For the Freedom of the Seas/Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

IN AN IRISH MIST

THE Q-4 slid down a long foam-patterned wave that hid the horizon behind, wallowed a moment in the green hollow and began her climb once more. Those seas were awe-inspiring, and Nelson, viewing them from a conning tower port, felt that the submarine was a ridiculously tiny thing to be afloat in. Even Martin, who had preceded him up the ladder, looked a bit serious as he raised his eyes to the crest of the next monster that came, towering far against a stormy gray sky, toward them as if to engulf the little craft. But the Q-4 kept on climbing, her decks aslant, until she seemed to hang motionless there between sky and water. Then, with a flirt of her tail, she was off again, coasting down for another wallow in the trough.

She had been doing that ever since the evening before when the peaceful quiet of the hundred foot depth had given place to the clatter and clang of surface steaming. The gale was a thing of the past, but the effect of it was still apparent in the monstrous seas that came charging out of the north-east. Once during the forenoon the sun had peered out for a brief moment from behind the wrack of leaden clouds, but now the world visible from the Q-4 was gray and somber slatey-green. The other ships were not in sight, for each had fought the gale in its own way and set its own course, but the wireless had picked up one of the destroyers the night before. She had had her bow bent by a sea and lost a funnel, but was keeping on about sixty miles north. Later the Q-4 got into communication with the flagship and with two submarines. Each reported having had a hard time of it. One of the smaller subs was believed to have been lost. (That, however, as they were to learn weeks later, was not so. She had submerged early in the trouble, but her batteries had been quickly exhausted and she had been forced to the surface again where for two days she had been tossed about and driven so far from her course that, engine trouble developing, she had limped in to Bermuda, by that time her nearest port!) The Q-4 was doing eleven knots and had been putting the miles behind her at that speed ever since coming up, and, with the barometer acting reasonably there seemed a fair chance of reaching Queenstown in the course of another three days, for the Q-4 had also got too far south.

Over Nelson's head, on the swaying bridge, the junior luff and a steersman were "taking her through." Here in the conning tower, behind the head-high ports, two lookouts were on duty, scanning the tumbling sea for "smoke, sail or periscope."

Nelson and Martin descended to the central station, the former, at least satisfied to exchange the uneasy tower-deck for the comparative calm of the torpedo compartment whither he accompanied Martin. He aided, or tried to aid, in the duty of inspecting the torpedoes and verifying the pressure in the air flasks, a daily proceeding. Afterwards he visited Clancy in the engine room and asked so many questions, having to shout to make himself heard, that the machinist's mate drove him forth with a wrench. Life aboard was quite sociable that evening, for there was a game of pitch in the forward quarters and a tow-headed electrician produced a mouth organ and played spiritedly, if out of tune, and all who could make any sort of a vocal sound tried to sing.

The next day dawned with a smoother sea, and at about six bells in the forenoon watch they sighted smoke and picked up the torpedo boat destroyer Stacey. They were in the German submarine zone and the watch became sharper than ever. Just before dark the main body of the flotilla was sighted and the next morning the Q-4 was back with her companions, some of them showing effects of their struggles with the storm. Nelson learned that the Gyandotte was one of the gray shapes ahead and he wondered whether the captain would attempt to put him aboard her. He didn't quite see the possibility of it, nor did Martin, and the latter prophesied that Nelson would stay just where he was until they reached port, something that Nelson was glad enough to do. The junior lieutenant informed him that evening that they had reported his rescue to the Gyandotte, but that it wouldn't be advisable to attempt any transfer at present.

The flotilla was back in two-column formation by that time, with destroyers and cruisers forming a cordon about them, and in such order they steamed toward Cape Clear. The following day the lookouts on all the ships were kept perturbed and busy, for the sea was a graveyard thereabouts and the surface was fairly cluttered with wreckage. Scarce an hour passed that a floating cask or spar or hatch did not send the destroyer and cruiser gun crews to stations. About noon the Q-4 rode through a patch of oil nearly an acre in extent. They wanted to think that it was evidence of a destroyed German submarine, but the more likely explanation had to do with an Allied tanker sunk by mine or torpedo. Toward dusk general quarters was sounded on the Q-4 and the two deck guns were manned and the torpedo crew flew to their stations. For several minutes the supposed enemy submarine lay in plain sight against the sunset glow while the destroyers converged toward it, three and four-inch guns popping. Then they swung around and hurried back in disgust and as the signals wig-wagged from ship to ship the officers on the Q-4's bridge chuckled. The submarine had proved to be a dead whale!

And that was as close to sighting a German U-boat as they came. For the last two nights of the run they traveled without even a stern light and scattered at dark to reassemble at the first streak of morning. Fastnet Light appeared off the port bow late that night and when day came, a misty, soft day, they were carefully picking their way through the mine fields, with the green hills of Ireland stretching alongside. And that afternoon they passed the Head and slowly slipped into Cork Harbor, dropping anchors at last under the slopes of Queenstown.

Back home they never heard of that voyage until long after, which perhaps is to be regretted, since the war developed few more courageous incidents than that twenty-five hundred mile run of United States submarines, many of which were but coastal boats and never meant for such a venture.

