Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project Gutenberg eBook (2024)

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell DorlingThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: Pincher Martin, O.D. A Story of the Inner Life of the Royal NavyAuthor: H. Taprell DorlingIllustrator: C. Flemming WilliamsRelease Date: January 4, 2013 [EBook #41774]Last updated: February 1, 2013Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: UTF-8*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PINCHER MARTIN, O.D. ***Produced by sp1nd and the Online Distributed ProofreadingTeam at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced fromimages generously made available by The Internet Archive)

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (1)

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (2)

'That's 'er.'
''Oo?'

Page 1.

By

'TAFFRAIL'
Author of 'Carry On,' &c., &c.


ILLUSTRATED BY

C. Fleming Williams


LONDON: 38 Soho Square, W.
W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED
EDINBURGH: 339 High Street
1916

Edinburgh:
Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.

PREFACE.

This story was written in rather difficult circ*mstances, and subjectto frequent interruption. Indeed, when the first chapters appearedin Chambers's Journal early in 1916 the narrative was barelyhalf-finished. Sometimes I almost despaired of ever completing it,for it can perhaps be understood that writing on board a small shipactually at sea in time of war is impossible for more reasons than one.

The reader is cautioned against accepting the story as an officialaccount of the part played by a certain section of the Navy during thewar. Incidents described are true; but, for reasons which must beobvious, it has been necessary to give them fictitious colouring. Italso seems desirable to add that all my characters are fictitious, andthat each chapter was submitted to the censors at the Press Bureaubefore publication.

It should be added that a considerable amount of matter is contained inthis volume which did not appear in Chambers's Journal when thestory appeared in serial form.

More than ever am I deeply sensible of the very real debt which I oweto my wife, both for her help in revising and correcting the proofs,and for her many suggestions for improvements.

TAFFRAIL.

1916.

TO MY WIFE.

CONTENTS.

CHAPTERPAGE
I.HIS FIRST SHIP1
II.THE DAILY ROUND12
III.WORK AND PLAY30
IV.THE STRENUOUS LIFE50
V.THE OFFICERS67
VI.'THE 'ORRIBLE DEN'84
VII.AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART101
VIII.A FAIR SKY124
IX.THE CLOUD151
X.WAR171
XI.BLACK FRIDAY191
XII.H.M.S. 'MARINER'212
XIII.FRITZ THE FRIGHTFUL234
XIV.THE NORTH SEA248
XV.COMINGS AND GOINGS271
XVI.MINOR INCIDENTS298
XVII.THE DAY313
XVIII.CONCLUSION338

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

PAGE
'That's 'er.' ''Oo?'Frontispiece
'It was 'is fault! I saw 'im stick 'is foot out!'115
'Gosh! there ain't no bloomin' error abart this 'ere'152
Raising his voice, he tried to shout for help203
''Ow do, granfer? Where did yer git that 'at?'230
The shooting was very accurate, far too accurate to be pleasant310
The dark hulls of the enemy were hidden in the blindingglare of their searchlights333

PINCHER MARTIN, O.D.

CHAPTER I.

HIS FIRST SHIP.

'There ye are, Martin. That's 'er.'

The leading seaman in charge of the party paused, and waved a handtoward a squat gray battleship lying on the other side of one of thebasins in Portsmouth Dockyard.

The little expedition of which he was the leader consisted of himself;Martin, the man he had spoken to; and a small hand-cart propelled byanother ordinary seaman, breathing heavily. The cart contained asausage-shaped, khaki-coloured hammock, bound with its seven regulationturns of lashing, and a bulbous brown kit-bag. They were Martin'sbelongings. He was joining his first seagoing ship.

''Er?' he queried in answer to the leading seaman's remark, shiveringand looking rather puzzled. ''Oo?'

He was a puny, undersized little rat of a man, with a pallid, freckledface and a crop of sandy hair. It was early winter, and the piercingwind bit through to his very marrow, while the drizzling rain hadalready found its way through his oilskin and down the back of hisneck. It was distinctly chilly. The tip of his nose and his fingerswere blue with cold, and he looked, and felt, supremely miserable.

He repeated his question as the leading seaman executed a few violentsteps of a clog-dance, and flapped his arms like an elderly penguin torestore his circulation. ''Er?' he said at last, pausing for breath andseemingly rather surprised at Martin's ignorance. 'That there's theBelligerent. That's the ship we're goin' to join—you're goin'to join, that is.'

'That 'er?' Martin ejacul*ted, gazing with awe at the battleship'sgreat bulk. 'That 'er? Gor' blimy!' He seemed rather appalled.

The leading seaman tittered and sucked his teeth. 'Lor'!' he laughed,not unkindly, noticing the anxiety in the youngster's eyes, 'youneedn't look like that. They can't eat yer; leastways not if yoube'aves yourself they won't. 'Er commander's a werry nice gentleman; 'ewus shipmates along o' me in th' Duncan up the Straits[1] sixyear ago. 'E wus a lootenant then, an' a bit of a flyer; but 'e's agent so long as you don't get in the rattle.'[2]

He paused and eyed the ordinary seaman with the hand-cart, who hadreleased the shafts and was swinging his arms. ''Ere, young fella, notso much of it!' he ordered abruptly, quite forgetting that he hadcalled the halt himself. 'Get a move on yer! You ain't no bloomin'baronite drivin' your own motor-car, to stop 'ere an' stop there hasyou thinks fit. You ain't wheelin' no perishin' whelk-barrer downCommercial Road neither. Show a leg, me lad!'

The ordinary seaman seized the shafts, and the procession movedforward.

Ten minutes later Martin, with his bag and hammock, was standing on thequarterdeck of his Majesty's first-class pre-Dreadnought battleshipBelligerent. The leading seaman and the man with the hand-cartwere already on their way back to the Royal Naval Barracks, and PincherMartin, alone, for the first time, felt horribly nervous anduncomfortable. He had been received with scant courtesy or interest bythe marine corporal of the watch, who had told him to remain where hewas while he fetched a ship's corporal; and now, eyed critically by thegrinning side-boy and the messenger, youngsters like himself, who madefacetious, rather uncomplimentary, and very audible remarks about hispersonal appearance, he shivered and waited.

Over on the other side of the deck a tall officer, clad in a greatcoatand swinging a telescope, was walking up and down dodging therain-drips from the awning. He was a lieutenant, from the two goldstripes and the curl on his shoulder-straps, and was, as a matter offact, the officer of the watch. Presently the merriment at Martin'sexpense became rather raucous, and the officer turned round and saw themessenger and the side-boy laughing together. The chubby-faced youthscaught his eye roving over them, and immediately both became rigid,with an innocent expression on their faces.

'Come here, you two!' he called, beckoning with his telescope.

The two youngsters trotted up and halted before him with a salute.

'Skylarking again, eh?' the lieutenant asked.

'Oh no, sir. We wusn't skylarkin',' the elder of the two protested.

'Humph! I don't know so much about that. I suppose you were making funof that man who's just joined, eh?'

'Oh no, sir. I only said to Horrigan'——

'I don't want to hear what you said to Horrigan, or what Horrigan saidto you,' interrupted the officer of the watch, smiling to himself.'Evidently the time hangs heavily on your hands, and I'll not have thequarterdeck turned into a bally music hall.' He looked round the deck,and noticed some untidy ends of rope near the ship's side.

'You, Bates,' he went on, 'can amuse yourself by coiling down the endsof these boats' falls and awning jiggers; and you, Horrigan, can broomall that water into the scuppers.' He waved his hand toward some poolsof rain-water near the edge of the deck. 'When you've done that you canlet me know, and I'll find you another job. Go on—away you go!'

The boys pattered off, and the lieutenant resumed his perambulation.

Presently a ship's corporal, accompanied by the marine who had gone insearch of him, came through the battery door and went up to Martin.

'Name and rating?' he demanded abruptly, referring to a book in hishand.

'Martin. Ord'nary seaman.'

'You'll be in No. 47 mess,' said Ship's Corporal Puddicombe, 'and willbe in the forecastle division, starboard watch, first part, first sub.The capten of your top—Petty Officer Casey's 'is name—will tell youoff for your stations in your part of the ship. You'll stow your bag inthe fore cable flat, starboard side, and your 'ammick in the starboardforecastle rack. I'll show you where to put 'em, and if you comes alongto my office after tea to-day I'll give you a card with it all writtenon—see?'

'Yessir,' said Martin, looking very bewildered, for he had hardlyunderstood a word of what the man had said.

'It's all right, me lad,' the corporal went on, more kindly. 'Youneedn't look so scared. You'll soon shake down. Is this your firstship?'

'Yessir.'

The corporal nodded and went off to report to the officer of the watch,who presently returned with him.

'Ord'nary Seaman Martin, sir. Come to join the ship from the barricks.'

The lieutenant eyed the new arrival critically. 'What division's he in,corporal?' he queried.

'Yours, sir. Forecastle division.'

'How long have you been in the service?' the officer asked next.

'Six an' a narf months, sir,' said Martin.

'Well, it's about time you got your hair cut, my lad. It's much toolong. The forecastle division's my division, and the smartest in theship, so look out you uphold its reputation. Is your kit complete, bythe way?'

'Yessir, all but one pair o' socks.'

'All right; we'll see to that another day. Show him where to put hisbag and hammock, corporal, and tell him where his mess is. You'd betterintroduce him to the barber, too. I can't have the men of my divisionlooking like a beauty chorus.—You,' he added, addressing Martin, 'hadbetter get yourself thoroughly warm. We don't want you to start off bycatching a chill.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'Come along o' me,' said the ship's corporal gruffly; and Pincher,picking up his bag and hammock, followed him along the deck.

In another minute they were on the mess-deck. It was a strange place toMartin, accustomed as he was to the large and airy rooms in thebarracks ashore. It seemed cramped and restricted. The steel beamssupporting the deck above were barely eighteen inches over his head,and every inch of space seemed occupied with something or other. But asense of order and cleanliness prevailed; for, though the ship was indockyard hands, and the first lieutenant would have described themess-deck as 'filthy,' it seemed specklessly clean to an outsider. Theglare of the electric lights shone on the spotless white enamel andpolished metal-work, and every inch of wood-work which was notvarnished and polished was well scrubbed and white.

Moving along a narrow gangway about eight feet wide, they passed theofficers' and men's galleys or kitchens. These were placed amidships,and the great cooking-ranges, newly blacked and with their polishedsteel knobs and utensils winking in the glare, vomited wisps of steamand savoury smells. The black-and-white tiled floors were spotless, andso were the wooden slabs upon which the meat and the vegetables werecut up. Farther forward came small, curtained-off enclosures serving asmesses for the chief petty officers; and then, forward again, whiteenamelled steel bulkheads stretching from floor to ceiling.

Extending out from the ship's side, with its row of scuttles and woodenmess shelves and boot-racks, were numbers of white wooden mess tablesand narrow wooden forms. They were spaced at precisely equal intervals,and at the end of each table was a neatly rolled strip of whitelinoleum which served as a tablecloth at meal-times, a couple ofshining tin mess kettles, and a teapot. On the deck at the foot of eachtable was a bread-barge, a squat-shaped tub, to contain the breadbelonging to the mess. The barges were all exactly similar, havingscrubbed teak sides and polished brass hoops, with the number of themess in neat brass figures, and each stood at precisely the samedistance from its own table.

From the ceiling or deck overhead hung racks for the reception of themen's circular, black-japanned cap-boxes, and others for their whitestraw hats—each in its duck cover to keep out dust and dirt—and thenewly scrubbed ditty-boxes. These, of white wood, are the receptaclesin which sailors keep their small personal belongings. They contain, asa rule, photographs of wives, sweethearts, relations, and friends;letters; and other purely private and valued relics; but, thoughprovided with a lock and key, it is an unwritten and invariable law ofthe mess-deck that they shall be left unlocked. A man must show histrust in his messmates, and a thief has no place on board one of hisMajesty's ships. If petty pilfering does occur, there is no mercy forthe culprit, and he is speedily discovered and removed.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and, as the ship was in dockyard handsundergoing a refit, more than half the men were on leave, and themess-deck was comparatively empty. Those men who were left on boardwere spending the half-holiday in blissful slumber, for many of thetables and forms bore sleeping figures wrapped in blankets orgreatcoats. They snored melodiously and in many keys.

Here and there a man writing a letter or reading looked up with somecuriosity as Martin passed, but otherwise he attracted littleattention. The advent of another ordinary seaman was too common anoccurrence to call for remark, though to the ordinary seaman himselfthe day of his arrival on board his first seagoing ship wouldthereafter be mentally marked with a red figure in the calendar of hislife.

The ship's corporal, anxious to resume his interrupted sleep in thepolice-office, hurried on; and soon, after climbing down one slipperysteel ladder and up another, they arrived in the foremost bag-flat.This compartment was provided with tiers of numbered racks stretchingfrom deck above to deck below. Each division in the racks held its ownbrown canvas or painted kit-bag, with the brightly polished brass tallyon the bottom stamped with the owner's name, all the tallies being setat precisely the same angle. The guide halted and pointed to a vacantspace. 'There you are,' he said. 'That's where you stow your bag.'

Martin dropped his hammock, and after some difficulty succeeded ininsinuating his bag into its appointed place.

''Ere, that won't do,' observed the ship's corporal, shaking his headwith a pained expression on his face. 'Slew 'er round till the letterson your tally are 'orizontal. The first lootenant'll 'ave a fit if 'esees it shoved in any'ow like that.'

Martin did as he was told, and when at last he had stowed his bag tothe corporal's satisfaction, was taken to another flat somewhere in thebowels of the ship, where he was shown where to put his hammock.

He was next taken to his mess, and was introduced to the leading seamanwho acted as senior member and caterer. This worthy, a ruddy-faced,heavily built man called Strumbles, was discovered asleep on the table,and was none too pleased when the ship's corporal tapped him on theshoulder and woke him up.

'Strumbles,' he said, ''ere's another O.D.[3] come to join your mess.Martin's 'is name. Just keep an eye on 'im. 'E's a bit noo to theservice. 'E wants 'is 'air cut, too, so you might send 'im along to the'aircutter after tea.'

Strumbles sat up sleepily and signified his willingness to performthese favours, but the moment the corporal was safely out of sightglared unpleasantly at the new arrival. 'Bit noo to the navy, are yer?'he demanded. 'Name o' Martin, eh?'

'Yessir.'

'Don't call me "sir." My name's Strumbles. Nutty Strumbles they callsme. Is this yer first ship?'

'Yes.'

'Thought so. If it wasn't, you'd know better than to come wakin' up abloke wot's 'avin' 'is Saturday arternoon caulk.'

'I'm sorry,' Martin stammered. 'It wusn't my fault. I didn't know'——

'Course you didn't. 'Owever, now you're 'ere you can just wake me up atseven bells. Know what seven bells is, eh?'

'Yes. 'Arf-parst three.'

'Right. At 'arf-parst three you wakes me up, an' when you done that youcan go along to the galley an' wet the tea. Me, an' Ginger Strudwick,an' Nobby Clarke, an' one or two others, is the only blokes o' this'ere mess aboard. Them two's on watch now, but they'll be down at eightbells clamourin' for their scran like a lot o' wolves; so look out you'as it ready. When you've wetted the tea you can run along to thecanteen an' git height heggs an' height rashers for our supper—I'llgive you a chit for it when I wakes up; an' when you done thatyou can tidy up them there mess shelves an' polish the mess kettle an'teapot ready for the rounds to-morrow. Understan'?'

'Yes,' said Martin, hesitatingly.

'Orl rite, look out you does it, then,' remarked Strumbles, laying hishead back and resuming his interrupted slumbers.

Martin began to feel rather sorry he had ever joined the navy, for as ayoung and very ordinary seaman on board a ship it appeared as if everyone was his master. The recruiting posters which had been responsiblefor his entry had said something about 'seeing the world, with plentyof pocket-money.' This was what they meant, evidently. He sniffeddubiously. In the barracks where he had undergone his preliminarytraining he had been one of many others of his own age; but here he wascast entirely on his own resources. He felt lonely and miserable;nobody seemed to take any interest in him, and everybody ordered himabout in a dictatorial way which he didn't like at all. He gulpedsuspiciously, and then looked round with a nervous expression lest theslight sound should have awakened Strumbles.

When, seven months before, Martin had put on his bluejacket's uniformfor the first time, he had felt immensely proud of himself. Everybodyin his own small village had turned round to stare when he firstappeared in it; and he was rather disappointed when, on his arrival inPortsmouth, people in the street neglected to notice him. He liked hisjumper, with the V-shaped opening in front, and the blue woollen jerseyunderneath. He was proud of his blue jean collar with its three rows ofnarrow white tape, which, he had been told, commemorated Nelson's threegreat victories of the Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar. He had heard,too, that the black silk handkerchief worn round his neck and tied infront was a badge of mourning for the same great naval hero. But bothin the matter of the collar and the handkerchief he had been led intobelieving a very popular fallacy.

The square collar was first introduced in the latter portion of theeighteenth century as a means of preventing the grease and flour withwhich the sailors anointed their pigtails from soiling their clothes.The three rows of tape, moreover, were placed upon it merely forornament, for there is no evidence to support the belief that theycommemorate the three famous victories. The black silk handkerchiefcame in at much the same time. In early sea-fights the heat on thegun-decks was stifling, so much so that the men were forced to strip tothe waist. To prevent the perspiration from running down into theireyes and blinding them, they were in the habit of tying handkerchiefsround their foreheads, and at ordinary times these were worn round theneck for the sake of convenience. It is true that up till a few yearsago our modern bluejackets wore their spare black silk handkerchiefstied in a bow on the left arm when attending funerals; but there isnothing to support the theory that they were introduced as badges ofmourning for the immortal Nelson.

But Martin believed these things implicitly, and perhaps, as itfostered the traditions of the service, it did him no harm.

Another portion of his attire of which he was inordinately proud washis bell-bottomed trousers. He firmly imagined that these had beenintroduced merely to give the sailor a rakish appearance, and was notaware that they were brought in so that the garments could convenientlybe rolled up to the knee when their barefooted wearers were giving thedecks their usual morning scrub.

Some few years ago a proposal was on foot to do away with the loosetrousers, and to clothe the seamen in garments shaped like those ineveryday use ashore. As a reason for the change it was urged, with sometruth, that in modern ships the men seldom went barefooted, and thatless flowing trousers would be less likely to catch in the intricatemachinery with which modern ships were supposed to be crammed. But thestorm of indignation with which the proposal was received by the menspeedily caused it to be dropped. The seamen take no small pride intheir nether garments; some of them even go to the trouble and expenseof providing themselves with specially wide pairs in which to go ashoreon leave.

The wide-brimmed straw hat, which constitutes the modern bluejacket'sfull-dress headgear, was first introduced in the West Indies early inthe nineteenth century, but was not made an article of uniform untilmuch later. Before that time, and up till thirty or forty years ago,shiny black tarpaulin hats, much the same shape as the straw 'boater'of commerce, were de rigueur in the navy. The term 'bluejacket,'too, owes its origin to the short, blue, brass-buttoned jacket—rathersimilar in shape to an Eton jacket, but with no point at theback—which was worn until 1891.

But all Martin's ideas as to his own importance were speedily knockedon the head. By the time he sought his hammock at nine-thirty on thatfirst eventful day he had come to realise that he was very small beerindeed, a mere excrescence on the face of the earth; and that, likeAgag, it behoved him to walk warily and with circ*mspection.

The captain of the forecastle, Petty-Officer Casey—'Mister Casey,' ashe insisted on being called—had taken him to his bosom in a gruff,fatherly sort of way, and had given him a few words of advice.

'It's like this 'ere, me lad,' he had pointed out, but not unkindly.'You're an ordinary seaman, an' wot you've got to do is to carry outother people's orders. If you're told off to do a thing, do it at once,an' cheerful like; don't slouch about th' ship like a ploughboy, noryet a Portugee militiaman neither. 'Old yourself erec'; take a pride inyourself, an' obey all orders at the rush. If you gives no trouble I'myer friend, remember that; but if you gits up agin me, an' startsgivin' trouble, I won't raise a finger to 'elp you, an' you'd beststan' clear. Don't forget, neither, that I've got my eye on you the'ole time; an' don't run away wi' the idea that you're doin' the navy agood turn by joinin', like so many on 'em do. It's the navy wot's doin'you a favour by 'avin' you. If you bears orl this in mind me an' you'llget along orl right, an' some day, p'r'aps, you'll be a petty-orficerthe same as me.'

Martin remembered Casey's words of wisdom, and derived no small benefittherefrom.

CHAPTER II.

THE DAILY ROUND.

I.

A considerable amount of art is necessary in laying out a kit forinspection; but when he had folded his clothes, and had placed the neatrolls and bundles, together with his cap-box, ditty-box, hairbrush,comb, toothbrush, type, and other small belongings, in the exact orderprescribed by the clothing regulations, Martin was by no meansdissatisfied with his attempt.

Now, Mr Midshipman Taut, R.N., was used to the wiles and deceptions ofthose men who would sooner do anything than purchase new clothes. Hehad known individuals who borrowed garments from their friends to makeup for the deficiencies in their own kits when these were beinginspected. Sometimes, to heighten the deception, they even went to thetrouble of marking the loaned clothes with their own names. Theregulations on the subject lay it down that blue articles shall bemarked with white paint and white garments in black, each man beingprovided with a wooden type inscribed with his name for this purpose.But the gay deceivers had discovered that white chalk and ordinaryboot-blacking were very efficient substitutes for the paint, for thetemporary markings so caused could easily be brushed out before thegarments were returned to their rightful owners after kit inspection.Moreover, unless the mustering officer was particularly inquisitive orsuspicious, the chances were fully fifty-four to one that the deceptionwould never be noticed.

But the midshipman, though he had left the college at Dartmouth lessthan a year before, was up to all these dodges. He kept the divisionalclothing-book, wherein was recorded the contents of the bag of eachseaman in the division, whether the clothes therein were in a state ofthorough repair and cleanliness, and whether the condition of the man'shammock was 'V.G.,' 'G.,' 'Mod.' or merely 'Bad.' He regarded all menwith a certain amount of suspicion unless he had positive truth thatthey were guileless; while newly joined ordinary seamen, in particular,were brands to be snatched from the burning.

'Serge jumpers?' he asked, sucking his pencil.

'Two 'ere, sir,' said Martin, holding up a couple of neat bundles; 'an'one on.'

The officer took one, unrolled it, and lifted the square collar to lookat the marking underneath. There was no deception, for the name W.Martin stared at him in large white letters. He gently rubbed it with afinger, but it did not brush off; and, holding the garment up by itssleeves, he examined it with a critical eye. There was nothing thematter with it.

'That's all right,' he remarked, handing it back, and making a note inthe book. 'Let me see your serge trousers.'

One by one the articles comprising Martin's kit, even down to his'puss*r's dagger' or seaman's knife, the more intimate garments ofunderwear, towels, socks, toothbrush, blacking-brushes, were minutelyexamined. The midshipman even went to the length of producing a tapemeasure, wherewith he measured the distance between the three rows oftape on the collars, the depth of the V-shaped opening in the front ofthe jumpers, and the width of the trousers at the foot. But nothing wasreally wrong. One pair of socks was missing and another requireddarning, one flannel shirt was unwashed, a pair of white duck trousershad been left unmarked, and one pair of blue serge ditto provedslightly wider in the leg than was permissible; but everything else wasin good order and of the proper uniform pattern.

He seemed slightly surprised. 'Hm,' he observed, making furtherhieroglyphics in the clothing-book; 'not at all bad. Look out you keepit so.'

He went off to make his report to the lieutenant of the division, whopresently arrived to make his own inspection. But he also was tolerablysatisfied, and Martin was told that he could restore his belongings tohis bag, and report himself to Petty Officer Casey for work.

For many a long day Pincher was sorely puzzled by the differentvarieties of uniform he was called upon to wear. They were alldesignated by numbers, and the 'rig of the day' was always piped atbreakfast-time, when the men were allowed the necessary extra minutesto change their clothes. On Sundays, for instance, the boatswain'smates, after a preliminary twitter on their pipes, would bellow, 'Dresso' the day, No. 1, an' 'ats!' This meant that the men were required toarray themselves in their best blue serge suits, with gold good-conductbadges and badges of rating, and their white straw hats, for the Sundayinspection by the captain. These garments constituted the seamen's fulldress, for the expensive blue cloth trousers, worn over the jumper andtied behind with black silk ribbons, had been obsolete for some time.They are retained, however, in the royal yachts; and here, also, as adistinctive mark, the men wear their badges in silver and white,instead of the customary gold and red.

Dress No. 2, Martin found, was a similar rig to No. 1, except that acap was usually worn instead of the hat, and the badges were redinstead of gold. No. 3, again, was the same as No. 2, except that thejumper was not buttoned at the wrists; while No. 4 (known as 'nightclothing') was an old suit of No. 3, worn without the collar. No. 5 wasof white duck, and was worn without the collar, and with a white-toppedcap. The suit was washable, and hence was usually donned by men doingdirty work or in hot weather in the summer. White caps, or blue capswith white covers, both of which were kept pipeclayed for the sake ofappearance, were worn at home from May to the end of September, or withwhite clothing at other times.

The Belligerent, like every other large vessel in the navy,carried a stock of ready-made garments of various sizes, besidesunderclothing, boots, shoes, stockings, socks, shirts, collars, rollsof serge and flannel, and sixty-and-one other articles necessary to thebodily comfort and personal adornment of the ship's company. There washardly a thing in the clothing line which could not be obtained fromthe paymaster; and the 'slops,' as they were called, were issued aboutonce a month, their value being deducted from the men's pay.

When Martin joined his first ship, toward the end of 1913, ready-madegarments, supplied by the Government, were almost universally worn.Within the past fifteen years or so the blue-jackets have lost much oftheir original handiness with the needle and the sewing-machine. It ishardly to be wondered at, for in the days of sailing-ships the men weresailors pure and simple. Now they are seamen-specialists, with anexpert and highly technical knowledge of gunnery, torpedo-work,electricity, wireless telegraphy, signals, or some other highlyimportant subject. They are essentially busy men, with little time tospend on making their own clothes. Twenty years ago one afternoon ofthe week (Thursday) was always set aside as a half-holiday, or 'makeand mend clothes afternoon.' Then it was no uncommon sight to see thesheltered corners of the upper deck and mess-deck crowded with men,some busy with sewing-machines, making clothes from the raw serge orduck as issued from the store; others furbishing up their wardrobes;and the rest either sleeping or looking on. The term 'jewing,' assewing is still called, came in because the men with the machinesmanufactured their shipmates' clothes for a consideration, such thingsas 'reach-me-downs' being still undreamt of. By Pincher's day, however,the 'make and mend' day had been altered to Saturday, to allow the mento indulge at intervals in the week-end habit. Moreover, most of theclothes were issued ready-made, being afterwards altered to fitindividuals by the ship's tailors, seamen with sewing-machines, who hada special aptitude for the work, and were entitled to charge stipulatedsums for their labours. They were still known as 'jews,' and, like the'snobs' (bootmakers) and the barbers, often had considerable sumsstanding to their credit in the savings bank.

On the afternoon of the day on which he had had his kit inspectedMartin found himself detailed as a member of a working-party told offto draw stores from the dockyard. Eleven other men went with him; and,taking a small hand-cart, the little expedition set off at one-thirtyP.M. in the charge of a petty officer. The rain had stopped,and it was a sunny winter day, with a touch of frost; and, as it gavehim an opportunity of looking about him, Martin rather enjoyed theexperience. Before joining the navy he had lived in the depths of thecountry, and had spent most of his days trundling the local baker'shand-cart. His experience of the sea and ships had been limited to asingle visit to Skegness as a member of the village choir; and evenduring his training in the barracks he had seen practically nothing ofmen-of-war. Now for the first time in his life he came acrossbattleships, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo-boats, and submarines atclose quarters.

'Gosh!' he ejacul*ted, marvelling exceedingly.

''Ullo! Wot's up wi' you, Pincher?' asked another ordinary seaman,Hawkins by name. Martin had already been nicknamed, and 'Pincher,' heunderstood, was the sobriquet accorded to all men with his particularsurname.

'I wus only wonderin' to meself if'—he hesitated timidly.

'Wonderin' wot?' persisted his companion.

'Wonderin' if this wus the 'ole navy. There seems plenty o' ships'ere.'

'Lawks, 'ark at 'im!' exclaimed the other youngster, going off into ashrill cackle of amusem*nt 'Jist 'ark at 'im, you blokes! Arskin' ifthe 'ole navy is 'ere. 'Strewth! there ain't a quarter nor a 'undredthof 'em in this 'ere bunch.'

Martin, rather ashamed of his ignorance, reddened and nodded. 'Wot'sthat there?' he asked, changing the subject, and pointing to a gray,cigar-shaped vessel lying in a dry dock, with dockyard 'maties'swarming on board her.

'That there's a submarine,' Hawkins explained; 'one o' them there craftwot goes under water.'

'Gosh! She's a funny-lookin' thing. Wot sort o' blokes serves in 'em?'

'Matloes,[4] Pincher, the same as you an' me. They doesn't carryO.D.'s, though; only A.B.'s an' E.R.A.'s,5] an' such like. They getextra pay for wot they does. It's a bit dangerous like.'

Martin thought for a minute, looking interestedly at the submarine asthey trundled past. ''Ow does men jine 'em?' he asked eventually.

''Ow does they qualify for 'em, d'you mean?' Hawkins queried.

Martin nodded.

'Well,' his neighbour explained, with a broad grin on his face, andinventing a still broader fiction on the spur of the moment, 'theyfu'st ties a five-'underweight sinker to yer feet an' a rope round yerneck. Then they lowers you down to nineteen fathom, an' leaves youthere for two minutes.—Let's see, Shorty,' he added, pretending toconsider, and, turning to another ordinary seaman with a solemn wink,'is it two minutes or three minutes they leaves yer down?'

'Three minutes, chum,' answered the other unblushingly.

'Well, they leaves you down three minutes, an' they pulls you up again,an' if yer nose ain't bleedin' they reckons as 'ow you're fit an'proper for submarines. If you are bleedin' you ain't no good—see?'

'That's a bit 'ard, ain't it?' Martin queried innocently.

'Yus, it is a bit 'ard,' Hawkins replied, without a smile on his face.'But then, o' course, the men wot man the submarines 'as to be extraspecial sort o' blokes wot 'as got plenty o' guts.'

Martin drank it all in; but at that moment the story-teller's facefailed him, and he burst into uncontrollable laughter. 'Oh Pincher!' hegasped, spluttering, 'I believes you'd swaller anythink any one tellsyer!'

'D' you mean that wot you said ain't true?' Martin asked.

'Course it ain't, fat'ead. I wus only kiddin' yer,' guffawed the other,with tears of amusem*nt trickling down his cheeks. 'Lawks! you'll bethe death o' me yet.—Did yer 'ear wot he arsked, you blokes?'

But the 'blokes' had no opportunity of replying, for at that instantPetty Officer Simpson turned round. 'Not so much noise there!' heordered abruptly.—' 'Awkins, if I sees you larfin' an' shoutin' agen Itakes you before the orficer of the watch when we gets back to theship!'

Their faces fell. There was dead silence.

Rattling over the cobbled roadways and railway lines, they presentlycame to a store, where, in return for paper demand-notes handed in bythe petty officer, they received sundry drums of paint, turpentine, andvarnish. Then on again to another building, where an apoplectic-lookingstorekeeper condescended to allow them to load the cart still furtherwith coils of rope and spun-yarn, and hanks of cod and mackerel line.Presently there came another stoppage to receive a bundle ofbroomsticks and some boathook staves. By this time the cart was heavilyladen, and its manipulators were perspiring and far from cheerful; but,stopping again, they were solemnly presented with half-a-dozen shallowtin baths. They were the 'baths, sponge, thirty inches, patternseventeen,' commonly seen suspended from the ceilings in the officers'cabins on board a man-of-war; and Martin, as he helped to drag theconveyance back to the ship, with the last consignment lodgedprecariously on the summit of the other articles and threatening everyinstant to descend in a noisy avalanche, wondered vaguely to himself ifthe dockyard was a sort of glorified general store, and if, by thesimple presentation of a demand-note, they could obtain, say,half-a-dozen kippers or a cargo of tinned salmon. He was frightened toask the question for fear of having his leg pulled again; but aseverything in the way of ironmongery, furniture, ship's stores, paint,rope, and blocks seemed obtainable, why not also provisions?

They got back to the Belligerent without further incident, andthe articles were carried on board and stowed in the variousstorerooms.

II.

At first, until he got used to it, the regular routine of the ship wasnot altogether to Martin's liking. At five-thirty each morning theywere all roused out of their warm hammocks by the strident shouting ofthe boatswain's mates and the ship's corporals. 'All hands! turn out,turn out, turn out! show a leg, show a leg, show a leg!' they yelledwith insistent monotony. He soon learnt, from being shot violently outof his hammock, and from sundry threats of being taken before theofficer of the watch for slackness in turning out, that it did not payto disregard the noisy summons to wake up. Other men had tried thegame, and it generally ended in their being turned out at fiveA.M. for several days together.

By five-forty-five, therefore, Martin had stowed his hammock, had givenhis face and neck a perfunctory dab with a damp towel, and was having abowl of steaming hot ship's cocoa in his mess. Splendid stuff this, sothick that a spoon would nearly stand upright in it; and he littlerealised that the long-suffering cooks were turned out of theirhammocks at about three each morning to prepare it. The cocoa wasissued in large slabs the best part of an inch thick. It was the bestof its kind; and though it required a deal of boiling, it was anexcellent drink wherewith to start the day's work.

At six o'clock both watches were piped to fall in on the upper deck;and when parties had been told off for various other odd jobs, the restof the men were detailed to scrub decks under the supervision of theirpetty officers. Cold work this, with the thermometer nearly down tofreezing, the hoses spouting water, and one's feet bare and trousersturned up to the knee. Lines of men armed with hard, short-hairedbrooms went solemnly up and down, scrubbing as they went, and woebetide the hapless individual who did not exhibit the necessary energy!On Saturdays the routine was varied, for then the decks were sprinkledwith sand and were well holystoned. This work was more back-breakingand chilly than ever, for one had to get down on one's knees andmanipulate a heavy holystone in each hand.

When Martin joined, the ship was in dockyard hands, and a specialroutine was in force; and at seven o'clock, by which time the men whohad been granted night-leave had returned, the decks had been finishedand the guns cleaned. A quarter of an hour later the bugle sounded off'Cooks,' when the men detailed as cooks of messes went to the galley toprocure their own and their messmates' breakfasts; and atseven-twenty-five the boatswain's mates heralded the first meal by moreshrill whistling, and the hungry men trooped below.

Breakfast, Martin always thought, was quite the most satisfactory mealof the day, and with the addition of a couple of canteen kippers, oreggs and bacon, he generally managed to acquit himself pretty well. Thedietary of the modern bluejacket is a liberal one, while a paternalGovernment allows each man the sum of fourpence a day with which topurchase extra articles. An hour was allowed for the meal, for washing,for changing into the 'rig of the day,' and for smoking; and ateight-twenty-five the men were once more summoned to work. Shortlybefore nine o'clock the guard of marines and the band marched on to thequarterdeck; and when two bells struck, the marine bugler sounded the'Attention,' the guard presented arms, the band played 'God Save theKing,' and every officer and man on deck stood rigidly at the salutewhile the White Ensign was slowly hoisted. This ceremony is carried outat nine A.M. in winter, and an hour earlier in summer.

At nine-five came a warning blast on the bugle, followed five minutesafterwards by 'Divisions.' This was the usual morning muster, at whichthe entire ship's company—seamen, marines, stokers, and artisanratings—fell in in their respective groups. The seamen themselves weredivided up into four 'parts of the ship'—forecastlemen, foretopmen,maintopmen, and quarterdeckmen; and each was responsible for, and sofar as possible manned, the guns in its own particular portion of thevessel. Each division, moreover, had its own lieutenant in charge, oneor two midshipmen, and its quota of petty officers and leading seamen.

Now, Martin knew all about saluting. He had learnt how to do it byspending many weary hours in a windy barrack square at Portsmouthpaying obeisance to a red brick wall under the horny eye of anirascible gunner's mate. He was aware that one saluted when addressedby an officer, when meeting an officer in uniform ashore, and the firsttime each morning one passed any particular officer on board ship. Hehad also been taught that it was customary to raise a hand to one's capwhen the band played 'God Save the King,' and, for some reason unknownto him, whenever one had occasion to go on the quarterdeck. He was notaware that in medieval days the ship's shrine or crucifix was alwayskept on the quarterdeck under the break of the poop, and that, onpassing, officers and men made an obeisance. Hence the origin of'saluting the quarterdeck.'

But all this was nothing to the saluting which took place every morningat divisions.

The game started by the 'captain of the top'—the senior pettyofficer—calling the division to attention, saluting, and reporting it'Present' to the midshipman, Mr Henry Taut. The midshipman, returningthe salute, produced a notebook, mustered the men by name, andsatisfied himself that the petty officer's statement was correct; andthen, touching his cap, made known the fact to Lieutenant TobiasTickle, R.N. The lieutenant, walking round the ranks, found fault withirregularities in the men's attire, or asked searching and personalquestions as to when they had last washed, shaved, or had their haircut, and requested the midshipman to make a note of the delinquents'names.

Taut acquiesced, with a salute.

The inspection complete, Taut saluted Tickle, and Tickle saluted Taut,and the lieutenant then walked aft to the quarterdeck, saluted as hereached it, approached the commander, saluted again, and reported hismen 'Present.'

The commander returned the courtesy, and murmured, 'Thank you.'

When all the divisions had been reported present, the commander, in histurn, reported the fact to the captain, with another salute. The latterraised his hand to his gold-peaked cap and muttered, 'Carry on,please;' whereupon the commander held up his hand, a bugle blew, someone forward tolled a bell, the band on the after shelter-deck played alively march, and the divisions marched aft to the quarterdeck forprayers. Here they were halted, and presently the chaplain appearedfrom one of the after-hatches, with his surplice flapping in thebreeze. He did not salute. He was bareheaded.

'Ship's company! 'Shun!' from the commander. 'Off caps! Stand easy!'

The chaplain read the prayers, followed by the usual intercession forthose at sea: 'O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens,and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters withbounds until day and night come to an end: Be pleased to receive intoThy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thyservants, and the fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangersof the sea and from the violence of the enemy; that we may be asafeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lord King George and hisDominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon theirlawful occasions.'…

'The dangers of the sea,' 'the violence of the enemy,' 'a safeguard,''a security.' The words conveyed little to Martin's mind when first heheard them. Less than a year later, in the autumn of 1914, he had cometo learn their true meaning.

The short service was over by nine-twenty, and was followed by aquarter of an hour's hard physical drill, conducted by the lieutenantsof divisions. This strenuous exercise was a daily feature of theroutine, and there was no doubt that it kept the men in excellentcondition. At any rate, Pincher was generally perspiring freely by thetime it was over.

This finished, both watches were piped to fall in, and the variousparties of men were detailed for the day's work. The commander, with anotebook, would be present on the quarterdeck, and would hold a hurriedconversation with the first lieutenant, the gunner, the boatswain, andthe carpenter, all of whom required men for the performance of variousodd jobs.

'Party painting on the mess-deck yesterday, fall in aft!' would comethe first order. A group of about a dozen men and a petty officer, cladin ancient, paint-stained overalls, would detach themselves from theremainder. The first lieutenant, in charge of the mess-decks, gave hisdetailed orders to the petty officer, and he, in turn, doubled his menoff to their work. 'Two hands from each part of the ship of thestarboard watch, and a leading hand from the foretop, fall in aft!' Thecaptain of the top told off the men, who were then taken charge of bythe gunner—a warrant officer—who required them for restowing thesmall-arm magazine. Next the boatswain wanted a party, some forrefitting rigging, and others for drawing stores from the dockyard;and, lastly, the carpenter took his toll for some purpose best known tohimself.

The Royal Marines, meanwhile, had been sent down below to clean theflats, under the orders of their own non-commissioned officers; andwhen the various flat-sweepers and the mess-deck sweepers had beendetached to their work, the remainder of the seamen were detailed fortheir labours, under the direction and supervision of their pettyofficers. There were always a hundred and one different jobs to bedone. Nobody was ever idle in working-hours, and sometimes Martin foundhimself armed with a pot of gray paint and a brush to touch up bareportions of the superstructure. On other mornings he was detailed toscrape and red-lead rusty plates on the ship's side, or to holystone aparticularly obstinate section of deck which was not quite up to themark. At other times he found himself told off as assistant to a fullyqualified A.B., one Joshua Billings, who was quite the best hand in theship at splicing or putting an eye in a wire hawser, neither of whichis a job for an amateur. Martin liked this sort of work, for he waskeen and anxious to learn, and the able seaman taught him far more inan hour than he could pick up elsewhere in a fortnight.

The worthy Joshua, by reason of an inordinate thirst and capacity formalt liquor, had served in his present rank for seven years, and didnot hesitate to give the youngster good advice. 'It's like this 'ere,'he would remark, deftly tucking in an obstinate strand of springy wire.'It's beer wot's bin the ruin o' me, and I don't mind ownin' it. I'vebin in the navy ten years come January, and most o' them men wot servedalong o' me as boys in the trainin'-ship is now petty orficers. Ireckons I'm as good a man as they is aboard a ship; but, though I wasrated leadin' seaman once, I dipped the killick6 abart six weekslater for comin' off drunk. It's beer wot done it; I carn't keep orfit, some'ow, w'en I gits ashore. Give us that there ball o' spun-yarn,young fella.'

''Ard luck,' Martin murmured, handing the spun-yarn across.

The hoary-headed old sinner shook his head and gave vent to a throatysigh. 'No,' he said sadly, 'I reckons it wus orl right. The commander'e sez to me, "Billings," 'e sez, "w'y is it you carn't go ashorewithout gittin' a skinful?" "It's like this 'ere, sir," I tells 'im. "I'as the rheumatics werry bad, an' as soon as I gits 'longside a pub Icomes orl over a tremble, an' directly I gits inside I meets with hevilcompanions." "Rheumatics!" 'e sez. "I've 'eard that yarn before; an'has for your hevil companions, my man, you ain't a baby!" "No, sir,"sez I, gittin' rattled, "I ain't; but directly I gits a pint inside memy legs orl gits dizzy like." "A pint!" sez 'e, werry surprised."Surely it wus more'n a pint?" "Well, sir," I sez to 'im, "maybe it wusa quart; I carn't 'xactly remember." "Several quarts, I should think,"sez 'e, waggin' 'is 'ead; "you wus werry drunk." "No, sir, not drunk,only a bit shaky like," I sez, though I knowed orl the time I'd binproperly tin 'ats. "Well," 'e sed, shakin' 'is 'ead werry sad, "Ishould 'ave liked to 'ave given you another chance; but I'm afraid youain't fit to be a leadin' seaman. You must go before the capt'in." Isees the owner, an' has a consequence wus dipped to A.B.; an' now Ishall never be anythin' else. Sad 'istory, ain't it?' concluded Joshuasadly. 'But it's beer wot's done it, so look out you don't git meetin'with hevil companions.' He solemnly winked one eye.

Now, Joshua Billings, A.B., though officially a bad hat, was one of thebest seamen in the ship when there was any work on hand, and thecommander knew it. Only that fatal predilection for beer kept him fromrising to the top of the tree. Martin took his advice to heart, and wasrather proud to have him as a friend.

At ten-thirty in the forenoon came a ten-minute stand easy for smoking;after which work was resumed until eleven-forty-five, when the deckswere cleared up and the bugle sounded 'Cooks.' At noon there wasdinner, the staple meal of the day; and half-an-hour later the cooks ofmesses were summoned on deck to receive the allowance of grog for themembers of their messes. The rum, mingled with its due proportion ofwater, was served out with some ceremony. It stood in a hugebrass-bound tub bearing in brass letters the words, 'The King: Godbless him;' and when the recipients had assembled in a long queue withtheir mess kettles and other receptacles, the liquid was solemnlymeasured out by the ship's steward, under the supervision of thewarrant officer and the petty officer of the day. Martin, being undertwenty, was not officially allowed to partake of the beverage. Hetasted it once, and it made him cough and splutter.

At one-ten the bugle sounded 'Out pipes,' and the decks were clearedup; and at one-thirty the forenoon's work was resumed. Atthree-forty-five labour, except for odd jobs done by the watch onboard, was over for the day; and at four o'clock came 'eveningquarters,' a repetition of the morning 'divisions,' without the prayersand the music. Immediately afterwards the men went to tea, and thewatch whose turn it was to go ashore were sent on leave till seveno'clock the next morning. Each man, provided his character was good,thus got leave every alternate night; but Martin, with the rest of thenewly joined ordinary seamen, was not allowed out of the ship after tenP.M.

Saturday afternoon was generally a half-holiday, and a portion of theship's company went away till seven o'clock on the following Monday;while on Sundays those men left on board had the usual service in theforenoon, and did no work that was not absolutely necessary.

Every day of the week supper came at seven-fifteen P.M., andafter this the hammocks were piped down and were slung on themess-decks. At eight-thirty came another clearing up of the ship, andat nine o'clock the commander, preceded by the master-at-arms with alighted lantern, and followed by the sergeant-major of marines, madehis final rounds of the ship to see that everything was correct for thenight, and that the galley fires were extinguished. At ten o'clock theboatswain's mates 'piped down,' and everybody was chased off to hishammock. So ended the day.

III.

In a mixed company of eight hundred and fifty odd souls, comprisingseamen, marines, and stokers; boiler-makers, copper-smiths, andmoulders; blacksmiths, plumbers, shipwrights, caulkers, carpenters, andjoiners; butchers, bakers, and bandsmen; signalmen and telegraphists;ship's police, stewards, and writers—men of all ranks and ratings, offorty-and-one different trades and persuasions—it took Martin somelittle time to find his own level. The subtle little differencesbetween the various grades and ranks were rather puzzling, and, as anew-comer fresh to the navy and its traditions, he was constantlymaking mistakes. At first he imagined that any one who wore clothes ofthe ordinary shore-going cut, with a collar and tie, was a person to berespected and called 'sir.' On one never-to-be-forgotten occasion heused the title in addressing a 'dusty-boy,' or ship's steward'sassistant, a youth scarcely older than himself. For this he wasseriously taken to book by his messmates, and had his leg pulledunmercifully.

Some of his shipmates, moreover, were not slow to take advantage of hisignorance as a 'softy' to amuse themselves at his expense. One ordinaryseaman in particular, a fresh-complexioned Irish youth of bullyingpropensities, rejoicing in the name of Peter Flannagan, regarded anewly joined ordinary seaman as a gift sent from heaven for hisespecial amusem*nt, though he himself had joined the ship only a fewmonths before. He was for ever devising new schemes of pettypersecution, until Martin's soul grew bitter, and he longed toretaliate. But Flannagan was larger and heavier than himself, and adirect assault could only end in defeat; so for a fortnight he stoodthe ragging without complaint, and nursed his grievance in silence.Then one morning he came late to breakfast to find powdered soapmingled with his food, pepper in his coffee, and Flannagan snigg*ringon an adjacent seat. He did nothing at the time, but that morningsought the advice of Joshua Billings.

That same afternoon Flannagan happened to be watch ashore. He had askeda messmate to sling a hammock for him, and when, at ten o'clock, hereturned to the ship he promptly undressed and turned in. He had barelyhad time to get comfortably to sleep, however, when his foot lanyardgave an ominous crack. He knew what was about to happen, and tried tosave himself, but in an instant found himself precipitated abruptly tothe deck, feet first. Falling from a height of five odd feet, andlanding in rather scanty attire across the sharp edge of a mess-table,is necessarily a painful business; and Martin, who was lying four tiersaway, with one cautious eye peering over the edge of his hammock, couldhardly restrain his merriment as the victim hopped round on one leg,swearing and rubbing a badly barked shin.

'Wot yer makin' all that bally row abart?' demanded the Irishman'snext-door neighbour with a chuckle. 'Fallen out o' yer 'ammick, 'aveyer?'

'Did you cut me foot lanyard?' demanded the angry Flannagan.

'Me? Lord, no!' guffawed the other.

'Well, you knows 'oo did it, any'ow!'

'I knows nothin',' retorted the A.B., getting angry in his turn. 'Ifyer says I did it you're a bally liar. I'll give yer a clip 'longsidethe ear'ole if you ain't careful. Don't act so wet. Wot 'ave I to dowi' yer rotten 'ammick?'

'Some one's cut it,' the Irishman replied furiously, examining a cleancut through two strands of the rope. 'If it ain't you wot done it, youmust know 'oo it was. 'Oo was it? tell us.' He looked round to see ifanybody else was awake, but every one seemed to be snoring peacefully.Sailors are very heavy sleepers sometimes.

It took Flannagan fully a quarter of an hour to repair damages and turnin again. It was bitterly cold, and he cursed vehemently.

But his troubles were not over yet. Towards eleven-thirty, when he hadgot thoroughly warm and was dozing off, he felt an uncomfortable,prickly sensation down his back and legs. He sat up blinking, and put ahand under the blanket to find a thin film of something warm andsticky. It resembled glue. The best part of a pound of finely groundbrown sugar, cunningly insinuated between the bedclothes, is not apleasant bedfellow. It melts with the heat of the body. The results arenasty in the extreme.

He leapt out, fuming. ''Ere!' he shouted, violently shaking the A.B.next to him. ''Ave you bin puttin' sugar in my 'ammick?'

'Look 'ere!' exclaimed the newly awakened man, 'I'm fair sick o' yer. Itold you afore I 'adn't touched yer 'ammick, an' I sed I'd give yer athick ear if yer went on worryin' me. Now I'm goin' to do it.' Hehopped out, gave the astonished Irishman a box on the ear which senthim sprawling, and then stood over him with clenched fists. 'D'you wantany more?' he asked grimly.

Flannagan did not.

Martin and the other men in the neighbourhood, meanwhile, had beenwaked by the disturbance, and were enjoying the fun. 'Go on, Ginger!Give 'im another!' somebody advised the A.B. 'Give 'im a clip under thelug! Slosh 'im one on the ruddy boko! Wakin' of us orl up at this timeo' night!'

'Look 'ere, you blokes,' protested the still recumbent victim, 'someone 'as put sugar in my 'ammick!'

A roar of laughter greeted his words. His hearers were not sympathetic.They longed to see a really good fight, and there would have been morebloodshed if Flannagan, terrorised by the A.B.'s fists, had not thoughtdiscretion the better part of valour. He retired grumbling, to spendthe rest of the chilly night on the hard mess-table, wrapped in agreatcoat.

At five-forty-five the next morning he sidled up to Martin, as thelatter sat drinking his cocoa. 'Look 'ere!' he exclaimed aggressively,'was it you wot done that to my 'ammick last night?'

'Done wot?' asked Pincher, grinning innocently.

'Cut my ruddy foot lanyard an' put sugar on my blanket,' the Irishmanshouted, advancing threateningly with his fists clenched. 'I see'd yerlarfin' last night, an' yer larfin' now. If it wos you 'oo done itI'll'——

'Stop yer bloomin' noise, Paddy!' chipped in Strumbles, who was alwaysinclined to be irascible in the early morning. 'If yer wants ter fightPincher you'd best take 'im on in the dog watches arter tea, not atthis un'oly hour o' the mornin'.'

'But if it was 'im wot cut'——

'Don't chaw yer fat!' growled the leading seaman, giving the Irishman apush in the chest. 'If it was Pincher wot done it, I reckons you arskedfor it. If you comes makin' a row 'ere I'll land you one on the conk,so you'd best clear out!'

Popular opinion was evidently not on his side; and, seeing how affairsstood, Flannagan slouched off, vowing vengeance on some person orpersons unknown.

But he never had his revenge; for, though he had a shrewd suspicionthat Martin was somehow responsible for his discomfiture, he couldnever fix the blame on him for certain. The tables were turned at last,and Pincher suffered no further inconvenience at the hands of PeterFlannagan. The end had justified the means. Joshua Billings, A.B., wasan adept at dealing with a young and bumptious ordinary seaman who madehimself objectionable.

CHAPTER III.

WORK AND PLAY.

I.

'Nice sort o' craft, isn't she?' growled the first lieutenant, eyeingthe grimy collier lying alongside. 'Enough to break the heart of aplaster saint!'

Tickle, the junior watch-keeping lieutenant, nodded in agreement.'She's broken mine already,' he observed dolefully. 'How on earth we'regoing to take in six hundred tons from her the Lord alone knows.'

Chase, the first lieutenant, refilled his pipe. 'I'd like to get holdof the blighter who charters these colliers,' he mumbled savagely.'This one doesn't appear to have a winch that'll lift more thanhalf-a-ton; and as for her hatches—lord! they're only the size of—ofthat.' He could think of no suitable simile, so held his hands out acouple of feet apart.

'You should just see her whips, No. 1,' put in the watch-keeper. 'Theywere new in the year one; used by Admiral Noah in the Ark, by the lookof 'em. I tried to lift one of the cross beams in No. 1 hold just now.Took me about twenty minutes to get the winch to gee to start with.Then, when I'd gingered it up, and had got the beam in mid-air, thewhip parted, and the whole caboodle came down with a crash. It wouldhave gone clean through her bottom if there'd been no coal in thehold.'

'M'yes. I heard the yelling,' observed Chase. 'Any one hurt?'

'No. A silly young ass of an ordinary seaman—chap called Martin, who'sjust joined—jolly nearly got it in the neck, but not quite, luckilyfor him. It weighed the best part of half-a-ton, and it missed him byabout six inches. He'd have been done in all right if his head had beenin the way.'

'Silly blighter!' said the first lieutenant unsympathetically. 'Whatthe dooce did he want to get in the way for?'

'Ask me another,' laughed Tickle. 'Some of these O.D.'s keep their eyesin the back of their head. However, this chap seems a bit better thansome of 'em, though that's not saying much. He had the fright of hislife, though, and won't do it again, I'll bet.'

The first lieutenant snorted.

S.S. Ben Macdhui certainly deserved all the strictures passedupon her by both officers. She was no chicken, merely a nine-and-a-halfknot, pot-bellied monstrosity of a tramp built in the early 'eighties,which, by inadvertence on somebody's part, or through a shortage ofmore suitable craft, had temporarily been chartered as an Admiraltycollier. She belonged to a small company who appeared to earn theirdividends by buying all the old crocks of ships they could lay theirhands upon, and then running them on the cheap, for all her gear andfittings were as elderly and unsafe as herself. Her middle-aged wincheswheezed cheerfully, and vomited forth jets of steam, scalding water,and gouts of oil when they could be persuaded to revolve. Her derricksgroaned and sagged perilously when they lifted half their proper load;while the less said about her coaling-whips—supposed to be brand-newtwo-and-a-half-inch steel wire of the best quality—the better. Theofficers and men were thoroughly in keeping with their ship. Theformer, according to their own account, had all seen better days; whilethe latter, bleary-eyed and stiff in the joints, looked more like aparty of workhouse inmates than the crew of a British merchant ship. Amore decrepit and ancient set of mariners it would be impossible tofind. They all had bald heads, several were grandfathers with flowingwhite whiskers—when they washed; but then, of course, Messrs Catchem &Flintskin preferred men of experience to mere scatter-brainedyoungsters. They were more reliable, they said; but they also got themcheaper, and their appetites were smaller.

The 'Belligerents' swore lustily when the venerable Ben Macdhuisecured alongside. The commander shared their feelings; while the firstlieutenant—who was in general charge of the collier duringcoaling—nearly wept, and retired to the wardroom to seek liquidconsolation. The lieutenants in charge of the holds, who would have tobear the brunt of the whole business if the coal did not come in at itsusual rate, cursed long and loud. They were all justified, poor souls,for a bad collier may mean a long coaling; and a long coaling in thewinter is the 'perishin' limit,' as some one put it.

The collier came alongside before dark, and that evening new whips wererove, derricks were rigged and topped, bags and shovels were brought upfrom the dim recesses of the Belligerent's bowels anddistributed among the holds, the battleship's deck was brushed overwith a moist mixture of sand and lime to prevent the coal-dust fromsoaking in, and all paintwork on the upper deck was swathed in canvasfor the same reason.

Martin, as Lieutenant Tickle has already explained, had nearly lost thenumber of his mess when assisting in the collier. He thought his narrowescape was deserving of a certain amount of sympathy, but preciouslittle he got. He was bluntly called a '—— young fool,' and asked'why the —— he wanted to get his —— head in the way.' Even hismessmates laughed at him, for to all bluejackets a miss is as good as amile. In the course of their careers, even in time of peace, they lookdeath in the face so often as to be utterly unmindful of narrowsqueaks. Their calling is essentially a risky one, and to become inuredto danger is part and parcel of their training. If a man has a closeshave he is chaffed unmercifully; if he is killed, his shipmatesexpress their sympathy, shrug their shoulders, attend the funeral withtears in their eyes and a glass case of wax flowers in their hands, andsubscribe their shillings and pennies toward providing for the widowand children. It is all in the day's work.

Punctually at five-thirty the next morning, while it was yet dark, theboatswain's mates were piping, 'Clear lower deck! 'Ands fall in forcoaling ship!' and officers and men, clad in the oldest and grimiest ofgarments, repaired to the quarterdeck. Coaling ship was always a 'clearlower deck' evolution, and nobody was excused except a few privilegedofficers and men.

On the quarterdeck was the commander; and presently, when the men hadbeen reported present, he gave them a few words.

'Men,' he said, 'we've got a bad collier this time, just about theworst thing in colliers I've ever seen. We have six hundred tons totake in, so let's see if we can't make an evolution of it. We've been apretty good ship for coaling up to date, remember, so don't let usspoil our good record now. Coal ship!'

The groups of men scattered and fled to their several stations. Theforecastlemen, foretopmen, maintopmen, and quarterdeckmen repaired totheir respective holds in the collier, where they were divided up intogangs of five for shovelling the coal into the two-hundredweight bags,which were hoisted on board ten at a time. The 'dumping-groundparties,' composed principally of artisan ratings like the carpenter'smates, shipwrights, plumbers, and blacksmiths, were sent to the placeson the battleship's deck where the hoists would presently be coming in.Their duty was to unhook and unstrap the bags as they arrived, and toplace them on the barrows, which were then trundled to the variousbunker-openings in the deck by the Royal Marines. Here the bags wereseized by the 'tippers,' and their contents emptied down the shootsinto the bunkers below, where they were stowed by the stokers doingduty as 'trimmers.' The empty bags were collected by a number ofordinary seamen and boys, who returned them to the holds in thecollier; and woe betide these youths if the men digging in the holdswere delayed through a shortage of empties!

Practically all the officers coaled with their men. The commander wasin general charge of the whole operation, while the first lieutenantexercised supervision in the collier. The lieutenants and midshipmen ofdivisions worked with their men in the holds; while Vernon Hatherley,the lieutenant-commander (T.), clad in an ancient Panamá hat and a suitof indescribable overalls, acted the part of traffic manager on theupper deck. He had the assistance of a couple of midshipmen, and amongthem they organised the movement of barrows between the dumping-groundsand the bunker-openings, so that no two streams moving in oppositedirections should come into sudden and violent contact, and so cause acongestion in the traffic. The captain of marines, Hannibal Chance,supervised his barrow-men, and, assisted by the sergeant-major,exhorted them when they became languid. Nearly every other officer inthe ship, save only the fleet surgeon, the fleet paymaster, thesurgeon, and the assistant-paymasters, was in charge of something orother. The lieutenant-commander (N.), Christopher Colomb, otherwise thenavigator, kept the 'day on' as officer of the watch; while even thechaplain, the Reverend Stephen Holiman, set an example by shedding hisclerical garments and trundling a barrow. The men loved seeing Holy Joe'sweatin' hisself,' as they put it; but, for all that, they voted him agood fellow, and he was immensely popular on the lower deck.

Martin found himself detailed as a member of one of the gangs ofdiggers in the forecastlemen's hold. The work of shovelling the coalinto bags was back-breaking, for no two consecutive shovelfuls wereexactly the same weight; in addition, he found it extremely difficultto keep his footing. The confined space reeked of coal-dust, and beforelong he and his companions were jet-black from head to foot. Hebreathed the fine powder down into his lungs. He perspired profusely.His back, shoulders, arms, and thighs ached with the strain; but he wasgame, and managed to struggle on somehow. Five other gangs were at workbesides his own. Each one was responsible for a hoist of ten bags, andhad to have them filled and strapped together by the time the whip wasready to hoist them. They occasionally had a few minutes' rest betweenthe hoists, but otherwise the work went on continuously; and it was apoint of honour that the whip, which visited all the gangs in rotation,should not be kept waiting. If there was any undue delay in hooking on,there were loud shouts from above, and angry, nautical exhortationsfrom the lieutenant, midshipmen, and petty officers working in thehold.

It was sultry work, very sultry, though it was winter. The dust was sothick that the powerful arc lights could only be seen in a blurredglare across the hold. Jet-black figures whirled in and out of themurky cloud like demons on the brink of the nethermost pit. Shouts of'Stand from under!' and empty bags came from the deck above; and everynow and then there came a shrill screech on a whistle, a frenzied shoutof 'Mind your backs! Stand clear!' a frantic clattering from thelong-suffering winch, and a hoist would go hurtling, swinging, andbanging across the hold as the wire whip strained and tautened out. Thelabouring men would spring aside to get clear, for a ton of coal in thesmall of the back will send a twelve-stone man flying, and may causehim serious injury. But still the work went on without a stop, andhoist after hoist left the hold, disappeared in the darkness above,swung through space, and finally landed with a thud and more shouts onthe battleship's deck.

The Ben Macdhui was certainly a bad collier. Twice during thefirst hour did two of her winches break down, and each time they causeda delay of fully twenty minutes. Another time a block on the head of aderrick carried away, and the suspended hoist fell back into the holdwith a crash, knocking over two men. They were not seriously hurt, andpicked themselves up with many full-blooded sea oaths, to resume theirwork as if nothing had happened.

The 'Belligerents' prided themselves on their coaling. With a goodcollier they had been known to average one hundred and seventy-seventons per hour; but this time they had only embarked one hundred andninety-eight by eight o'clock, at which time there came half-an-hour'srespite for breakfast. They had been at it since about five-forty (twohours twenty minutes), and the commander was not at all pleased. Buteven he realised that it was not the fault of the men. 'Bad!' hegrowled. 'Damned bad! We're only averaging eighty-four point eight anhour. What can one do with a collier like this?'

During breakfast-time, wardroom, gunroom, and mess-decks were invadedby hordes of black-faced demons, ravenous and clamouring for food. Someof the more fastidious among them had washed their hands and hadcleared a circle of grime from about their mouths; but time was short,and most of them had not troubled to do even this. Officers' messes,cabins, and mess-decks were pervaded with the strange, penetratingsmell of coal. The dust hung and lodged everywhere, and even theporridge, eggs and bacon, and milk were covered with films of blackpowder. But what did it matter? They were hungry, and the food tastedjust as good, dust or no dust.

At eight-thirty work was resumed, and the ship's company, rejuvenatedby breakfast, set to with redoubled energy. The Belligerent'sonce white deck was covered with black dust, caked by the wheels of thebarrows. Officers and men alike were black from head to foot; but stillthe hoists crashed in, still the barrows flew round the deck, and stillthe coal went tumbling down the shoots into the bunkers. On the aftershelter-deck the bandsmen were doing their share of the work by brayingout the latest music-hall songs; but even their strident and not verytuneful efforts could only be heard at intervals in the clatter of thewinches and the hollow rumble of the barrows.

The best hour's work was done between ten and eleven, when one hundredand twenty-four tons were taken in, and shortly before noon the fullsix hundred had been embarked. The bugle sounded the 'Cease firing,'the last hoists of empty bags and shovels came clattering inboard fromthe collier with throaty cheers from the tired men, and swarms ofbluejackets set about lowering the derricks and unrigging the gear.

Soon afterwards, when the Ben Macdhui's chief engineer hadraised sufficient steam in his tin-pot boiler to revolve the engines,and when the ancient crew could be induced to bestir themselves, thecollier let go her wires and waddled off. The 'Belligerents' cheeredand waved ironical farewells as she departed. They were heartily gladto see the last of her.

'Gosh!' muttered Martin, with a heartfelt sigh, as he watched her gofrom the forecastle, 'I ain't sorry that job's done!' His back ached,and he felt very weary. He also wanted his dinner.

Able Seaman Billings heard his remark and smiled. 'Garn!' he jeeredgood-naturedly; 'this 'ere coalin' ain't bin nothin', only six 'undredton. You wait till we joins up wi' the fleet, me lad, w'en we coalsonce a fortnight reg'lar.'

It was quite true, as Martin afterwards discovered.

That afternoon, armed with the hose, scrubbers, and soap, they setabout cleaning the ship, themselves, and their clothes. Coal-dustseemed to be everywhere; it had lodged in every nook and cranny, but bydark most of it was removed and the battleship was looking more or lesslike her old self. So ended Martin's first experience of 'coalingship,' an evolution which subsequently was carried out with suchfrequency that it became a mere incident.

The next day they took in ammunition and explosives enough to send awhole squadron of Dreadnoughts to the bottom. Innocent-looking lightersand barges, crammed to the hatches with shell for the twelve-inch,six-inch, and smaller guns; cases of cordite-cartridges; boxescontaining the copper war-heads for the torpedoes, filled withgun-cotton; small-arm ammunition; gun-cotton charges in cylindricalred-painted cases, and detonators, came alongside in the early morningwhile it was yet dark.

Soon after eight o'clock the work began. It was preferable to coaling,as it was cleaner; but the labour was very strenuous. There were threelighters on each side, and each had its own party of men employed inhooking on the projectiles and metal cordite-cases, which were thenhoisted on board by the battleship's winches. Other men on deck withbarrows transported the shell and cases as they arrived to squarehatches in different parts of the deck, through which they were loweredto the magazines and shell-rooms in the bowels of the ship, to bestowed in their proper racks, bays, and compartments.

The great eight hundred and fifty pound projectiles for the twelve-inchguns dwarfed all the others, and they were slung inboard singly onaccount of their weight. The hundred-pound shell for the six-inch gunscame in in canvas bags a couple at a time, while the lighterprojectiles for the smaller weapons were hoisted in consignments.

Such a variety of shell there was! Some had bright-yellow bodies withred bands round their middles, and sundry stencil-marks on their sidesdenoting the date and place of manufacture, date of filling withexplosive, and other purely personal details. These were the lydditehigh-explosive shell Martin had often heard about; and he was informed,by an A.B. who was lowering them below as if they had been mere sacksof potatoes, that they burst into thousands of minute fragments onimpact, and that they were designed primarily for use as man-killingprojectiles against the unarmoured portions of an enemy's ship. Thenthere were the common shell with black-painted bodies and red-and-whitebands round their noses. They, too, were deadly in their way, but notquite so deadly as the lyddite, since they were filled only with blackpowder, and did not burst so violently on striking. The armour-piercerswere also black, and had white-red-white bands round their heads. They,Martin was told, had very thick walls and specially toughened points,and were designed to bore their way through an enemy's armoured sidesand to burst inside. Then came the shrapnel shell for the lighter guns,with their red tips and red bands; they were provided with a smallbursting charge, were filled with bullets, and had time-fuses, so thatthey could be burst in the air at any moment, to send their leadenbullets flying on over a cone-shaped region of destruction. Thepractice projectiles were black, with yellow bands round their middlesand white tips. They were quite harmless, being made of cast-iron, withsmall quantities of salt inside to bring them up to the exact weight.

It was quite six o'clock in the evening by the time the ammunition hadall been taken in, and even then there were many hours' work in stowingthe shell, cordite, and explosives in their several shellrooms andmagazines.

The next morning, at co*ck-crow, they started another very similar job,taking in slops and stores of provisions from the victualling yard.This time the deck was littered with bundles of clothing done up insacking, bags of flour, boxes and cases containing boots, shoes, strawhats, caps, biscuits, condensed milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, jam,preserved meat, tinned salmon and rabbit, mustard, pepper, salt,raisins, rice, dried beans and peas, pickles, suet, compressedvegetables, oatmeal, split peas, celery-seed for flavouring pea-soup,soap, and tobacco. There were also casks or drums of rum, vinegar, andsugar. The total consignment ran into well over a hundred tons deadweight, and all the hundred and one different articles had to behoisted on board, sorted out, transported, and stowed in their properstorerooms.

The ship's steward and his assistant 'dusty boys' had a very busy day.Quite early in the proceedings a flour-bag burst like a shell anddeluged the steward with its contents. He was powdered from head tofoot, and remained so for the rest of the day; and the little runnelsof perspiration running down his whitened face made a strangecriss-cross pattern which transformed his ordinarily rubicundcountenance into a very fair representation of a map of the planetMars, with all the canals clearly marked. His appearance caused tittersof amusem*nt and howls of derisive merriment when his back was turned,as, armed with an enormous note-book and a sheaf of coloured pencils,he flitted in and out of the piles of boxes and packing-cases like alost soul. He was endeavouring to trace odd cases of raisins, or errantboxes of jam or pickles, and looked very worried, poor man! At anyrate, it was hardly safe to talk to him, for finding the mislaid thingsamong the heaps of barrels, drums, cases, and boxes, which covered thedeck in places to a height of fully five feet, was for the time beingrather like searching for a pebble on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

II.

The Belligerent was a 'Pompey'[7] ship. Many of her officers andmen had their homes in or near the port, so the 'funnyparty'—otherwise the ship's concert troupe—prevailed upon the firstlieutenant, their honorary president, to petition the commander forpermission to give a farewell entertainment on board the evening beforethey sailed to rejoin the squadron.

The commander, with visions of endless trouble in rigging a stage forthe performance, and the sacred quarterdeck being littered withcigarette-ends, banana-skins, and orange-peel, was not altogetherpleased at the prospect. 'They want to give a show!' he said, insurprise, when the first lieutenant mooted the subject. 'Great Scott!they must be mad. It's mid-winter. Suppose it's raining or blowing agale o' wind?'

'Yes, sir. I pointed that out to them,' answered No. 1. 'I quiterealise there are serious objections. They're so jolly keen on it,though, that I couldn't choke 'em off.'

'And they propose that we shall bring all the guests off in our boats,eh?'

Chase nodded. 'They do, sir,' he said. 'But I'll take the management ofall that off your hands if you'll let me. They want the show to startat eight o'clock.'

'The devil they do!' laughed the commander, beginning to relent.'You'll have to cut the encores, though. It'll have to be over byten-fifteen at the latest. We're sailing the next morning.'

'I'll see to that, sir.'

'Are the officers and their wives to be asked?' the commander wanted toknow.

'Oh yes, sir. They specially mentioned that.'

'Well, for goodness' sake censor the programme. Last time we gave ashow and had ladies on board, one of the songs was altogethertoo—er—spicy. I can't remember who sang it, but one of the captain'sguests was very much shocked. For heaven's sake make certain it doesn'toccur again!'

'Yes, I'll do that, sir,' smiled No. 1, with vivid recollections of theincident.

'All right. I'll ask the captain, then. I don't expect he'll object.You'd better tell me beforehand how many boats you want to bring thepeople off, and I'll leave all the rest in your hands.'

'Thank you, sir.'

The captain raised no objections; and on the afternoon of theentertainment the carpenter and his men, assisted by the members of the'funny party' and many willing volunteers, set about preparing thequarterdeck. The day, luckily, was fine, but bitterly cold. A temporarystage, built up of planks placed upon biscuit-boxes, was rigged rightaft athwartships. It was provided with the necessary scenery painted onboard, was decorated with flags and coloured bunting, and was flankedby a brightly polished twelve-pounder gun and a Maxim on theirfield-carriages. The awning overhead was shrouded in enormous foreignensigns, while canvas side-curtains were laced all round thequarterdeck to keep off the wind. Seating accommodation for severalhundred people was provided by bringing all the available stools fromthe mess-decks, and placing them in rows on the deck and the top of theafter-barbette with its two 12-inch guns. The first two rows of stalls,so to speak, were reserved for the officers, and consisted ofarm-chairs and other chairs borrowed at the last moment from theofficers' cabins and messes.

By seven-forty-five the preparations were complete, and the guests werebeginning to arrive. As they stepped over the gangway they were claimedby their respective hosts, presented with printed programmes, andconducted to seats. By seven-fifty-five the last boats had come off,and the quarterdeck was tightly packed with men and their femalebelongings. They were all very much on their best behaviour, talked inhushed, expectant whispers, and spent the time criticising theirneighbours and admiring the drop-scene.

The drop-scene was a truly terrific representation of theBelligerent in action. It had been painted on board, and theartist had allowed his colours to run riot. The sea, well covered withshell-splashes, was very, very blue, and so was the sky. The shipherself, with flaunting White Ensigns hoisted everywhere, was fiercelyblazing away with every gun at some invisible enemy over the horizon.Here and there the blue expanse of sky was punctuated with large yellowand white blotches. Whether or not they represented clouds, thebursting of hostile shell, or cordite smoke, nobody but the artistcould say. They did equally well for any one of them. At the bottom wasan elaborate scroll, royal blue in colour, inscribed with the battlehonours of previous Belligerents in gold letters; while in thecentre came the ship's crest and motto, 'Ut Veniant Omnes' theLatin equivalent of 'Let 'em all come!'

