The mystery of the Merrifield
Second of three parts
The U-boat knifed along the surface, glistening in the moonlight. The corvette raced in for the kill—but the joyful jinx of Chick McAllister took command and produced the greatest snafu in naval history
The first act: Chick McAllister, ignorant, ugly and craven, was washed overboard in an Atlantic storm. Another wave washed him back on board. When he regained consciousness he seemed briefly to have become a different man: witty, learned and dryly provoking. He had the crew of HMCS Merrifield in turmoil before he changed —at least for a time—into his old self.
CHICK DRAGGED his weary self to the bridge of the Merrifield, paused in the shadow of the asdic hut and cast a jaundiced eye upon the scene before him. The moon poured quicksilver on sea and ship. Far ahead were the black hulks of the convoy, and all was still save the whispering of the water and the pinging of the asdic set. On the starboard side of the bridge the signalman napped peacefully beside his lamp, on the port side the lookout dozed blissfully in his corner, and squarely amidships Sub-Lieutenant Leslie P. Potter, officer of the watch, stared intently ahead, unblinking, unthinking, and unseeing.
Chick shuffled over behind the lookout, reached out to tap the broad back, then hesitated. If he shook Pariseau the Frenchman would be angry; if he did not Perstanski, waiting to be relieved, would belt him soundly when he made his rounds. Whatever happened Chick McAllister would end up with the short end of the stick, cuffed, cowed, and cursed. What should he do? Jump over the side and leave behind a grief-stricken and remorseful crew to suffer the pangs of conscience? The thought tickled his ego and under its stiniulatjpn he reached out and tapped Pariseau gently.
“Hey, Marcel. Time to change rounds.”
A musical snore floated over the lookout’s shoulder.
"Hey, Pariseau!” Chick shook the sleeping form roughly, his voice rising to a shrill whine: "Wakey wakey, Frenchie! You gotta go back aft.”
Pariseau started in alarm, spun about on his heel and peered at the man who had awakened him. For the first time since the storm when, before Pariseau’s eyes. Chick had been washed overboard and
back again, the French Canadian faced him alone. Or was it McAllister? Was it, rather, the unexplained creature who seemed to have taken possession of McAllister’s unlovely body? Pariseau began to cross himself rapidly.
“Le bon Dieu me sauve! C’est le diable! Le maudit diable de la mer! Va-t-en, Satan! Va-t-en!”
Chick stepped back apprehensively: “Lay off, will yuh?”
Pariseau darted a glance toward the officer of the watch and saw that he was still staring fixedly ahead, oblivious of the world around him. With a sudden spring the French Canadian got behind his relief and forced him back into the corner of the bridge, pinning him against the rail. McAllister cringed with growing terror; in his bulky duffel coat Pariseau was a figure of superhuman proportions, and the hood which shadowed his face highlighted his rolling eyes.
“What’s the matter? You gone crazy, or something?”
“Retournez à la mer, diable.”
Marcel shoved his hand within his coat and pulled out his rosary. Holding it at arm's length he dangled the cross a scant inch from McAllister’s nose, twisting and turning the beads to catch the moonglow.
“Take that thing away, will yuh?”
“Au nom du Père, et du Fils, et du Saint-Esprit,” intoned Pariseau in a hollow whisper. “Je vous exorcise, maudit diable, et je vous adjure à retourner à la mer."
Marcel replaced the rosary in his pocket, made the sign of the
cross over his quaking shipmate, turned slowly about and stalked from the bridge.
Chick stiffened his trembling knees, turned outboard and locked his elbows over the bridge-rail. His heart beat violently, great shivers racked his body and his mouth was bone-dry with fear. Holy Jeez, what a life! He’s nuts, that crazy Frenchman. What did he say to me? Sounded bad. Boy, 1 gotta stop this shivering. Cripes, I’m cold. No mitts, no scarf, no balaclava. How come I don’t get any of that Red Cross stuff when it comes aboard? I ain’t even got a pair of socks without holes in them. Why the hell don't they draft me off if they don't want me aboard? I'll get even with them. Jist wait, boy. They treat me like a dog. Jist like a dog. Jeez. A poor. cold, hungry little dog. Kicked and beaten and frozen and scared and starved and teased and cold and tired and sleepy and . . .
THE sky dissolved and the sea vanished into insubstantial mist. Convoy and corvette, lookout and signalman, guns and shrapnel mats and voice-pipes, all the odds and sods of reality drooped and died before the leaping imagination of Sub-Lieutenant Leslie Potter. With flaring nostrils he inflated chest and ego to feed the fires, and he clutched the bridge-rail to prevent the inferno from hurling him skyward to join the other constellations. Scorning the boredom of the everyday world the piercing gaze turned inward.
LONDON: A press release from the
CONTINUED ON PAGE 48
continued from page 23
“Lieut. Potter’s imagination burst into glorious flower; soon he’d
be Admiral of the Fleet!”
Admiralty this morning disclosed that a task force under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Leslie P. Potter, VC. DSO, RCN. had met and engaged a vastly superior German fleet somewhere in the North Sea.
LONDON: The House of Commons was informed today that the United Kingdom had been saved from a Nazi invasion by the heroism of Vice-Admiral Leslie P. Potter.
LONDON: At an investiture in Buck-
ingham Palace His Majesty pinned another bar to Admiral Sir Leslie P. Potter’s Victoria Cross.
