands, applauding the trophy in the bows of
the drifter. The last rays of the setting sun caught on the broad gold
bands that ringed his sleeve almost from cuff to elbow.
A wild tumult of frantic cheering burst out almost like an explosion
from every throat still capable of emitting sound. There was gratitude
and passionate loyalty in the demonstration, and it continued long
after the figure on the quarterdeck had turned away and the drifter had
resumed her noisy, triumphant tour of the Fleet.
That's what I likes about 'im, whispered a bearded seaman
hoarsely, as they swung off on their new course. 'E's that 'Uman! He jerked his head astern in the direction of the mighty Battleship
on whose vast quarterdeck the man who bore a share of the Destiny of
Europe on his shoulders was still pacing thoughtfully up and down.
 Chief Boatswain's Mate.
CHAPTER VII. CARRYING ON
The fresh Northern breeze sent the waves steeplechasing across the
surface of the harbour, and lapping over the hull of a British
Submarine as she moved slowly past the anchored lines of the
Battle-fleet towards the entrance.
Her Commanding Officer stood beside the helmsman, holding a soiled
chart in his hands; further aft on the elliptical railed platform of
the conning tower a tall, angular, grey-haired man, clad in civilian
garb, stood talking to the First Lieutenant. A Yeoman of Signals, his
glass tucked into his left arm-pit, was securing the halliards to the
telescopic mast, at which fluttered a frayed White Ensign. A couple of
figures in sea-boots and duffle coats were still coiling down ropes and
securing fenders, crawling like flies about the whale-backed hull. A
hundred and fifty feet astern of the conning-tower the unseen
propellers threw the water into vortices that went curling away down
the long wake.
We'll pick up the trawler outside, said the Lieutenant-Commander,
folding up the chart and sticking it into the breast of his
monkey-jacket. Deep water out there, and we can play about. His face
was burned by the sun to the colour of an old brick wall; the tanned
skin somehow made his eyes look bluer and his hair fairer than was
actually the case; it accentuated the whiteness of his teeth, and gave
his quick smile an oddly arresting charm.
The elderly civilian considered him with grave interest before
replying. Thank you, he said. That's just what I want to doplay
The other experts are all in the trawler, with the apparatus,
supplemented the Lieutenant-Commander. We're under your orders, sir,
for these experiments.
Thank you, said Sir William Thorogood, Scientist; he drew a cigar
case out of his pocket. I feel rather like a man accepting another's
hospitality and spending the day trying to pick his brains.
The Submarine-Commander smiled rather grimly. You mean you're
trying to find a way of cutting our claws and making us harmless? he
WellFritz's claws, amended Sir William.
Same thing, replied the Lieutenant-Commander. What's ours to-day
is theirs tomorrowfiguratively speakin', that is. If it's sauce for
the goose it's sauce for the ganderjust tit for tat, this game.
That, said Sir William, is rather a novel point of view. It's not
exactly one that is taken by the bulk of people ashore.
The figure beside the helmsman crinkled up his eyes as he stared
ahead and gave a low-voiced order to the helmsman. Oh? he said. I
don't know much about what people ashore think, except that they're all
rattled over this so-called Submarine menace. Anyone that's scared is
apt to cling to one point of view.
That is so, replied the Scientist. But I chose to come out with
you to-day for these experiments on the principle of setting a thief to
catch a thief.
That's sound, said the Submarine expert. Because, you know, in
the Navy we all look at life from different points of view, according
to our jobs. No, thanks, I won't smoke till we get outside. Now, those
fellowsthe speaker jerked his head astern to the great grey
Battleshipsthose big-ship wallahsthey're only just beginning to
take Us seriously. I put in my big-ship time at the beginning of the
warwe do a year in a big ship, you know, for our sinsand the
fellows in the Mess used to jeer at Us. They talked about their
rams.... He laughed. Rams! he repeated. They called us pirates.
P'raps we were, but we didn't carry bathrooms in those early boatsnor
yet manicure sets.... Port ten! ... Ease to fivesteady!
The speaker was silent for a moment, musing. I don't know that I
altogether blame 'em. He turned to his First Lieutenant, a youth some
years his junior with preposterously long eyelashes. 'Member the
manoeuvres before the War? The other laughed and nodded. I torpedoed
my revered parent's Battleship, continued the speaker, at two hundred
yards in broad daylight and a flat calm. He chuckled. Lor' bless me!
It's like a fairy tale, lookin' back on it after two years of war.
Haven't they rather altered their tune since, though? asked the
A bit, yes. They don't quite know how to take us nowadays. We come
in from patrol and tie up alongside them to give the men the run of the
canteen; they ask us to dinner and give cinema shows for the sailors,
bless 'em. We're beginning to feel quite the giddy heroes when we find
ourselves among the Battle-fleet.
Cold feet, interposed the First Lieutenant. That's what's behind
it all. We're It....
Sir William laughed. Well, he said, what about those craft
yonder? There I suppose you have yet another point of view?
A division of Armed Trawlers lumbered out of their path, the bow gun
on each blunt forecastle rising and dipping as they plunged in the
Ah! said the Lieutenant-Commander, they're different. They never
had any preconceived notions about us or their own invulnerability. The
boot's on the other foot there. We used to jeer at them once; but now
I'm not so certain....
You never know what the hell they'll do next, explained the
Lieutenant with the shadow of his eyelashes on his cheek-bone. That's
the trouble. 'They knows nothin' an' they fears nothin',' he quoted,
The personal element comes in more, I suppose, in those craft,
said Sir William musingly. He focused his glasses on a turf cabin
ashore. The Admiral was telling me that a London brain specialist was
born in one of those crofter's huts.
The Submarine Commander nodded. It's not unlikely, he said. These
Northern fishermen are a fine breed. But this patrol work has developed
a new type of seaman altogether. We've got a fellow up here huntin'
Fritzeshe's a merchant seaman with a commission in the Naval
Reserve.... There are times when he makes me frightened, that
sportsman. It's a blessing the Hun can't reproduce his type: anyhow, I
haven't met any over the other side, or up the Baltic.
Name of Gedge? enquired Sir William dryly.
That's the lad, was the reply. D'you know him, sir?
No, but I've heard of him.
You'll see him presently, said the other. He's waiting for us
outside onboard his trawler. If you go onboard, have a look at the beam
of his fore-hatch: rather interestin'.
What about it? asked Sir William.
A little row of notchesthat's all. He adds another from time to
time, and I feel sort of sorry for Fritz when he's about.
Like rats' tails hanging on a stable door, supplemented the First
Lieutenant in explanation.
I see, said Sir William. This is going to be interesting. He
pitched the stump of his cigar overboard and turned up the collar of
his ulster as the spray began to drift past their heads.
We work together sometimes, said the Submarine Officer, Gedge and
I. Little stunts, you know.... It's part of my job, of course, huntin'
Fritzes, but it's more than a job with him: it's a holy mission. That's
why I'm a bit frightened of him really. The speaker searched the
visitor's face with his guileless blue eyes. I'm afraid of meeting him
one day, unexpectedly, before I can establish our identity! His quick
smile flashed across his sunburnt face and was gone again.
The Submarine was passing under frowning walls of cliff, and the
murmur of the surf thundering about the caverns and buttresses of that
rock-bound coast almost drowned the throb of the engines beneath their
feet. Far out to seaward a formation of Mine-sweeping Sloops crept away
to the west. Close inshore, where the gulls circled vociferously, an
insignificant trawler with a rusty funnel lay rolling in the swell. A
wisp of bunting jerked to the stumpy foremast, and a pair of hand-flags
zigzagged above the trawler's wheel-house. The Yeoman of Signals on the
Submarine's conning tower stiffened like a statue as he read the
Says, 'Will Sir William Thor-r-ogood come aboar-r-d, sir? If so,
he'll send a boat.' His speech placed him at home in these Northern
Reply, 'Yes. Please send boat.'
A quarter of an hour later Sir William was climbing out of a tubby
dinghy over the trawler's bulwarks. A big bronzed man in a jersey and
sea-boots, wearing the monkey-jacket of a Lieutenant of the Reserve and
a uniform cap slightly askew, came forward, one enormous hand
outstretched in greeting. Pleased to meet you, sir, he said. My
Sir William shook hands and winced.
I've heard of you, he said, and I was anxious to meet you. What
d'you think of that toy?
He nodded aft at a web of wire-coils, vulcanite levers and brass
keys, standing beneath a wooden shelter in the stern. Three or four
officers from the Fleet were gathered round it with note-books in their
hands testing and adjusting amid its intricacies.
I've been lookin' at it, admitted the big man non-committally. It
sounds like a cinch, but I understand it ain't perfect yet?
Not by what you might call a long chalk, was the dry reply.
The big man looked relieved. That's all right, he said. Because
when it is I guess I can go right along and get to bed. That little
outfit's going to finish the war, sir.
Hardly, said Sir William. But it's intended to help things in
that direction. Unfortunately, you see, there's still a factorwhat we
call an unknown quantity He lapsed into technical explanations.
The other listened for a while and then shook his head.
Maybe you're right, he said, but I couldn't say. I'm no
scholarran away from school too young. But it seems to me He
lifted a booted foot and rested it on the low gunwale, Workin' at long
distances, there's the pull of the tides....
Sir William's eyeglass dropped. He recovered it and screwed it home.
Am I right, sir? asked the big man.
You are, said the Scientist. You've studied tides, too, have
The Submarine Hunter chuckled. I've learned to respect 'em, he
replied dryly. Down the Malay Archipelago I learned something about
tides, spittin' overboard from salvage craft.... He stood upright.
Well, sir, we'd better get to business. These gentlemen here are the
brains of the partyhe nodded at the group aft. I'm only in the
picture to put them wise as to certain practical conditions of the
game.... He dropped his voice to a confidential undertone as they
walked aft. The Navy scares me. It's so damned big, and there's so
much gold laceand it's so almighty efficient....
Half an hour's discussion settled the modus operandi for the
experiment. The Submarine Commander rose from the gunwale and tossed
away his cigarette-end, then he grinned at the Submarine Hunter who
stood with one shoulder against the structure aft, shredding tobacco
into the palm of his hand.
Gardez-vous, Old Sport! he said, as he began to climb down into
the dinghy, where Sir William joined him.
That's French, ain't it? said the Submarine Hunter. Don't speak
One of the Naval officers standing by the apparatus laughed. It's a
challenge, he said. Means 'Mind your eye!'
The Hunter jerked his clasp knife in the direction of the
fore-hatch. I can mind it all right, he replied grimly, and laughed
with a sudden disconcerting bark of amusement.
* * * * *
Now, said the Submarine Commander as the pointed bows swung round
for the open sea, we'll get away out of it. Must keep on the surface
for a whiletoo many short-tempered little patrol boats close in to
let us cruise with only a periscope showing. He waved his hand in the
direction of countless smudges of smoke ringing the clear horizon. But
once we're clear of those we'll dive and hide somewhere for a while.
Give old man Gedge something to scratch his head about, lookin' for us.
Then we'll play round and test the apparatus.... You'll be able to
observe the compass all the time, and I'll give you the distances.
There's a young flood making ...
For the space of a couple of hours the boat slid swiftly through the
waves and successive cordons of patrols passed them onwards with
flickering signals. The men onboard a line of rusty drifters leaned
over the sides of their plunging craft and waved as the jaws of their
baleful traps opened to let them pass through. Above their heads a gull
circled inquisitively, shrilling the high, thin Song of the Seventh
Sea: astern the peaks of Ultima Thule faded like opals into the blue.
A little cluster of rocky islands rose at length out of the sea
ahead; the Submarine Commander took a swift bearing and rolled up the
That'll do, he said; now we'll dive. There's a shoal patch
hereabouts, and we'll sit on the bottom and have lunch while old man
Gedge starts looking for us. After lunch we'll let him get near and try
a bit of daylight stalking. He glanced at the sun overhead. Bit
early, yet awhile, he added.
One by one, led by Sir William, they descended the steel-runged
ladder into the electric-lit depths of the Submarine. A hatch closed
with a muffled clang: a few curt orders were followed by a succession
of gurgles like those of the tide flooding through a cavern; the
Commanding Officer moved from the eyepiece of the periscope, and
gravely contemplated a needle creeping slowly round the face of a large
dial. A Petty Officer, with an expression emotionless as that of a
traveller in a railway tunnel, sat by the dial manipulating a brass
wheel; a few feet away sat a Leading Seaman similarly employed. The
eyes of both men were fixed on the hesitating needle as it shivered
round. Finally the needle wavered, crept on another inch and paused,
trembling. The Lieutenant-Commander glanced fore and aft, stripped off
a pair of soiled gauntlets and made a low-voiced observation. The two
men, as if released from a spell, turned away from their dials.
There we are, said the Captain cheerfully, sitting snug on a nice
sandy bottom in ten fathoms of water. What's for lunch? He led the way
forward to a folding table between the polished mahogany bunks. Fried
chops, ain't it? he enquired, sniffing.
They took their seats on camp stools while a bluejacket dealt out
tin plates like playing cards. Sir William turned from a scrutiny of
the tiny book-shelf over the port bunk. At the head of the bunk was
nailed the photograph of a girlish face, and in close proximity to it
one of a lusty baby exploring a fur rug apparently in search of
Not much of a library, I'm afraid, said the host, seating himself.
I'm not much of a reader myself. The Sub's the bookworm of this boat.
The First Lieutenant of the Submarine shot a swift glance of
suspicion at his Commanding Officer as he helped himself to a chop. The
look, however, appeared to pass unnoticed.
Some months ago, continued his Captain, speaking with his mouth
full, we were caught in shallow water over the other side he
jerked his head upwards and to the South East. We were sitting on the
bottom waiting for it to get dark before we came up and charged
batteries. I was having a stretch-off on my bunk here, and the Sub, of
course, had his nose in a book as usual. From subsequent developments
it appears that a Hun seaplane saw us and proceeded to bomb us with
great good will but indifferent success.
We ought never to have been there, interrupted the First
Lieutenant coldly. Bad navigation on the Captain's part.
Granted, said the Lieutenant-Commander. The first bomb was rather
wide of the mark, but it woke me, and I saw the Sub's eyelids flicker.
After that I watched him. The Hun bombed us steadily for a quarter of
an hour (missing every time, of course), and the Sub never raised his
eyes from his book.
I was interested, said the First Lieutenant shortly; his eyes, in
one swift glance captain-wards, said more.
Quite. I was only trying to prove you were a book-worm.
What was the book? enquired Sir William.
Oh, Meredith, sir. Richard something-or-another. Topping yarn.
The guest steered the conversation out of literary channels.
Were you over the other side much? he asked blandly.
Pretty well all the war, till we came up North, was the
Lieutenant-Commander's reply. You'll have to use the same knife for
the butter; hope you don't mind. We get into piggish ways here, I'm
afraid.... Amusin' work at times, but nothing to the Dardanelles; we
never got out there, though; spent all our time nuzzling sandbanks off
the Ems and thereabouts. Of course, one sees more of Fritz in that way,
but I can't say it exactly heightens one's opinion of him. We used to
think at the beginning of the war that Fritz was a sportsmanfor a
German, you know. But he's really just a dirty dog taking very kindly
to the teaching of bigger and dirtier dogs than himself.
Sir William pondered this intelligence. That's the generally
accepted theory, he said.
They may have had some white men in their submarines at one time,
but we've either downed them or they've got Prussianised. They've
disgraced the very word submarine to all eternity. The speaker shook
his head over the besmirched escutcheon of his young profession.
They're cowards, all right, added the Lieutenant. 'Member that
Fritz we chased all the way to Heligoland on the surface?
Yep. Signalled to him with a flashing lamp to stop and fight:
called him every dirty name we could lay our tongues on. Think he'd
turn and have it out? Not much! ... Yet he had the bigger gun and the
higher speed. Signalled back, 'Not to-day, thank you!' and legged it
inside gun-range of the forts. Phew! That made us pretty hot, didn't
Nerves, said the Lieutenant. Their nerves are just putrid. There
was another night once he talked quickly between spoonfuls of rice
pudding. In a fog ... we were making a lightship off the Dutch coast
to verify our position.... Approached submerged, steering by sound of
their submarine bell, and then came to the surface to get a bearing.
There must have been half a dozen Fritzes round that light, all lost
and fluttering like moths round a candle. We bagged one, sitting, and
blew him to hell.... The rest plopped under like a lot of seals and
simply scattered. Fight? 'Not to-day, thank you.' They're only good for
tackling unarmed merchantmen and leaving women in open boats. The
speaker wiped his mouth with his napkin. By God! I wouldn't be a Hun
when the war's over. They're having a nice little drop of leave now to
what they'll get if they ever dare put their noses outside their own
Amen, said Sir William.
The Captain of the boat rose from his seat, glancing at his watch.
Now then, he said to the Scientist, Come to the periscope and let's
have a look round. Gedge ought to be over the horizon by now.
The men moved quietly to their stations and the tanks were blown.
Slowly the gauge needles crept back on their appointed paths. The
Submarine Commander motioned his guest to the periscope and gave him a
glimpse of flying spray and sun-kissed wave tops. A mile or so away lay
the group of islands they had seen before lunch, and close inshore a
mass of floating débris bobbed among the waves.
Baskets, I thinkjettison of sorts. I'm going to get amongst it
and go down with the tide, keeping the periscope hidden: it's an old
dodge. You can just see the smoke of Gedge's bus coming over the
horizon. We'll give him a little game of Peep-bo!
Sir William drew his watch from his pocket and walked over to the
compass. In four minutes' time, he said, I shall start making
observations: according to our arrangements Gedge should start the
That's right, said the Lieutenant-Commander with his eyes pressed
against the eye-piece of the periscope. Oh, good! It's bales of hay
floating, not baskets. Better still: no chance of damaging the
periscope. There's Gedge!
Ha! Ha! Ha! Hee! Hee! Hee!
I see you, but you can't see me!
He slewed the periscope through a few points and back to the
original position. Hullo! he said presently, what's he up to? He's
altered course.... Thinks he sees something, I suppose. You're wrong,
my lad. We're not in that direction.
The minutes passed in silence. Forward in the bow compartment a man
was softly whistling a tune to himself. The feet of the figure at the
periscope moved with a shuffle on the steel plating.
How's the time? he asked presently.
He ought to have started the apparatus, said Sir William,
standing, watch in hand, by the compass. What's he doing?
Legging it to the Northward at the rate of knotseight points off
his course, if he thinks he's going to get anywhere near us ... Ah! Now
he's coming round.... Humph! You're getting warm, my lad! Another
prolonged silence followed, and suddenly the Lieutenant-Commander spoke
Sub, he said in a curiously restrained tone, just come here a
The Lieutenant moved obediently to his side and applied his eye to
Well? said the Captain after a pause. Well, Sister Anne?
The Lieutenant turned his head swiftly for an instant and looked at
his Commanding Officer. Have we got any boat out on this patrol
to-day? he asked.
The other shook his head. Not within thirty miles of this. 'Sides,
he wouldn't come through here submerged, with only his periscope
It's a Fritz, then, said the Lieutenant, an ominous calm in his
voice. He stepped aside and relinquished the eye-piece.
It is, said the other. It's a naughty, disobedient Fritz. He's
coming through in broad daylight, which he's been told not to do. He
hasn't seen us yethe's watching old man Gedge. Gedge thinks it's us
and is pretending he hasn't seen him.... Lord! It's like a French
Sir William put his watch back in his pocket and stood looking from
one speaker to the other. Finally he removed his eye-glass and began to
polish it with scrupulous care.
Do I understand he began.
The voice of the Lieutenant-Commander at the periscope cut him
short. Stand by the tubes! he shouted.
There was a swift bustle of men's footsteps down the electric-lit
perspective of glistening machinery.
Fritz must be in a tearing hurry to get home, commented the First
Lieutenant. P'raps they've all got plague or running short of food ...
or just tired of life?
P'raps, conceded the Lieutenant-Commander. Anyhow, that's as may
be.... The beam torpedo tube will just bear nicely in a minute. The
white teeth beneath the rubber eye-piece of the periscope showed for an
instant in a broad grin. Won't old man Gedge jump!
Starboard beam tube ready!
Sir William replaced his eye-glass. A sudden bead of perspiration
ran down and vanished into his left eyebrow.
The Lord, said the Lieutenant in a low voice, has placed the
enemy upon our lee bow, Sir William.