Before long the guests thawed a little, and the place began to hum likea beehive. The ladies produced chocolate and other edibles fromhandbags, and thrust them on their neighbours in token of friendship.The men lit pipes and cigarettes until the air was blue withtobacco-smoke. Martin, with several other youngsters, had installedhimself in an excellent position on the top of the after-turret, andwaited anxiously for the performance to start.

The chattering ceased as the orchestra filed out from the wings andtook their places behind a zareba of bunting-covered biscuit-boxes andhired palms erected in front of the stage. They all wore their besttunics, had their hair well parted and greased, and seemed very full oftheir own importance. They concealed themselves behind their barricadeuntil only the tops of their heads were visible, leaving the bandmasterperched precariously on a chair set on a couple of rather insecureboxes. He wore a brand-new pair of white gloves in honour of theoccasion, twirled his moustache, and tried hard not to lookself-conscious.

'Swanker!' came a loud and very raucous remark from the top of theafter-turret. Martin, greatly daring, but carried away by theexcitement of the moment, had been responsible for the utterance. Helooked round apprehensively, half-expecting to get into trouble for histemerity; but every one seemed quite pleased. The audience was actuallytittering. The titter became a laugh, and the laugh a roar of delightedamusem*nt. The bandmaster, with his back to the gathering, seemedrather agitated. He half-turned on his chair, thought better of it whenit gave a dangerous wobble, and then pretended he had not heard.

The culprit, undiscovered save by his immediate neighbours, huggedhimself at the success of his sally.

A minute later, when the band began to tune up for the overture, thefirst lieutenant appeared from one of the after-hatches. He had thereputation of being a 'taut hand;' but the men loved him dearly, andhis arrival was the signal for a volley of cheers and hand-claps. Hefaced the audience nervously, bowed and smiled, and then, watch inhand, walked across to the bandmaster and held a whisperedconversation.

Other officers came up the after-hatches and filed into their places.They were greeted with round after round of applause, as, very red inthe face and very uncomfortable, they settled down in their seats. TheBelligerent was notoriously a happy ship, and on occasions ofthis kind her ship's company were not slow in showing theirappreciation for their officers.

The captain had been having a dinner-party in his cabin for some of themarried officers and their wives; and he, the commander, theengineer-commander, the fleet surgeon, Hatherley, and Tickle, withtheir respective wives, arrived last. They, too, received their shareof cheers while taking their seats. The captain, however, remainedstanding, and held up his hand for silence.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said when the uproar had subsided, 'I amvery glad to see you all here to-night, and I hope you will enjoy theentertainment. The first lieutenant asked me to sing you a song myself,but I'm afraid I'm getting too old for that sort'——

Loud cries of 'No, no!' and more cheering.

'I am,' he continued, laughing, 'though you may not believe it. What Iwant to tell you is that I have arranged for light refreshments to beserved in the battery during the interval, so I hope you willall—er—do full justice to them.'

Loud cheers, during which Captain Spencer sat down and nodded to thefirst lieutenant for the entertainment to begin.

The latter rose from his chair and glanced at his programme. 'Ladiesand gentlemen,' he said, 'the first item on the list is a selection bythe band. It is called—er—"Down Channel," and has been speciallycomposed for the occasion by Mr Johnson, the bandmaster.' He sat downagain.

The bandmaster rapped twice with his baton, and with a rattle of drumsthe music began. The selection was a strange pot-pourri of everynautical song that Mr Johnson had ever heard. It started off with avariation of 'Hearts of Oak,' wandered into 'The Bay of Biscay,' 'TomBowling,' 'They all love Jack,' and several other tunes, ancient andmodern, and finished off with 'The Red, White, and Blue' and 'RuleBritannia.' It was hardly original, but it was received with vociferousapplause. The bandmaster, highly satisfied, turned and bowed hisacknowledgments with great dignity.

'The next item on the programme,' said the first lieutenant, rising tohis feet again, 'is a comic song entitled "Archibald," by StokerWilliams.'

The footlights were turned on, and the curtain went up to discloseStoker Williams dressed in the height of fashion. He wore a morningcoat, gray trousers, patent-leather boots and spats, eyeglass,immaculate shirt, collar, and tie. He represented, it would seem, ayoung man about town looking for a friend named Archibald. Presumablyhe had some difficulty in finding him, for he walked mincingly acrossthe stage, grasping a cane and a pair of gloves in one horny hand, andin the other a very glossy top-hat, which he twirled violently when thespirit moved him. The first lieutenant fidgeted uneasily. The hat, abrand-new Lincoln & Bennett, belonged to him. So did the clothes. Thechorus of the song went something like this:

Har-ar-chibald! Har-ar-chibald!

Son of a belted hearl.

Har-ar-chibald! Har-ar-chibald!

I'll bet 'e's mashin' 'is girl.

'E promised to meet me at 'arf-past three;

But 'e's such a nut that 'e's gone on the spree,

With 'is girls, girls, girls.

(Spoken) 'Har-ar-chibald! where are you?'

The words were not conspicuous for their wit or cleverness, but thetune went with a swing, and the audience, highly appreciative, rockedwith laughter; and after the performer's 'Now all together, please,' atthe end of the first verse, joined in the inane chorus until the roarof 'Har-ar-chibald! where are you?' could have been heard as far as thedockyard gates.

The song eventually came to a close with Archibald still missing, andStoker Williams, very pleased with himself, left the stage amidstclapping, cat-calls, and loud cries of 'Encore!' But encores werebarred, and the curtain came down with a crash.

The next turn was by the P.T.I. (Physical Training Instructor). He wasa magnificently built man, and appeared, despite the weather, clad inflesh-coloured tights, sandals, and an imitation tiger-skin. 'Ladiesand gentlemen,' he said, advancing to the front of the stage andaddressing the audience in the approved music-hall manner, 'with yourkind indulgence I will now introduce a few lifting feats withoutapparatus of any kind. After that I shall have pleasure in giving adisplay with the Indian clubs. For the first part of my performance Imust ask a member of the audience weighing at least ten stone to joinme on the stage.'

After some hesitation and tittering, the challenge was presentlyaccepted by Able Seaman M'Sweeny. Tubby, as he was called by hisshipmates, was a short, rotund, and very bulbous person, who was asource of unfailing amusem*nt to his friends. He had a fat red facerather like an apple, and a pair of humorous blue eyes; and, beingsomething of a buffoon, was delighted at the idea of making himselfconspicuous. He pretended to be very nervous, left his seat amid shoutsof laughter and cries of 'Good old Tubby boy!' from the lookers-on, andpresently appeared on the stage with the P.T.I.

'This gentleman informs me that he weighs thirteen stone,' said theP.T.I., producing a broad strap; 'one hundred and eighty-two pounds. Ifirst place the strap round him, so'—buckling it round Tubby'smiddle—'and will now ask him to lie flat on the deck in the centre ofthe stage.'

This was rather more than M'Sweeny had bargained for, for he guessedwhat was coming next. But he acquiesced nevertheless, and, turning hisfunny face toward the audience with a solemn wink, began to agitate hisarms and legs as if he were swimming.

Martin, on the verge of hysterics, was slowly becoming purple in theface. He had never seen anything quite so funny in all his life.

'Look at our Tubby boy!' came another loud remark from a youth seatednear him. 'Ain't 'e the limit?'

The P.T.I., seeing that Tubby was getting all the applause, became verywroth. 'Look here!' he growled in a very audible whisper, 'is this yourturn or is it mine? Knock off playing the fool, can't you!'

The victim, breathing heavily and balanced on his most prominent part,with the tips of his toes just touching the floor, looked up with agrin. ''Ere,' he asked loudly, 'w'ere do I come in?'

The audience rocked in their seats, with tears streaming down theirfaces.

'Shut your fat head!' whispered the gentleman in thetiger-skin.—'Ladies and gentlemen,' he went on, producing anothershort strap fitted with a stout hook, 'I hook this into the strappassing round the gentleman's body, so, and shall now carry him roundthe stage in my mouth.'

The 'gentleman' seemed distinctly nervous, but it was too late to backout now.

The band broke into slow music. The P.T.I, bent down, seized the strapin his mouth, and, bracing himself with his hands on his knees, liftedM'Sweeny a few inches off the floor. Then, with another heave whichvery nearly precipitated his victim and himself into the middle of theorchestra, he swung his burden waist-high, and staggered slowly roundthe stage with his back bowed and his muscles bulging.

Tubby, suspended by his centre of gravity, hung limply, with drops ofperspiration trickling off his face. He was desperately alarmed lest heshould be dropped with a crash, poor man!

The P.T.I., who, judging from his stertorous breathing, had undertakenmore than he had bargained for, tottered once round the stage, and thenwent to the side and lowered his prey gently to the floor out of sightof the audience. At the same time the big drum gave a prearranged andvery resounding crash. The audience laughed themselves hoarse, andcheered uproariously. After sundry other feats of strength with a longwooden bar from which depended the limp figures of two Royal Marines,one ordinary seaman, and one stoker, the performer gave hisclub-swinging display with lively music from the band. It was quiteeffective, and came to a close with great éclat.

The next item was a very doleful sentimental ditty about a lonelyrobin. It was sung by an intensely serious A.B., and the bird, itappeared, was on terms of great intimacy with a lady suffering from anincurable disease, who was slowly dying in the top back-room of acottage. Every morning at breakfast-time the robin appeared on thewindow-sill; but on one memorable occasion he came rather late, to findthe undertakers in the house. The shock unnerved him to such an extentthat he died too, poor bird! It was so intensely pathetic that some ofthe ladies in the back-rows actually wept. The two rows of officers andtheir wives blew their noses and hid their faces in their programmes.Their shoulders shook visibly, but not with grief.

'The next thing,' said the master of ceremonies—rather perturbedbecause the last man had exceeded his appointed time by threeminutes—'is a song called "Slattery's Mounted Foot," by the members ofthe troupe.'

The curtain went up to show a man clad more or less as a soldier. Hewore a marine's red tunic, baggy blue trousers with broad yellowstripes, a co*cked hat with an enormous plume, a naval cutlass, and apair of leather sea-boots with huge tin spurs. He sang the first verseof a song amidst much amusem*nt, and then started the rollicking chorus:

Down from the mountains came the squadrons and platoons,

Four-and-twenty fighting men and a couple of stout gossoons.

At the cue 'squadrons and platoons' the Mounted Foot, riding home-madehobby-horses with flowing manes and tails, galloped on to the stage.Their appearance was the signal for a volley of shouts and laughter, inwhich the music was quite inaudible, and truly they were comical. Therewere six others besides the first man, who, it would appear, wasGeneral Slattery himself. They all wore burlesque military uniforms.One was a hussar, another a lancer, a third a soldier in a British lineregiment, a fourth an Indian cavalryman with lance and turban allcomplete, a fifth a cross between a Chasseur d'Afrique and a Chinesebrave, and the last an artilleryman. The pièce de résistance wasthe artillery itself, for the last man to arrive led the very unwillingNellie, the ship's pet pig, to which was attached a large cardboardcannon. Headed by their General, they pranced about the stage enjoyingthemselves hugely. Their efforts brought the house down, for they quitesucceeded in making fools of themselves, and 'Slattery's Mounted Foot'was a long way the best event of the evening.

The remaining turns were too numerous to be mentioned in detail. Theyincluded further ditties by the singers of 'Archibald' and 'The LonelyRobin,' a banjo solo, some really clever conjuring and lightningsketching by an engine-room artificer, and an absurd sketch, written onboard, called 'The Broker's Man.' The plot of this production, if itcould be called by such a name, can be deduced from the list ofcharacters:

  • Mr Stony-Broke—an impoverished aristocrat.
  • Mrs Stony-Broke—his wife.
  • Miss Gertrude Stony-Broke.
  • General Sir Thomas Dammit, K.C.B.—a rich uncle.
  • Mr Hardcash—a hard-hearted landlord.
  • Mr Theodore Buggins—the broker's man.
  • Hon. Bertie de Montmorency—Gertrude's fiancé.
  • Giles—a footman.
  • Scene—The Stony-Brokes' drawing-room in London.
  • Time—The present.

The parts of Mrs and Miss Stony-Broke were played by seamen. MrsStony-Broke appeared in black satin and a shawl, and the fair Gertrudein an evening-dress of pale yellow. Both mother and daughter were veryshapeless, while their home-made wigs, white cotton gloves, bare redarms, and enormous feet brought tears of joy to the eyes of theaudience. So did the gallant General Sir Thomas Dammit, who, it wouldseem, made a habit of wearing his full-dress uniform, co*cked hat, andsword on all occasions.

Mr Hardcash, the villain of the piece, was loudly hissed; while hisemissary, Mr Theodore Buggins, a truly dissolute fellow, becamehilariously intoxicated at Mr Stony-Broke's expense. But everythingended happily. Gertrude and the Hon. Bertie plighted their troth, andwere duly set up for life with a handsome cheque from Sir Thomas.

The curtain came down amidst scenes of the wildest enthusiasm from theaudience, and the orchestra playing Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March.'

When finally the band played 'God Save the King,' Pincher Martin wasconvinced that it was quite the best entertainment he had ever seen.His shipmates agreed with him.

CHAPTER IV.

THE STRENUOUS LIFE.

I.

Twenty-four hours later the Belligerent was at bleak, wind-sweptPortland; and during the next fortnight Martin began to realise whatlife in the navy really meant. He fondly imagined that he had beenhard-worked at Portsmouth, but it was mere child's-play compared withwhat went on when they were with the squadron.

The anchorage was full of men-of-war. First came seven otherbattleships precisely similar to the Belligerent herself, squat,ponderous-looking vessels, with piled-up superstructures and heavygun-turrets which gave them an aspect of strength rather than of speed.They were commanded by a vice-admiral, who flew his flag in theTremendous. Next came an independent cruiser squadron of foursister-ships under the orders of a rear-admiral. They were long, leancraft, with four funnels like factory chimneys, and raking masts. Theyhad an ungainly appearance, but looked fast. Then came a couple oflight cruisers, slender, graceful vessels, with beautiful lines. They,too, had four funnels, and gave the impression that they were fliers,as indeed they were. Innumerable black destroyers, with another lightcruiser as their flagship, lay in glorified sheep-pens jutting out fromthe shore. They were evil-looking craft, and could do their thirtyknots with ease.

But the ships were not always in harbour. Most days of the week theyspent outside the breakwater, indulging in what was officially known as'aiming rifle practice.' It meant that 1-inch or .303-inch aimingrifles were placed in all the guns, and that the ship steamed past aminute target, firing as she went. It kept the gunlayers and guns'crews proficient, for the weapons were worked, aimed, and fired exactlyas if they had been using their proper ammunition. Unofficially, thispractice was known as piff, from the feeble sound of thereports.

Sometimes the whole battle-squadron went to sea for steam tactics underthe orders of the vice-admiral; while at least one night a week wasspent somewhere out in the Channel without lights, to give thedestroyers practice in making torpedo attacks under war conditions.

It was all very wonderful to Martin; but what impressed him most wasthe way in which the entire squadron of eight battleships steamed aboutas a whole. Each vessel remained at precisely the same distance fromher next ahead, until it seemed as if they were all joined together bysome invisible string, rather than free units capable of independentmotion and movement. How they managed to achieve this result he couldnot imagine. It savoured of necromancy. He did not know until laterthat on the bridge of each vessel was a young lieutenant with asextant, whose duty it was to measure the angle between the mastheadand the water-line of the next ship ahead. Briefly, if the angle grewlarger it meant that the ship was drawing up on her next ahead; ifsmaller, that she was dropping behind; and the revolutions of theengines were accordingly decreased or increased to get her back intoher correct position. 'Station keeping!'—the officers of watches wouldhave laughed if they had been asked how they did it. 'My dear chap,it's as easy as falling off a log. Any fool could do it.' Perhaps hecould; but then there are fools and fools. Some of them are wise fools.

Steam tactics, too, were very impressive. The eight battleships wouldbe steaming along in two ordered columns of four ships each. A stringof gaily coloured bunting would suddenly appear at the flagship'smasthead, to be repeated by the rear-admiral leading the other line.Hardly had the flags blown out clear than every other vessel would beflying a white-and-red 'answering pendant,' meaning 'I have seen andunderstood.' The flagship's signal would come down with a rush, andafter a brief interval of suspense every ship would be swinging roundunder the influence of her helm. They formed single line ahead, lineabreast, and quarter line, each gray ram cutting the water at preciselythe same distance from the next ahead. Now and then they broke off intopairs. Sometimes they circled round in succession, each vesselfollowing dead in the wake of her leader. Occasionally they wheeled,the pivot ship reducing her speed, the wing ship increasing, and theintermediate vessels adjusting the revolutions of their engines untilevery foremast was exactly in line. They twisted themselves into knots,and unravelled themselves again. The effect was really ratherwonderful. The squadron seemed to manœuvre this way and that withthe same ease and flexibility as a company of well-drilled soldiers.

It must be very difficult, Martin concluded; but he wondered vaguelywhy the admiral should take it upon himself to act the part of aglorified drill-sergeant. He did not know that flexibility of movementand ability to change formation with rapidity and precision are evenmore important in a squadron at sea than with a regiment ashore.

The admiral, experienced officer though he was, was merely accustominghimself to handling his squadron as a compact and organised wholeagainst the time when he might be called upon to do it with an enemy'sfleet looming up over the horizon. Moreover, no two ships are everhandled in quite the same way, and he was giving his captains—who,provided they lived, would be admirals themselves one day—anopportunity of learning the ways and tricks of their several ships, sothat, when the time came, they should not fail him. Practice makesperfect, even with such gilded potentates as admirals and captains.

The destroyer attacks after dark, too, were very spectacular. The longwinter nights were usually overcast and very dark, and the squadronwould be steaming without lights; but even then the lynx-eyed younggentlemen on the bridge would not admit that they had any realdifficulty in keeping station. They were used to it. On such occasionsthe men kept their watches, and the lighter guns and the searchlightswere manned exactly as they would be in war. Martin, being an ignorantnew-comer, found himself detailed as a bridge messenger; and there, inthe very nerve-centre of the ship, he had an excellent opportunity ofseeing everything that went on. He never forgot the first destroyerattack he ever saw.

Looking ahead, he could just see the next ship as an intense black bluragainst the lighter darkness of the sky and sea. Astern came anotherponderous mass. The intervals seemed dangerously close, but the officerof the watch showed no anxiety. On the contrary, he stood at thestandard compass on the upper bridge, using his binoculars every nowand then, and giving occasional muffled orders in a calm voice throughthe voice-pipe communicating with the man stationed at the engine-roomrevolution telegraph below. Even the captain and the navigator, whowere up there as well, did not seem to be taking things very seriously,though in reality they both had their weather-eyes very much lifting,and were using their glasses constantly. They were always on veryfriendly terms, and were carrying on an animated conversation aboutnothing more important than—golf!

'Well, sir,' Colomb was chuckling, 'if your putting hadn't been so badyou'd have knocked me endways. You were shocking on the greens.'

'Yes; but you wait till I get used to that new putter of mine,' theskipper returned, not in the least offended. 'I botched every singleputt, and if I hadn't done that—— Hallo!' he suddenly broke off,sniffing; 'd'you smell that?'

'That' was a pungent whiff of crude petroleum floating down fromwindward, and Captain Spencer knew well enough that it meant theattacking craft were somewhere fairly close. The greater number ofmodern destroyers consume nothing but oil-fuel in their furnaces, andin a strong wind the reek of its burning can often be smelt for severalmiles.

'M'yes. They're pretty close, sir,' Colomb agreed.

'Keep your eyes skinned, officer of the watch,' the captain cautioned,busy with his own glasses. 'Warn the group officers and guns' crews!'

'Ay, ay, sir,' said the lieutenant, pressing a push by his side, whichcaused an alarm-bell to sound at all the anti-torpedo-craft gunsthroughout the ship.

For some minutes there was silence, broken only by the humming of thewind through the rigging and the liquid plop of breaking seas. But allthe time the smell of oil-fuel became gradually stronger; and then,quite suddenly, the flagship—two ships ahead—switched on asearchlight. She had seen something!

The powerful blue-white beam flickered out, swung round slightly, andthen fell on a black phantom shape rushing through the water. She was adestroyer, and came along with the wind and sea dead astern; but eventhen sheets of spray were flying over her low decks and bridge.

Martin held his breath.

The moment the attacker was lit up by the ray there came the loud crashof a gun, and an instant later more searchlights joined the first.

Boomp! Bang! Boom! Boomp! went the guns in an irregular volley,as the first and second ships in the line got to work. Sharp stabs ofred flame danced in and out of the beams of the lights. The thick smokeof the blank discharges wreathed and eddied through the rays as itdrifted down the line on the wind; but the destroyers—two ofthem—still came on at full speed, pitching and rolling horribly.

They seemed to be about six hundred yards on the starboard bow of theflagship, travelling down the line of battleships in an oppositedirection to that in which the latter were steaming, and so brilliantlywere they illuminated in the glare that even the figures of the mencrouching on deck round the torpedo-tubes were clearly visible throughglasses. The water was washing knee-deep over their decks as theyrolled, but it was not until they were nearly abeam of the flagshipthat a ball of red fire shot up into the air from each of them. Thisindicated the moment at which, if it had been the real thing, theirtorpedoes would actually have been discharged.

'That pair were sunk all right,' muttered Captain Spencer, watchingthem through his glasses as they swept past barely three hundred yardsoff. 'They were under fire for quite half-a-minute before they let gotheir torpedoes. Poor devils! they're having a pretty rotten time.Great Scott! just look at that sea!'

The leading destroyer had put her helm over to alter course outwards.It brought her nearly head on to the sea, and she had shoved her nosestraight into the heart of an advancing wave. It was not really rough,as seas go, but the speed with which she was travelling caused the massto break on board until she seemed literally to be buried in a smotherof gray-white water, while sheets of spray swept high over hermastheads and funnels. For quite an appreciable time she was hidden,but then slid back into sight on the crest of a sea, with her twinpropellers revolving wildly in the air, to disappear in the darkness assuddenly as she had come, with her consort still in close stationbehind her.

'Thank the Lord I'm not in a T.B.D.!' muttered the officer of the watchto the navigator.

Martin shared his feelings.

For the next forty minutes the guns' crews in the battleships were verybusy; for, having sighted the searchlights during the first attack, theremainder of the flotilla, attracted to the spot like wasps to ahoney-pot, came dashing in from all directions to deliver theirassaults. They came on gallantly, some singly, others in pairs or foursat a time; and though, naturally enough, the battleships claimed tohave sunk every mother's son of them long before they had had a chanceof getting home with their torpedoes, the destroyers themselves thoughtotherwise.

The attacks were over by two A.M., and at this time theweary men at the guns and searchlights were free to go to theirhammocks, the scattered destroyers were collected by their seniorofficer, and attackers and attacked, with navigation lights burning,turned their bows homeward.

By eight o'clock the battleships had moored in Portland Harbour, andthe destroyers, in a long single line, headed by their light cruiser,came silently in through the northern entrance on their way to thepens. Their funnels were caked white with dried salt, but they steamedpast jauntily, showing few traces of their buffeting.

Martin watched them with a new interest, for to him it seemed nothingshort of miraculous how such slender-looking vessels could stand theweather he had seen them in a few hours before.

'Wot yer lookin' at, Pincher?' asked Billings, stopping on his way tohis mess for breakfast.

'Them,' said Martin, jerking his head in the direction of thedestroyers.

'Them!' said Joshua, rather surprised. 'Wot's up wi' 'em?'

'I wus thinkin' it must be a dawg's life to be aboard one o' 'em. Theylooked somethink horful larst night.'

Billings, who had served in a destroyer himself in his young and palmydays, grinned broadly. 'They ain't so bad,' he murmured. 'You gits atanner a day,[8] 'ard lyers in 'em, an' that's a hextry three an' atanner a week. It's werry welcome in these 'ere 'ard times.' The oldreprobate smacked his lips longingly, for three-and-six a week meantmany pints of beer.

'I reckons they deserves it,' Martin remarked.

'I reckons all matloes deserves double wot they gits,' laughed hiscompanion. 'But larst night weren't nothin'. You wait till yer sees 'emin a gale o' wind; then they carries on somethin' horful. Larst nightit weren't blowin' nothin' to speak o'. They 'ad a bit o' a dustin'p'r'aps, an' got their shirts wet, but that ain't nothin'!'

Martin gasped. He had seen the destroyers plunging about like maddenedracehorses, with water breaking over their decks; but yet Billingsreferred to it casually as a 'bit o' a dustin'.' If their behaviour oflast night was nothing out of the ordinary, he prayed his gods he mightnever serve in one of them. 'A bit o' a dustin',' indeed! What mustthey be like in a gale of wind? It nearly made him seasick to think ofit.

II.

As a start to his seagoing training, Martin found himself put in thegunnery-training class with eleven other youngsters like himself; andhere, under the expert guidance of Petty Officer Samuel Breech, he wassoon being initiated into the mysteries of squad drill, the rifle andfield exercise, the various parts of a rifle and their uses, gun drill,the anatomy and interior economy of lighter weapons and machine-guns,and their ammunition. Much of it he had already learnt before, duringhis period of preliminary training at the barracks, and theinstruction, essentially practical, did not overtax his intelligence.

Petty Officer Breech, a fully qualified gunner's mate, was a strictdisciplinarian and something of a martinet. He was a short, burlylittle man, with a bull-neck and a rasping voice; and the former,combined with a closely clipped red beard and a pair of piercing grayeyes, gave him an air of ferocity which he really did not possess. Hewas naturally kind-hearted, and the buxom Mrs Breech could twiddle himround her little finger. But on board ship he upheld his dignity withfirmness. After long experience with ordinary seamen and their ways, hehad come to the conclusion that the only way of getting them thoroughlyin hand was to frighten them at the start, and to keep them frightened;so he invariably commenced operations by giving each new class a shortlecture.

'You 'ave joined the navy,' he used to say, glaring fiercely, 'to learndiscipline, an' you've come to me to learn somethin' about gunnery, oras much of it as I can drive into your thick 'eads. The sooner weunderstand each other the better; an' before we start work I warns youthat I'll stand no sauce from the likes o' you, so just bear it inmind. W'en I gives you an order I expects it to be obeyed at once, an'at the rush. I don't want no shufflin' about in the ranks, norskylarkin' neither,' he added, gazing ferociously at Martin, who wasendeavouring to remove a spot of moisture from the end of his nosewithout using a handkerchief.

'I wants to blow me nose,' murmured the culprit, reddening.

'An' I wants no back answers unless I asks you a question,' Breech wenton, wagging an admonitory finger. 'Wen you're standin' at attention youmust keep still, no matter whether a moskeeter's bitin' you 'longsidethe ear'ole, or a wild monkey's chewin' your stummick. I wants you tolook like a squad o' Henglish sailors, not a party o' mourners at aHirishman's funeral, nor yet a gals' school out for a airin.' It's nolaughin' matter, neither,' he continued, eyeing one of his pupils whohad a suspicion of a smile hovering round the corners of his mouth.'Wen I makes a joke you can laugh—bu'st if you like; but if I sees youlaughin' w'en I'm not, that's hinsolence, an' you knows wot to expect.'

The smile vanished.

'I'm 'ere to enforce discipline,' the petty officer resumed, 'an'discipline I'll 'ave. I wants you to be smart, an' if I sees you'retryin' to learn I'll do my best for you. If I sees any one skylarkin'or talkin' in the ranks I runs 'im in at once, so don't forget it. Tostart with, I'm goin' to teach you the parts o' the rifle; an' w'en youknows that, we passes on to squad drill with an' without arms.Squad!—stand easy! This 'ere,' he explained, balancing a Lee-Enfieldin his hand, 'is a magazine rifle, Lee-Enfield, Mark 1 star. Its weightis a trifle over nine pounds, as you'll find w'en you 'ave to carry it;an' its length, without the bay'nit, is four foot one an' a narfinches. This 'ere's the bay'nit, with a blade 'xactly twelve incheslong, an' 'e fixes on to the muzzle o' the rifle, so. The bay'nit isonly sharpened on the outbreak o' 'ostilities, an' is provided forstickin' your enemy; not, as most sailors thinks it's for, for openin'corned-beef tins, an' such like. 'Owever, we'll 'ave plenty o' bay'nitexercise later on.'

It took them a full day and a half to learn the ins and outs of therifle; and, having mastered it thoroughly, the class passed on to squaddrill and the rifle and field exercise. The greater number of themalready had some smattering of these, but that fact did not preventPetty Officer Breech marching and counter-marching them up and down thedeck as if their very lives depended upon it. He kept up a runningcommentary the whole time.

'Squad!—'shun! Stand at—ease! A little more life in it; an' keepstill w'en you're standin' at attention, can't you? Knees straight,'ead an' body erect, eyes straight to the front.—'Awkins, you'rewaggin' your 'ead.—Flannagan, keep your knees straight, an' standup.—Now then, try again. Squad!—'shun! Ah, that's more like it now.Number! Form fours! As you were! A little life in it, please! Formfours! Right turn! Quick march! Come along, come along, step outsmartly with the left foot, an' take a full pace.Left—left—left—right—left! Mark time! Pick your feet up! Pick 'emup! Bend the knees! That's more like it! Forward! About turn! Not a bitlike it. Squad!—halt! Left turn! Stand easy! Look 'ere, now. Wen Isays, "About turn!" I don't want you to shuffle round any'ow. I givesthe order "turn" as the left foot comes to the ground, an' each manturns on 'is own ground in three paces. At the fourth pace step offwith the left foot in this manner.' He marked time himself, andproceeded to demonstrate how easy it really was.

For a whole week they were hard at it, learning to march, side step,change step, double, form fours, turn, and change direction. Sometimes,when one or other of the pupils was called out to drill the class, theygot tied up into inextricable knots, with the rear rank facing thefront, and the men in their wrong places; but after seven hard dayseven Breech admitted that he was fairly satisfied with their progress.

Then they spent hours fixing and unfixing bayonets, ordering,shouldering, sloping, trailing, changing, grounding, and securing arms,until they were sick of the very sight of a rifle. It was drearywork—very dreary; and if they showed the least signs of slackness orinattention they were doubled round the deck until they were ready todrop from sheer fatigue, or did 'muscle drill' until their bicepsached.

They saluted mythical officers, varying in rank from the sovereignhimself to second lieutenants and midshipmen, and attended imaginaryfunerals as the escort or firing-party. On these occasions Breechwalked solemnly up and down to represent the officer or party to besaluted, or, in the case of the funerals, the corpse on itsgun-carriage. 'The next time I passes I represents 'is Majesty the Kinginspectin' a guard o' honour, mounted at Bucking'am Palace,' or 'NowI'm a Field-Marshal,' and 'Now I'm a lootenant in the navy,' he wouldsay, approaching with what he considered the slow and stately gaitbefitting his exalted rank. 'Now I represents a regiment o' soldierswith their colours flyin'.' 'Now I'm the corpse comin' out o' themortu-ary.'

The first time he made this last remark it caused the second man fromthe left in the rear rank to burst out into a raucous chuckle ofamusem*nt, and in another instant the whole class was tittering.

Breech fixed the culprit with a horny eye. 'There's not nothin' tolaugh at, 'Awkins,' he observed without the ghost of a smile. 'This isa very sad occasion. You'll be the corpse yourself one day.'

They made pretty good progress on the whole—all except PeterFlannagan, that is. He was by way of being a 'bird'—a man who isconstantly in trouble—and had already been through thegunnery-training class once, but had failed in the examination at theend of it. As a result he had been put back for a further period. Hewas naturally as obstinate as a mule, and unusually thick-headed; but,instead of doing his best with what wits he possessed, he endeavouredto show his superiority by taking as little trouble as he dared. He wasBreech's bête noire; and, if ever anybody was wrong, it waspretty certain to be Flannagan. But he deserved everything he got, andwas very unpopular with the others.

On one never-to-be-forgotten occasion the petty officer cautioned himfor talking and joking in the ranks whilst at drill. The Irishman, insome fit of devilment, promptly repeated the offence, and, not contentwith that, put out his tongue to show his contempt.

Breech saw it. 'Flannagan,' he thundered in a voice of iron, 'come outto the front!'

The Irishman came out and stood before him with a sullen scowl.

'You disobeys my order wilfully, an' puts out your tongue,' the pettyofficer said. 'Disobedience an' hinsolence. 'Ave you anythin' to say?'

'Nothin', except that I'm fair fed up wi' bein' chased about this 'eredeck like a dawg.'

'Fed up, are you?' Breech answered, keeping his temper, but with adangerous ring in his voice. 'You 'ave the himpertinence to spin me ayarn like that! If I chooses to take you on the quarterdeck, you gets acouple o' months in the detention quarters for hinsolence. But you'relong past the stage where punishment'll do you any good. No; I shall'ave to deal wi' you another way, my lad. I'll see that you're takenout o' the trainin' class, to start with, an' you comes an' reportsyourself to me at five o'clock this evenin'. Now you takes off youraccoutrements, returns your rifle, an' reports yourself to the capt'no' your top. Perhaps 'e'll find some use for you; you're no good tome.'

Flannagan, rather ashamed of himself, slouched off.

What happened at five o'clock that afternoon the class neverdiscovered; but the fact remains that Mr Peter Flannagan trod ratherdelicately, and had some slight difficulty in sitting down for the nextten days or so. Rumour had it that Breech, who was a powerful littleman, had armed himself with a singlestick, and had taken the law intohis own hands. Very reprehensible conduct on his part, no doubt, for itwas strictly against the regulations, and might have got him intotrouble if the Irishman had lodged an official complaint. But Breechknew his victim to a nicety, and was perfectly well aware that helacked the necessary courage to make the matter public. He knew,moreover, that to a man of Flannagan's type a little concentratedphysical pain was far and away a better deterrent than any other formof punishment. Whatever his method was, it had the desired effect, forthereafter Ordinary Seaman Peter Flannagan treated Petty Officer SamuelBreech with a respect which almost amounted to reverence. A strong armand a thick stick do sometimes achieve wonders.

Martin and the remainder of the class waxed hilarious over Peter'sdownfall. He was not popular. He was a K.H.B.,[9] and they were notsorry to be rid of his presence.

III.

The life, however, was not all work, and Martin found he had a certainamount of leisure for amusem*nt. He was allowed ashore every alternateday from four o'clock in the afternoon till ten o'clock at night, andon Saturdays and Sundays from one-thirty.

The Belligerent ran her own football team—she ran everything,from a concert-party, a pipe-band, and a tame pig, to a monthlymagazine (written, edited, and produced on board); and Pincher, who hadbeen rather a shining light as a wing forward in his village team athome, invariably went ashore to watch the matches.

The squadron always played a football league competition during thewinter, each ship playing every other vessel in turn, and the winner ofthe most points at the end of the season holding a challengecup—presented by the flag officers and captains—for the ensuing year.In addition to this, the members of the winning team received personalprizes in the shape of inscribed silver medallions. TheBelligerent had come out top in the league the year before, andthe victorious team had promptly had their photographs taken, with, ofcourse, the medallions and the cup; and the latter, enshrined in itsglass case, now lived on the fore mess-deck as a tribute to theirprowess. They were very proud of it. They were keen to win again, butrumour had it that the Tremendous, which had been newlycommissioned, had a remarkably good team. Two of them were reported tobe county players, so the 'Belligerents' were rather fearful of theirlaurels.

Now Martin, small and puny though he was, was fleet of foot and verytricky with his feet, but he was far too modest to let anybody know it.He always watched the matches, however, and took an intelligentinterest in the games, and eventually, by dint of being present on manyoccasions, found himself installed as a sort of honorary member of theteam in the shape of their recognised touch-judge. He was evenpermitted to appear in the photograph which was taken soon after theship arrived at Portland. He was in the back row, it is true, and worehis seaman's clothes instead of a highly coloured shirt, blue shorts,stockings, and football boots. But he carried a small hand-flag as hisinsignia of office, and considered himself no small beer inconsequence. It was an honour to be associated with the team in anyway; and as most of the officers, and practically the whole of theship's company who happened to be ashore, made a point of attending thematches, Martin, running about with his flag, felt he was a—if notthe—centre of attraction. At any rate, he was quite a personage, andtalked about the game to the other ordinary seamen and boys with an airof great authority.

The scenes of excitement during some of the matches baffleddescription. 'Play up, Yaller-bellies!' two hundred of theBelligerent's men would shout in unison. The yellow referred tothe canary-coloured shirts worn by their team, while the other ratherinelegant word was the abbreviated name of the ship.

'Come on, the co*ckneys!' or 'the Duffos!' would come the answering roarfrom the partisans of the other team, according to whether their shiphailed from Chatham or Devonport. 'Down wi' the Pompeyites!'

For minutes at a time the repartee bandied to and fro was so vociferousthat the whistle was well-nigh inaudible; but the referee was used toit. He had an unenviable time in other ways, poor man! for whateverdecision he gave was quite certain to be wrong from the point of viewof fully half the spectators, in spite of the fact that he was astrictly neutral man from some other ship. 'Foul!' somebody wouldbellow, as the whistle blew for a free kick. 'Garn! That ain't nofoul!' was hurled back from the men of the ship against which thepenalty had been given. 'Play the game! Play the game, carn't you?''Goal! Well shot! Good old Yaller-bellies!' would come a roar,accompanied by a shower of caps in the air, as the ball flew past thewhite posts into the net. 'That's the style! Knock 'em end-ways!''Offside! Offside!' came louder yells from the other side. 'Where's thereferee? What's 'e thinkin' of?' And so it went on.

But the referee, used to the ways of seamen, merely smiled, and paid noattention whatever to the ribald remarks hurled at his head, personalas some of them were. He was proof against such attacks, and hisdecisions were always fair.

Occasionally there were stormy scenes at the end of the matches; forwhen a favourite team had lost, their adherents were sometimes anxiousto take on the partisans of the other side with their fists to discoverwhich really was the better ship. More than once men returned on boardwith black eyes and swollen noses; but actual bloodshed was rare,though feeling always ran high. More often than not, victors andvanquished alike repaired to the canteen, and absorbed malt liquor ateach other's expense, the former to celebrate the victory and thelatter to drown their sorrow. They were very keen on the result of theleague matches. The canteen did a roaring trade.

At one of the most important matches a member of theBelligerent's eleven happened to be absent at the time the gamewas due to start, and Lieutenant Boyle, who captained the team, was athis wits' end to find a suitable substitute. 'Have any of you menplayed this game?' he asked, going up to a group of seamen belonging tothe Belligerent who had come to watch. 'Parkins hasn't turnedup. We want a forward badly.'

Pincher, seizing the opportunity, stepped forward before any one elsehad a chance of answering. 'I've played at 'ome, sir,' he said,reddening at his own temerity. 'I used to be on the right wing.'

Boyle seemed rather surprised. 'You!' he said. 'Can you run? D' youknow how to dribble and shoot?'

'Yessir.'

The officer looked at him for a moment without replying. He seemedrather doubtful.

''E's orl right, sir,' chipped in Billings, who happened to be present.''E's pretty nippy on 'is feet. I've seen 'im kickin' the ball abart.'

The lieutenant looked up with a laugh. 'All right, Billings; we'll takehim on your recommendation.—Martin, rush across to the pavilion andborrow some gear. Hurry up about it; we're late already.'

Pincher, overjoyed and very proud of himself, flew off like the wind,and presently reappeared clad in full regalia, yellow shirt and all. Itwas his first really important match; but he felt he was on his mettle,and played well, almost brilliantly. At any rate, he shot two goals;whereat the 'Belligerents' howled themselves hoarse, raised cheers for'young Pincher,' and wished to treat him with much beer at the end ofthe game. It was the first time in his life he had ever receivedadulation, and he was a proud man. His play had undoubtedly helped towin the match.

He was prouder still when Boyle sought him out afterwards. 'You playedexcellently, Martin,' he said. 'Why on earth didn't you let us know youplayed?'

'Didn't like to, sir.'

The officer laughed. 'I wish you men wouldn't be quite so modest,' heremarked. 'How d' you expect us to raise a decent team if you all hideyour lights under bushels? You're the very man we've been looking for.'

'I'm sorry, sir,' said Martin sheepishly. 'I didn't know as 'ow I wuswanted.'

'We didn't know you were a player. However, now we've got you, you willremain in the team; so look out you keep yourself in decent training. Apint of beer after each game, and no more, mind. If you come to mycabin this evening I'll give you your jersey and other gear.' Thelieutenant strolled off to change.

Martin could have jumped for joy. He was a full-fledged 'Yellow-belly'at last, and would appear before the whole ship's company in all theglory of a canary-yellow shirt with a large blue 'B' on the leftbreast. It was one of the things in this world he had been longing for.He was no longer a mere excrescence on the face of the earth—a poor,puny Pincher who was everybody's whipping-boy. On the contrary, he wasa very proud Pincher, for at last he had come into his own. TheBelligerent had some use for him, after all.

CHAPTER V.

THE OFFICERS.

The Belligerent's captain, John Horatio Spencer, D.S.O., was afine type of the modern British naval officer, and a thorough seaman,who had risen in his profession through sheer merit and force ofcharacter. He had been lucky, it is true, for as a young lieutenant hehad seen much active service in West Africa, had been severely wounded,was mentioned in despatches for 'great gallantry and resource,' and hadreceived the Distinguished Service Order. In 1900, again, as the seniorlieutenant of a second-class cruiser on the Cape of Good Hope station,he was landed with the naval guns for the relief of Ladysmith. He againdid excellent service, was promoted to commander in 1901, to captainseven years later, and 1914 found him commanding a first-classbattleship at the comparatively early age of forty-three.

In appearance he was a big, thick-set man, nearly six feet tall, andbroad in proportion. He had a red, clean-shaven face, a pair ofpenetrating blue eyes which seemed to read one's innermost thoughts,and dark hair slightly shot with gray over the temples.

Every ship he had ever commanded, from a destroyer upwards, had been ahappy one. His officers loved him as a friend and admired him as asuperior, and 'Our John,' as they affectionately called him, spent farmore time in their company than he did in the fastnesses of his owncabin. He hated the solitude of life in his own apartments in theafter-end of the ship, and, when he had no guests of his own,frequently had meals in the wardroom as an honorary member, and playedbridge and spun yarns in the smoking-room. He had the happy knack ofbeing friendly with every one with whom he came in contact, andinvariably treated his officers as equals when he was off duty.

On deck, of course, it was a different matter, for there he was verymuch their commanding officer, and they his subordinates; and, asTickle, the junior watch-keeper, once put it, 'the owner[10] was thewhitest and the straightest man on God's earth; but Heaven help you ifyou make a fool of yourself on deck!'

Captain Spencer did bite sometimes, and bite hard; but the culpritgenerally deserved all he got, and bore no grudge whatsoever. Moreoften than not he would be discovered the same evening in thesmoking-room having a sherry-and-bitters with 'the old man,' just toshow there was no ill-feeling on either side.

On the mess-deck the captain was revered in rather a different way, forthe men, while admiring him, regarded him with a certain amount of awe.Some of the younger and more timid ordinary seamen and boys, indeed,looked upon him as a sort of awful deity, an ogre almost, who sat inhis cabin all day long inventing new schemes for their eternaldamnation. They were frightened of him, and, on the rare occasions whenthey did catch sight of his four gold stripes on deck, felt ratherinclined to run away and hide their faces. It was foolish of them, fora kinder-hearted man than the skipper it would be impossible toimagine.

But the men saw comparatively little of him, and had few opportunitiesof discovering his true character. He appeared on deck for 'divisions'every morning; walked round on Sundays criticising their clothes, thelength of their hair, and the cleanliness of the ship; was always onthe bridge at sea; and punished them when they misbehaved themselves.They realised he was just, and justice is what the bluejacket mostadmires; but they were not aware that he took a deep interest in themand their affairs, and that he knew everything that went on on board.Neither did they perceive that he frequently went to a great deal oftrouble to stretch points in their favour in the way of leave and otherprivileges.

'Our John' hated advertisem*nt in any form; and this, perhaps, was whythe men never really understood his true kindliness of heart. Forinstance, when he subscribed five pounds towards a fund for the benefitof the widow of one of his men who had died, or two pounds towards theship's concert party, he gave the money anonymously. When he grantedthe men an extra forty-eight hours' leave on his own responsibility,and because he considered they had earned it by their good behaviour,he never told them so.

So, from the lower-deck point of view, Captain Spencer was justlyadmired and greatly feared; but there was not a man on board who hadnot the fullest confidence in him and his judgment, or who would notcheerfully have followed him to the very gates of hell if he had askedthem. Neither was there a more efficient or a happier ship than theBelligerent. Her officers and men knew it, and gloried in thefact.

But no small credit for this excellent state of affairs was due to thecommander and other officers. The former, the Honourable AlgernonD'Arcy Travers, was the direct antithesis of the captain in appearance.He was tall and very thin, but was a pleasant messmate with a verypronounced sense of humour, and on occasions behaved with all theboisterous bonhomie of a junior sub-lieutenant. His excessive leannessdid not worry him in the least, though he did once say that he wishedhis 'hinge' were a little better padded and the wardroom chairs rathersofter. It was a matter of some import to his wife, though, for thatlady sent him bottles of malt extract to thicken the flesh on hisbones. This nutritive compound, however, was generally handed over tohis bluejacket messenger, who liked the sweet taste of it; and thatyouth, already chubby and well-favoured, was gradually assuming theproportions of a young elephant. The commander found that being thinwas an advantage in some ways; and on riotous guest nights, when hemade as much noise as anybody present, it certainly permitted him toscramble through the square opening in the back of one of the wardroomchairs without much difficulty.

It was a feat few of his messmates could perform. Theengineer-commander, George Piston, a well-covered officer, had tried iton one occasion, and had stuck half-way through. His messmates, headedby the commander himself, cheered him on with howls of merriment; butthe victim was laughing so much that he seemed to have swelled. Hecould not budge one way or the other, and there was every prospect ofhis having to go through life with a chair securely fastened round hisportly middle. They took off his garments one by one; but it was nouse. They used vaseline and oil as lubricants, and endeavoured to tuckthe folds of flesh through the narrow opening, but without avail.

'For heaven's sake send for a saw!' spluttered the gasping officer,relapsing uncomfortably on the sofa and beginning to feel ratheralarmed. 'I can hardly breathe. Give me a whisky-and-soda, some one, orI shall burst!'

The saw arrived in due course, and the chair was removed with somedamage to itself. The gallant officer never attempted the feat again.

The commander, an ex-torpedo specialist, was a good officer at hiswork, and the Belligerent always looked as clean and as smart asa new pin. Her organisation, too, was as perfect as it could be. Theship's company were very fond of 'the Bloke,' as they called him; andwhen men did misbehave themselves he generally made the punishment fitthe crime. When two ordinary seamen, Barter and Hitchco*ck, began togive trouble, for instance, he hit upon rather an original method ofdealing with them. He provided both of them with an ordinarysinglestick and a face-mask, but no body-pads, and then promised themone penny each for every visible wale inflicted on the anatomy of theother. The instigator imagined that he would have to shell out ashilling at the most; but after a bout lasting for a fierce fifteenminutes, examination in the bathroom at the hands of a ship's corporalshowed that Barter had earned one shilling and eightpence, andHitchco*ck two and a penny. They were never obstreperous again, and theship's company, instead of offering them sympathy, laughedimmoderately.

The commander, like other naval officers, had his bad moments, andsometimes the watch-keepers found it advisable to steer clear of himbefore breakfast. But even if an explosion did occur no bones were everbroken, for they all knew he said a great deal more than he meant.After breakfast and a pipe he was amiability itself, provided nothingwent wrong.

Chase, the senior lieutenant-commander and gunnery officer, has alreadybeen described; and the next in seniority was Vernon Hatherley, thelieutenant-commander (T.). He was something of an exquisite. He took agreat pride in his personal appearance, was reported to wear silkslumber-wear, and kept a store of cosmetics and unguents in his cabinfor the anointing of his face and hair. His messmates knew this, and,headed by No. 1, sometimes shampooed him with whisky-and-soda afterdinner. But Torps, as they called him, was an excellent fellow, andtook the ragging all in good part. Moreover, he generally succeeded ingetting his own back by discovering something wrong with the electriclights in his tormentors' cabins at times when they most wanted to usethem. He was an x-chaser, in that he had done remarkably well in allhis different examinations; but besides being an expert theorist, hewas an officer who knew the practical side of his business from A to Z.

The navigator, Christopher Colomb, had just married a young and prettywife, and did not spend more time on board than he could possibly help.As a consequence, his messmates saw comparatively little of him, unlessthe Belligerent was cruising, and Mrs Colomb could not followher husband. The captain occasionally succeeded in getting him to playgolf in the afternoons; but Colomb preferred his wife's society to thatof any one else. When he was on board in the evenings he shut himselfin his cabin, and spent the time writing a learned treatise onMagnetic Influences at Sea. The book is still being written.

Peter Wooten, the next senior non-specialist officer of the militarybranch, was doing a two-year spell in a battleship, after having beenin command of destroyers and gunboats for the past six years. He hatedthe drudgery of big-ship life, where he acted as the commander'sunderstudy on the upper deck, had charge of the midshipmen and theirinstruction, arranged the ordinary seamen's training classes, workedthe derrick for hoisting in and out boats, and generally acted as asort of 'odd job' man. The life was fairly comfortable, it is true; buthe much preferred the joys of commanding his own small ship to being acomparative nobody in a vessel the size of the Belligerent. Hewas a burly, deep-chested man, with fair, curly hair, tanned face, anda pair of clear, humorous blue eyes. He was fresh from China, where hehad commanded a tiny river gunboat up the Yang-tse-kiang; and there,miles up the great river, far away from any admiral, and completely 'onhis own,' he had made history in a small way. He was a great character,and his stories of the Chinese revolution, when he could be induced totell them, were sometimes amusing and always interesting. (He was thecommanding officer of Martin's destroyer when that ordinary seamanjoined the 'black navy' soon after the outbreak of the present war, soperhaps we may be pardoned for allowing him to spin one of his yarns.It has the advantage of being true.)

'It was quite a pretty little show,' he said one evening in thesmoking-room after dinner, when somebody had egged him on to talk aftera second glass of port. 'Have any of you fellows ever heard of a placecalled Kiang-fu, up the Yang-tse? You might know it, No. 1; you're anold China bird.'

Chase shook his head. 'Sorry I don't, Peter. But let's have the yarn,all the same.'

Wooten lit his pipe. 'Kiang-fu,' he started, 'is one of their walledtowns on the banks of the river. It's a beastly place, full of stinksand bugs and abominations generally; and the only white people thereare the consul and his wife, a couple of missionaries, and twomerchants. Well, one morning my old Kingfisher was lying abouttwenty miles downstream, and a Chinaman from the consulate at Kiang-fuarrived in a sampan with a note from the consul to say that fivethousand rebels had arrived before the place, and that there was goingto be some scrapping. There were about a thousand Imperial troopsinside the town, Johnson the consul said, and he was in a bit of a funkas to what would happen when the rebels took the place. They'd havebutchered every one, of course, Europeans included. My orders were toprotect British interests, but not to fight, so I upped killick[11] andsteamed for Kiang-fu for all I was worth. We got about six and anonion[12] out of the old bus, I remember, and reached there about noon.'He paused and sucked thoughtfully at his pipe.

'And what happened then?' queried some one.

'I found the bally battle in full swing,' Wooten went on. 'Guy FawkesDay wasn't in it, and both sides were blazing away for all they wereworth, and making a hell of a row. However, they weren't doing muchdamage to each other. I anchored my hooker about a couple of hundredyards from the shore, where we could get a decent view of what went on,manned my two six-pounders and the Maxim, and hoisted an ensign and alarge white flag—wardroom tablecloth it was—in a boat, and then wentashore to see Johnson. Things were pretty lively, and shells werebursting and bullets were whistling all over the place. The rebelattack was to come off that night, and as there could be only one endto it, I took Johnson and his missus, the two missionaries, the twoshopkeepers, and Heaven alone knows how many Christian Chinese off tomy ship. The upper deck was fairly packed with 'em. Then we sat down towatch the sport. One of the shopkeepers, I may say, was a Scotsman, andthe other a Yank, and they wanted me to order the rebs. to shove offout of it and leave Kiang-fu alone. They had a lot of valuable stuff intheir godowns[13] waiting to be shipped down the river, and said thewhole lot of it 'u'd be looted if the city fell.

'I cursed them for a couple of tizzy-snatchers,' he resumed, grinningat the recollection; 'I told 'em they ought to be jolly thankful tohave got off with their lives; and asked 'em how the dooce I coulddictate to five thousand ruddy cut-throats with Mauser rifles and Lordknows how many field guns—decent guns, too; none of your clap-traprubbish. I had exactly thirty men all told, a broken-winded eighty-tongun-boat, two six-pounders, and one Maxim. Pretty tall order, wasn'tit? However, I was still yapping to 'em on deck when I heard a sort ofphut, and a bally bullet buried itself in the deck about a footoff my leg. It came from the direction of the rebel trenches, aboutfive hundred yards off, and some silly blighter had evidently eased offa rifle at us for the fun of the thing. I heard one or two more bulletscome whistling overhead—damned bad shooting they made—so sent all therefugees over to the lee side of the deck out of harm's way. Then Itrained my guns on the rebs., and hoisted all the ensigns I had. Theyknocked off firing then, so I got into the boat with the consul, thewardroom tablecloth, and the largest ensign I could find, and pulledashore.' He paused.

'Had you any weapons with you?' somebody asked.

'Lord, no!' said Wooten. 'Doesn't do to let a Chinaman see you'refrightened of him. I took a walking-stick, and Johnson had a whiteumbrella. I was in a dooce of a funk, though, and when we landed wefound a whole bally company of soldiers waiting to receive us.'

'What! a guard of honour?' asked Chase.

'Don't you believe it. They had fixed bayonets and loaded rifles, and Ifelt rather nervous as to what was going to happen. You see, therewasn't another British ship within a hundred miles of us. However, Ilanded with the consul, and a Chinese officer with a drawn sword cameforward to receive us. He wasn't a bad fellow, and talked quite decentEnglish, with an American accent. I asked him what the dooce they meantby having the troops there as if they wanted to scupper us, and toldhim who the consul was, and that I was the C.O. of the man-of-war, andthat, on behalf of his Britannic Majesty, we wished to see his General.He said the old bloke was having his afternoon caulk, and that theydaren't wake him. I said he'd better roust the old josser out, and bedamned smart about it. He hummed and hawed a bit over that, and thensaid that if we'd come along with him he'd take us to the headquarters,and see if we could have an interview. I wasn't going to kow-tow to anybally Chinaman, though, so I told him that if he didn't take steps tohave the General brought to us in less than half-an-hour I'd raisehell's delight. It's no use being anything but dictatorial withChinamen,' he went on to explain; 'and if you can bluff 'em intobelieving that you've got the whip-hand they generally knuckle under.We had some more talkee-talkee, and then he did go off with his men,and jolly glad I was to see the last of 'em. Twenty minutes later theGeneral arrived. He was rather a fine-looking old boy, with no pigtail,and was dressed up in khaki and a sword. He had a couple of A.D.C.'swith him. He couldn't talk English, so I asked him through the consulwhat he meant by allowing his troops to fire on my ship, and said thatI should have to report it, and so on. He said they hadn't done it. Isaid they had, and that if he came on board I'd jolly soon prove it.Well, after a lot of jawbation we got him into the boat, with theA.D.C.'s, took him off to the ship, and showed him the bullet-mark inthe deck. He got in a bit of a funk then, so Johnson and I drew up adocument in Chinese and English, in which he said he was sorry for whathad occurred, and so on. It went on to say that he agreed to abandonthe siege of Kiang-fu, as British interests were at stake, so we'd moreor less cornered him. He signed like a lamb, wily old devil; but thenwe remembered that no document is valid in China unless it's stampedwith the official seal of the man who signed it. We asked him where theseal was, but he hadn't got it on him. Johnson asked him where it was,and he said he'd got it in his old headquarters, about ten milesdownstream. He volunteered to go and fetch it, but we weren't havingany. The upshot of the whole affair was that we sent one of theA.D.C.'s ashore to order the siege to be stopped, and the rebels toretire, and took the General and the other A.D.C. down the river. Thenwe sent the A.D.C. ashore to get the seal, and had the documentproperly stamped. That's all, I think.'

'But did the rebels retire?' asked the commander.

Wooten nodded. 'Yes,' he said. 'They left the place like lambs, and theImperialist colonel inside nearly fell on my neck and wept. The twoshopkeepers gave me a box of a hundred cigars between them! Damnednasty cigars, too!'

His listeners laughed.

'And what happened to you?' asked Chase.

'Oh,' smiled Wooten, 'I sent the document to the admiral, with acovering letter, and jolly nearly got badly scrubbed for exceeding myduty and abducting the General. However, it was all right in the end,and I believe the old man was secretly rather pleased with what I'ddone.'

'So he jolly well ought to have been,' remarked one of thewatch-keepers.

'M'yes, but he was a man who didn't say much. However, a month later aBritish colonel and a couple of other officers came down from Pekin toconfer with me about putting Kiang-fu in a state of defence in case therebels came again, for by that time the powers that be had come to theconclusion that if they did capture it, it wouldn't do us any good. Thecolonel and I went ashore together, he with his two officers, and Iwith a sheet of paper and a pencil.

'"You'd better loophole that wall," he started off, pointing at a solidstone affair about three feet thick. "This house had better bedemolished, and you'll have to dig a trench along here, with decentsand-bag head-cover. I should think a hundred and fifty rifles will beenough to man it, provided you have a couple of Maxims at each corner.Over there we'll have an emplacement for a field-gun, and there anothertrench."

'He went on like that the whole of one grilling forenoon, and by thetime he'd finished I'd totted up my figures, and found he'd used thebest part of a thousand men.

'"That's all right, sir," said I; "and when may I expect the regiment?"

'"Regiment!" he said, rather surprised. "What regiment d'you mean?"

'"The regiment for doing all this work and garrisoning the place, sir,"said I innocently. "You've been talking about knocking down houses,erecting barricades, and digging trenches right and left. I've only gotthirty men."

'"The deuce you have!" he said thoughtfully. "We'd better"——

'"Go and have lunch, sir," I chipped in.

'"Excellent idea," said he, mopping his face.

'So off we went, had a top-hole tiffin, and that was the last weever heard of it. Kiang-fu never was put in a state of defence so faras I know. However, the rebels never came there again, so every one wasquite happy. I tell you,' Wooten concluded with a grin, 'oneoccasionally has some pretty rummy times up the Yang-tse.'

One had, apparently, and Peter Wooten was an officer of greatinitiative and resource, who had served his country well, and hadupheld the dignity of her flag on more than one occasion. Chinesegenerals, mandarins, and other Celestial potentates were nothing tohim. He bullied or bluffed them all into doing what he wanted, and theyused to walk in terror of 'the red-faced devil with the loud voice,' asthey called him. No wonder, then, that Peter felt himself tied by theleg in a battleship, where, to use his own expression, he was a 'meredog's body.'

The watch-keeping lieutenants were George English, Aubrey PlantagenetFitz-Johnson (usually known in the wardroom as 'the Dook'), HenryArcher Boyle, and Tobias Tickle.

English was a mild, inoffensive little man, whose chief ambition inlife was to retire from the navy while he was still young, marry awife, live in a small whitewashed cottage miles away from any sea, rearpigs and chickens, and collect butterflies. For all his lack ofambition, however, he was a good and zealous officer. He never made abad mistake; but never, on the other hand, did anything very brilliant.He was a conscientious plodder.

'The Dook' was a tall, dashing, immaculate person, with sleek and shinyhair. He had a wonderful taste in dress, and how many different suitsof plain clothes he possessed nobody but himself and his servant knew.How much he owed his tailor and his haberdasher nobody was aware of butthose long-suffering tradesmen themselves, for Fitz-Johnson cast allhis bills into the fire immediately on their receipt. His garments werealways fashionable and well cut; his ties, collars, shirts, and socksof the newest and most exclusive pattern. His uniform frock-coat fittedhis svelte figure like a glove; his trousers were alwaysperfectly creased; and on Sundays he always appeared at 'divisions'with a brand-new pair of kid gloves—he never wore the same pair twice.The men called him Algy. He looked it. He was essentially alady-killer. His cabin was full of autographed photographs of feminineadmirers and mementoes in the shape of faded dance-programmes andlittle knots and bows of ribbon. His bedspread, a wonderful creation inblue silk, embroidered with his crest and monogram, had been worked byone set of fair fingers; his door and scuttle curtains, of chintz, bysome one else; and a little bag for his hairbrushes by a third lady.When the mail arrived his letter-rack in the wardroom was crammed withbills, and letters in feminine handwriting. He kept up a voluminouscorrespondence, but was wise enough never to have more than one ardentadmirer in any one place. He was a regular 'devyl with the girls,'there was no doubt about that; and if the ship arrived at some newplace, and the wardroom took it into its head it would like to give atea-fight, 'the Dook' was immediately sent ashore to prospect. How hedid it nobody quite knew; but at the end of twenty-four hours he wouldbe on friendly terms not only with all the young and pretty girls inthe place, but also with their mothers, aunts, and female cousins. Hewas always on the verge of being engaged to be married, but never quitepulled it off. His host of unpaid bills, and the fact that he hadlittle or no money besides his pay, probably frightened him. But, atany rate, he was a valuable acquisition as a messmate, for he sangwell, and could play almost any musical instrument under the sun.

His chief failing was that he was never less than a quarter of an hourlate for his watch. 'I'm deuced sorry, old chap,' was his usual excuseto the officer he had to relieve. 'The fella didn't call me properly.'

'Oh, to hell with you and your rotten excuses!' would growl theirritated watch-keeper who had been kept up. 'You're about the frozenlimit! The corporal of the watch was hammering on your cabin door forat least a quarter of an hour!'

'It really wasn't my fault, though,' Fitz-Johnson would protest mildly.'Please don't get shirty, old chap.'

It was impossible to be really angry with him; but he continued torelieve late until the other watch-keepers hit upon a scheme of keepinghim up for an extra half-hour at the end of his own watch. That curedhim eventually.

Boyle, the next in seniority, was a young, enthusiastic, and veryenergetic officer, who wished one day to become a gunnery officer. Hehad charge of the after-turret, with its pair of twelve-inch guns, andspent much of his time in a suit of oily overalls scrambling about inthe depths of the hydraulic machinery. He was of an inventive turn ofmind too, and even at the comparatively early age of twenty-four hadalready designed a self-stabilising seaplane, a non-capsizable boat, apatent razor-stropper, and an adjustable chair. This last, which heused in his cabin, was really most ingenious. It had hidden springs allover it, and you pushed a button and it did the rest. You could use itfor anything, from an operating-table to a trousers-press; and it wasoften brought into the wardroom after dinner on guest-nights for itsvarious uses to be demonstrated. It worked beautifully, until one nightthe padre, who was reclining gracefully at full length, pressedthe wrong button in a sudden fit of exuberance. The chair promptlybucked like a kicking mule. The front shot up and the back fell down,and the reverend occupant hurtled adroitly backwards straight into thearms of an astonished marine servant with a tray full of whiskies andsodas. He came to the ground with a crash, with the marine and theliquid on top of him, and everybody laughed.

The servant, drenched through, retired grumbling to change hisgarments; and the Rev. Stephen Holiman scrambled to his feet, surveyedthe mess of broken glass and liquor on the deck, and then felt hispulped collar and examined his clothes.

'Boyle, you silly ass!' he expostulated, justifiably annoyed, andtrying to mop himself dry with a handkerchief, 'why the d-dickenscouldn't you tell me the thing was going to pitch me over backwardslike that?'

'I'm awfully sorry, padre,' spluttered the inventor, weak withlaughing. 'You must have pressed the wrong button; but even then I'venever known it do that before. Perhaps it wants oiling.'

'Take the rotten thing away and drown it!' retorted the padre,as angry as he ever got. 'It oughtn't to be allowed on board. It'sruined my clothes!' But the padre was a sportsman with a senseof humour, and after a little more grumbling, during which he got nosympathy from his messmates, cheered up and went off to change. Everafterwards, when the chair appeared, he endeavoured to make it play thesame trick on some unsuspecting guest. But it never would.

Tobias Tickle, commonly known as 'Toby,' was the officer of Martin'sdivision, whom we have already met. He had married very young, and hada rich and pretty wife, who was as popular as himself; but this did notprevent Toby from being a very riotous member of society on occasions.He was loved by his men; for, while very strict, he took a greatinterest in them and their affairs. He knew the surname and Christianname of every bluejacket in his division; knew whether they weremarried, engaged to be married, courting, or single; and always gavethem good advice when they asked for it. They often did. On more thanone occasion he or his wife had helped them in other ways.

Once, when Mrs Buttings, the wife of an able seaman, had been ailing,and had had to undergo a rather serious operation, Mrs Toby heard of itthrough her husband. She promptly visited the patient, found her livingin a miserable little dwelling in a back street in Landport, with fourchildren between the ages of six months and five years, and nobody tolook after her except the neighbours. This would not do for Mrs Tickle.She promptly engaged a trained nurse, sent the children off to afarmhouse in the country, visited the invalid daily, saw that she had aproper diet, and provided her with many sovereigns' worth of coal andluxuries.

Buttings himself, when he went ashore and saw the transformation in hisusually rather slovenly home, was furious. Like most bluejackets, hehated the idea of charity in any form, and went straight off to seeTickle.

'Look 'ere, sir,' he said; 'with orl my doo respects to you, it ain'tplayin' the game!'

'Not playing the game!' answered the lieutenant, quite at a loss tounderstand what the man was driving at. 'What d'you mean?'

'Well, sir, it's like this 'ere. I goes 'ome an' finds my 'ouse riggedup like a bloomin' 'orspitle, an' the missus lyin' in bed with flowers,an' beef-tea, an' port wine, an' sich like. I finds another 'oomanthere a-lookin' 'arter 'er—dressed up like a 'orspitle nurse, shewus—an' w'en I arsks 'er wot she done with the kids, she sez as 'owthey'd bin sent to the country. W'en I wants to know 'oo's done it, shesezs Mrs Tickle. It ain't fair on a man, sir, doin' a thing like that,an' habductin' of 'is kids. S'welp me, it ain't!' Buttings paused forbreath.

'I'm sorry you think that, Buttings,' said Tickle gently. 'Your wifehas been very ill, and what she wants is good food and propertreatment. She's getting that now. The children, too, are out in thecountry having an excellent time. After all, my wife didn't do itwithout asking Mrs Buttings.'

'Yessir. That's all werry well; but I pays the rent o' the bally'ouse.'

'Of course I understand that. But surely you don't grudge your wife alittle comfort after she's been so ill?'

'No, sir, o' course not,' said the seaman, scratching his head. 'But'oo's goin' to pay for orl this 'ere? Port wine an' chicken jelly ain'tgot for nothin'.'

Tickle felt half-inclined to tell him outright that he, or, rather, hiswife, was prepared to pay for everything; but if he had, the ableseaman would at once have been in open rebellion. The nurse alone cameto two guineas a week, and the food and little luxuries for the invalidto as much again. 'Well, Buttings,' he said, pretending to consider,'suppose it costs about seven-and-six a week. That's about it, I shouldimagine.'

Buttings seemed rather relieved. 'Seven an' a tanner,' he said, morehappily. 'I kin manage that, sir. I ain't got much money to sploshabart, o' course,' he hastened to explain; 'but I don't like ter thinkas 'ow I ain't payin' for what my old 'ooman's gettin'.'

And so, for the time being, the matter ended, and both parties weresatisfied.

Mrs Buttings recovered in due course, and became her old buxom self,and then it was that she enlightened her husband as to what the Tickleshad really done. Buttings was speechless with rage.

But Christmas came soon afterwards, and on the morning itself, asTickle was having his bath, there came a knock at his cabin door.'Hallo, what is it?' he asked, springing up and wrapping a towel roundhimself.

'It's Buttings, sir,' said the seaman, pulling aside the curtain. 'I'vegot this 'ere for you, sir, from my missus an' meself; an' this, sir,is for your lady. We both wishes you an' your lady a 'Appy Christmas,sir.' There was a suspicious huskiness in his voice; and, after pushingtwo small parcels into the astonished officer's hands, he fled beforeTickle could say so much as 'Thank you.'

One package contained a highly ornamental silver cigarette-case, andthe other a small gold brooch of impossible design. Accompanying eachgift was a flamboyant card with a chaste design of clasped hands,wreaths and sprigs of forget-me-nots, and true-lovers' knots. Belowwere the words: 'In friendship we are united.' Inside, in verylaborious handwriting, came the inscription: 'With great gratitude fromAble Seaman and Mrs Reuben Buttings.'

'Well, I'm damned!' muttered the lieutenant, gazing at the presents,deeply touched. The little gifts, which had cost Buttings and his wifemany of their hard-earned shillings, were their way of showing thatthey had not forgotten.

Mrs Toby was so overcome when she received her brooch that she nearlywept with emotion. 'Dear, dear people!' she murmured gently; 'I lovethem!'

And still some folk have the effrontery to say that there is no bond ofsympathy between the officers and men of the Royal Navy.

CHAPTER VI.

'THE 'ORRIBLE DEN.'

I.

From the quarterdeck one climbed down a steep ladder, walked aft alongthe maindeck past the wardroom, descended another ladder, and finallyemerged into a large flat lit by electricity. To starboard was abulkhead with rifles in racks, their blued barrels gleaming dully inthe glare of the electric bulbs. Behind the rifle-racks came some ofthe officers' cabins, through the open doorways of which one wasvouchsafed an occasional fleeting glimpse of sea and sky framed in thecircular opening of a scuttle in the ship's side.

The small habitations seemed to reflect the personalities and tastes oftheir several occupants. Some were gay with pictures, photographs,brightly coloured bedspreads and curtains, and had easy-chairs,well-filled bookcases, and a glittering array of silver-backed brushes,photograph-frames, and ornaments on the chests of drawers serving astoilet-tables. In others there was little or no attempt at decoration,and they were furnished with almost Spartan simplicity, with nothingbut what the Admiralty allowed. This consisted of a bunk with drawersunderneath, a solid mahogany chest of drawers, a book-shelf, a foldingwashstand, a minute writing-table, a straight-backed cane-bottomedchair, a small strip of carpet, ugly maroon-coloured scuttle and doorcurtains, and, by way of decoration, the inevitable shallow circulartin bath suspended from the roof.

Amidships in the flat, in ordered rows, came the midshipmen'ssea-chests. They were painted white, with black lids, and bore theirowners' names on small brass plates. Each was exactly three feet sixinches long, one foot eight and a half inches broad, and three feetseven and three-quarter inches high, neither more nor less. Admiraltyregulations are explicit and precise, even on the subject ofmidshipmen's sea-chests. In these receptacles the 'snotties'[14] kept,or were supposed to keep, all their worldly belongings, and woe betidethem if the first lieutenant discovered their clothes or boots lyingabout when he went his rounds twice a day! The garments were promptlyimpounded and placed in the scran-bag, which was opened only once aweek. Moreover, one inch of soap—which went toward cleaning theship—had to be paid for each article claimed.

On the opposite side of the flat were more rifle-racks and twocurtained doorways. One of these gave access to a pantry, the other towhat the commander called 'the 'Orrible Den,' otherwise the gunroom. Itwas the habitat of the junior officers, and provided accommodation fortwo sub-lieutenants, an assistant-paymaster, ten midshipmen, and MrHubert Green, the assistant-clerk.

Imagine an apartment about thirty feet long by twenty feet wide, withplenty of head-room. It ran fore and aft, and on the ship's sideopposite to the door were four circular scuttles. They were about sixfeet above the water-line, and could be left open in harbour or in thecalmest weather at sea. If it was blowing at all hard, however, theyhad to be kept tight shut to prevent the entry of the water. On theseoccasions the atmosphere, well impregnated with the smell of food fromthe pantry, could be cut with a knife. The sub-lieutenant, complainingbitterly of the 'fug' or 'frowst,' sometimes ordered a juniormidshipman to carry out what was known as 'scuttle drill.' This meantthat the unfortunate youth had to open the port gingerly to let in theair, but that he must bang it to again whenever a sea came rushingpast. If he allowed water or spray to enter he was chastised. Hegenerally was, but not really hard. Underneath the scuttles, and alongthe after bulkhead, were narrow cushioned settees serving as seats.Then came two long tables, with, outside them again, padded forms.Altogether there was seating accommodation for about twenty-four peopleat meals.

On the inner bulkhead near the door was a stove, and beyond this againa small piano. This instrument had been quite a good one once upon atime, but, owing to an accumulation of foreign matter in its interior,caused no doubt by a youthful officers' steward, who found it aconvenient receptacle for dirty cotton-waste, polishing-paste,bathbrick, and emery-paper, was long past its palmy days. However, itstill made a noise, and was useful for sing-songs.

