Without Benefit of Anything
Wherein one of the navy’s spit-and-polish expert’s makes a serious misjudgment of his man
FREDERICK B. WATT
THE lieutenant-commander surveyed the motley collection of merchant skippers who filled his cabin. There was ill-disguised contempt in his eyes, the contempt of a strait-laced permanent-service officer for men of the sea who seldom insisted on “sir” from their sailors and who were prone to wear smudged cap-covers. Looking over the rabble he decided that there were possibly two with whom he, would be seen on the street. The other nineteen were impossible; as slovenly a collection of Allied and neutral captains as he could wish to avoid.
“Now,” he said in his crisp, impersonal voice, “you’ve all seen your positions on my chart of the convoy. I want you to keep them. Remember that anyone who lags or steers all over the lot will throiv the whole group out of order. If you don’t stick to orders I’ll not be responsible for anyone who is torpedoed.”
An interpreter carried his message to a couple of skippers who had no mastery of English. There followed a buzzing of sea jargon. Very few of the captains had taken well to the convoy system, being confirmed lone wolves for the most part, and they would gladly have given up any additional safety the scheme offered to possess freedom of movement once again. What the devil use was it having a craft that could make two' knots more than a serious competitor, if one had to order his speed by the slowest tub in the outfit?
“Look here, Mr. D’Arcy,” protested one particularly disreputable skipper, “couldn’t you give me a place on the outside? It’s a devil of a job getting decent quartermasters these days, and mine are pretty poor. Engines a bit balky, too. It’s bad enough having to sail with a mess of ships, at all, without being wedged in the middle where I’m liable to gum up the show if I can’t keep my place. Let me take Captain Halcro’s place in the starboard line. He deserves a place on the inside, being a neutral.”
Halcro, who spoke no English, glanced up uneasily at hearing his name mentioned.
“Not a chance, Captain—” began the lieutenantcommander, glancing at the list of ships before him to ascertain the speaker’s name.
“Mudge, Captain Mudge,” offered the frowsy seaman.
“It can’t be done, Mr. Mudge,” continued D’Arcy, stressing the ‘Mister.’ “The plan is made out, and if I start making changes in it I’ll have the lot of you down on me like a pack of wild animals. You have your position and I’ll thank you to keep it. What’s more, I don’t want any lagging and complaints about sick engines. I’ve been on this job a long time and I know when a ship is trying to go easy on coal.. If this was done right there’d be a naval officer aboard each ship to show you a thing or two on station-keeping.”
His glance, as he spoke, was antagonistic. Mudge was quite obviously everything that D’Arcy disliked. He hadn’t shaved that morning—nor the morning before. No excuse for that at sea, much less in harbor. His cap looked like an old sock with a battered visor, hanging precariously to the front of it. His large muffler was an atrocity, like a revolutionary banner. He hadn’t even had the decency to climb out of his seaboots for the conference. Yet, despite his careless appearance, there was an air of smug confidence about him that annoyed the naval officer immensely, especially when he answered: “Well, I’ll do my best, but if things get tangled up don’t blame me. Rule of thumb can be worked with battleships, perhaps, but this is a different matter.”
“D’Arcy reddened slightly.
“Perhaps you’d like to take charge, Mr. Mudge?” he suggested unpleasantly. “Far from appreciating the protection we give you,, you act as though you were being imposed upon. However, this is getting us nowhere. We sail at seven.”
The skippers began to file out, still talking in undertones among themselves. It got under the naval officer’s skin. Whether or not they were being uncomplimentary to him, he gave them credit for it. Nor was his temper improved when the stubborn Mudge fellow approached him again.
“And you won’t change your mind and give me Halcro’s berth?” the merchantman demanded.
“No, blast your insistent soul,” barked D’Arcy. “How many times do you have to be told a thing? I’ve half a mind to complain to your owners. You’re more trouble than a whole convoy. How in blazes did you ever get a command?”
“I’ve probably been at sea longer than you,” came the complacent reply.
“So has my servant,” snapped the commander.
“And he probably knows things that you don’t,” contributed Mudge, a trifle sharply.
“I don’t want any cheek,” gritted D’Arcy, his voice trembling with anger. “I’d be very happy to have you in the navy for a day or two, Mr. Mudge. There, is a good deal you should learn. Good day to you. A pleasant voyage—and kindly keep your position in the formation.”
