The Captain Lays An Egg
Convoy skippers stopped scoffing at the "Mary Ann" when her captain rigged a hen coop on her stern
R. V. GERY
SHE CAME creeping into the East Coast port at early evening—past the boom, past the officious guard ship and the sniffing, terrierlike destroyers, under the guns with which cliffs and coast line bristled—a scandal, a ragamuffin civilian blotch and blemish upon the trim, hard face of the war.
Long and narrow she was, with a pair of stumpish, deformed masts that looked somehow as if they were much too far apart—which indeed they were —an incongruously heavy, soaring jib boom, and slack, untidy rigging. Across her rounded stern some person, obviously no artist, had lettered in tumbledown print the prosaic name, Mary Ann. And in that uncertain half-light, blundering to an anchor, she looked just that—a Mary Ann, a char.
Captain Bantry stood on her littered decks, scowling. He knew what he knew, and what few other people did, about his disreputable command; and every time he entered this wartime port, where the trim steam freighters lay like herrings in a pond, it galled him worse to see them. Them and their tough skippers, just in from convoy, and ready to take it out on the first-comer’s hide.
There was one of them now, a red Liverpudlian by the name of Parsons, master of a much-becamoufiaged 8,000-ton job that had made the perilous trip again and again and got away with it. The Alary Ann had once, regrettably, fouled his hawse and there had been some lively passages; and this evening, as the ancient vessel sidled past, he was on his bridge, waiting. «
“Take that junk-snuppin’ wheelbarrow away from here!” he vociferated through cupped hands. “My soul alive, what is this—ship’s graveyard, or what? Watch where you’re going, you old coot!” He shook his fist at Captain Bantry, and a row of his crew, leaning on the rail, grinned and chuckled toothily. Captain Bantry affected not to see them, any of them; he didn’t give a rude hurrah, he informed himself, for anything these noisy boys liked to do or say. They didn’t know anything, anyway; damme, they couldn’t recognize a ship when they saw one.
Couldn’t spot, from the wedge-shaped section, the deep forefoot, the lovely flowing lines, that the coastwise crawler Alary Ann had been something else in her time. Until that lot—with freightercaptain blood running sour in their veins, doubtless —had changed the name on her, ripped out that towering main stick, and turned her from the soaring, gallant barque Orion to a nothing, a lopsided horror of the seas.
The barque Orion, that the Mackay yards had built long ago, that had lorded it over seven seas, that had reeled off her fourteen, fifteen, sixteen knots, that had . . .
Captain Bantry spat, listening to Captain Parsons’ last bursts of oratory. His mate, Mr. Cook, a seaman of the same vintage as himself or the Alary Ann, gave tongue aggrievedly.
“Durn young sculpin!” he commented. “Just ’cos they happens to be sailin’ them tin boxes o’ theirs on the King’s business, they got to put on the dog. Pd like to fix their little clock, so I would, Cap’n Bantry, sir!”
“I’ve no doubt you would,” said Bantry grimly. “But just now the Germans are doing that all right, what I hear. We’re afloat still, mister, and likely to stay so—and that’s more than those wet-nosed pups can say, mostly. Don’t forget that, and don’t listen to ’em, and you’ll get along all right. Pass the word to stand by to anchor; there’s good holding ground just about here.”
So the Mary Ann anchored in due form, off to one side of the freighters and their destroyer escorts, and Mr. Cook clambered into the dinghy and went ashore. An hour later he returned, with a mysterious letter in his hand, and a look of surprise.
“For yourself, cap’n,” he announced. “One o’ they Navy squirts in a biled collar give it me.” Captain Bantry took it and after dubious examination opened it by the shaded wheelhouse light. He frowned for a moment, as if finding a difficulty in believing his eyes—and then his face cleared and he smote himself on the thigh.
“Well, blast my bones!” he ejaculated.
He read the note again, scratching his head, and gave it to Mr. Cook. The message, on neat, headed stationery and in a competent, businesslike fist, began incredibly “Dear Uncle,” and was signed, still more exotically, “Thomas J. Bantry, Lt.Comdr. R.N.”
“Me. . . menevvy! Me brother’s son !” said the Alary Ann’s master in a hushed voice. “So help me, I didn’t know the young devil ever had a son.