On the foremost bulkhead was a small hatch with a sliding doorcommunicating with the pantry, and underneath it a mahogany sideboard.The appointments were completed by three wicker arm-chairs, provided bythe occupants themselves, a sofa, a rack for the midshipmen's dirks, amahogany letter-rack and notice-board, and rows of small lockers, justunder the ceiling, round two sides over the settees. In these the'snotties' kept their small personal belongings, books, and pots of jamor potted meat. But we have forgotten the beer-barrel. It occupied aconspicuous position near the sideboard.

Pictures and prints hung on the white enamelled walls, rugs werescattered about the floor, and the two long tables were covered withcrimson cloths of the usual Admiralty pattern, and were adorned withpalms in pots and vases of flowers. So, taking it all round, 'the'Orrible Den' was not quite so bad as it was painted. In fact, it wasquite a cheerful apartment.

Sub-Lieutenant Archibald Bertrain Cook—commonly known as AlphabeticalCook—was the senior member of the mess and ex officiopresident. He was a lusty, riotous, red-faced fellow of twenty-two, andruled the midshipmen with a rod of iron. The other sub was Roger More,six months junior to him. Wilfrid Shilling, the A.P.,[15] was a tall,anæmic-looking officer, with an incipient beard and rather long hair.He wore glasses, and was deeply in love with a young lady at Weymouth.He went by the name of Blinkers.

Next came the senior midshipmen, Antony Charles Trevelyan, RoderickMacDonald, William Augustus Trevor, and Henry Taut. They varied in agebetween eighteen and a half and nineteen and a half; and the first, onaccount of his rather blue chin and heavy growth of hair, went by theelegant name of Whiskers. MacDonald, who was short and had rather abarrel-like appearance, was nicknamed Shorty or Tubby; while Trevor, asmall youth, sometimes answered to Winkle. Taut, the midshipman ofMartin's division, was the Long Slab. He was tall and very thin, ratherlike a lighthouse.

Then came the six junior 'snotties,' whose names do not really matter.They were all under eighteen, and had only just joined the ship fromthe training-cruiser. They were, in consequence, very small beerindeed—mere excrescences on the face of the earth. Collectively theywere referred to as the Warts, Crabs, or Dogs' Bodies, and had to dowhat everybody else chose to tell them.

The Wart of all the Warts was Mr Hubert Green, the assistant-clerk. Hewas a small, freckle-faced youth, with a squeaky voice and ginger hair,and had only just come to sea. He was only seventeen and a half, thebaby of the gunroom, and on account of his youth and general ignoranceof the navy and naval affairs, spent his life having his leg pulled bythe midshipmen.

Both the subs and the A.P. had cabins of their own. The midshipmen'lived in chests,' as the saying is; slept in hammocks in the gunroomflat; and performed their ablutions in a small tiled bathroom fartherforward. Publicity was a thing they had no qualms about whatsoever, andbetween seven o'clock and seven-forty-five in the morning, when theywere dressing or parading about with or without towels, waiting fortheir turns to wash, the flat was no fit place for the general public.

Except on Sundays, when they lay in till seven o'clock, the 'snotties'turned out at six-fifteen, and from six-forty till seven were on deckat physical drill. At seven, therefore, came the rush for baths, theusual exaggerated tin saucers, of which there were only six. Thebandsmen servants procured their respective masters' hot waterbeforehand; but it was always a case of first come first served, andnobody hesitated to use anybody else's belongings if he were big andstrong enough to do so with impunity. Such things as hot water,sponges, soap, and nail-brushes were regarded as common property unlesstheir owners chose to retain them by force. Towels and toothbrushesalone were sacred to the individual.

The subs and the senior midshipmen bathed first, and woe betide anyCrab who was discovered in the bathroom when they arrived! He waspromptly hurled out. Then came the junior 'snotties,' and lastly theassistant-clerk, who, poor wight, usually had to be content with coldwater. But they were all quite happy, and made a great deal of noise.

Pay of one shilling and ninepence per diem, plus a compulsoryallowance of fifty pounds a year from one's people, which was what themidshipmen received, is not great affluence, even in the navy, whereliving is comparatively cheap. It amounts in all to six pounds fifteenshillings and tenpence per month of thirty days.

Mr Tubbs, the long-suffering gunroom-messman, and a bit of a villain,undertook to provide breakfast, luncheon, and dinner for the sum ofthirty shillings a month a head from each member; but in addition tothis he also took the ten-pence per diem allowed to eachofficer by the Government in lieu of rations. Afternoon tea, cake,bread-and-butter, tins of biscuits, potted meat, jam, fruit, and otherextraneous edibles were charged for as extras, in which category alsocame such things as soap, bootlaces, drawing-paper, pens, ink,pencils, &c. The sum of ten shillings per mensem was supposed,by Admiralty regulation, to suffice for the midshipmen's needs in theway of extras; but the most of them, with the connivance of themessman, ran what they called 'extra-extra bills.' It was on theprofit made on these that Mr Tubbs was able to make two ends meet atall, for one and tenpence a day is not much wherewith to satisfy thefood capacity of a young and lusty lad with a healthy appetite.

'Snotties' over eighteen were allowed to expend fifteen shillings amonth on wine, and those under this age five shillings less; butnobody under twenty was permitted to touch spirits. The messfund—for newspapers, breakages, washing, and other small incidentalexpenses—came to a nominal five shillings a month, but generallyexceeded it; servant's wages were ten shillings; personal washing,say, ten shillings; and tobacco—if the officer was over eighteen,and allowed to smoke—about seven shillings and sixpence orhalf-a-sovereign. The monthly balance-sheet, omitting allextravagances, therefore, worked out somewhat as follows:

RECEIPTS.
1s. 9d. a day for 30 days£2126
One-twelfth of £50434
Total£61510
DEBITS.
30 days' messing at 1s. a day£1100
Mess Fund050
Wine0150
Tobacco076
Extras0100
Servant0100
Washing0100
Total£476

This, omitting the 'extra-extra,' left a nominal credit balance of twopounds eight shillings and fourpence wherewith to last out the month.Only one or two of the 'snotties' received anything extra in the way ofallowances from their people, though their outfitters' bills for allnecessaries in the way of clothing were usually met by their parents.But even this did not improve matters to any great extent, and not oneof the young officers was ever known to have much in the way of moneyunless parents or relations behaved handsomely on birthdays or atChristmas. Even then the gift dwindled rapidly, for if one of them didreceive a windfall of an odd pound or two, he took care that hismessmates shared his good fortune. The clothes they had, too, were in aperpetual state of being lost; and if one of them was asked out to dinein another ship, everybody contributed something towards his attire.One provided a shirt, and others handkerchief, collar, tie, and eveningshoes; but in spite of it all they somehow always managed to look smartand well-dressed.

This state of chronic hardupness is hereditary in midshipmen. Historyrelates that a youth once came home from China, and landed atPortsmouth with no soles to his boots, a hole in the crown of his strawhat—it had been eaten by co*ckroaches—the seat of his trousers darnedby himself with sail-makers' twine, and no tails to any of his shirts.With the ready resource of the sailor, he had removed these for use aspocket-handkerchiefs.

The Royal Navy is essentially a poor man's service, and comparativelyfew of its officers have anything considerable in the way of means overand beyond their pay. It is sometimes difficult to keep out of debt,for they are expected to go everywhere and do everything, while uniformis expensive, and the cost of living is always increasing. It seems tobe part of a midshipman's job to be poor, and one would as soon expectto find a dustman with a gold-mounted shaving-set as a 'snotty' withmore than half-a-crown in his pocket on the 28th of the month.

The 'snotties' of the Belligerent were no exception to thegeneral rule. They were quite irrepressible, and were as happy andcheerful as they could be, though sometimes they did complain bitterlythat they were half-starved. On occasions, to the accompaniment ofspoons beaten on the table, they chanted a mournful dirge anent theiniquities of the messman. It was long and rather ribald, but the lasttwo lines of the chorus ran:

We're starving! we're starving!

And the messman's name is Mr Tubbs!

They weren't really so famished as they pretended to be, but Tubbscertainly was an old rogue. One celebrated morning, when the seniorsub-lieutenant was absent, he peered through the pantry hatch atbreakfast-time.

'Now, gennelmen,' he said, 'wot we 'ave for breakfast is 'ot sardinesan' 'am. Sardines is a bit orf, the 'am is tainted, an' fruit is extra.Wot'll you 'ave?'

The ship was half-way across the Bay of Biscay at the time, and hadbeen at sea for several days, so perhaps there was some slight excusefor the inadequacies of the morning meal. But Tubbs had tried this gamebefore; and, headed by Roger More, the junior sub-lieutenant, themembers of the mess rose en bloc and hastily armed themselveswith dirks.

The messman, scenting trouble, promptly fled from the pantry with hissatellites after him, while the hungry officers rushed in, broke openvarious cupboards, and helped themselves liberally to Tubbs's privatestore of tinned kippers and haddock. He complained bitterly, but got noredress.

Another time the members of the mess were sitting round the tablewaiting impatiently for lunch. Noon was the proper time for the meal;but at twelve-ten nothing had appeared on the table except thevegetables. The hungry officers commenced to bang on the table witheating implements, and started the inevitable dirge, and in the middleof it Tubbs's face appeared framed in the pantry hatch.

'I'm sorry, gennelmen,' he said when he could make himself heard in theuproar. 'The boy's fallen down the 'atch with the joint, an' it ain'tfit be to seen. I've some werry nice corned beef'——

A chorus of groans drowned his utterance. 'Let's see the joint,' someone demanded.

'It's bin thrown overboard, sir,' the messman explained glibly,disappearing from view.

Several of the junior midshipmen and the assistant-clerk weredespatched to visit the scene of the alleged accident, and to report onwhat traces they found. There were none. There never had been anyjoint.

'Tubbs!' they yelled in unison when the spies came back.

The messman's head appeared, and the minute it bobbed up into sight itwas greeted with a volley of vegetables. On the whole the shooting wasgood, and Tubbs made an excellent Aunt Sally. Potatoes baked in theirjackets spattered and burst all round the pantry hatch like arafale of shrapnel-shell, while some, passing through, explodedon impact with the messman's head. The pièce de résistance was acauliflower. It struck the ledge and detonated like a high-explosiveprojectile, and the messman received its disintegrated stickiness fullin the face. He slammed the hatch up with a bang, and rushed into themess with his face, beard, and hair dripping with vegetable products;while the culprits, wildly excited, shrieked with laughter. Thebombardment would have continued, but the available ammunition wasexpended.

Tubbs was furious. 'I'll 'ave the law on yer!' he shouted wildly,waving his fists. 'I'll report yer to the commander, and 'ave yercourt-martialled, see if I don't! It's disgraceful, that's wot it is,an' wot the navy's comin' to I don't know! Calls yerselves gennelmen,do yer?'

He went on for quite a long time; but nothing further ever came of it.He knew well enough that he had brought it on himself, and thereafterhe became rather more particular over the matter of providing meals.

It must not be imagined that the inhabitants of theBelligerent's gunroom always behaved like this. On the contrary,they were an unusually well-conducted mess, and they broke out onlywhen they were really exasperated, and their feelings got the better ofthem.

The sub, assisted by the senior 'snotties,' had drilled the Crabs intoa high state of discipline and efficiency. He believed in using theterror of the stick as a deterrent rather than in employing the weaponitself, and as a consequence the junior midshipmen were never beatenreally hard unless they misbehaved themselves. But as Cook himself onceremarked, 'You can bet your bottom dollar that for every sin they'vebeen bowled out committing, there are fully fifty more that we haven'tdiscovered;' and there was some truth in the remark.

One of the methods of smartening up the Crabs was an evolution known as'fork in the beam.' This was a time-honoured custom which must havestarted in the days of wooden sailing-ships, since it is hardlypossible to stick an ordinary table-fork into the steel beams of amodern vessel. It generally took place during dinner, when the youngermembers of the mess had been making too much noise.

The sub, standing up at his place at the end of the table, wouldinsinuate a fork into the electric wires overhead, and at this signalall the junior midshipmen and the assistant-clerk had to leave themess, scamper twice round the boat-deck, and return in the shortestpossible time. In the old-time evolution itself the 'snotties' used torun up the rigging and over the masthead, but Cook substituted the raceround the boat-deck as being less dangerous. The last officer back hadto repeat the performance; and, as the loser generally found thatsomebody had drunk his beer during his absence, there was always greatcompetition to be away first. It usually started by a seething mass ofseven Crabs being stuck in the doorway. After much struggling andpushing, they would eventually fall through into the flat amidst shrillyelps from the young gentlemen who happened to be underneath, andremarks of 'Get off my face!' 'Ow! let go my leg, you beast!' Then,sorting themselves out one by one, they would dart off, to return a fewminutes later flushed and breathless after their exercise.

They were also organised as what were known as the 'dogs of war,' withthe idea, as the sub explained, of instilling them with martial ardourand making them fierce. On the order, 'Dogs of war out—so and so!'they were expected to growl viciously, hurl themselves upon the personnamed, and cast him forth from the mess. Sometimes the assistant-clerkwas the victim, sometimes one of the 'snotties' themselves; but, tomake things really exciting, the 'dogs' were occasionally divided intotwo sides, Red and Blue, and each party endeavoured to expel the other.It always meant a frantic struggle, for the victim or victims resistedviolently. They were none too gentle either, for clothes were torn,shirts and collars were destroyed, and bruises were by no meansinfrequent. Sometimes people's noses bled, and the fight waxed reallyfurious; but cases of lost temper were comparatively rare, and the'dogs' usually enjoyed the fun as much as any one else. Their parents,had they been present during the strife, might not have been quite soamused. They paid for the clothes.

The star turn, however, was the Crabs' corps de ballet, and itoccasionally disported itself on guest nights for the amusem*nt andedification of any strangers who happened to be present. Trevelyan, thesenior midshipman, was the stage manager, and what the ballet lostthrough lack of histrionic power on the part of the performers it morethan made up for by its originality. Their attire was sketchy, to saythe least of it. It consisted mainly of bath-towels, sea-boots, andstraw hats; and the songs and dances, to the strains of the elderly,asthmatic piano, and bagpipes played by a Scots midshipman, MacDonald,usually brought down the house. If by any chance the performance fellat all flat through a lack of energy on the part of the performers,they were promptly converted into 'dogs of war,' with the inevitableresult. So, taking it all round, the occupants of 'the 'Orrible Den'managed to amuse themselves.

But because they sometimes became riotous and irresponsible in thegunroom, it must not be imagined that the younger officers were notlearning their trade. Far from it; they worked really very hard, ondeck, in the engine-room, and in pursuit of the wily and elusivex. Their day started at six-fifteen, and between six-forty andseven o'clock they were either away boat-pulling or at physical drillor rifle exercise. After this came baths, and from seven-forty-fivetill eight instruction in signals. Breakfast was at eight; and fromnine till eleven-forty-five, and again in the afternoon fromone-fifteen to three-fifteen, they were at instruction in seamanship,gunnery, torpedo, navigation, or engineering. Voluntary instruction intheoretical subjects took place for one and a half hours on threeevenings of the week, and those more backward youths who did notvolunteer were compelled to attend. Two nights a week, fromeight-thirty till nine, there were signal exercises with the Morselamp, and these had to be attended by all the midshipmen until theyattained a certain standard of proficiency.

In addition to this, they had their regular watches to keep—day andnight at sea, and from eight-thirty A.M. till eightP.M. in harbour; while no boat ever left the ship understeam or sail without a 'snotty' in charge. Their days, therefore, werepretty busy.

They generally managed to get ashore between three-thirty and sevenP.M. about two days out of every four, and on Saturdays andSundays from one-thirty; but no late leave was granted save in veryexceptional circ*mstances. They amused themselves with hockey andfootball in the winter, and golf, tennis, and cricket in the summer;and at places where games could not be played, solaced their feelingsby borrowing one of the ship's boats on Sunday afternoons, stocking herwith great hampers containing provender of all kinds, and then sailingoff for a picnic. There is an irresistible fascination in cookingsausages and boiling a kettle over a home-made fire on someunfrequented island or beach which appeals to the most sober-minded ofus.

Your modern midshipmen are no longer the rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed littlecherubs of fiction. Many of them are over six feet, some of them shave,and nobody but their aunts and female cousins refer to them as'middies.' To call them by that diminutive term to their faces wouldmake them squirm. They refer to themselves as 'snotties,' and'snotties' they will remain till the end of the chapter. The name,rather inelegant perhaps, owes its origin to the three buttons on thecuffs of their full-dress short jackets, which ribald people used tosay were first placed there to prevent their sleeves being put to theuse generally delegated to pocket-handkerchiefs. Any schoolboy willtell you what a 'snot rag' is; but I have never yet heard of a modernmidshipman being without this rather important article of dress.

'Snotties' are a strange mixture. They possess all the love of fun andexcitement of schoolboys, but once on duty are very much officers. Theyhave to undertake responsibility very young, and at an age when theirshore-going brothers are still at public schools their careers in theservice have started.

Seamanship is not an exact science; it is an art. It comprises, amongstother things, experience, sound judgment, good nerve, a vast deal ofcommon-sense, and a happy knack of knowing when risks are justifiableand when they are not. It is a subject which cannot be taught by ruleof thumb after the first groundwork of elementary knowledge has beenassimilated, and circ*mstances alter cases so greatly that no preceptoron this earth could lay down hard-and-fast rules for each of thethousand-and-fifty contingencies which may arise at sea, and which mayone day have to be guarded against or overcome. The sea, moreover, is afickle mistress. The navy is always on active service, in peace or inwar, for its men and its ships are for ever pitting their skill andstrength against the might of the most merciless of enemies—theelements. From the very moment that midshipmen join their first shipthey are expected to take part in the great game, and sometimes it is agame of life and death. They start off by being placed in charge ofboats in all weathers. They may be steamboats, or boats under sail; butwhichever they are, the 'snotties' are learning their trade. If they dosomething foolish they may cause great damage to valuable property, mayeven be the means of men losing their lives; but they generally succeedin getting out of scrapes and difficulties with some credit tothemselves.

The strenuous training and habit of early responsibility may convertthem into men before their time; but they still manage to retain theirboyish instincts, and when they are off duty these generally appearuppermost. At times they are noisy, riotous, and altogetherirrepressible; but when it comes to work they are very much all there.

II.

'Ain't got a fill o' bacca abart yer, 'ave yer?' asked Joshua Billings,A.B., producing an abbreviated, blackened, and very foul clay pipe fromthe lining of his cap and gazing at it pensively. It wastwelve-forty-five P.M., the middle of the dinner-hour, andJoshua, having just assimilated his tot of navy rum, was at peace withhimself and the world in general.

'Sorry,' Martin answered, 'I ain't got nothin' but fa*gs.'

'fa*gs!' the able seaman growled. 'Why you young blokes smokes nothin'but them things I dunno. They tastes like smokin' 'ay. W'en I fu'stjined I takes up me pun' o' bacca reg'lar, an' I done it ever since.It's got some taste abart it. fa*gs! S'welp me, I dunno wot th' blessednavy's comin' to!'

Martin looked rather sheepish.

Billings grinned. 'Seein' as 'ow you ain't got no bacca, then I s'poseI've got ter use me own,' he went on, producing a well-filled pouchfrom the waistband of his trousers, and proceeding to ram some coarse,dark tobacco into his pipe. 'I never believes in usin' me own s'long asI kin git a fill orf another bloke. Got a match?'

The ordinary seaman handed a box across, and his companion lit up.

'Comin' ashore along o' me this arternoon?' Joshua asked, puffing out acloud of smoke with a satisfied grunt.

Martin thought for a moment. For an ordinary seaman to be asked to goashore with a man of Billings's age was undoubtedly a great honour;but, at the same time, he was rather doubtful as to what might happen.Joshua, on his own statement, had an unquenchable thirst for maltliquor, and always felt 'dizzy like' outside public-houses, and Martinhad no wish to join him in a carouse, with the prospect of ending theafternoon under the supervision of the local constabulary.

'Goin' on th' razzle?'[16] he asked cautiously.

Billings laughed. 'Razzle!' he exclaimed. 'No, I ain't on that lay.I'll 'ave jist one pint w'en I gits ashore, but no more'n that. Thefac' o' the matter is, Pincher, I'm in love.' He paused to give hiswords time to sink in.

'In love!' Martin echoed with some astonishment.

The A.B. nodded gravely. 'Yus,' he said; 'an' I want some one to comealong an' 'old me 'and like, some bloke wot looks young an' innercentlike you.' He endeavoured to look young and innocent himself, gazedheavenwards with a rapt expression on his homely face, contorted hismouth into what he considered was a sweet smile, and sighed deeply. 'Itell yer,' he added, resuming his normal appearance and winkingsolemnly, 'she's a bit o' orl right, an' I reckons she's took a fancyter me. Leastways she 'inted that she'd come to th' pictures along o'me ter-night if I arsked 'er polite like, an' 'ave a bit o' somethin't' eat arterwards.'

'You in love!' Martin gasped again, for to him it seemed impossiblethat any woman could succumb to the doubtful charms of the hoary-headedold reprobate. 'Garn! you're 'avin' me on.'

Joshua seemed rather annoyed. 'Oh no, I ain't,' he retorted testily.'An' if yer gits talkin' like that me an' you'll part brassrags.[17] Sheain't th' sort o' 'ooman ter take a fancy to a young bloke. Wot shewants is some one ter look arter 'er an' 'er property. A bloke wi'hexperience, the same as me.'

'Property! 'Oo is she, then?'

'You mustn't go tellin' the other blokes if I tells yer,' Billingssaid, sinking his voice to a whisper. 'Promise yer won't.'

'Orl right, I won't.'

'She's a widder 'ooman wot keeps a sweet an' bacca shop, an' sellsnoospapers. She's makin' a good thing out o' it, too—clearin' 'boutthree pun' a week, she sez she is; an' as my time's comin' along forpension, it's abart time I started lookin' round fur somethin' ter dow'en I leaves the navy. She ain't no young an' flighty female neither,I gives yer my word. Got a growed-up darter, she 'as, seventeen yearold, an' I reckons it's abart time th' poor gal 'ad another father terlook arter 'er. You see,' he added, 'if I gits married to th' old unorl the blokes wot knows me'll come to the shop to buy their fa*gs an'noospapers, so it ain't as if I was bringin' nothin' to th' business.I'm a bloke wi' inflooence, I am. 'Er larst 'usband drove a cab, 'edid, an' I reckons she's betterin' 'erself by marryin' a bloke wot'sbin in the navy.'

'An' wot's this 'ere gal o' 'ers like?' Pincher wanted to know. 'Is shea cosy bit o' fluff too?'

'Cosy bit o' fluff!' exclaimed Joshua with some warmth. 'Wot d'yermean, yer lop-eared tickler?[18] She ain't fur the likes o' you,any'ow.'

'Oh, ain't she?' Martin retorted. 'Well, I ain't comin' ashore along o'yer, then!'

''Ere, don't git yer dander up,' Billings interrupted, changing histone; 'I didn't mean nothin'.' He was really very anxious that Martinshould accompany him, for he had a vague idea in his head that thepresence of a younger man would lend tone to the proceedings, and tohim a certain air of respectability.

'Don't act so snappy, then,' the ordinary seaman returned. 'I'm as goodas any other bloke.' He remembered that he was a member of the ship'sfootball team, and this alone made him a person of some importance.

'Well, if yer really wants ter know, th' gal's name's Hemmeline, an'she's walkin' out wi' a ship's stooard's assistant bloke from theflagship.'

'Ship's stooards ain't no class!' Pincher snorted, expanding his chestto its full capacity. 'They ain't fightin' blokes same as me an' you.'

'No, they ain't,' Billings agreed, puffing slowly at his pipe. 'Theyain't got no prospex neither. Look 'ere, Pincher,' he added, 'she'sonly bin along wi' 'im fur a week, an' if yer fancies 'er, myinflooence wi' 'er ma'——

'Meanin' that I can take 'er out?' Martin queried.

Joshua nodded. 'That's the wheeze,' he said, expectorating with deadlyprecision into a spit-kid at least eight feet distant.

'But wot's she look like?' Pincher demanded with caution. Up to thepresent he had felt rather frightened of women; but to have a propersweetheart in tow was one of the things he really longed for. It wouldcomplete his new-found manhood. But he had his own ideas of femininebeauty, and, whatever happened, the young lady must be pretty.

Billings grinned. 'She's orl right,' he explained. 'She ain't 'xactlytall, nor yet 'xactly short. Sort o' betwixt an' between like. Sheain't too fat, nor yet too lean; she's sort o' plump. Yaller 'air, she'as, an' blue eyes, an' plays th' pianner wonderful, 'er ma sez.'

This rather vague description of the fair Emmeline's charms seemedquite enough for Martin. 'She sounds orl right,' he said. 'I think I'llcome along o' you.'

Joshua seemed rather pleased. 'That's th' ticket,' he said. 'We goesashore in th' four o'clock boat, mind. Say, chum,' he added in a hoarsewhisper, 'you ain't got 'arf-a-dollar to lend us, 'ave yer?'

Martin looked rather dubious. ''Arf-a-dollar!' he sniffed.

'Yus,' urged the A.B. 'I've only got three bob o' me own, an' I've gotter take th' lady to th' pictures, an' give 'er a bit o' supperarterwards. The show's orf 'less I kin raise some splosh some'ow. W'ydon't yer come along too, an' bring the gal?'

'Carn't do it,' the ordinary seaman murmured. 'Me leaf's up at seven,an' I don't want to go gittin' in th' rattle fur breakin' it. But I'lllend yer a couple o' bob if yer promises faithful to pay me back. I'llgive it yer afore we goes ashore.'

'Good on yer, chum,' said Billings effusively. 'I reckons yer knows 'owto be'ave to blokes wot takes a hinterest in yer. You take my tip,though,' he added, wagging an admonitory forefinger. 'Don't yer golendin' money to any other blokes wot ain't fit to be trusted.'

'I'll watch it,' Martin laughed.

And so it was arranged, and this was how Pincher Martin embarked on hisfirst love affair.

CHAPTER VII.

AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART.

I.

Miss Emmeline Figgins was a well-built, capable-looking young lady ofseventeen. She wore her hair neatly coiled in a golden aureole on thetop of her head. Her blue eyes were attractive and full of mirth, hermouth was well-shaped, and she possessed a pair of very red lips andtwin rows of even white teeth. She seemed literally bursting withhealth, and her rosy, slightly sunburnt cheeks somehow reminded Pincherof the girls at home in his own village. She was dressed in a whiteblouse and plain dark-blue skirt, and a small gold locket hung roundher neck.

The first time Martin saw her standing behind the counter in the littlesweet and tobacco shop he thought her quite adorable. He experienced avague feeling of jealousy when he saw the locket, though, for hethought it probable that it contained the photograph of the ship'ssteward's assistant from the flagship.

Billings, strangely redolent of violets—he had purchased a pennyworthof cachous subsequent to absorbing one pint of beer immediately ongetting ashore—advanced with a sheepish grin. Martin followed closebehind.

'Good-evenin', miss,' the former remarked, touching his forelock. 'I'ope I finds yer well?'

The girl laughed. 'Thank you, Mister Billings,' she said; 'I amenjoying the best of health, and I hope you are the same.' She regardedPincher out of the corner of her eye; and that youth, very ill at ease,shuffled nervously and began to get red in the face. He was alwaysrather frightened of women.

'I'm quite fit, miss,' said Joshua. 'This 'ere's Mr Martin—PincherMartin we calls 'im. Friend o' mine, 'e is. Brought 'im along o' me terbe interjooced.' He pushed the ordinary seaman forward by the arm.

'Pleased ter meet yer, miss,' said Pincher awkwardly, advancing andshaking hands over a row of glass bottles filled with sweets. 'I've'eard a lot abart yer from my frien' Mister Billings.'

The A.B. warned him of his indiscretion by a violent nudge in the side.

'I'm glad I'm a celebrity,' the girl remarked, a trifle suspiciously.'And what did Mr Billings say about me? I hope it was something nice.'

'Where's yer ma, miss?' Joshua himself interrupted, hastily changingthe subject.

'She's out now, Mr Billings, but she'll be back home to tea athalf-past five. She's expecting you then, I believe; and if thisgentleman would join us I'm sure he'd be very welcome.' She looked atMartin.

'Wot say, Pincher?' asked Joshua with a wink. 'Like ter 'ave a cup o'tea wi' th' ladies?'

'Don't mind if I does,' said the youth shyly.

'Needn't come if you don't want to, mister,' the girl retortedsarcastically, tossing her head. 'There are plenty who'd be glad to beasked.'

Pincher felt more awkward and sheepish than ever. 'I should like tercome, miss, thankin' yer for yer kindness in arskin' me,' he managed tostammer. 'No offence meant, I'm sure, miss. 'Fraid I said it a bitawk'ard like.'

'No offence taken,' laughed Emmeline, moving off to attend to threecustomers.

'Now, Mister Billings,' she said, coming back in a few minutes, 'Ican't stand gossiping here all the afternoon. This is our busy time,and the shop will be filling up soon, and I sha'n't know whether I'mstanding on my head or my heels. What with mother being out, and thatplaguy boy having a holiday, I don't know how I shall be able tomanage. If you drop in again at half-past five, mother will be in then.Is there anything I can serve you with before you go?'

'I'll 'ave two packets o' woodbines, miss,' Joshua had to reply, quiteforgetting that he did not smoke cigarettes, but unable to ignore thehint. He put down twopence.—'Wot abart you, Pincher?'

Martin looked blankly round the shop.

'A penn'orth of bull's-eyes or almond rock?' suggested the girl, with amalicious twinkle in her eyes. 'Or perhaps you'd fancy some jujubes oracid drops, fresh in to-day?'

'Thank you, miss, I don't fancy sweets,' the ordinary seaman returned,painfully aware that he was being made fun of. 'I'll 'ave one o' themthere packets o' Egyptian fa*gs. The sixpenny ones.'

'We generally call them cigarettes,' Emmeline remarked.

'Lor,' Billings ejacul*ted, 'we ain't 'arf goin' a bu'st!'

'Let the boy have what he wants, mister,' retorted Miss Figgins tartly,her business instinct uppermost, and a little anxious lest Pinchershould change his mind and choose something cheaper. 'They're very goodcigarettes, I'm sure, and excellent value for the money. Don't knowwhat he wants to go smoking for, though,' she added sweetly, gazing atPincher with an innocent smile. 'I'm sure sweets are more in his line.'

Joshua laughed, but Martin felt he had never been so insulted in hislife. 'Boy,' indeed! She had called him a boy, and had offered himsweets!

More prospective customers arrived; and, paying for their purchases,the two bluejackets started to leave the establishment, when Billings,remembering something rather important, turned back. 'Say, miss,' hequeried in an anxious, confidential whisper in the young lady's ear,'did yer ma say anythin' abart comin' ter the pictures along o' meter-night?'

Emmeline paused in the act of weighing out half-an-ounce of shagtobacco and laughed merrily. 'Go on with you!' she exclaimed roguishly.'You're a proper caution, Mister Billings!'

'Did she say nothin' abart it?'

'I'm not my mother's keeper. She said nothing to me.'

'Sure?' queried the lovesick one, rather disappointed.

The girl winked twice and pointed to the door. 'Hop it!' she giggled.'Don't come worrying round me when I'm busy with customers. Take yourMister—er—Martin with you; and if I were you I should buy him'—shesank her voice to a whisper and glanced in Pincher's direction—'a nicerattle! Ta-ta; see you both later.'

'Wot did she say yer wus ter buy me?' Martin wanted to know when theygot outside.

'Didn't 'ear, chum,' Joshua answered hastily, unwilling to hurt theother's feelings. 'Wot d' yer think o' 'er? Bit o' orl right—wot?'

'She looks orl right,' Martin agreed, rather depressed. 'But she seemsa bit 'orty-like for a kid o' seventeen. Tryin' ter 'ave me on, shewas, abart them there sweets.'

'Garn! That's only 'er way. She don't mean nothin'. Yer carn't expec' agal ter take a fancy ter a bloke orl of a sudden like. Don't getrattled abart wot she said. Come on,' Joshua added, glancing at a clockin a jeweller's window. 'It's only a quarter ter five, plenty o' timeter go an' 'ave a wet afore we goes back there ter tea.' He made offacross the road in the direction of a public-house.

'No, yer bloomin' well don't!' Pincher exclaimed, overtaking him,seizing him by the arm, and swinging him round in the oppositedirection. 'Yer said yer was only goin' ter 'ave one pint. S'welp me,yer did.'

'Don't act so barmy, Pincher,' Joshua expostulated, bitterly aggrieved.'W'en I sez a pint I only means a pint directly I gits ashore. I didn'tsay 'ow much I'd 'ave arterwards.'

'Well, yer ain't goin' ter 'ave one now, any'ow,' Martin retorted. 'Ifyou goes drinkin' now, I sha'n't come ter tea along o' yer an' MissisFiggins; an' I wants me two bob back, strite, I do.'

'Wot d' yer want ter go spoilin' a chap's bit o' sport fur?' Billingsgrumbled feelingly. 'I'm that dry I could jist do wi' a pint. No more'na pint, I promises yer.'

But Pincher was adamant. 'If yer feels dry yer kin go and buy yerselfsome lemonade. Yer don't git no beer while yer along o' me.'

'Lemonade! 'Oo wants lemonade, 'orrible pisenous stuff full o' hacidsan' sich like! Only fit fur kids ter swaffle!'

'Yer won't git no beer, so it ain't no use yer talkin'.'

'Oh, ain't it bloomin' well?' the A.B. exclaimed, beginning to getangry. 'Yer ain't lookin' arter me, yer knows. It's me wot's lookin'arter you.'

Pincher held out his hand. 'Orl right, then,' he said quietly; 'give meback me two bob wot yer borrowed.'

Joshua glared at him in speechless astonishment 'Give it back to yer?'he almost shouted. 'Not 'arf I don't!'

'Orl right. S' long, then; I'm not comin' along ter tea wi' MissisFiggins. Yer knows werry well yer carn't go takin' ladies along ter th'pictures if yer starts drinkin' now.' Martin pretended to move off.

There was some truth in the remark, and Billings felt rather foolish.''Ere, 'arf a mo'!' he expostulated. 'Don't shove orf. Look 'ere, chum;she 'as a drop 'erself now an' then. Allus 'as a bottle o' stout alongwi' 'er dinner, an' another along o' 'er supper. Told me so 'erself.'He looked hopefully to see if this information would have the desiredeffect, but Martin merely shook his head.

It took at least five minutes further argument, and much backing andfilling between the two pavements, before Billings could be drawn offfrom the glaring portals of the 'Rose and Crown.' He seemed attractedto the place like a steel filing to a magnet; and it was all Martincould do to entice him away. But he succeeded eventually, and, withJoshua still complaining bitterly, the two adventurers entered abarber's shop to have their hair cut.

At five-thirty precisely they both returned to the shop to find MrsFiggins there. She was a short, bulbous little woman of uncertain age,with her dark hair, slightly streaked with gray, drawn tightly over herhead and tied in a knob behind. Except for her blue eyes, whichtwinkled through her spectacles as she talked, she bore littleresemblance to her daughter, but, for all that, possessed a certainvivacity of manner and speech which more than made up for lack of goodlooks. She greeted them with cordiality.

'It's pleased I am to see you an' your friend, Mister Billings,' shesaid, when Pincher had been solemnly introduced. 'Such a day I 'ave 'adyou never would believe. Went to see my poor John's brother's wife atDorchester. 'Er youngest, Halfred, 'im that was born last Easter, 'ascome out all over in red spots, an' the doctor doesn't know wot to makeof 'em. 'E's a fraud, I think,' she went on—speaking with greatrapidity, and nodding her head to emphasise the point—'a reg'larfraud, same as all doctors. I don't 'old wi' them an' their speriments.I said to Jane that the boy was sickenin' for measles, 'cause the spotsare the same as wot Hemmeline 'ad when she was a baby; but thedoctor'——

'Measles!' Joshua ejacul*ted, with vague visions of being put inquarantine. 'Infectious, ain't it?'

'Don't be scared,' the lady laughed. 'It's all right so long as you've'ad it before.—Hemmeline!'

'Yes, mother?' came the girl's answer from the sitting-room at the backof the shop.

'Is that kettle boilin' yet? 'Ere's Mister Billings an' 'is friendready for their teas.'

'All ready, mother. Look out you shut the outer door in case ofcustomers coming.'

Mrs Figgins shut the door, and then ushered her guests into thesitting-room. It was a bright little apartment, with a cheerful fireblazing in an old-fashioned grate, before which, judging from thesmell, Emmeline had been making hot buttered toast. The room wascrammed with furniture, and was decorated with china ornaments, velvethangings, and pictures, conspicuous among these being a largephotographic enlargement of the late Mr John Figgins. It hung in amassive gilt frame, and the defunct gentleman was shown in blackcut-away coat, dark trousers, high choker collar, white tie, and a veryshiny top-hat. He gripped a walking-stick and a pair of gloves in onehand, while the other rested in négligé fashion upon a largemarble column bearing a very palpable imitation palm. He had sidewhiskers and rather a fierce expression. There were also three large,highly coloured oleographs. One depicted the late Queen Victoria at thetime of her 1887 Jubilee; another, entitled 'Lead, Kindly Light,'showed a sailing-ship in dangerous proximity to the EddystoneLighthouse during a terrible storm; and the third, some immaculatesoldiers in tight red tunics saying good-bye to a number of lachrymose,slim-waisted ladies on the platform at Waterloo Station. They were, itwould appear, about to sail for South Africa—the soldiers, I mean, notthe ladies.

On the mantelpiece stood a cabinet photograph of Joshua Billings in anornate aluminium frame painted with forget-me-nots. The originalglanced at it with a self-conscious smirk. It had been his last presentto Mrs Figgins, and he felt it augured well for his prospects to see itin the place of honour.

But Pincher was not so much interested in the appearance of the room asin that of the round table in the centre of the apartment. It wasspread for tea, and such a tea! There was a fine crusty cottage loafand a generous plate of sliced ham; a mountain of shrimps lay cheek byjowl with an enormous pot of jam; while rounds of hot buttered toast, alarge currant-cake, and a pile of mixed pastry stood on the outskirtsof the more substantial comestibles. Martin sucked his teethappreciatively. There were only four places laid, he was glad to see.The ship's steward's assistant from the flagship was evidently notcoming.

Mrs Figgins settled herself in front of the teapot, and began pouringout, keeping up a rapid flow of conversation the while. 'MisterBillings,' she said, motioning with her head to the place on her right,'will you sit 'ere? an' you, Mister Martin, 'ere? Hemmeline will beopposite me. I 'ope you will 'elp yourselves to anything you fancy, andif hanybody likes heggs, I've got some werry nice ones fresh in fromthe country to-day. My poor John was fond of a hegg to 'is tea,' sheadded, gazing sadly at the representation of her late husband.

'I reckons we kin do werry well wi' wot we 'ave 'ere,' remarkedBillings, glancing round the table with an approving smile, and helpinghimself to ham and hot buttered toast. 'Thank yer, Missis Figgins,' hecontinued, 'two lumps fur me.' He took the proffered cup with a coysmile, put it down, and began to masticate noisily.

Pincher fancied shrimps to start with; but Emmeline, who had her ownideas as to how a lady should behave, scorned the more substantialeatables, and nibbled daintily at a piece of thin bread and jam.

''Ave a bit of 'am, my gal,' said her mother, helping herself to thatdelicacy, and handing the plate across.

'No, thanks, mother. I'll spoil my supper if I do.'

'Quite right, miss,' murmured Billings, with his mouth rather full. 'Inever could understan' 'ow folks wot 'as a reg'lar supper kin stowtheir kites full at tea-time. 'Orrible 'abit, I calls it. On board, yesee,' he hastened to explain, lest he himself should be thought aglutton, 'we 'as a sort o' 'igh tea, an' a bit o' biscuit or sich likefur our suppers. It ain't wot you'd call a proper meal.'

Martin gasped. He knew that on board the Belligerent Joshuafrequently had kippers for his tea, while six rashers of bacon and sixfried eggs often formed his evening meal at a quarter past seven.

Emmeline raised her eyebrows. 'Kites?' she asked, rather surprised.'What's kites?'

'Stummick, 'e means, miss,' put in Pincher, anxious to air hisknowledge. 'Mister Billings'—— He heard a horrified gasp, looked up,saw Emmeline frowning at him fiercely, thought better of what he wasgoing to say, and then stared at his plate, with his face gettingredder and redder. He had evidently put his foot into it rather badly.

But the girl did not intend to let him off. 'We don't mention thosethings in polite society,' she pointed out acidly. 'It's not nice.'

Pincher said nothing, but wished that the floor might open and swallowhim whole.

'Yer promised ye'd come along o' me ter th' pictures ter-night, MissisFiggins,' remarked Joshua, finishing his ham and looking round thetable. 'Thought we'd go an' 'ave a bit o' supper at a restorongarterwards.'

'Promised you, did I?' the widow returned, handing him a plate ofjam-puffs with a sweet smile.' 'Ave one o' these? Or do you fancy apiece o' cake? It's 'ome-made.'

Joshua helped himself to the pastry. 'Yus,' he said, 'yer promised ye'dcome.'

'Oh, did I?' the lady said archly, determined to keep him ontenter-hooks. 'Think I've got nothin' to do but to go to them sillypictures? 'Oo's goin' to mind the shop, I should like to know?'

'I don't want to go out, mother,' Emmeline put in.

'Course you don't, my gal,' said her mother. 'It's not respectable forgals to be hout after dark unless they're hescorted.'

'No,' Billings agreed, pausing in the act of biting a large chunk offhis jam-puff; 'it ain't fit an' proper fur gals o' your age to go abartunpertected like.'

Emmeline glared at him. 'Oh, isn't it?' she retorted. 'And who askedyou to put your oar in, Mister Billings? I'll have you know I'm quitecapable of looking after myself, and I wouldn't go along of you if youwere the last man on earth. You'd best take mother along to thepictures, and not worry your head about what I'm going to do.' Shetossed her head.

Billings, covered with confusion, retired from the contest and resumedhis meal.

Mrs Figgins, anxious to keep the peace, looked up apprehensively. 'Noneed to let your tongue run away wi' you, Hemmeline,' she chided.'Mister Billings agrees wi' what I think about it, an' there's no callfor you to get snappy.—All right, Josh—Mister Billings,' she added;'I'll come with you. What about your friend?'

Joshua, insinuating a massive fist under the tablecloth, squeezed hisloved one affectionately by the hand. 'That's orl right,' he murmured,greatly relieved and very happy.

'But what about Mister Martin?'

''Is leaf's up at seven,' Joshua explained. ''E carn't come.'

'Thank goodness for that!' Emmeline remarked with a loud sniff. Whatshe meant exactly Pincher could not imagine, but it was quite obviousthat she meant to hurt his feelings. She succeeded, for he felt more ofa fool than ever; and it was just as well, perhaps, that at that momentthe shop door opened with a clang to admit a customer, and the girlleft the room.

From a purely gastronomic point of view, though Martin did not do fulljustice to it, the meal was undoubtedly a success; but he returned tothe ship that evening in a very saddened frame of mind. He was bitterlydisappointed with Emmeline. She was pretty and attractive, he feltbound to admit; but it was only too evident that she was not the leasttaken with him, and, moreover, had no hesitation in showing it. She hada nasty, snappy way of saying things, too. Billings had wilfully misledhim, and had borrowed two shillings under false pretences. He had ledPincher to believe that he would be received with open arms; but allthat Joshua really cared about, apparently, was the feathering of hisown downy nest, ungrateful old sinner that he was! Drat Billings! DratEmme—— No; drat the ship's steward's assistant from the flagship!

II.

Wilfrid Parkin, the ship's steward's assistant from theTremendous, was a gay young dog. He was a tall youth of aboutPincher's own age, with sleek, well-greased black hair. His clotheswere always immaculate and well brushed; he affected a crease down thelegs of his trousers; and, when he was ashore, the odour of scent andpomatum generally emanated from his person. With his peaked cap setjauntily on the side of his head, a cigarette pendulous from his lowerlip, and his double-breasted coat, white linen collar, and black tie,he imagined himself to be vastly superior in breeding and deportment toany man clad in the uniform of a bluejacket. Sometimes he even worebrown kid gloves, hoping that this would cause ignorant people to takehim for an officer.

He was not beautiful to gaze upon, but downright ugly, in fact, for hisputty-coloured face was covered with pimples, which he vainlyendeavoured to eradicate with somebody's patent ointment. But in spiteof this, and other blemishes, he had female admirers by the score; andeven the level-headed Emmeline, for some inscrutable reason, had fallena victim to his charms. She would not have admitted it if she had beenasked, of course; but the giddy Wilfrid had shown a preference for hersociety, and Emmeline had not objected.

Men disliked Parkin for his affectation and conceit. On board his shiphe had a very poor time; but ashore he was absolutely it, so far as theladies were concerned. He was a shining light at the localskating-rink, where, in company with one or other of his girl friends,he waltzed and two-stepped to his heart's content. When he could obtainthe necessary leave he always attended dances—'Entrance fee, oneshilling; evening dress optional'—and was never averse to singing'They all love Jack,' or some other very nautical song, at a tea-partyat which ladies were present.

It came to pass that one wet afternoon, when there was no football,Pincher, feeling the want of exercise, was forced to take refuge in theskating-rink, and almost the first person he saw was Emmeline Figginsgliding round with the immaculate Wilfrid. They both skated well; butwhereas the girl did it with a really natural grace, her companion,desperately anxious to create an impression, put in sundry little kicksand twirls of his own invention which made his performance border onthe ridiculous. He was showing off, in fact.

Now Pincher could barely skate at all, much less dance, pirouette onone leg, or hurtle round backwards; and, seeing Emmeline, he becamerather nervous, and wished to seek safety in flight. But he had paidsixpence to come in, and could not very well demand his money back; so,with a pair of skates in his hand, he stood sheepishly by the edge ofthe rink watching the others. Emmeline spotted him the next time shecame round, smiled cheerily over her shoulder, and said something toher companion, who shook his head. She was evidently in a good temper,and Martin smiled back at her.

The next time she drew near, it was more slowly. Checking her speed,she came gracefully to rest by the padded balustrade immediatelyopposite where Pincher stood. She was flushed with the exercise, andlooked quite adorable. Parkin hovered in the background.

'Well,' she asked gaily, extending her hand, 'aren't you going to say,"How d' you do?" Mister Martin?'

'How d'ye do, miss?' said Pincher, shaking it, but half-suspecting shewas about to make a fool of him.

'This is Mister Parkin,' Emmeline went on, presenting the spotty-facedone. 'Mister Parkin—Mister Martin of the Belligerent.'

''Ow do, Parkin?' remarked Pincher with a nod.

'Pleased to meet yer,' murmured the other, with a low bow and a loftyexpression. 'What terrible weather we are 'avin' for the time of year,are we not?'

The ordinary seaman stared at him in astonishment; while Emmeline,unable to restrain herself, burst out into a little chuckle ofamusem*nt.

'What's the matter now, Miss Figgins?' Parkin asked, rather aggrieved.

'I'm amused at your polite talk,' she said, laughing openly. 'You doput on such airs sometimes, Mister Parkin. I can't help laughing.'

'Oh, can't you?' retorted the pimply gentleman. 'You needn't go sayingthem things in front of—er'—he was going to say 'ordinary seamen,'but noticed Martin was looking at him, and substituted 'other people.'

'I'll say exactly what I please, Mister Parkin,' she returned withasperity, deliberately turning her back upon him.—'Can you skatewell?' she asked Martin.

'I kin jest git round, miss, but can do none o' them there fancytouches.'

'Well, be quick, and get your skates on,' she said. 'I'll help you.Mister Parkin is tired of my company, I think.—You'd better go andlook for some one else to skate with,' she added to Wilfrid over hershoulder.

'You said you was going to skate with me the 'ole afternoon,' heprotested angrily.

'Can't help what I said,' Emmeline retorted, tossing her head. 'I'vechanged my mind. Run away, like a good boy, or I shall get angry withyou.'

Parkin, after further useless expostulation, eventually skated off,greatly annoyed. To think that Emmeline, his Emmeline, as he chose toconsider her, should dare to throw herself at the head of an ordinaryseaman, while he, Wilfrid Parkin, admittedly one of the best skaters inthe place, should be sent packing! It was insufferable—absolutelyinsufferable! Assuredly he must teach this young woman that it was anhonour for her to be seen in his company at all.

Martin himself hardly knew what to make of it. The last time he had metthe girl she had been deliberately rude, and had done her best to hurthis feelings and to make him feel awkward. But now she was all smiles,and was looking at him in quite a friendly way. He half-suspected atrap of some kind, and that she intended to make a fool of him, afterall; but, murmuring his thanks, he strapped on his skates, removed hiscap, and stepped gingerly on to the floor. He got on better than heexpected, though he took good care not to try any rash experiments, andrather enjoyed it. He was skating with quite the prettiest girl on therink, for one thing, and he was pleased to see Parkin's sullen scowl ofjealousy every time he flashed by with another lady on his arm.

'Look at that horrid little thing, Jane Crawley!' Emmeline whispered inMartin's ear. 'Stuck-up little minx! Giggling and laughing with MisterParkin, she is. Thinks it'll annoy me, I suppose.'

'She don't look up ter much,' Pincher agreed, glancing at Wilfrid'scompanion as they went past.

Emmeline sniffed. 'She's not. She's in Skeets the draper's. Earlyclosing day to-day; that's why she's out. Never could stand themshoppies; they give themselves such airs. Can't think what he sees inher.'

'Carn't think why you likes Mister Parkin,' murmured Pincher, blurtingout his thoughts without really meaning to.

To his great surprise, Emmeline laughed. 'I don't like him,' she said.'I thought I did at first, but I'm beginning to find him out now. He'sthat conceited, you've no idea. Thinks he can order me about, too; andI won't stick that.'

'I don't think 'e's much class,' Martin observed, holding her handtighter. 'Puts on a lot o' swank fur a bloomin' dusty boy.'[19]

Emmeline nodded. 'I'm fair sick of him. He's—— Hallo! Hold up!' Butit was too late, for Pincher stumbled heavily and sat down with athump. His partner released him just in time to save herself.

Parkin, passing with Jane Crawley, had just touched Pincher's outerskate. Whether it had been done intentionally or by accident Martinnever really knew; but if it was deliberate, the result far exceededWilfrid's expectations. Pincher merely sat down on the floor rather toohard to be pleasant; but Parkin, letting go his partner, pitchedforward, and came into violent contact with the wooden flooring with aresounding bump.

The two girls went to the rescue of their respective men, and a crowdsoon collected. Pincher, little damaged, picked himself up with alaugh; but Parkin's injuries, though not really serious, were far morespectacular. The front of his coat was thick with dirt, both the kneesof his trousers were badly torn, and he applied a handkerchief to hisdirty face to stanch a copious flow of blood from his damaged nose.

'Look 'ere!' he exclaimed, quivering with passion and advancing onPincher with his fists clenched; 'you did that a purpose!'

'He did nothing of the kind!' Emmeline burst out. 'And well you knowit. It was your own fault. You and your showing off!'

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (3)

'It was 'is fault! I saw 'im stick 'is foot out!'

Page 115.

'It was 'is fault!' shrilled Jane Crawley, pointing an accusing fingerat Martin. 'I saw 'im stick 'is foot out!'

'No, I didn't,' Pincher protested. 'Never see'd yer comin'!'

'Course he didn't,' Emmeline corroborated. 'How could he see you if youwere behind him?'

'I tell you 'e did!' shouted Jane, becoming excited.

'I didn't,' Martin expostulated.

The crowd peered over each other's shoulders and laughed, for thereseemed every prospect of a fight on skates between Emmeline Figgins andJane Crawley, and another between Pincher Martin and Wilfrid Parkin.The situation was most exciting.

'You'll 'ave to pay for my trousers, any'ow!' Wilfrid blustered,looking down at his torn garments.

The onlookers tittered. 'That's it,' some one said jocularly; 'you 'avethe law on 'im, my son.'

'Sha'n't pay a penny!' Pincher said.

'That's right, little un!' came a voice from the crowd; 'don't you beput upon!'

'I'll bloomin' well make you!' shouted Parkin, squaring up. 'I'll giveyou a thick ear if you don't!'

'I ain't afraid o' you!' Pincher retorted, glaring at him. 'You 'it mean' see wot you gits!'

'Go on, Will. Give 'im one,' advised the pugnacious Jane.

'You'll do nothing of the sort,' said Emmeline quietly, steppingbetween the two men. 'If you want to kick up a shindy, Mister Parkin,you'd best do it outside.'

'I say it was the sailor's fault!' reiterated the other lady shrilly.'I saw 'im'——

'Now then, what's all the fuss about?' asked the rink manager severely,pushing his way through the throng. 'We can't 'ave these sort ofgoings-on 'ere. You've 'eld up the 'ole proceedings. Somebody fallendown—what?'

''E tried ter knock me down a purpose,' said Pincher, indicating hisadversary.

'You're a liar!' retorted Parkin. 'It's like this,' he went on, tryingto explain the situation. 'I was skatin' parst this man, w'en all of asudden 'e puts out 'is foot an''——

'He did nothing of the kind,' Emmeline interrupted. 'It's him who'stelling lies, and well he knows it.'

'Well, I can't 'ave these goings-on 'ere,' the manager returned,glaring at them all in turn. 'I must ask the ladies and gentlemenconcerned to step outside and settle their differences elsewhere. Comeon, please.'

'Come on, Mister Martin. We'd best go. I hate all this fuss,' Emmelinewhispered. She moved off.

Pincher, nothing loath, unstrapped his other skate—one had alreadycome off in his tumble—and followed her, but not before Parkin hadhurled a final remark.

'Orl right, Mister Martin!' he said very venomously. 'I'll be even wi'you over this 'ere!'

'I'll take you on any day you likes!' Pincher threw back. 'I ain'tafraid o' you, you great skinny lamplighter!'

'And I'll never speak to you again, Wilfrid Parkin,' Emmeline put in,'Call yourself a gentleman! I don't think!' She snorted loudly to showher contempt.

'Come on, come on! Don't let's 'ave any more o' this, please!' from themanager.

'Orl right, old puddin'-face. Keep yer 'air on!' Pincher observed witha smile.

The lookers-on laughed loudly, for the manager was rather unpopular,and his face really was too fat to be pleasant.

'Pudding-face!' he gasped. 'Who are you calling pudding-face?'

But Pincher was out of earshot.

III.

'Request-men an' defaulters—'shun!' bawled the master-at-arms, as thecommander passed aft along the quarterdeck and took his stand behind asmall scrubbed table upon which were a pile of papers and severalponderous-looking books.

'Petty Officer Weatherley!'

The petty officer left the line, stepped smartly forward to the table,clicked his heels, and saluted.

'Petty Officer William Weatherley,' the M.A.A.[20] went on, 'requestshextension o' leaf till two P.M. on Monday.'

The commander looked up. 'Can he be spared?' was his first question.

'Request's signed by the torpedo lootenant, sir,' the M.A.A. explained;for Weatherley, being a torpedo gunner's mate by calling, was one ofHatherley's myrmidons.

'Why d'you want this extension?' the commander asked, playing with apencil.

'Urgent private affairs, sir.'

'Yes, quite so. But what are the private affairs, and why are theyurgent? Week-end leave expires at nine o'clock on Monday, you know.'

'I can't very well say, sir,' the petty officer said, glancing at thecrowd of ship's corporals round the table. 'My reasons are ratherprivate, sir.'

'Oh, I see. Can you tell me?'

'Yes, sir.'

The commander left the table, beckoned the man to follow him, andwalked aft out of earshot of every one else. For quite a minute theytalked together, and then the officer nodded, and Weatherley, with apleased grin, saluted and marched off.

'Request granted, master-at-arms,' the commander observed, coming backto the table. 'Next man.'

The M.A.A. made a note in his book. 'Able Seaman Billings!' he called.

Joshua ambled aft at a jog-trot, halted in front of the table, and,from sheer force of habit, removed his cap.

'Keep yer 'at on!' growled one of the ship's corporals in an undertone.'You ain't a defaulter!'

The commander turned his face away to hide a smile, and Billings,covered with confusion and rather redder in the face than usual,resumed his headgear.

'Able Seaman Joshua Billings. Requests a turn o' week-end leaf out o'watch.'

'Has he got a substitute?'

'Yessir.'

'Why d' you want leave out of your turn?' the commander asked, eyeingthe A.B. with a half-smile hovering round his mouth. 'You've beenashore a good bit lately, haven't you?'

'Yessir, I 'as,' Joshua answered, fidgeting. 'But ye see, sir, it'slike this 'ere. I've got werry himportant business ashore 'ere, sir,an' I wants to git it fixed up.'

'What sort of business? Money, or something of that kind?'

'No, sir. 'Ardly that. It's ter do wi' a lady, sir—lady wot livesashore 'ere an' keeps a sweet an' bacca shop wot sells noospapers.I'm—I'm'—— Joshua paused, licked his lips, and shifted his feetnervously.

The commander smiled. 'Are you—er—in love with the lady?' he asked.

The master-at-arms and one of the ship's corporals cleared theirthroats noisily.

'Yessir, that's abart it. Yer see, sir,' Billings went on, in a suddenburst of confidence, 'I sez ter meself that it's abart time I startedlookin' round fur somethin' ter do w'en I leaves the service, seein' as'ow I'm close on me pension, an' I sez ter meself'——

'Yes. I quite understand,' the commander interposed kindly. 'Time isshort, and you needn't go into details as to how it happened. You'vebehaved yourself well for the last couple of months, so I'll grant yourrequest. You mustn't make a habit of it, that's all. Look out, too, youdon't get into trouble, and, above all'—he looked up with asmile—'beware of evil companions. I wish you luck in your affair,Billings.'

'Thank you, sir. Same to you, sir.'

'Request granted. 'Bout turn, double march!' broke in the M.A.A.

Joshua saluted and trotted off, very much pleased with himself.

Several other requests were dealt with, and then came the turn of thedefaulters.

'Ord'nary Seaman Martin!' shouted the M.A.A.

Pincher, arrayed in his best serge suit, in the hope that his smartappearance might mitigate his offence, ran nervously forward and haltedin front of the table.

'Orf cap! Ord'nary Seaman William Martin. First, did remain habsentover leaf two an' a narf hours, an' was happrehended an' brought aboardby the naval patrol. Second, did create a disturbance in St John'sStreet, Weymouth, at 'arf-parst nine P.M. hon th' night o'the eleventh hinstant.'

The commander rubbed his chin thoughtfully and gazed at the buffcharge-sheet on the table in front of him. 'Where's the petty officerof the patrol?' he asked, without looking up.

'Petty Officer Bartlett!'

The petty officer hurried forward, and halted with a salute.

'Make your report,' said the commander.

'The night before last, sir, at 'arf-parst nine, I was in St John'sStreet with the patrol, w'en I sees a bit o' a crowd collected, an'some one tells me that two sailors was fightin'. I 'urries forward,sir, disperses the people with the hassistance o' a policeman, an'finds this 'ere man, sir'—he indicated Martin with histhumb—'fightin' with hanother man.'

'Who was the other man?'

'Ship's stooard's hassistant from the flagship, sir. I've forgot 'isexac' name.'

'Well, go on.'

'Well, sir, I happrehends 'em both, an' takes 'em off an' keeps 'emunder harrest, at the same time hinformin' the orficer o' the picketwot I done.'

'Who was the officer of the picket?'

'I was, sir,' said Lieutenant English, coming forward.

'Did you see those men fighting?' asked the commander.

'No, sir, not actually fighting. I saw them both immediatelyafterwards.'

'Were they drunk?'

'No, sir. They were excited, and the ship's steward's assistant's nosewas bleeding badly.' There was no necessity for the officer to describePincher's injuries, for that youth had a remarkably fine specimen of ablack eye.

'Did they resist the patrol?' the commander asked, turning to PettyOfficer Bartlett.

'Not this man, sir. 'E came along quite quiet. The other man kicked upa bit o' a dust.'

'H'm! I see,' the commander observed with his lips twitching.—'Whathave you got to say?' he added, addressing Martin. 'First, why did youbreak your leave?'

'Please, sir,' Pincher explained with the air of an injured innocent,'I 'adn't no intention o' doin' it. I comes down ter th' pier at seveno'clock an' finds the boat jest shoved orf. The clocks wus all wrong,sir. I sez ter meself I'll come orf by the late orficers' boat at'arf-parst ten; so I goes back, sir, 'as a bit o' supper, an' then, at'bout 'arf-parst nine, I meets Parkin'——

'Who's Parkin?'

''Im wot I was fightin' wi', sir.'

'Go on.'

'I meets 'im in the street, sir. We ain't the best o' friends, 'cos mean' 'im 'ad a bit o' a shimozzle'——

'Shimozzle!' echoed the commander, looking rather puzzled. 'What onearth's that?'

'Bit o' a dust-up, sir,' Pincher explained.

'Well, go on.'

'Well, sir,' the culprit resumed, 'we 'ad a bit o' a hargument at th'skatin'-rink abart a week ago. 'E was walkin' in the street along o' alady, sir; but as soon as 'e sees me 'e leaves 'er an' comes across terme. "You dirty little 'ound!" 'e sez, usin' 'orrible langwidge, "I'vegot yer now!" "You keep a civil tongue in yer 'ead, Mister Parkin," Isez, polite like. 'E don't wait fur no more, sir, but ups an' 'its meon th' 'ead. I couldn't stand that, sir, so I 'its 'im back. We 'adn'tbin at it no more 'n five minutes,' he added regretfully, 'w'en thepatrol comes along, sir.' Martin, who had been carefully drilled as towhat he had to say by Billings, himself a past-master at the art ofinventing excuses, reeled off his tale glibly enough, and then pausedfor breath.

The commander seemed rather perplexed. 'Why is it that Parkin andyourself are such bitter enemies?' he asked, looking up with a frown.'Why can't you behave yourselves like ordinary people?'

'It's like this 'ere, sir,' Pincher said, going off into a long-windedand very complicated explanation, which brought in Emmeline, the affairat the skating-rink, and how it had all happened.

'Oh, I see,' the commander observed. 'A girl's really at the bottom ofit—what?'

Martin hung his head and made no reply.

'You've got a very good black eye, I see, and a swollen mouth. Did youdo him any other damage besides making his nose bleed?'

'Yessir,' said Pincher hopefully, looking up with the ghost of a smile.'I thinks one o' 'is eyes is bunged up too.'

'Indeed! Well, so far as I can see, it's a question of six of one andhalf-a-dozen of the other.—Where's his record?' the commander asked,turning to a ship's corporal, who was holding an enormous conduct-bookopen against his bosom. 'H'm! No entries. Clean sheet. What division'she in?'

'Mine, sir,' said Lieutenant Tickle, coming forward.

'What sort of a man is he? Had any trouble with him?'

'None at all, sir. Does his work quite well.'

The commander turned to the misdemeanant. 'Well,' he said, speakingquite kindly and quietly, 'you haven't been in the service very long,my lad; but the sooner you realise we can't have this sort of thinggoing on the better. I don't object to fighting—we're all paid to dothat when the time comes; but if you want to take on one of yoursquadron-mates, you'd better do it somewhere where you won't be seen.Brawling in the streets only gets the navy into disrepute, so bear itin mind.' He paused.

Pincher hung his head.

'I can't say which of you was to blame,' the commander went on, 'but Ican't overlook your offence. However, it's the first time you've beenup before me, so I'll let you off lightly. You'll have seven days No.10;[21] and next time you want to fight anybody, or anybody wants tofight you, you let me know, and we'll provide you with boxing-gloves,and let you hammer each other on board during the dog watches. This manwas bigger than you, eh?'

'Yessir.'

'Well, I'm glad to see you've got pluck, and that you gave him morethan he gave you. That's all. Don't come up before me again, mind.'

'Seven days No. 10! 'Bout turn! Double march!' ordered themaster-at-arms.

Pincher ran off, rather pleased with himself. It was the first time hehad been a defaulter, and he had dreaded the ordeal; but he found thecommander was quite human, after all. Moreover, he had expected to bepunished far more severely for the affray; while the leave-breakingoffence, for which he was liable to a mulet of one day's pay andstoppage of one day's leave, had been completely ignored. The fact ofthe matter was that the commander, though he took good care not to sayso, sympathised with Pincher in his heart of hearts. He liked a man whostood up for himself, and when he had interviewed the other defaultershe called Tickle to his side.

'That fellow Martin of yours,' he said; 'he seems a plucky young devilfor his age?'

'He is, sir,' the lieutenant agreed; 'quite a promising lad. I've hadmy eye on him for some time. He's got plenty of—er—guts too, sir.English tells me that fellow who went for him was double his size.'

'So much the better,' the senior officer grinned. 'I wish he hadknocked him out.'

For the next week Pincher was undergoing the rigours of No. 10punishment. He didn't like it at all. To start with, he had to turn outof his warm hammock at four-thirty A.M., had his meal-timescut down to the barest minimum, while all his spare time was taken upin rifle exercise, physical drill, or extra work of some kind. It wasfar too strenuous to be pleasant, particularly as his leave wasstopped, and he could not go ashore. However, with Billings'sassistance, he found time to write a letter to Emmeline, which the A.B.delivered.

'Dere Miss Figgins'—it ran—'i am in trubble, having got in the rattle for fighting Mister Parkin larst thursday night in Weymouth. i made his nose bleed agen, and bunged up one of his eyes. i got a black eye and a swollen mouth, and seven days No. 10 for my trubble; but i hopes to come ashore agen next sunday. i'm glad he got the wurst of it. Hoping this finds You as it leaves me—[It is to be hoped that Emmeline, also, had not got a black eye and a swollen mouth]—I remains, miss, your obedient servant,

'Wm. Martin.'

The missive elicited a reply.

'Dear Mr Martin'—it said—'I am sorry to hear that you have been punished, but Mr Billings says it is not serious. I am glad to hear that Mr Parkin got the worst of it. I do not like him. The shindy at the skating-rink was all of his making, and he deserves what he got and more. Mother will be pleased if you will come to tea next Sunday at five o'clock P.M. I will be in, and you can tell us all about it. I hope your face will soon be all right. My Mother says Zambuk ointment cured Father's face when he fell off a cab once, and I have asked Mr Billings to get you some. With compliments, I am yours sincerely,

Emmeline Figgins.'

For several nights Pincher slept with Emmeline's note beneath hispillow.

CHAPTER VIII.

A FAIR SKY.

I.

'Leaf!' sniffed Pincher disconsolately. 'Wot's the good o' seven days'leaf ter a bloke wot ain't got no money?'

'No money!' exclaimed Billings, rather surprised. 'Why ain't yer gotnone? Thought yer wus one o' these 'ere chaps wot counted every penny.'

'I've bin spendin' a good bit lately one way an' another,' Martinexplained, removing a half-used cigarette from the interior of his capand lighting it.

Joshua grinned. He knew well enough that an ordinary seaman's pay ofone shilling and threepence per diem, less various necessarypersonal expenses, did not go far when one was 'walking out' with ayoung lady.

Pincher loved his Emmeline very dearly, and Emmeline, she said, hadcome to love him; but he was bound to admit she was rather an expensiveluxury. Moreover, he was far too proud to allow her to pay her share oftheir amusem*nts when he was with her, which was pretty often. So, whatwith picture-palaces and visits to confectioners' shops, hiseight-and-ninepence a week went nowhere. He had even been forced toborrow from his shipmates—always a difficult matter.

Then there had been the affair of the locket, over which Pincher felthe had been badly done. He had had his photograph taken, and had had itmounted in a rolled-gold ornament of chaste design for which he hadpaid the sum of seven shillings and sixpence, and this he had presentedto Emmeline to be worn round her neck in place of the one which alreadyhung there. He had imagined that this nine-carat gold case hid thefeatures of some other admirer. It did nothing of the kind. Itsinterior, when he was allowed to investigate it personally, containednothing but a faithful likeness of the girl's father—top-hat,side-whiskers, and all. Emmeline seemed rather amused. Pincher neverquite got over it.

'Carn't yer get a hadvance o' money from th' paybob?'[22] Joshuasuggested. "E ain't a bad old bloke so long as yer goes ter 'im wi' ayarn o' bein' desperate 'ard up, an' yer pore ole farther's 'ome bein'sold up, an' 'im an' yer ma an' the kids goin' ter th' work'ouse.'

'I've tried that,' Pincher answered glumly. 'Leastways, orl excep' theyarn wot yer said. 'E simply tells me I'm in debt ter the Crown 'cos o'clothes an' other gear wot I've bought, an' that 'e carn't do nothink.'

'I calls it a houtrage!' said Billings sympathetically, looking verysolemn. 'The way they bleeds us pore matloes is enuf—enuf—I carn'tthink o' wot I wus goin' ter say,' he added lamely; 'but it's abarttime somethin' wus done. S'welp me, it is!'

'An' abart time you pays back that two bob wot you borrowed off me,'Pincher chipped in, remembering the debt.

'Two bob!' cried Joshua, screwing up his face and trying hard to appearas if he didn't know what Pincher was driving at. 'Wot two bob?'

'Th' two bob I lends yer the night yer took Missis Figgins along terth' pictures. You knows orl abart it.'

'Thought it wus a present ter me,' said the old sinner, unable to feignfurther forgetfulness, but affecting to be very grieved. 'A bit o' areturn like fur me trubble in introjoocin' yer to th' gal. That's wot Ithought it wus; strite I did.'

Pincher laughed, for Billings's dissimulation was so very palpable.'Don't act so barmy,' he observed. 'Yer knows it wasn't. Yer don't 'aveme on like that.'

'But two bob ain't no good ter yer fur Christmas leaf,' protested theA.B., veering off on another tack.

'Carn't 'elp that. I wants it back.'

'Well, you shall 'ave it,' Joshua grumbled. 'But I calls it a dirtysort o' way ter treat a chap wot's done for you wot I 'ave.'

'Garn! don't act so wet, I tell yer.'

'Orl right! orl right! Don't go an' git rattled abart it,' saidBillings resignedly. 'You shall 'ave yer money. You shall 'ave it if I'as ter go without bacca fur a month; but where'd you be, I should liketer know, if yer 'adn't got a bloke like me ter look arter yer? Lookwot I done fur yer since yer jined this ship! Bin yer sea-daddy, I'ave, same as if you were my own son, an' yet yer treats me like this!Hingratitoode's wot I calls it. 'Orrible hingratitoode! Orl you youngblokes is the same!' He sighed deeply, and regarded Pincher with apained expression.

The latter seemed rather concerned. 'If yer looks on it like that,Billings, o' course I carn't'——

The A.B. waved an arm with a gesture of dissent. 'It's too late terstart talkin' now,' he observed sadly. 'Th' 'arm's done. You shall 'aveyer money, but you've gorn back on a pal, an' orl fur the sake o' twobob. Two bob! Wot is it?'

'Let's 'ave it, then,' said Pincher, holding out a tentative hand.

''Ave it! Yer don't reely want it, do yer?'

'Course I do.'

'I'll give it yer afore I goes on leaf.'

'I wants it now,' Pincher persisted, remembering Joshua's extremelyshort memory.

'D' you think I ain't honest?' the latter demanded. ''Cos, if yer do,jest say th' word, an' see wot yer gits!'

'I never sez you wasn't honest; but I wants me money back!'

Billings saw that further argument was useless, sighed once more,replaced his pipe in his mouth, fumbled under his jumper, and produceda leather purse from the money-belt round his waist. Its contentschinked opulently; but, shielding it from Pincher's wistful gaze, heextracted a shilling and two sixpenny-pieces and handed them across.'There ye are!' he grunted. 'Don't git sayin' as 'ow I doesn't pay medebts.'

'Yer pays 'em a bit be'ind time,' Pincher retorted with some truth,secreting the coins on his own person.

Joshua laughed in quite a friendly way. 'Tizzy-snatcher!' he growled,with his eyes twinkling.

But Pincher was bitterly disappointed about the leave. The men were tobe sent away for seven days, one party being at home for Christmas andthe other for the New Year. His watch were to start the following day;but, beyond the two shillings he had just obtained from Billings, heliterally had not a penny to pay his train fare home. He could get theusual third-class return ticket from Weymouth to London, and from thereon to his home, for the single fare; but even that would cost him thebest part of a sovereign. He had tried hard to induce the fleetpaymaster to give him an advance of pay, but that harassed officer,pointing out that Pincher was already in debt to the Crown, firmlydeclined to do so. Then Martin had endeavoured to borrow money from hisshipmates; but they, though sympathetic, wanted every penny they couldlay their hands on for their own purposes. He then thought of writingto his people for the necessary sum, but abandoned the idea, because heknew well enough that they, on their very limited income, always hadgreat difficulty in making both ends meet. Christmas, moreover, wasalways an expensive time, and there were three younger Martins to beconsidered.