OTTAWA: Under extreme pressure
from public and parliament the Prime Minister today waived his ban on titles
for Canadians in respect to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Leslie P. Potter.
TORONTO: Tumultuous crowds lined Bay Street and City Hall Square today to roar welcome to Toronto’s favorite son, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter.
The officer of the watch gave himself an indulgent jab in the ribs and twirled on nimble toes to restore his circulation. He peered at his watch and pursed his lips in surprise: half-past one; had he really been lost in thought all that time? What fabulous concentration!
The only response was a blast from the great unlovely beak of the lookout.
Another trumpeting snore.
The effrontery of it all! The sheer unmitigated insolence! Potter shook the culprit roughly.
“Wake up, McAllister! Wake up, you dog!”
The man turned about, stretched his arms far above his head in joint-cracking luxury and tossed back the hood of the duffel coat. Lunar quicksilver flooded the gargoyle face, and his eyes drank in the unfamiliar surroundings with interest: dark sky and dark sea; the ship sparkling with hoarfrost under the cool moon; fo’c’sle and bridge, mast and funnel, rigging, carley-floats, sea-boats, every object in view glowing with dark light as the corvette dipped and rolled in the restless sea.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Potter nodded his head in mechanical argeement: “Yes, it is rather pretty, you know.” He turned and pointed toward the stern, his soul swelling with pleasure at this chance meeting with a kindred lover of beauty: “Notice how the moonlight plays upon the ship’s wake; reminds one of a glimmering dragon’s tail stretching back into the shadows of the age of chivalry, doesn’t it? Another sublime touch is . . .”
He broke off and turned to face the lookout with angry astonishment “What the devil are you talking about, McAllister?”
“We were discussing the chiaroscuro effects produced by the play of the moonlight upon the waters,” replied the other amiably.
“Well of all the impertinence! You were asleep on watch!”
"Yes, 1 must have been. I feel quite refreshed.”
“Sir!” ordered Potter indignantly.
“But there’s no need to sir me; formality smacks of affectation in the dead of night.”
“I'm not addressing you as sir; I'm ordering you to address me as sir!”
“Well,” smiled the subby modestly, “as a matter of fact I'm not knighted: that is, not yet. Our politicians frown on titles and all that sort of thing, you know.”
“It is, rather. However, the cabinet will have to change its attitude if I’m to be suitably rewarded.”
“A baronetcy?” prompted the other in an awed whisper.
The Potter imagination burst into glorious flower under the subtle flattery.
“Frankly, I was thinking more in terms of a viscountcy. Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter.”
The great nose pointed skyward and peals of infectious laughter swept across the bridge, drowned out the ping of the asdic set and wrenched Signalman Clancy from slumber.
"What's the matter? What's the matter?”
The changeling leveled a scornful finger at the officer of the watch: "Behold Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter! Ho!” "You’d better stop laughing at me!" shrilled Potter, "I'm a commissioned officer!”
"Not just an officer: an admiral!” "Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter!" The warning buzzer from the asdic cabin grated insistently but the sound was buried under the deluge of laughter.
"You won't get away with this! I'll have you flogged, do you hear? Flogged!” Again the sound of the buzzer, louder, longer, more urgent. Suddenly the thudding of sea-boots could be heard above the howling laughter and Lieutenant Moses Winters, commanding officer of the Merrifield, burst upon the bridge. He paused for a second to get his bearings, then hurled himself at the officer of the watch.
"Potter! Can't you hear that asdic buzzer? What the hell's going on here?” "The enlisted men are laughing at me!”
"The buzzer! Answer the buzzer, you infantile idiot!”
"1 won t stand for it! 1 won t!”
The alarm was grating in staccato fury by this time and from within the hut could be heard the excited voice of the asdic operator:
"Are you deaf, you whimpering ass? The buzzer!”
“1 won't be insulted! I won't!"
The Captain knocked Potter out of his way and dove for the asdic hut: "What is it. man? What is it?”
"Echo bearing green six-oh! Classified submarine!"
"Sound action stations!”
FIT HE asdic repeater on the bridge had JL been turned on and the air quivered with the probing ping of the sound beam followed seconds later by the musical bong of the echo: ping-n-ng - - - bong! pin-n-n-ng - - - bong! Above the noise of the set could be heard the reports of Joey Smith, the operator, his voice shrilling with excitement as he called off the movements of his quarry.
"Right cut-off, oh-nine-oh! Left cutoff . . .”
"Starboard twenty!” ordered the captain. "Full ahead!”
"Starboard twenty, sir," echoed the coxswain from the wheel-house. "Twenty of starboard on, sir! Engine full ahead!”
A silvery curtain of spray swept over the four-inch gun's crew as the Merrifield heeled over sharply, and the ill-dressed ratings howled with fury as the cold bit into their flesh.
A mutlled thumping and bumping enlivened by a blast of foul language was heard from behind the asdic hut, and the captain and First Lieutenant Westlake dashed over to investigate.
Sub - Lieutenant Simpson, peacetime schoolteacher, wartime asdic officer, had rushed to his post. So had Leading Seaman Henshaw. asdic rating. They had reached the bottom of the bridge ladder together, colliding heavily. They had fought their way up the ladder side by side, had wrenched open the door of the asdic hut together, then had crashed head on in their frantic haste to reach their positions at the set. Being the lighter of the two, the officer had been knocked off his feet by the impact and now sat be-
wildered on the deck, while Henshaw leaned against the hut and cursed into the night.