Has he? said Sir William dryly. Then I hope He'll have mercy on
The motionless figure at the periscope gave a couple of low-voiced
orders, and in the ensuing silence Sir William felt the artery in his
throat quicken and beat like a piston. Then
The boat rolled to port, and all her framework shook like the body
of a man shaken by a sudden sob. Back she came to her original trim,
and the Lieutenant, standing by the beam tube, raised his wrist watch
and studied it intently. The seconds passed, throbbing, intolerable,
and merged into Eternity. A sudden concussion seemed to strike the boat
from bow to stern, and as she steadied the motionless figures, standing
expressionless at their stations, suddenly sprang into life and action.
There was the metallic sound of metal striking metal as the hatchway
opened, a rush of cool, sweet air, and the Scientist found himself
beside the two officers, without the slightest recollection of how he
got there, standing in the wind and sunlight on the streaming platform
of the conning-tower. The boat was heading with the waves tumbling away
on either side of them in the direction of a cloud of grey smoke that
still hung over the water, slowly dissolving in the wind. As they
approached a dark patch of oil spread outwards from a miniature
maelstrom where vast bubbles heaved themselves up and broke; the air
was sickly with the smell of benzoline, and mingled with it were the
acrid fumes of gas and burnt clothing. A dark scum gathered in widening
circles, with here and there the white belly of a dead fish catching
the sun: a few scraps of wreckage went by, but no sign of a man or what
had once been a man.
Pretty shot, said the First Lieutenant approvingly, and leaned
over the rail to superintend the dropping of a sinker and buoy. The
Commanding Officer said nothing. Beneath the tan his face was white,
and his hand, as he raised his glasses to sweep the horizon, trembled
The Yeoman of Signals turned to Sir William and jerked his thumb at
the water. Eh! he said soberly, yon had a quick call!
I ask for no other when my hour strikes, replied the Scientist.
Maybe juist yeer hands are clean, said the Yeoman, and turned to
level his telescope at the trawler which was rapidly approaching with a
cloud of smoke reeling from her funnel and the waves breaking white
across her high bows.
Here comes Gedge, observed the Lieutenant-Commander, speaking for
the first time, foaming at the mouth and suffering from the reaction
of fright. Hark! He's started talking....
Amid the cluster of figures in the trawler's bow stood a big man
with a megaphone to his mouth. The wind carried scraps of sentences
across the water.
... Darned bunch of tricks aft.... How was I to know.... Scared
blue ... torpedo ... prisoners.... Blamed inventors....
Translate, said Sir William. The Lieutenant-Commander coughed
apologetically. He's peevish, he said. Thought it was us blowing up
at first. Wants to know why we wasted a torpedo: thinks he could have
captured her and taken the crew prisoners if we'd left it to him.
Silly ass! from the First Lieutenant. How could we let him know
he was playing round with a Fritz? If we'd shown ourselves Fritz would
have torpedoed us!
I appreciate the compliment, began Sir William, that he implies
to my device, but, as a matter of fact, I hardly think the apparatus is
sufficiently perfect yet
The Lieutenant-Commander laughed rather brutally. He isn't paying
compliments. He went on to say he didn't want the assistance
ofernew inventions to bag a Fritz once he's sighted him.
The First Lieutenant came quickly to the rescue. Of course, he
said, that's all rot. We're only too grateful toto Science for
trying to invent a new gadget.... Only, you see, sir, in the meanwhile,
until you hit on it we feel we aren't doing so badlyerjust
CHAPTER VIII. ARMA VIRUMQUE ...
The Flagship's Wardroom and the smoking-room beyond were packed to
suffocation by a dense throng of officers. The Flagship was At-Home
to the Fleet that afternoon on the occasion of the Junior Officers'
Boxing Tournament which was being held onboard, and a lull in the
proceedings had been the signal for a general move below in quest for
Hosts and guests were gathered round the long table, standing in
pairs or small groups, and talking with extraordinary gusto.
Opportunities of intercourse between ships are rare in War-time. Save
for an occasional visitor to lunch or dinner, or a haphazard meeting on
the golf-links, each ship or flotilla dwelt a little community apart.
On occasions such as this, however, the vast Fleet came together; Light
Cruiser met Destroyer with a sidelong jerk of the head and a Hullo,
Old Thing... that spanned the years at a single leap; Submarine
laughed across the room at Seaplane-carrier; Mine-sweeper and
Mine-layer shared a plate of sandwiches with a couple of Sloops and
discussed the boxing; but they were no more than a leavening amid the
throng of big-ship folk who reckoned horse-power by the half hundred
thousand and spoke of guns in terms of the 15-inch.
Almost every rank of Naval officer was represented, from Commander
to Sub-Lieutenant and their equivalent ranks in other branches; yet the
vast majority shared a curious resemblance. It was elusive and quite
apart from the affinity of race. The high physical standard demanded of
each on entry, the athletic training of their early years, the stern
rigour of life afloat, perhaps accounted for it. But in many of the
tanned, clean-shaven faces there was something more definite than that;
a strain that might have been transmitted by the symbolic Mother of the
Race, clear-eyed and straight of limb, who still sits and watches
beneath stern calm brows the heritage of her sons.
A few there were among the gathering with more than youth's unwisdom
marring mouth and brow; eyes tired with seeing over-much looked out
here and there from the face of Youth. Yet amid the wholesome, virile
cheerfulness of that assembly they were but transient impressions,
lingering on the mind of an observer with no more permanency than the
shadows of leaves flickering on a sunny wall.
A Lieutenant-Commander, on whose left breast the gaudy ribbons of
Russian decorations hinted at the nature of his employment during the
War, was talking animatedly to a Lieutenant with the eagle of the
Navy-that-Flies above the distinction lace on his cuff. A grave-faced
Navigating Commander, scenting the possibility of an interesting
discussion between these exponents of submarine and aerial warfare,
pushed his way towards them through the crush.
... I remember her quite well, the Flying Man was saying as he
stirred his tea. Nice little thing ... married, is she? Well, well...
You're a nice pair, said the Commander, smiling. I came over here
expecting to hear you both discussing the bursting area of a submarine
bomb, and find you're talking scandal.
It's a year old at that, said the be-ribboned one, with a laugh.
I've just come back from the White Sea, but I seem to know more about
what Timmin's lady friends have been doing in the meanwhile than he
He bit firmly into a sardine sandwich and laughed again. A great hum
of men's voices filled the room. Scraps of home gossip exchanged
between more intimate friends, and comments on the afternoon's boxing
mingled with tag-ends of narratives from distant seas and far-off
shores. It was nearly all war, of course, Naval war in some guise or
other, and it covered most of the navigable globe.
A general conversation of this nature cannot be satisfactorily
reproduced. A person slowly elbowing his way from the big tea-urns at
one end of the mess to the smoking-room at the other, would, in his
passage, cut off, as it were, segments of talk such as the following:
... Ripping little boxer, isn't he? I had his term at Osborne
College, but he's learnt a good deal since then....
* * * *
... Jess? Poor little dog: she was killed by a 4-inch shell in that
Dogger Bank show. I've got an Aberdeen terrier now.
* * * *
... Bit of a change up here, isn't it, after being under double
awnings for so long? But the Persian Gulf was getting rather boring ...
were you invalided too?
* * * *
... Not they! They won't come outunless their bloomin' Emperor
sends them out to commit a sort of hari-kiri at the end of the war....
That's what makes it so boring up here....
* * * *
As a matter of fact we caught the Turk who laid most of the mines
in the Tigris. He conned us up the riverwe put him in a basket and
slung him on the bowsprit: just in case he got careless, what? ...
* * * *
... Beer? My dear old lad, the Japs had scoffed all the beer in
Kiao-Chau before I got into the main street....
* * * *
... I had a Midshipman up with me as observeraged 16 and 4 months
precisely.... Those machines scared the Arabs badly....
* * * *
... Just a sharpened bayonet. You slung it round your neck when you
were swimming.... Only had to use it once ... nasty sticky job. No joke
either, crawling about naked on your belly in the dark....
* * * *
... We had a fellow chipping the ice away from the conning-tower
hatch all the time we were on the surface, 'case we had to close down
quick. I tell you, it was Hell, that cold! ...
* * * *
... Five seconds after we had fired our torpedo a shell hit the
tube and blew it to smithereens. A near thing, I give you my word....
* * * *
A Lieutenant-Commander appeared at the doorway from the
There will be an exhibition bout next, he shouted, and then the
final of the Light-weights! A general move ensued on to the upper
The raised ring was in amidships before the after superstructure.
The officers occupied tiers of chairs round three sides of the
platform. The Admirals and their staffs in front, and the Post-captains
of the ships that had entered competitors, just behind. On the forward
side, extending the whole breadth of the ship, was the dense array of
the ship's company. The majority were in tiers on planks, but a number
had found their way to other points of vantage, and were clustered
about the funnel casings and turrets and even astride the great guns
themselves. A murmur of men's voices, punctuated by the splutter of
matches as hundreds of pipes were lit and relit, went up on all sides.
The judges were taking their seats at the little tables on either side
of the ring, and the referee, an athletic-looking Commander, was
leaning over from his chair talking to the Chaplain who was acting as
The Physical Training Officer of the Flagship stepped into the empty
ring and raised his hand for silence. The hum of voices died away
instantly, and in the stillness the thin, querulous crying of the gulls
somewhere astern alone was audible.
Lieutenant Adams, Welter-weight Champion of the Navy, and Seaman
Hands, ex-Middle-weight Champion of England, have kindly consented to
give an exhibition of sparring, he proclaimed, and withdrew.
During the applause that greeted the announcement a youthful figure,
clad in a white singlet and football shorts, with a sweater thrown over
his shoulders, ducked under the ropes and walked rather shyly to his
corner of the ring. His appearance was the signal for a vociferous
outburst of applause. He sat down, holding the sweater about his
shoulders with his gloved hands, and thoughtfully rubbing the sole of
his left boot in the powdered resin.
The clapping suddenly redoubled, and a broad, bull-necked man of
about forty vaulted lightly into the ring and took his place in the
opposite corner. He was stripped to the waist; his jaws moved
mechanically about a piece of chewing gum, and an expression of benign
good-humour and enjoyment lit his battered, kindly countenance.
It was not until the gong sounded and the two men rose from their
chairs that the contrast between the toughened ex-professional and the
lithe, graceful amateur brought forth a little murmur of delight from
the vast audience.
In the sordid surroundings of the prize ring there might have been a
suggestion of brutality about the older man. The great hairy chest, the
knotted arms covered with barbaric tattooing, the low-crowned skull and
projecting lower jaw gave him an aspect of almost savage, remorseless
strength softened only by the gentleness of his eyes. He moved as
lightly as a cat, and from shoulder to thigh the muscles stirred
obedient to every motion.
The Lieutenant was perhaps fifteen years the junior. The playing
fields or racquet-courts of any university would recognise his type as
nothing out of the common. Deep-chested, lean-flanked, perfectly
proportioned, and perhaps a shade fine-drawnEngland and America
carelessly produce and maintain the standard of this perfection of
physical beauty as no other white race can.
The two men met in the centre of the ring, and as they shook hands
the old pugilist grinned almost affectionately. The lack of several
front teeth incidental to his late profession was momentarily apparent,
and an enthralled Ordinary Seaman, perched insecurely on the lower
funnel casing, drew his breath in relief.
'E won't 'urt 'im, he said in a whisper, as if to reassure
Course 'e won't! replied a companion, expelling a cloud of tobacco
smoke between his lips. 'S only a bit o' skylarkin'.... Gawd! he
added in awed tones. That one 'ud kill a donkey if 'e started
The two boxers had slipped into their habitual poses and were
quietly moving round each other. The graceful activity of the amateur
was somewhat characteristic of his school, while the ex-professional
contented himself with almost imperceptible movements of his feet,
watching with a nonchalant yet wary caution for the coming attack. With
the suddenness of a flash the Lieutenant led with his left and was back
out of harm's way again.
True and quick was the blow, but the veteran's defence was even
quicker. Without raising either glove he appeared to have swayed
backwards from the hips. His adversary's glove should have landed full
in his face; but so perfectly was his defence timed that it just
reached him and no more. The battered face, with its amiable,
reassuring smile and slowly moving jaws, had not winked an eyelid.
Then for three short rounds there followed a completely enthralling
display. On one side was perfectly trained orthodox, amateur boxing. On
the other every clean trick and subterfuge of irreproachable
ring-craft. Timing, footwork, feints, guarding and ducking; each
subtlety of the art of defence was demonstrated in turn.
In the last few seconds of the final round, however, a little out of
breath with his defensive display, the older man changed his tactics.
With lowered head and ferocious face he advanced, a whirling bulk of
might and action, upon the amateur. Taptaptap! Leftright, over
and under, through the guard and round the guard of the outfought
youngster the unclenched gloves totted up a score of points. There was
a careful restraint behind each blow, yet, when the gong sounded and
they smilingly shook hands amid tumults of enthusiasm, a thin red
stream was trickling from the right eyebrow of the amateur champion....
As they left the ring two boyish forms slipped through the ropes and
made their way to their respective corners. They both wore the orthodox
white singlet and blue shorts, and round each waist was twisted the
distinguishing coloured sash, one red and the other green. They sat
down with their gloved hands resting on their thin knees and gravely
surveyed the sea of expectant faces. Both bore traces of previous
conflicts on their features, and their united ages aggregated something
just over thirty.
The Physical Training Officer again advanced to the ropes. Final of
the Junior Officers' Light-weights! he announced. Midshipman Harcourt
on the leftgreen; Midshipman Mordaunt on my rightred, and added
the name of their ship. He looked from one to the other
interrogatively, and they nodded in turn. Stepping back he resumed his
seat amid a tense silence.
Seconds out of the ring!
Then the gong rang, and the two wiry figures rose to their feet and
stepped briskly to meet each other. The wearer of the green colours was
smiling, but his slim adversary looked grave and rather pale with
Their gloves met for an instant, and the fight started. There was
little or no preliminary sparring. Each knew the other's tactics by
heart. It was just grim, dogged, ding-dong fighting. In height and
weight they were singularly evenly matched, but Harcourt soon gave
evidences of being unquestionably the better boxer. He boxed coolly and
scientifically, but what his opponent lacked in style he made up in
determination. Twice his furious attacks drove Harcourt to the ropes,
and twice the latter extricated himself nimbly and good-humouredly.
Between the thud of gloves and the patter of their feet on the
canvas-covered boards their breathing was audible in the tense hush of
Ding! went the gong, and the first round was over. They walked to
their corners amid a tempest of appreciative applause, and were
instantly pounced upon by their anxious seconds.
In one of the chairs just below the ring, Thorogood removed his pipe
from his mouth and turned his head to speak to Mouldy Jakes, who sat
Good fight, eh? he said, smiling. Harcourt ought to win, of
course, but Mordaunt's fighting like a young tiger. He's no boxer,
either. I'm bothered if I know how he got into the finals.
Guts! said the other. Sheer guts! He won't last, though.
Harcourt'll start piling up the points in the next round.
But when the second round started, Mordaunt developed unexpected
skill in defence. Harcourt led off with an offensive, but his opponent
dodged and ducked and guarded until the first fury of the onslaught
abated, and then a savage bout of in-fighting quickly equalised
matters, until as the end of the round approached disaster very nearly
overtook the red colours. Mordaunt swung rather wildly with his right
and missed. Harcourt's watchful left landed on the side of his
opponent's head as he lost his equilibrium, and Billy Mordaunt went
down with a thud.
He was on his feet again the next instant, his eyes fairly alight
with battle, and his lip curled back savagely. In a whirlwind of
smashing blows he drove Harcourt to the ropes again, until a straight
left between the eyes sobered him.
Ding! went the gong again, and again the applause burst out. The
seconds fell upon their men with furious energy. The water in the
basins was assuming a pinkish tinge, and they sponged and massaged and
flapped their towels as if striving to impart something of their own
vigour to their tired principals. The two combatants, breathing hard,
were leaning back with outstretched arms and legs, every muscle in
their resting bodies relaxed.
Harcourt ought to win, you know, said Thorogood again. He's just
as fit and a better boxer. But he seems to be tiring.... He had a
pretty tough time in the heats, I fancy.
Seconds out of the ring! Last round! came the Chaplain's voice.
Then the gong brought them to their feet.
They shook hands unsmiling, and began to circle cautiously, sparring
for an opening. Then Harcourt led. It was a stinging blow and it landed
fair enough. Billy took it, and several more; for a moment it looked as
if he had shot his bolt. Then he seemed suddenly to gather all his
tiring strength. He feinted and hit lightly with his left. Harcourt
blocked it, then unexpectedly lowered his guard; a little mocking smile
flitted over his blood-smeared face. Billy's right came in with every
ounce of muscle and sinew in his body to back the jolt, and it landed
fair on the point of that flaunting chin so temptingly offered.
It seemed to Billy that Harcourt disappeared into a mist. There was
a thud and a great roar of voices and the sounds of clapping.
Stand back! said a warning voice at the ring-side, and somewhere,
apparently in the distance, another voice was counting the deliberate
... Five! Six! Seven!
The angry mist cleared away and revealed Harcourt sprawling on the
ground. He was leaning over on both hands, striving gallantly to rise.
... Eight! Nine!
The white figure with the green sash was on hands and knees,
The gong rang. Down and out!
The referee glanced from one judge to the other and raised a little
red flag from the table.
Red wins! he shouted.
Unconscious of the deafening applause Billy bent down and slipped an
arm under his friend's shoulders. All the savage fighting blood in him
had suddenly cooled, and there was only pity and love for Harcourt in
his heart as he helped him to his feet.
Harcourt's seconds had rushed into the ring as the gong rang, and
they now supported him to his corner. At his feeble request one unlaced
the glove from his right hand, which he extended to his late adversary
with a wan smile.
That was a good 'un, Billy, he said faintly. Myhead'sstill
singing ... like a top! AndI taught it to you! ...
* * * *
The distribution of prizes to the winners of the different weights
followed, and then the great gathering broke up. The Admirals departed
with their staffs in their respective barges, the Captains in their
galleys, Wardroom and Gunroom officers in the picket-boats. Figures
paced up and down the quarterdeck talking together in pairs; farewells
sounded at the gangways, and the hoot of the steamboats' syrens astern
mingled with the ceaseless calling of the gulls overhead.
Harcourt and Mordaunt, descending the accommodation ladder in the
rear of the remainder of their party, were greeted by Morton, at the
wheel of the picket-boat, with a broad grin.
Come on, he ejaculated impatiently. Hop in! We've got to get back
and be hoisted in. Who won the Light-weights by the same token?
Billy did, replied Harcourt. He settled himself comfortably on top
of the cabin of the picket boat and pulled up the collar of his
greatcoat about his face.
Morton jerked the engine-room telegraph and the boat moved off.
Why are we in such a hurry? queried Harcourt. Are we going out?
The boyish figure at the helm glanced aft to see his stern was
clear, and put the wheel over, heading the boat in the direction of
Yes, he said. At least a signal has just come through ordering us
to raise steam for working cables at seven p.m.
Lettigne, perched beside Mordaunt on the other side of the
cabin-top, leaned across. The crowded excitements of the afternoon had
lapsed into oblivion.
D'you mean the whole Fleet, or only just us? he asked.
The whole Fleet, replied Morton, staring ahead between the twin
funnels of his boat. I suppose it's the usual weary stunt; go out and
steam about trailing the tail of our coat for a couple of days, and
then come back again. The speaker gripped the spokes of the wheel
almost savagely. Lord! he added, if only they'd come out....
Mordaunt fingered his nose gingerly. They do come out occasionally,
I believe. You'd think their women 'ud boo them out.... They sneak
about behind their minefields and do exercises, and they cover their
Battle-cruisers when they nip out for a tip-and-run bombardment of one
of our watering-places. But we'll never catch 'em, although we can stop
them from being of the smallest use to Germany by just being where we
We could catch them if they didn't know we were coming South, said
another Midshipman perched beside Mordaunt with his knees under his
But they always do know, said Harcourt over his shoulder. Their
Zepps always see us coming and give them the tip to nip off home!
Fog... said Mordaunt musingly.
Yes, said another who had not hitherto spoken. That 'ud do it all
right. But then you couldn't see to hit 'em. 'Sides, you can't count on
a fog coming on just when you want it.
Well, said Morton, with the air of one who was wearied by
profitless discussion. Fog or no fog, I only hope they come out this
He rang down Slow to the tiny engine-room underneath his feet, and
spun the wheel to bring the crowded boat alongside the port gangway.