It was really rather galling, and he half-regretted having spent allhis money on Emmeline. Since joining the service he had been home onleave before, of course, but not as an ordinary seaman of a first-classbattleship, and he was well aware that as such he would be a person ofsome importance in the village. The blacksmith's son, Tom Sellon, hadleft Caxton a mere country yokel to join the army. The winter previous,as a strapping, full-fledged private of one of his Majesty's lineregiments, he had come home on a few days' furlough resplendent in awonderful red tunic. His arrival created no small stir, for Caxton layin the heart of the Midlands, and its inhabitants were unused to thepomp and circ*mstance of war. Sellon, moreover, thought a great deal ofhimself. According to him, Great Britain was inhabited by two classesof people, those who were in the army and those who were not, and hetreated all 'civvies,' as he called them, with kindly tolerance. Hestood treat in a lordly sort of way at the 'Flying Swan,' andcondescended to drink what beer the village magnates offered him inreturn for this hospitality. He was not averse to being friendly withtheir pretty daughters either. In short, a scarlet tunic and an air ofself-assurance had worked wonders, for before he donned the red coatTom had been a mere nonentity. Now he was a personage, with a capitalP, and had even pretended to be rather diffident about acceptinghalf-a-sovereign which the squire, who had known him since childhood,pressed into his palm one Sunday after church.

Now Pincher, who knew little of the army, cordially despised soldiersin his heart of hearts. He longed to cut out Tom Sellon, but thiscursed lack of money at the critical moment had upset all his plans. Hecould have wept from sheer vexation, for there seemed no alternative tospending Christmas on board.

But it so happened that the railway company wished to know the numberof men proceeding by rail the next morning, and at 'Quarters' thatafternoon Tickle ordered all the men of the starboard watch of hisdivision to fall in on the right. Pincher went with them.

'Are any of you men not going away by rail to-morrow morning?' theofficer asked.

Four hands went up at once.

'Why aren't you going?' Tickle asked the first man.

'Spendin' the leaf in Weymouth, sir.'

'And you?' to the next.

'I lives in Dorchester, sir. Goin' on by a later train.'

'Ain't takin' th' leaf, sir,' said the third.

'Why not?'

'Nowhere to go, sir.'

'Have you no parents, or relations, or any one else you can go and staywith?'

'I'm an orphing, sir,' the man rather flummoxed him by replying. 'I'drather stay aboard the ship than go an' see me old uncle wot lives inPeckham, sir. 'E's married agen, sir, an' 'is wife keeps a fried-fishshop.'

Tickle smiled and passed on. 'And what about you?' he queried, comingto Martin.

'Ain't got no money, sir.'

'Have you been to the paymaster for an advance?'

'Yessir.'

'What did he say?'

'Said I was in debt, sir.'

'How much does it cost you to get home?'

'Best part of a quid—sovereign, I means, sir.'

Tickle thought for a minute, nodded, numbered those men who were going,and then dismissed them.

Pincher thought nothing more of the conversation, but that evening hewas told to go to the ship's office.

'Is your name Martin?' asked an assistant-paymaster when he arrived.

'Yessir.'

'You want some money to go on leave with, eh?'

'Yessir, please,' said the ordinary seaman, feeling hopeful.

'We can let you have thirty shillings. Is that enough?'

'Yessir,' Pincher exclaimed, his eyes glistening.

'Are you willing to pay it back at the rate of three shillings amonth?'

'Yessir.'

'All right. Sign that receipt.'

Pincher, astounded at his good fortune, hurriedly scrawled his name,was handed a golden sovereign and ten shillings in silver, and left theoffice with a satisfied grin all over his face and the coins jinglingin his hand. He was so pleased at his good luck that he didn't stop toconsider where the money came from. All he cared about was that he hadgot it, and that he could go home and cut out Tom Sellon, after all.

As a matter of fact, it was Tickle himself who had acted the part of anautical fairy godmother. He had noticed that Pincher seemed veryunhappy, and had guessed the reason, and at first thought of lendinghim the money outright. Thirty shillings more or less meant nothing tohim. But then, remembering that Martin would probably refuse the loanfrom feelings of pride, he hit upon a better plan; so he went to thefleet paymaster, handed him the money, and requested him to pay it overto Pincher as if it were an official advance.

'My dear Tickle,' protested Cashley, 'you'll never get it back! Theboy's already in debt to the Crown, and his pay's only one-and-three aday!'

'Let him pay it back at the rate of three bob a month, sir,' suggestedthe lieutenant. 'I'm not particular. He looks so damned miserable atnot being able to get away on leave that I must do something. Don'ttell him it comes from me, though. He won't take it if he knows that.'

'All right. I'll see to it,' the fleet paymaster acquiesced, smiling.'I suppose,' he asked jokingly, 'you wouldn't lend a poor old bufferlike me twenty or thirty pounds to buy the wife a turkey and aplum-pudding?'

'I'd watch it, sir!' Tickle laughed. 'What about that new car youbought a fortnight ago?'

'That's why I want to borrow from you,' Cashley grinned. 'However, I'llfix Martin's money up for you, though I must say I think you're atender-hearted fool, Tickle. You'll be badly had one of these days.'

Tickle merely smiled. The prospect did not alarm him.

So the next morning, at seven-thirty, Pincher, arrayed in his bestclothes, left the ship with a sweet smile and a little bundle ofnecessaries done up in a blue-striped handkerchief. An hour later hewas sitting in a third-class carriage on his way to London, munching adoubtful-looking sausage-roll, and listening to a slightly intoxicatedsailor next to him, who insisted on giving the company what he called'a little moosic.' It consisted of a few fragmentary remarks in adeep-bass rumble about the perils of a sailor's life, sudden hiccups asfull stops, and frequent gurgling noises and sounds of enjoyment as thesongster upended a quart bottle of Bass's light dinner ale, and appliedthe business end to his mouth. He eventually finished the song and thebottle at the same time, and, shying the latter playfully through theopen window, volunteered to fight the whole carriage. This pleasurebeing denied him, he solemnly kissed the company all round, and thenwent comfortably off to sleep with his mouth wide open, his headresting affectionately on Pincher's shoulder, and his feet on theopposite man's lap. Thus he remained until they arrived at Waterloo,where, on disembarking, he never noticed that one of hiscarriage-mates, by the skilful use of a burnt cork, had decorated hisupper lip with a large black moustache.

History does not relate if he arrived home in this condition, for,after vainly endeavouring to induce various laughing porters and theamused guard of the train to 'come an' 'ave a wet, ole dear!' and then,when they refused, wanting to show there was no ill-feeling byexchanging headgear, he was last seen proceeding at three and a quarterknots on rather an erratic course towards the nearest refreshment-room.

But Pincher got home safe and sound without any difficulties of thiskind, and by four o'clock was in the bosom of his admiring family.

II.

The leave was all too short, though Pincher did succeed in attractingmore attention than Tom Sellon, and was, after church on Christmas Day,the bashful recipient of a congratulatory speech and a golden sovereignfrom the squire.

Captain the Hon. James Lawson, J.P., the lord of the manor and a goodmany other things besides, was an old naval officer himself. He knewall the villagers by name, and took more than a passing interest in anyof the boys who joined either the navy or the army. Pincher was awareof this, and imagined that he had received a pound, as against TomSellon's ten shillings the year before, because he happened to be amember of the senior service. As a matter of fact, it was due tonothing of the kind. It so happened that the squire had no smallerchange in his waistcoat pocket.

But, at any rate, the news of Pincher's windfall was blurted far andwide, and his reputation rose accordingly. It was quite simple. IfThomas Sellon got ten shillings and William Martin a sovereign,obviously 1 Martin = 2 Sellons;∴ the two familiesalmost came to blows to settle which was the better. Sellon père, infact, felt himself so bitterly offended that he nearly went to thesquire to complain. It was lucky for Captain Lawson that he didn't, forthat would have cost the worthy squire another ten shillings to soothehis injured feelings.

The week flew by, and when Pincher returned to the ship and hisEmmeline he soon settled down into the old routine. The girl, whoseemed to have adopted him as her permanent 'young man,' now took itupon herself to correct the defects in his speech.

'Billy,' she said one day as they were walking arm-in-arm along thefront at Weymouth, 'I don't like the way you talk.'

'You don't like my talk!' he returned, rather nettled. 'It's orl right,ain't it? Good enuf ter git on wi' aboard th' ship, any'ow!'

'There you go again!' she pointed out, smiling. 'You say "ain't"instead of "isn't," and "ter" instead of "to," and you drop your h'ssomething horrid.'

'Wot's it matter if I do?' he demanded. 'I ain't—'aven't, I mean—'adth' hadvantage o' a heddication same as you.'

The girl laughed outright. 'Don't get angry. I'm only telling you foryour own good.'

'Orl right!' he retorted with asperity, disengaging his arm from hers;'if I ain't good enuf for yer we'd best chuck the 'ole show, an' youcan go back to yer Mister Parkin—'im wot smells o' 'air-oil!'

'Don't be silly, stupid!' she chided, slipping her arm through hisagain and squeezing it affectionately. 'You know I don't like him alittle bit.'

'You carn't like me, any'ow,' he remarked, bitterly offended.

'Leastways, if yer did yer wouldn't go talkin' the same as yer do.'

'Oh! don't I, indeed? Think I'd go walking out with you, and letyou—er—behave as you do, if I wasn't fond of you?'

'Let's 'ave a kiss now,' Pincher suggested, drawing a little closer.

Emmeline pulled back. 'Go away, you naughty boy!' she laughed, blushingbecomingly. 'Not in public, anyhow.'

'Yer knows I loves yer, Hemmeline, don't yer?' Pincher asked.

'M'yes,' she answered softly. 'If you didn't I don't suppose you'dcarry on the way you do. But plenty of boys have said the same thingbefore, so you're not the only one—no, not by a long chalk.'

'D' you love me, Hemmeline?' Pincher wanted to know.

'Ah,' she said archly, 'now you're asking.'

'Come on, tell us if yer do.'

'Well,' she answered coyly, looking up at him through her longeyelashes, 'just a little, perhaps, when you're a good boy. That's whyI want to tell you how to talk properly,' she went on to explain. 'Iwant you to get on—see?'

'Oh!' said Pincher, slightly mollified, but not knowing in the leasthow a correct pronunciation would make him rise in his profession,'that's the lay, is it?'

Emmeline nodded.

III.

By the end of February Martin had passed his examination in gunnerywithout much difficulty, and was half-way through his seamanshipcourse. Here, under the guidance of Petty Officer Bartlett, he andseveral others like him were taught the rudiments of boat-work underoars and sail, the use of the compass and the helm, the rule of theroad at sea, heaving the lead, knotting and splicing, signalling, and ahundred and one other things. The practical boat-work Pincher enjoyed,and soon got into; while the knots and splices, thanks to privatetuition in his spare time from Joshua Billings, were comparatively easyto master. The more theoretical part of the business, however, was alittle more difficult to absorb.

'The compass,' Petty Officer Bartlett explained to the class, as theysat round on stools in the foremost bag-flat—'the compass is what westeers the ship with—see? It's supposed to point to the north pole,but it don't really. On the cont'ary, it points to wot we calls thenorth magnetic pole—see?'

The pupils looked rather puzzled.

''Owever,' the petty officer went on hurriedly, as one youth opened hismouth to ask what might have been an awkward question, 'we needn'tworry our 'eads about that this arternoon, and you can take it from methat it does point pretty nearly to the north—see?

'This,' he continued, drawing an irregular circle on the blackboard,'represents our compass-card, and 'ere we 'ave wot we calls the fourcardinal points—north, south, east, and west.' He divided the circleinto four parts by means of a vertical and a horizontal line, andlabelled their extremities. ''As anybody not got 'old o' that?'

Everybody appeared to have grasped it, for they all sucked their teethand remained silent.

The explanation continued, but half-way through his lecture Bartletthad reason to suppose that certain members of the class were not payingattention.

''Udson!' he said, pausing, chalk in hand, and addressing afreckle-faced youth, who had spent the afternoon surreptitiously eatingapples and sticking pins into the most prominent portion of the anatomyof the man immediately in front of him, 'wot is the hopposite towest-nor'-west?'

'Sou'-sou'-west,' the youngster replied glibly.

'Look 'ere, my son, you're not payin' hattention; that's wot's thematter wi' you. D' you think I'm standin' up 'ere 'longside ablackboard chawin' my fat[23] for the good o' my 'ealth, or wot? Tryagen.'

'Sou'-sou'-east,' the ordinary seaman attempted.

'You thick-'eaded galoot!' Bartlett growled. 'Don't you want to learnnothin'? Cos, if you don't, you're goin' the right way about it. Didn'tyou 'ave no teachin' afore you joined the navy? Think it's a 'ome forlost dogs, or wot? I asked you wot was hopposite towest-nor'-west—see?'

'East-sou'-east,' said Hudson at last.

'Right! Why couldn't you 'ave said so before, 'stead o' wastin' my timelike this 'ere, you lop-eared, razor-necked son of a sea-cook? Youperishin' O.D.'s don't seem to 'ave no common-sense, some'ow.'

And so, point by point, degree by degree, the petty officer graduallyhammered the subject into their skulls until their brains whirled andtheir heads ached. Much of what he told them went in at one ear and outat the other; but something stuck, and at the end of a fortnight mostof them could box the compass with a fair degree of accuracy, knew thatit* circumference was divided into thirty-two points and three hundredand sixty degrees, and were aware that each point was exactly elevendegrees fifteen minutes from the next. In short, they came to regard itas what it really is, an instrument whereby 'the mariner is able toguide a ship in any required direction,' and not merely as acomplicated invention of the Evil One specially designed to involve themoribund brains of ordinary seamen in intricate mental gymnastics. Whatlittle wizard inside the compass-needle induced it to keep pointingtowards the magnetic pole, a spot which most of them pictured as adesolate region of Esquimaux, icebergs, and polar bears, they did notknow. They were quite content to take it for granted that it did so.The science of terrestrial magnetism, luckily for them, did not enterinto their curriculum.

The learning of the marks and other details of the hand lead-line wasquite a simple matter, and all the class—even Hudson, the fool of theparty—could recite it all, poll-parrot fashion, at the end of thefirst day's instruction.

'Th' weight o' th' lead is ten ter fourteen pound, an' at th' bottom of'im is a 'ole ter take a lump o' taller or soap ter hascertain th'nature o' th' bottom.' Here the reciter took a deep breath, and gazedanxiously at the instructor to see if he was correct.

Bartlett nodded encouragingly.

'Th' line is one an' a heighth hinches in circumference, an' istwenty-five fadum long, an' one end is secured ter an 'ide becket atth' top o' th' lead by means of a heye-splice. Th' hother end is madefast to a stanchion in th' chains. Th' line is marked as follers: attwo fadum, two strips o' leather; at three fadum, three strips; fivean' fifteen, a piece o' white buntin'; seven an' seventeen, redbuntin'; thirteen, blue buntin'; ten, a piece o' leather wi' a 'ole in'im; twenty, two knots. These is orl known as marks, cos they aremarked, an' orl them fadums wot ain't marked is called deeps.'

Even Hudson knew all about the theoretical part of the business, so weneed go no further.

But actually heaving the lead was a very different matter, for here thelearner was forced to take up his stand in the chains, a small platformon a level with the forecastle, projecting perilously out over thewater. The victim rested his middle against the breast-rope, graspedthe line about two fathoms from the lead, and coiled the rest of theline in his free hand. Then, very nervously, he proceeded to swing thelead like an ordinary pendulum over the side of the ship to obtainimpetus, until, when the line was horizontal on its forward swing, hewas supposed to—what Bartlett called—'swing it over the 'ead in acircle by bendin' the harm smartly in at the helbow as the lead isrisin', an' then let the harm go hout agen w'en the lead 'as passed theperpendicular. Then, arter completin' two circles, slip the line fromorf the 'and, just before the lead comes 'orizontal, let 'im flyfor'ard into the water, release the coil o' line in the other 'and as'e goes, gather up the slack w'en 'e reaches the bottom, an' call outthe depth o' water w'en the ship passes over the spot w'ere the leaddropped—see?'

He then proceeded to demonstrate, and, stepping into the chains,whizzed the lead round his head with such ease and rapidity that hispupils were gulled into the belief that it was quite simple.

They all tried it in turn, but speedily found that a fourteen-poundweight on the end of twelve feet of thin line is not really a pleasantplaything. When they were at it by themselves the lead seemed horriblyunwieldy and dangerous, and, as often as not, through sheer fright,they forgot to give the line at the right moment the vigorous twitchwhich brought the lead circling round in a beautiful curve. Theconsequence was that it would either descend perpendicularly from theair in close proximity to their heads, or else would fall with a jerkwhich nearly pulled their arms out of their sockets, neither of whichalternatives was exactly pleasant. But they practised it steadily forhalf-an-hour daily, with the ship at sea and in harbour, and,notwithstanding a few misadventures like heaving the lead on to theforecastle in the midst of a group of men, or nearly brainingthemselves, they improved by degrees.

And so, in course of time, Pincher became rather less of a hobbledehoyand rather more of a seaman. Fresh air and regular exercise workedtheir usual wonders, for his pasty face became ruddy and his flabbymuscles hard; while plenty of good beef, bread, and potatoes caused hisspare figure to swell until he had to have his clothes let out by theship's tailors. Moreover, he was no longer the meek and timid Pincherwho had joined the ship a few months before. He was not behind-hand inusing his fists, and had come to find his own level; and many of theyouths who used to amuse themselves at his expense while he was stillin the verdant stage now found their little attentions repaid withinterest. Peter Flannagan, even, still an ordinary seaman, always introuble, and rapidly going to the dogs, shunned him like the plague.

But Pincher, whatever his qualities, was no plaster saint. He did notdrink to excess, and never became what is known as 'tin 'ats,'[24] butwas not averse to visiting public-houses when he went ashore. There wasreally no reason why he shouldn't, provided he behaved himself.

Emmeline's influence, moreover, kept him straight in other ways; and onone occasion she saved him from getting into serious trouble forbreaking his leave. It was rather a long story, involving an eveningentertainment to which the girl had been invited, and to which Pincherdearly longed to accompany her. He would have done it, too, if he hadbeen left to his own devices, quite regardless of the fact that allleave expired at seven o'clock that night, as the ship was due to go tosea at eight the next morning.

Now, breaking one's leave is a serious offence at all times; but doingit with the ship under sailing orders is far and away worse, andEmmeline knew this. So at six-forty P.M. precisely shesallied out with the unsuspecting Pincher on the pretext of going for awalk, took him towards the pier, and, before he could stop her, marchedhim straight up to a petty officer wearing a Belligerentcap-ribbon.

'D'you mind taking this young man off to the ship with you?' she asked.'I'm afraid he's going to do something silly.'

''Ere!' Pincher exclaimed angrily, 'wot's up wi' you? Wot's it got terdo wi' you?'

The P.O. seemed rather surprised at the girl's request. 'Wot's 'e bindoin', miss?' he asked, touching his forelock.

'It's not what he's been doing,' Emmeline explained; 'it's what he'sgoing to do. Says he's going to break his leave and get himself intotrouble.'

Pincher looked round with the obvious intention of breaking away; butthe P.O. nodded and grabbed him by the arm. 'You come along o' me, myson,' he remarked gruffly. 'Come on! Don't git kickin' up a shindy'ere!'

'Interferin'!' Pincher blustered, wild with rage and struggling hard toget free. 'Interferin'—that's wot I calls it! Wot's it got ter do wi'you? Think becos you've got a killick[25] on yer arm yer can do wot yerlikes, I suppose!—Has fur you, Miss Figgins, I'll'——

But the girl had discreetly turned her back, and was hurryinghomewards.

'Come on!' growled the P.O., dragging him along. 'I reckons you oughtto be jolly thankful to the gal for takin' such a hinterest in you.None o' that, now!' as Pincher began to struggle again. 'If you don'tcome quiet like I'll call the patrol an' have you harrested. S' welpme, I will! Come on! We've not got too much time on our 'ands!'

Pincher, very chastened, saw that further resistance was useless, andsuffered himself to be conducted on board the boat without moretrouble.

The ship was at sea for only a few days; and a week later, when he wentto see Emmeline again, he arrived in a very repentant mood, carrying abunch of violets as a peace-offering.

'Well,' she said severely, as he entered the shop, 'I didn't thinkyou'd dare to come here again after what happened last Monday night.'

Pincher hung his head and got very red. 'Wouldn't dare!' he repeated.'Why not?'

'You know very well why not,' she said, eyeing him. 'What's that you'vegot in your hand?'

'Wilets,' he said.

'Who for?'

'I got 'em fur you,' he stammered. 'Thought p'r'aps you'd like 'em.'

Emmeline's heart softened. 'Bill,' she said kindly, 'you know I didn'twant to make a fool of you, don't you?'

No answer.

'I only did it to save you getting into trouble,' she continued,emerging from behind the counter and coming very close to him. 'It'svery kind of you to bring me the violets, dear Bill; I'll wear 'em inmy dress. You're not angry with me, are you?'

Pincher looked up at her with a slow smile hovering round his lips. Shehad called him 'dear,' a thing she had never done before, and thatshowed he was forgiven.

'Angry!' he said, tucking his offering clumsily into the front of herblouse. 'Course I ain't. I wus a bit rattled at th' time, but Ishouldn't 'a bin 'ere if I 'ad broke me leaf. I reckons you done me agood turn, Hemmeline.' He gulped, and gazed wistfully at a littlestrand of golden hair which curled tantalisingly behind her left ear.'Give us a kiss, ole gal?' he pleaded softly. 'I've bin longin' ter seeyer agen.' He put his arm round her waist, drew her towards him, andtouched her face with his lips.

Emmeline squeaked, pushed him away, and darted behind the counter witha flutter of a white petticoat and a momentary glimpse of a pair ofwell-shaped ankles clad in black silk stockings. 'You're a naughtyboy!' she scolded, safe in her refuge—'a very naughty boy, to behavelike that when customers may come in at any minute! You've rumpled mynew blouse, too,' she added, patting herself and rearranging theviolets. 'My, they do smell nice!' She bent her head and buried the tipof a very fascinating and somewhat retroussé nose in theflowers.

Pincher laughed happily. He felt he was very lucky.

'You go through into the sitting-room, Mister Martin,' she went on,with a mischievous wink and a jerk of her thumb. 'I'll be along in aminute, and—and mother's out!'

IV.

Soon afterwards, when the bleak and stormy winter was nearly over, theBelligerent and the other vessels of the squadron started off ontheir first real cruise since Pincher had joined. They had had plentyof time at sea before this, of course; for gunnery, gunnery,toujours gunnery—unless it was torpedo-running, steam tactics,or P.Z. Exercises[26]—was carried on throughout the year, winter,spring, summer, and autumn alike. They were always at it; and thoughthe frequent south-westerly gales made the winter work very unpleasantand trying, though officers and men bemoaned their fate and swore 'twasa 'mug's game,' it did them all the good in the world. So, at the endof February, the squadron left the short, choppy seas of the Channeland the familiar hump of Portland behind them, and waddled south, forall the world like a family of turtles migrating to a sunnier sea. Itwas then, for the first time, that Pincher knew what it was to bereally seasick.

Their first port of call was Arosa Bay, in Spain, just to the southwardof Cape Finisterre, and for once the much maligned Bay of Biscay upheldits reputation by providing a very fair sample of a south-westerly blowfor Pincher's especial benefit. But he was by no means the onlysufferer, though.

It was a snorter of a gale, a regular snorter, and the short, snappylittle seas of the Channel were nothing to these long, gigantic,foam-crested mountains of water rolling in with all the might of theAtlantic behind them. The battleships wallowed and plunged about totheir hearts' content Their movements were slow, deliberate, and verystately; but how they rolled! One could feel their enormous weightsmashing through the seas instead of riding over them. Water came overthe fore-castle in solid gray-green masses, until the deck was buriedand the fore-turret, with its pair of twelve-inch guns, looked like ahalf-tide rock. Sheets of spray drove over the bridges. Thequarterdecks were untenable; and at times gigantic, white-cappedbillows would blot out every vestige of the next ship astern—only fivehundred yards away—except her topmasts.

The Belligerent was battened down, but even then a considerableamount of water found its way below. The atmosphere on the mess-decks,well impregnated with the mingled odours of cooking, damp clothes, andcrowded humanity, was nauseating. Tables and other fittings had carriedaway from their fastenings, and a horrible mixture of sea-water, hats,caps, boots, food, broken crockery, pickle-jars, tins of condensedmilk, and pots of jam swished to and fro across the deck every time theship heeled over. Each roll added something fresh to the collection.

On one particularly heavy lurch the door of the officers' galley shotopen, and the wardroom cook slid gracefully out on to the mess-deck,accompanied by an avalanche of frying-pans and saucepans, thestock-pot, and a large receptacle full of Irish stew for the officers'lunch.

'If this ain't the ruddy limit!' he observed dismally, picking himselfup and gazing at the débris with disgust written on his pea-green face.'They'll git nothin' 'ot fur lunch ter-day, that I'm bloomin' wellcertain!' Nobody listened to what he said; and, after surveying thescene for another instant, he yawned twice, and then bolted hastilytowards the upper deck. He got there just in time, poor man!

Most of the younger men were past caring whether it was Christmas orEaster. They merely became as limp and as pale as pocket-handkerchiefs,wedged themselves in convenient corners, unconscious of the water andrubbish washing round them, and wished that they might die. Some ofthem nearly did. It was only the old stagers like Billings who were notaffected, and they, instead of offering consolation to their sufferingshipmates, went about casting rude gibes at the poor wretches.

''Ullo!' remarked Joshua, strolling aft to his mess at dinner-time, andcoming to a halt opposite a miserable little party sitting with theirbacks up against the ship's side. ''Ullo! 'ere we 'ave Mister PincherMartin, Rile Navy! 'Ow are we, ole son? Feelin' a bit squeamish—wot?'

The 'ole son,' whose face was a ghastly yellow, whose eyes were closed,and whose head rested carelessly on the shoulder of his next-doorneighbour, a man whose name he didn't even know, looked up with asickly grin, and then relapsed into torpitude.

Billings, swaying easily to the violent rolling of the ship, looked athim with amusem*nt. ''Ave a bit o' somethin' t' eat?' he suggested,with horrible cheeriness. 'Nice little bit o' corned beef, or a drop o'pea-soup? Pea-soup's fine scran fur blokes wot's seasick.' He smackedhis lips appreciatively.

Pincher shook his head.

'Then 'ave a nice bit o' fat 'am?' suggested his tormentor. 'Slips downnice an' easy like, an' don't rest 'eavy on th' stummick, fat 'amdon't.'

Pincher groaned at the idea.

''Strewth! you ain't 'arf a sailor, you ain't!' the elder man snortedcontemptuously, moving off.

Pincher expressed no emotion at all. The very sight of Billings'srubicund countenance made him feel worse than ever, while a man whocould mention food at such a time was surely beyond the pale. Moreover,a sailor's life was the very last thing that he took any interest in atthat particular time.

Even some of the officers were unwell. The padre retired to hisbunk, and was fed by his marine servant on soda-water and Bath Oliverbiscuits; while Cutting, the young surgeon, Hannibal Chance, thecaptain of Marines, and the fleet pay-master refused nourishment of anykind whatsoever. Nearly all the others made some attempt to eat theirmeals; but all except the most hardened sea-dogs bolted a fewmouthfuls, and then beat a hasty retreat to their cabins. The onlyperson who did really enjoy it was Harry Derrick, the Royal NavalReserve lieutenant, or 'Cargo Bill,' as his messmates invariably calledhim. He always had an insatiable appetite, whatever the weather, and a'little bit of a sea like this' did not incommode him in the slightest.It was nothing to what he had experienced off Cape Horn in thewind-jammer days he never tired of talking about when he could persuadeany one to listen.

But all things come to an end in time; and, after thirty-six hours ofabsolute misery, Pincher revived to find the squadron steaming intoArosa Bay.

So this was Spain! he thought to himself, looking round with interestas they passed into the sheltered anchorage. He had imagined it to berather a wonderful country, but if this was a fair sample, he didn't gomuch on it. A large indented bay; a few blue hills in the distance; alow-lying, arid-looking country, dotted here and there with woodedclumps and patches of cultivated ground; a few small white houses and agray stone church or two; a straggling town and a long pier at the headof the bay; and many fishing-boats with strangely cut sails. There wasa peculiar tang in the air, the nature of which he could not at firstdetermine. It was neither the sweet odour of freshly turned earth,new-mown hay, or heather, nor yet the honest salty smell of the opensea. It was something far more pungent and overpowering. He found outafterwards that it emanated from various sardine-preserving factories,and the discovery put him off canteen 'sharks' for quite a week. Thereare sardines and sardines; let us be thankful they are not all Spanishsardines!

No, Pincher's impressions of the first foreign country he had evervisited were not exactly enthralling. Spain looked a very ordinaryplace from the water, and it did not improve on further acquaintancewhen he went ashore with Billings the same afternoon.

The town, Villagarçia, was not a delectable spot. It smelt of garlicand ancient fish. Its streets, badly paved and odoriferous with heapsof nameless garbage, seemed to provide a happy hunting-ground for manylean, fierce dogs, perambulating pigs and goats accompanied by theirfamilies, and prowling poultry. The people, too, looked dirty andill-favoured, and the better-class men all smoked cigarettes and worelong black cloaks and wideawake hats, like clergymen at home inEngland. Numbers of barefooted boys and girls of all ages between threeand seventeen followed Pincher and Billings about wherever they went.'I say! On' penni!' they demanded persistently, holding out theirgrubby hands. 'I say, Jack! Damn you! I say, on' penni!' There was nogetting rid of them until the pennies were forthcoming; and their stockphrases—all the English they knew—seemed to have been handed downfrom generation to generation, ever since British men-of-war firststarted to visit the place in the year one. It was a paying game, forthe bluejacket is always free with his hard-earned money.

No, Villagarçia was not attractive. There was nothing to do except todrink vinegary vino blanco in the taverns, and to buy picturepost-cards, silk shawls, paper fans showing fierce and bloodthirstybullfights, and hideous tambourines depicting plump, gaily dressedladies in short skirts dancing the mattiche. On the whole,Pincher was not sorry to get back to the ship, and he did not troubleto go ashore again.

A fortnight later they arrived at Gibraltar, where the ships wentalongside the Mole in the inner harbour to take in coal. But here theoperation was quite gentlemanly compared with coaling from a collier,for the fuel was carried on board in small baskets on the backs ofnondescript, garlic-scented aliens known as 'rock scorpions,' and allthe ship's company had to do was to stow it in the bunkers as it cameon board. There was none of the back-breaking work of shovelling.

Coaling completed, the ships went out almost daily for aiming riflepractice; and then came the annual 'gunlayers' test' with thetwelve-inch, six-inch, and lighter guns.

'Wot is this 'ere gunlayers' test they talks abart?' Pincher, rathermystified, asked Billings.

'Gunlayers' test!' the A.B. returned, staring at him very muchsurprised. 'You've bin in this 'ere ship nigh on six months, an' yerdon't know wot a gunlayers' test is?'

''Ow can I know wot it is?' Martin sniffed. 'I ain't see'd it, 'ave I?'

'Ain't see'd it, ain't yer?' Joshua snorted. 'Ignerance, that's wot itis! 'Owever, I'll larn yer. Gunlayers' test is wot we carries art everyyear wi' orl th' guns in th' ship—see? Th' ship steams parst a targitat fairly close range, an' orl th' gunlayers fires in turn. It's a bitof a competition like, an' they orl 'as a certain number o' rounds terfire in a certain time—see? It's just ter see if'——

''Ow fur orf is th' targit?' Pincher wanted to know, for even he couldunderstand that this was rather a vital point.

'Don't yer git interruptin' w'en I'm spinnin' a yarn!' Joshuaremonstrated. 'I loses th' thread o' wot I'm sayin'.' It was fairlyearly in the morning, and he was still feeling cantankerous.

The ordinary seaman apologised. 'Sorry,' he said. 'I didn't mean no'arm.'

'Course yer didn't; but if yer gits arskin' stoopid questions, 'ow kina bloke remember wot 'e's sayin'? Wot wus it yer wanted ter know?'

''Ow fur orf th' targit wus.'

'Not werry fur,' Joshua explained. 'Leastways, it ain't exac'ly fur,an' it ain't exac'ly close. You oughter know wot I means; I carn'tremember th' exac' distance. Any'ow, gunlayers' test ain't th' same asbattle practice, 'cos then we fires orl th' guns at once, same as we doin haction, likewise at long range—see? Gunlayers' test is simply acompetition like, ter see if th' blokes kin shoot strite—see?'

'An' wot 'appens then?' Pincher asked, still rather hazy as to whatreally did take place.

'Wot 'appens? Orficers comes aboard from other ships as humpires, an'they takes th' time each bloke takes ter fire 'is rounds, an' countsth' number o' rounds 'e gits orf; likewise th' number of 'its an'misses on th' targit. The results is then packed up an' sent ter th'Admiralty, an' them blokes wot's done extry well gits medals an' moneyprizes, an' them wot ain't 'as a court o' hinquiry on 'em, an' probablygits disrated from bein' gunlayers—see?'

'An' kin I git a medal fur this 'ere?' Martin eagerly asked, for he,also, was a humble member of one of the twelve-pounder guns' crews.

Joshua was amused. 'Kin you git a medal?' he laughed. 'A littleco*ck-sparrer like you! Course yer bloomin' well carn't! They onlywhacks 'em art ter them gunlayers wot's done extry well, an' there'swerry few on 'em given. You ain't a gunlayer, an' ain't likely to beone neither. Gunlayers 'as brains.'

'But 'oo gives these 'ere medals?' Pincher asked, ignoring the insult.'The admiral?'

'No; th' King gives 'em. Leastways they 'as 'is likeness on 'em, so Ireckons they comes from 'im. Nutty Buttolph, th' gunlayer o' my gun,'ad one larst year. 'E wears it Sundays wi' 'is No. 1's. I reckons Ioughter got it too, 'cos I'm th' loadin' number wot shoves in th'projectile, an' each six-inch projectile weighs a 'undred pounds. Wegot orf eight rounds an' got eight 'its on th' targit, an' I reckons itwus me wot done it just as well as 'im.' Billings's chest swelled withpride at the recollection.

''Ard luck!' Pincher murmured.

''Ard luck?' remarked Joshua. 'Course it wus 'ard luck! 'Owever, I tookten bob orf my opposite number in th' flagship, an' fifteen bob orfanother bloke wot thought 'is gun could shoot strite. We were top o'th' 'ole bloomin' squadron larst year,' he added; 'precious near top o'th' 'ole navy, an' don't yer bloomin' well forgit it. Our ship'scompany made a bit of a pay-day over it.'

'Pay-day! 'Ow d' yer mean?'

Joshua grinned and winked one eye. 'Bettin'!' he said in a hoarsewhisper.

'But I thought bettin' wusn't allowed?' Martin remonstrated,remembering the regulations.

'No more it is, me son; but th' skipper won 'is ten quid from th'flagship's skipper, 'oo said 'is ship 'u'd beat us; an' w'en 'e won it'e whacked it art among th' guns' crews, 'e did. Proper gennelman, 'eis. Th' Bloke, an' Jimmy the One,[27] an' most o' th' other orficersmade a bit too. We're wot we calls 'ot stuff in th' shootin' line, Ikin tell yer.'

Billings was quite right. There was certainly no lack of rivalry, forthe officers and men of the squadron were as keen on the resultsobtained by their respective ships as they possibly could be. Thegunlayers' test was treated in much the same way as a regatta or arace-meeting, for sweepstakes were got up and bets were freely offeredand taken on the performances of individual gunlayers. Strictly againstthe regulations, of course, but nobody seemed to mind, and thefavourites themselves became very important personages for the timebeing.

To the ship's company of any man-of-war, 'our ship' is invariably thebest shooting and the smartest ship not only in the whole squadron, butalso in the entire British navy. Disputes as to the merits of two crackvessels have been known to lead to regrettable incidents ashore. Pewterbeer-mugs are handy missiles, and black eyes and contusions, thoughrare, are by no means unheard of. Moreover, if a smart ship whichfancies herself is beaten at gunnery by some dark horse, the obviousinferences, from her men's point of view, are: (1) that the umpireshave been bribed; (2) that the ammunition was bad, and it thereforeaffected the shooting; (3) that the sea was much rougher and the shiphad far more motion than when H.M.S. So-and-so fired; (4) that the sunwas in the wrong place, and that the light was bad; (5) that theweather was misty; and so on, ad infinitum, all the excusesbeing equally futile.

But rivalry between ships, despite occasional bickerings ashore whentheir respective partisans wax argumentative, does no harm. On thecontrary, it is a good sign. It shows there is esprit de corps.

On this occasion, however, the Belligerent's guns were possessedof a devil. She did very well, it is true, and came out second in thesquadron, but was just beaten by the Tremendous. The defeat cameas a severe blow, particularly as a treasured silver challenge cup,presented by the admiral and awarded annually to the best ship, nowleft its resting-place on the Belligerent's mess-deck and foundits way to the flagship. It was carried off in triumph by the winners;but the Belligerent's gunlayers cursed long and loud, and sworeby all their gods that it had been won by a fluke. So did some of theofficers.

'This 'ere's th' ruddy limit!' Billings muttered fiercely. 'Ter thinko' these 'ere Duffos[28] 'avin' th' imperence ter say they 'ave beatenus! They ain't done it fair! S' welp me, they ain't! It's enuf ter makea bloke take ter—ter anythin'!' He was going to say 'beer;' but,remembering Mrs Figgins and his new-found respectability, he wiselyrefrained.

After spending a month at Gibraltar, they returned to Portland to givefour days' Easter leave, and then sailed off to Berehaven, where theydid more gunnery. Then on to the west coast of Scotland for a cruise,and finally back to Portland again.

The time passed very rapidly. Spring gave way to summer, and in duecourse Pincher found himself passed out of the seamanshiptraining-class and handed over to the tender mercies of a torpedogunner's mate, who crammed his head with an astounding number of factspertaining to electricity and torpedo work generally.

One Sunday in the early summer, however, the chaplain ratherelectrified his congregation. 'I publish the banns of marriage,' heread, 'between Able Seaman Joshua Billings, bachelor, of this ship, andMartha Ann Figgins, widow, of the parish of St Cuthbert's, Weymouth. Ifany of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons shouldnot be joined together in holy matrimony, you are to declare it. Thisis for the first time of asking.'

The commander, and various other officers who knew Joshua intimately,could hardly restrain their mirth.

'The old devil!' Tickle exclaimed in the smoking-room after theservice. 'To think of any woman wanting to marry him!'

'There are plenty of worse men than Billings,' the commander disagreed.'He's not very attractive to look at, I'll admit; but, provided hekeeps off beer, he and his Martha'll get on all right. What he wants isa woman to rule him with a rod of iron.'

'You'd better give the lady a few tips, sir,' Tickle suggested.

'Not I!' laughed the commander. 'I shall merely present them with anormolu timepiece—whatever that may be. It shall be suitably inscribed,too. You see,' he added, 'Billings, in spite of beer, is quite one ofthe best seamen in the ship, and I shall be very sorry to lose him whenhe takes his pension.'

There is no need to describe Joshua's wedding, or to tell how some ofthe officers and a goodly proportion of the ship's company attended theceremony, how Pincher performed his duties as 'best man,' and how thecommander himself was prevailed upon to make a speech and to drink thehealth of the happy couple in grocers' port wine. It all went off likea house on fire; but at the tea-party afterwards Pincher seemed ratherdistracted.

''Ullo, chum!' the beaming bridegroom asked him, 'wot's up wi' yer?You've got a face on yer like a sea-boot.'

'I'm just thinkin' somethin',' Pincher explained.

'Thinkin' wot?' Joshua wanted to know. 'Wot an 'appy hoccasion this is,or wot?'

'No, 'ardly that.'

'Wot is it, then?'

'I wus thinkin' that now you've gorn an' married Missis Figgins you areHemmeline's farther, ain't yer?'

'S'pose I am,' Billings assented, scratching his head, for the questionhad not occurred to him before. 'Leastways, 'er step-farther.'

'An' s'pose I marries Hemmeline, wot relation are yer to me?'

'You ain't arsked my leaf to court 'er,' Joshua pointed out. 'An's'pose yer does, I don't know as 'ow I shall give my consent. Thesehaffairs is important—see? I'll 'ave ter hinquire as ter yer prospex,an' suchlike. Supposin' yer wusn't respeccable?'

'Respeccable!' Pincher retorted. 'Don't talk so wet! If I ain't goodenuf ter marry Hemmeline, you ain't good enuf fur Missis Figgins—see?She's 'er mother, ain't she?'

'Don't go an' git dizzy on this 'appy day,' Joshua went on with mockgravity. 'Don't go gittin' rattled! Carn't you see w'en a bloke's'avin' a joke like?'

'It ain't no subjec' ter make fun o',' Pincher answered, rathermollified. 'But, any'ow, s'posin' I does marry 'er, wot relation wouldyou be ter me? That's wot I wants ter know.'

'I reckons I'd be yer step-farther-in-lor,' Joshua answered after dueconsideration. 'Leastways, that's 'ow I looks at it. I'll arsk th'missis, though. Come an' 'ave a wet.'

Pincher, nothing loath, acquiesced. They went off arm-in-arm.

CHAPTER IX.

THE CLOUD.

I.

It all happened very suddenly. The fleet had been reviewed by hisMajesty the King at Spithead in the middle of July, and after thiscertain exercises were carried out in lieu of the usual summermanœuvres. They did not last very long, however, for on Friday, 24thJuly, the Belligerent arrived at her home port to effect somenecessary repairs, and, incidentally, to give four days' leave to hermen; so the next morning half the ship's company, including Pincher,left for their homes.

Now the Martin family, being country-people, did not worry their headswith newspapers on weekdays. For one thing, the papers cost money andwere difficult to get; and, for another, they had little time to readthem. Mr Martin usually bought Reynolds's Weekly on Sunday; buton that particular Sunday, 26th July, there was nothing in it to giverise to any anxiety. He did notice that there was some sort of troublebetween Austria and Serbia; but that could not possibly affect hisweekly wages, and beyond remarking casually to his wife that 'themthere Balkan nations is 'oly 'orrors for gettin' up rows,' he paid nofurther attention to it.

On the following Tuesday, 28th July, at ten-forty-three A.M.precisely, Pincher left the cottage to buy a packet of cigarettes atthe village shop. Albert, his youngest brother, aged five, clutching apenny with which he proposed to purchase two sticks of glutinous butvery succulent pink nougat, accompanied him. They were away exactlyfourteen minutes, and on their return found Mrs Martin, fresh from herwash-tub and with her arms covered in soapsuds to the elbows, bubblingover with suppressed excitement. She was gazing in a perturbed mannerat a telegram; for, to the Martin ménage, the arrival of anorange envelope was a matter of some importance. It generally spelttrouble. The last one had arrived over a year before to announce thatMrs Martin's sister had been run over by an omnibus.

''Ullo, ma!' Pincher exclaimed, noticing his parent's agitatedcondition; 'wot's th' racket?'

'This 'ere's just come,' she said excitedly, handing the telegramacross with very damp fingers. 'For you, it is. You've got to go backto the ship at once!'

'Go back!' he echoed indignantly, taking the offending missive. 'Myleaf ain't up till fu'st train ter-morrer mornin'!'

'Ye'd best read it, son,' remarked the lady, wiping her arms on herapron. 'See for yerself.'

Pincher did so. 'Gosh!' he exclaimed with a whistle of surprise, 'thereain't no bloomin' error abart this 'ere.'

There was not. It was addressed to him personally, and was signed,'Commanding Officer.' 'Leave cancelled,' it said abruptly, almostbrutally. 'Rejoin ship immediately.'

''Strewth! Wot's th' buzz, I wonder?' he murmured, very much puzzled,and looking at the back of the paper as if to find the answer to hisquestion there. 'Wot's it mean?'

'That's wot I'm wonderin',' said his mother. 'Wot does it mean? Ye'renot in trouble, are yer?' She had a vague suspicion at the back of hermind that Pincher might have absented himself without leave.

'Trouble! Course I ain't. It ain't that. There's somethin' else in th'wind. One o' these 'ere bloomin' war buzzes, I reckons.' He spoke as ifwars and rumours of wars were of everyday occurrence.

Mrs Martin seemed rather alarmed. 'War!' she gasped, looking up with ahorrified expression. 'Wot d' you mean, Bill? Surely we're not goin' towar?'

'Course we ain't, ma,' he replied, laughing, and patting herconsolingly on the shoulder. 'This 'ere don't mean nothin'; only a bitof a buzz round like. Yer see,' he pointed out with pride, 'we—th'navy, that is—always 'as ter be ready fur these 'ere shows, 'cos ifanythin' did 'appen an' we wasn't ready things 'u'd be in a pretty hotmess. S'pose I'd best be makin' a move, though,' he added ruefully.'Bit orf, I calls it!'

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (4)

'Gosh! there ain't no bloomin' error abart this 'ere.'

Page 152.

'Goin' now?'

'Fu'st train,' he said, nodding. 'This 'ere telegraph says rejoinimmediate. I expec's th' ship's goin' ter sea in an 'urry like, an'they wants me back perticular.'

Mrs Martin gazed at her son with motherly pride. She did not like theidea of his leaving so soon; but it was very consoling to think that hewas a person of such importance on board the Belligerent thatthe ship could not go to sea without him. He must be very valuable,otherwise they would not have telegraphed.

Albert, who had already assimilated half a piece of nougat, and hadcovered his face with pink stickiness, looked up inquiringly. 'Billgoin'?' he queried fretfully.

'Yes, ducky,' answered his mother. 'Called back to 'is ship. 'E's goin'now.'

The information was too much for Albert. He withdrew the sweetmeat fromhis mouth, screwed up his face, and suddenly burst into a howl. 'Ow!'he bellowed; 'Bill's goin' back to 'is ship! Bill's goin' back!' It wasa matter of some importance to him, for the presence of his elderbrother meant an occasional honorarium of one penny, and one pennymeant a plentiful supply of nougat. His little soul delighted innougat. His mother never gave him pennies.

'Stop yer 'owlin', Albert!' Mrs Martin ordered severely. 'Has if I'adn't enough to think about without listenin' to yer noise!—Bill,'she went on, glancing at the clock, 'you'd best be off. The Lunnontrain stops at the station at eleven-forty-four, same one yer uncleCharles come by yesterday. There's not another till the arternoon. Theclock's a bit fast, but it's about quarter-past eleven now, an' thestation's a good couple o' miles.'

''Strewth!' muttered Pincher, darting from the room, 'I'll 'ave terrun.' He went to his bedroom, collected his few belongings, andpresently reappeared with an oilskin over his shoulder and a small bluebundle in his hand.

Albert, with his mouth wide open, gazed at him tearfully.

'S' long, ma,' Pincher said, putting his arm round his mother's neckand kissing her gently. 'Say good-bye ter farther w'en 'e comes 'ome,an' th' kids w'en they gits back from school.'

'Good-bye, son. Good luck to yer,' she answered, drawing his head downand embracing him, with the tears in her eyes. 'I do 'ope it's notnothin' serious. Write an' let me know 'ow yer gets on.'

'Right you are, ma.—S'long, Halbert,' he went on cheerfully, bendingdown and kissing his small brother. 'Be a good boy, now, an' don't gitworritin' ma, now I'm goin'.'

The tears streamed down the youngster's cheeks. He began to whimperloudly.

'Be a good boy, I tells yer,' Pincher went on, patting him. 'If mawrites an' tells me you've be'aved yerself I'll send yer another pennynex' week. If yer don't, yer won't git no penny—see? Gosh!' he addedhastily, 'it's 'igh time I wus orf.' He gave his mother another hurriedkiss, and a second later was out of the cottage and racing down theroad as fast as his legs would carry him. The shrieks of theinconsolable Albert pursued him.

Mrs Martin watched him till he gave a final wave before disappearinground a bend in the lane, and then returned to admonish her small son.'Ye're a naughty boy, ye are!' she scolded shrilly. 'If yer don't stopit I'll put yer across my knee an' give yer wot for; straight, I will!Stop it. D'you 'ear wot I say?'

Albert's howls gradually died away into sobs.

Mrs Martin returned to her wash-tub with dismal forebodings in herheart. Telegrams always meant trouble.

II.

'Bless yer 'eart an' soul!' exclaimed Billings, with a loud snort, ''eain't goin' ter fight. Orl this 'ere racket's only a bit o' bouncelike. Same as wot 'e did in that 'ere show in nineteen eleven.' Herammed the tobacco down into his pipe and relit it, with one watchfuleye on his companion.

'I presooms ye're talkin' abart that there Meroccer bizness,' saidTubby M'Sweeny, producing a cigarette from the lining of his cap.'Aggie-dear wus wot they called it.' He seemed rather proud of hissuperior knowledge.

'Yus, that's it,' Joshua agreed with a nod. 'I knowed it wus Aggiesomethin'. But, any'ow, look wot this 'ere Kayser Bill does then!Directly 'e see'd we meant bizness 'e piped down smart, an' sed 'e wussorry for wot 'e'd done. That's wot 'e'll do this time, I reckons.'

'I dunno so much abart that,' M'Sweeny disagreed. 'Look 'ow themGermans downed France an' done th' dirty on them! I reckons they thinksthey kin do the same wi' us—s'welp me, I do.'

'Garn!' jeered the other. 'They've got ter reckon wi' our bloomin'navy, an' it's more'n double as good as theirs. I'm not sayin' theydoesn't mean ter fight us later on,' he added, wagging a finger; 'but Isays they won't try it on now. 'Sides, they ain't sailors!' To show hiscontempt he expectorated violently, and with deadly precision, into anadjacent spitkid.

M'Sweeny seemed sceptical. 'Maybe they ain't sailors,' he pointed outsolemnly; 'but we ain't see'd nothin' of 'em. We knows nothin' of 'em,either. I've 'eard tell, too, that that there Kayser bloke o' theirs'as gingered 'em up somethin' crool, an' a navy wot's been gingered upmust be on th' top line same as us, mustn't it?'

Joshua shook his head. 'I tell yer they ain't goin' ter fight yetawhile,' he persisted. 'Orl this 'ere racket's only a bit o' bounce. D'you think they doesn't know wot our navy's like? Ain't they bloomin'well scared of it?' Billings, a staunch and very insular Briton, stillheld to the belief that his own countrymen were the only really goodseamen in the world. Those of other nationalities were either 'Dagoes'or 'nigg*rs,' and which of the two terms was the more opprobrious wasrather a moot point.

'An' wot abart our army?' came an irrelevant remark from Pincher, whohappened to be listening. 'I knows a bloke wot's in th' BlackWatch—lance-corporal 'e is—an' 'e reckons our army's bin properlygingered up an' is properly on th' top line.'

'Th' men is orl right,' said M'Sweeny mournfully, 'an' so is theorficers; but we ain't got enuf of 'em. We ain't got a million men inth' army, nor yet 'arf that number, an' that there Kayser's gotmillions an' millions!' He waved a hand vaguely to give some idea ofthe Teuton hordes.

'But if we goes ter war our army 'as a slap at somethin', I suppose?'Pincher queried.

'Course they does, fat'ead,' Joshua replied with fatherlycondescension. 'They goes an' 'elps th' Frenchies ter take Berlin,while we—th' navy, that is—'as a desprit battle in th' North Sea, an'wipes th' deck with their bloomin' 'Igh Sea Fleet. The army blokes'llbe at Berlin in a month or six weeks, an' we'll 'ave done our job in'arf th' time. W'en we've done it we orl goes 'ome on leaf wi' ourmedals an' V.C.'s, an' becomes public 'eroes wot saved the country. Butyou mark my words, the 'ole bloomin' war'll be over in three monthsw'en it comes. 'Owever, they ain't goin' ter fight now, so wot's theuse o' yarnin' abart it? This 'ere racket's only a spasm like. It don'tmean nothin'.'

But M'Sweeny, obviously a pessimist, shook his head. 'I dunno so much,'he answered sadly. 'I've bin 'avin' feelin's in me 'ead that somethin''s goin' ter 'appen soon, an' me feelin's allus comes true. W'en youwus made a leadin' seaman, Josh, I 'ad a feelin' that you'd be an A.B.agen afore long; an' w'en'——

'Wot! d' yer mean yer 'ad a feelin' abart me?' Billings interrupted,rather annoyed. ''Ow dare yer?'

'I 'as feelin's in me 'ead abart lots o' people,' Tubby reiteratedsolemnly. 'They allus comes true.'

Joshua lifted up his head and laughed. 'Feelin's in yer 'ead!' hejeered. 'Feelin's in yer stummick, more like. It's beer wot's done it,Tubby; an' if it ain't beer, it wus them canteen termarters yer 'ad fursupper larst night!'

'Termarters be damned!' retorted M'Sweeny.

Now this conversation took place during the dinner-hour of Thursday,30th July, two days after the watch on leave had been hurriedlyrecalled, and all further shore-going had been cancelled.

Neither Billings, M'Sweeny, nor Pincher—nor, for that matter, anyother member of the ship's company—knew exactly how they could becomeembroiled. They were all painfully aware that there was trouble inEastern Europe, and that, in some remote sort of way, this troubletransmitted itself to them. But beyond anathematising the 'spasm,' asthey called it, on somebody's part which had caused their leave to bestopped, and extra work in the way of coaling and embarking ammunitionto be carried out, they regarded the affair as of no more importancethan the annual summer manœuvres. War was utterly unthinkable.

But by this time, if they had only known it, practically the whole ofthe British fleet was on a war footing, and ready for instant action.The newspapers had remained discreetly silent, and the whereabouts ofsquadrons, flotillas, and individual ships was unknown to the public.They had vanished into the air; but, except in isolated cases, everyvessel in the navy was already at her war station or on her way there.Dockyards were working night and day. Naval reservists and pensionerswere flocking to their depots; retired officers were coming forward indozens to volunteer their services. Colliers, oil-fuel ships,ammunition ships, and a thousand and one other fleet auxiliaries hadbeen chartered, and the Admiralty had taken their 'precautionarymeasures' so rapidly and so unostentatiously that hardly a soul in thecountry realised that anything untoward was happening.

The fleet was ready, and well it was for Britain that it was so.Germany, relying perhaps on a surprise attack at some 'selected moment'before an actual declaration of war, and while our fleets and squadronswere still dispersed, had bungled badly. She may not have expected usto join in the war; may have imagined that Britain, fettered with thepossibility of complications in Ireland, preferred to keep out of aContinental struggle at all costs. But she had made a grievous mistake,an error which, combined with the wisest forethought on the part of theBritish Admiralty, made it practically impossible for the trident ofBritannia ever to pass into the hands of the Teutonic Michael.

Early the next morning, 31st July, the Belligerent left her homeport, and steamed to her base in the English Channel to rejoin the restof the squadron. It was quite a short trip, but it was on the passagethat the eyes of the ship's company were opened to the fact thatsomething serious really was in the wind. For one thing, the ammunitionfor all the six-inch and lighter guns was brought up from the magazinesand shell-rooms and distributed to the casemates and batteries; whilecertain of the weapons were kept constantly manned—what for, exactly,none of the men quite knew. The captain and the commander looked graverthan usual; and Chase, the gunnery lieutenant-commander, ratherworried, held hurried consultations with the gunner about shell andcartridges, and had a party of armourers constantly at work throughoutthe day testing and adjusting the mechanism of his weapons.

The commander and the carpenter, too, the latter armed with a largepiece of chalk and a note-book, made a solemn peregrination of theship, decorating various wooden fittings with cabbalistic signs as theywent. Pincher, who happened to be working on the boat-deck at the time,heard part of their conversation. It rather frightened him.

'All this wood of yours will have to be landed or slung overboard, MrChipping,' the senior officer remarked, coming to a halt beside a pileof spars and planks on the boat-deck, and eyeing it with evidentdisfavour. 'If a shell burst in the middle of this little lot we'd havea bonfire in a couple of seconds.'

Pincher pricked up his ears.

'It's all on charge, sir,' the carpenter answered ruefully, withhorrible visions of subsequent discrepancies in his store-books. 'I'vegot to account for every inch of it.'

The commander laughed. 'You storekeeping officers are bornobstructionists, Mr Chipping,' he exclaimed. 'If we go to war yourstore-books will go to the devil, anyhow, so what on earth does itmatter? I'm always greeted with the same remark when I'm trying to makethe ship a little less like a bonfire. They're invariably "on charge,"dammit!'

'And so they are, sir,' put in the carpenter. 'I have to account for'em.'

'Can't help that. You'd better send in your bill to the Kaiser. Anyhow,we can't have all this lumber up here; it's a regular death-trap.'

Mr Chipping scratched his grizzled head. 'I'll land all what I can'tstrike below, sir,' he grudgingly assented at last.

'Yes, see to it at once, please. If this pile of wood catches fireit'll play Old Harry on the upper deck with the twelve-pounders andtheir ammunition.'

Pincher listened open-mouthed, for it was quite obvious from the waythey talked that things were far more serious than Joshua had led himto believe. Moreover, he, Martin, was in full agreement with thecommander as to the expediency of removing the pile of wood from theboat-deck. His station in action was at one of the upper-decktwelve-pounder guns, and he had no wish to emulate Shadrach, Meshach,and Abednego of the Old Testament in their blazing, fiery furnace.

The carpenter got busy with his chalk, and before long the whole pileof lumber was ornamented with little noughts and crosses. The noughts,Pincher assumed, meant that the articles so marked were to be retained,and the crosses that those bearing this mark were to be thrownoverboard or landed; and when, a little later, he had occasion to go onto the upper deck he found many other things decorated with the samemystic signs. Certain of the smaller boats, spare spars, cabin doors,accommodation ladders, gratings, lockers, anything and everythingwooden, inflammable, or likely to make splinters, were apparently to goby the board. It gave him furiously to think.

The ship arrived at her base during the afternoon, and Captain Spencerwent on board the flagship to report his arrival. He was away for anhour and a half, and came back with what the officer of the watchcalled 'a face like a sea-boot,' and the information that the situationwas very serious. Beyond that he professed to know nothing, but everyone noticed that the commander was closeted with him in his cabin forfully three-quarters of an hour on his return from the flagship. PettyOfficer Finnigan, moreover, the captain's coxswain and a great friendof the admiral's cook on board the flagship Tremendous, told hismessmates with much gusto that the cook had informed him that theadmiral's steward had told him (the cook) that war with Germany wasonly a matter of hours.

We have heard of yarns emanating from ships' cooks generally beingtreated with derision, but presumably admirals' cooks are abovesuspicion in this respect, for the news spread rapidly, and the'Belligerents,' believing it implicitly, were flung into a state ofill-suppressed excitement in consequence. Most of them had never seen ashot fired in anger; but the prospect of war—the awful prospect of theunknown—did not seem to alarm them. On the contrary, officers and menwent about their business with light hearts and smiles on their faces,for, as Tickle had once pointed out when referring to the same subject,'it's a bit thick if we're doomed to fire our guns at a canvas targetall our lives.' Most of them longed for a run for their money, and toall appearances they were going to have it. The graver possibilities ofwar did not intrude themselves upon their minds until long afterwards.They all felt co*cksure that they, individually, were not fated to dieviolent deaths by the enemy's shell, torpedoes, mines, bombs, or bydrowning. If any one was to be killed, it was not they. They merelypictured to themselves a short and triumphant struggle, at theconclusion of which—in six months at the very most—they, having sunkthe enemy's navy, would go home on leave with medals on their manlybosoms, to be hailed as the saviours of their country. Alas for theirdreams!

The squadron was in a state of feverish activity. Some ships weretaking in final supplies of coal and ammunition, working night and day;while others were landing all their superfluous wooden or inflammablefittings and non-necessary stores. The 'Belligerents' themselvesstarted on the job early the next morning. Such a collection there was!Many tons of paint and varnish; some of the smaller boats; quantitiesof timber for building targets; wooden accommodation ladders; baulks,spars, and planks; chests of drawers from the officers' cabins, and tincases and trunks containing their personal effects and more treasuredpossessions; the midshipmen's and chief petty officers' chests; doorsof cabins; gratings; even the wardroom pianola, an instrument which wasbeing paid for on the instalment system, were taken ashore and lodgedin a place of security. The work took them a full forty-eight hours.

The Belligerent, being a pre-Dreadnought battleship, had to havemore done to her to make her ready for battle than a similar vessel ofa later class, and Sunday, 2nd August, brought no cessation of labour.If anything, it was a more strenuous day than the previous one, forexcept for a brief service on the quarterdeck, lasting exactly tenminutes, officers and men alike were hard at work preparing the shipfor war. There was plenty to be done. Extra lifts and tackles were putupon the yards on the foremast to prevent them crashing down from aloftif struck by a shell, the rigging was snaked down with hawsers to stopit flying away if severed, and extra protection, in the shape oftightly rolled-up canvas awnings, thick enough to stop a substantialshell-splinter, was improvised round the bridge and fire-controlpositions up aloft.

Fire, first-aid, and stretcher parties were told off and organised, andeverything was done, beyond the final wetting of decks, to make theship ready for immediate action, and to lessen the chances of damage tovessel or men through fire or fragments of flying débris almost asdangerous as the shell-splinters themselves.

Surgical bags containing bandages, dressings, splints, and tourniquetswere placed ready to hand in all the gun positions in case men werewounded; morphia tabloids were served out to all the officers ofquarters for administration to badly injured men; while the fleetsurgeon and Cutting, the 'young doctor,' saw to the gruesome implementsof their profession, and caused the operating-table to be transferredfrom the sick-bay to a convenient site behind armour on the lower deck.

Tickle's cabin was next to the 'young doc's' in Rogues' Alley, as itwas called; and, happening to go below during the forenoon, he noticedCutting through the half-drawn curtain busy with a chamois leather andan array of murderous-looking knives, probes, and forceps laid out onhis bunk.

'Hallo, Sawbones!' he remarked, putting his head inside; 'I see you'vegot all your ironmongery out. Think you're going to have something todo at last—eh?'

'Hallo, Toby! That you? Come inside and have a look. I've an excellentline in cutlery, guaranteed to kill or cure while you wait. What d'youthink of that?' He held out a horrible-looking knife with a thin curvedblade.

'Ugh!' shuddered Tickle. 'Take the beastly thing away! What d'you dowith it?'

'Cut, my dear chap,' the doctor gloated. 'One sharp snick likethat'—and he gave the blade a downward jerk, and clicked suggestivelywith his tongue—'and then we get to work and remove—er—anything youlike. Ripping little thing, isn't it?' he laughed. 'This,' the medicocontinued, laying the knife down and picking up a probe and a pair offorceps, 'is what we use for feeling for a bit of shell inside a chap,and this is what we fish it out with. Quite simply done. Topping littleoperation to watch.'

'You bloodthirsty little blighter!' Tickle ejacul*ted.

'Bloodthirsty! Why, it's my job, isn't it? We hardly ever get a chanceof doing any decent operations in peace, worse luck!' he addedregretfully; 'your sailors are so disgustingly healthy; and if they doget really ill and promise to be interesting cases, they're packedstraight off to hospital. Sickening, I call it!'

'M'yes, that's true, I suppose,' Tickle agreed, smiling. 'Look here,though, doc; if you ever have to—er—extract a bit of shell or otherforeign substance from my anatomy, look out you don't chuck it away. Iwant to keep it as a relic.'

Cutting grinned. 'Right-o, Toby; I'll see to it. Now you'd better clearout of here, young fellow, and get on with your work. I'm busy, and I'msure you ought to be.'

Tickle departed.

III.

The marine postman, who should have been off at eight o'clock, wasdelayed, and did not come on board with the mails and Sunday papers forthe ship's company until nearly noon. But when he did finally turn uphe was nearly carried off his feet by the rush of men.

''Ere, posty!' shouted some one, 'got my Dispatch?'

'Wot abart my Lloyd's and People?' roared another man,elbowing his way through the throng.

'Ain't ye got my Reynolds's?' from somebody else.

'Oh, go to 'ell!' retorted the exasperated marine, vainly endeavouringto make his way forward through the crowd with a large leather satchelslung over his shoulder and three bulbous mail-bags on his back. 'Oh,go to 'ell, the 'ole boilin' lot o' you! Orl in good time! 'Aven't noneo' you blokes got no patience?' He was annoyed, poor man, and had everyright to be, for he had gone breakfastless, and the mail, arrivinglate, had delayed him many hours.

'Well, tell us th' noos!' some one bellowed above the uproar.

'Noos!' he replied. 'Germany's declared war on Russia, an' all thenaval reserves an' pensioners is called out! Wot more d'you want?'

It was quite sufficient; enough, indeed, to reduce a good many of themto a state of excited incoherence. It seemed practically impossiblethat Great Britain could keep out of the conflict; and, thoughthroughout the ship the general feeling was one of warlike joy, it wastempered here and there by a touch of subdued solemnity. The maildespatched the same evening constituted a 'bloomin' record,' as thelong-suffering postman put it, for every officer and man on board hadspent the afternoon in writing letters.

'I know'd my feelin's 'u'd come true,' remarked M'Sweeny in his messduring supper. 'I know'd this 'ere wus comin' orl along. I know'd yerwus wrong, Josh.' He wagged his head wisely, and looked at Billings,who was sitting opposite.

'Don't start chawin' yer fat, Tubby,' Joshua retorted. 'Things is quitebad enuf without yer makin' of 'em worse.' He was feeling ratherpeevish and irritable. He was thinking of his wife, and wonderedvaguely when he was likely to see her again.

''Owever,' he added, putting down his fork with a throaty sigh, 'Idon't much care wot 'appens now so long as we 'as a decent smack atthem blighters. I owes 'em one fur gittin' me bloomin' leaf stopped,an', by gum, they'll git it w'en I runs acrost 'em!' He glared savagelyat the man opposite as if he, too, was a potential enemy.

''Ear, 'ear!' shouted another man, banging heavily on the table.'Them's my feelin's.'

'There, there, me boy-o!' snapped M'Sweeny. 'W'en ye've finishedupsettin' me tea, Mister Jones, I'll git along wi' me supper, thankin'yer orl the same. Them bloomin' Germans can wait. Supper carn't.'

''Ark at 'im,' jeered 'Mister Jones.' 'Just 'ark at him! Allus worryin'abart 'is vittles!'

'An' why shouldn't 'e?' suddenly demanded Billings, veering round andtaking M'Sweeny's part. 'Better ter be a well-covered bloke like 'imthan a lop-eared, spindle-shanked son of a perishin' light'ouse likeyou. It makes me feel 'ungry ter look at yer.'

Both M'Sweeny and Jones promptly became covered in confusion; for,whereas the former's adiposity was his sore point, Jones was as touchyon the subject of his excessive leanness.

That same night, or, rather, early the next morning, they had theirfirst alarm. The immaculate Aubrey Plantagenet FitzJohnson happened tobe the officer of the middle watch—midnight till fourA.M.—and at two-thirty, having absorbed two large cups ofhot cocoa and half-a-dozen tongue sandwiches, he was sauntering up anddown the silent quarterdeck, pipe in mouth, and longing for his bunk.It was chilly for the time of year. There was no moon, and though hereand there stars peeped out between rifts in the clouds moving down fromwindward on the gentle breeze, the sky generally was overcast and thenight was dark.

Quite suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of footsteps runningalong the boat-deck. Next came the clattering of a ladder and a muffledexclamation as some one fell down the last few steps and landedpainfully on the deck, and then the footsteps advanced on to thequarterdeck. Whoever it was was evidently in great haste. FitzJohnsonturned round.

'I wants th' orficer o' th' watch,' he heard an agitated voice tellingthe quartermaster. 'Where is 'e?'

'Here I am. What's the matter? Who's that?'

'It's me, sir—Grimes, ord'nary signalman,' the man pantedbreathlessly. 'Please, sir, th' yeoman o' th' watch on th' bridge toldme to tell you there's a Zeppeling comin' over th' 'ill!'

'A Zeppelin coming over the hill!' the officer echoed, in astonishment,half-suspecting that some one was pulling his leg. 'What the devild'you mean, my man?'

'It's gawspul truth, sir. 'E's burnin' lights, an' me an' th' yeomansaw 'im quite plain.'

Grimes was obviously in earnest, and the lieutenant did not wait tohear any more. He crammed his cap firmly on his head, darted from thequarterdeck, ran up the ladder leading to the after shelter-deck, spedalong the boat-deck, barking both shins badly as he went, and finallyclambered up the ladder leading to the fore-bridge, breathless and limpwith excitement. 'Where is it?' he gasped.

'Over there on the port bow, sir!' answered an equally agitated yeomanof signals, busy with a pair of binoculars. 'D'ye see where that 'umpsticks up on top o' the 'ill, sir?'

'Yes!'

'There's a bit o' dark cloud on top of it, and just to the left, sir.'E's be'ind that now. We'll see 'im agen in a minute w'en the cloudpasses.'

They both gazed at it anxiously, and presently the mass of vapourthinned and drifted away on the light breeze.

'There, sir!' exclaimed the yeoman, triumphantly waving an arm. 'See'im now, sir? 'E seems to 'ave altered course to port a bit since Isee'd 'im first; but 'e's there all right. See 'is lights, sir!'

The man was quite right; for, looking in the direction indicated, thelieutenant distinctly saw in the sky a bright white light, with, justbelow and to the left of it, a green light They both seemed to bemoving rapidly in a north-easterly direction, and looked for all theworld like the steaming and starboard bow lights of a ship suspended inmid-air. He snatched the glasses from the yeoman's hand and lookedintently through them. Yes, the white and green lights were quitedistinct. They seemed to twinkle as he watched them, and behind themthere appeared to be a dark phantom shape rushing through the sky. AZeppelin, without a shadow of doubt.

Dashing down the glasses with an exclamation, he fled from the bridgeas if Satan himself was after him, and running aft, hastily told themarine corporal of the watch to turn out twenty marines with theirrifles and ball ammunition, and then to inform Captain Hannibal Chance,R.M.L.I., that a Zeppelin was in sight.

Aubrey P. FitzJohnson was no fool. Not he. He knew that hostilities hadnot started, but he had read enough history to be aware that hostileacts had frequently been committed before actual declaration of war.Moreover, he was officer of the watch, and as such was responsible forthe safety of the ship, and it would never do if he were to be caughtnapping by a bomb-dropping dirigible. Therefore he must takeprecautions. There were no anti-aircraft guns mounted in theBelligerent, so the next best thing which occurred to him wastwenty marines with their rifles. He might just as well have paradedfive thousand schoolboys armed with catapults or pea-shooters, for allthe good they could do.

A few seconds later he was knocking frantically on the door of thecommander's upper-deck sleeping-cabin.

'Who's making that infernal din?' growled the sleepy occupant, wakingup with a start. 'What the devil d'you want?' The commander, poor man,had had a long and busy day, and was inclined to be irritable.

'It's me, sir—FitzJohnson,' the lieutenant exclaimed, putting his headinside the curtain. 'There's a Zeppelin in sight!'

'A what!' ejacul*ted Commander Travers, sitting up in his bunkand switching on the electric light.

'A Zeppelin, sir. I saw her quite distinctly. She's on our port bow,steering to the north-east'ard, and travelling pretty fast. You can seeher from the fore-bridge. I've turned out twenty marines with theirrifles!'

The commander glared at him for an instant, and seeing he was inearnest, hopped out of his bunk, crammed his feet into a pair of rubbersea-boots, flung on a purple dressing-gown, and dashed out of hiscabin. 'You'd better go and call the captain,' he cried back over hisshoulder.

Captain Spencer, who had been sleeping soundly, was at first inclinedto be sceptical and annoyed; but, convinced from FitzJohnson's mannerthat an airship really was in sight, he too left his bunk, and, arrayedin a suit of green-striped pyjamas and a uniform cap, joined thecommander on the fore-bridge.

The marines meanwhile, in various stages of deshabille, were musteringon the quarterdeck under the orders of their imperturbablesergeant-major.

'Have you served out ball ammunition?' FitzJohnson demanded.

'Yessir; five rounds a man.'

'Well, double your men on to the forecastle, load your rifles, andstand by to open fire as soon as you get orders.'

'Party! 'shon! Trail arrms! Left turn! Double marrch!'

At that moment Captain Chance appeared up one of the quarterdeckladders. He was wearing a uniform tunic, pink pyjama trousers,dancing-pumps, and a monocle. 'What the dooce is happenin'?' he wantedto know. 'That damfool of a corporal came down to my cabin; but thesilly ass was so bally excited, I couldn't make head or tail of what hewas talkin' about. For the Lord's sake, old man, what the devil is thematter?'

'There's a Zeppelin in sight,' FitzJohnson told him. 'I've just sentthe marines on to the forecastle.'

'Great Cæsar's aunt!' gasped the marine officer, running forward afterhis men.

The quartermaster, boatswain's mate, corporal of the watch, andOrdinary Signalman Grimes, meanwhile, had spread the news far and wide.Officers in scanty raiment, armed with binoculars, came up theafter-hatches and congregated on the quarterdeck; and most of theship's company, determined not to miss the fun, seemed to have lefttheir hammocks and repaired to the upper deck. It was literally crowdedwith excited men, who were all talking at the top of their voices.

'There 'e is!' FitzJohnson heard a shrill voice saying as he retracedhis footsteps to the bridge. 'See 'im?'

'Where?'

'There!'

'No, that ain't 'im. That's one o' them lights ashore.'

'No, it ain't; not wot I'm lookin' at!'