The last was not put in the form of an invitation.
THE broad back of Mudge had scarcely disappeared through the door when D’Arcy called for his first lieutenant.
“Look here, Sparks,” he shot, “do you recall a tub called the Petalia in any of the convoys we’ve taken? Look it up in the log.”
“I can answer you without checking the matter,” said Sparks promptly. “We’ve never convoyed her as long as I’ve been with you, but I remember her well enough from my last ship. She gave us no end of trouble. Broke down in the night, and wasn’t missed until the morning. There was a pretty stink about it, until a cruiser sighted her and eased our fears. I don’t think the fool had any engine trouble at all. Just wanted to get away from the convoy and barge about on his own.” A line of worry appeared between D’Arcy’s eyes and a low whistle escaped him.
“By Gad, I knew there was something fishy about him,” he muttered. “I don’t like the look of things at all, at all. It isn’t impossible that he has a very good reason for wanting that Scandinavian’s position in the convoy. You see, I’ve used the old bean a bit in putting Halcro where he is. Abeam of him, and in the centre of the convoy will be the Whitherington, chock full of munitions. That’s the one ship we can’t afford to lose, and there’s less chance of a fish coming her way with a neutral on her beam than there would be with an Allied ship protecting her. I may be prejudiced against this Mudge bounder, but I wouldn’t put it past him to be out for trouble. There were half a dozen other outside positions, and yet the one he insisted upon was the one where he could shadow the Whitherington.” “Lord, what a mess it’d be if the munition boat was to get it in the hold,” exclaimed the first lieutenant. “Judging by what happened when the Mont Blanc went up at Halifax it’d bash the whole convoy badly.” Sparks’ words didn’t cheer up the commander in the least. For some moments he sat in silence, staring straight ahead as the picture of possible devastation unfolded itself before him. When he spoke there was a sharp edge to his voice.
“It’s going to work a hardship aboard here with the watchkeepers,” he said, “but I’ve got to do it. You’re going aboard the Petalia tonight, Sparks, and you’re going to stay there until the Whitherington docks. You’ll see to it that Mudge cuts no monkey-shines. I can’t believe that he’s in the pay of the enemy, but I won’t have any peace of mind while he’s unwatched. If anything suspicious happens don’t hesitate to signal me. It will go mighty hard with Lieutenant-Commander D’Arcy if anything should touch that cargo of explosives. The ruddy boat should really have an individual convoy.”
Fifteen minutes later Sparks reported he was about to transfer to the Petalia.
“One last word,” warned the commander. “Don’t let Mudge get his head. Even if he’s harmless—which I hope to heaven he is—he needs to be kept in his place. He’s the most obnoxious type of merchant skipper afloat, and he’d give his soul to put anything over -on the likes of us.”
“Trust me, sir,” replied Sparks.
THE first lieutenant was not entirely charmed with his job as the destroyer’s whaleboat carried him to the rusty side of the Petalia. Of about 4,000 tons, the tramp showed signs of the wear and tear of years.
“Looks as though they painted her to celebrate the end of the Spanish-American war and then lost the brush,” Sparks remarked to his coxswain. “Probably crawling, too, if she’s as dirty inside as out. The department of public health should subsidize the Germans to dispose of such craft.”
The Petalia was fully loaded with a lumber cargo and there was little activity aboard her. A knot of lounging sailors in the forward well-deck regarded the whaleboat’s approach with lazy amusement. Sparks circled the tramp, searching for a means of coming aboard, but the bare flanks of the ship offered him no encouragement.
“Ahoy,” he yelled testily to the group of deckhands. “Drop me a ladder, will you?”
One of the men regarded him casually, spat thoughtfully in the ocean and remarked, “You were wanting to come aboard like?”
“What the devil d’you think I’m waiting here for?” fumed the lieutenant. “Snap to it, now.”
“I’ll tell the mate,” was the only satisfaction he received.
In due course a bronze-faced young man appeared on the bridge. He was wearing a uniform cap of sorts and carried himself with an air of authority. He glanced down at the whaler and its impatient occupant without an indication of undue excitement.
“You were wanting to come aboard, eh?” he drawled.
“That’s the general idea,” spat Sparks sarcastically, “though it seems to take a long time sinking into your thick skulls. I want a ladder, please, and smart’s the word.”