A Fleet proceeds to sea in War-time with little or no outward
circumstance. There was no apparent increase of activity onboard the
the great fighting townships even on the eve of departure. As the
late afternoon wore on the Signal Department onboard the Fleet Flagship
was busy for a space, and the daylight signalling searchlights splashed
and spluttered while hoist after hoist of flags leaped from the signal
platform to yardarm or masthead; and ever as they descended fresh
successive tangles climbed to take their place. But after a while even
this ceased, and the Flagships of the squadrons, who had been taking it
all in, nodded sagely, as it were, and turned round to repeat for the
benefit of the ships of their individual squadrons such portions as
they required for their guidance.
Then from their hidden anchorage the Destroyers moved past on their
way out, flotilla after flotilla in a dark, snake-like procession,
swift, silent, mysterious, and a little later the Cruisers and Light
Cruisers crept out in the failing light to take up their distant
positions. On each high forecastle the minute figures of men were
visible moving about the crawling cables, and from the funnels a slight
increased haze of smoke trembled upwards like the breath of war-horses
in a frosty landscape.
One by one the dripping anchors hove in sight. The water under the
sterns of the Battleships was convulsed by whirling vortices as the
great steel-shod bulks turned cautiously towards the entrance, like
partners revolving in some solemn gigantic minuet. The dusk was fast
closing down, but a saffron bar of light in the West still limned the
dark outlines of the far-off hills. One by one the majestic fighting
ships moved into their allotted places in the line, and presently
Enormous, certain, slow....
the lines began to move in succession towards the entrance and the
The light died out of the western sky altogether, and like great
grey shadows the last of the Battle-squadrons melted into the mystery
of the night.
CHAPTER IX. SWEETHEARTS AND WIVES
Betty finished her breakfast very slowly; she had dawdled over it,
not because there was anything wrong with her appetite, but because the
days were long and meals made a sort of break in the monotony. She rose
from the table at length and walked to the open casement window; a cat,
curled up on the rug in front of the small wood fire, opened one eye
and blinked contemplatively at the slim figure in the silk shirt, the
short brown tweed skirt above the brown-stockinged ankles, and finally
at the neat brogues, one of which was tapping meditatively on the
carpet. Then he closed his eyes again.
Would it be to-day? wondered Betty for about the thousandth time
in the last eight days. She stared out across the little garden, the
broad stretch of pasture beyond the dusty road that ended in a confused
fringe of trees bordering the blue waters of the Firth. A flotilla of
Destroyers that had been lying at anchor overnight had slipped from
their buoys and were slowly circling towards the distant entrance to
the harbour. Beyond the Firth the hills rose again, vividly green and
crowned with trees.
A thrush in the unseen kitchen garden round a corner of the cottage
rehearsed a few bars of his spring song.
It might be to-day, he sang. It might, it might, it mightor it
mightn't! He stopped abruptly.
Eight days had passed somehow since an enigmatic telegram from the
India-rubber Man had brought Betty flying up to Scotland with hastily
packed trunks and a singing heart.
Somehow she had expected him to meet her at the little station she
reached about noon after an all-night journey of incredible
discomforts. But no India-rubber Man had been there to welcome her;
instead a pretty girl with hair of a rusty gold, a year or two her
senior, had come forward rather shyly and greeted her.
Are you Mrs. Standish? she asked, smiling.
Despite the six-months-old wedding ring on her hand, Betty
experienced a faint jolt of surprise at hearing herself thus addressed.
Yes, she said, and glanced half-expectantly up and down the
platform. I hoped my husband would be here ...
The stranger shook her head. I'm afraid his squadron hasn't come in
yet, she said, and added reassuringly, But it won't be long now. Your
sister wrote and told me you were coming up. My name's Etta
Oh, thank you, said Betty. You got me rooms, didn't youand I'm
so grateful to you.
Not at all, said the other. It's rather a job getting them as a
rule, but these just happened to be vacant. Rather nice ones: nice
woman, too. No bath, of course, but up here you get used to tubbing in
your basin, andand little things like that. But everything's nice and
clean, and that's more than some of the places are. They had sorted
out Betty's luggage while Mrs. Clavering was talking, and left it with
the porter to bring on. We can walk, said Betty's guide. It's quite
close, and I expect you won't be sorry to stretch your legs.
They skirted a little village of grey stone cottages straggling on
either side of a broad street towards a wooded glen, down which a river
wound brawling to join the waters of the Firth. Cottages and little
shops alternated, and half-way up the street a rather more pretentious
hotel of quarried stone rose above the level of the roofs. Hills formed
a background to the whole, with clumps of dark fir clinging to their
steep slopes, and in the far distance snow-capped mountains stood like
pale opals against the blue sky. The air was keen and invigorating, and
little clouds like a flock of sheep drifted overhead.
Mrs. Clavering led the way past the village towards a neat row of
cottages on the brow of a little hill about a quarter of a mile behind
it, and as they ascended a steep lane she turned and pointed with her
ashplant. A confusion of chimneys, cranes and wharves were shrouded in
a haze of smoke and the kindly distance.
You see, she said, you can almost see the harbour from your
house. That's where the ships lie when they come in here. This is your
abode. They'll send your luggage up presently. I hope you'll be
comfortable. No, I won't come in now. I expect you're tired after
travelling all night. You must come and have tea with me, and meet some
of the others. She laughed and turned to descend the hill, stopping
again a few paces down to wave a friendly stick.
Etta Clavering occupied a low-ceilinged room above a baker's shop in
the village, and had strewn it about with books and photographs and
nick-nacks until the drab surroundings seemed to reflect a little of
her dainty personality. Thither, later in the day, she took Betty off
to tea and introduced her to a tall fair girl with abundant hair and a
gentle, rippling laugh that had in it the quality of running water.
We belong to the same squadron, she said. I'm glad we've met now,
because directly our husbands' ships come in we shall never see each
other! She turned to Etta Clavering. It's like that up here, isn't
it? We sit in each other's laps all day till our husbands arrive, and
then we simply can't waste a minute to be civil ...!
She laughed her soft ripple of amusement, cut short by the entrance
of another visitor. She was older than the other three: a sweet, rather
grave-faced woman with patient eyes that looked as if they had watched
and waited through a great many lonelinesses. There was something
tender, almost protecting, in her smile as she greeted Betty.
You have only just come North, haven't you? she asked. The latest
recruit to our army ofwaiters, I was going to say, but it sounds
silly. Waitresses hardly seems right either, does it? Anyhow, I hope
you won't have to wait for very long.
I hope not, said Betty, a trifle forlornly.
So do I, said the tall fair girl whose name was Eileen Cavendish.
I am developing an actual liver out of sheer jealousy of some of these
women whose husbands are on leave. When Bill comes I shall hang on his
arm in my best 'clinging-ivy-and-the-oak' style, and walk him up and
down outside the hateful creatures' windows! It'll be their turn
to gnash their teeth then!
Betty joined in the laughter. Are there many ofof Us up here?
There are as many as the village will hold, and every farm and byre
and cow-shed for about six miles round, replied Mrs. Gascoigne, the
new-comer. And, of course, the little town, about four miles from
here, near where the ships anchor, simply couldn't hold another wife if
you tried to lever one in with a shoe-horn!
And then, continued their hostess, measuring out the tea into the
pot, of course, there are some selfish brutes who stay on all the
timeI'm one of them, she added pathetically. But it's no use being
a hypocrite about it. I'd stay on if they all put me in Coventry and I
had to pawn my wedding ring to pay for my rooms. One feels nearer,
somehow.... Do sit down all of you. There's nothing to eat except
scones and jam, but the tea is nice and hot, and considering I bought
it at that little shop near the manse, it looks and smells very like
I suppose, then, all the rooms are dreadfully expensive, said
Expensive! echoed the fair girl, consuming her buttered scone with
frank enjoyment. You could live at the Ritz or Waldorf a good deal
cheaper than in some of these crofter's cottages. You see, until the
War began they never let anything in their lives. No one ever wanted to
come and live here. Of course, there are nice womenlike your Miss
McCallum, for examplewho won't take advantage of the enormous demand,
and stick to reasonable prices. More honour to them! But if you could
see some of the hovels for which they are demanding six and seven
guineas a weekand, what's more, getting it....
I'm afraid we are giving Mrs. Standish an altogether rather gloomy
picture of the place, said Mrs. Gascoigne. She turned to Betty with a
reassuring smile. You don't have to pay anything to be out of doors,
she said. That much is free, even here; it's perfectly delightful
country, and when the weather improves a bit we have picnics and walks
and even do a little fishing in an amateurish sort of way. It all helps
to pass the time....
But it's not only the prices that turn one's hair grey up here,
continued Mrs. Cavendish. That little Mrs. Thatcherher husband is in
a Destroyer or somethingtold me that her landlady has false
teeth.... The speaker extended a slender forefinger, to which she
imparted a little wriggling motion. They wobble ... like thatwhen
she talks. She always talks when she brings in meals.... I suppose it's
funny, really She lapsed into her liquid giggle. But poor Mrs.
Thatcher nearly cried when she told me about it. Imagine! Week in, week
out. Every meal.... and trying not to look...! She said it made her
want to scream.
I should certainly scream, said Mrs. Gascoigne, who had finished
her tea and was preparing to take her departure. Now I must be off.
I've promised to go and sit with Mrs. Daubney. She's laid up, poor
thing, and it's so dull for her all alone in those stuffy rooms. She
held out her hand to Betty. I hope we shall see a lot more of each
other, she said prettily. We're going to show you some of the walks
round here, and we'll take our tea out to the woods.... I hope you'll
be happy up here.
The door closed behind her, and Eileen Cavendish explored the room
in search of cigarettes. Sybil Gascoigne is a dear, she observed.
On the little table, there, said the hostess. In that box. Do you
smoke, Mrs. Standish? Mrs. Standish, it appeared, did not. Throw me
one, Eileen. She caught and lit it with an almost masculine neatness.
Yes, she continued, she's perfectly sweet. Her husband is a senior
Post-captain, and there isn't an atom of 'side' or snobbishness in her
composition. She is just as sweet to that hopelessly dull and dreary
Daubney woman as she is towell, to charming and well-bred attractions
like ourselves! The speaker laughingly blew a cloud of smoke and
turned to Betty. In a sense, this war has done us good. You've never
lived in a Dockyard Port, though. You don't know the insane snobberies
and the ludicrous little castes that flourished in pre-war days.
I dare say you're right, said Eileen Cavendish. She moved idly
about the room examining photographs and puffing her cigarette. But
even the War isn't going to make me fall on the neck of a woman I don't
like. But I'm talking like a cat. It's not seeing Bill for so long....
Mrs. Clavering smiled. No, she said, I agree there are limits.
But up here, what does it matter if a woman's husband is an Engineer or
a Paymaster or a Commander or only an impecunious Lieutenant like
mineas long as she is nice? Yet if it weren't for people like Sybil
Gascoigne we should all be clinging to our ridiculous little pre-war
sets, and talking of branches and seniority till we died of loneliness
and boredom with our aristocratic noses in the air.... As it is, I
don't believe even Sybil Gascoigne could have done it if she hadn't
been the Honourable Mrs. Gascoigne. That carried her over some pretty
rough ground, childish though it sounds.
Bong Song! interposed Mrs. Cavendish flippantly. As She
broke off abruptly. There I go again! There's no doubt about it: I
have got a liver ... I think I'll go home and write to Bill. That
always does me good.
That tea-party was the first of many similar informal gatherings of
grass-widows in poky rooms and cottage parlours. They were quite young
for the most part, and many were pretty. They drank each other's tea
and talked about their husbands and the price of things, and
occasionally of happenings in an incredibly remote past when one hunted
and went to dances and bought pretty frocks.
It was Etta Clavering who conducted Betty round the village shops on
the morning after her arrival, where she was introduced to the small
Scottish shopkeeper getting rich quick, and the unedifying revelation
of naked greed cringing behind every tiny counter.
Through Eileen Cavendish, moreover, she secured the goodwill of a
My dear, said her benefactress, money won't tempt them. They've
got beyond that. They've got to like you before they will wring out a
stocking for you. But I'll take you to the Widow Twankey; I'm one of
her protégées, and she shows her affection for me by feeling for my
ribs with her first two fingers to punctuate her remarks with prods. It
always makes me hysterical. She has only got two teeth, and they don't
So the Widow Twankey was sought out, and Betty stood and looked
appealingly humble while Etta Cavendish suffered her ribs to be prodded
in a good cause, and the Widow agreed to wash for Betty at rates that
would have brought blushes to the cheeks of a Parisian blanchisseuse
With Mrs. Gascoigne, Betty explored the heathery moors where the
distraught pee-wits were already nesting, and the cool, clean air blew
down from the snowy Grampians, bracing the walkers like a draught of
iced wine. They even climbed some of the nearer hills, forcing their
way through the tangled spruce-branches and undergrowth to the summit,
from where the distant North Sea itself was visible, lying like a grey
menace to their peace.
They would return from these expeditions by the path down the glen
that wound close to the brawling river; here, in the evenings,
sometimes with an unexpectedness embarrassing to both parties, they met
some of the reunited couples whom Eileen Cavendish found it hard to
contemplate unmoved; occasionally the fingers of such couples were
interlaced, and they talked very earnestly as they walked.
On fine days the husbandless wives organised picnics and boiled the
kettle over a fire of twigs. On these occasions the arrangements were
generally in the hands of a fat, jolly woman everyone called Mrs.
Pat. She it was who chose the site, built the fire with gipsy cunning,
and cut the forked sticks on which the kettle hung. The meal over, Mrs.
Pat would produce a blackened cigarette holder and sit and smoke with
reflective enjoyment while she translated the rustling, furtive sounds
of life in brake and hedge-row around them for the benefit of anyone
who cared to listen. No one knew whence she had acquired such
mysterious completeness of knowledge. It was as if an invisible side of
her walked hand in hand with Nature; sap oozing from a bursting bud,
laden bee or fallen feather, each was to Mrs. Pat the chapter of a vast
romance: and if she bored anyone with her interpretation of it, they
had only got to get up and go for a walk.
She had a niece staying with her, the fiancée of a Lieutenant in her
husband's ship, a slim thing with blue eyes and a hint of the Overseas
in the lazy, unstudied grace of her movements. She spoke sparingly, and
listened to the conversation of the others with her eyes always on the
distant grey shadow that was the sea. Thus the days passed.
In the evenings Betty read or knitted and inveigled her stout,
kindly landlady into gossip on the threshold while she cleared away the
evening meal, and so the morning of the ninth day found Betty staring
out of her window, listening for the thrush to begin again its
haunting, unfinished song.
An object moving rapidly along the top of the hedge that skirted the
lane leading to the cottage caught her eye; she watched it until the
hedge terminated, when it resolved itself into the top of Eileen
Cavendish's hat. Her pretty face was pink with exertion and excitement,
and she moved at a gait suggestive of both running and walking.
Betty greeted her at the gateway of her little garden, and her heart
quickened as she ran to meet the bearer of tidings.
My dear, gasped Mrs. Cavendish, they're coming in this morning.
Mrs. Monrothat's my landladyhas a brother in the town: I forget
what he does there, but he always knows.
For an instant the colour ebbed from Betty's cheeks, and then her
beating heart sent it surging back again.
But she said. Does that mean that our squadron is coming in?
Of course it does, silly! Get your hat quick, and we'll climb up to
the top of the hill and see if we can get a glimpse of them coming in.
You'll have plenty of time to get down again and powder your nose
before your Bunje-man, or whatever you call him, can get ashore. Hurry!
Together they toiled up the hill to the high stretch of moorland
from which a view of the entrance to the Firth could be obtained.
This is where I always come, said Eileen Cavendish. She stopped
and panted for breath. Ouf! I'm getting fat and short-winded. How long
is it since you've seen your husband?
Betty considered. Three months and seventeen days, was the reply.
Her companion nodded.
It's rotten, isn't it? But nowat times like this, I almost feel
as if it'sworth it, I was going to say; but I suppose it's hardly
that. I always vowed I'd never marry a sailor, and ever since I did
I've felt sorry for all the women with other kinds of husbands.... Bill
is such a dear!
They found seats in the lee of a stack of peat and sat down side by
side to watch the distant entrance. A faint grey haze beyond the
headlands on either side of the mouth of the harbour held the outer sea
There's nothing in sight, said Betty.
No, said the other, but there will be, presently. You wait. She
put her elbows on her knees and rested her face in the cup of her two
hands. You haven't got used to waiting yet, she continued. It seems
to have made up half my life since I met Bill. I had a little daughter
once, and it didn't matter so much then.... But she died, the mite...
No Battleships had emerged from the blue-grey curtain of the mist
when lunch-time came; nothing moved across the surface of the empty
harbour, and they descended the hill to share the meal in Betty's room.
Perhaps they won't be in till after tea, suggested Betty. Perhaps
the fog has delayed them.
Perhaps, said the other.
So they put tea in a Thermos flask, and bread-and-butter and a slice
of cake apiece in a little basket, and climbed again to their vantage
point in the lee of the peat stack. They read novels and talked in
desultory snatches through the afternoon. Then they had tea and told
each other about the books they were reading. But as their shadows
lengthened across the blaeberry and heather, the silences grew longer,
and Betty, striving to concentrate her interest on her book, found the
page grow suddenly blurred and incomprehensible....
It's getting chilly, said the elder girl at length. She rose to
her feet with a little involuntary shiver, and stood for a moment
staring out towards the sea. I wonder... she began, and her voice
trailed off into silence. Betty began slowly to repack the basket.
Sometimes I pray, said Eileen Cavendish, when I want things to
happen very much. And sometimes I just hold my thumbs like a pagan.
Sometimes I do both. Let's do both now.
So they sat silent side by side; one held her breath and the other
held her thumbs, but only the dusk crept in from the sea.
CHAPTER X. THE BATTLE OF THE MIST
Thorogood, Lieutenant of the Afternoon Watch, climbed the ladder to
the upper bridge as the bell struck the half-hour after noon. A blue
worsted muffler, gift and handiwork of an aunt on the outbreak of war,
enfolded his neck. He wore a pair of glasses in a case slung over one
shoulder and black leather gauntlet-gloves.
The Officer of the Forenoon Watch, known among his messmates as
Tweedledee, was focusing the range-finder on the ship ahead of them in
the line; he looked round as the new-comer appeared, and greeted him
with a grin.
Hullo, James, he said. Your afternoon watch? Well, here you are.
He made a comprehensive gesture embracing the vast Fleet that was
spread out over the waters as far as the eye could reach.
Divisions in line ahead, columns disposed abeam, course S.E. Speed,
15 knots. Glass low and steady. The Cruisers are ahead there, beyond
the Destroyers, he nodded ahead. But you can't see them because of
the mist. The Battle-cruisers are somewhere beyond them again, with
their Light Cruisers and Destroyersabout thirty miles to the
southward. The hands are at dinner and all is peace. She's keeping
station quite well now. The speaker moved to the range-finder again
and peered into it at the next ahead. Right to a yard, James.
Thorogood nodded. Thank you: I hope I'll succeed in keeping her
there. Any news?
News? The other laughed. What about?
Well, replied Thorogood, the perishing Hun, let's say.
The Navigator, thoughtfully biting the end of a pencil, came out of
the chart-house with a note-book in his hand, in which he had been
working out the noon reckoning.
Pilot, said the departing Officer of the Forenoon Watch, James is
thirsting for news of the enemy.
Optimist! replied the Navigator composedly. News, indeed! This
isn't Wolff's Agency, my lad. This is a Cook's tour of the North Sea.
He sniffed the damp, salt breeze. Bracing air, change of scenery: no
undue excitementsort of rest cure, in fact. And you come along
exhibiting a morbid craving for excitement.
I know, said Thorogood meekly. It's the effect of going to the
cinematograph. All the magistrates are talking about it. They say
Charlie Chaplin's got something to do with it. I suppose, though,
there's no objection to my asking what the disposition of our Light
Cruisers happens to be, is there? It's prompted more by a healthy
desire to improve my knowledge before I take over the afternoon watch
than anything else.
They're out on the starboard quarter, replied the late Officer of
the Watch. You can't see them because of this cursed mist, but they're
Strikes me this afternoon watch is going to be more of a faith cure
than a rest cure as the Pilot suggests, grumbled Thorogood.
Battle-cruisers somewhere ahead, Cruisers invisible in the mist, Light
The report of a gun, followed almost instantly by a loud explosion,
came from far away on the port bow. A Destroyer that had altered course
was resuming her position in the Destroyer line on the outskirts of the
Fleet. A distant column of smoke and spray was slowly dissolving into
the North Sea haze.