'I tells yer it is!'

'It ain't, I sez. Ye're lookin' at th' wrong one!'

FitzJohnson eventually arrived on the bridge, to find the captain, thecommander, and the first lieutenant already there. The last-namedseemed to be rather amused.

'You can fall your men out, Captain Chance,' Captain Spencer called outto the forecastle. 'I'm afraid there's nothing for you to shoot atto-night.'

'I beg your pardon, sir,' said FitzJohnson, coming forward. 'Did yousee the Zeppelin? There, sir,' he added, waving an arm; 'you can stillsee her green and white lights; and when I looked through the glassesjust now I distinctly saw her shape.' He was rather afraid that themarines were being sent away prematurely.

Chase, the first lieutenant, unable to bottle himself up any longer,burst out into a hoarse chuckle.

The captain turned round. 'Is that you, Mr FitzJohnson?' he snapped.

'Yes, sir. I'——

'Are you trying to make damfools of the commander and myself?' demandedCaptain Spencer. He seemed very much put out about something.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' stuttered the lieutenant. 'I don't quiteunderstand what you mean.'

The commander suddenly flung back his head, and went off into a roar oflaughter. 'Oh,' he gasped, 'this is the limit!'

FitzJohnson stared. Had they all taken leave of their senses?

'Did you really see a Zeppelin,' the skipper asked sarcastically, 'ordid you merely get me up here in these garments so that I should catchmy death of cold?'

'Yes, sir, I really did see it,' the lieutenant faltered, beginning torealise that he had made some horrible mistake.

'What! showing its white and green lights?'

'Yes, sir.'

The captain glowered. 'I believe you're a zealous officer, MrFitzJohnson,' he said grimly; 'otherwise I should believe that you weretreating me with unseemly levity.'

'I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean, sir.'

'You don't understand—eh? Well, next time you report a Zeppelin,kindly make quite certain that it is a Zeppelin. This time you'vedragged us all out of our beds to look at a couple of rather brightstars.'

'Stars, sir! But I saw the shape behind the lights!'

The captain shook his head. 'Merely a cloud,' he explained. 'If youlook at your so-called lights now, you'll see they haven't moved afraction of an inch since you first saw them. The nearer cloudstravelling across them gave you the impression that they were moving.One of 'em does look rather like a green light, I'll admit, but that'smerely the dampness in the air.'

'I'm awfully sorry, sir,' FitzJohnson stammered, covered withconfusion. 'I had no idea'——

'Of course you hadn't,' Captain Spencer interrupted. 'Nobody realiseshe's made a fool of himself until afterwards. However,' he added with achuckle of amusem*nt, 'I'm not really angry; but nobody, except perhapsthe Astronomer-Royal, likes being dragged out of bed to look atcelestial bodies. Good-night.'

'Good-night, sir,' said the culprit sheepishly.

The captain and the commander left the bridge together. They bothseemed amused.

Chase came across to FitzJohnson. 'Dook, old man,' he laughed, digginghim in the ribs, 'you've made a bally ass of yourself. The least youcan do, after digging me out of my cabin at this unearthly hour, is togive me a cup of your cocoa. Grr, it's beastly cold!'

'Of course I will, No. 1. Come along.'

They left the bridge chuckling.

'Well,' remarked the yeoman of signals when they disappeared, 'I could'a swore I'd seen 'im!'

Perhaps he could; but he, the cause of all the trouble in the firstinstance, had taken very good care to maintain a discreet position inthe background during the captain's presence.

CHAPTER X.

WAR.

I.

Dinner in the wardroom had been over for some time, and the long tablein the centre of the apartment was cleared. The mess, though it wasclose on ten o'clock, seemed very full of officers, far more crowdedthan on ordinary evenings, and it was noticeable that all wore'monkey-jackets'—the ordinary eight-buttoned reefer coats usually seenin the daytime—instead of the customary mess-jackets, low waistcoats,and starched white shirts.

The unusual size of the gathering was accounted for partly by the factthat it happened to be the evening of 4th August 1914, when people wereexpecting things to happen, and partly because a six-inch gun casemate,which ordinarily served as an officers' smoking-room, had been bereftof its furniture, supplied with a number of evil-looking shell, and hadotherwise been converted to the grim legitimate function for which ithad originally been intended—that is, as an armoured position for thegun and its crew.

Pipes and cigarettes were going full blast, and the air in the wardroomwas blue with tobacco-smoke. A few of the occupants were seated inarm-chairs or on the sofas, re-reading the morning papers orassimilating the latest news from the early evening editions, which hadarrived with the last post at eight o'clock. But by far the greaternumber were arguing and talking loudly, as was their habit.

The mess itself looked rather bare, for pictures had vanished from thebulkheads, and the carpet, the piano, and certain other not strictlynecessary articles of furniture had disappeared. They had gone the wayof a good many other things—ashore out of harm's way, where theirpresence could not be the cause of possible fires or splinters. Lessthan a fortnight later, however, the younger members of the mess wereall clamouring for the return of the piano. They couldn't have theirsing-songs without it, they explained—which was perfectly true.Moreover, they said, they were sick unto death of Peter Wooten'sbagpipes, the padre's banjo, and Boyle's penny whistle, the onlyother musical instruments in the mess; and so, after some discussion,the piano came back, like the landlady's cat. The cabins, too, werepractically gutted. FitzJohnson, who loved comfort, nearly wept when heentered his. His silk hangings and curtains, pictures, and photographshad been torn ruthlessly from their fastenings and sent ashore. Theyhad filched his carpet and his chest of drawers. A score or so ofexquisite striped shirts, many suits of plain clothes, his uniform fulldress, frock-coats, and mess-jackets, which fitted his figure like aglove, and shore-going boots of all kinds, shapes, and colours, hadbeen packed up in a box and sent to his long-suffering outfitter's forstorage. Little had been left him beyond his shallow bath, the drawersunder the bunk, a bookcase containing the King's Regulations andAdmiralty Instructions, the Addenda thereto, and a washstand.Everything else seemed to have gone. He complained bitterly, poorfellow, for his exquisite soul rebelled at this wholesale desecration.

The general atmosphere in the wardroom was by no means gloomy or sad.On the contrary, every one seemed to be bubbling over with goodspirits. In some cases, perhaps, the hilarity was a trifle forced, forwhen folk realise that war is practically inevitable they think theymust appear to be cheerful whatever their personal feelings may be. Asa consequence, they sometimes overdo it. But there were no signs ofdepression; neither did one see the fierce aspect, tightly shut mouth,puckered brow, and general 'do or die' appearance usually associatedwith the eve of hostilities by sensational writers. They all knew thatthe chances were fully 100 to 1 that they were about to take part inthe greatest struggle the world had ever known. Germany was already atwar with Russia; Teuton troops had violated the neutrality of Lùxemburgand Belgium, and had crossed the French frontier at various points; soit seemed impossible that Great Britain could refrain from joining inthe conflict.

Ever since the early afternoon things had been humming. Urgenttelegrams in cipher and wireless signals in code, the purport whereofwas unknown to any but the senior officers, had been pouring in allday. Steam for full speed had been raised, and the ships were ready tomove at an instant's notice; while Captain Spencer had been on boardthe flagship during the afternoon, and was away for a very long time.But not till afterwards did any of them know that the British ultimatumhad already been handed to Germany.

Nobody was anything but cheerful. Their loyalty to their king, theiranxiety to fight and overcome in a just cause, and, if need be, theirreadiness to die could not be expressed in mere words. There was nonecessity for it. They took all that as a matter of course. They hadbeen brought up to the idea ever since they had joined the service, sowhy talk about it?

Cashley, the fleet paymaster, was vainly endeavouring to get up a fourat auction bridge. 'What about it, padre?' he asked. 'Going totake a hand?'

His reverence, deep in the Globe, looked up. 'Bridge,' he said,shaking his head; 'not to-night, Pay; thanks, all the same.'

'What about you, No. 1?'

'Can't be done, Pay. Too busy, I'm afraid.'

'Busy! You're not busy now?'

Chase laughed. 'It's all jolly well for you to talk,' he answeredgood-naturedly. 'You've the prospect of a night in your bunk. I may bedragged out at any time to get the anchor up if we go to sea. Besides,the sailors are at night defence stations, and it's my morning watch.Heigho! it's jolly nigh time I turned in.' He glanced up at the clock.

'Won't any one play bridge?' the fleet paymaster inquired plaintively,looking round. 'The night's still young.'

All the usual habitués of the game shook their heads in dissent.

'This isn't an evening for bridge at all,' chipped in theengineer-commander disapprovingly, looking up over the edge of hispaper. 'We don't want to be like Nero, fiddling while Rome burnt.'

'What bunkum you talk, chief!' retorted Cashley. 'Because we're goingto war is no reason why we shouldn't have a little innocent amusem*nt.What about Drake and his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe?'

'That yarn's all rot!' said the engineer-commander. 'I know it's quotedin all the history books; but I don't believe it's true, all the same.'

'And I,' said Chase, knocking out his pipe, 'would most respectfullysubmit, my dear Pay, that the defeat of the Spanish Armada took placein Anno Domini 1588.'

'And what the deuce has that got to do with it?'

'Merely that such things as wireless telegraphy, submarines, anddestroyers steaming thirty-five knots weren't invented when Sir Francisserved in the Home Fleet under Lord Howard of Effingham.'

'Well,' Cashley observed with a sigh, seeing his efforts were quitefutile, 'I'm sure bridge wasn't invented in Drake's time either, orhe'd have taken to the game at once. It's an excellent stimulant forone's brain. However, since you're all so mouldy, I suppose I must hieme to the fastnesses of my apartment and turn in. Good-night,everybody.' He left the wardroom and closed the door behind him.

'Poor old Pay!' the first lieutenant remarked with a yawn; 'he's sodevilish keen on his bridge. This is the first evening he's not had itfor weeks, and the old dear misses it. However, I shall follow his mostexcellent example by retiring to my cabin.—Peter, old son,' he added,kicking the senior watch-keeper gently as he sprawled in an arm-chair,'you're keeping the middle watch at the guns, aren't you?'

'I am, No. 1,' Wooten nodded. 'What of it?'

'Be a good chap, and have me called if war's declared, if any one firesa torpedo at us, or if you sight another Zeppelin.' He winked slyly atFitzJohnson. 'Also, at ten minutes to four; and tell the messenger todrag me out of bed. If you love me very much, Peter boy, you can have anice cup of hot cocoa waiting for me when I come up.'

Peter rose from his chair and blinked sleepily. 'My love for you, No.1' he declared with great gravity, making a low bow with his hand onhis heart, 'has long since passed its platonic stage. I will prepareyour cocoa with mine own fair hands, and would even embrace your chastecheek before you retire to your couch.' He stretched out his arms andadvanced.

'Touch me if you dare, varlet!' Chase exclaimed, avoiding him neatly,and darting to the door.—'Well, s'long, all you chaps; sleep well' Hepaused with the door open.—'I say, Dook, old man!'

FitzJohnson looked up.

'If you see another Zep, old bird, you might take a photo of it.There's a camera in my cabin.' He vanished, chuckling.

Some time after eleven P.M., when the wardroom had beenclosed for the night and the officers had retired to their cabins, thesound of frantic cheering suddenly echoed out over the water. It camefrom the direction of the flagship; and Tickle, the officer of thewatch in the Belligerent, paused in his perambulation. It couldonly mean one thing.

Ten minutes later he was reading his Majesty's message to Sir JohnJellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet:

'At this grave moment in our national history, I send to you, andthrough you to the officers and men of the fleet of which you haveassumed command, the assurance of my confidence that under yourdirection they will revive and renew the glories of the Royal Navy, andprove once again the sure shield of Britain and her Empire in her hourof trial.'

'And a jolly fine message, too,' Tickle muttered to himself. 'God blesshim!'

Almost simultaneously came the official intimation that a state of warexisted between Great Britain and Germany as from elevenP.M. on 4th August. The news spread like wildfire, and the'Belligerents,' not to be outdone, left their hammocks en masse,crowded on the upper deck, and gave vent to their pent-up feelings andenthusiasm in volley after volley of cheers. They were quiteirrepressible, and before very long the 'squeegee band,'[29] composed oftwo drums, a dozen fifes, many mouth-organs, and an unholy number ofmess kettles and other noisy utensils, was marching round the deckmaking the night hideous. The noise did not cease till well aftermidnight.

War had come.

II.

The chaplain leant back in his chair with a yawn, knocked out andrefilled his pipe, lit it, and then gazed wearily and with greatdistaste at the pile of letters and post-cards on the table in front ofhim. He, Peter Wooten, the senior watch-keeper, and Hannibal Chance,the captain of marines, were the three officers whose unenviable dutyit was to censor all the outgoing private correspondence of theofficers and men. As a rule they took the days in turn; but onSaturdays and Sundays, when the men had had more time to themselves andmore opportunities for writing, the mail bound London-wards assumedcolossal proportions, and all three censors had to buckle to to get thework done in time. To-day happened to be a Sunday, and his reverencehad retired to his cabin after tea with a bag full of letters andpost-cards to be read through before he took his evening service at sixo'clock. Wooten and Chance were in their respective apartments doingthe same.

It was a dismal job at the best of times, this prying into otherpeople's private correspondence, and the padre, for one, hatedit. But he realised it was necessary. The censorship had been enforcedfrom the very outbreak of hostilities; and though letters could bewritten, provided they were presented unsealed, post-cards seemed morefashionable. They were examined, stamped 'Passed by Ship's Censor,' andthen despatched in sealed bags to the G.P.O., London, whence they wereforwarded to their destinations. Sealed letters, uncensored, could alsobe sent in the ordinary way; but these were subject to considerabledelay in transmission, and were not very popular. They could, moreover,be examined at any time if considered at all suspicious. The movementsof the fleet or of individual ships, and details of other vital matterswhich might be of use to the ever-inquisitive Hun, were rigidly taboo.The restrictions, sweeping as they were, did away at one fell swoopwith practically all the subject-matter for an ordinary peace-timecommunication; but in spite of it officers and men found plenty towrite about, and plenty of people to write to. Long-forgottengrandmothers, aunts, female cousins, and other people's sisters seemedto have come up to the scratch in a most extraordinary way, and thosem*n who had few friends and relations, and whose correspondence waslimited in ordinary times to perhaps one letter a month, now receivedand wrote three or four a week. Very nice for the men, no doubt, to beable to feel that those at home took an interest in their welfare, butrather trying for the censors in a ship with a company of eight to ninehundred souls.

Taking up his blue pencil, the padre selected a missive from thepile in front of him. It was from FitzJohnson, and was addressed to hisoutfitter:

'Dear Sir,—I shall be much obliged if you will kindly send me as soon as possible one pair of uniform trousers, one pair of patent leather evening pumps, and one uniform cap, size 6⅞. The last monkey-jacket I had from you a week ago I am returning for alteration. It is rather tight across the'——

Having got thus far, his reverence inserted the letter in its envelope,moistened the flap with a small sponge, and then dabbed at it with alarge rubber stamp and pushed it aside. It was 'passed' all right; buthe vaguely wondered what on earth the Dook proposed to do withdancing-pumps on board a battleship in time of war.

The next missive, a post-card, written by some one to his wife, wasslightly more exciting:

'My dear Wife,—a p.-c. to let you know that I am still alright, dear, hoping you and the children are the same dear. received your letter alright dear and I was pleased to hear that you are getting on alright also the children. well, Darling, I am sending you the flannel dear hope you will get it alright. I hope you get my Post-cards regular. I see by your letter you have not got any yet. let me know if you have got the money yet dear if not I will send you a letter to copy out and send for it it will be quite alright dear. let me know as soon as possible Dear. so now with love to you dear and the children with many kisses from your loving husband,

'Bert.'

The padre chuckled, stamped the affectionate and strangelypunctuated effusion, and passed on to the next.

It was a letter from one of the sub-lieutenants to his aunt Janet—arich Aunt Janet, judging from the letter. He thanked her affectionatelyfor one pound of peppermints, a beautiful knitted muffler, and a pairof mittens, and assured her that they would keep him as warm as toastduring the rigours of the coming winter. And did Aunt Janet know of anyplace where one could buy cheap but reliable vacuum flasks to hold aquart, and a decent pair of six-power prism binoculars? He had brokenhis own, he said, but had heard that those made by Messrs Ross ofco*ckspur Street, London, were very good. He was not quite certain,however, and would like to have her advice before buying them. He addedone or two bloodthirsty remarks about Huns, remarks calculated toreduce the good lady to a state of considerable alarm if she was at allinclined to be timid, furnished the information that he was as fit as afiddle, and remained her loving nephew.

The censor smiled, remembered that the young officer in question hadwritten to numerous other ladies thanking them for winter comforts, andasked himself how many mufflers, mittens, balaclava helmets, bodybelts, and pairs of socks the sub really possessed. They must run intodozens.

He stamped and sealed the letter, took the next envelope which came tohand, but, having read a few lines of its contents, frowned:

'Dere Wife'—it ran—'i hope this finds you as it leaves me. we have had a terrible time, and last week we had a fierce and bloody battle in the North sea with the Germans, sinking many of them and some of ours likewise was sunk and many brave lads killed, we come back into harbour with the mainmast gorn and the funnels nearly falling down with the holes in them the ship was a terrible sight and the skipper was wounded bad but still fought on, the commander was killed and 40 men likewise the engineer commander and the chief puss*r wot was in the sick bay at the time. Our ship done gallant and our decks running in blood i am alright and did not suffer a scratch but still feel the strain it was awful and now dere wife goodbye and many kisses from your loving husband

Ted.'

The Belligerent, to the great disgust of her ship's company, hadnot as yet been in action, while every one of her officers and men wasstill very much alive and kicking. The whole letter was a tissue oflies from beginning to end, and what had induced the man to write it,or had led him to imagine that the censors would pass it, thepadre could not think. He glanced through the bloodthirstymissive again, picked up the envelope and looked at the address, andthen stretched out a hand and pressed an electric bell-push.

'I want to see Stoker Walley of No. 67 mess,' he said when a bluejacketmessenger answered his ring.

Ten minutes later there came a knock at the door. 'Did ye send forStoker Walley, surr?' inquired a voice.

'Yes,' said the padre wearily. 'Come inside, Walley.'

The stoker, a burly fellow six feet tall, and broad in proportion,removed his cap, entered gingerly, and stood strictly to attention. Hewas unused to being invited into officers' cabins.

'Did you write this letter to your wife, Walley? the chaplain asked,picking up the offending missive.

'Oi did, surr,' said the man, not the least abashed.

'Don't you know that the censorship regulations forbid you to sayanything about the movements of ships or what they're doing?'

'Oi do, surr. But what Oi've put in me letter isn't what's beenhappenin', surr.' He was perfectly correct in his statement, for whathe had written was nothing but the wildest fiction.

The padre smiled. 'No,' he remarked, turning round in his chairand looking up at him, 'I dare say it isn't true. But doesn't it strikeyou, Walley, that you're doing a very wrong thing in writing like this?The letter's a falsehood from beginning to end.'

'Oi didn't mean no harm, surr,' the stoker protested, rather puzzled.

'No, perhaps not. Have you ever heard of the Defence of the Realm Act?'

'Oi have not, surr.'

'Well, I believe the Act lays it down that any one spreading falseinformation is liable to a very severe penalty. You don't want to bepunished, do you?'

'Oi do not, surr,' said Walley stolidly, quite unable to understand howhe had offended. 'Oi've never been a defaulter since I joined thenavy.'

'You'll soon get into trouble if you write letters like this,' thepadre observed grimly. 'Suppose I took this one to the captain,and asked him to read it? I think you'd find he would regard it as avery serious offence.'

'Oi'm sorry, surr, if Oi've done wrong, surr,' the stoker answered,nervously fidgeting with his cap. 'Oi only wrote a bit of a yarn liket' amuse the missis.'

'To amuse your wife!' ejacul*ted the chaplain. 'Surely, surely yourwife must be feeling a little anxious about you?'

'P'r'aps, surr. Oi don't rightly know,' admitted the culprit. 'P'r'apsshe is a bit anxious like, surr.'

'Of course she is, Walley. Any woman is bound to be anxious with herhusband at sea in war-time. Tell me now, truthfully, do you reallythink that a letter like this will make her feel any less anxious? Yougo into gruesome details of a fight at sea which has never taken place,and expect her to be—er—amused. 'Pon my soul, I've never heard ofsuch a thing.'

'Oi'm sorry, surr. Oi didn't mean no harm.'

The chaplain sighed. 'Well,' he pointed out, 'I consider you acted verywrongly in writing this letter at all; and besides that, you're beingvery unfair to your wife. After all, she deserves a littleconsideration—what?'

'Ye haven't seen me wife, surr,' said the stoker. 'She likes a bit ofexcitement now and then.'

The chaplain got rather annoyed. 'I dare say she does,' he answered;'but that is no excuse for your sending her a letter which is nothingbut a pack of lies. Now look here, Walley,' he added very sternly, 'ifI took this matter forward you would find yourself in serious trouble.I don't want that to happen, though, so I'll tear it up; but you mustpromise me faithfully you'll never write a letter like this again. Willyou promise?'

'Oi will, surr,' said the man, looking genuinely frightened. 'Thankin'ye very much all the same, surr.'

The censor tore the letter into minute fragments and dropped it intothe waste-paper basket. 'There,' he said, 'that's the last you'll hearof it, Walley; but don't let it occur again. You can keep the envelope,and if you're quick you'll just have time to write another letterbefore the mail leaves. No horrors this time, mind. Tell your wifeyou're well and happy, and all that sort of thing. D'you understand?'

'Oi do, surr,' the stoker replied sheepishly, taking the envelope.'Thank ye, surr.' He left the cabin.

'Heigho!' yawned the padre, resuming his unwelcome occupation;'I've been in the service for seven years, but it seems I don'tunderstand the men yet. I wonder if I ever shall!' He often askshimself the same question.

III.

'I'm fed up wi' this 'ere war!' exclaimed Pincher Martin, flinging awaythe fa*g-end of a cigarette with a petulant gesture. 'It's bin goin' onfur over four bloomin' months, an' we ain't see'd a ruddy thing yet!'

'Th' way some o' you blokes talks makes me fair sick,' Able SeamanBillings retorted. 'S'pose yer 'ad see'd somethin', as yer calls it,yer might 'ave lost th' number o' yer mess. W'y carn't yer be contentwi' wot ye've got? That's wot I wants ter know.'

Pincher snorted. 'Content wi' wot I've got!' he jeered. ''Ow kin I be?I reckons I wants ter fight, same as other blokes.'

Joshua laughed. ''Ark at th' little co*ck-sparrer!' he said, turning toM'Sweeny. 'Did ye 'ear wot 'e sed, Tubby?'

'I did, chum,' agreed M'Sweeny severely, sucking hard at a particularlyevil-smelling pipe. ''E sez 'e wants ter fight, an' I reckons 'e'll gitorl 'e wants afore long. We'll all git more'n we wants in th' way o'fightin' afore we've finished this 'ere war. Them Germans ain't fools.'

'Don't yer want ter fight yerself, Tubby?' Pincher inquired.

M'Sweeny thought for a moment. 'Carn't say 'xactly as 'ow I don't,Pincher, an' carn't say as 'ow I does.'

'Wot yer jine th' navy fur else?'

'Jine the navy! W'y, I jines th' navy 'cos I thought it wus a goodperfession.'

'Fightin' perfession,' Pincher supplemented.

'Yus; but yer don't seem t' understand wot I means,' Tubby explained.'It's like this 'ere. I don't mind fightin' if it comes ter fightin';but I sez that any bloke wot sez 'e likes it arter 'e's once 'ad it isa bloomin' liar. I ain't afraid o' them Germans,' he added. 'I ain'tafraid o' any one wot I knows of; but I sez war's a norrible thing.'

'An' so it is,' agreed Joshua. 'You wait till yer 'as yer fu'st littlebu'st up, Pincher; yer won't want another fur a bit. It's orl right tertalk th' same as yer do, but yer don't know wot it's like same as mean' Tubby.'

'But you an' Tubby ain't never bin in action,' Pincher protested.

'No, we ain't,' said Billings. 'But we ain't 'ot-'eaded young blokessame as you. We thinks abart things, an' looks at things more seriouslike. We doesn't mind fightin' w'en it comes; but we ain't anxious terfight 'cos we likes it—see? I reckons no bloke really does, an' themas talks most gen'rally does least w'en it comes ter th' time. Me an'Tubby 'as seen things you 'aven't,' he added; 'so we two knows wotwe're talkin' abart.'

M'Sweeny gave an assenting nod.

''Ow d'yer mean?' Pincher wanted to know. 'Wot is it ye've seen wot Iain't?'

'I'll tell yer,' said Billings.—'Tubby, d'yer remember that 'ere gunexplosion we 'ad w'en me an' you wus shipmates up th' Straits?'

'Yus, I do, chum.'

'Explosion! 'Ow did it 'appen?' Pincher demanded. 'Spin us th' yarn.'

'Ain't I spinnin' it as fast as I can?' said Joshua, rather testily.'Don't be so impatient! Well, we 'ad our six-inch guns in that ship incasemates like we've got 'ere. Yer knows wot a casemate is, don't yer?'

Pincher did not condescend to reply.

'Well, they wus firin' at th' time, an' somethin' 'appened, an' acartridge hexploded afore th' breech o' th' gun was properly closed.'Joshua paused.

'An' wot 'appened?'

'There was an 'ell of an explosion an' a big flare up, an' four blokesbelongin' ter th' gun wus blowed sky-'igh, an' orl th' others wus badlymessed up. I wus in there soon arter it 'appened. It makes me fair sickter think of it.'

'Wot! blood?' Pincher queried breathlessly.

'Blood!' Billings sniffed. 'Buckets of it, an' bits o' poor blokes wot'ad bin breathin' men a few minutes afore plastered orl over th' sidesan' roof. 'Orrors ain't in it. Arms an' legs blowed orf, an' th' 'oleplace drippin' somethin' crool!—Wasn't it, Tubby?'

'It wus, chum,' M'Sweeny corroborated.

'I reckons that if ye'd seen that, Pincher, ye'd never say as 'ow yelikes th' idea o' fightin',' Joshua went on. 'If we goes into actionit'll be somethin' like that, only wuss.'

'Don't sound good,' Pincher admitted grudgingly.

'Don't look good neither, w'en bits o' blokes 'as ter be scraped up inshovels,' said M'Sweeny grimly. 'We ain't frightened o' fightin', mean' Billings isn't, yer see, but we've see'd things wot you youngsters'asn't, an' we knows wot it's like.'

Martin made no reply.

So, on the whole, their only feelings, after four months of war, werethose of regret and envy—regret because they themselves had not beenin action, envy for those of their comrades who had. They were sorryfor those of their relations and friends who had been killed in actionashore and afloat, but, like the inscrutable people they were, acceptedtheir fate in a calm and philosophical spirit which must have seemedpositively callous to any outsider. To people who do not understandthem, however, our seamen always do appear callous. They seem to treatdeath in a very casual and light-hearted fashion, due, perhaps, to thefact that they themselves have stared Him in the face so often thatthey have become inured to His presence. Familiarity with danger doesbreed contempt for death.

But yet, in reality, bluejackets are among the kindest-hearted menalive, and the sight of a howling infant in a street will attract thehard-earned coppers from their pockets like steel filings to a magnet.It is said that one child in a certain naval port discovered thisgenerous trait, and invented a new profession on the strength of it. Hedid not beg or whine—did not utter a word, in fact; but, with truecommercial instinct, plastered his face with mud, stationed himselfnear the dockyard gates when the libertymen were streaming back totheir ships in the evening, and wept bitterly—merely wept. Thepathetic sight aroused the bluejackets' sympathy and opened theirpurse-strings, and at the end of the nightly performance theyouth—aged eight—went home with a cheerful grin and his pocketsbulging with pennies. The game could not go on for long, of course; butit was a very paying one while it lasted.

But though Christmas was nearly upon them, and they had never had a'scrap,' as they termed it, the men secretly revelled in the thoughtthat they, in common with the remainder of the navy and army, also cameunder the category of what to the great British public were 'ourgallant defenders.' Their natural modesty forbade them thinking aboutthemselves as 'gallant,' 'brave,' or 'heroic,' adjectives which weresometimes hurled at their heads by people at home. They were merelydoing their ordinary peace-time job, with a few extra dangers thrown inin the shape of submarines and mines; but they did derive no smallsatisfaction in realising that folk at home recognised that they weredoing their bit, and liked to know that a sudden and very overwhelminginterest was being taken in their welfare. Overwhelming in more sensesthan one.

Wives, mothers, aunts, female cousins, sweethearts, and lady friendsseemed to be consoling themselves for the absence at sea of theirhusbands, sons, nephews, cousins, 'young men,' and acquaintances by anorgy of knitting. Avalanches of woollen home-knitted mufflers,balaclava helmets, mittens, gloves, jerseys, and body-belts, besidesshoals of socks, soon came pouring in by every mail, until everyofficer and man in the Belligerent had received a full outfit ofeverything necessary to keep out the cold. They were duly grateful forthe kind attention, for the mufflers of thick blue wool and the warmsocks were as different from the ordinary articles of commerce ascheese is from chalk. Some of the things had stamped post-cardsattached on which the fair knitters desired an acknowledgment; and,judging from what the censors said, the ladies were not disappointed.Others bore little silver paper horseshoes for good luck, while many ofthe socks arrived with cigarettes and chocolates, either loose or inpackets, snugly ensconced inside.

'I thought there wus somethin' wrong wi' this 'ere!' Pincher remarkedone day, removing his right sock, turning it inside-out, anddiscovering the coagulated remains of several chocolate creams. 'Ithought it felt a bit knobby-like w'en I puts 'im on, an' now I've binan' gorn an' wasted 'em!' It was a dire calamity, for Pincher had asweet tooth, and regretted the loss of his chocolates far more than theenergy he would presently have to expend on cleansing the sock of itsstickiness.

People who did not knit sent other things instead. Well-to-do folkprovided gramophones and records, boxes of fruit and game, vacuumflasks, warm waistcoats, books, jig-saw puzzles, and games, all ofwhich were very welcome. One public-spirited gentleman, a yacht-owner,forwarded a consignment of many dozen brand-new 'sevenpennies,' andwas blessed for his gift. Societies and clubs sent more reading matter;and though it is true that Chatterbox for 1891 and bound copiesof a poultry journal for 1887 do not appeal to modern sailors as theyshould, the greater portion of what arrived was eagerly seized upon andas eagerly read.

The men's friends themselves contributed regular consignments ofnewspapers, tobacco, cigarettes, soap, tooth-powder, biscuits,home-made cakes, sweets of all kinds, fruit, tomatoes done up in flimsybrown-paper parcels, and many other articles of food and utility toonumerous to be mentioned in detail. These gifts also were mostacceptable, though it was found that bull's-eyes and peppermintssometimes had an unhappy knack of melting in transit, while as often asnot the fruit and tomatoes were found at the very bottom of themail-bags in the form of a nauseating, ready-made salad wellimpregnated with brown paper, string, and the rapidly disintegratingcontents of other people's parcels.

What with the extra food and their warm garments, the figures of the'gallant defenders' rapidly assumed elephantine proportions. Thinsailors became bulbous; fat sailors became colossal. They had never hadsuch a time in all their lives.

IV.

Christmas came and went; but, though the ship's company made a point ofkeeping up the time-honoured traditions and customs, things were hardlythe same as usual. They did not suffer from lack of seasonable fare,for volleys of plum-puddings and other comestibles from home hadtemporarily superseded the deluge of mufflers, mittens, and cigarettes;while the canteen did a roaring trade in turkeys, geese, boiled hams,fruit, holly, and chains of coloured paper for decorations.

On the morning of the 25th itself the squadron happened to be inharbour, and at daylight the Belligerent and every other shipappeared with the customary branches of fir and evergreen lashed to themastheads and the yardarms.

At eight o'clock came a signal from the vice-admiral wishing all theofficers and men under his command 'A Happy Christmas;' and atdivisions at nine-thirty the officers took the opportunity of sayingthe same.

Then came church and the issue of Princess Mary's gifts; and if thedonors to the fund could have seen the way these gilt boxes, with theircards, pipes, packets of tobacco, and cigarettes, were appreciated bytheir recipients they would have felt that their generosity had beenrepaid. A gift was always a gift and something to be appreciated, but agift from a Royal Princess was to be treasured as an heirloom. As aconsequence, the greater number of the men sent their boxes home byregistered post without smoking the contents. They were far toovaluable to be kept on board when there was a chance of the ship beingtorpedoed by a hostile submarine or sunk by a mine.

Shortly before noon the band assembled outside the captain's cabin, andas eight bells struck, Captain Spencer, preceded by the musiciansplaying 'The Roast Beef of Old England' and the 'funny party' withblackened faces and attired in a variety of strange costumes, andfollowed by a procession of all the officers, made the usual tour ofthe mess-deck. Some of the messes were embellished with festoons ofpaper chains, sprigs and bunches of holly and mistletoe, and home-mademottoes. Others were hardly decorated at all, but all the tables werewell laden with food. At the foot of each mess stood a man with a plateof cake, pastry, or pudding, which he offered to all the officers inturn as they passed by. Every one of them took a small piece, wishedthe occupants of the mess 'A Happy Christmas,' nibbled the cake orwhatever it was, and then hastily secreted the remains in his pocket.There were several dozen messes to be visited, and a few ounces ofstodgy cake from each of them would provide more than enough for aschoolboy.

Opposite one of the chief petty officers' messes the procession came toa halt close to a blackboard on which was chalked in large letters:

'The Ship's Company of H.M.S. Belligerent wish Captain Spencerand the officers a very happy Christmas and a bright and joyful NewYear. They deeply regret that up to the present Captain Spencer has nothad the opportunity of taking them into action, but are anxiouslyawaiting the time when he will.'

The captain smiled, took the proffered chalk, and made his reply.

'The same to you,' he wrote. 'Captain Spencer will be only too pleasedto take the ship into action whenever the enemy give him the chance.When the time comes he and the officers know that they may rely on the"Belligerents" to give a good account of themselves. Let 'em all come!'

Loud and prolonged cheering before the procession moved on.

It took fully half-an-hour to do the whole round of the messes; but atlast the officers disappeared to their own lunch, and left the men togo on with their meal. They acquitted themselves nobly.

Soon after lunch, when Tickle had retired to his cabin and wascomposing himself for his usual afternoon slumber, there came a knockat his door. 'Well, what is it?' he inquired lazily.

'It's me, sir,' said Petty Officer Casey, insinuating his head throughthe curtain. 'The foc's'lemen sends their compliments, sir, an' wouldyer be so kind as to visit 'em in their messes for a few minutes?'

Tickle yawned, hoisted himself out of his bunk, and stepped outside.Here he was promptly seized by four stalwart A.B.'s, hoistedshoulder-high, and, with a man in front playing triumphantly upon amouth-organ, was carried off. Down ladders and up ladders they went,through cheering crowds on the mess-deck, until they finally allowedhim to slide gracefully to earth among the men of his own forecastledivision.

They proceeded to drink his health in navy rum, a compliment which hewas bound to return; but even then the ordeal was not over.

'They'd like yer to say a few words, sir,' Petty Officer Casey promptedhim hoarsely.

Tickle cleared his throat nervously. 'I'm not much of a hand at makinga speech,' he began; 'but I'm very glad to come here and wish you all ahappy Christmas again. From what I can see'—he looked round thetables—'you all seem to have been enjoying yourselves. My onlyregret—our only regret, I should say—is that we haven't had a chanceof meeting the enemy yet; but that's a pleasure we all look forwardto'——

Here he was interrupted by loud cheers and bangings on the tables.

'It's quite unnecessary for me to tell you that I know theBelligerent will do jolly well when the time comes, and that themen of the forecastle division will do better than any one else'——

Loud cries of ''Ear, 'ear!' and more shouting.

'I've clean forgotten what I was going to say,' he went on, laughing.'Oh yes. I'm sure the forecastlemen will do better than any one elsewhen it comes to a scrap; but don't get down-hearted if we have to waitfor some time before we get it. Other ships have had a run for theirmoney, and we haven't; but we're all doing our bit for the country, andit's up to us to do our duty wherever the Admiralty choose to send us.At the same time, I hope the war will not be over before we have ourlook in. Well,' he concluded, 'I don't think there is anything else Ican say, except to wish you all the best of luck.' He lifted thefanny[30] to his lips and sipped its contents.

'An' th' same to you, sir!' came a roar. 'Three cheers for LootenantTickle!'

'One more, boys!' somebody yelled excitedly. 'Hip, hip, hip,hurrah!'

Tickle, feeling very awkward and red in the face, bowed hisacknowledgments. 'Thank you very much indeed,' he said quietly. Hecould not express his feelings in mere words.

The Belligerent was a happy ship, and the officers were popularwith their men, and many of them, including the commander, theengineer-commander, all the officers of divisions, captain of marines,and most of the midshipmen and warrant-officers, were ruthlesslydragged from their afternoon slumber and carried forward to themess-decks to make speeches. Christmas, the time of good-fellowship andgoodwill, only came once a year, but it was one of the rare occasionswhen the men were able to show their officers what they really thoughtof them.

So, taking it all round, they managed to enjoy themselves, forbluejackets always succeed in being cheerful under any circ*mstances;but nobody could help having a feeling at the back of his mind thatthis particular Christmas was not quite the same as others, as indeedit was not. They were thinking of their homes and of what was happeningthere, and many of them, officers as well as men, had not set foot onshore for weeks—months, in some cases.

Boxing Day found the squadron at sea.

CHAPTER XI.

BLACK FRIDAY.

I.

''Appy Noo Year, chum,' said the lookout-man on the starboard side ofthe Belligerent's bridge, as Pincher Martin came up to relievehim at five minutes past midnight on the morning of 1st January.'Lawd!' he added with a shiver, stamping his sea-booted feet, 'I shallbe glad ter git inter me bloomin' 'ammick.'

'Noo Year, is it?' Pincher queried with a prolonged yawn. 'Well, th'compliments o' th' season to yer, Shiner White. 'Strewth!' he added,'it's a bit parky, ain't it?' He undid the toggles of his thick lammycoat,[31] and gave the muffler another turn round his neck.

The other man nodded. 'There ain't nothink in sight,' he went onhastily, anxious not to prolong the conversation; 'but if yer sees alight or anythink, look out yer sings out sharp an' loud, so that th'orficer o' the watch'll 'ear yer. S'long, chum!'

'S'long, Shiner! 'Appy dreams.'

Pincher, left to his own devices, looked about him. The squadron was atsea, and to his unpractised eye the night seemed unusually fine. Whatlittle wind there was seemed to be coming in from the south-westward infitful, erratic puffs, and the great ship rode over a smooth, graduallyincreasing swell without perceptible movement. If he had been a weatherprophet the state of the sea and the sky would have warned him toexpect a change in the weather; but he was a novice at such things, andthe signs and portents of sky and sea conveyed little to his mind.

The moon was up, and the night was not really dark as nights go; butevery now and then the brilliance of the moon was temporarily dimmed bygreat high cloud-masses travelling down from windward across the faceof the blue, star-spangled heavens. Away to the south-westward a heavypiled-up bank of dark hue, looking for all the world like a giganticmountain range overtopping the horizon, was gradually encroaching onthe sky as it mounted up and up into space. Its upper edges were frayedand fretted by the wind, and occasional wisps of cloud torn from themain mass were being flung off into space by the upper air-currents, tocome scurrying to leeward in low-lying, streaky fragments like spunsilk. They were mares'-tails, and the swell and the watery halo roundthe moon were other bad tokens. They portended wind—wind, and plentyof it. Soon the sky would be completely overcast. Before daylight itwould probably be blowing hard.

The Belligerent was somewhere near the tail of the line ofbattleships. A short distance in front of her came the huge hull of thenext ahead clearly silhouetted against the sky. Farther ahead againwere the dark outlines of other vessels, their shapes getting smallerand less distinct as they merged in the deep shadows on the horizon.

On board the Belligerent herself half the seamen were at theirstations at the guns ready for repelling a possible torpedo attack, andthe other half, who had been relieved at midnight, had just retired totheir hammocks for four hours' rest before being called up for themorning watch at four o'clock. The ship was in the charge of theofficer of the watch, who leant placidly against the standard compasson the upper bridge gazing at the next ahead; while Colomb, thenavigator, was asleep on the settee in the charthouse. Captain Spencerwas in his sleeping-cabin just underneath, and was dozing, fullydressed, in an arm-chair in front of the stove. The book he had beenreading had dropped to the floor, and Joe, his fox-terrier, lay curledup in a tight little bundle at his feet. The captain was a lightsleeper at the best of times, and the least unusual sound, even theopening of the door, would have brought him to his feet in an instant.As an extra precaution there was an electric bell screwed to thebulkhead close beside his left ear, and if the officer of the watchdesired his immediate presence all he had to do was to place a fingeron a push close by the standard compass. The resulting jangle wouldhave roused the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, let alone the skipper, whonever indulged in anything but cat-naps at sea. The officers of watcheswere well aware of it, for Captain Spencer had a habit of prowlingabout at night, and frequently came on to the bridge when he was leastexpected. Once or twice he had found the ship some distance out ofstation, and then there had been trouble.

Of what really occurred, how long it lasted, and of the actual sequenceof events, Pincher had a very hazy recollection. He remembered noticingthe captain come on to the bridge and start walking up and down withhis hands in his great-coat pockets and his dog padding softly afterhim. Then, quite suddenly, and for no apparent reason, there came theshattering roar of a heavy explosion. The ship quivered and shookviolently; and, glancing aft with his heart in his mouth, Pincher saw agreat column of whity-gray water towering high over the boat-deckhalf-way along the starboard side. He watched it spell-bound. The masshung for a moment glimmering in the half-light, and then tottered andfell with a sound like a waterfall. He could feel the damp spray of iton his face.

The familiar throb of the engines died away, and there came the roaringbellow of escaping steam; and the ship, evidently holed far below thewater-line, heeled over to starboard. Then the roaring of the steamceased, and there came a moment's dead silence, followed by excitedshouting as the men who had been asleep in their hammocks thronged onto the upper deck.

The whole thing happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that for themoment Captain Spencer was taken by surprise; and, running to the afterside of the bridge, he stood there gripping the rail spasmodically,with a look of utter astonishment on his face. A bare instant later,however, he turned forward again with a gesture of annoyance; whileJoe, taking it for some new game for his especial benefit, friskedbeside him. 'Down, Joe! down!' Pincher heard him say in his ordinaryvoice.—'Stop both engines!' came his first order.—'Officer of thewatch!'

'Sir.'

'Go down and tell the commander to get the collision-mat out, and thento turn out all boats. He's not to lower them without orders from me;and tell him to let me know the damage as soon as he can!'

'Ay, ay, sir,' said English quite calmly, leaving the bridge.

The captain turned on his heel and dictated a signal informing theflagship of what had occurred. Pincher watched, for even now CaptainSpencer's face was absolutely inscrutable, and showed nothing of theawful anxiety which must have been in his heart.

The commander, who had rushed from his cabin when the crash came, hadalready taken charge on deck. Order was evolved out of chaos, and theshouting had ceased. An instant later a bugle blared the 'Still,' andthe boatswain's mates could be heard piping.

There was dead silence among the men as the word was passed, and thenthe bugle sounded 'Carry on,' and the tramping of feet could be heardas the ship's company ran to their stations.

All except a few unimportant watertight doors, which were closed at thelast moment by specially detailed men, were always kept shut at sea; solittle could be done to add to the safety of the ship beyondendeavouring to prevent the ingress of water.

The men were well disciplined. They must have felt nervous, must haverealised that there was an enormous hole below the water-line throughwhich the water was pouring like a mill-race; added to this, it wasdark, and there were no lights on deck. But there were not the smallestsigns of panic or confusion. They behaved splendidly, and workedsilently under the orders of their officers as if it were an ordinarypeace-time evolution instead of grim reality.

Pincher himself was undecided for the moment as to what he should do.Ought he to join his part of the ship and assist in getting out thecollision-mat, or should he remain where he was? He had no orders toleave his post, but it was hardly likely that any one would trouble hishead about him now. For a moment he was torn with doubt, but finallymade up his mind that he would stay on the bridge. He might be of someuse in carrying messages, he thought.

The stricken vessel seemed to be leaning more and more over tostarboard; but before very long the collision-mat, a large square ofseveral thicknesses of the stoutest canvas well thrummed with oakum,was being lowered into place under the bottom. It was designed, bybeing stretched taut over the orifice, to reduce the flow of waterthrough a comparatively small hole caused by a collision with anothership, and it seemed hardly likely that it would be of any use inchecking the inrush through the gigantic rent caused by an underwaterexplosion; but there was no harm in trying it. It might do some good.

'Haul away the bottom line!' the first lieutenant's voice could beheard. 'That's the way, lads! Away with her!'

''Vast hauling!' came the next order, accompanied by the shrilltrilling of a boatswain's whistle. 'Away with the fore and afters!'

The mat was out of sight below the water, its bottom corner draggedtaut against the ship's side by the bottom line passing under the keeland hauled taut on the opposite side of the deck, and the upper cornerheld in place by the depth-line. The fore and afters were the ropessecured to the side corners, and they, on being hauled taut andbelayed, held it out square.

'Mat's placed, sir!' came Chase's voice again.

The wind had increased, and white-capped seas had replaced the smoothswell of an hour before. The ship, listing to an angle of about fifteendegrees, seemed to be remaining fairly steady, but she was appreciablylower in the water, and the starboard edge of the forecastle was barelysix feet above the crests of the waves as they raced by.

The cutters at the davits had been turned out ready for lowering, butall the smaller boats, galley, whalers, and gigs, had been landed.Hatherley, who was working the steam boat-hoist used for getting outthe heavier boats stowed on the booms between the after funnel and themainmast, had the derrick topped and the largest rowing-boat in theship—the forty-two-foot launch, which, at a pinch, could carry onehundred and forty men—hooked on all ready for swinging out into thewater as soon as he got orders to do so.

Circling round the injured ship were a couple of light cruisers whichhad been sent by the vice-admiral to render what assistance they could.Flashing-signals were passing between them and the Belligerent,and they were evidently asking if they should lower their boats.

'Tell 'em to wait,' Pincher heard Captain Spencer say to a signalman,without a tremor in his voice. 'Tell 'em to wait. I think we shall beable to keep afloat.'

The sky was nearly overcast, and the night had become very dark, andall the remainder of the squadron had vanished. They were only actingin accordance with their orders, however, for since the loss of theAboukir, the Cressy, and the Hogue in the NorthSea the previous September, it had been definitely laid down thatheavy, deep-draught ships were not to go to the assistance of vesselswhich had been torpedoed or mined, lest they should share the samefate. It went sadly against the grain for British officers to be forcedto leave comrades in distress; but every one realised the necessity forthe order, and the two small cruisers were the only ships available forthe work of rescue.

'Messenger!' the captain called.

No reply.

'Here, boy, come here!' he went on, catching sight of Pincher on thestarboard side of the bridge.

Martin went forward, and felt himself grabbed by the sleeve.

'Go down and tell the commander that I'm waiting to know what damagethere is,' Captain Spencer said hurriedly. 'Away you go!'

Pincher scrambled down the sloping ladder with difficulty, but hadbarely reached the boat-deck to go aft when he cannoned into CommanderTravers coming in the opposite direction. 'The capten would like terknow wot th' damage is, sir,' he explained.

'All right, I'm on my way to tell him,' the officer returned curtly.'Get out of the way, boy!'

Martin stood aside, and followed him up the ladder again, withoutreally meaning to overhear his conversation with the captain.

'How goes it, Travers?' was Captain Spencer's first anxious question.

'Pretty bad, sir,' the commander replied with the least trace ofanxiety in his voice. 'Some of the boiler-rooms are flooded, and thewater seems to be making its way forward and aft. One or two bulkheadshave gone already!'

'Good God!' the captain exclaimed; 'is it as bad as that? Is the matdoing any good?'

The commander shook his head. 'Might just as well try to stop the holewith a bit o' stickin'-plaster, sir,' he said tersely. 'I've just seenthe engineer-commander,' he went on, 'and he tells me he's doing all hecan, but that the water's gaining on us fast. I've got men down belowshoring up bulkheads to prevent their bursting, but I doubt if they'lldo much good. However, sir,' he added hopefully, 'she hasn't listedmuch during the last few minutes, and perhaps we'll be able to save heryet.'

'Pray God we shall, Travers!' Captain Spencer returned gravely. 'You'dbetter get all the boats out as soon as you can, and keep 'emalongside; but don't allow the men into them until I give orders. I'lltell the cruisers to send theirs across, but we'll make 'em lie off forthe time being. Well, so long, commander, in case we don't meet eachother again. Do all you can.'

'I hope it's not so bad as I think, sir,' Travers said with a forcedlaugh as he turned to leave the bridge. 'It's a damned nasty night togo swimmin', I must say. It was a submarine, I suppose, sir?'

'Must have been. By the way, you'd better warn 'em to blow up theirswimming-collars.' The captain was ever mindful of his men.

'I will, sir. What about you?'

'Don't worry about me, man. You see to the ship's company. I'll lookout for myself.'

The commander disappeared.

The time passed. There was still a chance of the ship remaining afloat,and by about three o'clock, merely as a precautionary measure, thelaunch and the pinnace had been hoisted out and the boats lowered;though one cutter, lowered too rapidly, had capsized and disappeared.During the interval the ship did not seem to have listed any more tostarboard, and favourable reports had come from down below as to thechances of remaining afloat. In fact, they were all congratulatingthemselves that the damage had been overrated, when another heavyexplosion roared out from the port side aft.

'By God!' muttered the captain under his breath; 'that's anothertorpedo!'

The Belligerent, with a fresh wound open to the sea, shudderedviolently, and then gave a sickening lurch to starboard, and lay overuntil her masts were at an angle of thirty degrees from the vertical.The starboard side of the upper deck was under water, and the otherlifted high in the air, while the inclination was so great that it wasbarely possible to walk. Realising that the end could not be longdelayed, Captain Spencer dragged himself to the bridge-rail and raiseda megaphone to his lips. 'Abandon ship!' he roared in a voice whichcould be heard above the howling of the wind and the raging of the sea.'Save yourselves, men! Save yourselves!'

The word was passed along, but still there was no undue haste orconfusion. Stokers and other men of the engine-room department who hadbeen employed below until the last moment, some of them clad in theirgrimy working-clothes, others nearly naked, came pouring up thehatchways leading to the upper deck.

A cloud drifted away from the face of the moon, and a subdued silverylight lit up the awful scene.

The boats, plunging wildly on the rapidly rising sea, pounded andcrashed alongside. A small group of officers stood beside each onesuperintending the disembarkation, and the men, standing in longqueues, could be seen jumping into them one by one. Several, leapingtoo late or too early, fell between the boats and the ship's side, andwere never seen again.

The doctors and the sick-berth staff, unmindful of their own safety,passed their sick and ailing into the boats, and remained behindthemselves.

'Steady, lads! steady!' the chaplain, gallant man that he was, could beheard saying coolly. 'One at a time! Keep cool, boys! Keep cool!'

Many men, relying on their life-belts or swimming-collars, had flungthemselves overboard and were swimming in the direction of thecruisers, whose rescuing boats were on their way across as fast astheir eager crews could drive them. A certain number of the swimmerswere eventually picked up and saved, but by far the greater proportionperished in the wild tumult. Every one knew that there was room forbarely more than a fifth of the ship's company in the boats; but, inthe face of almost certain death, there was no panic.

''Ullo, 'Orace,' a burly stoker remarked to a friend with a laugh,'comin' swimmin'?'

'Looks like it, chum,' answered the other glumly, eyeing thewhite-capped seas with nervous apprehension. 'Ain't much of a night fura picnic like, this 'ere, is it?'

'Rottenest bloomin' regatta ever I saw,' rejoined the first speaker,who was attired in nothing but a singlet and an inflatedswimming-collar. ''Ow's this fur a bathin'-costoom? What'd my ole'ooman say if she see'd me on th' beach at Margit in this 'ere? Ow!' heyelled, as a breaking wave deluged him with icy spray. 'Gawd! ain't itcold? Come on, boys; come an' 'ave a dip! Any more fur th' shore?'

The others hung back.

'Wot! not comin'?' he went on, walking to the edge of the boat-deck andgazing out at the sea. 'Well, s'long, blokes. 'Ere goes!'

He clambered down the ship's side on to the net-shelf, waited till alarge sea came swishing past, and then slipped into the water, tovanish in a smother of foam. An instant later he reappeared, swimmingstrongly in the direction of the nearer cruiser. He was never seenagain.

Somebody started the chorus of 'Tipperary' to cheer the flaggingspirits of his shipmates, but the gallant effort met with littleresponse. Numbers of men, trying to nerve themselves for the ordeal ofleaping overboard and of saving themselves by swimming, shrank back atthe sight of the raging sea. It was enough to appal the bravest heart,and the ship, though sinking fast, still seemed to offer a safer refugethan that wild waste of water.

The captain, holding on to the bridge-rail to prevent himself frombeing carried off his feet, surveyed the scene calmly. 'Jump, men!jump!' he bellowed to a hesitating group on the boat-deck. 'For God'ssake, jump! It's your only chance!' Turning round, he noticed thatPincher and one or two signalmen were still on the bridge. 'What areyou doing here?' he demanded with a touch of his old asperity. 'Theship's sinking! Get down out of it, and save yourselves!'

Pincher and some of the others obeyed, but the chief yeoman of signals,noticing that the captain wore no life-belt or swimming-collar, calmlyproceeded to divest himself of a cork jacket. 'Take this, sir,' hesaid, handing it across; 'I've got my collar.'

Captain Spencer pushed it away. 'Use it yourself, man!' he said firmly.'Use it yourself!'

'But I don't want it, sir,' the chief yeoman persisted.

'Do what you're told, Morris,' came the answer. 'Leave the bridge andsave yourself; she'll go in another minute or two! I'll look out formyself!'

Morris hesitated for another instant, saw his commanding officer was inearnest, and left the bridge.

'Good luck to you, Morris!' the captain called out after him.

'Good luck, sir.'

Captain Spencer, alone with his dog, leant down and lifted him into hisarms. 'I'm afraid we're done in this time, old man,' he whisperedsadly. 'We may as well go together. Good-bye, old Joe!' His voice washusky with emotion as he buried his face in the animal's warm coat; andthe dog, seeming to understand, turned his head and licked his master'scheek.

The end came almost immediately, for before some of the boats had gotclear the ship lurched drunkenly to starboard, to hurl men and movablefittings in one awful chaotic avalanche into the water. For one momentthere was wild confusion, and the sea was covered with the heads ofswimmers fighting for their lives; the next, there came the muffledroar of bursting bulkheads, and the Belligerent hove herselfback on to an even keel, with the water washing across her decks.

A searchlight flickered out from one of the cruisers and lit up thescene. Lower and lower sank the doomed ship, until at last the waveswere breaking across the top of the boat-deck, and only the two masts,the funnels, and the bridge showed above the surface. She seemed tohesitate for a moment as if unwilling to take the final plunge, andthen, with a dull, booming sound as the water reached the boilers,slowly slid from view.

There was no vortex or upheaval of spray, merely a swift rush of sparksand a cloud of smoke and steam, which rapidly dissolved on the wind,and in a few more seconds the ship had vanished for ever. Nothingremained to tell of her presence except the boats, the dark heads ofthe battling survivors, some débris, and an ever-widening circle ofcalm, oil-strewn water, on the outskirts of which the waves leapttumultously. But on the bridge, game to the very last, two heroicspirits, a man and a dog, had gone to their long last rest together.

II.

To this day Pincher never really remembers how he got into the water.The events of that night still seem like some ghastly nightmare, ahorrible dream in which incidents and impressions succeeded each otherwith such rapidity that the memory of them seems almost unreal. Herecollects standing on the boat-deck with a group of other men anddivesting himself of his thick duffel coat. He did it reluctantly, forit was bitterly cold. Then, after inflating the rubber swimming-collarround his neck, he waited. The ship lay over at an alarming angle, andit was all he could do to stand upright.

'Jump, men! jump!' an officer kept on shouting. 'For God's sake, saveyourselves!'

A few, nerving themselves for the effort, cast themselves overboard,and were lost to sight in the raging sea; but Pincher and many others,eyeing the tumult with horror, instinctively hung back. Life was verydear at that moment, and it seemed sheer madness to cast one's selfinto that seething maelstrom of one's own free-will. Then it was thathe remembered his heavy sea-boots. Fool! They would infallibly drag himunder if he had to swim for it; and, bending down, he kicked andwriggled his right foot free. He was repeating the process with theother when the end came. The ship lurched horribly to starboard, andflung him to the deck with a shock which jarred every bone in his body.The next instant he started slithering and sliding down a steep slope,to bring up with a thud against a projection on the deck. The impactnearly knocked the wind out of his body; but, stretching out his armswith an instinct of self-preservation, he grasped something solid withboth hands, and clung madly on to it with all his strength. For asecond or two he hung there, gasping for breath, with sheets of sprayflying over his head. Then something soft cannoned into him and torehim from his hold. He felt himself sliding again, then falling,falling.

Next a feeling of bitter cold and utter darkness as a sea snatched himin its grasp and flung him away. He went down and down until his lungsseemed on the point of bursting for want of air; but theswimming-collar was still round his neck, and with a swift upward rushhe felt himself borne to the surface. On opening his mouth for air agigantic white-cap promptly broke over his head and left himspluttering and gasping. At one moment he was carried high on the crestof a sea, and the next he was deep down in a hollow; but by somemiracle he still managed to breathe, and retained sufficient presenceof mind to strike out away from the sinking ship.

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (5)

Raising his voice, he tried to shout for help.

Page 203.

He could see nothing, but the sea all round him was dotted with theheads of other swimmers. Some had life-belts, some swimming-collars orflotsam, and, like Pincher, were making the best of their way from thescene of the disaster. Others had no life-saving appliances at all, andwere drowning in dozens.

Twice was Pincher clutched round the body, but each time he fought withthe mad energy of despair, and wrenched himself free of the suffocatingembrace of a shipmate less lucky than himself. He was no coward, but itwas a case of each man for himself, and his desire to live wasoverwhelming.

How long he was in the water he never knew. He merely battled on,fighting for breath. Presently, when all but exhausted and numb throughand through with cold, he was carried to the summit of a huge wave tosee the dark shape of a boat barely twenty feet from him. In the dimhalf-light he could see it was crowded with men, and raising his voice,he tried to shout for help. He emitted no sound but a feeble croak, andthe next time he was borne aloft the boat had vanished. Then it wasthat Pincher commended his soul to his Maker. He could do no more.

He seemed to have been swimming for hours, and was breathless and veryweary. His limbs felt incapable of further movement, and it was withalmost a feeling of relief that he gave up the struggle as hopeless.But for his swimming-collar he would have sunk then and there. How longhe remained quiescent he could not tell; but during this awful time hissenses never left him, and he found himself wondering how long it wouldtake him to die. He did not dread the prospect; anything seemed betterthan this awful shortness of breath and the constant buffeting by theseas. The most trivial events and the most important happenings of hisshort life crowded into his overwrought brain. His thoughts travelledto his home, and he pictured his mother the last time he had seen her,framed in the doorway of her cottage. He almost laughed when heremembered himself tearing down the road to catch the train. He musthave looked funny, excruciatingly funny, but he felt a slight pang ofregret on thinking that he would never tread that road again. Next hismind reverted to Billings, and he wondered hazily what had become ofhim. Poor Joshua, he had been a good friend to him! He hoped he was notdrowned. What was Emmeline doing at this moment? The recollection ofher seemed indistinct and shadowy, somehow. He could not picture herface, merely remembered that she was pretty and fascinating. What wouldshe say when she heard he had been drowned? Would she go into mourningand cry her pretty eyes out? Perhaps she would marry some one else.

Then, quite suddenly, he heard a voice. ''Ere's another on 'em!' itsaid gruffly. He felt his head come into violent contact with somethingsolid and unyielding, and the next moment he was seized by the hair.The pain of it hurt him abominably, but he was far too weak and shortof breath to expostulate. Then he was grasped under the armpits, and,after describing what seemed a giddy and interminable parabola throughthe air, heard himself descend with a crash on to something very hard.The impact should have hurt him, but he felt nothing, and merelyrealised in a hazy sort of way that he was in the bottom of a boat.

It was bitterly cold. He shivered as with ague, while constant showersof spray left him coughing and gasping for breath. Water washed overhim perpetually, and a horrible, never-ceasing oscillation flung himviolently to and fro. It was almost as bad as being in the water. Buthe was past caring. Then came a feeling of terrible nausea, and,rolling over abjectly, he was violently sick. Next, darkness, the utterblackness of absolute oblivion. Pincher Martin had fainted.

When he recovered his senses some hours later he could not for themoment recollect where he was or what had happened. He felt chilledthrough and through with the cold, but some kind Samaritan had removedhis sodden garments, and had left him lying in the bottom of the boatcovered with a portion of the sail and its tarpaulin cover. Severalother men lay there with him. Then he remembered. He felt bruised allover, stiff, miserable, and very weak; but he could breathe, and found,on trying to shift his position, that he had recovered the use of hislimbs, though the effort caused him agony. Glancing round, he saw hewas in the stern-sheets of the Belligerent's forty-two-footlaunch, the largest pulling-boat she had carried.

The sea was still running very high, and the boat pitched and rolledviolently and unceasingly, while constant showers of spray came drivingaft as her bluff bows plunged into the waves. At one moment he foundhimself watching the dark clouds chasing each other across the gray skyoverhead; and the next, as the boat rolled, he was vouchsafed momentaryglimpses of a heaving expanse of gray-green sea, lashed and torn intowhite, insensate fury by the wind. It was blowing a full gale.

The boat was half-full of water, and amidships some men were busybailing, one with a bucket, and others with boots and caps. Crouchingdown under the thwarts, with the water washing over them, were manymore men in the last stages of misery. Some showed signs of life; somelooked almost dead. Another melancholy party were clustered in thestern, huddling together to get some warmth into their numbed limbs.All sorts and conditions of men were there—stokers in their grimyflannel shirts and fearnought trousers, just as they had come up out ofthe stokehold; bluejackets in jerseys and blue serge trousers; somemarines; and a ship's steward's assistant with nothing but aswimming-collar and a sodden white cotton shirt. Their lips were bluewith cold, their teeth were chattering, they looked abject and utterlyforlorn, but they were still alive. One or two of them were actuallytalking.

Standing up in the stern with the gunner and the boatswain was PettyOfficer Bartlett. The last-named was attired in his undergarments, acholera-belt, and one blue stocking, and in the intervals of gazinganxiously round the horizon he was flapping his arms to restore hiscirculation. How he managed to keep on his feet at all was a marvel.

'Anythink in sight?' somebody asked in a husky whisper.

'Not a ruddy thing!' Bartlett returned. 'I thought I seen somethin''bout ten minutes since, the smoke of a steamer on the 'orizon, but sheain't there now.'

The questioner, an able seaman, cursed under his breath. ''Ow long'sthis —— show goin' ter last?' he queried plaintively. 'I'm so ——cold. Such a —— picnic I never did see. Gawd! why didn't I join th'ruddy army? They kills yer quick there, not like this 'ere. I'll be agonner in another hour, see if I ain't,' he added weakly, trying to geta little sympathy. 'Carn't feel me bloomin' legs no'ow; ain't got nonep'r'aps.'

'Cheer up, Joe!' said the man alongside him, who seemed a littlehappier; 'we ain't dead yet. Like me ter give yer another rub dahn?'

Joe nodded wearily and closed his eyes.

Pincher, unwilling to leave the shelter of his canvas, tried to attractsome one's attention. He endeavoured to speak, but could get no morethan a husky, almost inaudible, whisper; so, withdrawing one arm fromits covering, he moved it feebly up and down. After a lengthy pause oneof the marines noticed him.

''Ere,' he said, patting Petty Officer Bartlett on the leg, 'one o'them 'ere deaders 'as come back ter life!'

Bartlett turned round. 'Deader!' he said. 'Which one?'

'One o' them 'ere blokes yer pulled out o' th' ditch,' the marineanswered.

'Blimy! So 'e 'as!' the petty officer exclaimed, rather surprised. 'Ithought 'e'd chucked 'is hand in long ago.—'Ere, me son,' he added,coming across to where Martin lay, ''ow goes it?'

Pincher smiled wearily.

'Carn't talk, eh?' Bartlett remarked with rough kindliness. 'Like adrop o' rum[32] an' a bit o' somethin' t' eat?'

Martin nodded.

'Hand us that there rum-jar,' the petty officer said over his shoulder.'Easy now—easy!' as the man he had spoken to nearly let it fall. 'Thatthere may 'ave to last us for days!' He extracted the cork from thewicker-covered jar and poured some of the spirit into a small tin mug.'Damn me eyes!' came an angry ejacul*tion, as the boat gave aparticularly violent lurch and a few drops of the precious liquidslopped over the edge. He replaced the cork carefully, and, putting onearm under Pincher's head, held the pannikin to his lips. 'Try toswaller it,' he said. 'It'll do you good.'

Martin obeyed; and, though a certain amount of the liquor trickled overhis face, the greater proportion went down his throat. The burningfieriness of the neat spirit made him choke and splutter, but thefeeling of warmth it induced was very comforting.

''Ere's a bit o' biscuit,' said Bartlett again, extracting a brokenfragment from the waistband of his nether garments, where he had beenkeeping it dry. 'Put that inside you, an' w'en you've finished it I'llcome along an' give you a bit of a rub down like to warm you up—see?'

Pincher, still too weak to bite, consumed the flinty fragment bynibbling round its edge until he could nibble no more, and then, whenthe petty officer had rubbed his numbed and aching body with a pair ofhorny hands, which rasped him like a file and threatened to take everyinch of skin off his long-suffering limbs, he felt tolerably warm andmuch better. The blood coursed through his veins. Life was again worthliving.

'Thanks!' he was able to murmur feebly when the painful ordeal wasover.

'That's all right, me son. See if you carn't git a bit of a caulk,'said Bartlett, getting up from his knees.

It may have been the dose of rum, a spirit to which he was entirelyunaccustomed, which had the desired effect, but five minutes laterPincher Martin was asleep.

Immediately on being hoisted out, the launch had been dashed bows oninto the ship. She had been badly damaged; but men, strippingthemselves, had stuffed their clothes into the rents to keep the waterout. Time after time breaking seas had nearly swamped her; but by dintof constant bailing with boots, caps, and anything they could lay theirhands upon, they had somehow managed to keep her afloat.

Most of the oars had been broken in frantic efforts to fend the boatoff from the ship, and none remained to keep her head on to the seawhen they finally got clear of the wreck. Then they had lashed all theboat's lumber together, and had dropped it overboard to form a floatingsea-anchor; and the launch, secured to it by a rope, rode head on tothe waves. But still the wretched survivors were in a bad way. They hadyearned, with all the longing their souls possessed, that a ship wouldbe in sight when morning came. They had practically pinned their faithto it, for they were aware that they were in a part of the EnglishChannel where traffic was constant. But when the night lifted and thegray dawn gave way to full daylight there was nothing in sight. Not theleast vestige of a steamer or the welcome gleam of a rescuing sail;only the gray-white expanse of the raging sea, and the sombre,wind-driven clouds chasing each other across the gray void overhead.Then a faint feather of smoke had shown up over the rim of the horizonto the southward. It was fully ten miles off, but they all thought forone wild moment that salvation was at hand. Their drooping spiritsrevived; but a minute later the smoke had disappeared, and their hopeswere dashed to the ground.

They were exhausted, wet through, chilled to the bone, and utterlymiserable, and some of that little band of two warrant-officers andseventy odd men resigned themselves to their fate. They could not lastmuch longer. And so the launch, with a woollen scarf lashed to an oaramidships fluttering as a mute signal of distress, drifted on at themercy of the wind and sea. Her crew were past caring.

III.

Early in the morning of that fateful New Year's Day the Brixham trawlerProvidence was running back to her port for shelter from thegale; but when she was off Start Point the wind and sea had increasedto such an extent that there was nothing to be done but to heave-to andride out the storm. Between eleven o'clock and noon the smack washove-to on the starboard tack, when the third hand, who was on deck,saw a large gray open boat to leeward. She was full of men, and wasflying a muffler tied to an upright oar as a signal of distress; but soheavy was the sea that she was obscured for minutes at a time in thetrough of the waves.

The smack's crew of three men and a boy, Little Dan, were soon on deck,and promptly got to work to take another reef in the mainsail and toset their small storm jib. It was a hard tussle, for the wind wasblowing with hurricane force, and seas were constantly breaking overthe deck; but it was the only thing to be done if a rescue was to beeffected.

The Providence was on the starboard tack, let it be understood.This meant that the wind was blowing from her starboard side; but, toreach the launch at all, she had to pass round on to the port tack.There are two ways of manœuvring a sailing-vessel from one tack tothe other. The first, the shortest method, is by 'going about,' orturning the vessel round head to wind, and then allowing her sails tofill on the other side. The second way, a longer method, in which moreground is lost, is by 'gybing' or 'wearing,' in which the ship passesfrom tack to tack by turning her stern to the wind. Both arecomparatively simple evolutions in calm weather, but any sailor willsay that in a small fore-and-aft rigged craft both are dangerous in aheavy sea and a gale of wind. Of the two, however, gybing is by far themore hazardous, even perilous, for there is a grave risk of the craftbeing pooped by a heavy sea, or of her being dismasted when the largemainsail swings across the deck and suddenly bellies out on the otherside. But Captain Pillar, the skipper, realised it was the only thingto be done. He was a thorough seaman, who knew his craft well, and hedecided to take the risk.

The helm was put hard up, and the Providence paid off graduallyuntil her stern was in the wind's eye, and then, sweeping round on thecrest of a gigantic billow, came on to the port tack. An enormous seabroke on board as she did so, and the heavy mainsail came across with acrash and a jerk which nearly wrenched the mast out. But the men whohad built the sturdy Providence knew their work, and the mastwas a good sound stick, and the rigging honest steel wire. It was agood test of their workmanship, for by some miracle the gear held.

Drawing close to windward of the launch, the smacksmen hove a ropeacross as they drifted by. It missed. Another attempt, and yet another,but on each occasion the line fell short. Then, when those in the boathad almost given it up as hopeless, a fourth heave was successful. Therope was caught by the bluejackets, held, and belayed, and slowly butsurely the launch was hauled toward the stern of her rescuer. Then thewarp was passed forward along the lee side of the Providence,and the man-of-war's boat was drawn cautiously ahead until her bowswere level with the lee quarter of the smack.

The exhausted bluejackets were ordered to jump on board, and one by onethey obeyed. It was a perilous business, for the waves were runningtwenty to thirty feet high, and at one moment both craft were liftedhigh in the air, while the next they were deep down in a hollow, withan awful, roaring breaker threatening to overwhelm them. It tookhalf-an-hour before the whole seventy of them reached their haven ofrefuge; but the work was accomplished without the loss of a singlesoul; while the senior officer present, the torpedo gunner, true to thetraditions of the service, was the last man to leave. Then the launchwas cast adrift. She had served her purpose, and was never seen again.

The rescued men, many of them in the last stages of exhaustion andnumbness after their frightful ordeal, were accommodated wherever roomcould be found for them. What food and tobacco the smack carried wereshared out equally, and hot coffee was served out all round.

The Providence then shaped her course for home, and, after beingtaken in tow by another vessel when close to her destination,eventually berthed alongside the quay at Brixham at eight o'clock inthe evening. And so, from the very jaws of death, Pincher Martinstepped ashore.

CHAPTER XII.

H.M.S. 'MARINER.'

I.

Your modern destroyer differs from her prototype of twenty years ago inmuch the same way as the present-day Rolls-Royce differs from the earlymotor-car of 1895. She is just about four times as large, is infinitelymore seaworthy, is much faster, and better armed. She is an ocean-goingcraft which, with judicious handling, can keep the sea in practicallyany weather, whereas her more elderly sister usually had to run forshelter in a really bad gale of wind, and was unfit for constant workin the North Sea except in summer.

Pincher had seen destroyers at work, and had heard a great deal aboutthem in one way and another; and when, in the first week of February,he found himself detailed as one of the crew of a new craft of thistype on the verge of completion in a northern port, he was happy. True,he knew he 'wouldn't be 'arf seasick,' as he put it, and did not at allrelish the idea, though the extra sixpence a day 'hard-lying money' wasalways something to be grateful for. He was aware, moreover, that lifein a destroyer in war-time was considered rather a hard and riskyexistence; but he would probably be in the thick of anything which tookplace in the North Sea, and he owed 'them 'Uns' something for sinkinghis first ship and drowning many of his shipmates.