Last I heard of him would be-.....let’s see—in ’04 or
thereabouts, skippin’ out to England . . . And now his boy’s a blamed Loot’nant-Commander, eh? In charge o’ one o’ these here deestroyers!”
He broke off in a species of daze. Mr. Cook, though, was affected differently. “He’s cornin’ aboard, sir !” he exclaimed. “This very evenin’, he’s cornin’ aboard. Name o’ goodness, what’ll we do?” “Do?” Captain Bantry scoffed, peering across the dark harbor. “Do? Why, nothin’ to be sure. He’s just my nevvy, nothin’ else—and if he figures I’m a-goin’ to pipe the side for him, or any such, he’s wrong, that’s all. Loot’nant-Commanders, indeed; what next, I’d like to know!”
Such, then, was the atmosphere into which the commanding officer of the 1500-ton destroyer Hornet projected himself, a little later that evening. He was the genuine R.N. article, and consequently by no remotest flicker of an eyelid did he betray his feelings at eight of the Mary Ann and her skipper. He sat in what had once, long ago, been a clippercaptain’s main saloon, drinking applejack out of a tin mug; and never, for all the hour and more he was there, was he anything but the junior officer, two-rings-and-a-half addressing four rings, thirty sitting at the feet of sixty-five.
When he departed, with a snapped salute, and a “Be seeing you later, sir!” Captain Bantry nodded approvingly.
“Been well eddicated,” he admitted. “Knows a bit, too-get how he was onto our build right away?” He cast an affectionate glance round the Mary Ann, and then frowned again. “Ay, he’s all right,” he rumbled, “but them others, they ain’t got no hem to their garments. They need showin’ what’s what, the silly jugginses, an’ one day they’ll get it, you see if they don’t!”
Beyond doubt, the discovery of his R.N. connections did a good deal to alter Captain Bantry’s frame of mind. Where he had been judicious, even tolerant, he grew positively hot, and it wasn’t long before there was proof of it.
There was a certain meeting place in the town, a club devoted to ship’s officers, and mostly frequented so far by the convoy captains in and out of port. It was the day subsequent to the Lieutenant-Commander’s visit that Captain Bantry marched in, cap cocked rakishly, little goatee beard jutting. Parsons was there, and reared back like a snake.
“Well, for pity’s sake—look what’s here!” he exploded. “It’s Noah—or Methuselah—come in for a quick one, the naughty old feller ! What d’you want, grandpa; nice ’ot cup o’ tea and a baby biscuit, eh? Suit them there dodderin’ gums o’ yours just fine--”
Captain Bantry lowered himself into an armchair and ordered a rum. “Did I hear somethin’, gents?” he enquired, looking round the room benignly. “Sounded to me like there was one o’ these here bumblebees a-buzzin around. Lot o’ noise them things make—but Lor’ bless you, that’s about all there is to ’em. Guff an’ gravy, that’s the lot; we don’t take any notice of ’em where I come from.”
There was a silence for a moment, while Captain Parsons assimilated that one. Then he got up and spoke, creakily.
“Was you referrin’ to me?” he enquired. Bantry half turned and surveyed him.
“Oh, it was you, was it?” he said. “Didn’t see you, I’m sure, cap’n, or I wouldn’t ’ave made them there remarks and ’urt your little feelin’s. I do ’ope you’ll accept of my apology, cap’n—I do reelly, now ...”
The elaborate sarcasm seemed to annoy Parsons hideously, and he dropped his ferocious brand of humor. “Look ’ere, me joker,” he began, “it’s about time you learned what’s what around this place. This room’s private, I’d ’ave you know—reserved for ships’ captains; so maybe you’ll take your drink an’ sit in the bar outside. That’s the proper lay for coal-barge skippers—or was it rags and bones last trip?”
Captain Bantry drew a deep breath, as one smitten suddenly where he lived. “Coal barge, eh?” he said thickly. “You keep your dirty tongue off my ship, mister, d’ye hear? . . .”
“Your ship!” guffawed Parsons. “I s’pose you’re goin’ to tell us it’s the Fly in’ Cloud you’re commandin’, eh?”
It was pure accident, his mention of the most famous of the old-time clippers, but in Captain Bantry’s circles such comment was blasphemy. He was out of his chair in a second.