“Glory be to God!" screamed the captain. "What the hell are you sitting down there for, Simpson? Don't you know we've got a contact?"
“Well I was ... we were ... it seems . . .”
"Typical schoolboy behavior,” sniffed Westlake.
The captain turned snarling upon his Number One: "When 1 w'ant your observations I'll ask for them! Now make
a signal to the senior escort officer to report contact!”
The first lieutenant huffed indignantly and stalked away, and Winters turned his fury upon Simpson.
"Get off your fanny and on that set! And heaven help you if we lose that sub!”
"Aye aye. sir.”
"Contact moving left, sir!" called the operator.
"Hold on to it. boy! Sound the standby buzzer for the depth charges!"
Dusty Miller's station was on the twin machine guns which were mounted on
the port side. As he slunk furtively along the rail his hatred for McAllister, mounting steadily since the changeling had usurped his role as ship's wit, was fanned to a white heat by the sight of his loading-number lounging against the gunmounting. watching the excitement w'ith cheerful interest. Dusty swung his arm viciously and sent McAllister crashing against the shrapnel mats.
"Why didn't you clear the guns. Dogsbody?”
Chick's laughter spluttered across the bridge: "Why. it's the jackal!” The voice
“I’m gonna rip your nose off, McAllister, and beat you to death with ■tï,f
"As the seconds ticked by, the sound changed from a long-drawn-out ‘pin-n-ng’ to a sharp ‘ping-pong’.”
was not McAllister’s grating whine. It was the changeling’s mellow baritone. Dusty’s lips peeled from his teeth.
“So! Trying that skylark again, eh? You know what I’m gonna do to you, McAllister?”
“Something bestial, no doubt.”
“I'm gonna rip that gannet’s nose off your face and beat you to death with it!”
“I doubt if you have the courage.”
The mockery in the voice severed the last threads of Miller’s control and he threw himself upon his assistant just as the first lieutenant strode across the bridge to see if the guns were cleared for action. Westlake arched his eyebrows in amazement: it was true that an officer and gentleman betrayed no surprise at the animal antics of the rabble, but this bit of idiocy, fighting like curs during action stations, why, this was, this was ... He kicked the struggling pair apart and glowered with distaste.
“Well, Miller? What have you got to say for yourself?”
"He started it, sir! Kicked me when my back was turned!”
“You’re on my report! What have you got to say, McAllister?”
“Only that this is the weirdest menagerie I’ve ever encountered.”
Lieutenant Westlake, still bleeding internally from his earlier clashes with McAllister in his changeling role, recoiled from the hated voice and his heart began to thud violently. This was intolerable! Was he to be laughed at again by this monster, this chuckling idiot? Carried away by his fury he was about to strangle McAllister on the spot when the captain’s roar recalled him to his senses.
“Westlake! Why the hell are you skulking over there?"
“It's these men, sir!” panted the jimmy. "They were . .
“Glory be to God! Shut up and take charge of the gun!”
Now the metallic voice of the asdic repeater vibrated with a note of urgency as the corvette raced in for the kill. The interval between the pulsing of the beam and the ringing of the echo shortened with each passing second as the distance between ship and submarine narrowed; the sound changed rapidly from a longdrawn-out pin-n-ng - - - bong, pin-n-ng - - - bong, to a sharper and more insistent ping-pong, ping-pong, ping-pong; as the range closed both distinct notes combined into one hurried pi-bong, pi-bong, pibong; and then, the final and dramatic Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!
Sub-Lieutenant Simpson hunched over the recorder, his heart hammering as he watched the pointer dashing back and forth across the paper as if it too felt the fever of the kill. His voice cracked and quavered when he called off the range and bearing, and the hand he raised to seize the depth-charge firing button was so clammy with sweat that his mind quailed under the fear that he would not be able to push the button, that his fingers would keep slipping and sliding off the smooth brass while the Merrifield raced on and on, leaving in her wake a surprised but grateful submarine. He fought down the lunatic fear and forced his mind to concentrate on the marks edging ever closer to the margin of the paper,
but just when victory lay within his reach another annoyance arose to distract him. Leading Seaman Henshaw had devoured an onion sandwich before turning in the previous evening, and as he hung open - mouthed over Simpson’s shoulder his breath stank so abominably that at last the officer could stand it no longer. He straightened up from the recorder and bent a classroom frown upon the rating.
“Good grief, Henshaw, must you always eat onions before action stations?” “How was I supposed to know there would be action stations?”
“I believe you do it on purpose. You know how much the stench of onions annoys me, so you . . .”
The captain’s impatient roar sounded through the bridge - asdic voice-pipe: “What the hell are you waiting for, Simpson? Fire!”
Simpson and Henshaw jumped in alarm and bent quickly over the recorder again.
“Now!” shouted Henshaw. “Now!” Simpson’s thumb squeezed the firing button and the popping puff of the throwers could be heard from back aft, followed by the splash of the depth charges. An expectant silence hushed the ship, a moment of anticipation so powerful that the belly tensed into a knot. Suddenly the explosion came, a rippling shock wave that jiggled the ship as if it were a cold pudding, followed by the jarring crack of an undersea blast that sent the fantail shuddering out of the water. A pillar of brine surged skyward, hesitated for a long moment then subsided into the flat obscurity of the sea. leaving behind an ever-widening circle of foam to catch the moonbeams.
Within the asdic hut the men responsible for the uproar stared at each other with mouths agape, stunned and delighted by the power they had unleashed. They had pushed their earphones forward to protect their eardrums from the blast, and the set pulsed unheeded as the beam probed the waters ahead.