He wondered why he had been sent to a destroyer at all, however, for heknew that as a rule ordinary seamen were not eligible. As a matter offact, it was Peter Wooten, the late senior watch-keeper of theBelligerent, who had worked the oracle. Wooten was the sort ofperson whom nothing could kill. I don't know how many times he had beenwrecked, or how often his life had been in danger; but after thebattleship sank he had been in the water for half-an-hour in nothingbut a singlet and a pair of socks, in one of which was stuffed his lastfive-pound note. He had been picked up by a boat from one of thecruisers at the last moment, and purely by a lucky accident; but eventhen he had been rather annoyed with his rescuers because they laughedat his scanty and unofficer-like attire. He also had a grievancebecause he had lost his best uniform cap, a brand-new article which, heinformed any one who cared to listen, had cost him the sum oftwenty-two shillings and sixpence, and had last been on his head whenhe jumped overboard. Incidentally he had saved the lives of two men byhelping them to reach pieces of wreckage; but, being as hard as nailshimself, he was not one whit the worse for his aquatic adventures.

He eventually got ashore in a borrowed overcoat, proceeded on afortnight's leave, and then, as the result of a visit to a friend atthe Admiralty, found himself appointed to the Mariner, a newdestroyer. Naturally he was delighted, and at once set about collectinga good ship's company for his new ship. He far preferred having men heknew to strangers who had never served with him before; and, by dint ofa little judicious conversation with the officer in charge of thedrafting-office at the barracks, Petty Officer Casey, Billings,M'Sweeny, and Pincher were officially detailed for his ship. It wasCasey himself who had suggested Martin's inclusion, though that youthwas unaware who had caused a point to be stretched in his favour.

Pincher was not really a nervous, highly strung individual with a vividand preying imagination; but even so, five weeks had elapsed before thedoctors consented to allow him to go to sea again. His nerves had beenbadly shaken, and the sudden banging of a door or unusual sounds of anykind brought him out in a cold and horrible perspiration. Crossing astreet through traffic or entering a boat was an ordeal which causedhim many moments of poignant mental agony.

They had sent him on three weeks' leave, and the twenty-and-one days ofblissful ease, during which he saw nothing of the sea, and was treatedas more or less of an invalid and as very much of a war-worn hero,helped to restore him to his normal self. The presence of Emmeline, byspecial request, also had its effect, for with the girl as his constantcompanion he was able to forget many painful incidents which it was aswell should be forgotten.

But the advent of Emmeline certainly did involve him in complicationsof another kind. A porter had told the stationmaster that he had seenMrs Martin embrace the girl when she arrived at the railway station.The stationmaster imparted the information to his wife; and that lady,an inveterate gossip, spread the news far and wide. It caused no smallflutter among the maidens of Caxton. It was neither correct nor properfor the mother of an eligible youth to go kissing a girl in publicunless the youth himself regarded the maiden as his 'intended,' onapproval, as it were; so Mrs Martin, quite inadvertently, put her footin it, and caused the cat to leap out of the bag in one act.

Not that Emmeline or Pincher cared a jot who knew. It was bound to comeout sooner or later, and each found the company of the other quitesufficient and pleasant enough to make life well worth living. The factthat the village girls were bitterly incensed and obviously jealous wasrather amusing than otherwise. Though not admitting it, they would haveregarded it as an honour to be seen about with a sailor or a soldier inuniform now that it was war-time. They considered that Pincher hadplayed them a low-down trick in ignoring their charms and in goingelsewhere for an object for his affections, and they did not hesitateto say so. They took the precaution of making their remarks in private,however, for with their parents Pincher was something of a hero. Theirmothers knitted him socks and comforters, and at the 'Bull and Bottle'he could, if he had wished it, have absorbed sufficient malt liquor atthe fathers' expense to float a battleship. So when he heard that busytongues were wagging in his direction he laughed happily and saidnothing. Emmeline, wise girl, did the same.

Some of the Mariner's ship's company and all the officers hadbeen sent up north beforehand to become acquainted with their new ship;but at last came the day when the remainder—some sixty odd seamen andstokers—were put into a train with their bags, hammocks, and somemascots, in the shape of a monkey, two cats, and one small goat, forwhich they had not taken tickets.

The goat, Pompey, was young, but had a voracious appetite, for beforethey got to London he had eaten two pork-pies, the property of PincherMartin, three packets of Wild Woodbine cigarettes of M'Sweeny's, andhalf a magazine belonging to some one else, while the respective ownersslumbered peacefully. On arrival in the Metropolis he was so overcomeby his miscellaneous diet as to be violently and unexpectedly ill inthe omnibus on the way to King's Cross; whereupon the conveyance wasstopped for brandy to revive him. As a consequence, they very nearlymissed their train to the north; while Pompey, unused to potations inany form, spent the remainder of the journey in a state of coma.

The two cats behaved well; but, in the small hours of the morning, justbefore the train was due to start from one station, Jane the monkey wasdiscovered to be missing. The whistle had already blown, but the trainwas stopped, and forty-three bluejackets, vowing that nothing on earthwould induce them to be parted from their pet, swarmed from theircarriages and went off in search of the truant. Ten minutes later,Jane, gibbering like a lunatic, but with absolutely no maliciousintent, was discovered chasing a middle-aged, portly, highlyrespectable, and very terrified female round and round the table in thethird-class waiting-room. The monkey was enjoying herself hugely; notso the lady.

'Such goin's on didn't oughter be allowed, young man!' she pantedbreathlessly when Billings stormed her retreat, and Jane abandoned thepursuit.

'Lor' bless yer, marm!' laughed Joshua, helping her to collect herscattered parcels, 'she's that tame she'd feed out o' yer 'and.—Come'ere, Jane,' he added coaxingly. 'Come an' show th' lady 'ow nice yekin be'ave.'

The animal, busily investigating the contents of the water-carafe onthe table, clucked twice, and evinced no further interest.

'Them wild hanimals didn't oughter be allowed!' the woman retortednervously. 'An' you, young man,' she went on, fixing Joshua with ahorny eye, 'is a disgrace to your uniform! You oughter be fightin' themGermans instead o' chasin' monkeys round railway stations at this timeo' night. I'm a respectable married woman, I am, an' if my 'usband knooo' these goin's on 'e'd be very angry. My 'usband's a foremanbricklayer'——

'I'm sorry yer takes it that way, marm,' said Joshua apologetically,picking up the protesting animal by the scruff of her neck, and thentouching his forelock. 'I'm sure our Jane didn't mean no 'arm. I'm arespeccable married man meself, an''——

'Married man, are you?' interrupted the lady, with a snort, as theseaman, with Jane perched on his shoulder, prepared to take hisdeparture. 'Married? Shame on you! What'd your poor wife say if shesee'd you be'avin' like this, an' chasin' respectable women with yourwild hanimals instead o' fightin' for your country? I've a good mind to'ave the lor on you! The wild beast nearly bit me; would 'ave done if I'adn't run'——

There was no pacifying her, and Joshua, smothering his amusem*nt, beata hasty retreat. Her strident remarks followed him down the platform.

It took some time to collect the others, who had scattered all over thestation in search of the deserter; but eventually, after a long andheated altercation with two ticket-collectors and three porters,reinforced by the guard and a sleepy station-master, the train wassuffered to proceed on its journey twenty minutes late. The travellers,hungry, irritable, and very peevish, arrived at their destination atsix o'clock in the morning, in a thick fog and a depressingnorth-country drizzle, to discover, on disembarking with theirmenagerie, that half-a-dozen hammocks and three kit-bags had, byinadvertence on some one's part, been left behind in London.

But all's well that ends well; and, two hours later, after breakfast,the party, slightly more cheerful, arrived at the shipyard where theMariner was being completed. They found the workmen still busyupon her; and as she would not be ready for commissioning for anotherweek, the men were billeted in lodgings for the time being.

But they were not allowed to kick their heels in idleness. There isalways plenty to be done before a new ship is ready for sea; while inwar, when every one is working at full pressure, the labour of afortnight has often to be crammed into three or four days. Ammunitionhad to be transferred from railway trucks to the magazines andshellrooms; torpedoes had to be placed in their tubes; and a wholetrainload of stores unloaded, sorted out, checked, and carried onboard—dozens of drums of oil, tons of paint, bolts of canvas, bundlesof cotton-waste, coils of wire and hemp rope, broomsticks and boat-hookstaves, oars, cooking utensils, crockery, knives, spoons, forks,bedding, provisions, rum, and many other things too numerous tomention! It was like furnishing a new and empty house, except that adwelling is not expected to cruise about the countryside at somethingover thirty knots, and does not as a rule contain sufficient in the wayof lethal weapons and explosives to sink a squadron of battleships.Neither does the average residence accommodate eighty odd people. Itwas hard work, for the men were busy all day and every day, from earlymorn till dewy eve.

In the meantime, the contractors' workmen, using every effort to getthe ship completed by the proper date, swarmed on board in theirdozens. All day and all night the air resounded with the clanging oftheir hammers and the deafening rattle of their pneumatic drills. Aparty of bluejackets, under the orders of Mr Daniel Menotti, the gunner(T), once spent the whole of a bitterly cold forenoon stowing shell inthe after shellroom. At eleven-thirty, when the men were lookingforward to their midday meal, and were congratulating themselves thattheir labours were nearly finished, one of the contractors' foremensuddenly appeared.

'Hallo!' he remarked affably; 'what's going on here?'

'We're stowin' the after shellroom,' said Mr Menotti blithely. 'Reckonwe've done it in record time, too.' He rubbed his hands contentedly.

The foreman scratched his right ear. 'That's rather unfortunate,' heobserved, with a smile hovering round his mouth. 'We've not finishedthe woodwork yet, and we can't get on with it if all your projectilesare stowed.'

'Can't get on with it!' echoed the gunner. 'Why, Mr Scroggins—your MrScroggins—told me it was all right to carry on with the job!'

'I,' retorted the foreman dourly, tapping his bosom—'I am the man incharge, and Mr Scroggins isn't. You shouldn't have taken his word. Ifyou'd come to me I could have told you that'——

'Mean to say you want the whole blessed lot humped out again?' thegunner demanded wildly. 'We've spent the whole bloomin' forenoon overthe job, and'——

'That's just exactly what I do mean,' interrupted the foreman, smilingbenignly. 'We can't put the woodwork up if your shell are there, and ifthe woodwork's not put up the ship'll be delayed. That's all about it.'It was his ultimatum, and with a polite nod to the exasperated officerhe walked off.

'Lord love us!' Mr Menotti ejacul*ted; 'd'you mean to say'—— Wordsfailed him, and he contented himself with shaking his fist at theforeman's retreating back. 'Damn an blast!' he muttered fiercely,recovering his breath but not his composure; 'of all the ruddy sons o'Ham you're about the worst! Why couldn't you have told me this threehours earlier, you lop-eared tinker? Why didn't you—— Oh, youperishin' swab, you!—Come on, lads,' he added mournfully, shrugginghis shoulders; 'we'll have to hump the whole bloomin' lot out again,damn an' blast him!' He ground his teeth with rage.

The 'lads' expressed their disapproval of things in general andcontractors' foremen in particular in loud, full-blooded nauticalblasphemy. But uncompleted ships are still under the control of thefirm building them, and the firm—well, the firm takes precedence nextto the Admiralty itself. So there was nothing for it but to undo thework of hours. Every single projectile had to be removed. There wereone hundred and fifty of them, and each weighed thirty-one pounds,neither more nor less.

But they were all busy. Wooten kept a watchful eye upon everything thatwent on, and in the intervals of interviewing Admiralty overseers andforemen wrestled with his correspondence and confidential books anddocuments. MacDonald, the Scots first lieutenant, grappled with hiswatch and station bills, arranged the men in their various messes andboats, and detailed them for their guns, torpedo-tubes, and stations.He, as the executive officer, was entirely responsible for theorganisation and interior economy of the ship, and found it a difficultjob to think of and provide for all the possible contingencies whichmight arise when once they got to sea. Sometimes he tore his hair andcursed aloud, more particularly over the matter of the Smiths.

It so happened that some person at the drafting-office at the barracks,with a sense of misguided humour, had thought fit to include no fewerthan four Smiths in the Mariner's crew. There was Reuben Smith,an able seaman; John Smith, a stoker; Peter Smith, the cook's mate; andHarry Smith, a long-haired officers' steward of the second class, witha pale face and a mournful aspect. The ubiquitous surname, cropping upat every turn, became the first lieutenant's bugbear. It haunted himnight and day. Once, after a couple of hours' hard work, he discoveredthat he had placed Reuben Smith in the stokers' mess, John Smith withthe seamen, Peter Smith in the wardroom, and the undesirable Harry withthe petty officers. He had made out a fair copy of his list beforediscovering the error, and then, adding up the total, found he had twomen too many. He checked it again, to discover that he had included notfour but five Smiths, while yet another man had been counted twiceover.

Thompson, the engineer-lieutenant-commander, who had stood by the shipwhile she was being built, wore a suit of brown overalls and a harassedexpression. It was not to be wondered at, for, amongst other things, hewas responsible for all the stores, and nearly every morning hereceived pathetic or peremptory missives from the officials of thedockyard whence the destroyer had been supplied. His stores remindedhim of the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. He had packing-cases, crates,and parcels of every imaginable shape, size, description, and weight,all of which had to be unpacked, checked, and acknowledged. He hopedfervently that the things would sort themselves out and fit into theirproper places at some period in the dim future; but every train whicharrived brought him fresh consignments, until his pile reached suchcolossal proportions that he had serious doubts if they would be ableto get it all on board.

However, he had no time to worry too much about the stores, for he hadquite enough to think about with the machinery and boilers of the shipherself. He had seen all his air-pumps, feed-pumps, air-compressors,and what-nots erected and tested in the shop before they had been builtinto his ship. He had examined his boilers, bearings, andthrust-blocks, and had supervised the delicate adjustments of theturbines; and now he spent all his days and most of his nights in theengine-room seeing if everything worked in harmony. Occasionally thingswent wrong, and he found himself embroiled in long and highly technicalarguments with the representatives of the firm. They wanted things donein their way because they were building the ship; while he, quiterightly, preferred his own method because he would have to run her whenshe got to sea. They generally came to some sort of a compromise; butThompson always avers that that last awful week took at least ten yearsoff his life, and I am inclined to believe him.

The sub-lieutenant, Hargreaves, who had only his charts to correct, wasperhaps the lightest-worked officer of them all; but Mr Menotti becameapoplectic about the face, and was brought to the verge of lunacythrice daily. First he had discovered that he had too much ammunition;and then, on counting again, that he had thirty projectiles too few. Hepromptly sent a frantic telegram to the ordnance depot which hadsupplied the ammunition in the first instance, to receive in reply acurt message stating that so many shell—the proper number—had beendespatched on such and such a date. They held his signed receipt forthem, so would he kindly verify his statement? Their meaning could nothave been plainer if they had wired, 'If you're such a sillyjuggins as to go losing shell, it is certainly not our fault!'

The gunner, with awful visions of courts of inquiry and courts-martialfor the loss of valuable Government stores—to wit, shell, lyddite,thirty in number—searched high and low, but without success. Theyeventually turned up the day the ship sailed, arriving in a hand-cartpropelled by two small youths, who said they—the shell, not theyouths—had been found in a remote storehouse in the shipyard where MrMenotti himself had put them for safety. The gunner always had a veryshort memory when he was harassed.

The shipyard was a depressing place, full of gaunt cranes, overheadgantries, grimy buildings, and huge corrugated-iron erections with tallchimneys which befouled and blotted out every vestige of the sky withtheir oily black smoke. Besides two destroyers and some other smallcraft, the firm were building a battleship, and the noise and clatterof the pneumatic riveters and drilling-machines was deafening. Cranes,with steel plates hanging precariously from their jibs, staggereddrunkenly to and fro on their lines, screeching as they went. Piles ofrusty plates, which presently would be built into some ship, layeverywhere in seeming confusion for people to bark their shins againstafter dark; while pale, apathetic youths stood here and there workingthe bellows of huge brazier affairs with co*ke fires for heating rivets.A shout from a grimy gentleman perilously balanced on a plank some tenfeet overhead would warn them that another rivet was wanted; and,seizing the morsel of red-hot steel in a pair of tongs, the boys, witha dexterous flick of their wrists, would send it flying through space,to be caught as cleverly by a man with a bucket. To an outsider thewhole yard seemed to be in a state of chaotic confusion, but in realityit was very highly organised, for gang relieved gang, and the work wenton night and day.

It was nearly always raining, and the horrible slime was carried onboard the Mariner until her decks and living-spaces wereliterally an inch deep in black filth well trodden in by the feet ofmany workmen. The white wooden tables and stools on the mess-decks werecaked in grime and covered with paint-splashes and candle-grease, whileworkmen shocked the susceptibilities of the first lieutenant by theirmonotonous and indiscriminate expectoration. He nearly wept every timehe went on board. He would have to get the ship clean some day, and atpresent the labours of Hercules in the Augean stables seemed nothing towhat he would have to undertake.

II.

At last came the day when the Mariner left the river to carryout the first of a series of steam trials. As yet she was not afull-fledged man-of-war, and, being still in the hands of thecontractors, was in the charge of a pilot. Wooten was present merely asa spectator, and to take over the command in the rare eventuality oftheir happening to sight an enemy. They sighted no enemy; but the tripshook many of the civilian voyagers to the core.

It was a cold and blustery day. The wind was off the shore, and hadraised what Wooten called 'a little bit of a lop,' but what, in theopinion of the contractors' men, was 'a terrible storm.' It is truethat the motion was supremely uncomfortable, and that when thedestroyer was travelling at something over thirty knots she was delugedfore and aft in sheets of spray. The ship was very crowded, too. Tostart with, she carried the eighty odd souls who formed her propernaval crew. Then there were the Admiralty officers, overseers, andofficials, the builders' representatives and foremen, and others fromdifferent sub-contracting firms who had supplied various portions ofthe machinery. The firm, who never did anything by halves, providedlunch in the wardroom for the officers and the more importantofficials. And such a lunch it was, brought on board in three enormouswicker hampers which filled the officers' bathroom! It would seem thatfood and drink were presently to circulate as freely in the wardroom aswould lubricating oil and north-country blasphemy in the engine-room.But most of them had no food until the ship returned into harbour inthe afternoon. They had reckoned without that fickle mistress, the sea,and she flattened many of them out. Bovril and brandy were more totheir liking than solid food. Moreover, some of them were rathernervous about going out of the harbour at all.

'I say, commander,' one of the firm's bigwigs had said to Wooten asthey steamed down the river, 'is it true that the Germans have beenlaying mines off the coast?'

'M'yes,' said the lieutenant-commander; 'I believe it is.'

'Is there any chance of our being blown up?'

'No-o,' said Wooten slowly; 'I don't really think there is, though ofcourse this bad weather we've been having lately will have broken manyof 'em adrift.'

'And what'll happen if we hit one?' his companion wanted to know.

'Happen!' said the naval officer. 'The bloomin' thing'll probably gooff, and we shall take single tickets to heaven in a puff of smoke.We're chock-full of lyddite and gun-cotton, and'——

The civilian seemed rather perturbed. 'Of course, I'm not reallynervous,' he hastened to explain, looking rather white about the gillsas he fidgeted with an inflatable rubber life-belt round his middle;'but I do hope you'll keep a careful eye on the pilot.'

'Of course I will. I'm not going to let him bump one of the ballythings unless I can't help it. She's still your ship, though,' addedWooten, 'and I'm not really responsible.'

'No, I quite understand that,' said the other; 'but, you see, I'm notused to—er—risks of this kind. I'm not paid for it, and I've a wifeand five children.'

'You're insured, I suppose?' asked Wooten, smiling to himself.

'Yes; but my policy doesn't cover war risks.'

'H'm! that's bad; but I shouldn't worry about it if I were you. If wedo go sky-high'—— Wooten paused.

'What were you going to say?' the bigwig asked apprehensively.

'I was thinking,' Wooten went on with a malicious twinkle in hiseye—'well, I was thinking that if we are blown up there will be quitea merry little lot of us—nearly a couple of hundred—what? I canalmost see myself as a nice fat little cherub sitting on a damp cloudtwanging a harp—eh? They'll probably serve you out with a trombone.Can you play one?' He laughed, for somehow his companion reminded himof the man who had played that instrument in the orchestra of thePortsmouth Hippodrome in pre-war days.

'I do wish you'd be serious,' the contractors' representative observedsadly. 'This is no joking matter.'

'I am serious,' Wooten protested, trying hard to control his face.

'But you seem to like the idea.'

Wooten shook his head. 'Don't you believe it,' he replied. 'But justthink what a glorious death it would be for you if you did go sky-high!Why, your name would be in the Roll of Honour, and your photo in theDaily Mirror. You'd be a public hero!'

'Better be a live convict than a dead hero,' observed the bigwigglumly, going off to seek consolation elsewhere.

But when they did get to sea, and the Mariner started first tobob and curtsy, and then, as she gathered speed, to kick and dance likea bucking mule, the violent motion drove all thoughts of mines orGerman submarines out of their heads. They were seasick—fearfully andwonderfully seasick. The joys of a sailor's life were not for them, andmost of the contractors' men and not a few of the ship's company wishedthat they might die. The very thought of food made their gorges rise indisgust, so lunch was delayed until their return into harbour justbefore dark.

Wooten and the officers were enthusiastic about the ship. 'She's arattling good sea-boat,' the former remarked, rubbing the caked saltout of his eyes as he sat down in the wardroom when the ship hadsecured alongside her wharf. 'We hardly took a green sea on board thewhole time.—Give me some of that game-pie and a whisky-and-soda,steward! I'm perishing with hunger.'

'Green seas!' laughed a lately revived contractors' official, busy witha plate of galantine on the opposite side of the table; 'the waterseemed to be coming on board everywhere. I thought the weather wasabsolutely poisonous.'

'Poisonous!' echoed the skipper, looking up with his mouth full. 'Mydear sir, it was a ripping day. Nearly flat calm.'

'You call that nearly flat calm?'

'Course I do. There was nothing but a little bit of a lop.'

'A lop, d'you call it? And what the deuce are these craft like in agale?'

'A bit lively, and most damnably wet,' said Wooten.

'Well, thank God I'm not a destroyer sailor!' exclaimed the civilianwith a sigh of heartfelt relief. 'I think you fellows ought to gettreble pay in bad weather.'

'So do I,' the naval officer agreed. 'But none of us get our deserts,thank Heaven!'

Every one laughed.

The first trial was not a complete success, and the ship was delayedfor a few days with defective fan engines. Then, with the faultsrectified, they went to sea again, and this time everything workedsmoothly—far more smoothly than Thompson, theengineer-lieutenant-commander, had dared to hope.

The Mariner was a flyer, or at least she flew faster than anyother ship most of them had ever been in before. The ship's companytalked of her being able to do thirty-seven knots, and thoughtthemselves no small beer in consequence; but as a matter of fact theirestimate was exaggerated.

They carried out several more trials, and eventually, in the third weekof February, the ship commissioned. Her officers and men shiftedthemselves and their belongings on board from their respective hotelsand lodgings. Pompey, Jane, the two cats, and a newly acquiredfox-terrier puppy rejoicing in the name of Tirpitz were draggedruthlessly on board, and the destroyer hoisted her pendant and ensign.She was a man-of-war at last.

Two days later she sailed to the southward. The good wishes of herbuilders went with her; for, if anything serious went wrong with herinterior economy within the next few months, they, by their contract,were due to pay the piper.

And so the Mariner put out to sea.

III.

All things are said to have their uses; but I have never yet been ableto discover any utilitarian purpose attached to a fog. I believe thatthe men serving in lighthouses and lightships benefit by them to theextent that they receive extra pay in return for their want of sleepwhile their hooters and sirens are working; but I am more than certainthat this small addition to their salaries would be more than made upby annual subscriptions from cheerful captains, masters, and officersof His Majesty's Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine were fogs to beabolished altogether.

There are fogs and fogs. A fog ashore is a nuisance which may cause oneto arrive as much as an hour late at the office, may make one miss anappointment with one's dentist, or, worse still, an appointment tolunch or dinner with some opulent acquaintance. I have even heard of aLondon fog which was so thick that the conductor of a motor-omnibus,who had left his vehicle to discover his whereabouts, was unable tofind it again. I feel sorry for that man, for a fog ashore is always aninconvenience and a nuisance, sometimes even a positive danger. But areal fog at sea is ever a ghastly nightmare; while thick weather inwar-time, when one has to pursue a zigzag and serpentine track along acoast to dodge well-sown minefields laid for one's especialdiscomfiture and disintegration by an obliging and thoughtful cousinfrom the other side of the North Sea—well, the less said about it thebetter. Moreover, when the restricted navigable channels are crowdedwith merchant ships which the presence of mines and enemy submarinesdoes not seem to deter, and when most of the buoys and navigationalsafeguards have been removed for the annoyance of the afore-mentionedHun submarine, the difficulties are increased. Piloting a vessel insuch circ*mstances might perhaps appeal to some jaded individual insearch of new thrills; but to the ordinary simple sailor, who gets histhrills as regularly as clockwork free, gratis, and for nothing, anoff-shore fog is an invention of the Evil One.

So when, during the Mariner's first passage, Wooten noticed thehorizon to seaward was gradually becoming obliterated in a luminoushaze, and the outline of the land was rapidly becoming less and lessdistinct in white, cotton-wool-like puffs of vapour, he cursed gentlyand felt anxious.

'Yes,' he growled disgustedly to the first lieutenant, whose watch itwas, 'we're in for a regular thick un. D'you see this little lot?' Heplaced a finger on a large red oblong outlined on the chart.

MacDonald nodded.

'That's their latest minefield,' the skipper continued. 'According toall accounts it's a pretty good un, as four steamers have been blown upthere within the last two days. We shall be up to this corner of it inabout a quarter of an hour, and we've got to snuggle in between it andthe shore somehow. I don't much fancy running along within a mile ofthe coast if we can't see a yard in front of our faces. However,' headded with a sigh, 'I suppose it's got to be done.'

The first lieutenant looked at the chart. 'We can ease down and run aline of soundings, sir,' he observed; 'but even then I doubt if thelead'll tell us much. The water's under ten fathoms the whole way, andwe might pile up on one of these banks before we know where we are.They're steep to.'[33] He pointed to some patches of closely clustereddots representing sandbanks. 'Perhaps we might pick up one of thebuoys, sir?' he added hopefully.

Wooten seemed doubtful. 'Most of 'em have been taken away,' heanswered. 'I do wish these perishin' Huns would go and do their dirtywork somewhere else! Our compasses are none too accurate, and Heavenalone knows exactly what the tide is doing.' He was very much annoyed,and not a little apprehensive; for the haze over the land was gettingthicker every minute, and there was no breeze to dispel it.

Ten minutes later the Mariner was travelling in a cold andclammy mist through which it was impossible to see more than a mile;while five minutes afterwards she had run into a solid wall of thickgray fog, and their range of vision was bounded by a narrow circle witha radius of barely a hundred yards.

'Damn!' Wooten muttered fiercely, stepping to the engine-room telegraphand turning the handle until the pointer showed the revolutions of theturbines for ten knots.

With the sounding-machine going every five minutes, the siren wailingmournfully every two, and extra lookouts placed on the forecastle, theygroped their way blindly on. It was trying work; for, now that the foghad shut down, the neighbourhood at once seemed crowded with otherships, the dismal hooting of whose sirens and steam-whistles came fromall directions at the same time. The noises they made were curious.Some barked like dogs; others cleared their throats noisily, orstammered and yelped shrilly; while more boomed and bellowed likecattle, howled liked wolves, or laughed like jackasses.

'I've heard a farmyard in the early mornin',' Wooten observed; 'but theracket that's going on now fairly licks creation.'

Once they sighted a huge dull blur in the haze right ahead, and theskipper, holding his breath, jammed the helm over just in time to avoida large Norwegian tramp laden with timber. The vessels slid by eachother barely twenty feet apart, and as they passed a man with anexcited purple face and a white beard leant over her bridge-railgesticulating wildly. 'Why for you no look where you come?' he bellowedin incoherent and very bad English.

'Don't get excited, Father Christmas!' Wooten retaliated, justlyannoyed. 'Why the deuce don't you sound your hooter, you perishin'pirate?'

The master of the steamer waved his fists excitedly, but before hecould collect his wits and think of anything further to say the vesselshad slid past each other and were out of sight and earshot.

For an hour the Mariner travelled on, with the fog as thick asever. They were running down the Channel between the minefield and thebanks lying off the shore; but in spite of the fact that they wereworking entirely by dead reckoning, and the tide was an unknownquantity, nothing unforeseen occurred.

'What the deuce is that?' asked MacDonald, as an excited, irregular,and strident 'He-he-haw-haw-haw!' burst out from the murk ahead.

Wooten laughed. 'Sounds exactly like a donkey braying,' he said. 'As amatter of fact, it's some blighter playing on one of those handfog-horns. Sailing-craft of sorts. He's right ahead, too. Keep youreyes skinned!'

A moment later there came a wild yell from the forecastle, 'Ship righta'ead, sir!'

'Starboard! Hard a-starboard!' the skipper ordered at once, as ablurred silhouette came out of the mist right under the destroyer'sbows. 'By George! we've got her!' His heart was in his mouth, and hegripped the rail convulsively and waited for the crash.

But they didn't hit her quite; for the Mariner, turning sharplyto port under her helm, just shaved past within a fathom of a smalldecked sailing-boat with brown, idly flapping sails. An ancient marinerin a billyco*ck hat at her wheel stared up open-mouthed at thedestroyer's bridge, and then, yelling like a maniac, darted aft andhauled in on the painter of the dinghy towing astern. He did it just intime to save his small boat from being run into and destroyed. Fartherforward a red-faced boy, with one hand on the pump-handle of a batteredbrass fog-horn, looked up with frightened eyes, as they passed so closethat Wooten could almost see the drops of moisture on his rough bluejersey.

The midship gun's crew happened to be cleaning their weapon as the boatdrifted by.

''Ow do, granfer?' said the irrepressible Billings, stepping to therail and removing his cap with a low bow. 'Where did yer git that 'at?'

'You keep a civil tongue in yer —— 'ead!' retorted the aged fishermanwith some heat.

'Now then, yer naughty boy,' answered the seaman, wagging a fingerreprovingly, 'don't git usin' sich langwidge. Comin' aboard ter 'ave anice drop o' rum?'

'Go to 'ell!' shouted the naughty boy, purple in the face. 'You ——torpeder deestroyers'll be the —— death o' th' likes o' me! Second—— time we've bin nearly run down this marnin'! W'y can't you ——look where you're —— well goin'? We've got our —— livin' toget'—— The remainder of his remarks were inaudible as his craftdropped astern and was swallowed up in the fog.

'Nice ole gent, ain't 'e?' Billings remarked with a grin, gazing afterthe boat with admiration. 'Don't 'e talk well? I 'specs, if we reallyknow'd it, that ole bloke is a shinin' light in one o' these 'erechapels ashore. Don't matter wot yer sez an' does in the week, s'longas yer good an' goes ter chapel reg'lar o' Sundays.'

''Ow often does we git these 'ere fogs?' queried Pincher, a trifleanxiously. ''Ow in 'ell does the skipper know where-abouts th' bloomin'ship is if 'e carn't see nothink?'

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (6)

''Ow do, granfer? Where did yer git that 'at?'

Page 230.

Joshua smiled condescendingly. 'Fawgs!' he said. 'Sometimes we 'as 'emin th' North Sea fur days an' days on end—weeks sometimes.'

'But 'ow does ships find their way abart then?' Pincher persisted.

'Find their way abart?' Billings repeated, scratching his nose with anoily forefinger. 'I dunno rightly. They eases down an' keeps theirsoundin'-machines goin' reg'lar, an' uses their compasses; but Ireckons they doesn't allus know where they is. They pretends to, o'course, but I believe they trusts ter luck more 'n 'arf th' time.'

Martin sucked his teeth. 'But supposin' we 'its somethink?' he asked.'Supposin' we 'ad a bargin' match wi' another ship, or runs ashore?'

Billings grunted. 'W'en that 'appens yer kin start thinkin' abart it,'he returned. 'It's no good yer troublin' yer 'ead abart wot may 'appen;yer won't git no sleep, an' won't 'ave no happetite, if yer does.S'pose we gits blowed up by a mine or by one o' them there ruddysubmarines; s'pose we 'as a collision wi' somethink a bit bigger'nourselves, or per'aps 'as a bomb dropped on our 'eads from a bloomin'hairyoplane or a Zeppeling?'

'Well, an' wot abart it?' demanded the ordinary seaman, ratherperturbed at Billings's summing up of the different ways in which theymight meet their fate.

'Wot abart it? Why, I tells yer it ain't no use yer worryin'. If wedoes 'ave bad luck an' 'as an 'orrible disaster, shove yer life-belt onan' trust ter luck, same as yer did in th' ole Belligerent. Ittakes an 'ell of a lot to sink a deestroyer,' Joshua added. 'I've seen'em 'arter collisions wi' their bows cut orf, their starns missin', an'chopped clean in 'alves, I 'ave; but still they floated some'ow, an'wus towed back 'ome inter 'arbour.'

'I don't fancy seein' this 'ere ship chopped in 'alves,' said Pincherdubiously.

'Don't talk so wet,' Joshua growled. 'Yer ain't frightened, are yer?'

'Course I ain't!' came the indignant reply.

'Yer looks ter me as if yer wus,' said the A.B. 'But, any'ow, don'tworry yer 'ead. A deestroyer's a ruddy sight safer'n some other ships.We've got speed, we 'ave, an' kin run away if we're chased by an'ostile cruiser, an' we don't draw too much water fur bumpin' mines andsichlike. Jolly sight safer 'n livin' ashore, I calls it.'

'I dunno so much.'

'Course it is. Look at th' ways yer kin lose th' number o' yer messw'en ye're livin' on th' beach,' Billings replied with a snort. 'Yerkin be run over an' laid out by a motor-bus. Yer kin be drownded in yerbarth, or git a chimney-pot dropped on yer napper in a gale o' wind.Yer kin be suffocated in yer bed if yer leaves th' gas burnin',an''——

'An' yer nearly dies o' suffocation if yer drinks more 'n a gallon o'beer,' chimed in another man, who knew Billings's past history.

Joshua turned round wrathfully. 'I don't stan' no sauce from th' likeso' you, Dogo!' he exclaimed, advancing threateningly.

'It's true, ain't it?' queried Dogo, retreating to a convenientdistance. 'Besides, I never said 'oo it wus 'oo nearly died o'suffocation, did I?'

'No, but I knows ruddy well 'oo yer means, yer perishin' lop-earedmilkman; an' nex' time yer sez things ter me I'll give yer a clip'longside th' ear'ole as'll keep yer thinkin' abart it fur a week!'

The bystanders laughed.

'Don't you take no notice o' 'im, Pincher,' Joshua went on. ''E ain'tno sailor. Afore this 'ere war started 'e wus drivin' one o' these 'eremilk-carts an' shoutin' "Milk-o!" artside th' 'ouses, an' makin' loveter th' slaveys!' It was perfectly true so far as the driving of themilk-chariot was concerned, for Dogo Pearson, after serving his firstperiod in the navy, had retired into civil life as a milkman, only tobe called up again on the outbreak of war.

It was Dogo's turn to get angry. 'Look 'ere, Billin's!' he saidangrily; 'I'll 'ave yer know'——

'You men had better be gettin' on with cleanin' that gun!' came thewrathful voice of Mr Menotti, who had come forward unseen. 'It's nothalf done, red rust everywhere, an' you're all standin' round spinnin'yarns. Get a move on, or I'll have you up here cleanin' it in yourspare time!'

The argument ceased, and the gun's crew, stifling their amusem*nt,busied themselves with their emery-paper, bath-brick, andpolishing-rags.

'You wait till I gits yer on th' mess-deck, me boy-o!' growled Joshuasotto voce when the gunner's back was turned.

'Orl right, chum,' Dogo grinned unconcernedly; 'don't go gittin'rattled.'

Billings was really a great friend of his.

All things come to an end in time, even sea fogs, and that same eveningthe Mariner steamed jauntily into her first port of call anddropped her anchor.

'I'm glad you've arrived all right,' said the senior naval officer whenWooten went over to report himself. 'To tell the truth, we were a bitanxious about you.'

'Anxious, sir! Why?'

'We've had to close the Channel to all traffic until it's been swept,'said the S.N.O. 'A steamer went up on a mine bang in the middle of thefairway about an hour after you must have passed the place.'

'Good Lord!' the lieutenant-commander ejacul*ted with a sigh of relief.

The S.N.O., who was used to such things, smiled blandly. 'Have acigarette,' he said, pushing the box across. 'What about a glass ofbrown sherry? I've just got a new lot in, and it's rather good stuff.'He reached up and fingered a hanging bell-push.

'Thank you, sir. I think I will.'

The S.N.O. rang the bell for his steward.

CHAPTER XIII.

FRITZ THE FRIGHTFUL.

I.

Pincher soon discovered that life on board a battleship and life in adestroyer were two totally different existences.

In the Belligerent a cast-iron routine had always been adheredto, at sea or in harbour, fair weather or foul. Nothing was suffered todisturb that routine, unless it were occasional excursions to sea inthe small hours of the morning and frequent coalings. Times were laiddown for everything. Day after day bugles blew or pipes twittered atexactly the same hours; and to the ship's company, the actual workers,things seemed to run as smoothly as clockwork with a minimum of efforton the part of every one. They all knew what to do, and when to do it;and the men themselves never realised the forethought, the energy, andthe capacity for organisation on the part of the commander and otherresponsible officers which were necessary to produce such a result.They took it for granted. Their groove was made for them, so to speak,and they suffered themselves to slide along its well-oiled lengthwithout troubling their heads as to what supplied the motive-power.Moreover, men were told off for their jobs collectively, notindividually. Their bodies seemed to be regarded as machines capable ofso many units of work, and there were such numbers of them in the ship,and the vessel herself was so huge, that the labours of any singleperson, provided always he was not a very important person, did notseem to have any effect on the community as a whole. Indeed, a seamancould even go on the sick-list, or leave the ship altogether, withouthis absence being noticed or felt except by his own messmates andfriends.

But in the Mariner things were very different, for here thelabours of every single individual counted. If a man neglected his workor idled his time away, his shortcomings had their effect on some oneelse. They were soon noticed, and the laggard speedily found himselfchased and goaded into a proper state of activity by Petty OfficerCasey; and Casey, a glutton for work himself, always had a persuasiveway with him, and a horny fist to back up his arguments.

There was a routine, of course, and very nice it looked on paper; butthe life was so full of sudden surprises that as often as not anypreconceived time-table went by the board. It was not surprising, forthe Mariner and the other destroyers of her flotilla had alwaysto be ready for service at the shortest notice, and her men frequentlyfound themselves bundled unceremoniously out of their hammocks in themiddle of the night to get the ship to sea. It did not matter whetherit was blowing a gale, raining, or snowing; go to sea they must, anddid.

Sometimes they chivied Fritz; and he—a wise man, but nogentleman—waited for no one. It was not the fault of the destroyersthat he had usually vanished into space by the time they arrived tostrafe him. Fritz was the ubiquitous Hun submarine, any 'untersee-boot'which happened to come into their domain, and a merry little dance hesometimes led them. Occasionally, to vary the monotony, they called himHans, Adolf, Karl, or some other Teutonic appellation; but more oftenthan not he was just Fritz, and Fritz he will remain until the end ofthe war. Sometimes, though reported as such, he was not really Fritz atall.

'The skipper of the trawler Adam and Eve reports having sighteda periscope flying a large flag in latitude xyz^′ N.,longitude abc^′ E., at six-thirty this morning,' wasthe sort of thing they were sometimes told. 'Proceed to the vicinitywith all despatch, and search.'

Proceed they did, hot-foot and full of warlike energy, only to findthat the skipper of the Adam and Eve had been mistaken, and thathis periscope with its large flag was nothing but some otherfisherman's dan buoy broken adrift from its nets. Dan buoys, seen inthe half-light of the early morning or evening, are apt to bedeceptive, particularly when the imagination is stirred at the thoughtof the substantial honorarium to be earned for authentic information ofthe enemy.

But even battleships and cruisers make mistakes sometimes. Thenewspapers have never mentioned one fierce engagement which took placein a certain northern harbour, in the chill gray light of an earlydawn, when a long black submarine was suddenly seen approaching theouter cruiser of a line of men-of-war lying peacefully at theiranchors. He came in on the flood-tide, grim and menacing, causing agreat commotion in the water, and with his periscope raising itsflutter of spray. Now and then he disappeared altogether.

It was Fritz, they thought, come to pay them an early morning visit,and with all the joy in the world the officer of the watch in thecruiser opened fire. It was easy shooting. The guns barked angrily, andfour-inch shell spouted, foamed, and burst round the invader until hewas a submarine no longer. The fleet was flung into a state ofconsiderable excitement; but the submarine sank gracefully to thebottom, while the officer of the watch, metaphorically patting himselfon the back, told his agitated pyjama-clad commanding officer of whathad occurred.

'Are you quite certain you got him?' the latter inquired anxiously.

'Absolutely certain, sir,' the lieutenant replied. 'We all saw him hitseveral times. He sank by the bows.'

'Have sunk hostile submarine,' was the signal made to the flagship afew minutes later. 'Request permission to send down divers toinvestigate.'

'Approved!' came back the answer. 'Report results.'

'Divers have been down, but report they can find no traces of thealleged submarine,' another semaphore message went across three hoursafterwards.

The flagship did not deign to answer, but her signalmen tittered; the'alleged' tickled them.

'I'm absolutely certain he was hit, sir,' the officer who had openedfire reiterated for the thousandth time. 'I'm positive I saw himsink—absolutely positive!'

'Well, where the deuce has he got to, then?' the captain wanted toknow, shrugging his shoulders unbelievingly. 'The damned thing surelycan't sink and not leave a trace of anything behind him!' He seemedrather irritable.

Three days later a light cruiser anchored towards the entrance of theharbour, and started talking. 'There is a large black object strandedon the beach abreast the ship,' she said by semaphore. 'Am sending boatto investigate.'

'Object previously reported is a whale,' came a supplementary messagein less than half-an-hour. 'It has been dead some days, and appears tohave been killed by shell-fire.'

The defunct monster advertised his presence far and wide when the tidefell. People approached him wearing gas-masks and with ammonia-soakedhandkerchiefs held to their noses. How the authorities got rid of himhistory does not relate. One cannot very well bury a thing the size ofa house. Perhaps they sold him for fertiliser.

There were no C.B.'s or D.S.O.'s conferred for that battle, though theshooting certainly had been good.

But all this has carried us rather far from the Mariner and hermen. They always found Fritz, Hans, Adolf, Karl, or whatever they choseto call him, as cunning as a hatful of monkeys; but the destroyers andother craft which sought to compass his destruction admired him for hisefficiency, for efficient he certainly was. He combined boldness withseaman-like caution, and would suddenly appear in an area crowded withtraffic, sink a merchant ship or two, and then disappear into space.Occasionally he behaved as a sportsman, and towed the boats containingthe crews of the ships he had just sunk in towards the shore.Sometimes, when it came to sinking liners and passenger-ships withwomen and children on board, his reputation was unsavoury; but even therighteous wrath and indignation of his pursuers, who always played thegame themselves, were not levelled so much at Fritz himself as at thosewho had given him orders to go out and do his dirty work.

The Mariner was once working in an area in which Fritz was veryactive indeed, when Hills the telegraphist clambered on to the bridgein a state of purple excitement, flourishing a sheet of paper.

'Well, what is it?' Wooten demanded. 'What's the matter?'

'There's a steamer down to the south-east'ard makin' the S.O.S. call,sir!' the man ejacul*ted agitatedly. 'Says she's bein' overhauled by asubmarine, who's firin' on her. I've got her position, course, andspeed!'

'The devil you have!' said Wooten, putting the telegraphs to 'Fullspeed,' and giving the helmsman a new course. 'Let's have herposition.' He took the paper from the telegraphist, and laid thelatitude and longitude off on the chart. 'Lord!' he remarked, ratherperturbed, 'we're a good forty miles off. It'll take us over an hour toreach her. They'll be strafed by then, poor devils!'

The Mariner, meanwhile, with smoke pouring from her funnels anda great bow-wave creaming aft from her sharp stem, was dashing off atsomething over thirty knots.

Wooten scratched his head. 'Hills,' he said at last, as an inspirationseized him, 'call her up by wireless, and make her in plainEnglish—not in code, mind—"Hang on. Destroyer will be with you intwenty minutes." Got that?'

'Yessir,' said the man, writing it down.

'Very well. Don't make our name, but use all the juice you can, so thatthey'll think we're very close. Understand?'

'Yessir,' nodded Hills, leaving the bridge rather mystified.

'You see, sub,' the skipper went on, 'we can't possibly get to thischap in time to save him from being sunk. All we can do is to try tofrighten Fritz and to make him abandon the chase. D'you see?'

Hargreaves nodded vaguely.

'I don't believe you understand in the least what I'm driving at,'Wooten continued, smiling. 'Fritz has got wireless, and is on thesurface. If he's the wily bird I imagine him to be, he'll have a fellowin his box-office listening to what's going on. He'll hear my signal,will take it in, translate it—they all know English—and there's justa chance it'll scare the life out of him, and make him shove off out ofit. Savvy?'

Hargreaves nodded.

The scheme actually did work successfully, and Fritz was badly had, forin less than twenty minutes the unknown steamer was talking again.'Submarine has abandoned chase, and has dived,' she said abruptly. 'Whoare you?'

'Mind your own perishing business!' went back the reply in ratherpoliter language.

Fritz seemed to work in spasms, for a fortnight would go by without asign of him; and then, quite suddenly, there would come anotherrecrudescence of his activity in another and quite unexpected locality.But the small craft were always hot on the scent the moment he bobbedup. They made his life a misery and a burden; and, though it is true hesucceeded in sinking many a merchant ship, many of his species did notreturn to Wilhelmshaven. There were various effective ways of dealingwith him, though exactly what those methods were must perforce be lefta secret.

II.

But Fritz was not the only thing they hunted; for once, in the EnglishChannel, the Mariner was sent to sea to look for Fritz's mother,a suspicious sailing-vessel supposed to be supplying him with petroland other commodities.

It was midnight when the orders came, pitch-dark, snowing hard, andblowing half a gale of wind, and there was considerable risk in takingthe ship to sea at all. First they had an altercation with the side ofthe jetty, the brunt of which was taken by the whaler at her davits,and caused that boat to open her seams and crack her ribs in resentfulindignation. Then, since there was no room to turn, Wooten had toperform the rather ticklish manœuvre, in the midst of a snow-flurry,of steering stern first through a line of closely anchored ships withno lights. Any naval officer will agree that handling a destroyer insuch circ*mstances, with a strong wind broad on the beam, the night sodark that it is impossible to see more than a hundred yards, and cloudsof black, oil-fuel smoke making it darker still, is apt to behair-raising and startling. Wooten found it so at any rate, andcongratulated himself that he succeeded in getting to sea with nofurther damage than a badly squeezed whaler.

Shortly before daylight they arrived at the spot where the suspicioussailing-vessel had been sighted from the shore. They were all in astate of suppressed excitement, for they fully believed they were infor something at last; while the guns' crews, fidgeting withimpatience, were standing by their weapons ready to open fire.

Wooten himself was very hopeful. 'If this report is true,' he said tothe first lieutenant, 'I shouldn't at all wonder if we found asubmarine taking in petrol alongside her.'

MacDonald, inclined to be sceptical, shook his head and smiled. 'I havemy doubts, sir,' he said with true Scottish caution. 'It's my opinionthat the whole yarn is pure bunkum.'

When the dawn broke in a blaze of scarlet and orange there was asailing-craft in sight, and she was barely a mile away from the placewhere the submarine supply-ship had been reported. She seemed rather anordinary-looking vessel, ketch rigged, with a sturdy, broad-beamedhull, and was hove-to under the lee of the land. Her sails were patchedand dingy, and, like Joseph's coat, were of many colours. But reallyand truly there was nothing at all remarkable about her, though most ofthe officers and fully half the men were firmly convinced that she wasa Hun of most immoral character.

The Mariner approached her warily, with guns trained, and themen's fingers itching on their triggers. They longed to fire. TheJessie and Eva, however, evinced no particular interest in theproceedings; and when the destroyer steamed up close alongside, andwent astern to check her way, only a small, sleepy-eyed boy was visibleon deck.

'Where d'you come from?' Wooten bellowed through a megaphone.

'Brixham, surr!' answered the youth with a broad west-country burr, asa tousled head appeared up the after-companion and stared at thedestroyer in amazement.

'Where's your skipper?' the lieutenant-commander asked.

'Here Oi be, surr!' said the owner of the head, scrambling out of hiscubby-hole, and appearing on deck in jersey and sea-boots. 'What'll yoube waantin', surr?'

'Where d'you come from?'

'Brixham, surr.'

'How long have you been out?'

'Nigh on three-fourr days, surr.'

'What's your name?'

'Jarge, surr—Jarge Willyum Cobley,' answered the man, in unmistakableDevonshire accents.

Wooten turned to the first lieutenant. 'Lower the dinghy, and go onboard and have a look at her,' he said rather disappointedly. 'Seems tome she's as innocent as a new-born babe; but ask 'em if they've seenany men-of-war or submarines about, and find out how long they've beenhere. Get back as soon as you can.'

'Ay, ay, sir.'

The boat was lowered, and the Jessie and Eva, for the first timein her career, found herself boarded by an officer and two men armed tothe teeth.

'Whaat du th' li'l man-o'-warr waant, surr?' queried the skipper,eyeing MacDonald's holstered weapon with some apprehension. 'Us is fromBrixham, surr.'

'Yes, that's all right. I merely want to have a look round.'

He examined the smack fore and aft; but there was not the least vestigeof anything incriminating about her. Her papers were in order, her twomen and the boy were obvious west-countrymen, and she herself was fullof fish. She had been in her present position or thereabouts for thelast three days, the skipper said, and he intended returning to Brixhamwith her catch that afternoon.

'Well, there's nothing the matter with you,' said the first lieutenantwith a laugh, as he prepared to get back to his boat. 'Care for a bitof navy plug?' He knew well enough how to get the right side offishermen, and never dreamt of boarding a trawler without a couple ofinches of strong navy plug tobacco in his pocket.

Old Cobley beamed. 'Ay, surr,' he said, accepting the gift. 'Us doan'tof'en get navy 'bacca. Would 'e care fur some fish, surr? 'Tis finefresh caught.'

'Thanks very much,' answered the lieutenant, who had taken theprecaution of bringing two buckets across in the boat with him; 'Ishould.'

'Peterr!' the old fisherman bellowed to the boy, 'put some fish interth' orficer's boat, an' luk lively naow.'

Peter obeyed his orders, and the dinghy eventually returned to the shipwith the buckets full and her bottom covered with a slippery, slidingmass of newly caught herrings, a turbot or two, and dozens of othervarieties which nobody could put a name to. They had sufficient toprovide the ship's company of the Mariner with two excellentmeals, and the total value of the haul, if brought ashore, could nothave been far short of thirty shillings. Tobacco to the approximatevalue of four-pence sometimes does work wonders, and well MacDonaldknew it. He was a Scotsman.

But Wooten was anxious to find out how the report had originated. Hisorders to search for a suspicious vessel had mentioned 'a black-hulled,ketch-rigged craft, with several white patches in her mainsail,' andthis description suited old Jarge Cobley's smack to a T. Moreover, shehad been found close to the position mentioned in the report.

'Any silly juggins could have seen that she was innocent!' thelieutenant-commander declared wrathfully. He forgot that it was easy tobe wise after the event, and that, barely half-an-hour before, he andmost of his men had been quite firm in their conviction that theJessie and Eva was a Hun in disguise.

The Mariner first signalled to a coastguard station ashore, butthe coastguardmen declined all responsibility, and merely stated thatthey had heard a rumour that, the previous afternoon, some agitationhad been caused amongst the military authorities in the neighbouringcoast town of Baymouth by a report that a strange vessel had been seenhovering in a most suspicious manner off the coast. The coastguardmen,having satisfied themselves that there was no such craft in theneighbourhood, had taken no further interest in the matter. That wasall they professed to know about it.

Wooten himself did not know until afterwards that the garrison ofBaymouth consisted of a small detachment of the 8th (Service) battalionof the Midshire Rangers. It was commanded by a major who, havingcontracted a chill, was absent on sick-leave. Next came a captain, andhe, the day being Sunday, had gone off on his motor-bicycle to see hiswife, leaving Second Lieutenant Tarry-Diddle, a newly caught subaltern,in charge of the gallant troops. Tarry-Diddle, a most promising andzealous youth, was the 'military authority' referred to.

The Mariner steamed three miles along the coast to Baymouth, andhere the first lieutenant was landed in the dinghy to make inquiries.There was some surf on the beach, and he was very wet before he gotashore; but, escorted by a local constable and a tribe of urchins, whowere firmly convinced that he was a prisoner from a German submarinejust sunk in the bay by the destroyer, he was eventually ushered intothe presence of the senior military officer in the town. This time itwas Captain Bumble-Dyke, and he was having his breakfast.

An hour later MacDonald returned to the ship and described the scene toWooten. 'I got ashore,' he said, 'and asked for the boss military manin the place. He was having his breakfast when I arrived, and was quiteaffable; asked me if I'd care for some of his bacon and eggs, in fact.I was wet through and beastly cold, so said I'd have a cup of coffee.Then I asked him about the suspicious sailing-vessel of his. Heevidently thought at first that I'd come to pay an official call,though why he should imagine I'd come at that hour in the morning, wetthrough, and wearing a dirty muffler and sea-boots, I'm sure I don'tknow. He seemed rather surprised, and stared at me for a bit, and thenasked what suspicious sailing-vessel I meant. He said he hadn't heardof one, and went off into a yarn about his having been away all the daybefore, his motor-bike having punctured, and his only having got backat two o'clock that morning.' No. 1 smiled at the recollection.

'Go on with the yarn,' said Wooten, beginning to laugh.

'Well, sir, I told him that the military people at Baymouth hadreported a suspicious craft off the coast yesterday evening. "It's thefirst I've heard of it," he said. "Well, your people reported her,anyhow," I told him. "It must have been Tarry-Diddle!" he answered. "Hewas in charge here all yesterday. He's not said anything to me aboutit, though it's true I haven't seen him since I returned." "Who'sTarry-Diddle?" I asked. "He's my subaltern," he said. "We'd better sendalong for him." We did, and he fetched up in about ten minutes. Seemeda decent little chap, but a bit nervous. "What's this about asuspicious vessel off the coast?" asked the captain. "Yes, sir. Wesighted one yesterday, and reported it," says Tarry-Diddle, looking atme rather anxiously. "Most suspicious-looking craft. Ketch rigged,black hull, and several white patches in her mainsail. She's beenhovering round the bay for three days, sir." I laughed; couldn't verywell help it, for he'd described the Jessie and Eva exactly."What's the matter?" the captain asked me. "Matter!" I said. "Why, yoursuspicious craft is nothing but an ordinary Brixham trawler. We've justexamined her." "The deuce she is!—Whom did you report her to,Tarry-Diddle?" "I sent a wire straight to the Admiralty, sir," the poorlittle chap said. The captain got rather purple in the face. "GoodGod!" he shouted, jumping up, "d'you mean to say that you wired to theAdmiralty to tell 'em that—— Oh Lord! you'll get me hanged! What thedeuce d'you mean by it?" "I'm awfully sorry, sir," said Tarry-Diddle,rather frightened and very white about the gills. "I thought I'd donethe right thing." "Done the right thing, you blithering young jackass!"roared the captain. "Why the devil didn't you get the naval people tohave a look at her? How on earth can you tell whether a ship'ssuspicious or whether she isn't? I go away for twelve hours, and leaveyou in charge, and this sort of thing happens! I tell you,Tarry-Diddle, it won't do. It won't do at all! I shall have to reportthe matter to the colonel!" He started stamping up and down the room ina fearful state of excitement. I couldn't help laughing.'

Wooten was laughing himself. 'What happened then?' he spluttered.

'Tarry-Diddle got in a bit of a funk, sir. "It happened like this,sir," he explained. "The sergeant-major was walking along the frontyesterday afternoon"—— "To hell with the sergeant-major!" shoutedBumble-Dyke; "where the deuce does he come in?" "That's just what I'mtrying to explain, sir," said Tarry-Diddle; and I do believe the youngdevil was laughing. "Oh, go on, and let's hear what you have to say!"spluttered the captain. "Well, sir, the sergeant-major was walkingalong the front yesterday afternoon behind two retired navalofficers—at least, he said they were retired naval officers. They weretalking, and one of them drew the attention of the other to thesailing-craft, and said he thought she looked rather suspicious. Theother chap agreed, and said the Admiralty ought to be asked to send aship to have a look at her." "I've never met any retired naval officershere," grumbled Bumble-Dyke. "I've seen most of the residents in theclub, too." "I'm only telling you what the sergeant-major said, sir,"Tarry-Diddle went on. "He came back to me at once, and told me whathe'd heard, so I sent the wire off to the Admiralty on one of thoseyellow forms." "That accounts for our little excursion, then," Ichipped in.'

'Oh Lord!' gasped Wooten, 'this is the limit. Go on. What happenedthen?'

'Well, sir,' MacDonald continued, laughing, 'the captain called thepoor little chap all the names he could think of; told him he ought tobe court-martialled, and shot at dawn, and all the rest of it. Theywere still at it hammer and tongs when I came away.'

Wooten smiled. 'I feel rather sorry for Tarry-Diddle,' he said. 'ButI'm not certain he didn't deserve it, draggin' us out of harbour in themiddle of the night all for a ruddy craft which any darned son of a guncould have seen was only a Brixham trawler.' It did not occur to himthat he had been badly taken in himself. 'By the way,' he added, 'whowere the two retired naval officers?'

'They were invented by the sergeant-major,' MacDonald chuckled. 'One ofthem was the steward at the yacht club, who goes about in ayachting-cap and a gold badge, and t' other was the man who's in chargeof the bathing-machines in the summer. That's what I was told, at anyrate.'

'Lord!' said the skipper, laughing, 'it reminds me of that parson, atthe other place, who said he had seen the periscope of a submarine atseventeen miles. Seventeen perishin' miles, mark you! He sent a wire tothe Admiralty, too, and they called out every destroyer within ahundred miles. But it wasn't Fritz at all, merely the mast of a shiphull down on the horizon. It was rather a clearer day than usual,that's all!'

No. 1 laughed. 'They're all so jolly keen on reporting things, sir; butI must say this sort of thing is the limit.'

'I agree,' said Wooten, chuckling. 'However, we mustn't let TarryWhat's-his-name get into trouble. I'll send in a report sayin' wecouldn't find any rakish-lookin' craft in the neighbourhood, and that Iexpect the military people were mistaken. You know,' he added, 'thesefellows who've joined the new army are devilish good chaps and devilishkeen, and one doesn't want to have 'em strafed unless one can't helpit—what?'

'I quite agree, sir.'

'And when we get in I'll write a letter to Bumble-Dyke, asking him notto be too hard on him.'

He was as good as his word, and never regretted it, for less than ayear later the name of Temporary Lieutenant Richard Tarry-Diddle, as hewas then, appeared in the Honours List. He had won his Victoria Crossat Ypres.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE NORTH SEA.

I.

There were many different topics of conversation in the wardroom of theMariner. The seven members of the mess talked learnedly upondozens of subjects, no matter whether they knew much about them or not.Nothing was too abstruse. They discussed the Mendel theory, atavism,and how onions acquired their flavour and violets their scent with asmuch zest and freedom as they argued about the possibilities of aGerman invasion of Britain, and the rights and wrongs of universalservice. Conversation frequently became strident, and heated argumentoccasionally gave way to flat contradiction; while contradictionsometimes terminated in a babel in which every one aired opinions towhich nobody listened. One can hardly expect anything else when sevenmen of widely divergent views and ideals, and with different charactersand temperaments, live cheek by jowl in the same small ship. Thesubjects most often brought under discussion, however—the hardyperennials, so to speak—were:

(1) Whether or not the High Sea Fleet of his Imperial Majesty theEmperor of all the Germans was likely to emerge into the North Sea.

(2) Former ships.

(3) The iniquities of one Harry Smith, officers' steward of the secondclass.

Opinions on No. 1 varied, and need not be entered into here; but No. 2provided them with many hours' conversation.

'When I was in the old Somerset, in nineteen-nine,' somebodywould start the ball rolling, 'we had a fellow who'——

'By George, yes!' continued some one else; 'that reminds me of theSaturn in China in nought-five. Did you ever hear the yarn aboutthe watch-keeper who'—— And straightway the floodgates ofreminiscence were opened.

It was perfectly natural, for there were seven of them, and among themthey had served his Majesty or his predecessors for nearly eightyyears. Moreover, they had been in every imaginable type of ship, inmany different parts of the world, and had never been shipmates before.Five of the seven we have already met. The other two were AugustusBlack, the surgeon-probationer of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve,and George Bonar, the midshipman of the Royal Naval Reserve. Of them,more anon.

Topic No. 3, the sins and omissions of Harry Smith, came up forconsideration at least twice daily. He was an unkempt individual, withlong black hair and sallow complexion, who had just entered theservice. Before deciding to serve the King he had, or had not, been ashining light in a livery and bait stable. He may have been anexcellent ostler, but did not scintillate as an officers' steward.Nominally he was supposed to assist Watkins, the senior steward, who,under the supervision of Mr Menotti, did for the officers as regardstheir messing. Watkins himself was all that could be desired, but theredoubtable Harry frequently 'did for' the members of the mess in moresenses than one.

The galley, where all the cooking was done, lived forward, and thoughit must have been painful for Smith to fall on the slippery steel deckon the way aft with the joint for the evening meal, it was still moreannoying for seven officers with healthy appetites to discover thattheir leg of mutton, together with its dish, had flopped gracefullyoverboard and had sunk to the bottom of the harbour. On one occasionthe dish of bacon for breakfast came to grief; whereupon Smith,trusting that nobody was looking, gathered up what remained on thedeck, and replaced it in the dish with his fingers. But the eagle eyeof the first lieutenant was upon him, and there was trouble.

Besides being the food-carrier to and from the galley, Smith acted asthe wine steward in Watkins's absence, was supposed to clean and washup the table silver and crockery, and to keep a watchful eye upon thetable-napkins and tablecloths. It was unfortunate that he poured thesherry into a decanter half-full of port; but he was forgiven, for themixture, under the guise of 'madeira,' was offered to, and accepted asa quid pro quo by, unsuspecting dockyard employees who hadprovided the first lieutenant with—well, certain things which herequired for the ship. Smith was not pardoned for losing the upper halfof an expensive silver-plated entrée-dish, for breaking or losing inten days no fewer than seventeen tumblers, four plates, two cups, and abutter-dish, or for using the best damask table-napkins as dishclothsor for boot-polishing, for all those articles had to be accounted for.Wooten was also extremely annoyed one Sunday morning when, on going therounds, he discovered the hairbrushes and celluloid dickey of theculprit, together with one toothbrush, a shirt, six raw and juicy chopsdone up in newspaper, some emery-paper, knife-powder, and three loavesof wardroom bread, nestling side by side in the same cupboard. No!Harry Smith, though undoubtedly a feature of the ship, and a source ofabundant and animated conversation, was not an acquisition.

'Let's get rid of the blighter!' some one suggested.

They tried to, but the only substitute available was a callow, pimplyfaced youth who, before the war, had been a railway porter.

'Lord!' laughed the skipper, 'if he comes we sha'n't have any crockeryat all at the end of a fortnight.'

And so Smith remained.

Augustus Black was a medical student at one of the London hospitals whohad volunteered his services on the outbreak of war. The powers that behad accepted his offer, enrolled him in the Royal Naval VolunteerReserve as a surgeon-probationer, provided him with the sum of twentypounds wherewith to purchase the necessary uniform, and presentlydesired him to repair forthwith to his duties on board H.M.S.Mariner.

The ship's company as a whole were disgustingly healthy; but Blackattended to their minor ailments, cuts, and contusions, packed them offto the depot ship or hospital if they became really ill, held what hevulgarly called 'belly musters' once a month or oftener, and gave themlectures on first-aid and personal hygiene. In the ordinary pipingtimes of peace a destroyer carries nothing but a medical chestcontaining the simpler remedies, together with bandages, splints,tourniquets, and dressings. She has no doctor, and if a man is hurt orbecomes ill he is given first-aid or relief by one of his shipmates,and is sent to the depot ship or hospital for treatment as soon aspossible. In war, however, when any ship may conceivably be in actionat any moment, and when twenty-four hours or more may elapse beforewounded men can see a medical officer, valuable lives may be saved ifinjuries are properly attended to and dressed on the spot. That was whyBlack and many others like him had been sent to destroyers.

In addition to his other duties, he acted as wine-caterer for the mess,and, since there was no cabin available, slept on a settee in thewardroom, and shaved, bathed, dressed, and kept his clothes and otherbelongings in the sub-lieutenant's cabin, or wherever else he couldfind room. His existence must have had its drawbacks andinconveniences; but, being adaptable, he did not seem to mind them, forhe was an excellent messmate, always cheerful, and was not in the leastaddicted to sea-sickness.

Bonar, the R.N.R. 'snotty,' slept in a hammock in the tiny flat outsidethe officers' cabins, and where he kept his possessions was alwayssomething of a mystery. He had been at sea in the mercantile marinebefore the war, and, in spite of his youth, was a most useful member ofsociety. He helped the sub with his charts, assisted Wooten with hisofficial correspondence, wrote up the fair log, and justified hisexistence in many other ways.

The authorities realised that life in small ships was sometimes apt tobreed staleness; so, though the Mariner and her flotilla wereoften at sea, and while in harbour were always ready to sail at shortnotice, officers and men were allowed ashore in the afternoons wheneverthey could be spared. They were always liable to instant recall, ofcourse, and never got very far from their ships; but this did notprevent them from playing games or otherwise amusing themselves. It didthem all the good in the world, and kept them fit and contented.

On board, their amusem*nts were simple. They all read a great deal, andtheir expenditure on 'sevenpennies,' cheap books at one shilling, andmagazines must have put considerable profit into the pockets of thepublishers who catered for their needs, notwithstanding the enhancedprice of paper and the shortage of labour. One thing all agreed uponwas their debt of gratitude to Jack London. They read his books notonce, but a dozen times; and, prolific writer though he is, they wishedhe were more prolific, for there was a snap and a liveliness about hiswork which appealed to them. In the evenings in harbour the officerseither read, argued, listened to the gramophone, played with thedoctor's Meccano set, or indulged in ping-pong. It is true that thewardroom of a destroyer is not an ideal place for this game. The tablewas small; collisions with hanging lamps, furniture, and Harry Smithwith his arms full of newly cleaned glasses and cutlery were frequentand sometimes painful; while the balls had an unhappy knack of losingthemselves under settees and cupboards. But in spite of thesedisadvantages the players became expert.

Farther forward the men also contrived to keep themselves happy. Theyhad their band—consisting of a drum, a couple of concertinas, manymouth-organs, and a flute—which disported itself on deck on fineevenings. They also sang loudly and sentimentally; while one versatileperson imitated Mr Charles Chaplin, bowler hat, moustache, baggytrousers, and all. They had their racing crews for the whaler and thedinghy, and in the dog-watches were not slow in challenging otherdestroyers to races. Sometimes they won and sometimes they did not; butthe contests always gave the onlookers the opportunity of indulging inribald and strident remarks at other people's expense.

Amongst the ship's company were a certain number of men who had donetheir time in the navy, had retired into civil life after their variousperiods of service, and had either volunteered or been recalled on theoutbreak of war. They were all excellent men, just as good as any oftheir shipmates, while what little rustiness there was about them woreoff within a month of their joining the ship. Their experiences andoccupations ashore had been varied, to say the least of it.

'Dogo' Pearson, the milkman, has appeared before; but besides him therewas an ex-member of the Liverpool police, an Edinburgh fireman, acattle-puncher from Arizona, and a man who had served as asteward-valet on board a yacht belonging to some rich potentate in theArgentine. Then there was David MacLeod, who hailed from Stornoway;Donald MacIver, from the Orkneys; and Roderick Mackay, from Lerwick.They were all fishermen and members of the Royal Naval Reserve, andnaturally were good seamen. Moreover, Wooten found them most useful asreliable weather prophets.

'Well,' he would say to MacLeod on the bridge at sea, 'what d'you makeof the weather?'

The Scotsman would look up at the sky and note the direction and forceof the wind. 'Sur,' he would answer slowly, 'we'll ha'e a wee bit blawafore the mornin'.'

'Blow!' Wooten would echo, rather surprised. 'Why d'you say that? Theglass is high, and there's a fine enough sky; isn't there?'

MacLeod would wag his head wisely. 'I dinna ken why,' he would say.'The wund'll ha'e gone roond tae the north-east, an'll start blawin'fresh afore the mornin'.'

And blow it invariably did, precisely from the quarter MacLeod hadmentioned.

The torpedo coxswain of a destroyer is a very important person indeed.He is always a chief petty officer or petty officer who acts as exofficio master-at-arms of the ship, and as such supervises thediscipline, is the mouthpiece between the men and the officers, bringsmen up for punishment when they have misconducted themselves, and makesout and forwards the punishment returns to the depot ship. This, sinceserious offences are infrequent in torpedo-craft, is perhaps the leastof all his duties. He also performs the work carried out by the ship'ssteward in a big ship, being responsible, under the supervision of theC.O., for the drawing and issue of all clothing, victuals, and rum,besides keeping the store-books for the same. As these have to beforwarded to the victualling paymaster of the depot ship at certainintervals, this, since it involves no small amount of paper work andmuch calculation, may be called the most onerous of his tasks.

But the coxswain's chief function, his raison d'être, is to actas a skilled helmsman. He is generally a man of long service and triedexperience, who has done all his time in torpedo-craft. He knows, orshould know, the individual idiosyncrasies of practically every type ofdestroyer in the navy; and, this being the case, he is the commandingofficer's right-hand man if he is good—and he usually is—and hisbête noir if he is bad. He steers the ship going in or out ofharbour, when she is moving away from or going alongside a jetty oranother ship, during steam tactics and manœuvres, or in action. Inshort, he is the qualified helmsman whose presence is required at thewheel in any circ*mstances calling for special skill and knowledge. Hedraws extra pay for his attainments, and has been through specialcourses to fit him for his rating; but his value lies in the fact thathe has learnt his trade through long experience at sea.

William Willis, the coxswain of the Mariner, was a short,well-covered little man, with a laughing red face and a pair oftwinkling blue eyes. He was always laughing, no matter how bad theweather, no matter what happened; while he had the peculiar knack ofalways appearing on the bridge at the very instant he was wanted, andwithout having to be sent for. How, when, and where he slept or ate atsea Wooten never discovered; for no sooner had the next destroyer aheadhauled out of the line to avoid a floating mine, or an important signalbeen made, than Willis, breathing like a grampus, clambered ponderouslyup on to the bridge and relieved the helmsman. It seemed second natureto him to arrive at the moment he was most needed. One peculiar traitof his was that he never would admit that the weather was really bad.

'Bit rotten, cox'n, eh?' Wooten would remark, shaking the drops ofwater out of his eyes after a green sea had lolloped over theforecastle and deluged every one on the bridge with spray.

'Not near so bad as I 'ave 'ad, sir,' Willis always answered stolidly.'When I was in the Boxer we was once 'ove-to for three days inweather like this 'ere.' He occasionally varied the formula bymentioning the Zephyr, the Angler, the Kangaroo,the Albatross, the Garry, the Mohawk, or variousothers of the destroyers in which he had served; but no matter if thebarometer had dropped half-an-inch in an hour, or the wind was blowingwith almost hurricane force, or the ship was rolling and pitching to anextent that nobody would have believed possible if he had not seen andfelt it, her weather, in the coxswain's opinion, was never so bad asthat experienced by the other craft he had been in.

Sometimes, in the days when Wooten was still new to the ship, andbefore he had come to understand the ways and tricks of handlingher—and a destroyer does occasionally take a deal of handling—theygot into difficulties. Perhaps they would be going alongside anoiler[34] at dead of night to replenish their fuel, and the wind wouldget on the wrong bow, and a strong tide sweep the ship the wrong way.Willis rarely talked on the bridge, but then it was that he consideredhimself entitled to speak.

'Why not try 'er with a touch astern starboard, sir?' would come ahoarse remark. 'Slew 'er stern round—see?' He never spoke as if hewere offering advice; he merely made a suggestion, as it were, andoftener than not Wooten acted upon it, and found it good.

Daniel Bulpit, the chief engine-room artificer, Thompson's trustedassistant and second in command, had few peculiarities. He was ahard-working, conscientious, and thoroughly capable west-countryman,who was always cheerful and always obliging. In appearance he was shortand thick-set, with a fresh complexion, hair slightly tinged with gray,and blue eyes; and what he didn't know about the Mariner and herinternal economy was not worth thinking about. Before joining thedestroyer he had been at the College at Dartmouth, teaching the navalcadets their business in the pattern-shop. He had evidently beenpopular there, for when he went ashore he was frequently recognised andaccosted by certain of his 'young gentlemen,' most of whom by this timehad attained the dignity and single gold stripes of sub-lieutenants.