“I’ll tell the skipper,” the mate informed him, disappearing from view.
For some seconds the man in the whaleboat danced with rage, consigning all merchant seamen to the last fiery harbor. It was a new experience for him, after a life in which everything was done at the double and an officer’s words never questioned. Nor was his temper improved by the further long wait he was forced to endure before the bristly, ruddy face of Captain Mudge beamed down amusedly at him from the bridge.
“You were wanting to come aboard, eh?” suggested Mudge.
“Not a bit of it,” snarled Sparks. “I’m just drifting around down here admiring your ocean greyhound.”
“I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that,” admitted the skipper, as though taking the sarcasm literally. “Have a good look. Good day to you.”
Again the canvas dodger on the bridge hid him. A cold sweat rising from a combination of rage and uneasiness broke on Sparks’ brow. It looked as though he was going to be forced to return to the destroyer without having set foot on the Petalia’s deck. A fine laughing-stock he’d be if the exchange of courtesies between Mudge and himself was repeated to D’Arcy, especially after he had been warned to handle the skipper firmly.
“Captain Mudge, ahoy,” he bellowed desperately, rising to his feet.
The hail brought no response. He shouted again with renewed vigor, much to the amusement of the deckhands on the rail. This time Mudge reappeared, annoyance on his weather-beaten features.
“Well?” he demanded sharply.
“I have a message for you from the captain of the convoy,” stated the lieutenant hurriedly.
“Why couldn’t you have said that in the first place?” growled Mudge, “I thought the navy believed in doing things smartly, without beating about the bush. Drop him a ladder, Stevens.”
A Jacob’s ladder uncoiled itself down the tramp’s side and Sparks, decidedly ill at ease, clambered aboard. He had anticipated Mudge meeting him at the head of the gangway, but the latter stood very much on his dignity, and the officer was compelled to climb to the bridge before an audience was obtained. By this time his anger had mounted again, and his temporary nervousness had left him.
“I have never been treated with such discourtesy,” he burst out.
“It strikes me a little more of it would do you good,” hit back the skipper. “Stop wasting time, though.”
Sparks was badly taken aback. Mudge was on the offensive rather than being apologetic. True, he was just a dirty old merchant skipper, but there was all the iron of an efficient commander beneath his untidy exterior. It takes a brave man to stand up to a captain on his own bridge, no matter how humble that captain is.
“Lieutenant Commander D’Arcy has ordered me aboard here for the trip to make certain you keep your station,” the officer said, almost with an air of respect. “Here are the written orders.” -
Sparks had anticipated an angry outburst from Mudge but he was doomed to disappointment. The merchantman’s expression underwent no change, though it seemed that his eyes twinkled slightly as he read the communication from D’Arcy.
“I apparently got on your skipper’s nerves,” he chuckled. “What does he suspect me of? In any case he’s acting very foolishly. I really didn’t want to cause him trouble. Here, look over my ship’s papers—as carefully as you please—then toddle back to your proper place. You can do no good here and they’ll be short a watchkeeper on the destroyer with you away.” The sudden change in Mudge’s manner, from annoyed hostility to fatherly interest, left Sparks very much on the alert. He derived considerable comfort from the firm pressure of his service revolver against his leg, where it lay strapped beneath his monkey jacket. Mudge was too good to be true, the smooth old devil, even overlooking his questionable record.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” he said as diplomatically as possible, “but my orders are to remain aboard here until the convoy docks.”
Mudge shrugged his shoulders.
“As you say,” he grunted. “I’m sorry to see you wasting your time, that’s all. There’s an extra bunk in Cherry’s cabin you may have. Try and feel at home.”
SPARKS had a nasty feeling as he went down the bridge ladder that, beneath his bewhiskered, inscrutable features, Mudge was laughing at him. A maddening fellow, whether he was honest or otherwise.
Cherry, the first officer, was better company. Sparks, sizing him up as he was shown to the cabin they were to share, decided that if the young mate had been caught at high-school age he would have provided the makings of a first-class naval man. He even suspected that Cherry looked upon his well-cut uniform with a certain amount of envy. The merchantman was friendly in a frank sort of way, not with the unpleasant undercurrent of sarcasm that marked Mudge’s manner. The only catch to the situation was Sparks’ own shrewd suspicion that a slug on the head, or worse, would be his lot the moment he was caught off his guard.