At the report of the gun the three men raised their glasses to stare
in the direction of the sound. Only one of the Huns' floating mines,
said the Navigator. She exploded it with her 8-pounder. Pretty shot.
Well, said Tweedledee, I can't stay here all day. Anything else
you want to know, James? What's for lunch? I'm devilish hungry.
Boiled beef and carrots, replied Thorogood. Mit apple tart
and cream: the Messman can't be well. Pills says its squando-mania. No,
I don't think I want to know any more. I suppose the log's written up?
It is. Now for the boiled beef, and this afternoon Little
Bright-eyes is going to get his head down and have a nice sleep.
The speaker prepared to depart.
Hold on, said the Navigator. I'm coming with you. I've just got
to give the noon position to the Owner on the way.
They descended the ladder together, and left Thorogood alone on the
The Battle-fleet was steaming in parallel lines about a mile apart,
each Squadron in the wake of its Flagship. The Destroyers, strung out
on either flank of the Battle-fleet, were rolling steadily in the long,
smooth swell, leaving a smear of smoke in their trail. Far away in the
mist astern flickered a very bright light: the invisible Light Cruisers
must be there, reflected Thorogood, and presently from the Fleet
Flagship came a succession of answering blinks. The light stopped
flickering out of the mist.
The speed at which the Fleet was travelling sent the wind thrumming
through the halliards and funnel stays and past Thorogood's ears with a
little whistling noise; otherwise few sounds reached him at the
altitude at which he stood. On the signal-platform below, a number of
signalmen were grouped round the flag-lockers with the halliards in
their hands in instant readiness to hoist a signal. The Signal
Boatswain had steadied his glass against a semaphore, and was studying
something on the misty outskirts of the Fleet. The Quartermaster at the
wheel was watching the compass card with a silent intensity that made
his face look as if it had been carved in bronze. The telegraph-men
maintained a conversation that was pitched in a low, deep note
inaudible two yards away. It concerned the photograph of a mutual lady
acquaintance, and has no place in this narrative.
Thorogood moved to the rail and looked down at the familiar
forecastle and teeming upper-deck, thirty feet below. Seen thus from
above, the grey, sloping shields of the turrets, each with its great
twin guns, looked like gigantic mythical tortoises with two heads and
disproportionately long necks. It was the dinner hour, and men were
moving about, walking up and down, or sitting about in little groups
smoking. Some were playing cards in places sheltered from the wind and
spray; near the blacksmith's forge a man was stooping patiently over a
small black object: Thorogood raised his glasses for a moment and
recognised the ship's cat, reluctantly undergoing instruction in
jumping through the man's hands.
The cooks of the Messes were wending their way in procession to the
chutes at the ship's sides, carrying mess-kettles containing scraps and
slops from the mess-deck dinner. For an instant the Officer of the
Watch, looking down from that altitude and cut off from all sounds but
that of the wind, experienced a feeling of unfamiliar detachment from
the pulsating mass of metal beneath his feet. He had a vision of the
electric-lit interior of the great ship, deck beneath deck, with men
everywhere. Men rolled up in coats and oilskins, snatching
half-an-hour's sleep along the crowded gun-batteries, men writing
letters to sweethearts and wives, men laughing and quarrelling, or
singing low-toned, melancholy ditties as they mended worn garments:
hundreds and hundreds of reasoning human entities were crowded in those
steel-walled spaces, each with his boundless hopes and affections, his
separate fears and vices and conceptions of the Deity, and his small,
Beneath all that again, far below the surface of the grey North Sea,
were men, moving about purring turbines and dynamos and webs of
stupendous machinery, silently oiling, testing and adjusting a thousand
moving joints of metal. There were adjoining caverns lit by the glare
of furnaces that shone red on the glistening faces of men, silent
vaults and passages where the projectiles were ranged in sinister
array, and chilly spaces in which the electric light was reflected from
the burnished and oiled torpedoes that hung in readiness above the
Thorogood raised his eyes and stared out across the vast array of
the Battle-fleet. Obedient to the message flashed from the Flagship a
few minutes earlier, the Light Cruisers that had been invisible on the
quarter now emerged from behind the curtain of the mist and were
rapidly moving up to a new position. Presently the same mysterious,
soundless voice spoke again:
YOU ARE MAKING TOO MUCH SMOKE
blinked the glittering searchlight, and anon in the stokeholds of
the end ship of the lee line there was the stokehold equivalent for
weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth....
For a couple of hours the Fleet surged onwards in silence and
unchanged formation. The swift Light Cruisers had overtaken the
advancing Battle-fleet, and vanished like wraiths into the haze ahead.
The Captain and the Navigator had joined Thorogood on the bridge, and
were poring over the chart and talking in low voices. The Midshipman of
the Watch stood with eyes glued to the range-finder, turning his head
at intervals to report the distance of the next ahead to the Officer of
A messenger from the Coding Officer tumbled pell-mell up the ladder
and handed a piece of folded paper to the Captain, saluted, turned on
his heel and descended the ladder again. The Captain unfolded the
signal and read with knitted brows. Then he turned quickly to the chart
For a moment he was busy with dividers and parallel-rulers; when he
raised his head his eyes were alight with a curiously restrained
Rather interesting, he said, and passed the paper to the Navigator
who read it in turn and grinned like a schoolboy.
They have probably caught a raiding party in the mist, sir, he
said, and bent over the chart.
Thorogood picked up the message and pursed his lips up in a short,
It's too much to hope that their main fleet's out, he said.
Their main fleet's sure to be in support somewhere, replied the
Captain. It's a question whether they realise we're all down on top of
'em, though, and nip for home before we catch them.
A second messenger flung himself, panting, up the ladder, and handed
in a second message.
Intercepted wireless to Flag, sir.
The Captain read it and took a breath that was like a sigh of
relief. At last! he said.
The Navigator turned from the chart.
Der Tag, sir? he asked interrogatively with a smile.
The Captain nodded ahead at the haze curtaining all the horizon. If
we catch 'em, he replied.
The signal platform was awhirl with bunting; the voice of the Chief
Yeoman repeating hoists rose above the stamp of feet and the flapping
of flags in the wind.
Thorogood turned to the Navigator. Will you take on now? he asked
in a low voice. If the balloon's really going up this time I'd better
get along to my battery.
As he descended the ladder the upper-deck was ringing with
bugle-calls, and the turrets' crews were already swarming round their
guns. From the hatchways leading to the lower-deck came a great roar of
cheering. Men poured up on their way to their action stations in a
laughing, rejoicing throng. Mouldy Jakes, with the ever-faithful
Midshipman of his turret at his side, was hurrying to his beloved guns,
and greeted Thorogood as he passed with a sidelong jerk of the head and
the first whole-souled smile of enjoyment a mess-mate had ever
surprised on his face. Further aft the Captain of Marines was standing
on the roof of his slowly revolving turret:
Buck up, James, he shouted merrily. 'Johnnie, get your gun,
there's a cat in the garden'We're going to see Life in a minute, my
He was right, but they were also destined to see Death, holding red
Thorogood waved his arm and shouted an inarticulate reply as he ran
aft to the hatchway leading to the cabin flat. Officers were rushing
past on their way to their posts, exchanging chaff and conjecture as
they went. Thorogood descended to the cabin flat, jerked back the
curtain of his cabin, and hurriedly entered the familiar apartment.
Opening a drawer he snatched up a gas-mask and a packet containing
first-aid appliances which he thrust into the pocket of his swimming
waistcoat, together with a flask and a small tin of compressed meat
lozenges. Once before, earlier in the war, he had fought for life
clinging to a floating spar. Then succour had come in a comparatively
short time, but the experience had not been without its lesson.
He made for the door again and then paused on the threshold
hesitatingly. Might as well, he said, and turning back picked up a
small photograph in a folding morocco frame and thrust it
half-shamefacedly into an inside pocket.
As he emerged into the flat again he met Gerrard, the Assistant
Paymaster, struggling into a thick coat outside the door of his cabin.
Hullo! laughed the A.P. Having a last look at the old home,
Thorogood patted his pockets. Just taking in provisions in case I
have to spend the week-end on a raft. What's your action station?
Fore-top, was the reply. Taking notes of the action. Now, have I
got everything? Thermos flaskwatchnote-bookglassesright! En
avant, mon brave!
Thorogood reached the 6-inch battery breathless, and found the guns'
crews busy tricing up their mess-tables overhead. The Gunner was
passing along the crowded deck ahead of him. He stopped opposite the
They're out, lads! he said grimly. Give 'em hell, this time.
Clear away and close up round your gunssmartly then, my hearties!
From the other side of the deck came the voice of Tweedledee giving
orders to his battery, raised above the clatter of the ammunition
hoists, the thud of projectiles as they were placed in the rear of each
gun, the snap and clang of the breech as the guns were loaded....
Fire and wreckage parties stood in little groups along the
main-deck, and first-aid parties were gathered at the hatchways; two
Midshipmen, pale and bright-eyed with excitement, talked in low voices
by the foremost gun: gradually a tense hush closed down upon the main
deck; the crews stood silent round their guns, waiting in their
steel-walled casemates for the signal that would galvanise them into
death-dealing activity against the invisible foe.
Ultimate victory no man doubted: death might sweep, swift and
shattering, along these electric-lit enclosed spaces where they stood
waiting; the great ship was being driven head-long by unseen forces
towards an unseen foe. But of that foe, none of the hundreds of men
between decks save the straining gunlayers with their eyes at the
sighting-telescopes would ever catch a single glimpse.
The silence was riven by a roaring concussion that seemed to shake
the framework of the ship. The great turret guns on the upper deck had
opened fire with a salvo, and, as if released by the explosion, a burst
of frantic cheering leaped from every throat and echoed and
reverberated along the decks. Somewhere in the outside world of mist
and sea, under the grey Northern sky, the Battle-Fleet action had
* * * * *
The fore-top was a semi-circular eyrie, roofed and walled with
steel, that projected from the fore topmast some distance above the
giant tripod. It was reached by iron rungs let into the mast, and here
Gerrard, with the din of bugles and the cheering still ringing in his
ears, joined the assembled officers and men whose station it was in
From that dizzy elevation it was possible to take in the disposition
of the vast Fleet at a single glance. It was like looking down on model
ships spread out over a grey carpet preparatory to a children's game. A
white flicker of foam at each blunt ram and the wind singing past the
hooded top alone gave any indication of the speed at which the ships
were advancing. It was an immense monochrome of grey. Grey ships with
the White Ensign flying free on each: grey sea flecked here and there
by the diverging bow-waves breaking as they met: a grey sky along which
the smoke trailed sullenly and gathered in a dense, low-lying cloud
that mingled with the haze astern.
The Lieutenant in the top drew Gerrard to his side. Put your head
down here, he said, out of the wind ... can you hear? There was a
queer ring of exultation in his voice. Guns!
Gerrard bent down and strained all his faculties to listen. For a
moment he heard nothing but the hum of the wind and the vibration of
the engines transmitted by the mast. Then, faint and intermittent, like
the far-off grumble of a gathering thunderstorm, his ear caught a sound
that sent all his pulses hammering.
Thank God I've lived to hear that noise! muttered the Lieutenant.
He straightened up, staring ahead through his glasses in the direction
of the invisible fight.
For a while no one spoke. The tense minutes dragged by as the sounds
of firing grew momentarily more distinct. The uncertain outline of the
near horizon was punctuated by vivid flashes of flame from the guns of
the approaching enemy. They were still hidden by the mist and
apparently unconscious of the Battle-Fleet bearing down upon them like
some vast, implacable instrument of doom. The target of their guns
suddenly became visible as the Battle-cruisers appeared on the
starboard bow, moving rapidly across the limit of vision like a line of
grey phantoms spitting fire and destruction as they went. Misty columns
of foam that leaped up from the water all about them showed that they
were under heavy fire.
The Battle-Fleet was deploying into Line of Battle, Squadron forming
up astern of Squadron in a single line of mailed monsters extending far
into the haze that was momentarily closing in upon them. The curtain
ahead was again pierced by a retreating force of Cruisers beaten back
on the protection of the Battle-Fleet and ringed by leaping waterspouts
as the enemy's salvos pursued them.
As yet the enemy were invisible, but when the last ship swung into
deployment the mist cleared for a moment and disclosed them amid a
cloud of smoke and the furious flashes of guns. The moment had come,
and all along the extended British battle-line the turret guns opened
fire with a roar of angry sound that seemed to split the grey vault of
heaven. As if to mock them in that supreme instant the mist swirled
across again and hid the German Fleet wheeling round in panic flight.
The gases belched from the muzzles of the guns, together with the
smoke of hundreds of funnels caught and held by the encircling mist,
reeled to and fro across the spouting water and mingled with the grey
clouds from bursting shell. Through it all the two Fleets, the pursuing
and the pursued, grappled in blindfold headlong fury.
Thorogood's battery was on the disengaged side of the ship during
the earlier phases of the action. Across the deck they heard the guns
of Tweedledee's battery open fire with a roar, and then the cheering of
the crews, mingled with the cordite fumes, was drowned by an
ear-splitting detonation in the confined spaces of the mess deck,
followed by a blinding flash of light.
Tweedledee was flung from where he was standing to pitch brokenly at
the foot of the hatchway, like a rag doll flung down by a child in a
passion. He lay outstretched, face downwards, with his head resting on
his forearm as if asleep. Most of the lights had been extinguished by
the explosion, but a pile of cartridges in the rear of one of the guns
had caught fire and burned fiercely, illuminating everything with a
Lettigne, Midshipman of the battery, was untouched; deafened and
deathly sick he took command of the remaining guns. He, who ten seconds
before had never even seen death, was slithering about dimly lit decks,
slippery with what he dared not look at, encouraging and steadying the
crews, and helping to extinguish the burning cordite. In darkened
corners, where they had been thrown by the explosion, men were groaning
That shell had been one of several that had struck the ship
simultaneously. Mouldy Jakes opened his eyes to see a streak of light
showing through a jagged rip in a bulkhead. The light was red and hurt
his eyes: he passed his hand across his face, and it was wet with a
warm stickiness. His vision cleared, however, and for a few moments he
studied the drops of water that were dripping from the gash in the
plating. Crying! he said stupidly. The shells that pitched short had
deluged the fore-part of the ship with water, and it was still dripping
into the interior of the turret. Mouldy Jakes raised his head, and a
yard or two away saw Morton. The breech of one of the guns was open,
and Morton was lying limply over the huge breech-block. The machinery
was smashed and twisted, and mixed up with it were dead men and bits of
A little while later the Fleet Surgeon, splashed with red to the
elbows, glanced up from his work in the fore-distributing station and
saw a strange figure descending the hatchway. It was Mouldy Jakes: his
scalp was torn so that a red triangular patch hung rakishly over one
eye. Flung over his shoulder was the limp form of an unconscious
Midshipman. For a moment he stood swaying, steadying himself with
outstretched hand against the rail of the ladder.
Thought I'd better bring him along, he gasped. Turret's knocked
to hell.... He's still alive, but he's broken all to little bits inside
... I can feel him... Morton, snottie of my turret ...
Sickberth Stewards relieved him of his burden, and Mouldy Jakes sat
down on the bottom rung of the ladder and began to whimper like a
distraught child. It's my hand... he said plaintively, and extended a
trembling, shattered palm. I've only just noticed it.
With his eye glued to the periscope of his turret the India-rubber
Man was fidgeting and swearing softly under his breath at the
exasperating treachery of the fog. The great guns under his control
roared at intervals, but before the effect of the shell-burst could be
observed the enemy would be swallowed from sight. Once, at the
commencement of the action, he thought of Betty; he thought of her
tenderly and reverently, and then put her out of his mind....
Lanes of unexpected visibility opened while an eye-lid winked, and
disclosed a score of desperate fights passing and reappearing like
scenes upon a screen. A German Battleship, near and quite distinct, was
in sight for a moment, listing slowly over with her guns pointing
upwards like the fingers of a distraught hand, and as she sank the mist
closed down again as it were a merciful curtain drawn to hide a horror.
An enemy Cruiser dropped down the engaged side of the line like an
exhausted participator in a Bacchanal of Furies. Her sides were riven
and gaping, with a red glare showing through the rents. Her decks were
a ruined shambles of blackened, twisted metal, but she still spat
defiance from a solitary gun, and sank firing as the fight swept past.
Hither and thither rolled the fog, blotting out the enemy at one
moment, at another disclosing swift and awful cataclysms. A British
Cruiser, dodging and zigzagging through a tempest of shells, blew up.
She changed on the instant into a column of black smoke and wreckage
that leaped up into the outraged sky; it trembled there like a dark
monument to the futile hate of man for his brother man and slowly
dissolved into the mist. A German Destroyer attack crumpled up in the
blast of the 6-inch batteries of the British Fleet, and the British
Destroyers dashed to meet their crippled onslaught as vultures might
swoop on blinded wolves. They fought at point-blank range, asking no
quarter, expecting none; they fought over decks ravaged by shrapnel and
piled with dead. The sea was thick with floating corpses and shattered
wreckage, and darkened with patches of oil that marked the grave of a
rammed Submarine or sunken Destroyer. Maimed and bleeding men dragged
themselves on to rafts and cheered their comrades as they left them to
Through that witches' cauldron of fog and shell-smoke the British
Battle-Fleet groped for its elusive foe. One minute of perfect
visibility, one little minute of clear range beyond the fog-masked
sights, was all they asked to deal the death-blow that would end the
fightmen prayed God for it and died with the prayer in their teeth.
But the minute never came. The firing died away down the line; the
dumb guns moved blindly towards the shifting sounds of strife like
monsters mouthing for the prey that was denied them, but the fog held
and the merciful dusk closed down and covered the flight of the
stricken German Fleet for the shelter of its protecting mine-fields.
It was not until night fell that the British Destroyers began their
savage work in earnest. Flotilla after flotilla was detached from the
Fleet and swallowed by the short summer night, moving swiftly and
relentlessly to their appointed tasks like black panthers on the trail.
Cut off from their base by the British Fleet the scattered German
squadrons dodged and doubled through the darkness, striving to elude
the cordon drawn across their path. They can be pictured as towering
black shadows rushing headlong through the night, with the wounded
groaning between their wreckage-strewn decks; and on each bridge, high
above them in the windy darkness, men talked in guttural
mono-syllables, peering through high-power glasses for the menace that
stalked them.... On the trigger of every gun there would be a twitching
finger, and all the while the blackness round them would be pierced and
rent by distant spurts of flame....
The wind and sea had risen, and over an area of several hundred
square miles of stormy sea swept the Terror by Night. Bursting
star-shell and questioning searchlight fought with the darkness,
betraying to the guns the sinister black hulls driving through clouds
of silver spray, the loaded tubes and streaming decks, the oilskin-clad
figures on each bridge forcing the attack home against the devastating
blast of the shrapnel. Death was abroad, berserk and blindfold. A
fleeing German Cruiser fell among a flotilla of Destroyers and altered
her helm, with every gun and searchlight blazing, to ram the leading
boat. The Destroyer had time to alter course sufficiently to bring the
two ships bow to bow before the impact came. Then there was a grinding
crash: forecastle, bridge and foremost gun a pile of wreckage and
struggling figures. The blast of the German guns swept the funnels,
boats, cowls and men away as a gale blows dead leaves before it. Then
the Cruiser swung clear and vanished into the darkness, pursued by the
remainder of the Flotilla, and leaving the Destroyer reeling among the
waves like a man that has been struck in the face with a knuckle-duster
by a runaway thief. In the direction where the Cruiser had disappeared
five minutes later a column of flame leaped skyward, and the Flotilla,
vengeance accomplished, swung off through the darkness in search of a
All night long the disabled Destroyer rolled helplessly in the
trough of the sea. The dawn came slowly across the sky, as if
apprehensive of what it might behold on the face of the troubled
waters; in the growing light the survivors of the Destroyer's crew saw
a crippled German Cruiser trailing south at slow speed. Only one gun
remained in action onboard the Destroyer, and round that gathered the
bandaged remnant of what had once been a ship's company. They shook
hands grimly among themselves and spat and girded their loins for their
The German Cruiser turned slowly over and sank while they trained
A dismasted Destroyer, with riddled funnels and a foot of water
swilling across the floor plates in the engine-room, bore down upon
them about noon and took her crippled sister in tow. They passed slowly
away to the westward, leaving the circle of grey, tumbling sea to the
floating wreckage of a hundred fights and the thin keening of the
The afternoon wore on: five drenched, haggard men were laboriously
propelling a life-saving raft by means of paddles in the direction of
the English coast that lay some hundred odd miles to the west. The
waves washed over their numbed bodies, and imparted an almost lifelike
air of animation to the corpse of a companion that lay between them,
staring at the sullen sky.