Gartin, the chief stoker, was a character, and, among other duties, hadcharge of the engineer's stores and tools. He was a tall man, withshaggy eyebrows, black hair, and a black beard, and, judging from theconversation occasionally heard issuing from the storeroom hatch, tookhis job very seriously indeed, and regarded most people, certainly allseamen, as disciples of Barabbas.

'Please, will yer let us 'ave the loan of a cold chisel an' a nammer?'once asked Pincher Martin.

The chief stoker glared. He had a rooted antipathy to all men who cameto borrow tools, for as often as not they omitted to return them. Thisnecessitated a game of hide-and-seek throughout the ship on the part ofGartin himself; while, when the implements were eventually retrieved,the edges of the chisels were generally found to be jagged, the sawsblunt, and the punches broken. 'What d'you want 'em for?' he askedsuspiciously.

'Ter cut a length o' three an' a narf wire in 'alves.'

'Ain't got none!' snapped Gartin.

Pincher knew full well that he had. 'We carn't do th' job without 'em,'he expostulated mildly.

'Can't 'elp that; you'll 'ave to do the best you can, or else borrow'em off some one else. I ain't got no 'ammers nor chisels, I tellsyou!'

'But I see'd'——

'Can't 'elp what you see'd. I ain't got none; that's flat, ain't it?'

'Well, if yer really 'aven't got 'em I s'pose I'll 'ave ter go an' tellthe bloke wot sent me ter borrow 'em,' said Martin with an air ofresignation.

Gartin pricked up his ears. ''Oo was it 'oo sent you?'

'Fu'st lootenant,' said Pincher, inventing a polite fiction on the spurof the moment.

'Why didn't you say so afore?' Gartin demanded wrathfully, opening atool-box. 'Think I'm 'ere to 'ave my time wasted like this? You'requite certain it was th' fu'st lootenant sent you?' He thought he hadseen a twinkle in Pincher's eye.

'Well, 'e said 'e wanted the job done this mornin', any'ow,' theordinary seaman prevaricated.

The chief stoker produced the hammer and the chisel, and handed themacross as if he were making a gift of the Crown Jewels. ''Ere you are.Look out you returns 'em. If you don't'—— He glared fiercely andshook his head.

'If I doesn't?'

'If you don't I'll take you afore the engineer horficer an' the captin,an' 'ave the price of 'em stopped outa your pay. I'm fed up wi' chasin'people round the ship. They comes to me borrowin' things right an'left, never says so much as "Thank you," an' never troubles to returnthe gear wot they borrowed. I ain't 'ere to get runnin' round arterseamen wot isn't no better'n a pack o' thieves!'

'I'll look out I returns 'em orl right,' said Pincher, retreating upthe ladder with a broad grin all over his face.

'I'll look out you pays for 'em if you don't!' was the chief stoker'sfinal remark.

Pincher retired chuckling, with the tools in his possession. He did notfeel the least bit uneasy. Gartin's bark was always worse than hisbite, and nobody ever took him really seriously.

Hills, the petty officer telegraphist, was a burly, powerful-lookingman of average height. His eyebrows, like Gartin's, were long andbushy, the hair on his head was thick and luxuriant, while his chin,though he shaved every morning regularly, was always bristly and blueby the evening. At sea he spent most of his time in the wireless officeabaft the charthouse. It was a tiny apartment, about eight feet byfive, and every conceivable nook and cranny, and almost every squareinch of the walls and ceiling, was occupied by instruments. Where therewas room on the walls Hills had decorated his little den withphotographs of his wife, children, relations, and friends, and sundryflamboyant and highly coloured picture post-cards. There was just roomfor a mahogany slab which served as a table, and a chair bolted to thedeck, in which, with a pair of telephone-receivers clipped over hisears, Hills sat enthroned like some mysterious wizard in his cave. Thewireless office was soundproof and practically airtight. Its occupantdetested draughts, and at sea in winter, when the two small sidewindows were kept tightly shut, the atmosphere could almost be cut witha knife. In the early mornings, when Hills had had an all-nightsitting, and felt peevish and looked dishevelled, his shipmates alwayssaid his hairy face assumed a simian aspect, and that he himselfreminded them of a gorilla in his cage. It was a libel, but this didnot prevent certain irreverent persons from forgathering outside hisden at co*ckcrow, opening the door gently, and then, scratchingthemselves after the manner of apes, inquiring tenderly as to hishealth.

''Ullo, "Birdie," 'ow goes the zoo? Wot time does th' hanimals feedthis mornin'?'

'Oh, go to 'ell!' 'Birdie' would exclaim irritably. Sometimes headopted stronger measures, emerged from his lair with a ferociousexpression, and, armed with a broom-handle, pursued his tormentorsround the forecastle to the accompaniment of yelps of pain and howlsfor mercy as he belaboured them roundly.

But Hills was popular on board, and was thoroughly good at his work;so, taking things all round, Wooten and the officers had reason tocongratulate themselves upon having a good ship's company.

II.

Who would not sell a farm and go to sea? Life in the navy, even in war,has its compensations. At any rate, the sailor's commodious residenceconveys him, his belongings, his food, and his weapons to the scene ofhis activities at a speed of anything between seven and a half andthirty-six knots, according to circ*mstances. The soldier, on the otherhand, though he may sometimes ride upon a horse or travel in a train,generally has to rely upon his own flat feet for locomotion. Moreover,he carries on his person several days' provisions, spare clothing, arifle, a bayonet, ammunition, and equipment, together with anassortment of bombs, gas-masks, and entrenching tools. Any spare spaceor weight-carrying capacity which may remain to him is presumably athis own disposal, and may be utilised for accommodating gifts oftobacco, magazines, and socks from home. So the sailor is lucky in away; while he also escapes the mud of the trenches, the plagues offlies, and other abominations—for which he is duly grateful. It istrue, though, that his floating home, particularly if it is a small onelike a destroyer, is very subject to the vicissitudes of the weather,and has a knack of being abominably wet and very unstable in a seaway.But life at sea in peace and life at sea in war are not so verydifferent. The ocean, with its gales, calms, and fogs, is always thesame, and hostilities only mean more time spent at sea, a few extradangers thrown in, in the shape of mines and submarines, and the chanceof a 'scrap' with the enemy.

Sometimes, during their expeditions to that region known as 'the otherside,' for the express purpose of discomforting the Hun, theMariner and the light cruisers and other destroyers with her hadbad weather. Occasionally it was very bad indeed, and until they gotused to it some of the ship's company wished fervently that they hadnever joined the navy at all. When their little ship was punching homeagainst a rapidly rising gale, the green seas had a playful habit ofbreaking over the bows and of washing waist-deep over the upper deck;while, even in the quiet intervals, sheets of spray came flying onboard until every one was soaked through and through, in spite ofoilskins.

The movement was dizzy and maddening. It was usually a combined pitchand roll, a horrible corkscrew motion which left one wondering whatantics the ship was going to indulge in next. At one instant the bowswould be flung high into the air on the crest of a wave until theforefoot and some length of the bottom were clean out of the water.Then the sea would fall away from underneath, and, after hesitating alittle, the bows would fall into the next hollow with a sickeningdownward plunge. Then a great gray wall of advancing water, topped witha mass of yeasty foam, would rear itself up and obliterate the horizonahead. Sometimes the ship lifted in time to ride over it. Sometimes sheseemed to hang, and the liquid avalanche broke on board and surged overthe forecastle with a crashing and a thudding which made the whole shipquiver and tremble. At such times the mess-decks, the wardroom, and thecabins, however watertight they were supposed to be, were usuallyinundated with several inches of water. Hot food was often out of thequestion, for even if the cook were not seasick, or his fire were notextinguished by the sea, he, not being blessed with the tentacles of anoctopus, could hardly prevent himself from being hurled violently forththrough his galley door, let alone retain an array of saucepans,kettles, and frying-pans on the top of a nearly red-hot stove.Something was bound to go, and 'cookie' took very good care it was nothe. Then it was that officers and men ate and drank what they could.Wooten favoured Bovril from a vacuum flask, corned beef sandwiches, andcheese; but some people, having no appetites, preferred to fast.

Destroyers cannot steam very fast against a heavy head-sea, and withbad weather from the west there was always the possibility that theenemy's battle-cruisers might emerge from their lair and chase and sinkthe retiring British ships one by one as they punched slowly homewards.Small craft are not suited for fighting in very bad weather, and suchan eventuality might have been disastrous; but nobody seemed to troublehis head about it.

Life at sea in the summer, when there was hardly a ripple on the water,with a brilliant sun and no fog, was enjoyable, though it is true thatthey always ran a certain amount of risk from mines, floating orotherwise. The dangerous red squares, oblongs, and circles on the chartwere abundant and well scattered. Ships did not willingly venture overthem; but summer sun and absence of wind breed fogs, and they might beat sea in misty weather for a couple or more days with no glimpse ofthe land, no chance of taking an observation of the sun, and nothingbut a dead reckoning position to work from. This—since tides,currents, and wind have a variable effect—might sometimes be anythingup to twenty miles wrong, so destroyers occasionally trespassed uponthe red danger areas without really meaning to do so. How could theyhelp it?

Liberties should not be taken with mines. They are inventions of theEvil One, and at the beginning of the war caused many people to sufferfrom insomnia; but later on those who did nothing but traverse watersin which some unscrupulous mine-layer had deposited her eggs lost muchof their dread of them. Familiarity had bred not actually contempt, buta species of fatalistic indifference which is rather difficult todescribe. A mine explosion is always serious, sometimes disastrous, andit is never exactly pleasant to know that your ship may be blown up atany moment, and that you and your shipmates may have to take to theboats, if there is room in them for all hands and the cook, or if thereis not, to go bathing in life-belts or swimming-collars. Moreover, someof you may be killed or wounded by the explosion itself, particularlyif it occurs under a magazine; and if it happens close to the enemy'scoast one may possibly be rescued by the Huns and incarcerated inGermany for the duration of the war. There is a chance of being savedby a British ship if one is anywhere near; but whichever way one looksat it, an under-water explosion is never anything but unpleasant to thevictim thereof.

But there is nothing to be gained by worrying. In war one can go toKingdom Come in such a variety of ways, all equally violent and allhorrible, that it is as well never to allow the mind to dwell on anyparticular method of extinction. People never run unnecessary risks,naturally; but risks have to be taken, and mines moored beneath thesurface are invisible at any time. 'Floaters,' too, are a source ofdanger; and, though mines which have become parted from their mooringsare nominally supposed to be harmless, Hague Conventions and the tenetsof International Law are sometimes disregarded. War has lost itsold-time chivalry. It is now a dirty and an ungentlemanly business—oneat which the modern Hun excels.

III.

One dark winter evening the Mariner and three other destroyerswere groping their way back toward the British coast after being at seafor two days and two nights. They had had the usual North Sea weather,thick haze and some rain; but during the later portion of the tripthere had been a gale of wind from the south-west and an unusually badsea. Even now, when they were close to the coast, and should have beenmore or less under the lee of the land, it still blew hard, with aheavy perpendicular lop which made the little ships pitch and wallow asthey drove through it. The evening was as black as the mouth of thenethermost pit, and the sky was completely overcast, while for the lastforty-eight hours they had never had a glimpse of the sun or the land.Their position, as usual in such circ*mstances, was more or less anunknown thing, a mere matter of dead reckoning and guesswork, whicheven the constant use of the sounding-machine could not verify.

Making the land after dark in peace-time, with all shore lightsblazing, sometimes gives cause for anxiety; but in war, when all thelighthouses and lightships are extinguished, when many buoys areremoved, and there are various dangerous mined areas to be dodged andavoided, it becomes something more than a joke. If mines are known tobe present, the feeling is not at all a pleasant one. It is rather likebeing blindfolded and trying to find the door in a pitch-dark room, thefloor of which is well strewn with bombs ready to explode on beingtouched. That was the sort of sensation at the back of Wooten's mind.

The Mariner happened to be the third ship in the line of four,and at five-fifty-one precisely, when the skipper, the sub-lieutenant,and the usual quartermaster, signalman, and lookouts were on the bridgewatching the next ahead, there came a rumbling, crashing roar fromsomewhere close astern. It made the ship dance and tremble, and wasnothing the least like the sharp report of a gun. The sound was more orless muffled, and the violent, reverberating thud could only becompared with the sudden banging of a heavy steel velvet-covered doorin a jerry-built villa, if such a thing can be imagined.

Wooten, who had heard such reports before, knew at once what it was.'God!' he exclaimed anxiously, looking astern; 'some one's got it inthe neck!'

Some one had—the Monsoon, the ship astern—and a moment laterher signal-lamp was flickering agitatedly in and out in the darkness.'Have struck a mine!' she spelt out hastily.

Wooten cursed under his breath. 'These things always happen on nightslike this!' he observed bitterly. 'Just like our rottenluck!—Signalman!'

'Sir?'

'Tell Monsoon I'm coming to her assistance,' Wooten gave thenecessary orders to the quartermaster at the wheel.—'Hargreaves, havethe boats turned out ready for lowering in case she goes, and send downto No. 1, and tell him to be ready for taking her in tow. As fast asyou can!'

The sub. hurriedly left the bridge, and Wooten, working the helm andthe twin screws, circled round until his ship was about fifty yardsaway from and abreast of the damaged vessel, which had fallen off intothe trough of the sea. The Mariner's men, meanwhile, in allstages of deshabille, had thronged to the upper deck at the sound ofthe explosion, and were making the various necessary preparations.

'Are you all right?' the skipper bellowed as the ship slid slowly past,rolling heavily.

'I don't know about being all right,' came back a voice. 'My stern,with the rudder, screws, and the whole bag o' tricks, is missing. Ithink she'll float, though.'

'Right! I'll take you in tow!' went back the reply.—'Good Lord!' addedWooten, swaying to the heavy rolling and looking at the sea; 'it'sgoing to be the devil's own job, though.'

It was. When a searchlight shone out and illuminated the scene, theMonsoon seemed to be in a very bad way. She was not rolling veryheavily, for some portion of her damaged stern was still connected tothe hull, causing her to lie over to starboard toward the wind untilthe mast was at an angle of thirty degrees to the vertical, and brokenwater could be seen washing half-way across her upper deck. Thespectacle was an alarming one, for she seemed to be in some danger ofcapsizing.

The Mariner, meanwhile, had drawn slightly ahead. She wasrolling so heavily that at one moment her rails were under water, andthe next were high in the air, while the men working on the wet andslippery deck had the greatest difficulty in preventing themselves frombeing hurled bodily overboard.

Wooten manœuvred his ship until her stern was on a level with theMonsoon's bows, and about thirty feet distant; where-upon menstationed aft endeavoured to hurl heaving-lines across on to theforecastle of the damaged vessel. If a small line could be got acrossfrom ship to ship, the end of it would be made fast to a coir hawser inthe Monsoon. The coir would then be dragged over to theMariner, and on the end of it would be secured the steel-wiretowing-hawser, one end of which would be hauled on board and secured inthe towing ship, and the other in the vessel being towed. But, try asthey might, they could not bridge the space. The wind simply laughed atthem, and hurled their lines back in their faces, while all the timethe throwers were in constant danger of being shot into the sea by themovement. Except for the glare of the searchlight, it was pitch-dark.Wooten could not approach any closer for fear of bringing thevulnerable stern, with its rudder and screws, into collision with theMonsoon's bows, and if he allowed that to happen his own shipwould be disabled and rendered helpless, and the last state of affairswould be worse than the first. There was only one alternative, and thatwas to lower a boat to take the lines across; but this again was easiersaid than done.

Hargreaves, the sub-lieutenant, and five men took their places in thewhaler hanging at her davits, and the boat was then lowered graduallytoward the water. The skipper watched them with his heart in his mouth,for as she descended, and the falls lengthened, the scope of heroscillation became longer and longer, and dizzier and dizzier. The shipherself was still rolling horribly, and at one instant the whaler wasswung giddily out at an impossible angle over the water, while the nextshe came into contact with the ship's side with a crash and a thumpwhich threatened to stave in her planks and to precipitate everymother's son of her crew into the sea. Watching the business was aghastly nightmare which seemed to last for minutes. In reality it musthave been over in a few seconds, but Wooten heaved a sigh of heartfeltrelief when he saw the boat fall with a splash on to the top of agigantic sea. But the next moment he held his breath again, for she wasflung bodily aft on the crest of the billow until she was all butdeposited on deck as the ship rolled drunkenly toward her. Then shesank out of sight somewhere under the bottom as the Marinerlurched over the other way, to reappear a few seconds later, with hercrew plying their oars lustily. How they ever succeeded in gettingclear nobody quite knew, for in that sea only a merciful Providencesaved Hargreaves and his five men from disaster.

The line was passed across by the boat, and the end of theMonsoon's wire hawser was shackled on to a length of chain cableat the Mariner's stern, and when this had been done the twoships were connected and everything was ready for going ahead. Thewhaler was then rehoisted after another series of hairbreadthexperiences, and the struggle began to get the damaged ship head on tothe sea and wind preparatory to towing her into safety. A bare hour andtwenty-four minutes had passed since the explosion had occurred. ToWooten and his men it had seemed like half the night.

Pincher Martin, who was on the bridge at one of the engine-roomtelegraphs up till midnight, saw and heard all that went on. By thetime the Monsoon was safely in tow both vessels were lyingbroadside on to the wind and sea, with their heads to thesouth-eastward. The course to get the damaged ship head on to the wavesand toward the shelter of the coast was south-west, and at first Wootenwent dead slow ahead with both engines to tug her round. But it was amore difficult task than he had bargained for. He could not go fast,for the violent motion on his ship and the consequent jerking on thetowing-wire would have caused the latter to part like a piece ofthread; and even as it was, the wire was jerking out of the sea oneminute, humming like a harp-string, while the next the bight of it wassagging loosely under the water. Moreover, a destroyer is not an idealship for towing another at the best of times. The tow-rope necessarilyhas to be made fast in the extreme stern, not, as is the case in aproperly fitted tug, more or less amidships in the spot where thevessel pivots when turning. The consequence is that manœuvring-poweris reduced almost to a minimum, while on this particular occasion theMonsoon, with her stern cut off and some of the wreckagetrailing behind her, lay like a log on the water, and did her veryutmost to pull the Mariner round the wrong way—that is, to theeast, instead of through south to south-west. It was rather like tryingto tow a derelict motor-bus with a bicycle.

The skipper worked his engines very gingerly, and tautened out the towwith his helm to port. Then he gradually increased the revolutions ofthe turbines until they should have been travelling at eight knots.

'How's her head, coxswain?' he asked after an interval.

'South sixty-five east, sir,' said Willis.

Wooten sighed deeply, and verified the statement by glancing at thecompass. 'Lord!' he said, 'she was there ten minutes ago. Isn't shemoving at all?'

'Wagglin' about a bit,' the coxswain answered, gazing at hiscompass-card in his usual imperturbable way. 'She's all over the shop.Up to sou'-east one minute, an' back to south-eighty the next. She'sjust startin' to move to starboard now, sir,' he added eagerly aninstant later. 'Blarst!' in a very audible undertone; 'no, she ain't.She's startin' to fall off the wrong way.'

'Damn!' Wooten muttered; 'I don't believe we'll ever get her round.'

Willis gave vent to a throaty sigh. He evidently thought the same.

It certainly did seem an impossible job, for with the drag on her sternthe Mariner was practically stationary, while using more speedwas out of the question without running a dangerous risk of snappingthe towing-wire. Time after time the ship's head came round tosouth-east, sometimes a few degrees farther; but on each occasion,after hesitating for a moment or so, she fell back to her originalstarting-point, south sixty-five degrees east.

They tugged and tugged for over an hour with no effect. Wootenexhausted all his unparliamentary vocabulary, and Willis becamespeechless and purple about the face; but nothing happened—absolutelynothing. The Monsoon was making signals all the while—urgentsignals, signals of real distress. 'Please tow me head to sea and windas soon as you possibly can,' they said. 'Sea may smash in my afterbulkheads, and cause ship to sink.'

'Am doing my very utmost,' said the Mariner in reply.

They certainly were. They could do no more.

By about eight-thirty, at which time both ships were still in thetrough of the sea, and the Mariner was oscillating like thependulum of a clock, thin, drizzling rain came to add to theirdiscomfort.

'Damn it all!' growled Wooten between his teeth, 'we must do somethingdrastic. We haven't budged an inch since we started.'

'Please don't go any faster, sir!' protested MacDonald. 'The wire won'tstand it. It's on the verge of carrying away as it is.'

'We shall have to chance it, No. 1. We can't spend the whole nightmessing about here like this.'

Wooten solved the difficulty by going slow astern with the starboardpropeller and putting the port engine-room telegraph to 'half-speedahead,' and gradually increasing the revolutions of the port screw tosixteen knots. This exerted a greater thrust, tending to turn the shipto starboard, and at last, after ten minutes of it, she actually beganto move.

'How's she going now?' Wooten inquired five minutes later.

'Comin' round very, very slow, sir,' said Willis. 'She's at south-fortyeast.'

They persevered. Sometimes the ship swung round a matter of ten degreesor so in the right direction with a rush, only to fall back seven ofthem a moment later. Sometimes the lubber's line of the compass wentback beyond the original starting-point, but generally they managed togain a degree or two. The Monsoon had been in tow atseven-fifteen, and it was not until three hours later that they finallygot her on to the desired course of south-west.

The mere recital of the incident seems commonplace and trivial enough;but to Wooten the period was one of poignant anxiety, for the damagedship, judging from what could be seen of her in the glare of thesearchlight, seemed to be on the verge of capsizing. Her signals saidas much, too; and if her bulkheads had burst, and she had turned over,the Mariner, with a wire made fast to her stern, and a gale ofwind blowing, and a sea running in which a small, heavily laden boathad very little chance of remaining afloat, would have been able to dolittle toward saving her crew. They would have attempted it, of course,but all would probably have perished together. Moreover, in thedarkness and generally bad conditions which prevailed, there was alwaysthe chance that Wooten would have bad luck, and damage, if not lose,his ship. If he did that people would call him a silly fool behind hisback, and would say he should have known better than to attempt theimpossible, while his career in the service might be marred. If, on theother hand, he succeeded in doing what he set out to do, the powersthat be might pat him on the back and call him a good boy, but verypossibly would refrain from doing anything of the kind. The standard inthe navy is ever a high one, and in time of war incidents of this kindare all in the day's work.

But all's well that ends well, and on this particular occasion they didsucceed, and the Mariner, with the Monsoon in tow,steamed slowly off toward the land. The speed they made was roughlythree and a quarter knots, perhaps a trifle less; but it was all in theright direction, and by midnight the damaged vessel was under the leeof the shore and in safety. They finally dropped the tow at six o'clockthe next morning, when the skipper, in a sudden fit of exuberance, wenton faster than he really should have done, and promptly parted thewire. But no harm was done, for by this time they were in calm water,and a light cruiser was in attendance.

The same afternoon he met the commanding officer of the Monsoon.

'Well, Peter,' said the latter, 'we got jolly well out of that showlast night.'

'By George! yes,' Wooten agreed. 'I thought we'd never get you roundhead to wind. How did your chaps take it?'

'They weren't particularly cheery at first,' said the other, laughing.'But as soon as you got us in tow they spent their time singing "Lead,kindly Light." You know how it brings in "The night is dark, and I amfar from home," so it was quite suitable to the occasion. The ship wasin a shocking mess, though; and when the mine went up it blew the afterstorerooms and most of the wardroom into the sea, so we hadn't anyfood. We were all jolly glad to get back into harbour again, and it wasonly by the mercy of God that we had no casualties.'

Wooten nodded.

'I suppose you know, Peter,' continued the other, 'that we were bang onthe top of a Hun minefield.'

'Minefield! I thought the one that got you was a floater.'

'Don't you believe it. They tell me the place we were in is fairlythick with 'em. You can thank your lucky stars you didn't bump one.'

The possibility of the Mariner also being blown up had neverreally occurred to Wooten at the time. Perhaps it was just as well forhim that it didn't, and that the taking of the Monsoon in towgave him little or no time to think of anything else. 'Great Scott!' heobserved, with his usual slow smile and a little whistle ofastonishment; 'I'm glad we didn't come a mucker—jolly glad! What abouta glass of sherry to celebrate the auspicious occasion?'

'I'm on, Peter,' said his friend; 'but I really think it's up to me topay for it.'

CHAPTER XV.

COMINGS AND GOINGS.

I.

''Ere, wot's that over there?' inquired Pincher Martin, coming on tothe forecastle early one morning with a basin of hot cocoa for oneBillings, able seaman.

Joshua looked round. 'Na then, young fella, don't go spillin' the ruddystuff,' he grunted agitatedly, taking the bowl with a nod of thanks.'Wot's wot?'

'That there,' said the ordinary seaman, pointing.

''Er?' remarked the A.B. huskily, breathing heavily on to the hotliquid to cool it. 'That there? Only a bloomin' Zeppeling, Pincher.You've see'd 'em afore, ain't yer?'

'Course I 'as. Only I thort to meself as 'ow she looked a bitdifferent, some'ow. Quite pretty like, ain't she?'

The distant airship, floating apparently motionless above the easternhorizon, certainly did appear a thing of beauty for the time being. Herelongated body, dwarfed by the distance until it appeared barely aninch long, was plainly silhouetted as a gray-blue shape against theclear, rosy sky of the dawn, while her curved under-side reflected thescarlet and orange of the rapidly rising sun. She looked graceful andalmost ethereal—not a thing of bombs, terror, and destruction.

Joshua drank his cocoa with noisy gulps. 'I don't know abart wot shelooks like,' he observed at length, wiping his mouth with the back of aparticularly grimy hand. 'You wait till she starts droppin' 'er bombs.I reckons them blokes is no better'n murderers.'

'Why doesn't we 'ave a pop at 'er?'

''Ave a pop at 'er! She's twenty mile orf, if she's a hinch, an' yerknows as well as I does that none o' our ships 'ere 'as gothanti-haircraft guns wot'll 'it 'er at that range.' Joshua sucked histeeth, and proceeded to explore the inner recesses of his mouth withthe end of a burnt match.

'Why doesn't we chase 'er, then?'

'Chase 'er! Wot's the good? She kin go 'er fifty knots, an'll be orflike a rigger afore we gits anywheres near 'er. She'll watch it shedon't git inter trouble. You ain't got a fa*g or a fill o' bacca abartyer, I s'pose?'

Pincher shook his head firmly. He knew Joshua of old.

Billings smiled affably, produced a well-blackened clay from the pocketof his lammy coat, and proceeded to light it. 'Ah!' he sighedcontentedly, patting himself gently on the stomach and puffing out acloud of smoke, 'that drop o' cocoa done me orl th' good in the world.I feels has bright an' has fresh as a li'l dicky-bird.'

Pincher smiled, for the simile was hardly an apt one. Joshua had keptthe first watch till midnight, and, after four hours' sleep in hisclothes, had been up again since four o'clock as a member of the dutygun's crew. His eyes were sleepy and bloodshot, his hands and face wereindescribably filthy, and his chin sported an ugly stubble of threedays' growth. He was not a pleasant sight. Moreover, it was summer, andthe weather was perfectly fine and unusually warm; but, true to thecustom of the British bluejacket, he was wearing sufficient clothing tokeep the cold from an Antarctic explorer. His figure was ponderous atthe best of times; it was now elephantine, and anything less like adicky-bird it was impossible to imagine.

'That bloke,' he went on, pointing with his pipe-stem at the far-awayairship, 'is spyin' art th' land. She's 'avin' a "looksee" at wot we'redoin' of, an' I shouldn't wonder but wot ole Zep wus up there hisself.I did 'ear as 'ow 'e'd bin given th' Iron Cross.'

'Garn!' chortled Pincher rudely. 'Wot for?'

'Strafin', fat'ead; wot else d'you think? Probably 'e's usin' 'iswireless an' tellin' ole Tirpitz as 'ow we've come 'ere to pay 'im avisit. "Tirps, ole fella," 'e sez, "these 'ere gordamned Henglish swine'ounds 'ave come agen." "Sorry, Zep, ole chum," sez Tirps; "I carn'tattend to 'em now. I'm hinvited ter breakfuss wi' th' Hadmiral o' th''Igh Sea Fleet, an' I carn't git wastin' of 'is bacon an' heggs inthese 'ere 'ard times. Tell th' Henglish ter shove orf outa it, an' tercome agen, an' I'll 'ave a few submarines an' mines awaitin' for 'em.Th' navy's 'avin' its make an' mend,[35] an' carn't be disturbed."That's wot ole man Tirps is sayin', I'll give yer my word.'

The men round about laughed.

'I reckons they'll never come out o' their 'arbour 'cept they knowsJellicoe an' Beatty is outa th' way,' some one observed.

'An' our boss!'[36] chipped in another man. ''E's a 'oly 'orror forscrappin'. Look wot 'e done at 'Eligoland! "If yer sees a 'Un, go fur'im;" that's 'is motter.'

'An' a damn good motter, too,' said Joshua approvingly. 'But I reckonthey knows wot they're up against. This 'ere war's like 'ide an' seek.W'en we pops inter 'arbour fur a bit, they pops art, takin' mighty goodcare not ter git too far from 'ome, mind yer; an' w'en we pops artarter 'em, they pops back 'ome agen. It ain't play in' the game, in amanner o' speakin'. 'Ow many times 'as we bin scullin' round th' NorthSea an' never see'd a ruddy thing? Dozens an' dozens! It makes me fairsick sometimes.'

'But they 'ave bin acrost once or twice, an' bombarded places,' Pincherventured.

Billings snorted loudly. 'Course they 'as; but it don't take much gutster come scuttlin' acrost th' North Sea durin' th' night, an' ter startpluggin' shell at an undefended town th' nex' mornin'! They takes jollygood care they doesn't stay too long, I hobserves, an' they shoves orfback 'ome agen afore anythin' big 'as a chawnce o' gettin' a slap at'em. Arter orl, wotever blokes ashore may say abart th' navy not bein'there ter pertect 'em, we carn't ruddy well be everywheres. Th' NorthSea ain't no bloomin' duck-pond; an' look at th' time we spends on th'briny!'

His hearers nodded in agreement.

'I reckons some o' these 'ere shore-loafers don't know w'en they'rewell orf,' Joshua went on. 'They gits orl their meals reg'lar; but agood many on 'em don't recollec' as 'ow it's th' likes of us wot'skeepin' their stummicks full. They 'as ter pay a bit extry fur theirvittles p'r'aps; but that ain't nothink ter start 'owlin' abart inwar-time.'

'That's a fac',' said Pincher wisely.

'Course it is; but a good many o' th' blokes wot I'm talkin' abartstarts yellin' somethink horful w'en they gits a few shells plugged at'em, an' wants ter know wot th' navy's doin' of. I don't 'xactly blame'em, fur no blokes wot ain't mad likes bein' shot at; but they mightrecollec' that we're keepin' 'em from starvin', in a manner o'speakin', an' that we is doin' our bit; damn sight bigger bit than wotsome of 'em himagines.' Joshua paused for breath.

'If them Germans 'ad a coast as long as ourn,' he went on—for whenonce he started to give vent to his opinions little could stophim—'an' if they 'ad undefended seaside towns th' same as we 'ave, Ireckons we could go an' do th' dirty on 'em. Only we wouldn't, 'cos itain't war ter go killin' a lot of innercent wimmin an' children wotain't done no 'arm. I reckons we treats them 'Uns too good; fur wi'their submarines, an' Zeppelings, an' the way they treats ourprisoners, they're no better 'n murderers!' He cleared his throatnoisily, and expectorated with extraordinary violence into the sea.They were somewhere near the German coast at the time, so perhaps thataccounted for his expression of contempt.

Billings only voiced the opinions of the remainder of his shipmates.Nobody thought for a single instant that Zeppelins would have any realeffect on the war, and as often as not their advent, even at home, wastaken as a joke; while people flocked from their houses to see the fun,thereby running a far greater risk than they themselves imagined.

Billings happened to be on shore leave during one raid, and in themidst of a very heavy fire from the anti-aircraft guns he discovered anelderly, scantily attired, and very irate female standing in the road.She had her umbrella up to ward off stray fragments of bombs or piecesof shell, and indeed splinters from the A.A. guns were falling far tooclose to be pleasant. The Zeppelin, illuminated by the glare of manysearchlights, and surrounded by the flashes and little puffs of smokeof exploding projectiles, was almost immediately overhead; but thewoman was far too wrathful to be frightened.

''Ere, missis,' said Joshua gallantly, ''adn't you better go 'ome?'

'Go 'ome!' she retorted; 'what for?'

''Er,' said Billings, pointing at the sky.

''Er!' snorted the lady contemptuously. 'I'm not afraid of the likes of'er.—You dirty dog!' she added angrily, shaking her fist at theinvader. 'Come down, you dirty 'ound!'

The 'dirty 'ound' evinced no particular emotion.

If the German public believed the mendacious Berlin communiquésas to the damage inflicted on the hated British by their perambulatinggas-bags they must have been very well pleased.

'A detachment of our naval airships visited London on the night of the26th,' wrote Von Ananias, his tongue in his cheek. 'Several importantpoints were attacked. At Poplar three shipbuilding yards were set onfire and completely destroyed, and a battleship in course of completionfor the British navy was badly damaged. At Houndsditch a heavy batterywas completely demolished, while bombs were successfully dropped on thebarracks at Whitechapel, flinging the troops into a state of the utmostconsternation and causing many casualties. Near Ludgate Hill a munitionfactory was observed to be in flames. One light cruiser and threedestroyers anchored in the Thames near Gravesend were struck by bombsand sank with enormous loss of life. The inhabitants of the invadeddistricts are said to be petitioning the Government to stop the war,while many of them are leaving the neighbourhood. Our airships, thoughfired upon heavily from many points, have all returned in safety.'

No Zeppelin had been anywhere near Poplar, no battleship had beendamaged, while Houndsditch was as innocent of heavy guns as Whitechapelwas of soldiers. Neither was there a munition factory near LudgateHill; while the light cruiser and three destroyers which had founderedoff Gravesend were nothing more or less than one old and empty bargesunk, and one waterman's wherry badly damaged. A more truthful accountwould have read as follows:

'Near X. a bomb fell into a kitchen-garden and completely overwhelmed adetachment of early lettuces and uprooted three apple-trees. A brigadeof spring onions was also completely annihilated, while a regiment oftomatoes in their billets in a greenhouse suffered severe casualties.The owner of the garden is now charging threepence admission to viewthe damage. The proceeds will be handed over to the local Red CrossFunds, and the sum of twenty-four pounds three shillings and ninepencehas already been collected. Fragments of the bomb are on view at MrButton's shop at 45 High Street, and will be sold by auction at thenext Red Cross sale.

'On the outskirts of Y. one aged donkey and four chickens were killed,while one cow, two pigs, and twenty-three fowls were wounded. A blacktom-cat, which was visiting the chicken-run at the time of the raid, isalso suffering from shock and nervous prostration, but is expected torecover.

'At B. a bomb exploded with terrific force in the street near thestatue of the late Alderman Theophilus Buggins, J.P. This well-knownwork of art was hurled from its pedestal and badly shattered. It isfeared it cannot be repaired.'

Truly 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Purely from a spectacular point of view I should imagine that allZeppelin raids are much the same. They generally seem to take placelate at night or in the small hours of the morning, while their usualaccompaniment is the glare of many searchlights, the barking of guns,the bursting of shell, and the dropping of bombs with or without lossof life and damage to property. The Mariner's men saw severalraids; but it was the first one they witnessed which left the mostlasting impression on their minds.

There had been the usual report early in the evening to the effect thatZeps might be expected; but they had been warned so often before that,beyond taking the usual precautions in regard to lights, nobody onboard really paid very much attention to it. The first intimation ofthe arrival of the invader was the sullen report of a distantanti-aircraft gun; whereupon Wooten, always a light sleeper, rosehastily from his bunk, attired himself in a green dressing-gown and apair of sea-boots, and repaired to the deck with his binoculars. Theother officers and the men, determined not to miss their share of theentertainment, followed his example, and in less than two minutes thedeck was thronged with an excited, inquisitive crowd, all peeringanxiously at the sky. It was rather like a regatta or a race meeting,except that the greater proportion of the spectators were far toolightly clothed to be strictly presentable.

The long pencils of light from many searchlights streamed forth andswept slowly across the starlit heavens.

'Where is the bloomer?' some one asked impatiently, as if he were at amusic-hall waiting for a new turn. 'Why don't she come?'

'She's got cold feet, an' ain't comin',' laughed another man. 'There'llbe no show ter-night.'

'I think I'll go back to me 'ammick,' cried somebody else. 'I carn'tgit standin' abart 'ere in these 'ere clo'es. Grr! ain't it parky?' Itmust have been, for the speaker was simply attired in a flannel shirt.His legs were bare, and his teeth were chattering.

'There she is!' exclaimed a stoker, pointing vaguely overhead. 'See'er?'

'That ain't 'er. That's a bloomin' cloud!'

'Garn! That ain't no cloud. Not wot I'm lookin' at.'

'Tell yer it is.'

'No, it ain't. It's 'er, right enuf!'

Further conversation was rudely interrupted by the crash of a gun fromashore, and a thin trail of dim light climbed skywards in a curve as atracer shell[37] hurtled its way through the air.

More guns roared out. More trails of light in the air, rather like thesparks from the tails of rockets!

The sky to the eastward suddenly began to flash and twinkle withmomentary spurts of vivid orange flame as the shell started to burst;the searchlights swung round and became stationary, with their beamsall pointed at one particular spot in the heavens. But still thespectators could see nothing of the raider. Before very long all theanti-aircraft guns in the place were hard at work pumping projectilesinto the atmosphere as fast as they could. Streaks of light spedupwards like the stars from a Roman candle, and presently the heavenstoward the point of junction of the searchlight-rays sparkled wickedlyand with redoubled energy. Puffs of smoke from the shell explosionsfiltered slowly through the blue-white beams of the lights; but thoughthe gunners could obviously see what they were firing at, the men onboard the Mariner had not been vouchsafed a glimpse of anything.

'Ow!' yelled some one, stamping on the deck in his excitement andimpatience, 'why cawn't we see 'er? Where is she?'

'Keep yer flat feet 'orf o' me toes!' expostulated a gruff andmuch-injured voice. 'I ain't got no boots on. Knock orf jumpin' abartlike a perishin' loonatic, carn't yer?'

The air was as full of sound as were the heavens of bursting shrapnel.Little guns and big guns were having the time of their lives. Theybanged, boomed, coughed, and spluttered together, and every now andthen in the ear-splitting medley of sound one heard the hiccuping,deep-throated poom-poom of an anti-aircraft pom-pom, the shrillstaccato ra-ta-ta-ta of a little ·303-inch high-angle Maxim, andthe faint but quite unmistakable whistle and report of the shell asthey clove their way through the air and exploded.

'Lord!' muttered Wooten with a laugh, his eyes glued to his glasses, 'Iwonder where all the bits are coming down. We'll have to get undercover if they start loosin' off anywhere near us.'

It was a magnificent sight, quite the best fireworks display most ofthem had ever seen. The many searchlights made the night as light asday. The heavens were ablaze with the tell-tale sparkling flashes,while the earth seemed to vomit the fiery trails of tracer shell whichcrossed and recrossed in all directions. Brock's Benefit at the CrystalPalace was not in it.

Then, quite unexpectedly, there came a roaring thud from somewhere faraway. Another, another, and yet another! The reports were loud andreverberating, and almost drowned the sound of the guns. They were bombexplosions, and the onlookers held their breath and glanced anxiouslyround to see how their neighbours were taking it. Nobody seemed undulyanxious, but some of them wondered vaguely what would happen if amissile fell on board the Mariner. Her thin decks offered noprotection whatsoever, and if a bomb did hit her——

At last, after what seemed an eternity of waiting, a great, elongated,silvery-looking mass slid rapidly into view at the point ofintersection of two of the searchlight-beams. It looked like anenormous hexagonal pencil suspended from the sky, and travelled withawe-inspiring sedateness and solemnity. It was the Zeppelin; but, fromher size, she seemed to be at least ten thousand feet up. Thesearchlights followed her unremittingly. Her great bulk becameindistinct and nebulous amidst wreathing eddies of smoke, while theshell-flashes seemed to be bursting out into space all round her.

'Ow!' yelled the excitable, dancing gentleman, as a particularlybrilliant gout of flame flashed out immediately in line with theairship's blunt bows; 'that's got 'er! Did yer see 'er waggle?'

But shooting at a rapidly moving object high up in the air and almostimmediately overhead is a much more difficult task than people imagine;and though some of the shell may have caused the Hun a certain amountof annoyance, it was tolerably certain that a good many more expendedtheir energy in space.

But whatever the result, the raider evidently received a warmerreception than she had bargained for, for after being in sight forbarely a minute she swung off and disappeared from view at a good fiftymiles an hour. Whether or not she had been hit remained a mystery.Every anti-aircraft gunner in the place, even the man at the little·303 Maxim, would have taken his solemn affidavit that missiles fromhis own particular weapon had hit her not once, but many times; whilethe Mariner's men, judging from their conversation, were of thesame opinion. Some of them were even prepared to swear that they hadseen gaping holes in the Zeppelin's bows, stern, and amidships—allover her, in fact; but if their accounts were to be believed theireyesight must have been abnormally abnormal, while the Zep should havecome down a mass of punctured fabric and twisted aluminium framework.She had done nothing of the kind.

The guns ceased firing; one by one the searchlights flickered, glowedredly, and went out. All was peace.

The men, chattering like monkeys, sought their hammocks. Their officersrepaired to the wardroom and indulged in a nocturnal orgy of sardines,bread-and-butter, and bottled stout. The mixture was hardly a good oneto sleep upon, but the sardines of Jean Peneau and the stout of MessrsGuinness were the invariable concomitants to a Zeppelin raid if theMariner was anywhere in the neighbourhood.

'I hope nobody got strafed by those bombs,' observed the sub. with hismouth full.

'I think they fell clear of the town,' said the skipper, removing thefroth from a tumbler with a spoon.

They had. There had been no casualties.

II.

Altercations with Hun seaplanes were by no means uncommon, and theirnovelty soon wore off.

The North Sea is not celebrated for its clear weather, and in it one'shorizontal range of vision is frequently restricted to four miles orless. The vertical visibility, when the clouds are lying low, issometimes a few hundred feet, while in summer the absence of wind andthe heat of the sun often bring fog or a luminous low-lying haze.Moreover, when there is any mist it is presumably easier for anaeroplane to see the comparatively large bulk of a ship upon the seathan it is for the ship to spot the slender shape of the aeroplaneoverhead.

In the earlier days of the war, when the flotilla and a couple or morelight cruisers in massed formation were nosing round not far from theGerman coast, according to their habit, it was disconcerting, to saythe least of it, suddenly to see a neat little line of four or fiveequally spaced upheavals of water close alongside one or other of theships. It was more disconcerting still to hear the loud thud of theexplosions, and to realise that they were caused by bombs dropped fromthe heavens for one's benefit by an aerial Hun of most immoralcharacter. An aeroplane bomb exploding ashore may quite conceivably docomparatively little damage; but if the same missile descends upon thedeck of a small ship the vessel will be severely injured, and maypossibly sink. It is not pleasant to get into difficulties and to haveone's ship incapable of movement within a short distance of a hostilecoast. It is still more unpleasant to have her sink in the samelocality.

On seeing the explosions one instinctively looked overhead, and there,flying low and dimly outlined in the haze, was usually the shape of ahostile seaplane, the inevitable black crosses on his wings proclaiminghis nationality. In misty weather he often succeeded in approachingunseen, and sometimes dropped his unsavoury eggs before theanti-aircraft guns could get to work and make his life a misery and aburden. No sooner had he done his dirty work, moreover, than he eitherclimbed and vanished in the clouds, or else circled rapidly round anddisappeared whence he had come. His departure was always hastened by aburst of fire from every gun which would bear, but one rarely had areal chance of strafing him, for the whole affair was usually all overand done with in a minute or two. It was good luck that his aim was badand that his bombs invariably missed, though sometimes they missed soclose that people on deck were drenched with spray, and spent the restof the day searching for splinters to keep as mementoes. If one hadstruck—— But what was the good of considering the possibility? At anyrate, it was always very comforting to realise that a ship under waypresents a very small and difficult target to a seaplane at the best oftimes; while, however numerous and thickly clustered a fleet, squadron,or flotilla may be, there is always far and away more area of waterthan there is of ships.

When the weather was really clear the boot was generally on the otherfoot, for then the seaplanes were usually driven off before they couldget overhead. A good lookout was always kept, and at the first sight ofa speck like a mosquito on the horizon, a mosquito which presentlyassumed the shape and proportions of a dragon-fly, the anti-aircraftguns' crews came tumbling up to their stations, and the muzzles oftheir weapons started twitching ominously. Then, when the Hun arrivedwithin range, they let drive and let him have it.

With the older type of anti-aircraft gun, shooting at an aeroplanereminded one of trying to bring down a snipe with a Webley revolver.But now that we are provided with the best sort of weapon which brainsand money can produce, the process of strafing the aerial Hun may belikened to dealing with the aforesaid bird with a 12-bore hammerlessejector loaded with No. 8 shot. The odds, of course, are usually on thesnipe or the Hun, as the case may be, but more often than not wesucceed in being accurate enough to make him supremely uncomfortable.

So the shooting with the A.A. guns was generally good. Puffs of smokefrom the exploding shell darted out into space all round their target.The blue sky speedily became pock-marked with the white, bulbous,cotton-wool-like clusters, each one contributing its share of splintersto the unpleasantness of the upper atmosphere. The Hun as speedilyretired. But not always. Sometimes he climbed high to get out of range,and then, at a height of twelve thousand to fourteen thousand feet,when scarcely visible, dropped his bombs. But the higher he went themore erratic became his practice, so really it did not matter much.

Occasionally, in the vicinity of their own coast, he and his friendsattacked in coveys of six, seven, or a dozen at a time, and then thingsbecame very lively, and the A.A. guns had the time of their lives. Oncethe Huns attacked continuously from eight A.M. until noon.There were never less than three of them in range at any one time, andeach one, after dropping his noisome cargo, hurried back to his basefor a fresh consignment, and then returned for another strafe. But thebombs always fell wide, and in course of time people came to treatseaplane attacks with positive indifference. In early days all in theship who could get away came on deck to watch the fun. They indulged inloud and ribald remarks, and gave the benefit of their advice to themen at the guns, to the Hun or Huns, and to anybody else who cared tolisten. They also jeered uproariously when bombs fell a few yards wideand deluged them with water, and fought madly for any splinters whichmight fall on board. But later on, when they got used to the feeling,the advent of a seaplane or two did not disturb them very much,particularly if it was soon after the midday meal, and they hadcomposed themselves for short naps on the sunny deck beforerecommencing their labours in the afternoon.

It seems that the British sailor, like his comrade in the trenches, canget used to anything. Moreover, the war seems to have set a newstandard of excitement, and what will happen when hostilities cease andthe men have to go back to the humdrum life of peace I really do notknow. It would seem impossible to raise much real enthusiasm overregattas, boxing competitions, picture-palaces, or football matchesafter playing the far more thrilling game with men's lives and shipsfor the stakes.

But bluejackets are always peculiar people, and the most trivialhappenings in the midst of the most appalling danger cause them thegreatest amusem*nt. In one merry little destroyer action in the NorthSea one of the British vessels was having a very hot time, and abursting shell caused a small fire in the engine-room. It was promptlyextinguished by the fire-party under the charge of the chief stoker,and shortly afterwards an officer noticed this worthy coming aft withbroad grins all over his face.

'What's the joke?' he wanted to know, for it struck him as ratherpeculiar that a man should be so much amused at such a time.

'I carn't 'elp larfin', sir!' said the man, bubbling over with glee.'We 'ad a bit of a bonfire in the hengine-room jest now, sir, an' w'enI 'ears 'em 'ollerin' I runs along with the 'ose-pipe, shoves the endof 'im down the hengine-room 'atch, an' switches the water on.'

'What is there funny about that?' queried the officer.

'Only that we 'arf-drownded the Chief E.R.A., 'oo was standin' at thefoot o' the ladder, sir,' gurgled the man. 'Funniest thing I've see'dfur a long time. 'E ain't got a dry stitch on 'im, and 'is langwidgewas somethink 'orrid.' He finished with another cackle of amusem*nt,and went off to spin the yarn to some one else.

At the time of the incident, which has the merit of being quite true,the ship was undergoing a very hot fire. Shell were falling all roundher, and splinters were whistling through the air in all directions,and for the man to be convulsed with genuine merriment at the wettingof the chief engine-room artificer, at a moment when he himself was inimminent peril of his life, speaks well for his nerve. It ratherreminds one of the true story of two marines, the loading numbers atthe after-gun of a light cruiser which shall be nameless. She too wasin the middle of a strenuous little action when a shell burst on board,and shortly afterwards both men saw a most desirable memento in theshape of a splinter lying on the deck. They made a simultaneous dart tosecure the trophy, but Jones got there first.

''Ere!' said Smith, bitterly aggrieved, ''old on. I saw 'im first!'

'I've got 'im first!' chortled Jones, stooping down and picking up themorsel of steel. 'Ow!' he yelled the next instant, dropping it as if ithad stung him, and sucking his fingers; 'the bloomin' thing's red-'ot!'

'Serve you ruddy well right,' retorted Smith. 'It ain't yourn, any'ow.You leave it alone!'

'I tell you it is mine,' answered the burnt gentleman. 'I got 'imfirst!'

'Look 'ere, Jones, if you carn't play fair I'll give you a punch on thejaw; s'welp me I will. I'm bigger'n wot you are, and I tells you Isee'd the bloomin' thing first!'

'I got 'old of 'im first, an' don't care wot you says an' does,'exclaimed Jones, putting his foot on the coveted fragment. 'I'——

Further conversation was interrupted by the advance of Smith, and inanother instant the quarterdeck of H.M.S. —— was the scene of animpromptu battle. It would have been quite a pretty little tussle, forSmith was large, breathless, and bulky, while Jones was thin and wiry;but unfortunately the gunlayer, a sergeant, noticed that something wasamiss with his weapon, and removed his eye from the telescopic sight.

'Here, you two,' he shouted, 'behave yourselves, and get on withloading the gun!'

''E's tryin' to pinch my splinter, sargint!' wailed Jones, applying agrimy hand to a rapidly swelling eye. 'I got 'im first!'

'No, sargint, 'e's a liar,' Smith cried with an air of injuredinnocence; 'I see'd it first!'

'Can't help that!' roared the N.C.O. 'Get along with the loading of thegun, and hafter the haction don't you forget I takes you both beforethe officer of the watch for unseemly conduc' and neglec' of dooty inthe face of the enemy!'

The malcontents, rather crestfallen, ceased their bickering, and thegun went on firing. But the sergeant, a strict disciplinarian, was asgood as his word. Smith and Jones, both good characters, were let offlightly. They each received fourteen days' No. 10 punishment for theirmisdeeds. The sergeant, a Solomon in his way, appropriated theshell-splinter and presented it to his wife.

III.

There was once a German steam-trawler called the AnnaSchrœder. That was not her real name; but as she now flies theWhite Ensign and is known as the Anita, her original appellationdoes not matter. Hargreaves, the sub-lieutenant of the Mariner;Joshua Billings, A.B.; Pincher Martin, ordinary seaman; and severalmore of the destroyer's men, can tell you all about her, for they spentfour days on board. They were four unforgettable days, and rumour saysthat the sub. and his braves are scratching themselves still.

From the Anna Schrœder, too, the 'Mariners,' in exchange forsundry excellent British cigarettes and a pound or so of ship'stobacco, procured some samples of particularly noisome 'war bread' anda small female pig. The bread, they said, was an excellent 'coorio' tosend home to their friends; and, having the consistency and appearanceof wood, it could, with due diligence, be manufactured intophotograph-frames and tobacco-boxes. It took a beautiful polish. Thesow, Annie, was retained on board as a mascot, and within a week ofchanging hands became quite friendly with her new masters. Inside amonth she was sleeping in a specially made hammock, wore her ownlife-belt at sea, and ate her meals off a plate like a properChristian. It is true that the rest of the menagerie on board—Jane,the monkey; Tiger and Mossyface, the two cats; Pompey, the goat; andTirpitz, the fox-terrier—at first regarded her with some suspicion,but before long they appeared to have combined forces, and to haveformed an alliance for the carrying on of offensive operations againstany animal from any other ship which dared to come on board theMariner. Annie's severest tussle was with the wire-hairedterrier of the Monsoon, a plebeian but very conceited dog, whotreated all vessels but his own with lordly contempt. She was ablyassisted in the struggle by her willing allies, and for some minutesthe battle raged furiously, to the accompaniment of barks, growls,squeals, shrill yelps, and much snorting from the fighters. But beforemuch damage had been done on either side the engagement was brought toa sudden and wholly unexpected termination by both the principalcombatants falling overboard in their excitement. They were dulyrescued in the dinghy; and the contest, since they were both exhaustedby swimming, was postponed sine die.

But all this has little to do with the Anna Schrœder. It sohappened that at one period of the war the enemy was making himselfparticularly obnoxious by sinking many of our fishing-vessels in theNorth Sea. It was no very gallant mode of warfare; and, partly in aspirit of retaliation, and partly because My Lords Commissioners of theAdmiralty may have conceived a sudden desire for some steam-trawlersfor mine-sweeping and other purposes, it was determined to pay the Hunback in his own coin. The authorities were always eager to save moneyif they possibly could, and acquiring the necessary craft free, gratis,and for nothing from the enemy was obviously far cheaper thanchartering them from British owners.

That is how it came about that the Mariner, many moredestroyers, and several light cruisers suddenly appeared one earlymorning in the midst of a German fishing-fleet engaged in itsoccupation not very far from its own coast. The visit came as a boltfrom the blue, and since there was nobody present to protect them, thetrawlers had no alternative but to surrender. Twenty-three of them, Ithink, were captured; while several more, too ancient and too ricketyto be worth taking home as prizes, were sunk.

The serene atmosphere of that calm and peaceful summer morn wasbefouled with Teutonic oaths and much profanity. One could not helphaving some sympathy for the execrators, snatched off as they werepractically within hailing distance of their own coast. But everyGerman male person of a certain age and not a cripple is ipsofacto a soldier or a sailor; while every harmless trawler is apotential mine-layer or mine-sweeper. Most of the prisoners were youngand lusty, and Fritz, Hans, Adolf, Karl, Heinrich, and many more ofthem had the not altogether joyful prospect of spending the rest of thewar in British hands. Some of them disliked the idea intensely, andtheir scowling, sullen faces showed as much. Others, after makinganxious inquiries as to how they would be treated and fed, expressedthe opinion that things were not quite so bad after all, and that beinga prisoner was far and away a happier prospect than serving in trenchesat the front, whence they might never return.

It was this early morning strafe which accounted for theMariner's dealings with the Anna Schrœder; theadoption of Annie, the pig; and the adventures of the sub-lieutenantand his merry men.

The prize crew consisted of Hargreaves, one stoker petty officer,Joshua Billings, Pincher Martin, and three others whose names do notmatter; and after ten minutes spent in transferring them, theirbelongings, food, water, weapons, a chart, and sundry other impedimentato the trawler, and in removing certain of the prisoners to thedestroyer, the Mariner steamed off on her business, and left thesub. to his own devices, with orders to make the best of his way to thenearest British port.

How he proposed to get there he did not quite know. The deviation ofthe Anna Schrœder's compass might be anything, and he had nomeans of checking it; but the fact did not seem to worry him much. Heknew that if he steered west or thereabouts he would hit the Englishcoast in time; and, having hit it, he proposed to steam north or southalong it, and go into the nearest and most convenient harbour whichhappened to come into sight. What harbour it was he probably would notfind out until after his arrival.

He was intensely proud of his first independent command, and his firstcare was to commandeer all the German ensigns he could find fortrophies, to hoist an enormous White Ensign at the mizzen, and todisplay his badge of authority in the shape of a long white man-of-warpendant at the masthead. Then, when some one had persuaded the Germanengineer to raise a full head of steam in the antiquated boiler, and tostart the engines, one of the Mariner's men was put at thewheel, armed sentries were posted on deck and in the engine-room, andcourse was shaped for home. The men, inquisitive as usual, set aboutexploring the prize. She had on board more than three hundred pounds'worth of fresh-caught fish, but even the thought of this excellent foodcould not reconcile the bluejackets to certain other things theydiscovered. The first complaint came from Billings, who, as the eldestA.B. on board, had been selected as a spokesman by the others.

'Beggin' yer pardon, Mister 'Argreaves, sir,' he said, firstexpectorating over the ship's side, and then approaching the sub. witha very wry face, 'would yer mind 'avin' a look at th' quarters latelyhoccupied by them Germans?'

'What's the matter with them?' asked the officer.

'They ain't fit fur 'uman 'abitation, sir; an' we 'as ter sleep there.'

'Why aren't they fit to live in?'

'Crawlin', sir,' said Billings disgustedly. 'Crawlin' wi' li'lhanimals! co*ckroaches I don't mind, sir, bein' used to 'em in a mannero' speakin', an' there's plenty on 'em there; but there's hotherhanimals present in hinnumerable quantities; creepin' things wi' legsthe likes o' which I've never see'd afore.'

'Vermin?' queried the sub. in a whisper.

'Yessir. The beddin' 's one mass on 'em.'

'Well, I'm determined to have the ship clean before I've finished withher,' said Hargreaves, as if he were the commander of the latestDreadnought, 'so heave all the bedding overboard. When you've donethat, collect three of the German deckhands and make 'em scrub theplace out. I'll inspect it when it's clean.'

'We ain't got no carbolic, I s'pose, sir?' Joshua queried anxiously. 'Idoubts if soap an' water'll shift 'em.'

The sub. laughed. 'We brought none with us, I'm afraid. But find theman who looks after the stores, get what you can, and do your best.'

Joshua saluted and walked off. Five minutes afterwards a long line ofblankets and straw mattresses was floating gaily astern.

But their troubles had only started, for a quarter of an hour laterBillings reappeared with Pincher Martin, and between them they draggedthe resisting figure of one of the prisoners, a small, dark man with apair of shifty black eyes. Pincher, Hargreaves noticed, was armed witha cutlass and a revolver, and displayed the latter weaponostentatiously.

'Good Lord!' he muttered; 'what's the matter now?'

'Prisoner an' hescort, 'alt!' bellowed Joshua.—'I brings this manafore you, sir, fur refoosin' ter scrub art 'is quarters w'en hordered,an' fur hassaultin' me.'

'And I haf von gomplaint to make,' put in the prisoner truculently.'Von of ze sailors heet me!'

'What happened?' asked the sub. with a sigh.

'Well, sir,' Billings explained, 'it wus like this 'ere. I tells thisman—'e knows Henglish just as well as I does, sir—ter start scrubbin'art, an' ter be smart abart it. 'E sezs 'e won't, 'cos 'e 'as 'isrights as a prisoner o' war, an' ain't goin' ter do no work.'

'Oh! did he?'

'Yessir, 'e did; an' I sez to 'im that if 'e doesn't hobey horders 'e'dbest look out; an' wi' that 'e tries ter dot me one in the face.'

Hargreaves, stifling his amusem*nt as best he could, scowled fiercely,and endeavoured to look judicial. 'And what happened then?' heinquired.

'Well, sir, ord'nary seaman Martin sees wot wus 'appenin', an' catches'im one acrost th' 'ead wi' a broom-'andle.'

Pincher's bosom swelled with pride at the recollection.

'What have you got to say?' demanded the sub., turning to the German.

'My name ees Charrlie Smeeth, an' I haf lif in Englan' many year. Iserve in Engleesh sheeps, an' I say to zis man'——

'I don't want to hear all that. What d'you mean by refusing duty?'

Smith, or Schmidt, as he probably was, licked his lips. 'I say to zisman, why he treat me like zat? And zen zis man,' indicating Martin,'heet me on ze head with ze steeck and hurt me mooch.' He pointed to alarge lump on the side of his cranium.

'That ain't true, sir,' Joshua interrupted. 'If Pinch—ordinary seamanMartin—'adn't sloshed 'im 'e'd 'a got me.'

The sub. scratched his beardless chin thoughtfully, for he hardly knewwhat to do. 'Look here,' he said at last, addressing the culpritsternly, 'you are a prisoner of war, and have to obey orders. If I haveany further trouble with you, your hands and feet will be tied, and youwill be put in the fish-hold for the rest of the passage. I will alsoreport you on arrival in England, and have you court-martialled andshot. I mean what I say, mind; but I will give you this one warning, soyou had better take it to heart. Do you understand what I say?'

'I onterstan',' said Schmidt, fidgeting nervously.

'Remove the prisoner and let him carry on with his work,' the officerordered. 'If he offers any further violence shoot him at once.' Hewinked. Billings grinned understandingly, and the hapless German wasled away in a cold and clammy perspiration. They had no further troublewith him.

Hargreaves was no fool, and, being fully aware that idleness onlybreeds discontent and bickering, took very good care to keep hisprisoners busy. They were not treated with undue severity, and receivedexactly the same food as their captors; but they experienced for thefirst time the rigours of British naval discipline. All day long theywere kept hard at work in scrubbing and scraping the Anna to astate of hitherto undreamt-of cleanliness; while at night all ofthem—except the cook and the man on watch in the engine and boilerroom, who perforce had to be allowed a certain amount of liberty, butwere kept under constant supervision—slept in the stuffy littleforecastle, with an armed sentry standing guard at the door.

Nothing on earth would induce the bluejackets to poke their nosesinside the place, much less to inhabit it. They preferred to snatchwhat sleep they could under the stars; for though—thanks to the energyinstilled into the unwilling Germans—the forecastle had been scrubbedfar cleaner than it had ever been before, its cleanliness was merelysuperficial, and it was still well infested with 'hanimals,' asBillings called them.

'Them bugs is pisenous German bugs,' he had remarked, wrinkling hisnose in disgust. 'Maybe them 'Uns is used ter 'em. I ain't, an' I'llwatch it I don't go ter sleep in a place wi' wild hinsects a-suckin' o'me blood. It ain't fit an' proper, an' I sleeps on deck.'

Incidentally, it was the cook who gave Hargreaves one of the finestfrights of his life. At midnight on the night they had come on board,the sub., leaving Billings in charge as officer of the watch, withorders to steer west and to call him at once if anything happened,retired to rest in a small compartment under the wheelhouse which hadevidently been used as a charthouse, cabin, and storeroom all rolledinto one. It was innocent of insects other than co*ckroaches, and had acushioned locker at one side; while the rest of the space was filledwith nets, cordage, canvas, paint, oil, and a quantity of food.Dependent from hooks in the ceiling were several dried fish, twobloated sausages, and a large raw ham. The place was stuffy andodorous; but Hargreaves was tired, and so, swathed in a blanket, hesoon settled off to sleep on the locker with the door wide open.

Towards two in the morning some slight sound caused him to wake up witha start, and on opening his eyes his blood nearly froze in his veins.There, in the door, clearly silhouetted against the flood of moonlightbeyond, was the dark figure of a man peering into the room in anattitude of rapt, listening attention. He was the German cook, from theshape of his bullet-head, and in one hand he held a murderous-lookingknife with a long and glittering blade. He could only be there for onepurpose, and his knife could only be intended for Hargreaves's throat.

The sub.'s first impulse was to shout for help, for an armed sentryshould have been on the deck outside. Then he scouted the idea asimpracticable, for the man would be upon him the instant he raised hisvoice, so he lay still, hardly daring to breathe. Then, with a feelingof great relief, he suddenly remembered the loaded automatic pistolunder his pillow. He withdrew it softly, co*cked the hammer withoutmaking a sound, and then, with the weapon poised, his finger on thetrigger, and his nerves tingling, made up his mind to fire on the firstsign of aggression.

The cook, treading stealthily, entered the room and looked round to theright and left. He next came towards the locker on which the sub. lay,and seemed to be examining the ceiling intently. Then he raised hisknife for the blow.

The muzzle of the pistol went up and followed his every movement, butan instant later the sub. dropped the weapon with a chuckle ofamusem*nt…. The German was busily cutting a couple of inches off aparticularly succulent sausage hanging from its hook.

When Hargreaves laughed his visitor dropped the knife with a clatter,and leapt from the room like a rabbit. The sub.'s mirth overcame himcompletely.

'Is everythink orl right, sir?' queried the anxious voice of PincherMartin, who had been just outside the door the whole time.

'Yes,' spluttered the officer; 'there's nothing the m-matter.'

'Beg pardon, sir; only th' cook jumped art o' this 'ere door as if 'e'dsee'd a ghost, sir. 'E seems a bit scared like.'

He was, poor man, badly scared, nearly as frightened as the sub.himself had been a few moments before; but he never quite realised howvery near death the cravings of his stomach had led him. After all, noordinary person is in the habit of making a hearty meal off a pungent,onion-flavoured sausage at two o'clock in the morning! All's well thatends well, but cookie escaped sudden death by the skin of his teeth.

Hargreaves never suffered his discipline to relax, and all through thesecond day of the passage the work of cleaning the ship went on. Eventhe German skipper, a very fat person, was pressed into service, and,since nothing else could be found for him to do, he volunteered tospend the morning in scrubbing out the wheelhouse.

'I hope onter-see boot com' an' tak' us all back to Germany!' heremarked feelingly in very bad English after half-an-hour's hard workon his hands and knees.

'If one does I'm afraid you won't get there,' retorted the hard-heartedsub-lieutenant with a wicked twinkle in his eye.

'If we sight a German submarine all the prisoners will be thrownoverboard in life-belts, so that she'll have to stop to pick you up.Then, while she's doing it, I shall ram her at full speed.'

The German believed him implicitly. The brutal British were capable ofanything. 'Ach!' he exclaimed, sitting up on his haunches andwiping the drops of perspiration from a very scared face, 'dey vill nodpick us op. Ve shall be drown!'

'But surely your own countrymen won't stand by and see that happen?'said Hargreaves with pleasant curiosity.

'I do not know. Bot efen ef dem pick us op, you dry do sink deronter-see boot, so ve drown anyhows! I haf wife an' childrens,capitan,' he added agitatedly; 'many childrens. Von, do, dree, four,fif, six childrens. I doo old do fight. Ach!' he suggested withan oily smile, 'you safe me an' drown de ozzers. Dey not marriet. Deynot care!'

The sub. shook his head. 'I'm sorry,' he said; 'war is a very terriblething.'

'I hope ve do not see onter-see boot!' murmured the other.'Ach!' he nodded, noticing Hargreaves's grinning face; 'youchoke, es et nod?'

'I beg your pardon?'

'You make fon, hey? You no drown der prisoners?'

'Depends upon how you behave yourselves,' came the noncommittal reply.

The skipper fell to with redoubled energy.

The weather was fine and the sea calm, but the Anna's enginesand boiler were long past their early youth, and they had steamedacross the North Sea at a speed of barely seven knots. It was aheart-rending performance; and though Coggins, the stoker pettyofficer, exhorted the German fireman to shovel coal on the furnaceuntil he was purple with passion and they were limp with weariness, thesteam pressure to the engines dropped and dropped.

Shortly after noon on the second day, by which time they were on theDogger Bank with not a vestige of another vessel in sight—there is notmuch fishing done in war-time—the climax came. It was not exactly dueto the boiler, though the propeller had been revolving more and moreslowly; but all of a sudden there came a peculiar grinding sound fromthe engine-room, and the screw refused duty altogether.

A moment or two later Coggins, breathless and blasphemous, appeared atthe top of the hatch. 'It's no good, sir,' he wailed; 'it's no ——good. I've done me best to tinker up they damned hengines to get 'em to'eave round, but now the metal's bin and run in the cross'ead, and theywon't 'eave round no more.'

'Is there nothing we can do to it?' queried the sub.

'I ain't seen nothin' aboard we can patch 'im up with, sir. Themhengines—them —— hengines—ain't fit to crack nuts, let alone beaboard a ship!'

The sub. bit his lip, for there they were, well out of sight of land,the ship helpless, and nothing in sight. But he had been trained as anengineer himself, and was better at the job than some people imagined.

'I'll come and have a look at it,' he announced. 'We must do something.I can't sail the damned ship home, and there's nobody here to tow us!'

Eventually, after three hours' hard labour, they succeeded in repairingthe damage with a piece of sheet-brass filched from somewhere else. Itis doubtful if any fully qualified engineer would have passed therepair as either safe or satisfactory; but by the time they hadfinished, and were black, bad-tempered, and greasy, the engines werepersuaded to produce the revolutions for four knots without runningvery hot. Even four knots was better than drifting aimlessly about thesea with the prospect of being bagged by a submarine or dying of thirstand starvation.

The next thing which refused duty was the boiler itself. It gave out ateight o'clock the same evening, and once more Coggins, looking morelike a demon from the nethermost pit than a respectable stoker pettyofficer of his Majesty's Navy, a rabid teetotaler, a strictchapel-goer, and the father of four children who attended Sunday schoolregularly, arrived on deck in a state of incoherent vituperation.

'And what's the matter now?' Hargreaves inquired.

'The biler, sir. 'E ain't bin cleaned for eight months, them Germanssays. The uptake and toobes is all sooted up, and we carn't get nosteam to the hengines no'ow!'

The sub. sighed. 'How long's it going to take to clean it?'

''Bout six or seven hours, sir.'

'Well, carry on with it at once.'

In ordinary circ*mstances a boiler is cleaned when it is stone-cold andthe fires are drawn; but Coggins, in some miraculous manner unknown toany one save himself and his victims, goaded the Germans into such astate of frenzied activity that they swept the tubes and uptakes infive hours. They did it with the fires damped down but still alight,and what they suffered from the heat only they themselves knew. But thejob was done somehow, the firemen were revived with neat navy rum, andby one o'clock the next morning the Anna Schrœder resumed herjourney at the exasperating speed of 3·75 knots.

They eventually arrived in a certain harbour late the same eveningwithout further mishap; and Hargreaves, after seeing the prize and theprisoners turned over to the responsible authorities, and his own mencomfortably housed and fed in the Sailors' Home, retired to an hotel,ate a hearty meal, had a hot bath well impregnated with Jeyes's Fluid,borrowed a suit of pyjamas, a razor, and a new toothbrush from themanager, and then turned in and slept for nearly twelve hours.

Little more remains to be told, for the next morning they left by trainto rejoin their ship, taking with them sundry mementoes from the prize.They have passed through many vicissitudes since, but neither the sub.nor his men will ever forget the Anna Schrœder.

CHAPTER XVI.

MINOR INCIDENTS.

I.

'Signal just come through, sir,' said Rosser, the signal-man, thumpingon the door of Wooten's cabin at half-past one in the morning.

The skipper grunted, sat up, switched on the light, and blinked. He wasused to sudden calls and excursions in the middle of the night, andknew instinctively from the tone of the man's voice that the messagewas urgent.

'Read it out,' he sighed, throwing one leg out of the bunk.

'Menelaus, Monsoon, Manner, and Minx raisesteam, and report when ready to proceed.'

'I thought so. What's the weather?'

'Very dark, and blowing a bit, sir,' said Rosser cheerfully, themoisture from his dripping oilskins forming a nice little puddle on theskipper's carpet. 'It's been raining hard this last half-hour.'

Wooten groaned. 'Right! Tell all the officers, and ask Mr Thompson tolet me know how soon he'll be ready. And on your way forward tell SpryI want him.'

Spry, able seaman, was the captain's body-servant and general factotum.

Wooten threw open the small scuttle over his bunk and looked out. Itwas as black as pitch, the wind whistled and moaned mournfully, and awave of moisture smote him in the face. It would be a wild and wetnight at sea. Altogether a depressing night, there was not the leastdoubt about that. 'Ugh!' he grunted, slamming the scuttle to anddrawing the bedclothes up to his chin.

Enter Spry.

'Usual sea-gear,' his master murmured.

The man nodded. He knew exactly what was wanted.

'We're in for a dusting, Spry.'

'We are that, sir. Will you 'ave your blue muffler or the white one?'

'The blue one, and the clean sweater.'

'You can't 'ave 'im, sir,' said the bluejacket, busy opening drawersand cupboards and pulling out clothes like a juggler. ''E's at thewash.'

'At the wash?'

'Yessir, and so's most of our flannel shirts and stiff collars. If we're to be away long I'll 'ave to wash some shirts out, and you'll 'aveto wear them soft collars of yours.' Spry was always a pessimist in thesmall hours of the morning. 'Is there anything else you'll be wanting,sir?'

'No, thanks. Nothing bar the cocoa.'

Spry took a vacuum flask from a cupboard, and left the cabin to fillit. This also was a matter of routine; for cocoa, a cushion, and a rugwere always put in the charthouse every night for Wooten's use when theship was at sea.

The skipper clambered out of his bunk, lit a pipe, and dressed. Thisoperation took him quite ten minutes. First came his ordinary garments,and a heavy woollen sweater and blue muffler; then a pair of thicksocks; next a pair of fisherman's white woollen stockings worn over histrousers and reaching well above his knees; over them, a pair of rubbersea-boots. Next a uniform jacket, a lammy coat, another muffler, and anoilskin on top of everything. It was wet, and the weather was cold, andWooten did not intend to be chilled through to the marrow if he couldhelp it. His apparel was completed by a sou'-wester and a pair ofglasses slung round his neck; and, thus arrayed, he clambered slowly upthe ladder and waddled forward along the deck to the charthouse. It wastoo dark, and he was too bloated, to proceed briskly.