“Just because you ’appen’ to be in the war ...” he rasped, and went on from there. It was murderous stuff, to be sure, and it touched off a scene in the Captain’s Room that plenty of its frequenters would have liked to forget. There were things said, and suggestions made, that didn’t in any sense consort with the dignity, or the courage, of the merchant marine, and if Captain Bantry hadn’t been his age, he might quite well have come to violence. As it was, he found himself out in the night, trembling all over and still muttering wickedly to himself.
“Pups!” was his burden. “Damn pups in bloomin’ steam kettles—”
HE RETURNED to the Mary Ann, and Mr.
Cook was astonished to see him stand, with folded arms, glaring along the dark decks in silence. Even in the foc’s’le his crew of nondescripts sensed there was something untoward in the wind.
“Old goat’s slippin’,” was their verdict. “Funny house’ll be gettin’ him yet.”
But Captain James Bantry was by no means crazy. He was mad suddenly, mad clear through at the language that had been applied to the Mary Ann, ex-Orion. For once in his life he had an object in view, an obsession that didn’t let him rest or enjoy life until it was fulfilled.
“I’ll show ’em !” was his continuing theme. “Oh, by thunder, yes!”
He took a boat and, still sizzling, went to pay his return visit to the Navy. Lieutenant-Commander Bantry met him with due ceremony, and was almost as annoyed as he w^as over the freighter captains.
“Infernal sauce!” he proclaimed, hearing of the insults paid to the Mary Ann. “Difficult to know what to do about it, all the same, Uncle. They’re a good deal worked up, these fellows—it’s no fun, dodging torpedoes, of course ...”
“They said my ship was a longshore skrimshanker,” Bantry muttered. “I’ll show ’em, the dirty so-and-sos ...”
He was up on the destroyer’s gadget-crammed bridge, and in spite of his indignation he was having trouble in keeping his eyes to himself. Not for the world would he have admitted to astonish-
ment or enthusiasm over his nephew’s box of tricks, but all the same it was difficult.
“You got a right smart o’ gear,” he agreed“Them’s war weapons, likely.”
The Hornet’s commander, pridefully as a man will, displayed and explained some of the less secret and hush-hush contraptions, and Captain Bantry was impressed.
“Mighty pretty,” he allowed. “An’ them things there, now —what might be the use o’ they?”
He was looking at the depth charges, racked and ready on the Hornet’s stern, like so many sealed, dull-painted oil drums. Informed of their purpose he blinked.
“Well, I swan!” he remarked thoughtfully. “Clever, by Joe. Durn discomfortable for any o’ they subs they meets, I reckon.”
Lieutenant-Commander Bantry expanded some more on the general subject of submarine warfare, while his uncle continued to worry at his little beard. It was a full five minutes before he fired his next question.
“Ain’t so hard to handle, eh?” he queried. “Feller wouldn’t need a lot o’ this here training?”
His nephew laughed. “Not a lot,” he said. “Once you learn to set the fuses, it’s just a matter of tipping ’em over, out of the rack. Only, it’s got to be in the right place, naturally.”
“Do tell!” said Captain Bantry.
He was remarkably silent thereafter, even under the persuasion of refreshment in his nephew’s chintz - decorated cabin. His mind seemed to have harked back to his grievance.
“They subs, now,” he said all at once. “I’d figure they’d have somethin’ of the same kind o’ fool notion about sailin’ ships, eh? Think they was out o’ date and no account, likely . . ”
“Why, I don’t know,” the commander began—and then all at once he cocked his head on one side. “Look,” he said quietly, “what is this? Mind telling me what you’re driving at, skipper?”
But the Mary Ann’s master had gone definitely cagy. He passed the matter off, in a series of nods and becks and wreathed smiles, and shortly thereafter took his departure, leaving the Royal Navy standing at the gangway, staring after him with a very puzzled expression indeed.
“Now I wonder,” the commander mused, “just what in the burning Tophet the old hunks is after now?”
A very observant, up-to-theminute body, the Hornet’s young commander.
BUT all the same, he didn’t get any answer to his queries for some time. Days grew into weeks on that Bluenose coast, while the convoys Continued on paye 33 slid in and out, with their escorts stalking them, and every now and then tragedy taking a hand as well. The Mary Ann, junk snupper, unlovely coal hulk, went lolloping down the Maine coast again—never out of sight of land, never in the breath of danger, forgetting, maybe, that she had ever been that proud vessel, the Orion. And Captain Bantry, in the view of his mate and ship’s company, gave every indication of growing crazier daily.