Suddenly one of the paddlers stopped and pointed ahead. A boat
manned by four men appeared on the crest of a wave and slid down a
grey-back towards them. The oarsmen were rowing with slow strokes, and
eventually the two craft passed each other within hailing distance. The
men on the raft stared hard.
'Uns! said one. Bloody 'Uns.... Strictly speakin', we did ought
to fight 'em.... Best look t'other way, lads!
His companions followed his example and continued their futile
mechanical paddling with averted heads.
The bow-oar of the German boat, who had a blood-stained bandage
round his head, also stared.
Engländer! he said. Verdammte Schweine! and added,
Fünf! ... whereupon he and his companions also averted their
heads, because they were four.
They passed each other thus. The waves that washed over the raft
rolled the dead man's head to and fro, as if he found the situation
CHAPTER XI. THE AFTERMATH
Such was the Battle of the Mist, a triumphant assertion after nearly
two years of vigil and waiting, of British Sea Power. It commenced with
a cloud of smoke on the horizon no larger than a man's hand. Its
consequences and effects spread out in widening ripples through space
and time, changing the vast policies of nations, engulfing thousands of
humble lives and hopes and destinies. Centuries hence the ripples will
still be washing up the flotsam of that fight on the shores of human
life. Long after the last survivor has passed to dust the echo of the
British and German guns will rumble in ears not yet conceived. Princes
will hear it in the chimes of their marriage bells; it will accompany
the scratching of diplomatists' pens and the creaking wheels of the
pioneer's ox-wagon. It will sound above the clatter of Baltic
ship-yards and in the silence of the desert where the caravan routes
stretch white beneath the moon. The Afghan, bending knife in hand over
a whetstone, and the Chinese coolie knee-deep in his wet paddy-fields,
will pause in their work to listen to the sound, uncomprehending, even
while the dust is gathering on the labours of the historian and the
But this tale does not aspire to deal with the wide issues or
significances of the war. It is an endeavour to trace the threads of
certain lives a little way through a loosely-woven fabric of great
events. At the conclusion there will be ends unfinished; the colours of
some will have changed to grey and others will have vanished into the
warp; but the design is so vast and the loom so near that we, in our
day and generation, can hope to glimpse but a very little of the whole.
* * * * *
The India-rubber Man sat on the edge of the Wardroom table with his
cap tilted on the back of his head, eating bread and cold bacon. The
mess was illuminated by three or four candles stuck in empty saucers
and placed along the table amid the débris of a meal. The dim light
shone on the forms of a dozen or so of officers; some were seated at
the table eating, others wandered restlessly about with food in one
hand and a cup in the other. The tall, thin Lieutenant known as
Tweedledum was pacing thoughtfully to and fro with a pipe in his mouth
and his hands deep in his trousers pockets.
There had been little conversation. When anyone spoke it was in the
dull, emotionless tones of profound fatigue. One, just out of the
circle of candle-light, had pushed his plate from him on the completion
of his meal, and had fallen asleep with his head resting on his
outstretched arms. The remaining faces lit by the yellow candle-light
were drawn, streaked with dirt and ornamented by a twenty-four hours'
growth of stubble. All wore an air of utter weariness, as of men who
had passed through some soul-shaking experience.
The door opened to admit the First Lieutenant. He clumped in
hastily, wearing huge leather sea-boots. Beneath his cap his head was
swathed in the neat folds of bandages whose whiteness contrasted with
his smoke-blackened faced and singed, begrimed uniform.
Hullo! he said, circuits gone here, too? He peered round the
table. My word! he exclaimed. Hot tea! Who made it? The galley's a
heap of wreckage. He poured himself out a cup and drank thirstily.
A-A-ah! That's grateful and comforting.
I made it, said the Paymaster. With my own fair hands I boiled
the kettle and made tea for you all. Greater love than this has no
Reminds me, said a voice out of the shadows, that Mouldy got
rather badly cut about the head and lost the best part of his left
hand. He went reeling past me during the action yesterday evening with
young Morton slung over his shoulder: he was staring in front of him
like a man walking in his sleep.
He was, confirmed the Paymaster. In the execution of my office as
leading hand of the first-aid party, I gave him chloroform while the
P.M.O. carved bits off him. The speaker rested his head on his hand
and closed his eyes. Next time we go into action, he continued, as if
speaking to himself, someone else can take that job on.
What job? asked the India-rubber Man, suddenly turning his head
and speaking with his mouth full.
Fore medical distributing station. I've done a meat-course at
Smithfield market ... slaughter-houses before breakfast, don't you
know? I thought I could stick a good deal The Paymaster opened his
eyes suddenly. I tell you, it was what the sailor calls bloody ...
How is young Morton? asked the First Lieutenant.
No one appeared to know, for the enquiry went unanswered. The tall
figure pacing restlessly to and fro stopped and eyed the First
Tweedledee's killed, he said dully. Dead... He resumed his
thoughtful walk and a moment later repeated the last word in a low
voice, reflectively. Dead ...
I know, said the First Lieutenant.
Tweedledum halted again. I wouldn't care if we had absolutely wiped
them off the face of the earthsunk every one of them, I mean. We
ought to have, with just such a very little luck.... And now they've
slipped through our fingers, in the night. Tweedledum extended a thin,
nervous hand, opening and clenching the fingers. Like slimy eels.
Some did, said the India-rubber Man musingly, filling a pipe.
Some didn't. I only saw our guns actually sink one German Battleship;
but the visibility was awful, and we weren't the only pebble on the
beach; our line was miles long, remember.
I saw one of their Battle-cruisers on fire and sinking, said
Gerrard. I was in the top. And all night long our Destroyers were
attacking them. Two big ships blew up during the night. He cut a hunk
of bread and spread it thickly with marmalade. We must have knocked
seven-bells out of 'em. And we didn't lose a single Battleship.
Must have lost a Battle-cruiser or two, though, said the Engineer
Lieutenant, sitting with his head between his hands and his forefingers
propping open his eyelids. Damn it, they fought the whole German Fleet
single-handed till we arrived! Must have... His voice trailed off and
his fingers released his eyelids which closed instantly. His chin
dropped on to his chest, and he slept.
Any other officer scuppered besides Tweedledee? asked the Major of
Marines. What's up with your head, Number One?
Only scratched by a splinter. A nearish thing. I haven't heard of
anybody else. We really got off very lightly considering they found our
range. The First Lieutenant clumped off towards the door. Now I must
go and see about clearing up the mess. I reckon it's all over bar the
As he went out Thorogood entered the Wardroom. Would anyone like a
nice beef lozenge? he enquired, removing a packet from his pocket.
Owner having no further use for same.
Where are we going? asked the Paymaster. I should like to go
home, I think, if it could be arranged conveniently, James?
Not to-day, was the reply. We're looking for the lame ducks on
the scene of yesterday's action. It's very rough and blowing like blue
blazes, so I don't suppose there are many lame ducks left afloatpoor
devils.... With any luck we ought to get in to-morrow morning, though.
The sleeping figure with the outstretched arms suddenly raised his
head and blinked at Thorogood. Where's the elusive Hun? he demanded.
'Opped it, was the reply. Otherwise vamoosed
Singing 'I'm afraid to go home in the dark,' interposed the
India-rubber Man dryly. He got down off the table and stretched his
arms. Well, I shan't be sorry to get some sleep.
Sleep! echoed Thorogood. You ought to see the stokers' mess-deck.
The watch-off have just come up from below after sixteen hours in the
stokeholds. They're lying sprawling all over the deck like a lot of
black corpsesjust all-in.
Tweedledum sat down on the corner of the table vacated by the
I wish I knew exactly how many of them we did sink before the
Commander-in-Chief called off the Destroyers this morning, he said
So would a lot of people, replied Thorogood. We're three hundred
miles from home, and there's every reason to suppose there are one or
two submarines and mines on the way. Those of us who get back will
probably find out all we want to know in time. I shouldn't worry,
Tweedledum. In fact, I don't see why you shouldn't get a bit of sleep
while you can.
By Jove! said Gerrard as a sudden thought struck him. I wonder if
they know all about it at home yet. Won't our people be bucked!
And the papers, added the Captain of Marines. Can't you hear the
paper-boys yelling, 'Speshul Edition! Great Naval Victory!' My word,
I'd like to be in town when the news comes out. He considered the
mental picture his imagination had conjured up. I think I should get
tight...! he said.
* * * * *
The village street had a curiously deserted air when Betty walked up
it on her way to the post office. The mail train had passed through
about an hour before, and as a rule about this time the tenants of the
rooms and cottages on the hill-side made their way to the post office
at the corner to collect their letters and chat in twos and threes
round the windows of the little shops.
In the distance Betty saw a little group gathered in front of the
boards that displayed the contents bill of the morning paper before the
windows of the village stationer's. Recognising Eileen Cavendish, Betty
quickened her pace, but as she drew near the group dispersed and Mrs.
Cavendish entered the shop. Betty stopped for an instant as the flaring
letters on the poster became visible, stared, took a couple of paces
and stopped again opposite the boards; then she gave a little gasp, and
with a thumping heart entered the low doorway of the little shop. The
next moment she collided with Eileen Cavendish who was blundering out,
holding an open newspaper in front of her. Her face was white under the
shadow of her broad-brimmed hat, and her blue eyes like those of a
Have you heard? she said, and thrust the sheet under Betty's eyes.
There's been a big action.... Our losses are published, but no
Names? cried Betty. Oh, let me see!
Only the ships that have gone down. Our husbands' ships aren't
Wait while I get a paper, said Betty. I shan't be a second. What
are you going to do?
The other considered a moment. I shall go and see Mrs. Gascoigne,
she replied. Will you come too? She may have heard something.
Betty bought her paper and rejoined Eileen Cavendish in the street.
Poor Mrs. Thatcher... she said. Did you see? Her husband's
I know. And there are others, too. There must be five or six wives
up here whose ships have gone Oh, it's too dreadful ... She was
silent a moment while her merciless imagination ran riot. I couldn't
bear it! she said piteously. I couldn't bear it! I didn't whine when
Barbara was taken. I thought I might have another baby.... But I
couldn't have another Bill.
Hush, said Betty, as if soothing a child. We don't know yet. We
mustn't take the worst for granted till we know. I expect we should
have heard by now ifif She couldn't finish the sentence.
They reached the door of Mrs. Gascoigne's lodgings and the landlady
opened the door. Her round, good-natured face wore an air of concern.
She's just awa' to Mrs. Thatcher, west yonder. Will ye no' step
inside and bide a wee? She'll no' be long, a'm thinkin'.
She preceded them into the low-ceilinged parlour, with the
horsehair-covered sofa and the Family Bible on the little table in the
window, that had been a haven to so many faint-hearted ones during the
past two years.
Ye'll have heard the news? she asked. There's been an action.
Mrs. Thatcher's man's gone down, and Mrs. Gascoigne, she's awa' to
bring her a bit comfort like. She surveyed the visitors
sympathetically. A've nae doot there's mair than Mrs. Thatcher'll be
needin' comfort the morn, puir lambs.
Oh, cried Mrs. Cavendish, don'tdon't! Please don't She
regained her self-control with an effort and turned to the window with
her lip between her teeth.
Will I bring ye a cup of tea? queried the landlady. I have the
No thank you, said Betty. It's very kind of you, but I think
we'll just sit down and wait quietly, if we may, till Mrs. Gascoigne
comes in. I don't expect she'll be long.
The landlady departed a little reluctantly, and Eileen Cavendish
turned from the window.
I'm sorry, she said. I'm a coward to go to pieces like this.
You're a dear.... And it's every bit as bad for you as it is for me, I
know. But I'm not a coward really. Bill would just hate me to be a
coward. It's only becausebecause... She met Betty's eyes, and for
the first time the shadow of a smile hovered about her mouth.
Betty stepped forward impulsively and kissed her. Then you're all
rightwhatever happens. You won't be quite alone, she said. They sat
down side by side on the horsehair-covered sofa and Eileen Cavendish
half-shyly rested her hand on Betty's as it lay in her lap.
I'm a poor creature, said the elder girl. I wish I had
somethingsomething in me that other women have. You have it, Mrs.
Gascoigne has it, and Etta Clavering. It's a sort ofstrength.
Something inside you all that nothing can shake or make waver. Tears
welled up in her eyes and trickled slowly down her cheeks. It's
Faith, she said, and her voice trembled. It's just believing that God
can't hurt you... She fumbled blindly for her tiny handkerchief.
Betty's eyes were wet too. Ah! she said gently. But you believe
that tooreally: deep down inside. Everybody does. It's in
everythingGod's mercy.... Her voice was scarcely raised above a
I knowI know, said the other. But I've never thought about it.
I'm hard, in some ways. Things seemed to happen much the same whether I
held my thumbs or whether I prayed. And now that I'm terrifiednow
that everything in life just seems to tremble on a threadhow can
I start crying out that I believe, I believe...! Her voice broke at
last, and she turned sideways and buried her face in her hands.
But you do, said Betty with gentle insistence.
The door opened and Mrs. Gascoigne entered. There was moisture in
her fine grey eyes. I'm so glad you two have come to keep me company,
she said. She walked to the mirror over the fireplace and turned her
back on her visitors for a moment while she appeared to adjust her hat.
I've been helping poor little Mrs. Thatcher to pack. She has had a
telegram, poor child, and she's off South by the afternoon train.
She turned round, still manipulating hat-pins with raised hands, and
in answer to the unspoken question in her guests' faces, nodded sadly.
Yes, she said. But they've got his body. She's going to Newcastle.
Have you had any news yourself? asked Betty. We have heard
No, replied their hostess. Nothing, except that the hospital
ships went out last night. I expect the Destroyers got back some time
before the big ships, and we shall hear later in the day. Rob will
telegraph to me directly he gets into harbour, I know.
She spoke with calm conviction, as if wars and rumours of wars held
no terrors for her. And now, she said, smiling to them both, let's
be charwomen and drink tea in the middle of the forenoon! She moved to
the door and opened it, and as she did so a knock sounded along the
tiny passage from the door that opened into the street.
Eileen Cavendish was busy in front of the glass, and half turned,
holding a diminutive powder-box in one hand and a scrap of swans-down
in the other.
Yes, they heard the voice of Mrs. Gascoigne saying in the passage,
I'm hereis that for me? There was the sound of paper tearing and a
little silence. Then they heard her voice again. Have you any others
in your walletis there one for Mrs. Standish or Mrs. Cavendish?
They're both here.
I hae ane for Mistress Cavendish, replied a boy's clear treble.
An' there was ane for Mistress Standish a while syne; it's biding at
Betty jumped to her feet. What's that? she cried. A telegram?
Mrs. Gascoigne entered the room holding an orange-coloured envelope and
handed it to Eileen Cavendish. Yours is at your lodging, she said to
Betty. Her face was very pale.
With trembling fingers Mrs. Cavendish tore open the envelope. She
gave a quick glance at the contents and sat down abruptly. Then, with
her hands at her side, burst into peals of hysterical laughter.
Oh, she cried, it's all right, it's all right! Bill's safe
and her laughter turned to tears. And I knew it all along... she
Oh, said Betty, I am glad. She slipped her arm round Mrs.
Cavendish's neck and kissed her. And now I'm just going to rush up to
my rooms to get my message. She paused on her way to the door. Mrs.
Gascoigne, she said, did you get any newsis your husband all
Mrs. Gascoigne was opening the window with her back to the room and
its occupants. He's very happy, she replied gently.
Betty ran out into the sunlit street and overtook the red-headed
urchin who was returning to the post office with the demeanour of a man
suddenly thrust into unaccustomed prominence in the world. Furthermore,
he had found the stump of a cigarette in the gutter, and was smoking it
with an air.
He grinned reassuringly at Betty as she hurried breathlessly past
him. Dinna fash yersel', Mistress, he called. Yeer man's bonny an'
Betty halted irresolutely. How do you know? she gasped.
A juist keeked inside the bit envelope, came the unblushing reply.
* * * * *
The first rays of the rising sun were painting the barren hills with
the purple of grape-bloom, and laying a pathway of molten gold across
the waters when the Battle Squadrons returned to their bases. A few
ships bore traces in blackened paintwork, shell-torn funnels and
splintered upperworks, of the ordeal by battle through which they had
passed; but their numbers, as they filed in past the shag-haunted
cliffs and frowning headlands, were the same as when they swept out in
an earlier gloaming to the making of History.
Colliers, oilers, ammunition lighters and hospital ships were
waiting in readiness to replenish bunkers and shell-rooms and to
evacuate the wounded. All through the day, weary, grimy men,
hollow-eyed from lack of sleep, laboured with a cheerful elation that
not even weariness could extinguish. Shrill whistles, the creaking of
purchases, the rattle of winches and the clatter of shovels and barrows
combined to fill the air with an indescribable air of bustle and the
breath of victory. Even the blanched wounded exchanged jests between
clenched teeth as they were hoisted over the side in cots.
Before the sun had set the Battle-Fleet, complete with coal,
ammunition and torpedoes, was ready for action once more. Throughout
the night it rested, licking its wounds in the darkness, with vigilance
still unrelaxed and its might unimpaired. For the time being its task
had been accomplished; but only the enemy, counting the stricken ships
that laboured into the shelter of the German mine-fields, knew how
The succeeding dawn came sullenly, with mist and drizzle shrouding
the shores and outer sea. As the day wore on a cold wind sprang up and
rolled the mist restlessly to and fro across the slopes of the hills.
On a little knoll of ground overlooking a wide expanse of level turf
covered with coarse grass and stunted heather stood a man with his
hands clasped behind his back. In the courage, judgment and sober
self-confidence of that solitary figure had rested the destiny of an
Empire through one of the greatest crises in its history: even as he
stood there, bare-headed, with kindly, tired eyes resting on the misty
outlines of the vast Fleet under his command, responsibility such as no
one man had ever known before lay upon his shoulders.
Behind him, in the sombre dignity of blue and gold, in a silent
group stood the Admirals and Commodores of the Squadrons and Flotillas
with their Staff Officers; further in the rear, in a large semicircle
on slightly higher ground, were gathered the Captains and officers of
Where the turf sloped gradually towards the sea were ranged the
seamen and marines chosen to represent the Fleet: rank upon rank of
motionless men standing with their caps in their hands and their eyes
on the centre of the great hollow square where, hidden beneath the
folds of the Flag they had served so well, lay those of their comrades
who had died of wounds since the battle. A Chaplain in cassock and
white surplice moved across the open space and halted in the centre,
office in hand:
I am the Resurrection and the Life...
The wind that fluttered the folds of his surplice caught the words
and carried them far out to sea over the heads of the livingthe sea
where the others lay who had fought their last fight in that grim
battle of the mist. A curlew circled low down overhead, calling again
and again as if striving to convey some insistent message that none
would understand. From the rocky shore near-by came the low murmur of
the sea, the sound that has in it all the sorrow and gladness in the
At length the inaudible office for the Burial of the Dead came to an
end. The Chaplain closed his book and turned away; a little movement
ran through the gathering of officers and men as they replaced their
caps. A loud, sharp-cut order from the gaitered officer in command of
the firing-party was followed by the clatter of rifle-bolts as the
firing-party loaded and swung to the Present!
Fire! The first volley rang out sharply, and the Marine buglers
sent the long, sweet notes of the Last Post echoing among the hills.
Twice more the volleys sounded, and twice more the bugles sang their
heart-breaking, triumphant Ave atque Vale! to the fighting
In the ensuing silence the cry of the curlew again became audible,
this time out of the peace of the misty hills, gently persistent. Faint
and far-off was the sound, but at the last the meaning came clear and
strong to all who cared to listen.
There is no Death! ran the message, and again and again, There is
no Death, no Death... no Death...!
The firing-party unloaded, and the empty cartridge cases fell to the
earth with a little tinkling sound.
CHAPTER XII. GOOD HUNTING
Oberleutnant Otto von Sperrgebiet, of the Imperial German Navy, sat
on the edge of a Submarine's conning-tower with a chart open on his
knees, and smoked a cigarette. It was not a brand he cared about
particularly, but it had been looted from the Captain's cabin of a
neutral cargo steamer on the previous afternoon. A man who relies upon
such methods to replenish his cigarette case cannot, of course, expect
everybody's tastes to coincide with his own.
As he smoked, the German Lieutenant's eyes strayed restlessly round
the circle of the horizon. They were small eyes of a pale blue, rather
close together and reddened round the rims, with light eyelashes.