“Wow!” gasped Joey Smith, the operator. “That was the best run we’ve ever had. D’you think we got him?”
“How could we miss?” Henshaw exalted. “How could we miss?”
IF it had been a submarine it had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Frustrated and saddened, Lieutenant Winters quartered the area of the original contact, then extended the scope of his search in ever-widening circles; lostcontact procedure was carried out, the beam probed the enigmatic darkness of the sea, but all in vain. With monotonous regularity the asdic repeater gave out its pulsing ping, only to have the sound die stillborn, unanswered by the metallic bong of an echo. At last the captain sent a lost-contact signal to the convoy's destroyer, dreading the blast he knew would follow.
Winters disliked everything about the permanent force, and his sullen antipathy rose to the boiling point each time he had dealings with an RCN officer; the worst of these by far was the senior escort officer on board the destroyer, a brash young lieutenant - commander whose contempt for the volunteer reserve was as fierce as it was illogical. The reply to the corvette’s signal was quick and nasty.
“From the St. Hubert, sir,” reported Leading Signalman Morton. “Classify contact as follows: fish, whale, or imagination.”
A smirking sniff escaped the first lieutenant and the sound rasped the captain so painfully that murder bloomed within his mind.
“Shall I have the quartermaster pipe Secure Action Stations, sir?”
Winters stared at his Number One in amazement: “What?”
“I see no need to make us all suffer for the idiotic mistakes of the asdic crew, sir. I suggest that I have Secure piped, and then . . .’’
"And I suggest, Mister, that you get into your fat head the fact that I’m the commanding officer, understand? I’ll get that bloody sub if I have to throw you over the side for bait!"
In spite of the fact that a submarine was believed to be lurking about in the immediate vicinity, the quarter-deck of
HiVlCS Merrifield presented a peaceful appearance. Sub-Lieutenant Potter paced back and forth in a fit of the sulks, and the depth-charge party, well aware of his daydreaming tendencies, left their stations to huddle on the boat-deck directly beneath the pom-pom platform.
“The professor said for sure she was a sub," insisted Leading Stoker Sawchuk. "They could hear her diesels through the earphones.”
Perstanski was perched on the rim of the pom-pom deck above their heads, and he grinned down wolfishly.
"A sub. Henshaw heard her blowing her tanks.”
"Mackerel blowing bubbles. Them asdic guys are so ping-happy they hear echoes in their sleep."
"You know why we don't get that sub, you? Because dat dead man, 'e is on de bridge." Pariseau glared at the killick, his voice rising in anger. "Théophile Gauthier, e say we ’ave bad luck wit dat devil on board, and already we ’ave lost a sub!"
“Gripes, man, that phony's got you as cracked as he is. Gauthier’s the Jonah on this packet, not Chick McAllister.”
Sub-Lieutenant Potter halted in midstride, spun about on his heel and hurried over to join them.
"What’s this? What’s this?"
"We was saying, sir, dis McAllister 'e is put jinx on de ship ever since de h’oeean t’row him back aboard. Théophile Gauthier, 'e say dere is devil inside McAllister."
The subby’s chest heaved and he shook his fist in a spasm of uncontrollable hatred.
"A devil? He’s worse than that. I tell you! Do you know what he called me? Me?”
The men stared at him in astonishment.
“Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter!" raged the officer.
THE weary hour came to an end and the Merrifield was halfway back to the convoy when the bridge buzzer shattered the peace of the asdic hut. Simpson leaped to answer it, his heart hammering apprehensively.
“Why the hell haven't you reported that echo?”
“Glory be to God! You mean you haven't heard it yet?
“Well I, ... we were, —
"Hold and classify! And Simpson?" “Sir?”
"You miss this time and Fll fry your guts for breakfast.”
“Aye aye, sir!”
Joey Smith swung about in his chair and gawped in open-mouthed amazement: "But we ain't got an echo, sir! The Old Man must be cracking up!"
“That’s enough of that insolence! If the captain says we have an echo then we have an echo, understand?”
"Then carry on!”
During this pleasant exchange Leading Seaman Henshaw had been standing with his hands cupped over his earphones, concentrating intently upon the sound of the beam. Simpson watched him timorously, wracked with curiosity yet hesitating to risk a rebutf. At last he could stand it no longer.
"What do you think, Henshaw? Could it be?”
"The captain,” urged the rating peevishly. “Make your report! Classification submarine!"
"Asdic-bridge! Asdic-bridge!” babbled Simpson.
“Echo bearing green four-five! Beyond range of recorder! Classified as submarine!”
Simpson reached for the controls but found that Henshaw had already cut off the beam, and the three listened breathlessly as the operator slowly swept across the contact bearing. At last they heard it; very faint, very weak, yet unmistakably the churning sound of a motor vessel under way. The captain’s bellow exploded through the voice-pipe.
“Henshaw! What do you think?” “Ship or submarine on the surface, sir!”
“I'm going to fire a star-shell dead ahead, and if it is a sub we’ll carry out a surface attack. I want you to hang on to that contact so that we can follow through with a pattern of depth charges. Understand?”
“Aye aye, sir!”