The Captain Lays An Egg
Continued from page 15—Starts on page 14
To begin with, he had discovered, it seemed, the existence of a war. So far he had treated the whole of that epic conflagration with large disdain; but now he laid hands on an ancient battery set, and spent hours listening to the broadcasts.
“Too durn bad!” he informed the startled Mr. Cook. “They’re playin’ hob out yonder, them bloomin’ Jerries. A feller’d like to take a crack at ’em somehow, don’t ye figure, mister?”
Well, Mr. Cook didn’t, but he refrained from saying so. The skipper
needed humoring, he held—and in a while he discovered an extra need for such strategy. For Captain Bantry took all at once to art.
It wasn’t exactly any Rembrandtesque affair—but he dug up a measuring tape, a thick stub of pencil, and a number of sheets of yellow wrapping paper, and haunted the Mary Ann’s poop, making interminable drawings. Mostly his efforts, whatever they were, found a watery grave overside; but one day, coming up Fundy, he took one of them and landed. In a while he was back again, with a gasoline launch following, laden with two-by-fours; and Captain Bantry himself bore as a prize an object which made even Mr. Cook scratch his head.
“Well, dog my cats !” he exclaimed. “If he ain’t teched, after all ...”
For Captain Bantry’s mysterious object was nothing more or less than a single hen coop, and in it was a solitary rooster—a big white Leghorn cock with a truculent manner and large, sharp spurs. The ship’s r»r>mpany stared, swearing under their breaths—but their skipper merely chuckled.
“One o’ these here mascots,” he observed profoundly. "Don’t you none of you be rude to him, now. His name’s George-and he’s goin’ to bring us luck, mind that!”
They departed, shaking their heads, and Captain Bantry devoted himself to the feeding and care of his pet. Mr. Cook watched, bulgingeyed, and ventured a diffident query, but the skipper was still cagy.
"All in good time, mister,” he said. "Just hold tight awhile, an’ you’ll see ...”
That was true enough, too, but what Mr. Cook saw, oil Yarmouth next morning, wasn’t anything very satisfying to a rabid curiosity. For Captain Bantry, with a hammer, saw, and a packet of big nails, fell to constructing a chicken run out on the Mary Ann’s poop. At least, that was what it looked likea large, de luxe chicken run, rigged in the manner of an admiral’s walk, overhanging the vessel’s stern. It was indeed an astonishing spectacle, and by the time the Mary Ann made her wartime port once more, Captain Bantry had got it painted and generally fixed around — and had his rooster guest strutting on the top of it, in a sort of private pleasance of its own.
It was there, pecking at grain and occasionally crowing raucously, when the old ship crept yet again under the stern of Captain Parsons’ freighter. The captain was looking for trouble, as usual, but at sight of the Mary Ann’s stern-works he nearly fell in the drink.
“Great Caesar’s ghost!” he yelled, recovering himself. "What’s that you got there now, Uncle? A farmyard?”
Captain Bantry, high on the poop, was feeding George little bits of liver —he had odd notions of the proper dietary for fowl. He raised a pontifical hand and solemnly cocked a snook at Captain Parsons. Then he turned to Mr. Cook.
“Get the hook down, mister,” he said, "and then I want a boat. I’ll not be back till tonight, likely—and till then everybody’s got to stay aboard, understand? Them’s orders, now; see ’em carried out, or there’ll, be trouble!”
Half an hour later he departed, leaving a crew talking to themselves, and George strutting his beat in the hen coop. Also, leaving Captain Parsons under the multiple Lewises on his bridge; he was still not himself after that gesture of Bantry’s. All told, the Mary Ann’s skipper was causing a sensation. People hadn’t seen anyj thing quite like this for a long, longwhile, they figured.
Lieutenant-Commander Bantry of ¡ the Hornet was also in for a shock. | He wasn’t the gasping kind, but he certainly took some time to assimilate 1 the proposition his uncle blandly laid before him.
"Blast it, man!” he said blankly. I "You. . . you can’t do that!”
Captain Bantry disagreed. He disagreed so violently and with such a wealth of gesture and explanation that his nephew blinked at him, sitting in his swivel chair. A fine line of concentrated thought appeared on his . brow, and he swore, gently but with j completeness.