The Submarine lay motionless on the surface with the waves breaking
over the hog-backed hull. Every now and again a few drops of spray
splashed over the surface of the chart, and the Naval man wiped them
off with a scrap of lace and cambric that had once been a lady's
handkerchief. He had a way with women, that German Oberleutnant.
Nothing was in sight: not a tendril of smoke showed above the arc of
tumbling waves that ringed the limit of his vision; the sun was warm
and pleasant, and the figure on the conning-tower crossed his legs,
encased in heavy thigh boots, and gave himself over to retrospective
There had been a time when Oberleutnant von Sperrgebiet possessed
the rudiments of a conscience. It could never have been described as
acutely sensitive, and it never developed much beyond the rudimentary
stage. Nevertheless, it had existed once: and in the early days of the
war it was still sufficiently active to record certain protests and
objections in his mind.
The mysterious forces that were at work in Germany, industriously
remoulding, brutalising and distorting the mind of Oberleutnant von
Sperrgebiet, together with millions of others, had not been blind to
the prejudicial effects of conscience to an evil cause. Imperial
rodomontade and the inflammatory German Admiralty War Orders had
deliberately rejected, one by one, the deep-seated principles of
humanity and chivalry in war. It had been done gradually and
systematicallyscientifically, in fact, and in the majority of cases
it succeeded in producing a state of atrophy of the moral sense that
was altogether admirablefrom a German point of view.
In the case of Oberleutnant von Sperrgebiet, however, these early
qualms had a trick of recurring. They pricked his consciousness at
unexpected moments, like a grass-seed in a walker's stocking.... And
now, as he sat swinging his legs in the warm June sunlight, a whole
procession of such reflections trooped through his mind.
For instance, there arose in his intelligence an obstinate doubt as
to whether the torpedoing without warning of a liner carrying women and
children at the commencement of the war had been quite within the pale
of legitimate Naval warfare. He had met the man who boasted such an
achievement, and for a long time he carried with him the recollection
of that man's eyes as they met his above a beer mug. They had drunk
uproariously together, and von Sperrgebiet heard all about it first
hand, and even fingered enviously the Iron Cross upon the breast of the
teller of the tale. But somehow those eyes had told quite a different
story: and it was that which von Sperrgebiet remembered long after the
wearer of the Iron Cross had gone out into the North Sea mists and
returned no more.
Then there had been the rather unpleasant business of the boat....
It was in mid-winter a long way North during one of the few calm
days to be expected at that period of the year. The Submarine was
running on the surface when the Second-in-Command (of whom more anon)
reported a boat on the starboard bow. They altered course a little and,
slowing down, passed within a few yards of it. It was a ship's
life-boat, half full of water; lying in the water, rolling slowly from
side to side as the boat rocked in their wash, were five dead men. A
sixth sat huddled at the tiller, staring over the quarter with unseeing
eyes, frozen stiff....
Von Sperrgebiet caught a glimpse of the ship's name on the bows of
the boat: it happened to be that of a neutral ship he had torpedoed at
the beginning of the previous week during a gale.
The German Admiralty Orders of that period contained a clause to the
effect that ships were not to be torpedoed without ensuring the
adequate safety of the crew. Which meant that those who had not been
killed by the explosion of the torpedo could be allowed to launch a
boat (weather permitting) and get into it if they had time before the
Von Sperrgebiet had given orders for the boat to be sunk by gunfire,
but somehow the memory of that stark figure at the helm persisted. Try
as he would, he failed to banish from his mind the staring, sightless
eyes and grey, famished face....
Altogether it was an unpleasant business. Other memories of this
nature came and went with the smoke from his cigarette. For some reason
or other he found himself wondering whether, after all, a Belgian
Relief Steamer could have been considered fair game. But he did so hate
the word Belgium, and there was always the theory of a mine to
account for the incident.... He torpedoed her by moonlight: a very
creditable shot, all things considered.
Another moonlight picture presented itself. A boat-load of
terrorised Finns rising and falling on the swell alongside the
Submarine, and, half a mile away, an abandoned sailing ship with every
rope and spar standing out black against the moonlight. In the stern of
the boat stood a mighty Norwegian with a red beard and a voice like a
bull. One of his arms rested protectingly round a woman's shoulders,
and he shook a knotted fist in von Sperrgebiet's face as his ship blew
up and sank.
The woman seen thus in the pale moonlight was young and pretty, and
the red-bearded man bellowed that she was his wife. The announcement
was not an unfamiliar one to Oberleutnant von Sperrgebiet: they usually
were young and pretty when he heard that hot rage in a man's voice.
Oberleutnant von Sperrgebiet made himself scarce forthwith, it might be
almost said, from force of habit....
The glass was falling, and it was in mid-Atlantic that they left
that boat. It blew a gale next day, and the Oberleutnant, who had an
eye for a pretty woman, sometimes wondered if the boat was picked up.
His mind revolved for a moment round certain incidents in connection
with that affair. A German sailor from the Submarine had been sent
onboard to place the bombs; he returned with cigars, a ham, and a
pretty silver clock. Also a box of sugar plums, half finished.
Von Sperrgebiet took the clock and the sugar plums. The cigars and
the ham (the labourer being worthy of his hire) he allowed the sailor
But even Submarine warfare against unarmed shipping has its risks.
There was the ever-memorable incident of the British tug, and even now
von Sperrgebiet winced at the recollection. They had sighted a sailing
ship in tow of a tug at the entrance to the Channel; von Sperrgebiet
was proud of his mastery of the English tongue, and it was this small
vanity that led him to adopt tactics which differed somewhat from his
normal caution. He submerged until within a couple of hundred yards of
the approaching tow and then rose to the surface, dripping, like some
uncouth sea-monster. Armed with a revolver and a megaphone, and with
pleasurable anticipation in his heart, the Oberleutnant emerged from
the conning-tower with a view to a little preliminary banter with these
detested and unarmed English before administering a coup de grace. He
was just in time to see a stout, ungainly man tumbling aft along the
deck from the wheel-house of the tug. Raising a booted leg with
surprising agility, the stout man kicked off the shackle of the tow
rope, and as he did so over went the helm; the blunt-nosed tug,
released from her 3,000-ton burden, came straight for him like an angry
They were not forty yards apart when the tug turned, and quick as
the German coxswain was, the Submarine failed to avoid the stunning
impact of the bows. A revolver bullet crashed through the glass window
of the wheel-house; von Sperrgebiet had an instant's vision of a round
face, purple with rage, above the spokes of the wheel, and then the
conning tower's automatic hatchway closed. The Submarine was in diving
trim, and she submerged in the shortest time on record. They remained
on the bottom four hours while the sweating mechanics repaired the
damaged hydroplane gear and effected some temporary caulking round
certain plates that bulged ominously.
But von Sperrgebiet's hatred of England was real enough before this
incident. He had always hated the English, even in his youth when for a
year he occupied an inconspicuous niche in one of the less fastidious
Public Schools. He hated them for the qualities he despised and found
so utterly inexplicable. He despised their lazy contempt for detail,
their quixotic sense of fairness and justice in a losing game, their
persistent refusal to be impressed by the seriousness of anything on
earth. He despised their whole-hearted passion for sports at an age
when he was beginning to be interested in less wholesome and far more
complex absorptions.... He despised their straight, clean affections
and quarrels and their tortuous sense of humour; the affectation that
led them to take cold baths instead of hot ones: their shy, rather
knightly mental attitude towards their sisters and one another's
All these things von Sperrgebiet despised in the English. But he
also hated them for something he had never even admitted to himself.
Crudely put, it was because he knew that he could never beat an
Englishman. There was nothing in his spirit that could outlast the
terrible, emotionless determination in the English character to win.
Von Sperrgebiet's reflections came to an end with his cigarette. He
tossed the stump overboard, and raising a pair of glasses he focused
them intently on the horizon to the eastward.
For the space of nearly a minute he sat thus staring. From the
interior of the Submarine came the strains of a gramophone playing a
German patriotic air, and with it the smell of coffee. The crew were at
dinner, and a man's deep laugh floated up the shaft of the
conning-tower as if coming from the bowels of the sea.
The Oberleutnant lowered the glasses abruptly. Rolling up the chart
he hoisted himself on to his feet and bent over the tiny binnacle to
take the bearing of a faint smudge of smoke barely visible on the
horizon. This obtained, he lowered himself through the narrow hatchway
and climbed down the steel rungs into the interior of the compartment.
Close down! he said curtly. The gramophone stopped with a click,
and instantly all was bustle and activity within the narrow confines of
the steel shell.
The Second-in-Command, who was lying on his bunk reading a novel,
sat up and lifted his legs over the edge. He was a spectacled youth
with a cropped bullet-head and what had been in infancy a hare-lip. His
beard of about ten days' maturity grew in patches about his lips and
A ship, Herr Kapitan? he asked in a thin, reedy voice, and reached
for a pair of long-toed, elastic-sided boots that he had kicked off,
and which lay at the foot of his bunk.
His superior officer nodded and snapped out a string of guttural
orders. The sing-song voices of men at their stations amid the levers
and dials repeated the words mechanically, like men talking in their
sleep. With a whizzing, purring sound the motors started, and the
ballast tanks filled with a succession of sucking gurgles.
Von Sperrgebiet glanced at the compass and moved to the eye-piece of
the periscope. For a while there was silence, broken only by the hum of
The Second-in-Command hung about the elbow of the motionless figure
at the periscope like a morbid-minded urchin on the outskirts of a
crowd that gathers round a street accident, but can see nothing. His
stolid face was working and moist with excitement.
Is it an English ship, Herr Kapitan?
The Oberleutnant made no answer, but reached out a hand to the wheel
that adjusted the height of the periscope above the water and twisted
it rapidly. For twenty minutes he remained thus, motionless save for
the arm that controlled the periscope. Once or twice he gave a
low-voiced direction to the helmsman, but his Second-in-Command he
That officer moved restlessly about the Submarine, glancing from
dial to dial and from one gauge to another; for a few minutes he
stopped to talk to the torpedo-man standing by the closed tube. Finally
he returned to his Captain's elbow, moistening his marred lip with the
tip of his tongue; his face wore an unhealthy pallor and glistened in
the glow of the electric lights.
Is it an English ship, Herr Kapitan? he asked again in his high,
Yes, snapped von Sperrgebiet. Why?
I have a request to make, replied the Second-in-Command. A
favour, Herr Kapitan. It concerns a promisehe lowered his voice till
it was barely audible above the noise of the machineryto my
For the first time von Sperrgebiet turned his face from the rubber
eye-piece and regarded the youth with a little mocking smile that
showed only a sharp dog-tooth.
Don't say you promised to introduce her to me, Ludwig! he sneered.
No, no, said the other hastily. But she made me promise not to
return to her unless I had sunk with my own hands a merchant ship
flying the cursed English flag.
She is easily pleased, your betrothed, retorted the Oberleutnant,
and moved back from the periscope. Your request is granted. But
remember I shall demand an introduction when we return.... It is a long
shot. Fire when the foremast comes on, and do not show the periscope
more than a few seconds at a time. I will give the orders after you
The Second-in-Command took up his position in the spot vacated by
the Oberleutnant. His tongue worked ceaselessly about his lips and his
hand trembled on the elevating wheel.
There is smoke astern, he said presently. And a moment later. The
approaching ship looks like a liner, Herr Kapitan!
What of that? said von Sperrgebiet gruffly.
The Second-in-Command looked back over his shoulder at his
Commanding Officer: his face was livid with excitement. It means
women, Herr Kapitan, he said. Children perhaps....
Von Sperrgebiet shrugged his shoulders. They are English, he
replied. Swine, sow or sucking-pigwhat is the difference? They learn
their lessons slowly, these English. We will drive yet another nail
into their wooden heads.... You will drive it, Ludwig, he added
thoughtfully: and then, as an afterthought, for the honour of the
Thank you, Herr Kapitan, replied the youth, and turned again to
the periscope mirror. Silence fell upon the waiting men: the minutes
passed while the elevating wheel of the periscope revolved first in one
direction and then in another. At last the form of the
Fire! he cried: his uncertain voice cracked into a falsetto note.
The stern of the Submarine dipped and righted itself again: the
Oberleutnant's harsh voice rang out in a succession of orders. The
Second-in-Command leaned against a stanchion and wiped his face with
A minute passed, and a dull concussion shook the boat from stem to
stern. Von Sperrgebiet showed his dog-tooth in that terrible mirthless
smile of his. A hit, my little Ludwig! he said.
The Second-in-Command clicked his heels together. For the honour of
the Fatherland, he said. Gott strafe England!
Amen! said Oberleutnant Otto von Sperrgebiet.
The boat had been travelling in a wide circle after the torpedo left
the tube, and ten minutes later the Oberleutnant cautiously raised the
periscope. The next moment he swung the wheel round again in the
Another ship? asked Ludwig.
Yes, replied von Sperrgebiet. One of their cursed Armed Merchant
Cruisers. He bent over the chart table for a minute and gave an order
to the helmsman.
A fresh attack? queried the Second-in-Command eagerly.
Von Sperrgebiet returned to the periscope. When you have been at
this work as long as I have, he replied, you will find it healthier
not to meddle with Armed Merchant Cruisers. They are all eyes and they
shoot straight. No, for the time being our glorious work is done, and
we shall now depart from a locality that is quickly becoming
unhealthy. He glanced at the depth gauge and thence to the faces of
the crew who stood waiting for orders.
The gramophone, he called out harshly. Switch on the gramophone,
you glum-faced swine.... Look sharp! Something lively...!
* * * * *
At seven minutes past three in the afternoon, Cecily Thorogood, that
very self-possessed and prettily-clad young woman, was seated in a
deck-chair on the saloon-deck of a 6,000-ton liner; an American
magazine was open in front of her, under cover of which she was
exploring the contents of a box of chocolates with the practised eye of
the expert, in quest of a particular species which contained
crystallised ginger and found favour in her sight.
At nineteen minutes past three Cecily Thorogood, still
self-possessed, but no longer very prettily clad, was submerged in the
chilly Atlantic up to her shoulders and clinging to the life-line of an
upturned jolly-boat. To the very young Fourth Officer who clung to the
boat beside her with one arm and manoeuvred for a position from which
he could encircle Cecily's waist protectingly with the other, she
announced as well as her chattering teeth would allow that she
(a) was in no immediate danger of drowning;
(b) was not in the least frightened;
(c) was perfectly capable of holding on without anybody's support as
long as was necessary.
The chain of occurrences that connected situation No. 1 with
situation No. 2 was short enough in point of actual time, but so
crowded with unexpected and momentous happenings that it had already
assumed the proportions of a confused epoch in Cecily's mind. There
were gaps in the sequence of events that remained blanks in her memory.
Faces, insignificant incidents, thumbnail sketches and broad, bustling
panorama of activity alternated with the blank spaces. The heroic and
the preposterous were indistinguishable....
At the first sound of the explosion of the torpedo Cecily jumped to
her feet, scattering the chocolates broadcast over the deck. The ship
seemed to lift bodily out of the water and then heeled over a little to
port. There were very few people on the saloon deck and there was no
excitement or rushing about. The shrill call of the boatswain's mate's
pipe clove the silence that followed that stupendous upheaval of sound.
A clean-shaven, middle-aged American, wearing a collar reminiscent
of the late Mr. Gladstone's and a pair of pince-nez hanging from his
neck on a broad black ribbon, had been walking up and down with his
hands behind his back; he paused uncertainly for a moment and then
began laboriously collecting the scattered chocolates. That was the
only moment when hysteria brushed Cecily with its wings. She wanted to
laugh or cryshe wasn't sure which.
It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter! she cried with a catch in
her breath. Don't stop nowwe've been torpedoed!
The American stared at the handful he had gathered.
Folks'll tread on 'em, I guess, he replied, and suddenly raised
his head with a whimsical smile. A man likes to do something useful at
times like thisit's just our instinct, he added as if explaining
something more for his own satisfaction than hers. I'm not a
seamanI'd only get in peoples' way messing round the boats before
they were readyso I reckoned I'd pick up your candies.
There were very few women onboard, and Cecily found herself the only
woman allotted to the jolly-boat. She climbed in with the assistance of
the very young and distressingly susceptible Fourth Officer. For a
moment she found herself reflecting that his life must be one long
martyrdom of unrequited affections. The stout American followed her
with a number of other passengers. The Fourth Officer gave an order and
the boat began to descend towards the waves in a succession of uneven
jolts. The crew were getting their oars ready, and one was hammering
the plug of the boat home with the butt of an enormous jack-knife. The
stout American surveyed the tumbling sea beneath them distastefully.
When I get to Washington, he said, I guess I'll fly round that
li'll old town till some of our precious 'too-proud-to-fight' party
just gnash their teeth and shriek aloud 'How can we bear it?'
He suddenly remembered that his pneumatic life-saving waistcoat was
not inflated. Seizing the piece of rubber tubing that projected from
his pocket he thrust it into his mouth and proceeded to blow with
distended cheeks and his serious brown eyes fixed solemnly on Cecily's
He was still blowing when they capsized. How the accident happened
Cecily never knew: principally because she was concentrating her mind
on the bottom of the boat and wondering how soon the pangs of
mal-de-mer might be expected to encompass her. But the fact remains
that one moment the boat was rising and falling dizzily on the waves
and the next, with a confused shouting of orders and a crash, they were
all struggling in the water.
Cecily's life-saving jacket brought her to the surface like a cork,
and a couple of strokes took her to the side of the capsized boat and
situation No. 2 already described. Here she was presently joined by the
American, puffing and blowing like a grampus, who was placed in
possession of statement (c) referred to above. He appeared either not
to hear, however, or to incline to the view that it was a mere theory
based upon a fallacy....
The remaining late occupants of the boat attached themselves along
the sides and awaited succour with what patience they could. Then a
muffled sound like an internal explosion came from within the stricken
hull as a bulkhead went. The great ship lurched sickeningly above them
as a wall totters to its fall. Cecily looked up and saw for a moment
the figure of the Captain standing on the end of the bridge; true to
his grand traditions he was staying by his ship to the last. She listed
over further and began to settle rapidly. Then, and only then, the
Captain climbed slowly over the rail and dived.
The stern of the ship rose slowly into the air, then swiftly slid
forward with a sound like a great sob and vanished beneath the surface.
One of the life-boats approached the capsized jolly-boat, and the
figures that clung to her were hauled, dripping, one by one into the
Then they picked up the Captain, clinging to a grating, an angry
man. He scowled round at the long green slopes of the sea and shook his
The curs! he said. The dirty scum.... Women on board.... No
warning.... Anger and salt water choked him.
They wouldn't even give me a gun because I was a passenger ship.
Unarmed, carrying women, torpedoed without warning.... I'll spit in the
face of every German I meet from here to Kingdom Come!
A little elderly lady with a bonnet perched awry on her thin grey
hair suddenly began a hymn in a high quavering soprano.
That's right, ma'am, said the Captain approvingly, as he wrung the
water out of his clothes. There's nothing like singing to cure
sea-sickness. And we shan't be here very long. He pointed to the high
bows of a rapidly approaching ship. One of our Armed Merchant
Cruisers, I fancy. He waved to the other boats to close nearer.
He was no mere optimist; before a quarter of an hour had elapsed the
boats were strung out in a line towing from a rope that led from the
bows of the Cruiser. A hastily improvised boatswain's stool was lowered
from a davit, and one by one the passengers, then the crew, and finally
the officers of the torpedoed liner were swung into the air and hoisted
inboard while the Armed Merchant Cruiser continued her course.
The sea-sick Cecily, swaying dizzily for the second time that day
between sky and water, looked down at the tumbling boats beneath her
and for a moment had a glimpse of the stout American and the Fourth
Officer. They were both standing gazing up after her as she was whisked
skyward. Their mouths were open, and the expression on their faces gave
Cecily a feeling of being wafted out of a world she was altogether too
The sensation was a momentary one, however. The davit swung inboard
as she arrived at the level of the rail and deposited her, a limp
bundle of damp ragsin fact what Mr. Mantalini would have described as
a demmed moist unpleasant bodyon the upper deck of the Armed
Merchant Cruiser. With the assistance of two attentive sailors Cecily
rose giddily to her feet; most of her hair-pins had come out, and her
hair streamed in wet ringlets over her shoulders. She raised her eyes
to take in her new surroundings, and there, standing before her with
his eyes and mouth three round O's, was Armitage.