But, although they had all come through safely save one, each was in need of some repairs, inside or out, and the next morning they gathered about the mother ship like chickens about a clucking hen and the overhauling began. Nelson bade good-bye to Martin and to the rest of the Q-4's men and returned to the Gyandotte, which had dropped her hooks nearly a mile below. Minus one funnel, she had a most reprehensible appearance. The officer of the deck shook his hand, something quite foreign to precedent, and for the subsequent hour Nelson was treated like a hero by the men below. He had to tell his story more than once and was glad when his shipmates began at last to lose interest in his exploit. Getting back to the freedom and spaciousness of the cruiser was rather pleasant, after the confinement of the Q-4, but he missed Martin Townsend and somehow regretted the uncomfortable, happy-go-lucky existence he had left. Martin he was to see again soon, for all ships were destined to remain in port for a number of days, according to report, and they had planned to get liberty together.

Some of the ships began coaling the next morning, but, fortunately for Nelson, the Gyandotte was not of the number and his watch was given liberty. If you have never been through a week of such stress and anxiety as those aboard the Gyandotte you can't well imagine the positive joy of setting foot ashore once more. A quarter-master voiced the sentiment of all in Nelson's boat when, as it drew toward the landing, he remarked: "The best thing about going to sea is getting back on land, fellows." They all agreed to that. And they groaned derisively when the boatswain's mate in charge added: "Yeah, and the best thing about being ashore is getting back to your ship." It might be quite true, but it was untimely!

Nelson found Martin awaiting him, according to arrangement, at the little Y. M. C. A. hut which had just been erected as a temporary headquarters for the sailors, and they saw the town pretty thoroughly during the next two hours. In fact, they practically exhausted it long before the two hours were over, for Queenstown, although beautiful as to natural surroundings, holds in itself little of interest. The harbor, however, held plenty of action, for there were craft of all sorts, sizes and nationalities there, even including a German mine layer which had been brought in early in the war and was lying, a sad-looking hulk, on the flats near Haulbowline Island. At least, the tattered lounger who pointed her out to them said she was German, and as they wanted to think so they didn't seek corroboration. There was even a Portuguese destroyer in sight, a strangely-shaped craft that curved forward and aft until bow and stern sat low in the water. She had been streaked and spotted with grays and greens and blues until she was at once strange and elusive to the sight. Camouflaged hulls were fewer then than later and the British destroyers, of which there was one even then steaming slowly past Spike Island, were still unrelievedly black. A French chaser, however, had added pink to her other tones and looked like a nautical humming-bird or, possibly, a gay butterfly alighted on the water. The boys climbed the hill back of the town later and were well rewarded by the view that spread before them. Fortunately the sun was shining and they could see far out onto the channel southward and even locate Cork by the haze of smoke that lay in the northwest. Toward two o'clock they reached the town again and set out in search of dinner. They found it at last, but the least said of it the better. The only point in its favor that Nelson could think of was its price, and that was so ridiculous that he felt as though he had cheated the proprietor of the little water-front hotel.

They wrote letters that afternoon in the Y. M. C. A. hut, disputing a table with so many others that elbows knocked together. Nelson's brief epistle to his uncle was soon finished and then he wrote a longer letter to his relations in Boston and, finally, a shorter one to Billy Masters, After that he looked through a two-months-old American magazine and waited for Martin to finish "pouring his heart out." The expression is Nelson's. Perhaps he was a little bit envious. Having someone to write to, someone who really cared to hear from a chap, was pretty nice! Neither found letters from home, a fact which disturbed Martin more than it did his companion. Nelson pointed out, however, that American mail hadn't had time to reach Queenstown yet, and Martin felt better. They joined forces with nearly a dozen members of the Q-4's petty officers and crew and hired numerous carriages—only they called them cars there—and were driven around the island. It was an hilarious and rather noisy trip, for they were well through with a dangerous enterprise, the sun was shining, the Irish fields were tender green and they were young. Many a gossoon who had never been familiar with a United States coin before was richer by reason of that expedition. As Clancy remarked—for Clancy was along and led the singing: "There's nothing in the stores worth buying and we've got to spend it somehow!"

Coming back they spied a baseball game going on and, emitting wild shrieks of approval, abandoned their equipages—paying the jarveys far more than was reasonable—and joined the spectators. Inquiry elicited the information that the contending nines represented an American destroyer and an American supply ship. Clancy learned which team was leading in the score and then, summoning his companions, began a vocal bombardment of that team which so surprised and distressed its pitcher that he added to the joy of nations by passing the next two batsmen and throwing an easy grounder over first baseman's head. The game had reached the end of the seventh inning when the Q-4's rioters appeared and the score was 18 to 7 in favor of the destroyer's team, but Clancy rallied the neutrals, which included many amused British Tommies from the garrison, and conducted such a siege of cheering and raillery that the supply ship came through in the ninth with enough hits to win.