"It’s lunacy,” he stated. "Plain crackers, of course . . . Here, come on! We’ll see what somebody else thinks about it, anyway.”
From that moment, till long past midnight that night, Captain James Bantry encountered a set of experiences strange even for him, for all his thirty years in queer ports around the world.
He met people in offices, in back rooms, in the innermost holy of holies of naval strategy-lean men, fat men, light and heavy men, and all of them in the gold-and-blue of the sea, with the strain of war plain on them. It ended, that part of it, with a twenty-minute confab, face to face with a party before whom even an ex-clipper-captain backed down. He had an eye, this party, and a jaw, and a Rear-Admiral’s crusted gold on his sleeve, and he had a mind like a steel trap. You could hear it snap, Captain Bantry reflected admiringly.
“Very good,” he said in a dry voice. “It might come off, skipper. You can try it if you want to—only, if anything goes wrong, it’ll be awkward for you. You’ve thought of that, I take it?”
Captain Bantry shuffled. “Don’t signify, sir,” he replied. “We’ll have tried, anyway—and they won’t be able to call us longshore skrimshankers an’ has-beens any more, eh?”
The Admiral stroked his chin. “No,” he said. “I don’t imagine they will, on the whole. I’d be rather surprised if they did, captain !” Followed thereupon action, lively and hurried, and somewhere between one and two in the morning a Navy lighter slid alongside the Mary Ann’s dark hulk. Skilled men wrestled with certain heavy, cylindrical articles, sweating—and on the poop Lieutenant-Commander Bantry directed operations, standing over his uncle’s improved chicken run. He was looking at the rooster, George, with unconcealed stupefaction.
“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” he remarked. “Darned if I’d have thought it . . . ”
He looked round for the skipper, but Captain Bantry had gone forward. He was, it seemed, engaged in an argument with his crew—an argument that was conducted, on his side at least, without any of the niceties of courteous debate. The navy ratings and the commander paused in their work a moment, grinning; it had not so far been vouchsafed to them to hear a master-mariner-in-sail of the old school go to town. The Mary Anti’s mixed pickles had also been denied that experience, by the look of it, for in a few moments Captain Bantry came aft again, breathing heavily.
“That’s fixed ’em,” he said to the mate. “They didn’t want to, first go off, but I talked to ’em a bit ...” Mr. Cook touched his cap, in a manner he had forgotten years ago. “Ay, ay, sir!” he said respectfully. “Any orders, sir?”
Captain Bantry turned to his nephew. “If you’re ready with them there little liver pills, nevvy, I reckon we can pull out!”
SO THE Mary Ann, coastwise junk wagon, went to sea again. It was an Admiralty motor tug, as a matter of fact, that yanked her out through the boom and the mine fields, and set her on her course, until the sea wind filled her ancient canvas
and she went bowing away into the east. Between that time and dawn, Captain Bantry had no time for colloguings with his clarion-voiced tenant aft. He was too busy doing some astonishing work in the tailoring line, to such effect that dawn found the clipper with every scrap of canvas aboard her set as some kind of a drawing, effective sail. She was leaning into the waves with something of her old-time grace, and Captain Bantry nodded approvingly.
“Pretty near twelve,” he said with a glance at the wake. “Damme, she’d still do sixteen if they put that main stick back in her!”
He looked into the chart room. Clamped to the table, there was a new and different radio set. The skipper patted it.
“Put a hand on duty here, mister,” he said to Cook. “If she squeaks, I’m to be called, at once, see?”
With that he passed on, and stood contemplating George on the poop. An idea seemed to strike him, and he turned and bawled for a hand, with brush and paint pot. There was ship’s discipline now among that knockkneed outfit, and one came a-running. Captain Bantry caused him to be lowered over the taffrail in a chair with paint and brushes, and afterwards inspected his handiwork with care.
“Yes,” he said. “About time too, by the great hook-block! And I’d just like to see anybody try and alter it again, that’s all. Pipe all hands, bos’n—I’ve a word to say to ’em.”
Now that second oration of his, delivered on the decks of the newly rechristened Orion, ex-Mary Ann, is not down in any record. But like the first it was hot and high tension—a patriotic discourse spiced with reflections upon freighter captains—and it had its effect. Also, just to make it doubly dramatic, it experienced interruptionThe hand at the radio yelled, and Captain Bantry went hastily to its side.