Now Cecily had gone through a good deal since seven minutes past
three that afternoon. But to be confronted, as she swayed, with her wet
clothes clinging to her body like a sculptor's model, deathly sea-sick,
red-nosed for aught she knew or cared, with the man who but for her
firmness and mental agility would have kept on proposing to her at
intervals during the past eighteen months, was a climax that
overwhelmed even Cecily's self-possession.
She chose the only course left open to her, and fainted promptly.
Armitage caught her in his arms, and as he did so was probably the
first and last Englishman who has ever blessed a German Submarine.
She recovered consciousness in Armitage's cabin, with the elderly
lady who had sung hymns in the boat in attendance; she lay wrapped in
blankets in the bunk, with hot-water bottles in great profusion all
round her, and felt deliciously drowsy and comfortable. But with
returning consciousness some corner of discomfort obtruded itself into
her mind. It grew more definite and uncomfortable. With her eyes still
closed Cecily wriggled faintly and plucked at an unfamiliar garment.
Then, slowly, she opened her eyes very wide. What have I got on?
she asked in severe tones.
My dear, said the elderly lady, pyjamas! There was nothing else.
They belong to the officer who owns this cabin. I think the name was
Armitage. And the doctor said
Cecily groaned. A knock sounded, and the ship's doctor entered
carrying something in a medicine glass.
Well, he asked brusquely, how are we?
Better, thanks, said Cecily faintly.
That's right. Drink this and close your eyes again.
Cecily drank obediently and fell asleep. Twenty-four hours later the
Cruiser was moving slowly up a river to her berth alongside a wharf.
Cecily, clothed and in her right mind, stood aft in a deserted spot by
the ensign-staff and stared at the dingy warehouses and quaysides
ashore as they slid past.
Armitage came across the deck towards her; Cecily saw him coming and
took a long breath. Then, woman-like, she spoke first:
I haven't had an opportunity to thank you yet, she said prettily,
for giving up your cabin to meandand all your kindness.
Armitage stood squarely in front of her, a big, kindly man who was
going to be badly hurt and more than half expected it.
There is a curious fatality about all this, he said. It was no
kindness of either yours or mine. He glanced over her head at the
rapidly approaching wharf ahead and then at her face.
For eighteen months, he said, speaking rather quickly, I've been
like the prophet Jonahlooking for a sign. I looked to you for it,
Miss Cecily, he said, and I can't truthfully say it showed itself in
a single word or look or gesture. He took a deep breath. I'm not
going to let you tell me I'm labouring under any misapprehensions. But
thishe made a little comprehensive gesturethis is too much like
the hand of Fate to disregard. Miss Cecily, he said, little Miss
Cecily, you've just twisted your fingers round my heart and I can't
Please, said Cecily, ah, no, please don't.... Some irresponsible
imp in her intelligence made her want to tell him that it wasn't Jonah
who looked for a sign.
Listen, said Armitage. He was literally holding her before him by
the sheer strength of his kindly, compelling personality. When this
racket startedthis warI told them at the Admiralty my age was
forty-five. It was a lieI am fifty-two. I've knocked about the world;
I know men and cities and the places where there are neither. But I've
lived clean all my life and I was never gladder of it than I am at this
Cecily had a conviction that unless she could stop him she would
have to start crying very soon. But there were no words somehow that
seemed adequate to the situation.
I know, dear, he went on in his grave quiet voice, that at your
age money, and all the things it buys, seem just empty folly. But,
believe me, there comes a time when being rich counts a lot towards
happiness. I'm not trying to dazzle you, but you know all mine is
yoursyou shall live in Park Lane if you care toor I'll turn all
wide Scotland into a deer forest for you to play in....
He paused. But there is one thing, of course, that might make all
this sound vulgar and sordid. He considered her with his clear blue
eyes. Are you in love with anyone else? he asked.
Cecily clutched recklessly at the alternative to absurd tears.
Yes, she said.
Armitage stood quite still for a moment. His calm, direct gaze never
left her face, and after a moment he squared his big shoulders with an
abrupt, characteristic movement.
Then he is the luckiest man, he said quietly, that ever won God's
most perfect gift.
He gave her a funny stiff little inclination of the head and walked
* * * * *
Otto von Sperrgebiet did not raise the periscope above the surface
again for some hours. The Submarine, entirely submerged, drove through
the water until night. After nightfall they travelled on the surface
until the first pale bars of dawn appeared in the eastern sky. Von
Sperrgebiet was on the conning-tower as soon as it was light, searching
the horizon with his glasses.
It is strange, he said to his Second-in-Command. We ought to have
sighted that light vessel before now. At his bidding a sailor fetched
the lead line and took a sounding. Together they examined the tallow at
the bottom of the lead, and von Sperrgebiet made a prolonged scrutiny
of the chart. H'm'm! he said. I don't understand. Submerging again,
they progressed at slow speed for some hours and he took another
sounding. The sky was overcast and no sights could be taken.
This time von Sperrgebiet returned from comparing the sounding with
the chart, wearing a distinctly worried expression.
The hawk-eyed seaman beside him on the bridge gave an ejaculation
and pointed ahead.
Land, Herr Kapitan! he said.
Fool! replied his Captain. Idiot! How can there be land there
unlesshe glanced inside the binnacle half contemptuouslyunless
the compasses are mador I am.
He raised his glasses to stare at the horizon. You are right, he
said. You are right.... It is land. He gnawed his thumbnail as was
his habit when in perplexity.
The next moment the seaman pointed again. The Hunters, he said.
Von Sperrgebiet gave one glance ahead and kicked the man down
through the open hatchway of the conning-tower. He himself followed,
and the hatch closed. The helmsman was standing, staring at the compass
like a man in a trance.
Herr Kapitan, he said, as von Sperrgebiet approached, it is
bewitched. Indeed, he had grounds for consternation. The compass card
was spinning round like a kitten chasing its tail, first in one
direction, then in another.
Damn the compass! said von Sperrgebiet. Flood ballast
tanksdepth thirty metresfull speed ahead!
He thrust the helmsman aside and took the useless wheel himself.
Ludwig, he said, to the periscope with you and tell me what you
The Second-in-Command waited for no second bidding; he pressed his
face against the eye-pieces. There are small vessels approaching very
swiftly from all sides, he said. And a moment later, They are firing
at the periscope...
Down with it, said von Sperrgebiet. We must go blind if we are to
get through. His face was white and his lip curled back in a perpetual
snarl like a wolf at bay. As he spoke there was a splutter and the
lights went out.
The voice of the Engineer sounded through the low doorway from the
engine-room. There is something fouling our propeller, Herr Kapitan,
he shouted. The engines are labouring at full speed, but we are
scarcely making any headway. The cut-outs have fused.
Von Sperrgebiet cursed under his breath. Stop the engines, he
said. If we can't swim we must sink. He gave the necessary orders and
the boat dropped gradually through the water till she rested on the
Now, said von Sperrgebiet. Turn on the gramophone, one of you, if
you can find it.
There was a pause while someone fumbled in the darkness, and a
click. Then a metallic tune blared forth bravely from the unseen
That's right, said von Sperrgebiet in a low voice, speaking for
the last time. 'Deutschland unter Alles!' His laugh was like
the bark of a sick dog.
Twenty fathoms over their heads, under the grey sky, and blown upon
by the strong salt wind, a large man in the uniform of a Lieutenant of
the Naval Reserve was standing in the bows of an Armed Trawler; his
gaze was fixed on something floating upon the surface of the water
ahead; but presently he raised his eyes to the circle of Armed Trawlers
around him riding lazily on the swell. In the rear of the gun in the
bows of each craft stood a little group of men all staring intently at
the floating object. The Lieutenant waved an arm to the nearest
They reckon they'll take it lying down, he said grimly. Well, I
don't blame 'em! He nodded at the figure in the wheel-house.
Full speed, skipper! The telegraph clinked, and they moved ahead,
slowly gathering way. Then the Reserve-man turned, facing aft.
Let her go, George, he said, raising his voice. The trawler fussed
ahead like a self-important hen that has laid an egg. There was a
violent upheaval in the water astern, and a column of foam and wreckage
leaped into the air with a deafening roar.
The Reserve Lieutenant pulled a knife out of his pocket, and,
bending down, thoughtfully added another nick to a long row of notches
in the wooden beam of the trawler's fore hatch.
CHAPTER XIII. SPELL-O!
Lettigne sat on the edge of his sea-chest contemplating a large
fragment of a German shell which he held on his knees.
Will someone tell me where I am going to pack this interesting
relic of my blood-stained past? he enquired of the flat at large.
The after cabin-flat had all the appearances of the interior of a
homestead in imminent danger of occupation by an enemy. In front of
each open chest stood a Midshipman feverishly cramming boots and
garments into already bulging portmanteaux and kit-bags. The deck was
littered with rejected collars, pyjamas and underwear; golf-clubs,
cricket-bats and fishing-rods lay about in chaotic confusion.
Will someone tell me where I'm going to pack anything? replied
Malison, delving into the inmost recesses of his chest. Fancy being
told to pack and get away on leave and given an hour to do it in! It
isn't decent. It always takes me a week to find my gear.
Well, you'd better buck up, interposed the Senior Midshipman. The
boat leaves in ten minutes.
Help! ejaculated Lettigne. I don't care, he added. I'm not
going without my blinking trophy. He removed a pair of boots from the
interior of an apoplectic-looking kit-bag and substituted the jagged
piece of metal. It weighs about half a ton, but it very nearly bagged
Little Willie, and I want my people to see it. He tugged and strained
at the straps. Make 'em appreciate their little hopeful.... Ouf!
There! I only hope this yarn about there being no porters anywhere
Harcourt, who had reduced the contents of his suit-case in volume by
the simple expedient of stamping on them, had finally succeeded in
closing the lid.
Never mind, he shouted. What does anything matter so long's we're
'appy! He brandished a cricket-bat and sang in his high, cracked
Keep the home fires burning,
Oh, keep the home fires burning,
Keep the home fires burning....
I dunno how it goes on, he concluded, lapsing into speech again.
'Cos we're all going on leave! roared Matthews. That's how it
ends. That's how everything ends. Ain't it all right? He closed his
chest with a bang and sat on the top with his hands in his pockets,
drumming his heels against the sides. Snooks! he ejaculated, I
haven't felt like this since I was a mere lad.
What are you going to do on leave? queried the tall sandy-haired
Midshipman popularly known as Wonk.
Do? echoed Matthews. Do? He allowed his imagination full rein
for a moment. Well, he said, by way of a start I shall make my
soldier brother take me to dinner somewhere where there's a band and
fairies in low-necked dresses with diamond ta-rarras on their heads.
That sounds pretty dull, objected Mordaunt, affectionately
burnishing the head of a cleek with a bit of emery paper. Is that all
you're going to do?
Not 't all. After dinner I shall smoke a cigara mild one, you
knowand then we'll go to a 'Revoo' with more fairies. Lots of 'em,
he added ruminatingly, skipping about like young stag-beetlesyou
know the kind of thing The visionary got down off his chest, and,
plucking the sides of his monkey-jacket between finger and thumb,
pirouetted gracefully amid the scattered suit-cases and litter of
clothes. Comme ça! he concluded.
What then? demanded Lettigne, growing interested.
Then, continued Matthews, then we'll go and have supper
somewhereoysters and things like that. Mushrooms, p'raps....
With an actress, Matt? asked a small Midshipman, known as the
White Rabbit, in half-awed, half-incredulous tones of admiration.
P'raps, admitted the prospective man-about-town. My brother knows
tons of 'em.
Harcourt burst into shouts of delight. Can't you see Matt? he
cried hilariously. Having supper with a massive actress! He slapped
his thighs delightedly. Matt swilling ginger ale and saying, 'You're
's' dev'lish fine womansh.' ... No, don't start scrapping, Matt; I've
just put on a clean collar ... and it's got to last.... All right
Well, said Matthews, when peace was restored. What's everyone
else going to do? What are you going to do, Harcourt?
Me and Mordy are going to attrapay the wily trout, was the reply.
He's going to spend part of the leave with me, and I'm going to spend
part with him. We're going to clean out the pond at his place. Topping
And you, Wonk?
Cricket, was the reply. And strawberries. Chiefly strawberries.
What about you, Bosh?
I shall lie in a hammock, and tell lies about the Navy to my
sisters a good deal of the time. And when I'm tired of that I shall
just liein the hammock. Sorry, I didn't mean to be funnyOw! I
swear it was unintentional. Matt, I swear
The furious jarring of an electric gong somewhere overhead drowned
all other sounds.
Boat's called away! shouted the Senior Midshipman. Up on deck,
everyone. Knock off scrapping, Bosh and Matt, or you'll be all adrift.
There was a general scramble for bags and suit-cases, and, burdened
with their impedimenta, the Midshipmen made their way up on to the
Thorogood, Officer of the Watch, was walking up and down with an
expression of bored resignation to the inevitable. Forward of the after
superstructure the liberty-men were falling-in in all the glory of
white cap-covers and brand-new suits, carrying little bundles in their
hands. There was on each man's countenance that curious blend of
solemnity and ecstatic anticipation only to be read in the face of a
bluejacket or marine about to start on long leave.
A group of officers gathering near the after gangway stood waiting
for the boat and exchanging chaff customary to such an occasion.
Here come the Snotties, said the Staff Surgeon. Lord, I wish I
had a gramophone to record their conversation outside my cabin while
they were packing. He raised his voice. Now, then, James, what about
this boat? We shall miss the train if you keep us all hanging about
here much longer. Some of us have got appointments in town we don't
want to misshaven't we, Matthews?
The Midshipman thus suddenly addressed flushed and was instantly the
target for his companions' humour. That's right, sir, confirmed
Lettigne maliciously. Matthews is taking a real live actress out to
supper to-morrow night.
Smoking a mild cigar, added another. And eating oysters and
mushrooms, chimed in a third.
Thorogood walked towards the group of laughing, chaffing boys and
She won't be long, now, he said. You'll all catch the train; I
can promise you that.
He smiled wanly.
James, said the India-rubber Man, don't look so miserable! I know
how sorry you are for us all. But we're going through with it, old man,
That's right, agreed the Paymaster. We shall think of you, James,
and the Commander, and the P.M.O., and all our happy messmates who are
staying onboard for the refit. It makes going on leave easier to bear
when we think of your smiling faces.
Thorogood turned away. You're funny little fellows, aren't you? he
The Young Doctor caught the ball and sent it rolling on.
We shall think of the pneumatic riveter at work over your heads; we
shall think of the blithe chatter of the dockyard maties all over the
ship, and the smell of the stuff they stick the corticene down with ...
and we shall face the sad days ahead of us with renewed courage, James,
Thank you all, replied Thorogood gravely. Thank you for your
beautiful words. Give my love to Mouldy if any of you see himthe
speaker glanced over the side. And now I have much pleasure in
informing you that the boat is alongside, and the sooner you all get
into it the sooner to sleep, as the song says.
The Midshipmen were already scrambling down the ladder, carrying
their bags and coats, and the Wardroom Officers followed. Farewells and
parting shafts of humour floated up from the sternsheets; Thorogood
stood at the top of the gangway and waved adieu with his telescope as
the boat shoved off and circled round the stern towards the
landing-place. For a moment he stood looking after the smiling faces
and waving caps and then turned inboard with a sigh.
Liberty men present, sir! The Master-at-Arms and Sergeant-Major
made their reports and Thorogood moved forward, passing briskly down
the lanes of motionless figures and shiny, cheerful countenances.
Carry on, he said, and acknowledged the salute of the Chief of
Police and the Sergeant of Marines.
The men filed over the side and took their places in the boats
waiting alongside, and as they sheered off from the ship in tow of the
launch and followed in the wake of the distant picket-boat, the closely
packed men suddenly broke into a tempest of cheering.
The Captain was walking up and down the quarterdeck talking to the
Commander. He smiled as the tumult of sound floated across the water.
I wonder they managed to bottle it up as long as they have, he
said. Bless 'em! They've earned their drop of leave if ever men did.
They took a few turns in silence. I hope to get away to-night,
continued the Captain, if they put us in dock this afternoon. When are
you going for your leave, Hornby?
The Commander ran his eye over the superstructure and rigging of the
foremast. Oh, I don't know, sir, he said. I hadn't thought about it
much.... I think I'll get that new purchase for the fore-derrick rove
The colour had gone out of the sunset, and in the pale green sky at
the head of the valley a single star appeared.
With the approach of dusk the noises of the river multiplied; a
score of liquid voices seemed to blend into the sleepy murmur of sounds
that babbled drowsily among the rocks and boulders, and was swallowed
beneath the overhanging branches of the trees.
The India-rubber Man moved quietly down stream, scarcely
distinguishable from the gathering shadows by the riverside; he carried
a light fly-rod, and once or twice he stopped, puffing the briar pipe
between his teeth, to stare intently at the olive-hued water eddying
A faint call floated up the valley, clear and musical above the
voices of the stream. The India-rubber Man raised his head abruptly and
a little smile flitted across his face. Then he raised his hand to his
mouth and sent the answer ringing down-stream:
He stood motionless in an attitude of listening and the hail was
Sunset and evening star,
he quoted in an undertone,
And one clear call for me....
There had been a period in his life some years earlier when the
India-rubber Man discovered poetry. For months he read greedily and
indiscriminately, and then, abruptly as it came, the fit passed; but
tags of favourite lines remained in his memory, and the rhythm of
running water invariably set them drumming in his ears.
He turned his back on the whispering river and, scrambling up the
bank, made his way down-stream through the myriad scents and signs of
another summer evening returning to its peace. The path wound through a
plantation of young firs which grew fewer as he advanced, and presently
gave glimpses beyond the tree-trunks of a wide stretch of open turf.
The river, meeting a high wall of rock, swung round noiselessly almost
at right angles to its former course; in the centre of the ground thus
enclosed stood a weather-beaten tent, and close by lay a small
two-wheeled cart with its shafts in the air.
The India-rubber Man paused for a moment on the fringe of the
plantation and stood taking in the quiet scene. The shadowy outline of
a grazing donkey moved slowly across the turf which narrowed to a
single spit of sand, and here, standing upright with her hands at her
sides, was the motionless figure of a girl, staring up the river.
Something in her attitude stirred a poignant little memory in the mind
of the India-rubber Man. In spite of his nearness he still remained
invisible to her against the background of the darkling wood.
Betty! he called.
For an instant she stared and then came towards him, moving swiftly
with her lithe, ineffable grace.
Oh, she cried, there you are! She slid her fingers into his
disengaged hand and fell into step beside him. Bunje, she said with a
little laugh that was half a sigh, I'm like an old hen with one
chickI can hardly bear you out of my sight! Have you had good
hunting? What was the evening rise like?
It was good, replied the India-rubber Man. But it was better
still to hear you call.
They came to a tall bush where the blossoms of a wild rose glimmered
in the dusk like moths. The India-rubber Man stabbed the butt of his
rod in the turf, took off his cast-entwined deerstalker and hung it on
a bramble; then he slipped the strap of his creel over his head and
emptied the contents on to the grass.
Five, he said, counting. They knelt beside the golden trout and
laid them in a row. I could have taken more, he added, but that's
all we want for breakfast. Besides, it was too nice an evening to go on
killing things.... Sort of peaceful. That's a nice one, though, that
pounder. He fancied a coachman... The India-rubber Man straightened up
and sniffed the evening air aromatic with the scent of burning wood.
And I've got a sort of feeling I could fancy something, Bet
Betty rose too. It's ready, she said. I've put the table in the
hollow behind the bush. I've got a surprise for you'will you walk
into my parlour? said the spider to the fly.'
She led the way into the hollow. A brazier of burning logs stood on
the side nearest the river, with a saucepan simmering upon it. Close
under the wild-rose bush was a folding table covered with a
blue-and-white cloth laid in readiness for a meal, with a camp stool on
either side. From an overhanging branch dangled a paper Japanese
lantern, glowing in the blue dusk like a jewel.
You're a witch, Betty, said the India-rubber Man. Where did you
get the lantern?
At that village we passed through yesterday. It was a surprise for
you! She made a little obeisance on the threshold of their star-lit
dining-room. Will it please my lord to be seated? she asked prettily,
and bending down busied herself amid the ashes underneath the brazier.
There's grilled trout and stewed bunny-rabbit, she added, speaking
over her shoulder.
Good enough, said her lord. Sit down, Bet, I'm going to do the
waiting. Betty laughed. I don't mind this sort of waiting, she
replied. It's the other kind that grew so wearisome.
They made their meal while a bat, attracted by the white cloth,
flickered overhead, and the shadows closed in round them, deepening
into night. When the last morsel of food had vanished the India-rubber
Man turned sideways on his stool to light a pipe, and by the light of
the match they stared at one another with a sudden fresh realisation of
their present happiness and the fullness thereof.