The hot blood coursed swiftly through Moses Winters as he stared into the blackness ahead, and for a few moments elation dispelled his habitual bitterness. He knew there was a U-boat slinking through the dark seas ahead of the corvette, knew it as surely as he knew his own name. Now the triumph! Now the swift victory which would compensate for convoy tedium and hardships, for arrogant RCN superiors and incompetent officers and men! Let that cocky pup on the St. Hubert look to his laurels now! He had never sunk a submarine! Winters listened to the asdic repeater for a moment. caught the faint peep of the echo and bent over the voice-pipe.
"Starboard ten. Full ahead.” “Starboard ten! Ten of starboard wheel on, sir! Engine full ahead, sir!” sang up the coxswain.
“Number One! Number One! Where the hell, — Westlake!”
The first lieutenant had been shielding himself from the wind and the spray in the lee of the asdic hut, and he came forward with sullen slowness.
“Glory be to God! Where were you hiding this time?”
"I was not hiding, sir, and I must protest ...”
"Midships! Wheel’s amidships!”
"Fire a star-shell dead ahead, Number One.”
“Star-shell, you feather-brained ass! Star-shell!”
Numb with cold, bilious with rancor, and sadly bewildered by this sudden turn of events, Lieutenant Westlake stumbled to the bridge-rail and shouted his orders. There was a moment of frenzied activity on the fo’c’sle, the Buffer bellowed and a great tongue of yellow flame leaped from the muzzle of the four-inch gun. Far ahead the shell burst in beauty to bathe the sea in a white glow, — and there it was!
A U-boat, a long gray, shape knifing through the waves, deadly yet fascinating. No one aboard the Merrifield had ever seen a submarine on the surface before, and the sight of their elusive enemy left them spellbound. But the effect on Lieutenant Westlake was unbelievable: he jumped up and down with excitement, waved his arms, muttered and stuttered and spluttered as if bewitched by the apparition.
“Submarine! A real submarine! See it? See it? It’s a real one, I tell you! There! There!”
Winters seized the first lieutenant’s arm and shook it roughly.
“Put a shell into her! High explosive! That star-shell will be out in a minute!” But. by now, reason had deserted the Westlake brain, and carried away by his frenzy he leaned over the bridge-rail and waved his arms frantically at the gun’s crew.
“Star-shell! Star-shell! Star-shell!”
The captain had bent over the voicepipe to give a change of course to the coxswain, but at the sound of Westlake's babbled orders he sprang erect.
"Not another star-shell, idiot! High explosive!”
“Star-shell! Star-shell! Star-shell!” shrieked the jimmy.
With a curse Winters sent his executive officer crashing into the side of the asdic hut and bent over the rail.
“What’s in the breech?”
“Star-shell, sir!” shouted the buffer. “Shoot that and load with H.E.D.A.!” The first star-shell flickered and died, the gun roared, the second star-shell burst into light, and all that could be seen of the U-boat was the top of her conning tower and part of her quarter as she crash-dived for the safety of the depths.
The captain of the Merrifield watched in silence, saw his quarry dip and disappear and vanish forever beneath the sea. At his side Lieutenant Westlake stared at the rapidly vanishing track of the submarine in stunned dismay, his lower jaw unhinged in disbelief.
“Why, it’s gone! It’s gone!”
"Is it, now? Is it?”
Moses Winters shook his fist beneath the aristocratic nose of his executive officer in blind and bitter rage. He drew a deep breath, held it behind compressed lips then burst into a tidal rip of abuse.
“Gone, is it? You fool! You arrogant fresh-water scum! You lost me a sub! I’ll have you cashiered, you useless, juryrigged scab! Star-shell! Why, you hysterical ...”
“Target moving rapidly left!” shrilled Simpson’s voice from the asdic hut. “Echo solid!”
“Sound the stand-by buzzer!”
Once again Simpson and Henshaw bent over the recorder and watched the pointer trace the path of the beam on the paper, mark the echo, then dash back to the edge of the screen. Each ping of the set brought the echo nearer to the firing zone as the range narrowed, and with each resounding bong from the target the voice of Joey Smith moved a note higher on the scale until it reached a high falsetto. At last sound beam and echo lost their separate identities and coalesced into one monumental Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!
“Instant echoes!” shrieked Joey Smith.
"Now, Henshaw? Now?” quavered Simpson.
"Steady, my son, steady does it. Give her a bit more slack, like. Easy, easy now.”
“Now? Now, Henshaw? Now?”
Simpson had become so absorbed in the chase that quite unconsciously he had taken his hand from the firing button above his head in order to hang on to the recorder with a firmer grip. He stared in bewilderment at the leading asdic rating, trying to co-ordinate hand and brain.
“Fire, man, fire!”
Both men reached for the buzzer simultaneously and sent the signal buzzing to the quarterdeck. Out Hew the thrower charges, down dropped the stern charges, crack came the explosion, up boiled the sea, the ship quivered, steam-lines burst, —but no U-boat surfaced astern of them, no wreckage, no bodies, no oil.
The few seconds delay in getting the charges away had tipped the scales in favor of the submarine and she had lost no time in making her escape. Back raced the corvette again, down went another pattern of charges, up roared the sea but all in vain. As the wind increased in violence, heavy seas sharply decreased the efficiency of asdic set, and at last, heartsick and bitter at his failure, Moses Winters set his course to rejoin the convoy. Daylight would bring the St. Hubert boiling back from her station to castigate him with stinging signals, and the Winters’ blood pressure would soar to the danger point.
Lieutenant Westlake, his composure still somewhat milled by the recent uproar, approached his commanding officer warily.