The set was buzzing gently, a succession of shorts and longs that constituted all the Morse the skipper had been able to learn. He stood contemplating it for a minute, and then went back on deck.
“Pass the word to stand by!” he said to the mate. “They got somethin’ spotted, up yonder ...”
He stared at the empty sky, as the hands came tumbling aft. “Airyplanes, so help me—at my time o’ life!” he muttered, and then turned to the job of setting lookouts.
He had them up there, four of them, picked men, as he informed them, straining their eyes through Navy binoculars from the swaying royal yard. All that day they stayed there, in reliefs, until the sun was sloping westward toward America, and lights grew long on the sea.
It was in the middle of the first dogwatch that things began to happen.
Captain Bantry had just come on deck, after a hasty snack consumed standing, one eye on the telltale. He glanced aloft, winked violently at the still slightly bemused Mr. Cook, and went up the ratlines as if he were sixteen instead of sixty-five. Perched on the yard, he fell to scanning the sea in long sweeps, eagerly, carefully.
Fie had never clapped eyes on a submarine, true, but he had spent fifty years looking out over the waste I of waters, and he knew very well j what ought not to be there. So that when the conning tower broke water, two miles on the starboard beam, he was the first to spot it.
“That’s him, by gorry !” he yelped, and went sliding down a backstay like an apprentice. On the deck he met Mr. Cook, and the two old men faced each other, breathing lightly.
“Right?” said the skipper, and Cook nodded. Captain Bantry turned and walked smartly aft again to where his famous chicken coop stuck out like a sore thumb. Tarj paulins partly covered it, fluttering in the breeze untidily—and up topside, his white plumage and crimson comb visible on all sides, the rooster George made a pretty picture against the sky.
“Chick-chick-chicky-chick !” said Captain Bantry indulgently, one eye on the submarine.
IT WAS running parallel with the Orion now, on a converging course, and there were men visible on its deck. It was almost possible to see their suspicious glances, hear their muttered talk.
“He’ll be givin’ us the old heave to in a minute,” said the skipper. “He don’t know what in tunket to make of us . . . ”
Certainly the Orion was no ordinary spectacle on the wartime Atlantic and the Nazis were excusable. But there were still occasional fishermen out of St. Pierre, they knew, and this ramshackle old business might be one of them. At any rate, with the convoy coming up, she wasn’t worth wasting a torpedo over— and besides, they had seen the rooster. Food on a long-distance, sea-going submarine wasn’t exactly interesting, ever, and a fricassee, the commander thought, would be highly acceptable.
So he fired a shot across the Orion's bows, and closed. The old vessel had come up in the wind, and was hanging there, her canvas dolefully flapping. She was a sorry affair, not worthy of notice—but, they had chickens aboard . . .
“Go over and take all they’ve got,” said the commander.
“Here they come,” Captain Bantry said. “Watch out now, boys ...” He leaned over the rail and addressed the approaching rubber dinghy. In tones that shook with apparent rage and vexation he enquired just what in thunder they meant by shooting at innocent fishermen on the high seas, what their dime - a - dozen government thought it was playing at, and so forth. It was a nice piece of old-time shipmaster’s oratory, though it didn’t fizz on the Germans. Their officer grinned.
“Sorry,” he said in excellent English. “How about some poultry, skipper? We’re in the market ...” Captain Bantry’s manner changed abruptly. A look of extreme astuteness appeared on his face. “Ye are, eh?” he said. “Well, I don’t mind dickerin’ with ye, if ye’ve got the price. Pull in a bit, mister, and we’ll talk business.”
Out of the tail of his eye he was watching the submarine. She was a couple of hundred yards away, rolling gently in the trough of the swell, her gun’s crew still at their posts. Behind him Mr. Cook in person was at the wheel. He was jockeying the Orion
with steady hands, keeping her just barely on the wind, a mere scrap of foretopsail drawing. Captain Bantry never so much as looked at his ship’s company; in that clinch he didn’t dare.
“Come aboard, gentlemen,” he said with unction.
The dinghy touched the ship’s side, and George, the rooster, from his post on the poop fired off a lusty cock-a-doodle, as if he sensed stirring events in the air. The Nazi officer grinned again, his hand on the ladder —and Captain Bantry spoke.