The destroyer team's catcher, a big two-handed Irish-American with flaming red hair and a belligerent disposition, took Clancy to task the instant he was free of his mask and protector and there ensued as pretty a little informal scrap as it had been the pleasure of the Britons to witness for some time. They were awfully appreciative, those Tommies, and did everything in their power to make the affair a success, even to joining hands and establishing a ring. A red-cheeked sergeant took charge of proceedings and appointed himself referee and everything went off very nicely indeed. They found six rounds before the destroyer "gob" took the count, during which it was give-and-take all the way, with some really scientific work by both men. Clancy looked a bit the worse for wear at the end of the battle, but he had the satisfaction of knowing that this opponent looked a sight more disreputable. Subsequently the late foes shook hands quite amicably, and principals, seconds and spectators returned to the town in the finest of spirits, Briton and American fraternizing in a fashion almost touching.

Despairing of finding a supper fit for persons of their refinement and condition of hunger, Martin and Nelson called it a day and returned to their respective ships, agreeing to meet again at the first opportunity.

The opportunity didn't occur until the second day later, for the Gyandotte filled her bunkers and Nelson's presence was necessary on board. The captain didn't put it in those words, of course. In fact, he didn't say anything about it. The order was "Coal ship," and you knew what that meant without being told, and knew that your chance of getting ashore was just about as bright as a lighted candle's in a gale of wind. The Gyandotte tried for a record that day, but failed by a matter of six minutes, and there was subsequent gloom that was dispelled only when soap and water had removed the signs of toil and "chow" had refreshed the inner man. The next day the task of painting fell to the other hands and Nelson again spread himself luxuriously on a thwart of the first boat bearing the liberty party to shore. Martin failed to show up until almost noon, however, and Nelson passed rather a dull morning. He read all the newspapers and magazines he could get his hands on at the hut and mailed three picture postcards, and after that strolled along the one main street of the town and wondered whether any of the citizens of Queenstown ever did any work. So far as he could see most of the inhabitants were holding up the fronts of the buildings along the water! He yielded to the blandishments of four beggars, tried to understand the tearful tale of a stranded Norwegian sailor, bought some butterscotch and got his jaws stuck so firmly together that he feared he would have to seek the aid of a surgeon, and then literally walked into the arms of Martin.

"Hello, Nep," laughed the latter, releasing him. "Lost your eyesight?"

"Nobagamatetutugada," replied Nelson earnestly.

"Come again, please!"

"IhayIgamate——"

"Yes, I understand that," said Martin gravely, "but what happened after the torpedo struck?"

Nelson seized him by the arm, in desperation, and started him up the hill.

"Oh, I see," jabbered the other. "You've hidden the corpse on top of the hill, eh? Better look back and see if we're followed, Nep. The last time I got mixed up in a crime of this sort I was electrocuted."

"Dobesiechum," expostulated Nelson impatiently. "Hapiesef." He drew the bag of butter-scotch from his pocket and held it forth. Martin viewed it suspiciously.

"Yes, I'm quite happy, thanks, but I don't think I want to eat any of that stuff. What is it?"

"Buherhoct"

"Indeed? Has it any other name? Let's look at it. Oh, I get you, Nep. It's butterscotch. Why didn't you say so?"

"Idi!"

"Not at all, old scout. You said something that sounded like a giraffe blowing bubbles. No, thanks, Nep. You may be stuck on that stuff, but I'm not, and don't intend to be. Is there any hope for you? Or do you remain stuck-up and inarticulate all day?"

"Iamin," responded Nelson hopefully.

"Iamin, eh? Think of that? Why, I used to know him. Nice chap, too. Say, where are you taking me? I don't want to go and see that castle or monastery or whatever it is up there. Let's look for a movie show."

Nelson freed his jaws by a final, despairing effort and after an agonized period of suspense deposited a lump of butterscotch on someone's doorframe.

"Hang the stuff!" he exclaimed ruefully. "I've nearly broken my jaws with it. Wonder what sort of glue they put into it. Someone could make his fortune if he could find out. Gee, but my mouth aches!"

"What are you going to do with the rest of it?" inquired Martin.

"Throw it away as far as——"

"Wait a bit! Don't be wasteful, Nep. I know something better. We'll go back to Main Street or Prairie Boulevard or whatever they call that causeway down there and drop it along the pavement. Then we'll wait until it gets nice and soft and make a lot of money prying folks loose."

But Nelson didn't think the scheme practical and so they compromised by laying the bag on a doorsill and hurrying off before they could be caught and made to take it back.

The south of Ireland has a delightful climate if you don't mind being a bit damp. The sun disappeared behind a fog bank about noon and when they emerged from dinner—they had taken advice and been rewarded by a well-cooked meal—it was raining. At least, they called it rain, but the inhabitants spoke of it as a mist. Whatever it was, it made them wish they had their rubber coats. They retired to the Y. M. C. A. hut to wait for it to stop, but it showed no intention of doing anything so obliging, and so, after awhile, finding the hut deficient in excitement, they metaphorically shrugged damp shoulders and swaggered forth again. Perhaps it would hare been as well if they hadn't, as things turned out. Or perhaps, on the other hand, it was fortunate that they did. It all depends on how you look at it.