At supper the other officers of the ship, all of whom were present except the captain and chief engineer, proved to be a rough and ready lot; nothing much to look at but companionable souls. Once again Sparks was struck with the fact that they were inclined to be almost too friendly. He wondered what their attitude would be once the convoy put to sea. Another thing he didn’t much care for was the way they attempted to make him talk of the navy, leading him on continually with their almost eager questions. The lieutenant had a weakness for yarning, as it happened, and spun them a tale about his doings in the service. Just as well to humor them, he figured. He made certain, however, that he told them nothing that would be the least bit useful to the enemy.
The meal concluded, he dived for his cabin, while his new companions strolled unhurriedly to their stations for leaving harbor. Hastily he donned a bridge coat, then opened his haversack and grasped a loaded Very’s pistol, transferring the signal apparatus to his right pocket. His revolver he stuffed in the other.
It was his intention to put his extra wearing apparel into one of the drawers beneath his bunk, but when he pulled on the nob no drawer slid out. Instead the entire front of the chest swung open. The drawers were merely camouflage, paintings on the front of a large-sized locker. A gasp escaped him as he glanced within. His eyes encountered a smallsized arsenal, consisting of a dozen or more rifles in neat racks and other small arms.
He had no time for further investigation. A step sounded outside the cabin and he hurriedly swung the door of the locker shut. None too soon, for a moment later Cherry appeared and announced, “The captain says you might as well come on the bridge. The convoy’s upping anchor.”
“Thank you,” said Sparks with forced carelessness. He ascended the bridge ladder with his hand thrust deep in the pocket that contained his weapon.
On all sides there was activity as anchor chains clanked through a score of hawsepipes. At a signal from D’Arcy’s flagship the mass of shipping started slowly down the broad waters of the estuary toward the sea. For fifteen minutes all wás confusion, but finally, hemmed in by a section of armed trawlers and with two destroyers dashing swiftly yet methodically about, like a brace of intelligent sheepdogs rounding up a wandering herd, the lumbering freighters fell into some semblance of formation.
In leisurely fashion the Petalia dropped into her place. Sparks, one hand tightly gripping the bridge rail, was not called upon to check up on Mudge’s movements. The skipper, if anything, seemed much too expert at station keeping for a man who was supposed to rove the sea at will. While other merchantmen were blundering about in the unfamiliar and nervewracking jam, the captain of the Petalia almost appeared to enjoy himself.
Steaming to her place at the head of the procession, the flagship slid past the tramp within hailing distance. D’Arcy apparently was in no friendlier state of mind for he directed his megaphone at Mudge and shouted. “There’ll be no excuses for you going adrift this trip now that you’ve a seaman aboard.”
The skipper refused to answer verbally. Instead he lifted his hat gallantly to the destroyer, then placidly thumbed his nose at the man with the megaphone. Cherry shook with hilarity. Sparks averted his head and wished he was aboard the warship to hear D’Arcy’s comment. He decided it would go hard with Mudge if he was, at any time, dependent on the destroyer captain’s mercy.
By the time the open sea was achieved dusk had fallen and the Petalia was wedged in the middle of an orderly company of long, dark shadows. Well ahead the cowled sternlight of the flagship appeared, its rays visible only to ships immediately astern. In all the armada it was the only sliver of light to be seen, the other vessels steaming gloomily ahead with darkened scuttles and dosed navigation lamps. The first part of the trip was the most dangerous, and the risk of a collision or two was minor to the risk of a torpedo.
Sparks, gazing apprehensively at the blurred shape of the Whitherington, two ships ahead in the central line, found it impossible to shake the picture that rose constantly before his eyes; the picture of the munitions vessel disappearing in a terrific flash. The explosion of the Mont Blanc at Halifax had killed a thousand people, many of them miles from the actual blast. What a sweet time the convoy would be in for if the Whitherington went!
He noticed, too, that the free-and-easy manner of the men on the Petalia’s bridge had vanished. There was no hint of jocularity. Mudge and his underlings might well have been on a battleship going into action. It was upsetting, damnably so. He wasn’t certain, either, that what he had at first imagined was a Scotch burr in Mudge’s voice wasn’t perhaps, a clever covering up of a gutteral German accent. Then he cursed himself for a nervous fool. Nothing could happen. At the first suspicious movement of anyone he would merely have to send the white fireball from the Very’s pistol into the air, and the watchful D’Arcy would be alongside in a matter of minutes.