“Secure action stations.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
The notes of the boatswain’s pipe shrilled the news into every corner of the ship, and the moment of decision, the chance for fame and fortune and honor were gone forever, swallowed by chuckling time.
THE morning watch brought the dawn and the dawn brought the captain clumping to the bridge. He cast an eye upon gray sky and gray sea and for a moment pondered the intensity of the loathing inspired within him by the familiar sight. As a boy he had loved the ocean with the passion of a youth for a maid; in early manhood the flame had still burned, but trimmed by the knowledge that the shrew exacted a heavy penalty for her
favors; now, as his body hesitated on the threshold of age, he hated the slut with the same dogged malice which elderly men bear their wives, but like the husbands found himself unable to break the bonds of habit.
And now this. Cocksure dandies from Upper Canada and plow-boys from the prairies. How in the name of heaven could they have missed that sub? Officers: glory be to God! I've seen better chip's officers manning the bumboats in St. John's harbor. Star-shell! Star-shell! Star-shell! That arrogant snip. Panicked! Panicked, he did. like a school-girl teased with a squid. But I’m the one who'll pay for this lot; I'm the one who'll be marched up before the cod-eyed brass to be sneered at and scolded; and whatever I cay will be wrong and whatever I do will be wrong. Let them give me a crew! Let them pay off these yokels and draft me aboard salt-water men. then I'll fight their ship for them! A slash of spray stung his cheeks and his fancy chilled before the fretful sea; he bowed his head submissively and continued his restless pacing.
BITTER were the thoughts and glum the faces of the three officers seated at the breakfast table: Westlake's visage reflected a savage disgust for everything around him. Potter’s delicate features were petulant with injured pride, and Simpson's scholarly phiz was troubled with guilt and remorse. The only bright ,pot in the gloom was the countenance of Steward Tessier, which twinkled and beamed with the sheer joy of living as he deftly arranged silverware and china. He hummed a ribald sailor song as he worked, and the first lieutenant's scowl darkened as he listened.
Potter's lower lip trembled piteously as he surveyed his plate: "It's not fair, Number One. It really isn’t, you know. The captain and the crew eat well, but we, we ...” He raised his fist and waved it beneath the steward's nose: "I want my bacon hot!”
Tessier bowed gracefully: "Yes, Your I ordship.”
Potter's eyes widened in horror: "What did you say?”
"I'm sorry, sir! A slip of the tongue, sir! Some of the hands refer to you as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Potter, sir, and I . . . ”
"Will you shut up!” squealed Leslie. "Defaulters this morning." The first lieutenant changed the subject.
Potter cleared his throat uneasily: "Is it essential that I be present. Peter?"
"Of course. You're laying charges against Perstanski. Pariseau, Clancy and McAllister, aren't you?”
"Yes, but ..."
“And you will also be present, Simpson.”
Now the skeleton had been unearthed and set grinning in their midst. Defaulters. King's Rules and Admiralty Instructions required that a defaulter be given a chance to defend himself before punishment was meted out, and the appalling thought of enlisted men he had charged in the heat of battle callously laying bare the grandiose hero of his dream world sent waves of revulsion shuddering through Leslie Potter. An agony of equal intensity shriveled Simpson: he knew that
Leading Seaman Henshaw would loudly deny the charge of insolence, and that to defend himself would acquaint the whole world with the bungling of his superior during the ill-starred attack. Never! There were matters more important than naval discipline, secrets more precious than the hollow' satisfaction of doing one's duty!
Potter and Simpson spoke together.
Lieutenant Westlake lifted an eyebrow: "Yes?”
"I’d rather not press this matter of the
ratings being insolent,” said Potter. “I mean, it was a dreadful night, considering the attack and the weather and all that sort of thing, you know, and I, I, well, you know.”
“And I feel the same way. Number One. We were all rather excited in the asdic hut. and Henshaw ...”
The first lieutenant nodded agreement and lifted a finger to his lips as he glanced towards the pantry: "I agree, gentlemen. No purpose w'ill be served by a written record of this sordid affair, and as officers w'e cannot permit ourselves the
“I’m no defaulter/’ squeaked McAllister. “I’m too yellow to fight Miller!”
luxury of indiscriminate punishment, however great the provocation. But there is one scoundrel who must suffer!” “McAllister?” asked Potter eagerly. “McAllister! He’s at the bottom of this whole sorry mess! If I weren’t a gentleman I’d take his scrawny throat and, and . . . ” Westlake’s fine sense of tolerance reasserted itself and he went on calmly. “But after all, why should I dignify that grotesque slum rat with a personal dislike? Very well, gentlemen: all charges dropped with the exception of those against McAllister.”
The other two nodded gratefully and the three officers, having tempered justice with mercy, dipped their noses into their coffee cups with intense relief.
THE petty officers’ messman was a lazy drunken thief, but these shortcomings were amply compensated for by his skill as a short-order cook. He loved his work, did Billy McLeod, and as he dished up piping hot eggs and bacon he beamed with the pride of a master chef.
“Good-oh,” grunted the coxswain. “After that bloody go last night I need a hot bellyful.”
“We’ll never live it doon,” said Hamish Macdonald. “I dinna think I’ll go ashore when we get in.”
“They tell me she was so close a kid with a slingshot could have knocked her off,” said Petty Officer Finnegan.
“Then you take charge of the gun’s crew next attack!”
Chief Macdonald lifted a hand to still the brawling. “We know it’s no your fault, Buffer. It’s the bogey’s.”