Hargreaves, the sub., yawning his head off, was already up theresorting out his charts.

'Morning, sir. D'you know where we're going?'

'Haven't the vaguest notion. The Menelaus is the boss, and willget the orders. She may tell us when we get outside.'

'How long are we likely to be away?'

'Don't know. Last time we left in a hurry we didn't come back for afortnight. The time before, we were away for six weeks.'

'What'——

'If you ask me any more questions I shall be peevish,' Wooteninterrupted. 'It's high time you knew that I'm not fit for politeconversation at this unholy hour of the morning.'

'Sorry, sir. I forgot.'

Half-an-hour afterwards, by which time steam had been raised, and thefact had been reported, Wooten climbed the ladder on to the bridge.

'Signal for destroyers to slip, sir,' came from Rosser a minute or twolater, as a lamp winked frenziedly in and out in the darkness about amile away. 'Form single line a'ead; speed ten knots.'

'Let go forward!' went the order to the first lieutenant on theforecastle.

There came the splash of the end of the wire as it fell into the water,and a moment later a hail from MacDonald. 'All gone, sir!'

'Half ahead port. Half astern starboard. Helm hard aport.'

The engine-room reply-gongs clanged, and the Mariner began toturn on her heel.

'Slow astern starboard—Stop starboard—Half ahead both—one-eightyrevolutions,' in succession. 'Helm amidships. Steady!'

The four destroyers, falling into line astern of each other, gropedtheir way down the congested harbour like wraiths in the night. Wootenglanced at the dark shapes of the other ships as they slid by. 'Luckydogs!' he murmured. 'You've got a lie in. I envy you. This is not anight for poor old Peter to be at sea.'

He was right. By the time they reached the entrance the rain was comingdown in sheets, and the wind had increased. Then the bows lifted to thefirst swell, and a dollop of spray flew over them, and rattled againstthe bridge-screens.

'It's going to be wet,' Hargreaves observed glumly, securing the topbutton of his oilskin.

'It is,' the skipper agreed; 'damned wet!'

In ten minutes, by which time they were clear of the harbour, and speedhad been increased to eighteen knots, the ship was prancing andcurveting like a frisky pony, and the spray was flying over in sheets.Five minutes later the seas were coming in green over the upper deck.

'Oh hell!' the captain groused, stowing away his useless pipe aftervainly endeavouring to relight its sodden contents; 'this is thelimit!—Look out, sub.,' he added, glancing at the next ship ahead,whose dim shadow danced through a welter of spray a cable and a half infront. 'Shove her on a bit. You're astern of station, and droppingfast. Lord!' he added, 'I wish I knew where we're off to.'

His prayer was not answered until daylight, by which time they were farto the southward, and the Menelaus informed them of theirdestination. They were going to the warmest spot most of them had everknown, though they were not aware of it at the time. Warmth can comefrom the Huns as well as from the sun.

II.

The intermittent rumble of heavy guns had sounded continuously allthrough the night, and with the approach of dawn and the commencementof the usual 'early morning hate,' the intensity of the dullreverberations increased. The Mariner and her consorts werewithin about twelve miles of the spot where the long line of opposingtrenches debouched into the North Sea; but even at this distance theycould see the brilliant illumination caused by the star-shell as theyburst. The dark-blue sky above the horizon to the south-east was neverfree of them.

'Lor'!' said Billings in an awed whisper, watching the blue-whiteflashes as they burst suddenly out in the air, hung for a moment, andthen waned slowly away, to be replaced by others; 'some poor blokesain't arf gittin' it in the neck!'

There was a romance and an interest about the spectacle which it israther difficult to define. For one thing, it was the closest they hadever been to the front; but here, on board the ship, everything wasgoing on in the same old way, and the men went about their business asusual. But there, a bare twelve miles off, the deep-throated murmur ofthe guns showed that men were striving to kill each other, while thestar-shell must have been flooding the closely packed trenches withunwelcome light. It seemed a little difficult to realise it, somehow.

The morning was cloudless and calm. The light increased, and as the sunneared the horizon a band of pale rose-madder and dull orange slowlybegan to encroach on the dark blue of the upper sky to the eastward.Before long they could see the hostile coast itself as a thin,blue-gray streak punctuated here and there by the spires and houses ofthe coast towns, magnified out of all proportion by the deceptivelight. Hanging in the air, and all but invisible to the naked eye, wasthe bloated, caterpillar-shape of a German observation balloon. Itlooked ominous and menacing, and the Hun in the basket suspendedbeneath it was evidently going aloft to see whom his guns might devourfor breakfast. The coast was reputed to bristle with weapons, some ofthem of prodigious range, and the men in the destroyer hoped ferventlythat they might not be victims of his wrath.

Then, quite suddenly, the dull blue above the broadening band of colourbegan to twinkle and sparkle with little spurts and splashes of brightyellow flame. They did not appear in ones, twos, or threes, but inbatches of twenty or thirty at a time. The rumbling of the guns startedafresh, for the flashes were the bursts of the enemy's anti-aircraftshell, fired at a swarm of allied aeroplanes making an early morningbombing attack; and, from the look of things, somebody was getting atolerably hot time. More killing! It was rather like watching agladiatorial combat in the arena; but it was a fine sight, and the'Mariners' would not have missed it for worlds.

Presently, when the rosy light of the dawn had mounted up into space,the thudding of the distant guns ceased. The attack was over, and thebombs had evidently been dropped; but the clear sky over the shore wasstill flecked and stained with hundreds of smoke-puffs slowlydissolving on the gentle breeze. They showed blue and purple againstthe vivid contrasting colour beyond.

Air raids, and their subsequent reprisals, were a speciality of thislocality. They took place nearly every morning and evening theMariner was there; and as the visiting machines had acomparatively short distance to travel before reaching their objective,they were carried out by too many aeroplanes, and with too great afrequency, to be pleasant.

In the French town within reach of the aerial Hun business went on asusual; but at the first wailing of the warning hooter the inhabitantsbolted to earth like rabbits to their burrow. Every house whichpossessed a cellar showed a small red flag over the doorway, and anyone who cared to claim admittance was given shelter. Trams stopped anddisgorged their living freights. Adipose tram conductors, elderly womendragging frightened children, ancient male civilians, poilus intheir slate-blue uniforms, any one and every one, made a bee-line forthe nearest symbol of a cellar and safety. It was a wise precautionwhich must have saved many lives; for, though the Hun may be given thecredit of only wishing to damage places of 'military importance,' andto kill members of 'the armed forces of the enemy,' his bombs, as oftenas not, were liberally sprinkled upon the residential and commercialportions of the town. Added to this, every anti-aircraft gun in theneighbourhood—and there were many of them—sent its shell hurtlingskywards to drive the invaders away. The bits had to fall somewhere;and if a jagged morsel of steel weighing one ounce falls on the head ofa human being from a height, say, of ten thousand feet, there isnothing for it but a funeral and mourners. So it is wise to keepindoors in any case, wiser still to repair to somebody else's cellar ifyou do not possess one of your own.

But after the raids, when the inhabitants emerged from their burrows,the small boys and girls collected splinters and sold them asmementoes. The trade was very brisk, and prices sometimes ran high.Bomb fragments—and one could not help suspecting that many of thesewere manufactured at home in the quiet intervals—commanded fabuloussums. I still treasure a fleeting vision of a British army captain inkhaki, flourishing five-franc notes, pursuing a sky-blue poiludown the street in the midst of an air raid. The Frenchman hugged tohis bosom the dangerous remains of an aeroplane bomb, a wicked-lookingaffair painted bright yellow, and filled with some devilish compoundguaranteed to kill or to cure. The Englishman wanted it badly, and,being the faster of the two, eventually overtook his quarry, andobtained the relic for fifteen francs. What he did with it I cannotsay. One can hardly think that it was received with gratitude by hisloving parents, or that it occupied the niche of honour in the hall ofhis rich but nervous aunt.

But whatever we may have said about bombing attacks at sea, air raidson a town are not the least bit amusing until afterwards. The whistleof a descending bomb is the most uncanny and unpleasant sound it ispossible to imagine, far and away nastier than the howling andscreeching of a passing shell. Moreover, in an air raid on a town thevisitors can hardly fail to hit some one or something, and it maypossibly be us.

III.

'The Secretary of the Admiralty announces that an action took placeyesterday afternoon between British and German destroyers. The enemysuffered considerable damage, and were forced to retire. Our casualtieswere insignificant.'—Daily Press.

It is rather galling to find one of the most eventful and crowded hoursof one's existence disposed of in four lines of cold print, not eventhe name of a ship mentioned!

It made the ship's company of the Mariner feel very small andinsignificant, and the puffed-up, proud sort of feeling they had whenthey came out of their first real action oozed from them like gas froma punctured Zeppelin.

Sailors are peculiar animals. They long to frustrate and confound theHun—that goes without saying; but, having done their best in thisdirection, they are equally desirous that their friends and relationsshall be aware of the fact. Most of the men expected at least to seethe Mariner's name in the newspapers. A good many of them,though they would not have admitted it, would have been highlyflattered had their likenesses appeared in the Morning Mirror.'A naval hero who has been doing his bit' would have sounded well as asuperscription, though perhaps a trifle fulsome; while furtherphotographs of the 'naval hero's' wife and family, his father andmother, the schoolmaster who had taught him, and the public-house whichhe sometimes patronised, would also have been suitable to the occasion.But unfortunately the newspapers took no notice of the affair; and,since the censorship of naval news was strict, they probably never evenrealised that such a ship as the Mariner existed. It was a pity,for, from the point of view of the men and their friends, anything andeverything which appeared in the Press must, of necessity, be a fact.If a man went home and said he had been in an action which had neverpublicly been announced, it was possible that his immediate neighboursmight believe what he said. It was more than probable, however, that 50per cent. of outsiders would treat his story cum grano salis,and think that he had exaggerated. Corroborative evidence is alwaysuseful.

To Pincher Martin the recollection of his first action at sea is stilla vague and shadowy impression of mingled fact and fancy. He had keptthe forenoon watch, and on going below at noon had consumed his usualmidday meal with great relish. Then, with a satisfied feeling ofrepletion, he stretched himself at full length on a hard and veryuncomfortable mess-stool, and went off to sleep. He was not the onlyone; but he had kept the middle watch, so there was some excuse forhim.

Towards three o'clock he was suddenly brought back to his senses by theprolonged and irritating jangle of an electric alarm-bell. 'Gawd!' hemurmured, sitting up with a start, and rubbing his sleepy eyes; 'wot'sthe buzz now?'

He was not long in finding out, for at that same moment Petty OfficerCasey put his head down the hatch. 'Below there!' he howled cheerfully.'Tumble up! Enemy in sight! General Quarters!'

His words were punctuated by the sound of men running along the upperdeck and the rumble of a gun. The report was faint but unmistakable,and it did not come from the Mariner.

Followed by various of his messmates, Pincher darted for the hatch,clambered up the steep ladder, and ten seconds later appeared at hisgun on the forecastle breathless and inquisitive.

''Ere,' he queried, more by instinctive curiosity than because hereally wanted the opinion of any one else, 'wot's up?'

'You stan' by to 'ump them projectiles!' grunted an A.B. 'This 'ereain't the time to git askin' stoopid questions!'

Pincher obediently placed a lyddite shell in the loading-tray andwaited.

Three British destroyers were in single line ahead, the fourth beingaway on some business best known to herself. The Mariner was thecentre ship, and she quivered and shook to the thrust of her turbines;while, from the sensation of speed, and the great mass of white waterheaped up under the stern of the next ahead, Pincher guessed they mustbe travelling at about thirty knots. Three or four miles away to port,rather difficult to see against the gray background of shore beyond,were the lean shapes of three other torpedo-craft. They also weresteaming at high speed, and left a long white trail in the water asternof them, and seemed to be steering an approximately parallel course.They were German, of course, and as he watched a ripple of bright flameand a cloud of brown smoke leapt out from their leading vessel. Theywere firing, and at him. He felt rather frightened, and suddenly becamepossessed of a bitter resentment against the enemy who were striving tokill him and his shipmates. He had done them no personal wrong, so whyshould they try to take his life?

He held his breath and waited for the shell to drop, but the pauseseemed interminable. Then he heard the sound of the reports, and sawthree or four whity-gray splashes in the water between him and theenemy. The shell were fully six hundred yards short, and harmless. Hebreathed again.

Some order came through a voice-pipe to the gun; whereupon thesight-setter twiddled a small wheel and peered anxiously at a graduateddial, while the gunlayer, breathing heavily, applied his eye to thetelescope. The muzzle of the gun began to move up and down in the airas the sights were kept on the enemy.

'Train right a bit, Bill!' came a smothered remark. 'Train right, damnyer eyes! That'll do! Keep her like that!'

A bell rang somewhere. A moment's pause, and then, with a sheet offlame and a crash, the weapon went off.

When once the business really started Pincher felt better. Theanticipation, that awful period of suspense between the time of theenemy being sighted and the first shot being fired, was far and awayworse than the actual fight itself. The noise and excitement acted as asort of anæsthetic. They had a deadening effect which dulled the finerworkings of his mind, and did away with most of his previous andpoignant mental agony. He realised in a vague sort of a way that hemight be killed; but the process of being under fire, when once it hadstarted and the enemy was being fired at in return, was not nearly sobad as he had imagined it would be.

He had the task of placing a projectile in the loading-tray every timeafter the gun had fired, recoiled, ejected the spent cylinder neatly tothe rear, and then had run out again and had been reloaded. He did italmost automatically, and without having to think about it. Time becamean unknown quantity. Seconds sometimes seemed like hours, and hours mayhave dwindled to minutes for all he knew. All the sensations he wasreally conscious of at the time were a supreme desire to keep up thesupply of shell, an overwhelming hatred for the enemy who dared to fireupon him, a most unpleasant feeling of heat, and an intolerable andraging thirst. The acrid taste and smell of the burning cordite mayhave produced the thirst; but, after five minutes of firing, Martinwould have bartered everything he possessed for a mug of really coldwater.

Incident succeeded incident with such rapidity that he could notconcentrate his attention on any one particular thing. He saw greatwhite splashes in the water, some of them perilously close. The noiseof the Mariner's own guns overpowered every other sound, butbetween their reports he heard the fainter thudding of the enemy'sweapons, the peculiar whining drone of hostile shell as they hurtledthrough the air, and the fiendish whirring and whizzing of theirfragments as they burst. There came a jar and a metallic crash whichtold him that the ship had been hit somewhere close. He had no time tolook round, but waited anxiously for the missile to pulverise; waitedfor what seemed minutes for the flame and roar of an appallingdetonation and a shower of splinters which would sweep him to eternity.They never came. The shell had passed through the forecastle, and outagain through the side of the ship, without exploding.

His own gun was firing very fast, and he could not see much, but in therifts between the sheets of flame and clouds of smoke caused by itsdischarge he caught occasional glimpses of the enemy. They were stillsteaming fast, and seemed rather closer than before, and from the searound about them spout after spout of spray leapt into the air as theBritish shell pitched. The brilliant gun-flashes still twinkled up anddown their sides as they fired; but he was glad they were having a hottime.

The next time he saw them they seemed to have turned shorewards, whilethe British, still firing heavily, steamed in pursuit. Then, in theafter-part of the middle German destroyer, the one the Marinerwas firing at, he suddenly noticed a wicked red flash and a cloud ofoily black smoke. A shell had gone home. He could have shouted in gleehad he not been so breathless.

The long-range action lasted for a full fifty-five minutes, with bothsides blazing away merrily the whole time. What damage was done to theenemy it was impossible to say, but it was clear that they sufferedconsiderably, and that they were forced back to their own coast. Asregards their numbers, guns, size, and speed the opposing craft werepretty evenly matched; and if the action had taken place in the opensea it would have been fought to a finish at close range, or until oneor other of the combatants retired post-haste from the contest. In thiseventuality, given average luck, it would not have been the British;not because the German is any less brave than his antagonist, butbecause he has fewer ships to risk, and is supposed to have orders notto give battle unless he has a good chance of winning. But man proposesand God disposes, and the fight was more or less a drawn one.

At length there came the time when the enemy could be pursued nolonger, on account of the proximity of the shore. So close in had theysteamed that some one in the Mariner even declared that he wasable to count the windows in the buildings and the tiles on the redroofs; and though the tile part may have been an exaggeration, thewindow-counting certainly was not. The yellow, wave-lapped beach, withthe turf-covered sand-dunes beyond it, looked strangely calm andpeaceful; but concealed in those dunes were guns of almost everyimaginable size from fourteen-inch downwards, some of which werereputed to be able to pitch their shell on a sixpence at a range offifteen miles. The Mariner and her consorts were a long, longway inside this distance, and there was nothing for it but todiscontinue the action, and to beat a hasty retreat.

Brother Boche, with his guns in among the dunes, was no fool. He wasmerely waiting for a good opportunity to open fire, and his chance cameat the precise moment when the British helms went over and thedestroyers started to steam seawards. Then the whole line of coastsuddenly began to sparkle from end to end, and before one had time tothink the shell were pitching. The fire of the destroyers, both asregards its volume and its accuracy, had been as nothing to this. Greatwhite-water fountains seemed to spout up everywhere at the same moment,ahead, astern, and on either side. How many projectiles fell within afew feet of the ship during the next ten minutes it is impossible tosay. The shooting was very accurate indeed—far too accurate to bepleasant. It was extremely unpleasant.

Words can convey no conception of the breathless sort of sensationcaused by those falling shell. They howled like wolves and screechedlike express trains passing through wayside stations. They fell intothe water with heavy liquid plops, detonated in gigantic upheavals ofwater and with roaring concussions compared with which the reports ofheavy guns faded into insignificance, and sent their jagged-edgedfragments whirring off into space with the humming and buzzing of angryhornets. It was a sickening, uncanny feeling to see a fifty-footgeyser-like spout spring into the air a bare fathom off the stem, tonotice the black patch at the spot in the water where the shell hadburst as if one had emptied a bucket of ashes, and then to steamthrough the descending spray, and to smell the horrible, reeking stenchof the explosive. It was more alarming still to see a bouquet of fouror five such splashes jump into the air within a few feet of the sternor on either side of the ship. If a single one of these projectilesdrove home the Mariner would probably be brought to astandstill, in which case her subsequent demolition and the slaughterof her crew would only be a matter of time. If three or four shellsstruck at once she would probably founder immediately.

It is one thing to be fired at by a similar vessel, and to be able tofire at her in reply; but it is something quite different to besubjected to the individual attention in broad daylight of a heavyship, or many shore batteries, when there is no possible chance ofretaliation. It leaves one breathless and cold; and though, perhaps,one may not actually show one's fear, one would give much to beelsewhere. It is only natural.

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (7)

"The shooting was very accurate, far too accurate to be pleasant."

Page 310.

Shell from modern heavy guns can drive their way through the armouredsides of a battleship, but they will pulverise a destroyer into merepowder. There are no bombproofs, no funk-holes, no armour, not even aconning-tower—not that it would be used if there were. The officersand the men at the guns and torpedo-tubes are all on deck and in theopen, while those below in the engine and boiler rooms have nothingbetween them and the deep sea but a steel skin barely thicker than asubstantial biscuit-tin. Moreover, the greater portion of the hull iscrammed with machinery, ammunition, and explosives; and, however muchof a safeguard a destroyer's speed and small size may be, she mustalways seem very vulnerable to those who serve in her. I say 'seem'advisedly, for it is surprising how much hammering the tough littlecraft can withstand without being knocked out; while, as any gunner whois used to the game will tell you, she is not a very easy target tohit. But, for all that, one lucky shell may do the trick, in which caseevery man-jack of her crew may be killed or drowned. There is nevermuch chance of escape if once the ship goes, and any man who says herelishes being under heavy fire in a T.B.D. is either a born hero or anAnanias. It is easy to make light of things after they have happened,but no words can adequately portray the inner feelings of the ordinarymortal while the ordeal is still in progress. They are indescribable.

But by some miraculous intervention of Providence the Marinerand her sister-ships escaped practically scot-free. According to peoplewho witnessed the withdrawal from a distance, people who well knew therange and accuracy of the coast guns, the odds were a thousand to onethat they would never escape, for at times they were hardly visible inthe spray fountains leaping up all around them. They were literallyburied in the splashes, but still they came on—and escaped.

It was not until afterwards that the men thoroughly realised how luckythey were. At the time, whatever they may have felt in their hearts orminds, there were no suggestions of fear in their faces, no trace ofnervousness in their demeanour. They behaved just the same asusual—jeered uproariously when a shell fell a few feet short anddeluged them with spray, and made facetious remarks when projectilesfrom 'Fractious Fanny,' as some one adroitly christened a particularlyobnoxious 11·2, lumbered gracefully over their heads and explodedmerrily in the sea a hundred feet or so beyond them. Perhaps they werea little more talkative than usual; perhaps their laughter wassometimes a little forced; but, for all that, they behaved as Britishbluejackets always do.

'I wouldn't 'a missed that there show fur a lot,' said Pincher Martinafter supper the same evening.

'I reckons we kin think ourselves lucky ter git outa it,' Billingsmurmured with his mouth full. 'It's orl right lookin' back on it w'enonce it's orl over; but it takes a bloomin' 'ero not ter 'ave a coldfeelin' in 'is stummick wi' them there guns a-pluggin' at 'im.'

'Did you 'ave a cold feelin' in yer inside, Josh?' M'Sweeny queriedanxiously.

'Course I 'ad. I wus cold orl over. I ain't no bloomin' 'ero. But, orlthe same, Tubby boy, I reckons it's done us orl good ter 'ave a bit ofa shake up like this 'ere. Makes us a sort of understan' 'ow everybloke aboard 'as 'is own job ter do; don't it?'

Joshua's way of expressing himself may have been crude, but M'Sweenyquite understood what he meant.

The engagement, short as it had been, had given the men confidence inthemselves, each other, their officers, and their ship. It had bandedthem together in some extraordinary and quite inexplicable manner whichno years of peace training could have done. Together they had beentried and had not been found wanting; and now, more than ever, they hadbecome 'we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.' They feltthemselves inspired with a new patriotism and a new ardour, and it wasthat very feeling which, on 21st October 1805, had helped theirforebears to win the battle of Trafalgar.

CHAPTER XVII.

THE DAY.

I.

All through the peaceful night of 30th May 1916 British squadrons wereat sea steaming steadily eastward. Fighting-ships of almost every classwere represented; great battleships and battle-cruisers, armouredcruisers of an older type, new and very fast light cruisers, theubiquitous destroyers in their dozens, all converging silently towardsthe area on the other side of the North Sea which was presently tobecome the scene of the mightiest and most terrible battle in Britishnaval history.

The Commander-in-Chief and the Admirals in command of squadrons maypossibly have known that something unusual was in the air; but it isdoubtful if any subordinate officers or men had the least inkling ofwhat the next day would bring forth. They knew that a battle was alwayspossible, and were ready and anxious for it. Off and on for nearlytwenty-two months they had scoured the gray wastes of the North Sea,and had explored its grayer fogs, always hoping that the next dawnwould bless their tired eyes with a view of the far-flung battle-lineof the enemy stretched out across the horizon before them. But morningafter morning the sun had risen to display the same bare and monotonousvista of sea and sky.

Sometimes the ocean was calm and peaceful, the sun shone undimmed, andthe blue sky towards the horizon was piled high with mass upon mass ofmountainous white cumulus. Sometimes they had fogs, when they could seebarely a hundred yards; sometimes the prevailing North Sea mists, inwhich the visibility alternated between two and five miles. At othertimes the wind howled, and the leaden sea was whipped into fury bygales; while the sky became overcast with dark clouds and streaked withthe white, frayed-out streamers of mares' tails. They had come to knowthe vagaries of their cruising ground by heart; but whatever its aspectthe sea was ever innocent of the one thing they all wished to see—theGerman High Sea Fleet.

Their wistful longing was just as acute as that of the men in thestorm-battered ships of Columbus when straining their eyes towards thewestern horizon for the first dim blue traces of the new continent; andnow, through sheer disappointment, not a few of them had come tobelieve that the chance they all prayed and longed for would nevercome.

Daylight on 31st May found the Mariner and many other destroyersstill steaming eastward in company with the battle-cruiser fleet underthe command of Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty in the Lion.Certain light-cruiser squadrons, acting as scouts, were stationed somedistance ahead of the heavier vessels. The morning—which had brokenbeautifully fine, with a calm sea—passed without incident, and it wasnot until shortly after half-past two in the afternoon that theadvanced squadrons reported the enemy in force to the eastward.

It is impossible to give any idea of the thrill of excitement whichpassed through the officers and men of the ships when the facts becameknown. The bugles blared, and they hurried to their action stations.'Enemy in force!' Did it mean that they were in touch with the High SeaFleet? Had their chance come at last, the chance for which they had allbeen hoping ever since that fateful 4th August 1914?

Men looked anxiously at their neighbours to see how they took themomentous news; but nowhere did a face show signs of fear. On thecontrary, their expression and demeanour testified to their implicitand unshaken confidence in themselves and their leaders. They laughed,jests passed from man to man and from group to group, and they wentabout their business with an intense keenness born of a new hope.

The big battle-cruisers swung rapidly into fighting formation andincreased speed, their wash churning the calm sea into great waves.They presented a magnificent spectacle as they steamed into action withthe smoke curling from their funnel-tops, white ensigns flying at eachmasthead, and the huge guns in their turrets pointing their leanmuzzles skywards.

At two-thirty-five P.M. a considerable amount of smoke wassighted to the eastward, and a little less than an hour later thegigantic shapes of five hostile battle-cruisers were looming up overthe horizon.

'All guns, load!' came the first order from the control positions.'Salvos by director! Guns—ready!'

Inside a turret a burly A.B., clad in flannel shirt and trousers, spatsolemnly on his hands, stretched out a hairy tattooed arm, and moved asmall, brightly polished steel lever. Instantly a clattering hydraulicchain rammer uncoiled itself like a snake, and an enormous shellweighing three-quarters of a ton was pushed bodily out of theloading-tray to vanish into the open breech of the gun with a smack anda thud. The rammer was withdrawn, another man manipulated a handle, andtwo cream-coloured, sausage-shaped bundles with red ends rolled intothe space just vacated by the projectile. They were the corditecharges, swathed in innocent-looking silk coverings, the redextremities being the muslin bags containing the powder-igniters. Thesilk, somehow, seemed strangely out of place in the gun-turret of abattle-cruiser. It reminded one irresistibly of the counter of adrapery establishment; but for many a long year artillery experts haveknown that a silk-covered cartridge leaves little or no burning residuein the breech of the gun when the weapon is fired. Hence its use.

Again the hairy, tattooed gentleman moved his lever, and the rammer,darting forward, propelled two quarter charges into the yawning breechof the gun. The operation was repeated, while a man fiddled for amoment with the lock, and then the great steel breech-block swung towith a clang.

'Right gun, loaded!' some one bawled, as something slipped into placewith a click.

'Right gun, ready!' from another man.

The gunlayer watched a dial, and the gun's crew stood tense andexpectant, while the huge breeches of the weapons moved ponderously upand down, with a wheezing and a groaning of the water through thehydraulic machinery. The turret twitched slowly to the right, stopped,and then moved again. Ammunition-cages containing more shell andcartridges ready for the next round came clattering up from theloading-chambers.

The officer in charge, a lieutenant with absurdly pink cheeks and curlyhair, was stationed at his periscope, one end of which protrudedthrough a hole in the armoured roof of the turret, and gave him a viewof the surrounding sea.

'Can yer see anythink, sir?' some one asked in a hoarse whisper, hiscuriosity getting the better of him as the officer bent down to wipethe eyepiece of his instrument with a gaudy bandana handkerchief.

'Yes,' he answered cheerily, 'five battle-cruisers, some lightcruisers, and a good many destroyers! Stand by. It'll be starting in aminute.' He replaced the handkerchief in his pocket, and applied hiseyes to the periscope again.

The loading number of the right gun, he with the hairy arms, was busywith a piece of chalk, and the other members of the gun's crew who hadnothing particular to do watched him with some amusem*nt. 'ToHunny, with love from Bill Mason, A.B.,' he traced out laboriouslyon the sleek, yellow-painted side of the huge lyddite projectile. Hestepped back to survey his handiwork with a little chuckle of glee.'That'll tickle 'em!' he remarked, winking solemnly.

The men tittered.

The lieutenant at the periscope suddenly held his breath as a muffled,whistling shriek and the roar of an explosion from outside brought themen's heads up in eager, listening attention.

'Garn!' said Mason with a grin; 'that ain't gone nowhere near us. 'Aveanother go, ole son!'

'Stand by, men!' cautioned the officer, who was the only person whocould see what went on in the outside world.

Mason licked his hands and rubbed them unconcernedly on the seat of histrousers.

Whe-e-e-w! whe-e-e-e-w! B-o-o-m! from the outsideagain, followed by the sound of another detonation and a slight jar,which showed that the ship had been struck somewhere.

The gun's crew looked at each other. The turret moved slowly to theright, and went on moving. The breeches of the guns began to see-sawgently up and down in rhythm with the movement of the ship. Then a bellrang, and with a roar and a thud the right gun suddenly went off andrecoiled backwards along its slide. It ran out again with a wheezing,sucking sound, and the massive breech-block flew open with a metalliccrash.

'Left gun, ready!' came a shout.

The turret became filled with the warm, acrid smoke of burnt cordite.There came the swishing sound of the washing-out apparatus, and theclatter of the chain rammer.

The bell rang again. B-o-o-m! roared the left gun. The greatbattle had begun.

II.

It is impossible for any single spectator to describe a naval action asa whole from his own personal observations and experiences,particularly a battle which divides itself into many different phases,lasts intermittently from about three-thirty in the afternoon until thesame time next morning, and is fought over many miles of sea.

The Mariner and various other destroyers were present with thebattle-cruisers throughout the first shock of the engagement and therunning fight which ensued. Some of them, the Mariner included,assisted to repel the attacks of hostile torpedo-craft during daylight,and delivered their own attacks on the heavy ships of the enemy duringthe afternoon and night; but though Pincher Martin saw a great deal ofthe fighting, he had no very clear conception of how the engagementwent as a whole or of how the time passed.

When he first saw the enemy they appeared as a row of immense grayshapes stretched out across the horizon. They were battle-cruisers—heknew that from their build; and though they must have been fully tenmiles distant, they looked grim and menacing. With them were severallight cruisers, looking absolute pygmies alongside their overgrownsisters; while on the farther side he saw, or thought he could see, aswarm of destroyers. It was now about three-thirty P.M., andthe weather was quite clear.

The Mariner was stationed close to the line of battle-cruisers,and between them and the enemy. She occupied one of the best seats inthe house, the front row of the stalls, so to speak, a position fromwhich, but for the clouds of smoke and masses of spray flung up by thefalling shell, those on board her would have seen practicallyeverything that happened. But the billet was not exactly a comfortableone. Indeed, it was most unpleasant; for when the firing began the shotfrom both the British and the German guns whistled and thunderedoverhead, while there was always the chance that the destroyers wouldreceive the benefit of hostile shell falling short of their intendedtarget.

Pincher watched the enemy with a certain amount of fascinatedapprehension. They seemed to swing into a single line, and then, quitesuddenly, he noticed five or six tongues of bright orange flame andclouds of brown smoke leap out from the side of their leader. There wasa lengthy pause, followed by a terrifying crescendo of howling andscreeching as the giant projectiles came hurtling through the air. Theyfell in a bunch a bare fifty yards short of one of the battle-cruisers,and exploded with a roar, the great upheaval in the sea almostcompletely shutting out all traces of the ship beyond. The British gunsinstantly flashed out in reply, and the next moment the engagementbecame general.

From this time forward the whole affair seemed ghastly and unreal, anawful nightmare in which it was quite impossible to remember exactlywhat had happened. The air shook and trembled with a turmoil ofear-splitting sound, in which one heard the deep booming note of theBritish guns as they gave tongue, the shrill whistling or droning ofshell as they passed overhead, and the sharper concussion of thehostile projectiles as they fell and burst.

Looked at from a distance, the huge hulls of the German ships seemedliterally buried in a spouting maelstrom of shell fountains rising fromthe sea all round them. At times a shadowy gray mass, sparkling withwicked-looking gun-flashes, slid slowly into view behind some greatupheaval in the water, to disappear the next instant as another salvoof shell fell and burst. The British guns seemed to be making very goodshooting, but it was impossible to note exact results from the low deckof the destroyer.

Pincher glanced at the Lion and the other ships, and thespectacle held him spell-bound and made him feel almost dizzy. Theywere enduring a veritable tornado of shell, and the sea all round themleapt and boiled until at times the rushing shapes of the greatvessels, close as they were, seemed actually hidden in the turmoil offlung-up water. Some of the shell were going home, too, for here andthere in the rifts in the spray and smoke he saw the deep-red flash, acloud of oily smoke, and a shower of flying débris as they struck andexploded. There were a few ragged holes in the gray steel sides; hereand there the symmetrical shape of a ship's superstructure was marredby a twisted and distorted mass of steelwork, and pierced funnelsvomited forth their black contributions to add to the alreadysmoke-laden atmosphere. Star-shaped splashes of yellow and white showedwhere shell had struck armour, had exploded, and had failed topenetrate; but it seemed nothing short of a miracle how any ships builtby human agency could withstand such a terrific hammering without beingbattered to pieces. It was an awesome sight.

It was well for the Mariner and her neighbours that the Germanshooting was so accurate. The hostile fire was concentrated on thebattle-cruisers, and every shell seemed either to strike or else tofall within a few yards of them. The destroyers in their precariousposition were untouched, but for all that the experience wasnerve-racking, and Pincher had a feeling of intense relief when he sawthe brilliant flashes and rolling clouds of brown, rapidly dissolvingsmoke from the British guns. They were firing fast, and it was no smallconsolation to think that the enemy were enduring the same terribleordeal themselves.

One of the most awful incidents of that eventful day was the blowing upof the Indefatigable. The catastrophe, utterly unexpected, wasappalling in its suddenness. At one moment the huge,nineteen-thousand-ton ship was steaming bravely along with her gunsfiring; the next, a salvo of five or six shell seemed to strike hersimultaneously amidships. There came the splintering crash of theexplosions, some spurts of flame, and upheavals of yellow, brown,black, gray, and white smoke. The great ship seemed literally to bedivided in two, for both the bow and the stern reared themselves out ofthe water at the same moment. The thundering, shattering roar of theexplosion made the nearer ships dance and tremble. The report seemed tocompress the air until one's ear-drums threatened to burst, and massesof débris, large and small, were precipitated skywards, presently tocome raining down into the sea in all directions.

The smoke-cloud spread and rose into the air to a height of three orfour hundred feet. Soon it completely blotted out the scene of thedisaster, and hung there impalpably, wreathing and eddying in thick,rolling masses. Then some freakish air-current caused another cloud ofbrown vapour to rise and overtop the first, until the whole mass lookedfor all the world like some gigantic, overbaked cottage loaf sittingsquarely on the sea.

Within two minutes the ship had disappeared for ever, taking with herher gallant crew of nearly eight hundred officers and men. Barely asoul was saved, though destroyers, hurrying to the scene at imminentdanger to themselves, searched the flotsam-strewn area for survivors.

The Queen Mary met a precisely similar fate. Again there camethe terrible roar and flare of an explosion, followed by the cloud ofsmoke, in which the great ship sank almost instantly to the bottom. Itwas an awful moment; but one of the most magnificent spectacles of thebattle was the sight of the great three-funnelled Tiger steamingat full speed through the pall a few moments after her unfortunatesister met her fate. At one moment she was in full view; the next herbows disappeared, then her midship portion with its three greatfunnels, and finally her stern, until the whole enormous length of theship was completely swallowed up in the mass of brown vapour. Then hersharp stem with its creaming bow-wave emerged into sight on the otherside of the pall, to be followed by the rest of the vessel as she droveclear of the scene of the catastrophe with her guns flashing defianceand her glorious white ensigns fluttering. It was an inspiring sight,but of the gallant crew of the stricken Queen Mary, comprisingnearly a thousand souls, only four young midshipmen and under twentymen were rescued.

The loss of these vessels was a sad blow, but still the battle ragedfuriously. The hostile shooting, however, seemed to be becomingerratic, a fact which told its own tale, while ours steadily improved.Indeed, the next time Pincher was vouch-safed a fleeting glimpse of theenemy, two of their largest ships seemed to be badly on fire, while athird had quitted the line and was some distance astern of herconsorts. But it was with a feeling of intense relief that the sorelytried British saw a welcome reinforcement of four battleshipsapproaching at full speed, firing heavily as they came.

It was at about this time that some signal was hoisted in theLion, and before Pincher quite realised what was happening, theMariner and most of the other destroyers swung round and steamedfor the enemy as hard as they could go.

'Gawd!' he whispered breathlessly; 'we're goin' in to attack!'

It seemed a suicidal sort of business, another charge of the LightBrigade, as the ship, quivering and shaking to the thrust of herturbines, drove on at full speed. They were between the lines, and thescreeching and howling of the heavy projectiles as the two squadronsfired at each other became fainter and more distant. They drew nearerand nearer to the enemy. They were travelling at something over thirtyknots—fifty feet a second, one thousand yards a minute.

'Lie down!' came a sudden order to the guns' crews, for in anothermoment the enemy's secondary guns would be opening fire. The men flungthemselves to the deck and watched.

It was at this moment that Pincher first saw a cloud of enemydestroyers and some light cruisers coming from behind the line ofGerman heavy ships. They darted out at full speed to ward off theBritish attack, perhaps to deliver one of their own; but whateverhappened they were too late, for the British small craft, swinginground, turned to meet them.

'Guns' crews, close up!' came an order. 'Load with lyddite!' The menscrambled to their feet and waited.

'Enemy destroyers bearing green four-five,' came through thevoice-pipe. 'Rapid independent! Commence!'

For the next few minutes Pincher was so hard at work cramming shellinto his gun that he could hardly see what was happening, much lessunderstand it all. He realised the ship was being fired at, for therewere splashes in the sea all round, and he could hear the shriekingwhistle of the shell-splinters; but the roaring of the Mariner'sown guns drowned every other sound. It was glorious to think that hisown gun was firing at last, and somehow he did not very much care whathappened so long as the enemy suffered.

It was an exciting experience. The hostile flotilla appeared as a droveof rushing gray shapes in the midst of a turmoil of shell fountains,smoke, and gun-flashes. There were so many of them, and they were soclosely packed, that it was unnecessary to single out any oneparticular vessel as a target, and the British guns merely fired into'the brown,' with the almost absolute certainty of hitting something.

Nearer and nearer they came—four thousand yards, three thousand fivehundred, three thousand. In numbers the two forces were about equal,but the effects of the heavier British guns soon made themselves felt,for before long two of the enemy seemed to crumple up and vanish in acloud of smoke and steam. A bare thirty seconds later another sharedthe same fate, while a fourth, badly hit, lay nearly motionless on thewater and very much down by the bows, with a storm of shell spurting,foaming, and bursting all round her. The hostile attack was beaten off,for after a very sharp close-range action the enemy's flotillas turnedtail and scuttled back to the shelter of their heavier ships.

Then the British flotillas, with the ground cleared, charged on againto press home the attack on the German battle-cruisers. The moment theycame within range they were fired upon, and within a few seconds allthe enemy's lighter guns came into action in a furious and franticendeavour to drive them off. The gray shapes of the hostile vesselsscintillated with gun-flashes and became shrouded in smoke, and oncemore the sea started to spout and boil angrily. But the destroyers werenot to be denied, and after the gigantic shell fountains of the earlierportion of the battle, these smaller splashes, alarming as they mighthave been in ordinary circ*mstances, seemed puny and insignificant.Indeed, they came as a positive relief, and nobody worried his headabout them.

The little craft still drove on under an awful fire, and theMariner, following round in the wake of her leader, turned andfired two torpedoes in rapid succession when she came within range.Others did the same, some ships arriving within three thousand yards ofthe enemy to do so. Some of the torpedoes must have gone home; butbefore they reached the enemy the attackers had turned about and weresteaming hard to get out of range.

The Mariner had been hit by only one small projectile, whichburst aft, but did no damage to speak of except inflicting slightflesh-wounds on two men, much to their subsequent satisfaction. Otherships had not been so lucky, and Pincher noticed one destroyer whichhad been struck in the engine-room and could not steam. The last timehe saw her she lay motionless between the two fleets, enduring aterrible fire from every German gun which would bear. The greaternumber of her men must have been killed and her deck converted into areeking shambles, but her colours were still flying.

The action between the opposing battle-cruisers had continued withunabated fury, both forces steaming to the southward on roughlyparallel courses; but at four-forty-two the German High Sea Fleet hadbeen sighted to the south-eastward from the Lion. Sir DavidBeatty thereupon swung round to an opposite course to lead thenew-comers towards Sir John Jellicoe, who, with the battleships of theGrand Fleet, was somewhere to the north. The enemy's battle-cruisers,maintaining their station ahead of the High Sea Fleet, conformed to themovement of the British shortly afterwards.

The Fifth Battle-Squadron, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Evan Thomasin the Barham, with the sister-ships Valiant,Malaya, and Warspite, were now approaching from thenorth, firing heavily as they came on to the head of the hostile line;but shortly before five o'clock they swung round into line astern ofthe battle-cruisers, coming under a heavy but more or less ineffectualfire from the leading German battleships as they did so.

Up to now the weather conditions had been favourable alike to bothsides, but at about four-forty-five a thick mist and a great mass ofdark cloud settled on the eastern horizon, and blurred the outlines ofthe enemy's vessels until they appeared vague, shadowy, and indistinct.To the westward, however, the sky was still quite clear, and theBritish were plainly silhouetted against the horizon, which gave theGermans the advantage in so far as the light was concerned.

Between five and six P.M. the action continued, Sir DavidBeatty's force, with the four battleships astern of it, graduallydrawing ahead of the enemy, and concentrating a very heavy fire on thebattle-cruisers at the head of his line at a range of about fourteenthousand yards. The hostile battleships, meanwhile, farther astern,could do little to reply, and ship after ship of the enemy was badlybattered, while one of their battle-cruisers, terribly damaged, wasobserved to quit the line.

At about six o'clock the leading British battleships were sighted tothe north from the Lion, and at this time Sir David Beatty, toclear the way for them to come into action, altered course to the eastand crossed the enemy's T, reducing the range to twelve thousandyards as he did so, and inflicting terrible damage with his heavy fire.At this time only four hostile vessels were in sight, threebattle-cruisers and one battleship, the others being obliterated in themist.

Twenty minutes later the Third Battle-Cruiser Squadron, commanded byRear-Admiral the Hon. H. L. A. Hood, joined Sir David Beatty. Thereinforcement was ordered to take station ahead, and steamed gallantlyinto action at a range of eight thousand yards. The Invincible,subjected to a concentrated fire from every hostile gun which wouldbear, was sunk.

Previous to this, between five-fifty and six P.M.,Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot, with the older cruisersDefence and Warrior, had steamed in to attack the enemy'slight cruisers, and the two vessels, with their 9·2 and 7·5 inch guns,sank or inflicted severe damage upon their opponents. But in doing so,unaware, on account of the mist, of the immediate presence of theenemy's heavier ships, they suddenly came within easy range of monsterweapons against which their comparatively light armaments wereimpotent.

An awful fire was concentrated upon them. The Defence, to usethe words of an eye-witness, was 'blown clean out of the water' by asalvo of shell. The Warrior was hit repeatedly by heavy shell,and suffered terrible injury, for before escaping from her unenviableposition she had arrived within a range of about five thousand fourhundred yards of two hostile battle-cruisers.

The ship was little more than a battered wreck. A distance of fivethousand four hundred yards is nothing at sea. It is point-blank range,and may be compared with using a rifle at fifty yards. Her casualtiesin killed and wounded had been very severe. The engine-rooms andstokeholds were flooded through shell striking and penetrating belowthe water-line, while she was blazing furiously aft, and was makingwater fast. The whole vessel was pierced and perforated until sheresembled a gigantic nutmeg-grater, and as time went on she settledlower and lower in the water. Certain of the survivors tried to quenchthe fire with hoses, while the remainder set to work to build rafts,practically all the boats having been demolished. The conflagration waseventually subdued, and then came the piteous and gruesome task ofidentifying the dead, while the wounded were brought on deck in case itshould be necessary to abandon the ship.

For over an hour she lay there helpless, and we can imagine the reliefof officers and men when, later in the evening, the Engadine, across-Channel steamer converted into a seaplane depot ship, arrived onthe scene and took her in tow. The energy of every soul on board wasthen concentrated on keeping the ship afloat; and, as the steam-pumpingarrangements were useless, the exhausted men were at the hand-pumps allthrough the hours of darkness.

But it was not to be. The weather during the night grew rapidly worse,and when the next dawn came the wind and sea had risen, and waves werebreaking over the quarterdeck. The cruiser could not last much longer.She was sinking fast, and there was nothing for it but to abandon her.

One by one the wounded were passed down into boats and were ferriedacross to the rescuing vessel. They were followed in turn by theremainder of the ship's company, the officers, and finally the captain;and when last seen, between nine and ten in the morning, theWarrior was sinking by the stern. But she had upheld her name.She came to a noble end, for she had fought valiantly againstoverwhelming odds until she could fight no more, and her name, togetherwith those of other brave ships lost on that eventful day, will neverbe forgotten. Her heroic dead did not sacrifice their lives in vain.

Of the gallant work of the Engadine, which towed the cruiser forseventy-five miles between eight-forty P.M. andseven-fifteen A.M. the next morning, and was instrumental insaving the lives of her ship's company, we need make no mention here.The exploit occupies its deserved position of prominence in Sir JohnJellicoe's official despatch.

III.

It was immediately after the destroyer action between the lines thatthe Mariner first sighted another body of ships looming up tothe southward. The new-comers, about sixteen large ships accompanied bymany smaller vessels, came on at full speed towards the scene ofaction, and at first the men in the destroyers imagined them to be thebattleships of the British Grand Fleet. Their spirits rose accordingly,for with the arrival of these powerful units the enemy'sbattle-cruisers, cut off from their base, could not escapeannihilation. But a few minutes later, when the great ships had comenearer, their unfamiliar shape and unusual light-gray colouringproclaimed them for what they really were—the battleship squadrons ofthe German High Sea Fleet.

Some of the destroyers which were favourably placed at once dashed into attack with torpedoes, retiring as soon as they had fired, andbefore very long most of them had rejoined the heavier vessels.[38]Their next chance of doing something was to come after nightfall.

From about six-fifteen onwards it is very difficult to give acomprehensive account of what occurred, for with the arrival on thescene of the British Grand Fleet, the German main squadrons turned andretired to the southward. Sir John Jellicoe chased at full speed; and,as he says in his despatch, 'the enemy's tactics were of a naturegenerally to avoid further action,' while he refers to his own ships asthe 'following' or 'chasing' fleet. Moreover, in the engagements whichensued, the enemy were favoured by the weather, for banks of heavy mistand smoke-clouds from the hostile destroyers reduced the visibility tosix miles or less, and periodically screened the opponents from eachother's view.

The fighting between the opposing battleships, which began atsix-seventeen P.M., seems to have resolved itself into aseries of ship to ship and squadron to squadron encounters rather thana formal fleet action; but, while our vessels remained in theirorganised divisions throughout, the enemy, soon after the fight began,seem to have become more or less scattered, and to have had a trail ofinjured ships struggling along in rear of their main body.

A hostile vessel would suddenly loom up out of the haze a bare eight orten thousand yards distant, to be greeted with salvo after salvo ofshell as the British battleships drove by. She would reply to the bestof her ability; but, whereas our vessels had just come into action, andtheir shooting was very accurate, the German firing was not good, andhad little or no result. Ship after ship of the enemy appeared throughthe murk to be fired at heavily for three, four, or five minutes, thento disappear in the haze, badly hammered and perhaps on fire.

To give some idea of what took place during this period it is advisableto quote largely from the official despatches of Sir John Jellicoe andSir David Beatty. There was the battleship Marlborough, which,with the First Battle-Squadron, came into action with the retiringenemy at six-seventeen P.M. at a range of eleven thousandyards. She first fired seven rapid salvos at a German vessel of theKaiser class, then engaged a cruiser, and again a battleship,doing them all serious injury. At six-fifty-four she was struck by atorpedo, the only one which took effect out of the many fired by thehostile destroyers; but, though damaged and with a considerable list tostarboard, she remained in the line, and opened fire again at a cruiserat seven-three P.M. Nine minutes later she started to firefourteen rapid salvos at another battleship, hitting her badly andforcing her out of the line. Her firing throughout was most effectiveand accurate, and this in spite of the injury caused by the underwaterexplosion of the torpedo.

The First Battle-Squadron closed the range to nine thousand yards, andwrought great havoc with its fire, but only one of its vessels, theColossus, was struck, despite the hail of shell from the enemy.

The Second Battle-Squadron was in action with other German battleshipsbetween six-thirty and seven-twenty P.M., and also with abattle-cruiser which had dropped astern seriously injured; while theFourth Battle-Squadron, with which was Sir John Jellicoe's flagship theIron Duke, engaged two battleships, as well as battle-cruisers,cruisers, and light cruisers. The vessels of the Fourth Light-CruiserSquadron remained ahead of the British battleships until seven-twentyP.M., when they moved out to counter the attack of hostiledestroyers, and successfully drove them off. They did it again an hourlater, in company with the Eleventh Destroyer Flotilla, and came undera heavy fire from the enemy's battleships at ranges of between sixthousand five hundred and eight thousand yards. It was then that theCalliope, flying the broad pendant of Commodore Le Mesurier, wash*t several times, and suffered casualties, but luckily escaped seriousinjury. In the course of these attacks torpedoes were fired at the foe,while four hostile destroyers were sunk by the British fire.

At seven-fourteen Sir David Beatty, who, with his battle-cruisers, wasapparently separated from Sir John Jellicoe, sighted twobattle-cruisers and two battleships in the mist. He promptly engagedthem, and, setting one on fire, so damaged another that she was forcedto haul out of the line. The enemy's destroyers thereupon emitted densevolumes of gray smoke, under cover of which the enemy turned away anddisappeared.

But they were very soon relocated by the British light cruisers actingas scouts, and between eight-twenty and eight-thirty-eightP.M. Sir David was once more in action at ten thousandyards. During this period the Lion forced one of the enemy,badly on fire and with a heavy list to port, out of the line; thePrincess Royal set fire to a three-funnelled battleship; and theNew Zealand and the Indomitable caused another vessel toleave the line heeling over and blazing furiously. The enemy thendisappeared in the mist and were no more seen.

These various semi-isolated actions, and particularly the performanceof the Marlborough, which fired at no fewer than five differentships between six-seventeen and seven-twelve, show only too well howthe mist aided the foe; but in spite of it, the enemy was badly beaten,and suffered far greater casualties than the British.

At nine P.M. darkness was rapidly approaching, and at aboutthis time the British heavy forces retired temporarily from theimmediate neighbourhood to avoid hostile destroyer attacks, remaining,however, in positions between the enemy and his base from which thebattle could be renewed at daylight. At the same time the lightcruisers and destroyers were ordered in to do what damage they could.

To those in certain of the destroyers which were present during thelatter part of the afternoon and evening, and happened to be unengaged,the sensation was a most uncanny one. Their area of vision was boundedby a narrow circle of four or five miles radius, but all round themuntil nightfall the air resounded and shook with the distant rumble andthe nearer thudding of heavy guns as the great ships engaged eachother. The uproar never ceased. Fighting seemed to be furious andcontinuous; but though the vessels of the Mariner's flotillawere steaming to the southward with their guns ready and torpedo-tubesmanned, it was not until after darkness had fallen that they werevouchsafed another chance of using them. But they saw many signs of thebattle. At one moment they would catch a glimpse of a huge Britishbattleship vomiting flame and smoke as she engaged some invisibleopponent. She would fade away in the mist, to be followed presently bya fleeting vision of two light cruisers, one British and the otherGerman, their sides a quivering spangle of gun-flashes as they mutuallyhammered each other. They also would disappear, swallowed up in thehaze; and a British destroyer, steaming at full speed, would dashacross the horizon on some errand of destruction, with smoke pouringfrom her funnels and an immense white wave piled up in her wake.

They passed the bows of a sunken enemy light cruiser standing up out ofthe sea like some gigantic spearhead; and once, just before dark, theysighted what remained of a sorely wounded German cruiser. She wassinking fast. Her guns were silent, and she lay over to an alarmingangle, with a blaze of orange and cherry-coloured flame leaping andplaying about her from end to end. The whole interior of the ship musthave been a raging furnace; and a mushroom-shaped pall of dark smoke,its under-side stained a vivid carmine by the flames, hung over herlike a canopy, and added its contribution to the thickness of theatmosphere. The sea was strewn with wreckage, masses of débris, andfloating corpses wearing life-belts.

And so the night came.

IV.

'And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons.'—Jeremiah xxii. 7.

The fighting and the destroyer attacks of the night are even moredifficult to follow than the actions which took place during theafternoon and evening. The British heavy squadrons had withdrawn atdark to avoid the expected torpedo attacks of the hostile flotillas,and the retreating enemy, meanwhile, damaged and undamaged ships, somesingly, others in pairs or in groups of four or five, still steamedhard for their own waters. It was upon these scattered units anddivisions that the British destroyer attacks presently took place.

The Mariner and her next ahead had somehow become separated fromthe others after dark, and to Pincher this desperate rush after theenemy was an awesome business. Owing to the mist and the haze the nightwas unusually dark; but though with the retirement of the larger shipsthe incessant booming and thudding of the heavy guns ceased, frequentoutbursts of fire from lighter weapons, sharp, blinding flashes offlame, the redder glare of exploding shell, the white gleam ofsearchlights, and the occasional thud of a distant, heavy explosionshowed where torpedo attacks were being delivered. The night was aninferno.

It was very difficult to tell which were the attackers and which theattacked, and it was this very uncertainty, and the not knowing whatwas happening, which were so trying to the nerves. All they were awareof was that the German fleet, with many of its ships badly battered,was somewhere ahead of them. They all realised that a torpedo attackafter dark was a desperate game at the best of times; but they hadwitnessed a succession of such awful scenes during the fighting of theafternoon and evening that their feelings of personal danger and thedread of being killed seemed to have gone. They felt themselves keyedup to the highest pitch of excitement, excitement so intense and soutterly abnormal that they had neither the time nor the inclination tothink of themselves and their own danger. The German fleet wassomewhere in the darkness ahead of them, and it was their duty to sinkand destroy what they could. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Their chance was not very long in coming. The two destroyers weresteering on a south-south-westerly course at twenty-five knots, andshortly after ten o'clock a band of lighter colour began slowly toencroach on the dark sky on the eastern horizon. Ten minutes later thedense blackness from about south-east to north-east had given way tothe usual indigo blue of the night; and there, some distance abaft theport beam, and dimly silhouetted against the sky, were the blurredshapes of two vessels. They were fully two miles distant, perhaps more,and seemed to be steaming slowly on much the same course as theMariner and her consort. What class of vessel they were it wasquite impossible to determine. But, from their position and course,they were certainly not British; while, from the background ofintensely dark cloud to the south-westward, it seemed unlikely thatthey had seen the destroyers.

The Mariner's next ahead must have seen the ships at much thesame time, for she suddenly increased speed and turned slightly to portuntil she was steaming across the strangers' bows. The Marinerconformed to her movements.

Wooten, gazing through his glasses, felt himself quivering withexcitement. Had his chance come, the chance for which they had allhoped and prayed? He gave some order over his shoulder to a man at avoice-pipe, who passed it to the torpedo-tubes. 'Lord!' he ejacul*tedto the first lieutenant, still busy with his binoculars, 'they look tome like two lame ducks, No. 1; but they're big ships, whatever theyare.'

'I sincerely hope they are, sir,' MacDonald replied calmly. 'It's timewe had a look in at something. Shall I go down to the tubes?'

Pincher Martin, O.D., by H. Taprell—A Project GutenbergeBook (8)

The dark hulls of the enemy were hidden in the blinding glare of their searchlights.

Page 333.

'Yes, do. And fire when your sights come on if you get no furtherorders. For God's sake, don't miss!'

The two great vessels were drawing rapidly nearer, and became more andmore distinct. The leading destroyer was still altering her coursegradually to port, until at last she remained steady on the oppositeand parallel course to the enemy. The Mariner travelled in herwake, and the track they were following seemed as if it would take thempast the ships, now nearly a mile and a half distant, at a range ofabout six hundred yards.

It was at this moment that the enemy first seemed to realise what washappening, for a gun suddenly boomed out from the leading vessel and ashell went screeching by overhead. Where it fell nobody saw. Almostinstantaneously a searchlight flickered out, and after sweeping slowlyacross the water, fell full on the Mariner's leader and remainedsteady. Another beam shone out, another, and yet a fourth, until bothdestroyers were illuminated in a dazzling glare which for the momentblinded everybody on board. Then the guns started in in earnest.

The destroyers were steaming at about thirty knots, and the enemy atten or twelve. In other words, attackers and attacked were nearing eachother at the combined rate of about forty knots, or one and a halfmiles in two minutes fifteen seconds. It was the longest and mosttrying two and a quarter minutes that Wooten or any of his crew hadever experienced, for, though the speed of the approach tended to makeaccurate shooting difficult, the difficulty was largely mitigated bythe point-blank range.

The dark hulls of the enemy were hidden in the blinding glare of theirsearchlights and the incessant sparkle and spurting of bright goldenflame as their guns were fired as fast as they could be loaded. Filmystreamers of smoke from the discharges wreathed and eddiedfantastically through the blue-white rays of the lights. The airsuddenly began to reverberate with a succession of ear-splittingcrashes, the screeching whistle of shell passing overhead, and the dullplop of others as they pitched in the water to raise theirshimmering, ghostly spray fountains. There came the roaring thud of theexplosions, and the same old familiar humming and buzzing as fragmentsdrove through the air. But above the din and turmoil of the firingthere was another and quite new noise: a short, sharp,metallic-sounding explosion in the air, followed by a hissing andsoughing like the wind among trees—the enemy were using shrapnel.

There came a crash, and a sheet of brilliant greenish flame from aft.The ship seemed to wince, but still drove on. Another shell, burstingon the water a few feet short, sent its jagged splinters flying overthe bridge and across the upper deck. Something whizzed within a fewinches of Wooten's head, and there was an infernal clanging andclattering as slivers of steel drove through and against the ship'sside and funnels. It was followed by the thud of a falling body, as oneof the signalmen, standing just behind the coxswain at the wheel,slithered to the deck.

'Gawd!' he muttered, with an air of intense astonishment, sitting upand nursing his side; 'they've 'it me! Gawd blimy, blokes, they've 'itme?' But nobody had time to pay attention to him.

Another jar, the roar of a detonation, a burst of flame from theforecastle, and a whining and whirring of splinters! Another, closebeside the foremost funnel, and a sound of splintering and crashing assome object fell and went overboard! Something red-hot and sharp grazedWooten's cheek. He put up his hand to brush it aside, and his fingerscame down sticky and wet.

A hideous metallic explosion in the air and a fiendish rattling ofbullets upon steel, as a shrapnel burst and sent its contents flying onboard. Willis, the coxswain, hit through the left shoulder, releasedhis hold on the wheel and fell to his knees; but in an instant he wasup again, steering the ship with his uninjured right hand.

Wooten suddenly felt a burning sensation in his left arm as if ared-hot knitting-needle had been passed through the flesh. The shock ofit sent him staggering backwards, and he gritted his teeth with thepain. His left arm seemed numbed and useless, and a little trickle ofblood ran down inside his coat-sleeve and pattered to the deck. The airwas full of the sickening stench of explosives.

They were very close now. The enemy seemed to be nearly on top of them,and their huge blurred shapes, almost invisible in the glare of thesearchlights and the vivid gun-flashes, seemed literally to obscure thehorizon. But the destroyers still drove on. They had not been stopped.

The lights of the nearer ship suddenly went out, and a column of waterand smoke shot into the air at her side. It hung there for a moment,glistening in the ruby and orange flashes of the guns, and then therecame the thundering reverberation of a heavy underwater explosion quiteclose at hand. It seemed to compress the air, and caused the destroyersto stagger in their stride. A torpedo from the leading destroyer hadgone home.

Wooten instinctively looked aft, and as he did so a little puff of dullflame flickered out amidships. It was followed by a loud, snorting hissand a heavy splash as a torpedo left its tube. Another came almostinstantaneously with the first.

The enemy's fire, though still furious, became very wild; and twominutes later, with the sound of a couple more thudding explosionsringing in their ears, the destroyers were out of danger. The roaringof the guns gradually died away, and then ceased altogether.

'Good God!' muttered Wooten, trembling in his excitement.

Daylight found the Mariner and her leader some distance acrossthe North Sea, steaming slowly homewards. They were battered andleaking, while the Mariner was badly down by the stern andlisted slightly to starboard. Her funnels were riddled through andthrough; there were gaping holes in her side and her deck where shellhad penetrated, and many smaller punctures where splinters had struckand gone through. A large projectile, bursting on the forecastle, hadtorn the deck and the ship's side, and had flung the foremost gun offits mounting, killing or wounding every member of the gun's crew exceptone. The wardroom and one mess-deck were open to the sea; boats weresplintered and useless; and the topmast, taking with it the aerial ofthe wireless telegraphy, had been shorn off and had gone overboard. Themizzen-mast also had disappeared, and a brand-new white ensign nowfluttered from an improvised flagstaff in the stern. It was the onlyrespectable-looking thing in the ship.

But the surprising thing was that neither vessel was vitally injured.They could both steam, though slowly, and by dint of plugging the moreserious holes and keeping the pumps going, they were still tolerablyseaworthy. How they had escaped from the inferno without being blownclean out of the water was nothing short of a miracle.

Casualties had been heavy. Wooten went about with his arm in a slingand a bandage round his head; but his hurts, though painful, were notsufficiently severe to incapacitate him for duty. The first lieutenanthad not been so lucky, for he, peppered badly by a shell, had beenconfined to his bunk with more serious injuries.

The eight dead had been buried at dawn, and now the wounded lay intheir hammocks on the battered mess-deck under the forecastle. Some ofthe slighter cases, with their hurts bandaged, were smoking cigarettesand talking quite cheerfully; others were asleep.

Pincher Martin was one of them. He had three neat littlesplinter-wounds in his back—three insignificant-looking and triviallittle punctures which caused Brown, the surgeon-probationer, to pursehis lips and to frown in his most professional manner when first he sawthem. 'D'you feel any pain?' he had asked.

'Not unless I moves, sir,' the patient had answered with a wan smile,his tightly compressed lips giving the lie to his words.

An operation was impossible, and they dressed the wounds as best theycould and made him comfortable; but the slivers of steel somewhereinside him hurt atrociously, and it was all he could do to refrain frommoaning when they touched him. So Brown, seeing how things stood, dozedhim with morphia, and poor Pincher, with his young face unnaturallyhaggard, drawn, and very white, was presently slumbering as peacefullyas a child.

CHAPTER XVIII.

CONCLUSION.

I.

'Am safe,' the telegram said tersely, in Billings's ungrammaticalEnglish. 'Martin wounded, progressing favourable.—Joshua.'

Mrs Billings, drying her eyes with a handkerchief, read it for thethird time. 'Emmeline!' she called softly, going to the door of thesitting-room at the back of the shop.

'Yes, mother.'

'There's news, my gal!'

'News!' cried her daughter, darting forward.

The elder woman sniffed loudly and held out the flimsy paper. 'Readthat, my dear.'

The girl snatched it in her agitation. 'Martin wounded, progressingfavourable,' she read slowly. 'My Bill wounded!' She stood there for amoment wide-eyed and swaying ominously. Then her pent-up feelingsovercame her, and, collapsing suddenly on to a chair, she fell forwardwith her head on the table and her face buried in her hands. Her wholebody shook with sobs.

Her mother was at her side in an instant. 'There, there, my pretty,'she murmured consolingly, patting her daughter on the shoulder; 'don'ttake on so. Don't cry, my gal. He's only wounded.' She was cryingherself.

But Emmeline refused to be comforted. 'My Bill's wounded!' she moanedagain and again.

Mrs Billings leant down and put her arms round the girl's neck. 'Don'ttake on so, dear,' she said huskily, with the tears streaming down herown face; 'it's all right, my pet. There, there,' as Emmeline shookwith another paroxysm of sobbing, 'don't fret; it's all right; he'sonly wounded. We've—b-both got a—deal to be thankful for.'

Mother and daughter wept together.

For the last forty-eight hours they had both been living in a state ofawful suspense. First had come the tidings of the engagement in theNorth Sea, with the depressing information that the British losses hadbeen very heavy. Then came the news that eight destroyers had beensunk; but no mention of the Mariner. They had no means offinding out whether or not she had even taken part in the battle; butboth of them, with dismal forebodings in their hearts, had made uptheir minds for the worst.

All day and all night the two women had prayed and hoped. The agony oftheir suspense was almost more than they could bear, and their heartsnearly broke during that frightful period of waiting. Emmeline,pale-faced and red-eyed, went to the railway station twice a day toprocure the earliest copies of the morning and evening newspapers.Together they had read them eagerly, trying to piece together some sortof a connected narrative to relieve their tortured minds. But stillthere was nothing about the Mariner. They read about thedesperate destroyer attacks on the German fleet, and of the lossesincurred by the British flotillas. They could not bring themselves tobelieve that 'no news was good news.'

Emmeline looked up with the tears still trickling down her face, andreaching for her handkerchief, proceeded to dab her eyes. 'I'm a fool,'she said, sniffing; 'I suppose I ought to be thankful he isn't killed.'

Her mother kissed her gently. 'There, there, my dear,' she said softly;'that's better. Be brave. It's all over now.'

The girl dried her eyes, rose from her chair, and walked slowly acrossto the mirror over the mantelpiece. 'Lor'!' she said bravely, a littlesmile hovering round the corners of her quivering mouth; 'I do look asight, and no mistake!'

II.

When the Mariner struggled home to her east coast port after theengagement, Martin was one of the first to be packed off to the localhospital. Then had followed an operation, and a fortnight's delaybefore he was sufficiently recovered to be sent to the Royal NavalHospital at Haslar. It was here that he again saw his mother andfather, who came down for the day, called him a brave boy, andinconsiderately wept over him through sheer thankfulness.

Then, at four o'clock on one never-to-be-forgotten afternoon, JoshuaBillings suddenly appeared. He was grinning sheepishly, and Pinchernoticed at once that he wore the badge of a leading seaman.

''Allo, Josh!' he exclaimed, very much pleased to see him, and shakinghis horny hand; ''ow goes it?'

'Orl right, Pinch. 'Ow's yerself?'

'Gittin' along fine, chum. They're sendin' me 'ome on leaf in fourdays. Wot's th' noos; an' wot's that?' Pincher pointed to the singleanchor which adorned the sleeve of his friend's jumper.

Joshua looked solemn. 'I gits rated up ten days ago,' he explained;'death vacancy. Poor ole Byles got laid out, yer remember. I'd sooner'e wus still wearin' th' killick, poor bloke!' He spoke huskily.

Pincher nodded. 'Wot are yer doin' 'ere?' he asked.

'The ship's in dock, an' they gave us ten days' leaf,' answered hisfriend. 'By the way,' he added, 'I suppose you 'eard as 'ow you'd binrated up.'

'Wot?'

'They've made yer an A.B.'

'S'welp me!' Pincher ejacul*ted; ''ave they?'

'Yus, they 'ave, Pinch; an' if yer don't watch it we'll see yer aleadin' seaman afore long.'

'Yer didn't come 'ere a purpose ter tell me that, did yer?' Martinqueried suspiciously.

''Ow d'yer mean?'

''Ow's Hemmeline an' Mrs Fig—— yer ole woman? I've 'ad a letter fromHemmeline every day 'cept yesterday an' ter-day, an' I thought——'Ere!' Pincher suddenly blurted out, a vague hope dawning in his heart,'why ain't you on leaf at Weymouth?'

'We come round 'ere ter give yer a chuck up, Pincher.'

'We! 'Oo d'yer mean? 'Er an' 'er mother?'

'Yus. They're outside. I come in fu'st to prepare yer like.'

'W'y couldn't yer 'ave said so afore?' Pincher demanded wrathfully.'Bring 'er in!'

'Orl right, ole son; don't go gittin' rattled abart it. Me an' mymissis'll go an' see Dogo Pearson, wot's wounded an' in another ward.I'll tell Hemmeline as 'ow you'd like ter see 'er, an' me an' themissis'll be back afore long.' Joshua winked twice and went away.

Two minutes later Emmeline was sitting by Pincher's bed. Her eyes werefull of tears, tears of happiness, and to Pincher she was the mostadorable thing in the world.

'Oh Hemmeline!' he sighed huskily, his throat working and his fingersclutching her hand. 'Oh Hemmeline!'

'Well, Bill, what's the matter?' she asked dreamily, turning her headand smiling at him through her long lashes.

''Ow I love you!'

'Silly boy!' she chided softly.

We will draw a veil over what happened next. The ward was a very publicplace; but the other patients discreetly turned their heads away andpretended not to see.

Mr and Mrs Joshua Billings were away for fully half-an-hour. ToEmmeline and Pincher it seemed more like five minutes.

III.

The wedding, a month later, was a very quiet one.


THE END.


Edinburgh: Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.

Footnotes

[1]
'The Straits' = the Mediterranean.
[2]
'In the rattle' = in trouble.
[3]
O.D. = the slang term for 'ordinary seaman.' 'O.S.' is oneofficial naval contraction, and 'Ord.' another. 'O.D.' is derived fromthe latter, in the same way as an able seaman is known as an 'A.B.'
[4]
The term 'matlo,' derived from the French for 'sailor,' isalways used by bluejackets in referring to themselves.
[5]
E.R.A. = engine-room artificer.
[6]
A 'killick' is an anchor, which is the badge worn by aleading seaman. 'Dipping the killick' means that the badge is removed,and that its wearer has been disrated to A.B.
[7]
'Pompey' is the naval slang term for Portsmouth.
[8]
Men serving in destroyers receive sixpence a day extrapay. It is known as 'hard-lying money.'
[9]
K.H.B. = King's hard bargain, a term used in connectionwith a man who is an undesirable character.
[10]
The commanding officer of a man-of-war is frequentlyreferred to as 'the owner,' or 'the old man.'
[11]
Weighed anchor.
[12]
A fraction of a knot.
[13]
A 'godown' is a warehouse.
[14]
'Snotty' is the naval slang term for midshipman.
[15]
Assistant-paymaster.
[16]
Going on the 'razzle' = going on the spree.
[17]
To 'part brassrags' is to sever friendly intercourse witha chum. Chums frequently use one another's rags in polishing thebrasswork of the ship; when they quarrel they naturally cease to dothis.
[18]
'Tickler' is a derogatory term for an ordinary seaman.
[19]
A ship's steward's assistant is always known as a 'dustyboy.'
[20]
M.A.A., master-at-arms.
[21]
No. 10 = a particular form of punishment.
[22]
Paymaster.
[23]
'Chawing the fat' = spinning a yarn.
[24]
'Tin 'ats' = drunk.
[25]
A 'killick' is an anchor, and a petty officer wearscrossed anchors as his distinctive badge.
[26]
'P.Z. Exercises'—that is, mock actions, fought betweentwo opposing squadrons; so called from the two-flag signal directingthe fleet to carry out these manœuvres.
[27]
'The Bloke' = the commander. 'Jimmy the One' = the firstlieutenant.
[28]
The ship's company of a ship hailing from Devonport areknown as 'Duffos' to the men of ships with Portsmouth and Chathamcrews. A 'duff' is a pudding, and the term probably originated onaccount of the west-countrymen's supposed liking for that comestible.
[29]
Most ships, even those carrying proper musicians, have ahome-made band formed by the men themselves. It always goes by the nameof the 'squeegee band,' though why I cannot say.
[30]
'Fanny,' the receptacle from which a bluejacket drinks hisrum.
[31]
'Lammy coats,' the name given by the men to the thickduffel coats with hoods served out in cold weather. They are fastenedwith toggles and beckets instead of buttons and button-holes.
[32]
When a ship is abandoned a certain amount of water,biscuit, and rum is placed in all the boats.
[33]
A coast or a shoal is said to be 'steep to' whencomparatively deep water extends right up to its seaward edge. Thelead, therefore, gives little indication of a ship's proximity todanger.
[34]
Oil-fuel supply ship.
[35]
'Make and mend' = an afternoon set apart for making andmending clothes—that is, a half-holiday.
[36]
'Our boss,' the commodore in command of the force to whichthe Mariner was attached.
[37]
A tracer shell for use against aircraft has a small cavityin its base filled with composition which is ignited when the gunfires. It emits a thin trail of smoke in the daytime and a luminoustrack at night, so that the gunners are able to see where theirprojectiles are going.
[38]
That is, those destroyers attached to Sir David Beatty'ssquadron.
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