Mudge stepped to the engine room voice-pipe and called for ten less revolutions. Then he turned to the quartermaster.
“Port five,’The snapped..
The wheel went over.
“Port five on, sir,” chanted the helmsman.
The air fairly crackled with discipline.
""“Here,” expostulated Sparks, “that’ll take us out of our station. Bring her back or—”
“Port ten,” commanded Mudge, apparently oblivious of the interruption, though the lieutenant had bellowed right in his ear.
Sparks’ hand went to his pocket. So it was dirty work, right enough! As his fingers closed over the Very’s pistol he felt his arms pinned down to his sides by a powerful grip from behind and Cherry’s voice whispered, “Don’t be an ass, Queenie. The joke’s over now and you’re liable to get in the bad books of the owner if you interrupt him when Work's to be done.”
/^YUEENIE ! Sparks could scarcely have >S. been more stunned by a sandbag. Only three or four of his intimates had ever. hailed him by that name. Peril .was forgotten in a surge of amazement.
. “Who the devil are you?” he gasped.
“Barnett’s the name,” answered Cherry lightly. “I shipped with Marsden, your old side-kick a couple of years ago. Recognized you immediately you came aboard from a photo of your handsome mug he had in his cabin. You’re quite a lad, according to Marsden—and yourself.”
Sparks’ face was burning. So it had been to Barnett that he had unloaded his conceit, his masterful knowledge of the navy; Barnett, who had heard as many shells fired in anger as Sparks had in practice. And if this was Barnett it stood to reason that Mudge was Captain Arkley, the almost mythical mysteryship skipper who required an extra seachest to hold his medals. And he, Sparks, had attempted to hand Arkley a dressingdown. It was too big a revelation to be taken quietly. Sparks groaned.
“We had to have our little joke, especially after D’Arcy went so hard after the old man this afternoon,” grinned Barnett. “Rather tough on you, I’ll admit, but it was your bad luck to be D’Arcy’s representative—and you didn’t help matters yourself. Rather laid yourself open to a ragging.”
“I’ll admit it,” Sparks conceded shakily, “but I think the joke might have ended before v/e left harbor.”
: “Couldn’t take the chance,” explained the other. “Bulkheads have ears these days and we don’t even recognize our best friends, especially when there are ships like the Whilherington in the offing. Old D’Arcy thinks that munition ship' is his special charge but—”
/“Barnett,” ripped the man who called himself Captain Mudge.
“Yes, sir,” snapped the mate, jumping to his side.
Sparks was left with his Very’s pistol and his thoughts.
Bit by bit the Petalia was edging over to the starboard flank of the convoy. It was nothing out of the ordinary for a vessel, especially a decrepit tramp such as she was, to find herself dropping behind hér mates. The logical means of avoiding a collision was to slip out of the line she occupied and allow the next ship astern to move up one place. Once out of the line however, the Petalia made no effort to return. Fifteen minutes later, by further systematic dropping back, she was clear of the convoy altogether, a short distance astern and to starboard of the clustered ships.
Here the engines appeared to take a new lease on life, and developed almost surprising speed. Once more the Petalia drew abeam of the last stragglers in the convoy, but made no effort to work toward her old position. Instead she gradually progressed -up the outer fringe
of the ships until, at a certain point; Arkley gave the word to reduce speed to that of the others. Gradually Sparks was able to ascertain their location. Inside, and slightly ahead, was Halcro’s vessel, in the position D’Arcy had denied the Petalia. A dim, bulky shape on Halcro’s port quarter was the Whitherington.
“What’s the mystery?” Sparks demanded of Barnett, who was again available for questioning.
“Just à little precaution,” remarked the other, as though the matter was inconsequential. “We’re determined to cover the Whitherington whether D’Arcy wishes it or not. I imagine he figured he was doing something smart in putting a neutral like Halcro on the weather beam. Apparently he hasn’t heard the ugly rumors about Halcro that we have. You’ll notice the Scandinavian isn’t keeping directly abeam of the Whitherington —he’s always a ship’s length ahead. Well, we’re blocking the hole he’s left through which a fish might slip at. the bang-bang vessel.” '•» " . /
/“Nice job,” said Sparks dryly... '
“You don’t know the half .of it,” grinned Barnett.