“The bogey. That wee McAllister lad.” No sound in the mess save the crunching of toast and the crackling of bacon. Chick’s very name was beginning to assume all the connotations of a curse, and the four men seated at the table were loath to court misfortune by conjuring up the sprite. But no such fetish troubled the soul of Billy McLeod; he interpreted their silence as an invitation to air his own views, and he promptly launched into a garbled monologue as he refilled their cups and heaped ther plates high with food.
“Tried him last night, they did, up in the seamen’s mess. Henshaw was the judge, like, Dusty Miller the prosecutor, Mike Perstanski counsel for the defense. Witchcraft was the charge, or maybe ’twas sorcery; a real proper trial, everything shipshape, pusser routine like. Dusty’s a regular corker, he is, says as how Chickie’s nawthing but a devil, a Jonah tossed on board by Davy Jones.” “Was he guilty or not guilty?”
“Why look now, ’Swain, he’s guilty as sin, sure, but who’s to prove it? Before the trial got proper under way dey all goes fighting like drunken miners. Miller and some wants to throw Chickie over the side, Perstanski and Campbell fights dem off, and the prisoner, look, he’s sitting up dere on the hammock-rack laughing and nodding like Old Nick himself.”
The coxswain glared at Billy with growing annoyance.
“Stow the gabble, man. and get to the point. What finally happened?”
“What the hell d’you mean, nothing?” “Like I says, nawthing. When they gets tired of fighting dey looks for Chick, and dere he is flaked out on the bottom of the rack snoring away like me old grand-daddy after dinner.”
CHICK McAllister was not surprised to find himself at the bottom of the hammock-rack when the shrilling of the boatswain’s pipe awoke him from slumber. The pariah complex was so deeply rooted in his nature that he had long since ceased to question the indignities that were heaped upon him; in fact, any deviation from the customary ill-treatment was regarded with deep suspicion, and his ferret mind sniffed a kindness from every side in the belief that trouble was sure to lie hidden within. The voice of the Coxswain Turnbull shattered the silence. “Out of that mick-rack, defaulter.” Startled, Chick knuckled the sleep from his eyes and for a moment stared stupidly about him.
“You. So climb out of that mick-rack on the double.”
Fear clutched the bowels of the little seaman. All officers terrified him, but to appear before Lieutenant Westlake as a defaulter was the ultimate horror. But why? What had he done? Why he? “Well?” roared Turnbull.
“Out of that mick-rack! Chop! Chop! On the double! Smack it about, my son, and fall in properly!”
Befuddled to the point of idiocy, McAllister struggled out of the hammockrack and fell in before the chief petty officer. The latter ran a critical eye over the torn sea-boots, the stained trousers, the filthy duffel coat, the dirt-grayed face and the matted hair.
“’Ere’s one ’e can borrow, ’Swain,” offered Pariseau eagerly, and he clapped his over-sized cap upon McAllister's under-sized head.
“Defaulter, defaulter hun!”
Chick brought his numbed body to attention, still feebly protesting the injustice of it all.”
“Defaulter, left turn! Quick march! Left right left right left right left right! Left wheel! Mark time! Left right left right!”
Turnbull bellowed a command at a grinning seaman, the watertight door to the well-deck swung open and the orders rang out again.
“Defaulter, left right left right left
right! Head up! Chest out! Swing those arms! Smartly now! Smartly, my son! Left right left right!”
The shouting grew fainter as the two men disappeared down the steps to the wardroom, and the noise was engulfed at last by the cackle of mess - deck laughter.
The tolerant features of the first lieutenant were taut with fury as he glared at the sailor before him. That it should come to this! That he, Peter Timothy Westlake, scion of the Toronto Westlakes, should be thus beset, bedeviled and besmirched by this excrescence from Cabbagetown, this misshapen monstrosity, this boot-licking, unclean ragamuffin, this, this. Tolerance! Tolerance indeed! Had Westlake Senior ever intended that his Theory of Tolerance for the Guidance of Wealthy Young Gentlemen should extend to creatures like McAllister? The lash was needed here, a cat-o’-nine-tails that would whistle down to flay the scurfy back until the mongrel howled for mercy. The lieutenant’s hands clutched convulsively: if only he dared order the dog strung up and lashed and lashed and lashed!
“Do you mean to stand there and deny that you were fighting with Able Seaman Miller last night, while closed up at action station?”
“Sir!” thundered the coxswain.
“Sir!” squealed Chick obediently.
“But sir, I didn’t have no fight with Dusty! Honest to God I didn’t!”
“I saw you fighting with him!”
“Sir!” ordered the coxswain.
“Sir!” echoed the defaulter.
“But sir, honest to God and cross my heart and hope to die, I’m too yellow to fight Dusty Miller! It must have been some other guy you seen! Maybe Pariseau or Campbell!”
A snarl obliterated the last trace of Westlake tolerance and the jaw jutted forward to split the offender from truck to keel.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“Yes, sir! I mean no sir! I mean ...”
McAllister’s voice crumbled and his
gaze flicked from the jimmy to SubLieutenant Potter, but even there, even on the handsome countenance of the noblest knight in the king’s navee there was neither compassion nor pity. The defaulter’s nose twitched with apprehension as he appraised the situation: there had to be some sort of reasonable explanation; if not, this was either a night mare or the first stages of insanity. Tne word set a chord vibrating in his mind and a weak thought was born.
"Magnesia! That's it! I got magnesia!"