Isn't it good? said Betty. Isn't it worth almost anything to have
this peace? She made a little gesture, embracing the scented quiet.
And just us two ... alone.
The India-rubber Man tossed the match on to the turf where it burned
steadily in a little circle of warm light.
Yes, he said. Just us two ... Hark, Betty! He held up his
For a moment they listened to the infinitesimal noises of the night,
straining their ears in the stillness. The river wound past them with a
faint, sibilant sound like a child chuckling in its sleep; an owl
hooted somewhere in the far-off sanctuary of the trees. Betty drew her
breath with a little sigh that was no louder than the rustle of the
bat's wings overhead. The match burning on the grass beside them flared
suddenly and went out.
You know, said the India-rubber Man presently, I was thinking
to-nightup there, along the riverhow good it all is, this little
old England of ours. I sat on a big boulder and watched a child in the
distance driving some cows across a meadow to be milked.... There
wasn't a leaf stirring, and the only sounds were the sleepy noises of
the river.... It was all just too utterly peaceful and good. The
India-rubber Man puffed his pipe in silence for a moment. It struck me
then, he went on in his slow, even tones, that any price we can
payany amount of sacrifice, hardship, discomfortis nothing as long
as we keep this quiet peace undisturbed.... Again he lapsed into
silence, as if following some deep train of thought; the sound of the
donkey cropping the grass came from the other side of the bush.
One doesn't think about it in that wayup there, he jerked his
head towards the North. You just do your job for the job's sake, as
one does in peace-time. Even the fellows who die, die as if it all came
in the day's work. His mind reverted to its original line of thought.
But even dying is a little thing as long as all this is undefiled. He
smoked in silence for a minute.
Death! he continued jerkily, as if feeling for his ideas at an
unaccustomed depth. I've seen so much of Death, Betty: in every sort
of guise and disguise, and I'm not sure that he isn't only the biggest
impostor, really. A bogie to frighten happiness.... A turnip-mask with
a candle inside, stuck up just round some corner along the road of
You never know which corner it is, though, said Betty. She nodded
her head like a wise child. That's why it's frighteningsometimes.
For a while longer they talked with their elbows on the table and
their faces very close, exchanging those commonplace yet intimate
scraps of philosophy which only two can share. Then the India-rubber
Man fetched a pail of water from the river, and together they washed
I met Clavering away up the river this evening, he said presently.
He said they'd come down after supper and bring the banjo, and as he
spoke they heard the murmur of voices along the river bank. Two figures
loomed up out of the darkness and entered the circle of light from the
Good hunting! said a girl's clear voice. Garry was feeling
musically inclined, and so we brought the Joe with us.
The India-rubber Man returned from the direction of the tent,
carrying rugs and coats which he proceeded to spread on the ground.
We're pushing on to-morrow, continued Clavering's deep voice.
There are some lakes in the hills we want to reach while this fine
weather lasts. What are your movements, Standish? Keep somewhere near
us, so that we can have our sing-songs of an evening sometimes.
We'll follow, replied the India-rubber Man. Nebuchadnezzar ought
to have a day's rest to-morrow, and then we'll pick up the trail. Your
old caravan oughtn't to be difficult to trace. Did you do any good on
the river this evening...?
They settled down among the rugs, and for a while the conversation
ran on the day's doings. Then Etta Clavering drew her banjo from its
case. What shall we have? she asked, fingering the strings: and
without further pause she struck a few opening chords and began in her
Under the wide and starry sky...
The slow, haunting melody floated out into the night, and Betty,
seated beside her husband, felt his hand close firmly over hers as it
rested among the folds of the rug. The warm glow of the fire lit the
faces of the quartette and the white throat of the singer.
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill...
The last notes died away, and before anyone could speak the banjo
broke out into a gay jingle, succeeded in turn by an old familiar
ballad in which they all joined. Then Clavering cleared his throat and
in his deep baritone sang:
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
Over the hills to Skye,
A few coon songs followed, with the four voices, contralto and
baritone, tenor and soprano, blending in harmony. Then Etta Clavering
drew her fingers across the strings and declared it was time for bed.
One more, pleaded Betty. Just one more. You two sing.
Etta Clavering turned her head and eyed her husband; her eyes
glittered in the starlight and there was a gleam of white teeth as she
smiled. She tentatively thrummed a few chords.
Shall we, Garry?
Her husband nodded. Yes, he said, that one. He took his pipe
from his mouth. Go ahead....
So together they sang Friendship, that perfection of old-world
romance which is beyond all art in its utter simplicity.
The banjo was restored to its case at length, and the singers rose
to depart. Farewells were exchanged and plans for the future, while the
four strolled together to the edge of the woods.
Well, said Clavering, we shall see you again the day after
to-morrow, with any luck.
Etta Clavering turned towards Betty. Isn't it nice to dare to look
ahead as far as that? she asked with a little smile. Fancy! The day
after to-morrow! Good nightgood night!
Betty and the India-rubber Man stood looking after them until they
were swallowed by the darkness. Then he placed his arm round his wife's
shoulders, and together they retraced their steps across the clearing
towards the tent.
* * * * *
This is the place, said the Young Doctor. He piloted his companion
aside from the throng of Regent Street traffic and turned in at a
narrow doorway. Pushing open a swing door that bore on its glass panels
the inscription MEMBERS ONLY, he motioned the First Lieutenant up a
flight of stairs. You wait till you get to the top, Number One, he
said, you'll forget you're ashore.
Thank you, said the First Lieutenant as they ascended, but I
don't know that I altogether want to forget it.
They had reached the threshold of a small ante-room hung about with
war-trophies and crowded with Naval officers. The majority were
standing about chatting eagerly in twos and threes, while a girl with a
tray of glasses steered a devious course through the crush and took or
fulfilled orders. Through an open doorway beyond they caught a glimpse
of more uniformed figures, and the tobacco-laden air hummed with
Navy-talk and laughter.
The Young Doctor hung his cap and stick on the end of the banisters
and elbowed his way to the doorway, exchanging greetings with
Come in here, he said over his shoulder to the First Lieutenant,
and let's see if there's anyone from the shiphullo! I didn't expect
to see this He made a gesture towards the empty fireplace. There,
seated upon the club-fender, with his right hand in his trousers pocket
and his expression of habitual gloom upon his countenance, sat Mouldy
Jakes. His left sleeve hung empty at his side, and from the breast of a
conspicuously new-looking monkey-jacket protruded a splint swathed
about in bandages. A newly-healed scar showed pink across his scalp.
A laughing semi-circle sat round apparently in the enjoyment of some
anecdote just concluded. A Submarine Commander of almost legendary fame
stood by the fender examining something in a little morocco case.
Mouldy Jakes turned a melancholy eye upon the newcomers.
More of 'em, he said in tones of dull despair. What d'you
wantMartini or Manhattan?
Martini, replied the Young Doctor, advancing, both of us; but why
this reckless hospitality, Mouldy? Are you celebrating an escape from
the nursing home?
The Submarine man closed the case with a little snap and handed it
back to Mouldy Jakes.
We're just celebrating Mouldy's acquisition of that bauble, he
explained. He's been having the time of his life at Buckingham Palace
all the morning.
Not 'arf, confirmed the hero modestly. Proper day-off, I've been
having! He raised his voice. Two more Martinis an' another plain
soda, please, Bobby.
The First Lieutenant laughed.
Who's the soda water forme?
Mouldy shook his head lugubriously.
No, he replied, me. There was another bird there this morning
being lushed up to a bar to his D.S.O.an R.N.R. Lieutenant called
Gedge. What you'd call a broth of a boy. We had lunch together
afterwards. The speaker sighed heavily and passed his hand across his
forehead. I think we must have had tea too, he added meditatively.
The Young Doctor looked round the laughing circle of faces. Where
is he? Did you bring him along with you?
Mouldy Jakes shook his head and reached out for his soda water. No
... he went to sleep....
The Young Doctor sat down on the fender beside the speaker. How's
the hand getting on, old lad?
Nicely, what's left of it. They let me out without a keeper now.
Had a good leave? When d'you go back?
To-morrow, replied the First Lieutenant with a sigh. Buck up and
get well again, Mouldy, and come back to us. We're all going North
to-morrow night, Gerrard and Tweedledum, and Pills here ... and all the
rest of 'em. You'd better join up with the party! He spoke in gently
chaffing, affectionate tones. I don't think we can spare you, old
No, said Mouldy Jakes dryly; but unfortunately that's what the
rotten doctors say. He rose to his feet and extended his uninjured
hand, S'long, Number One! I've got to get back to my old nursing home
or I'll find myself on the mat.... S'long, Pills. Give 'em all my love,
and tell 'em I'm coming back all right when the plumbers have finished
with me. He stopped at the doorway and turned, facing the group round
I guess you couldn't do without your Little Ray of Sunshine! His
wry smile flitted across his solemn countenance and the next moment he
CHAPTER XIV. INTO THE WAY OF PEACE
The King's Messenger thrust a bundle of sealed envelopes into his
black leather despatch-case and closed the lock with a snap.
Any orders? he asked. I go North at eleven to-night.
The civilian clerk seated at the desk in the dusty Whitehall office
leaned back in his chair and passed his hand over his face. He looked
tired and pallid with overwork and lack of exercise.
Yes, he said, and searched among the papers with which the desk
was littered. There was a telephone message just now He found and
consulted some pencilled memoranda. You are to call at Sir William
Thorogood's house at nine o'clock. There may be a letter or a message
for you to take up to the Commander-in-Chief. The speaker picked up a
paper-knife and examined it with the air of one who saw a paper-knife
for the first time and found it on the whole disappointing. The Sea
Lords are dining there, he added after a pause.
The King's Messenger was staring through the window into the well of
a dingy courtyard. He received his instructions with a rather absent
nod of the head.
The house, continued the civilian in his colourless tones, is in
Queen Anne's Gate, number
I know the house, said the King's Messenger quietly. He turned and
looked at the clock. Is that all? he asked. If so, I'll go along
That's all, replied the other, and busied himself with his papers.
Despatch-case in hand, d'Auvergne, the King's Messenger, emerged
from the Admiralty by one of the small doors opening on to the Mall. He
paused on the step for a moment, meditating. The policeman on duty
touched his helmet.
No, thanks, replied d'Auvergne. I think I'll walk; I've not far
Dusk was settling down over the city as he turned off into St.
James's Park, but the afterglow of the sunset still lingered above the
Palace and in the soft half-light the trees and lawns held to their
vivid green. A few early lamps shone with steady brilliance beyond the
On one of the benches sat a khaki-clad soldier and a girl,
hand-in-hand; they stared before them unsmiling, in ineffable
speechless contentment. The King's Messenger glanced at the pair as he
limped past, and for an instant the girl's eyes met his
disinterestedly; they were large round eyes of china blue, limpid with
The passer-by smiled a trifle grimly. Bless 'em! he said to
himself in an undertone. They don't care if it snows ink.... And all
the world's their garden....
Podgie d'Auvergne had fallen into a habit of talking aloud to
himself. It is a peculiarity of men given to introspective thought who
spend much time alone. Since the wound early in the war that cost him
the loss of a foot he had found himself very much alone, though the
role of Cat that walked by Itself was of his own choosing. It is
perhaps the inevitable working of the fighting male's instinct, once
maimed irrevocably, to walk thenceforward a little apart from his
fellowsthat gay company of two-eyed, two-legged, two-armed favourites
of Fate for whom the world was made.
For a while he pursued the train of thought started by the lovers on
the bench. The distant noises of the huge city filled his ears with a
murmur like a far-off sea, and abruptly, all unbidden, Hope the
Inextinguishable flamed up within him. Winged fancy soared and flitted
above the conflagration.
But supposing, said Podgie d'Auvergne to the pebbles underfoot,
returning to his hurt like a sow to her wallow, supposing I was
sitting there with her on that seat and some fellow came along and
insulted her! He considered unhinging possibilities with a brow of
thunder. Damn it! said the King's Messenger, I couldn't even thrash
He made a fierce pass in the air with his walking-stick, dispelling
imaginary Apaches, and brought himself under the observation of a
policeman in Birdcage Walk.
Any way, I'm not likely to find myself sitting on a bench with her
in St. James's Park, or anywhere else, concluded the soliloquist. High
Fancy, with scorched wings, fluttered down to mundane levels.
He turned into Queen Anne's Gate, but on the steps leading up to the
once familiar door he paused and looked up at the front of the old
That's her window, said the King's Messenger, and added sternly,
but I'm here on duty, and even if she He rang the bell and stood
listening to the preposterous thumping of his heart.
The door opened while he was framing an imaginary sentence that had
nothing to do with the duty in hand.
Hullo, Haines! he said. Where's Sir William?
The old butler peered at the visitor irresolutely for an instant.
Why, he said, Mr. d'Auvergne, sir, you're a stranger! For a
moment I didn't recognise you standing out on the doorstep
The visitor crossed the threshold and was relieved of cap and stick.
Sir William said an officer from the Admiralty would call at nine,
sir; but he didn't mention no name, and I was to show you into the
library. Sir William is still up in the laboratory, sirthe butler
lowered his voice to a confidential undertonewith all the Naval
gentlemen that was dining heretheir Lordships, sir. He turned as he
spoke and led the way across the hall. It's a long time since you was
last here, sir, if I may say so There was the faintest tone of
reproach in the old servitor's tones. I dare say you'll be forgetting
your way about the house. The butler stopped at a door. This way,
sirMiss Cecily's in here
The King's Messenger halted abruptly, as panic-stricken a young
gentleman as ever wore the King's uniform.
Haines! he said. No! Notnot that room. I'll waitI But
the old man had opened the door and stood aside to allow the visitor to
D'Auvergne drew a deep breath and stepped forward. As he did so, the
butler spoke again.
Lieutenant d'Auvergne, Miss, he said, and quietly closed the door.
Save for the light from a shaded electric reading-lamp by the
fireplace the big room was in shadow. A handful of peat smouldered on
the wide brick hearth and mingled its faint aroma with the scent of
An instant's silence was followed by the rustle of silk, and a
white-clad form rose from a low arm-chair beside the reading-lamp.
I seem to remember the name, said Cecily in her clear, sweet
tones, but you're in the shadow. Can you find the switch ... by the
door... An odd, breathless note had caught up in her voice.
The King's Messenger laid the black despatch bag he still carried on
a chair by the door and limped towards her across the carpet.
I don't think the light would help matters much, he said quietly.
I'm generally grateful for the dark.
Ah, Tony ... said the girl, as if he had countered with a weapon
that somehow wasn't quite fair. Come and sit down. We'll leave the
lights for a bit, and then we needn't draw the curtains: it's such a
perfect evening. She spoke quite naturally now, standing by the side
of the wide fireplace with one hand resting on the mantel. The soft
evening air strayed in at the open windows, and the little pile of
aromatic embers on the hearth glowed suddenly.
The King's Messenger sat down on the arm of the vacant chair, and
looked up at her as she stood in all her fair loveliness against the
dark panelling. He opened his lips as if to speak, and then apparently
thought better of it. The girl met his gaze a little curiously, as if
waiting for some explanation; none apparently being forthcoming she
shouldered the responsibility for the conversation.
I'm all alone, she explained, because Uncle Bill is up in the
laboratory. The air's full of mystery, too; there are five Admirals up
there, and one's a perfect dear... Cecily paused for breath. His eyes
go all crinkley when he smiles, she continued.
Lots of people's do, conceded the visitor.
Cecily shot him a swift glance and looked away again.
He smiled a good deal, she continued musingly. And Uncle Bill's
awfully thrilled about something. He was up all night fussing in the
laboratory, and when he came down to breakfast this morning he hit his
egg on the head as if it had been a German and said, 'Got it!'
The King's Messenger nodded sapiently, as if these unusual
occurrences held no mystery for him. Silence fell upon the room again:
from a clock tower in Westminster came the clear notes of a bell
striking the hour. The sound seemed to remind the visitor of something.
I was told to come here, he announced suddenly, as if answering a
question that the silence held.
The white-clad figure stiffened.
Told to! echoed Cecily. May I ask
They told me at the Admiralty, explained Simple Simon, the King's
Messenger, I was to call for despatches.
Oh... said Cecily, nodding her fair head, I see. I confess
I was a little puzzled ... but that explains ... and it was War-time,
and you couldn't very well refuse, could you? She surveyed him
mercilessly. They shoot people who refuse to obey orders in War-time,
don't theyhowever distasteful or unpleasant the orders may be? You
just had to come, in fact, or be shot ... was that it?
The victim winced.
You don't understand, he began miserably. There's a very
Cecily interrupted with a little laugh.
Oh, dear, oh, dear! Tony, if you're going to begin to talk about
important mattersthe white hands made a little gesture in the
gloomwhy, of course, I couldn't understand. And I'm quite sure they
wouldn't ask you to do anything that wasn't really important.... Oh,
Tony, you must have had a lot of terribly important things to do
during the last two years: so many that you haven't had time to look up
your old friends, oror answer their silly letters even ... at least,
added Cecily, so I've heard from people whoknew you well once upon a
The King's Messenger rose to his feet and began to walk slowly to
and fro with his hands behind his back. Cecily watched the halting step
of the man who three years before had been the hero of the Naval
Rugby-football world, and found his outline grow suddenly misty.
Listen, he said quietly. I've got to tell you something. It's
something I'd have rather not had to talk about.... And I don't know
whether you'll altogether understand, because you're a woman, and
I know, said Cecily quickly. They're just a pack of silly geese,
aren't they, Tony? They've no intuition or sympathy or power of
understanding.... They only want to be left in peace and not bothered
or have their feelings harrowed.... They're incapable of sharing
another's disappointment or sorrow, or of easing a burden oror
The speaker broke off and crossed swiftly to the vacated chair. For
a moment she searched for something among the cushions and, having
found it, stepped to the window and stood with her back to the visitor,
apparently contemplating the blue dusk deepening into night.
The King's Messenger stopped and stared at her graceful form
outlined against the window. Then he took one step towards her and
halted again. Cecily continued to be absorbed in the row of lights
gleaming like fireflies beyond the Park.
Cecily, he began, and let his mind return to an earlier train of
thought. Supposing that Ithat you were going for a walk with me.
We'll suppose it, said Cecily. I've an idea it has happened
before. But we'll suppose it actually happened again.
I walk very slowly nowadays, added the King's Messenger.
Cecily amended the hypothesis.
We'll suppose we were going for a slow walk, she said.
I can't walk very far, either.
A short, slow walk.
And supposing, continued the theorist in sepulchral tones, with
his hands still behind his back, supposing some fellow came along
andwell, and said 'Yah! Boo!' to youoror something like that.
Cecilywould you despise me if I couldn'terrun after him and kick
Cecily turned swiftly. Yah! Boo! she ejaculated. Yah!
Boo! Oh, Tony, how thrilling! I'd say 'Pip! Pip!'
She, too, had her hands behind her, and stood with her head a little
on one side regarding him. Her face was in shadow, and he saw none of
the tender mirth in her eyes. Would you let me say 'Pip! Pip!' to a
perfect stranger, Tony?and me walking-out with you!
Let you! he said with a sort of laugh like a gasp and
stepped towards her.
For an instant Fear peeped out of the two windows of her soul, and
she swiftly raised her hands as if to fend off the inevitable. But the
King's Messenger was swifter still and had them imprisoned, crumpled in
his somewhere between their galloping hearts.
My dear, he said, my dear, I love you!
Her head dropped back in the shelter of his arm, and she searched
his face with eyes like a Madonna on the Judgment Seat.
I know, she said softly, and surrendered lips and soul as a child
gives itself to Sleep.
Through the closed door came the muffled sound of voices in the
hall. Uncle Bill was talking in tones that were, for him, unusually
loud. Someone fumbling at the handle of the door appeared to be
experiencing some difficulty in opening it.
Cecily, released, turned to the window like a white flash and buried
her hot face among the roses. The King's Messenger remained where he
Slowly the door opened, letting in the murmur of voices. Uncle Bill
had his hand on the knob and stood with his shoulder turned to the
interior of the room, apparently listening to something one of his
guests was saying.
In the lighted hall beyond, d'Auvergne caught a glimpse of Naval
uniforms and white shirt-fronts.
... It ought to go a little way towards 'confounding their knavish
tricks,' a man's deep voice was saying.
Yes, said Sir William. He turned as he spoke and took in the
occupants of the room with a swift, keen glance. 'And to guide our
feet into the way of peace!'