M)T until three o’clock in the morning was there any change in the situation, the Petalia maintaining her position without" a noticeable effort. In all that time Arkley had spoken no superfluous word, remaining hunched over the bridge rail like a brooding hawk. He gave no sign of being aware of Sparks’ existence until, suddenly, he tautened and pointed toward Halcro's vessel.. Some careless seaman aboard the neutral had apparently thrown open a shrouded scuttle in the poop and a disc of light showed steadily to starboard.
“Mr. Sparks,” Arkley snapped.
“Sir?” The destroyer man jumped to attention as he had never done before.
“Kindly observe that light,” ordered the erstwhile Captain Mudge with severe courtesy. “I’d like you to tell Mr. D’Arcy about it when you return to your ship.” “Yes, sir,” responded Sparks promptly. “Ruddy carelessness, I call it.” *
“Very probably you would,” purred Arkley sweetly. “Others might not. They might be suspicious devils like myself. They might see a deliberate plan behind the light. What, under ordinary circumstances, would a torpedo hit if it was fired a point astern of that light?” “I imagine it might catch the Whitherington if the Petalia wasn’t blocking the hole,” said' Sparks lo^yly.
“Ah,” chuckled the mystery-ship skipper, “you have signs of intelligence, at that. . Much too good.,a man for D’Arcy. You should be in the navy.” Sparks took his drubbing like a gentleman.
“I would hazard,” continued Arkley a moment later, “that we will be torpedoed within the hour. Kindly keep to the port side of the bridge. I' don’t want you to be killed, for you must return to D’Arcy and tell him, with my compliments, that it might be well to arrest Halcro and his gang when they reach port. He may not be able to prove anything against them, even after what has already hap-' pened and will probably happen tonight, but, then again, he may.”
“The light in itself will convict somebody,” Sparks burst out.
“Not necessarily,” answered the. captain lightly. “You yourself, ascribed it to a careless sailor, and you can’t prosecute a neutral for unwittingly leaving a scuttle open. Oh, they’re smooth, right enough. The only hope will be to discover a bona-fide German or two aboard. Halcro’s a genuine neutral, as far as birth is concerned.”.
“Just the same—” Sparks, began.
XJE GOT no further for at that moment a torpedo caught the Petalia on the starboard bow, ten feet back from the stem. It ripped the forecastle away as ' though it was constructed of cardboard. The flash from the explosion blinded the men on the bridge temporarily while the concussion threw them back against the chart house. Before they had regained ' their sight another eruption shook the vessel ruthlessly as a second “fish” exploded in the lumber-filled forward hold.
“I’m a good guesser,” remarked Arkley,
' calmly stepping to an intricate telephone system set in a signal locker.
For some minutes a rapid-fire conversation was carried on with various men in scattered portions of the craft. The engines were stopped and seamen appeared rapidly on deck. There was no confusion or undue haste. Being torpedoed was apparently no innovation to the Petalia, though she lurched in heartquickening fashion as the sea rushed into the riven hold.
“You will go in Mr. Brown’s boat,” Arkley informed Sparks. “It’s the jollyboat on the port side. • Good-by for the time being. Some day, perhaps, we will meet again and yarn about the navy. You will please tell Mr. D’Arcy that I was killed by the explosion of the second torpedo, if he should enquire for me, and that every man left the ship when you did.”
“Very good, sir,” answered Sparks, saluting.
Captain Mudge lifted his hat, landsman fashion, in return. Though the laugh was on the destroyer man, Sparks had a feeling that there was a friendliness to the motion.
“If you ever have need for an extra officer, sir—” he began.
“Run along,” ordered Arkley, not unkindly. “One never can tell.”
As the small boats were lowered to the water Sparks noted that the Petalia was already down by the bows. With luck she might remain afloat in calm weather, buoyed up by her lumber cargo, but he wouldn’t have given much for her chances. An immense admiration for Arkley, Barnett and the numerous other men he knew had remained aboard, welled up in him.
The convoy, obeying strict orders, had swept onward at increased speed and left the stricken Petalia to her fate. An escorting trawler felt its way through the dark and picked up the survivors in the small boats. Some minutes later D’Arcy swept up at a rate of knots, searched • around in futile fashion for signs of the1 underwater assassin, then overtook the rescuing trawler.