"Now what are you babbling about?"
"Magnesia! I must have lost my memory. see?”
“Sir!" ordered the coxswain.
"Of all the infernal cheek!" squeaked Potter. "Imagine trying that old amnesia stunt on us! No recollection of falling asleep on watch either, 1 suppose?”
"Me? Asleep on watch?”
"I saw you with my own eyes!"
"I'd never go to sleep on watch! You must have been dreaming, sir!"
Leslie Potter stamped his foot angrily. "How dare you make such a statement, you, you werewolf! Not only were you asleep, when you woke up you had the gall to insult me!"
"What was the nature of the insult?" asked the first lieutenant.
"He laughed at me, called me Admiral of the Fleet Ford Potter!"
"Har! Har!" guffawed the chief, momentarily carried away.
Westlake watched a blush sweep from Potter's neck to his forehead and a sneer rutiled his lip: he repressed a cutting remark and turned his attention upon the man responsible for the whole sordid affair. Citick McAllister was a picture of abject misery as he slouched at attention: his head hung forward, his nose dripped endlessly, his eyes were reddened, his mouth open, his hair matted and uncombed; the round shoulders were bowed. the arms hung limply and his knockknees trembled fitfully. Suddenly a sob burst from tne forlorn figure, followed by a flurry of gulping sniffles; the coxswain and the officers stared at the defaulter in astonishment, hardly able to credit the evidence of their own senses.
"Good heavens, man! Arc you actuai ly crying?”
"It ain’t right. Everybody’s always picking on me and making up lies about me.' His sobbing increased and his voice rose to a sustained whine: "What did I ever do to youse guys? Bullies, that’s what youse are! 1 didn’t have no fight with Dusty on the bridge, I didn’t fall asleep on no watch, and 1 didn't call nobody no bloody admiral!"
But McAllister's self-pity had closed his ears and he blubbered on unheedingly.
“I’m gonna see a chaplain when we get to Newfie! Everybody treats me like a dog! Jist like a poor little dog!”
“Keep silence!” raged the first lieutenant. "You're on the captain's report!”
“Captain’s report? But but ..."
"Defaulter, defaulter on caps!” ordered the coxswain. "About turn! Double away smartly! Left right left right left right left right!”
ACROSS the breadth of the bridge paced Moses Winters, head erect, arms swinging, short legs compensating for the pitching and rolling of the ship. At his heels lurched the first lieutenant, now clutching the bridge-rail to prevent himself from sliding across the deck, now ducking behind the asdic hut to avoid the slashing spume. His face was flushed with anger and the looks he directed at his superior’s back were murderous
What an ass! What a pig-headed ass! Why in the name of wealth and fortune must I be constantly cursed and crossed by this senile idiot, this garbage-scow pilot, this pauper in mind and purse? With an oaf in command and madmen between decks is it any wonder my nerves are beginning to fray? I'll phone Father as soon as we reach St. John’s! I’ll send a telegram to our member of parliament!
"But I assure you, sir,” he shouted, trying to make himself heard above the howling of the wind: "The man is disrupting the entire ship's company! Not only has he insulted all the officers on board, he has upset the crew to such an extent that they’re threatening mutiny! The coxswain told me so himself!”
His only answer was a rough hacking from within the hood of the duffel coat. Westlake silently cursed the broad back with every oath he could remember, clawed at the engine-room voice-pipe to keep from being dashed into the machinegun mounting and scrambled up the steep deck to overtake his commanding officer.
"The man is an absolute menace, sir! Court-martial the beast! Give him ninety days detention! Put him in irons until we reach St. John's!”
The captain marched on in silence.
"I have no patience with superstition, sir,” shouted Westlake, "but you must admit that we’ve had a steady succession of bad luck since he came on board. We've had slow convoys, filthy weather, submarine attacks and false alarms. And look what happened last night! I hold McAllister directly responsible for the failure of our attack!”
Winters came to a halt and turned slowly about. He pushed back the hood of his duffel coat to reveal a face brickred with anger, and raising his hand he thumped the offended chest of his second-in-command.
"Do you now, Mister? McAllister’s responsible, is he? Glory be to God! D’ye think I'll be pulled off course by a trick like that? You’re the panicky school-girl who fouled the attack! You’re the hysterical nincompoop who ordered the gun loaded with star-shell and let that U-boat escape! You're the Jonah aboard here, Mister, with your superior sneers and your ignorant arrogance! So you’d have me send up the boy to be a scapegoat for you, eh? I’ll send him up. all right, but it’ll be to Upper Canada on leave, not to a detention barracks! D'ye understand?”
“But this is preposterous! The man's a defaulter! Naval discipline demands.”
“I’m the captain of this packet, Mister, and I say the man gets leave!”
"But King's Rules and Admiralty Instructions!”
"Keep silence and get on with your duties!”
The two men glared balefully at each other for a long minute until prudence conquered passion at last in the Westlake breast, and the jimmy turned and stalked stiff-legged from the bridge. Winters smiled in grim triumph at the receding back, squared his shoulders and began his measured pacing once again. Before he had taken three steps a sea crashed down upon the fo’c’sle. the lurch of the ship sent him sprawling against the asdic hut, and his humiliation was completed by a drenching in cold salt water. He wiped the spume from his face, bowed his head submissively and resumed his dogged tread. ★
In the concluding installment in the next issue, the changeling Chick—equally the object of fury and admiration—is the centre of one of the most hilarious scenes of Canadian fiction.