“Now, Mr. Cook!” he called sharply. “Now!”
Instantly the mate flung the wheel over. The Orion began to turn on her heel, and from aloft and forward came the slam-bang of canvas, filling and bellying in the evening breeze. There was the trample of feet as men tugged on sheets and braces.
“Down!” Captain Bantry roared. “Flat, all hands—flat, ye scum!”
He had doused a bucket of water into the Nazi’s astonished face, and the swing of the ship had done the rest. The dinghy was on its side, and its three occupants were floundering. Captain Bantry bolted aft and up onto the hen coop. He and Mr. Cook at the wheel were the only two figures visible on the Orion's decks at all, as she careened and plunged at the sub.
She wasn’t a hundred yards away when the Germans started firing. It was a three-incher, and the first shot went wide. The second slammed into the clipper’s high bows, ripped its way through bulkheads, and burst below with a clatter. The submarine was moving now—trying desperately to avoid that charging wooden prow. The commander in the conning tower was plain to see, yelling down the voice pipe and dancing as he yelled. Another shell screeched between the Orion's masts and went just over Bantry’s head, so that the wind took his cap off. Mr. Cook spun the wheel calmly, guiding the ship round in a quarter arc after the gliding tin fish.
THEY HIT her—well astern, well abaft the conning tower, but so close to it that Bantry could see the wild glare in the commander’s eye. He was still yelling, and Captain Bantry suddenly saw why he was making that senseless noise. They hadn’t been expecting hand-to-hand stuff like this—and except for the gun, useless now behind the conning tower, they were unarmed.
Captain Bantry cackled humorously, and tugged hard at a line he held in his hand. Something went plop into the sea, as if indeed the ship had laid an egg. It fell close under the sub’s flank, as the Orion shoved her bodily aside and staggered on, pushed by the steady wind.
Captain Bantry jumped. He took a flying leap off the high poop on the deck, and went scrambling forward on hands and knees like a giant crab. He was remembering some of the things his nephew had told him about depth charges—those that burst too close to the vessel discharging them. And this one was close. He hoped, fervently, not too close.
It went off, in a matter of seconds, and its impact lifted the Orion’s stern clean out of the water. She jumped, as if somebody had run a gigantic pin in her afterworks; jumped, and came down smack in thf water again with a thud that jar,d every one of her ancient timers and spikes. Sheets of water cate thundering down on her decks, anc George, the rooster, blown clear oubf his coop, went squawking and scitering forward, shedding feathers Captain Bantry picked himself UPHe went to the rail and stood looing over it at the still tumbling path of roiled sea.
'here was a triangular shape sticking out of it—a grey metal shas—and as Captain Bantry i°°ed at it, it ducked and vanished.
‘lot him, by gorry!” said the Orin’s master thoughtfully. “Callin’ us trimshankers ...”
íe was referring to Captain Parson and that red mariner, next m°fing, knew all about it.
íe stood on his bridge, staring inc.dulously. The convoy was staging east-by-north, four lines of cheging, prosaic vessels, with air escrt, and destroyers on each flank, unigting. But the thing Captain Puions was looking at now was an afPr stranger than any convoy. It wa:a sailing ship, lying inert on the Ion swells, a couple of cables on the stajoard beam—that, and hoist
after hoist of little colored flags that i whipped from the commodore’s masthead.
In the curt, chilly Navy fashion they told the tale, and the convoy reacted. They lined rails, yelling their heads off in congratulation and encouragement; and Captain Bantry stood on the deck of his crippled, rudderless vessel, taking it all. Behind him, perched on the top of the deckhouse, he had a companion. George surveyed the convoy, passing it in review with a knowing, redencircled eye.
Captain Parsons’ eye was also red, and his breath came whistling.
“I don’t believe it!” he spluttered. “It just ain’t so, that’s all . . .”
Across the narrow stretch of water, Captain Bantry seemed to have heard him. He walked to the ship’s side, his pugnacious little goatee-adorned chin jutting, and from his pocket he took—an egg. Holding it aloft in one hand, he raised the other, thumb to nose in a familiar gesture. Captain Parsons gasped, fighting for speech; then he hastened into his chartroom and shut the door after him. He had seen, he figured, just about enough.