“Have you Lieutenant Sparks aboard there?” D’Arcy’s megaphoned voice came through the gloom.
“Aye, aye sir,” the object of the search answered.
“I’ll take you aboard,” his commander informed him.
Some minutes later, on the bridge of the destroyer, Sparks lied as he had been' ’ ordered to. He gave it as his .opinion that the Petalia would go under before daylight.
“It’s too bad about old Mudge,” remarked D’Arcy gravely. “He struck me as a man who was looking for trouble, though.”
■' “Yes, sir,” agreed Sparks.
Meanwhile, “Old Mudge” was grimly eyeing the sea as it crept over his shattered bows. Once it seemed that the Petalia was going to dive abruptly to the bottom when the air pressure in the fast filling hold sent the hatch covers skyward with a dull explosion, but the sickening down. ward jerk was halted gradually. When the water was half way up the forward well deck, and the stern was raised until; several feet of the red hull beneath the-. Plimsoll mark showed, the ship gave signs of holding her own.
“Thank God it’s calm,” said Arkley. “A ¿ half gale would send us under in . fifteen minutes. Come the dawn—and come fast.”
Eventually his demand was answered, the sickly light revealing the Petalia,. barely afloat', in ah untenanted sea. She was, to all appearances, deserted. Arkley and Barnett, the only men on the bridge, lay on their bellies, one at either side of the ship, peering intently through slits in the canvas screens.
“Bet you five he’s still hanging around waiting to finish us, or to pick up something to establish his claim to a sinking,” the skipper called to his lieutenant.
“I’m not taking you,” laughed Barnett shortly. “You’re too lucky.”
He showed good judgment, for fifteen minutes later, a mile distant, a long, dark hull arose from the depths. For some time it squatted sullenly in the slight swell without movement, apparently regarding the situation cautiously. Then came a rose-colored wink from its forecastle and a second later a shell screamed over the disabled tramp.
“I suppose we had to expect this,” said Arkley. “Remember, if anything should happen to me, hold your fire until the last possible moment, no matter what punishment the ship has to take. She’s not liable to finish us with shell fire, and she’ll be loath to part with any more torpedoes.”
More shells followed. The fifth one carried away the top of the Petalia’s saltcrusted funnel, and tossed a chunk of it, with an alarming clatter, between the two men on the bridge.
“ Good morning, ” greeted Barnett between set lips.
The already maltreated ship was forced to undergo a severe steel dusting before the fire let up. One shell passed through the canvas dodger above Arkley’s head without exploding.
“Inner,” the captain chanted like a marker in a rifle competition. “No bulls-eyes today, thank you.”
Finally the gun ceased to speak and the submarine, apparently well satisfied that the ship had been completely abandoned, moved closer. Two hundred yards away it came to a halt. A collapsible boat was produced and three men, bearing a demolition charge, put away, headed for the Petalia.' Arkley decided that the time was opportune to press the buzzer with which he had been playing for some time.
As the alarm rattles gave voice, two squares of the Petalia’8 upper hull clattered down and revealed the impatient muzzles of fully-manned twelve-pounders. The battle was short and sharp. Twice the more powerful weapon on the submarine blasted vengeful shells into the already battered flank of the mystery ship, putting one of the twelve-pounders temporarily out of commission. The remaining piece, however, snuffed out the German gun’s crew with a neatly-placed burst of shrapnel; then, with nothing left to hinder it, proceeded to punch holes in the enemy’s waterline as it saw fit. The German submerged—but so rapidly that it never saw the surface again. Five survivors were left struggling in the water to back up the Petalia’s claims to a kill..
“Old Mudge” called for his wireless operator.
“I suppose we might as well ask for a tug,” he addressed Barnett. “The old girl will probably hold together until we can beach her. A. new forecastle, a new disguise and a new name should put her in hunting trim again.”
He glanced affectionately at the splintered upper works and submerged bow.
ELL, that’s that,” remarked Lieutenant-Commander D’Arcy as, with his eyes, he followed the course of the Whitherington, now well within the protection of the harbor where it would dispose of its touchy and precious cargo. “Wouldn’t be surprised if we got a kind word or two for this job. What the devil are you laughing about, Sparks?”
. “Sorry, sir,” apologized the offender. “I just recalled something funny. Yes, sir, you’ve got to hand it to the destroyers.”