For the Freedom of the Seas/Chapter 22



AFTER that Tip and Nelson managed to be together a good deal, for although visiting the officers' quarters was something Nelson didn't attempt again, there was nothing to keep Tip from seeking out Nelson. Consequently, when the latter was off watch Tip was always on hand to share his idleness. In the few days that he remained aboard the Gyandotte the young midshipman became a favorite with officers and men alike. He was such a sunny, smiling, happy-go-lucky youth that it would have been impossible not to like him. Nelson suspected that the ship's officers would gladly have kept Tip in the ward-room on many occasions when that youth was down on the lower deck with Nelson or, eagerly curious, following Garey around Number Four gun and listening to the plugman's explanations.

There was just one exciting half-hour on the eastward run, and that came at dusk of the day that brought them in sight of the French coast. A U-boat appeared quite brazenly a mile northward and it fell to the lot of the Gyandotte's gunners to fire the first shot. Tip stood by on that occasion while Number Four gun crew got into action and while Nelson, now pointer, landed two five-inch shells on the patch of water that a moment before had held a sinking conning tower. That the shells did any damage is doubtful, nor were the three destroyers that raced to the spot any more successful with depth bombs. But the submarine didn't discharge any torpedoes, or, if she did, they went wild, and while the escort combed the sea the eighteen big transports, filled with Canadian troops, fled zig-zagging to safety.

The next morning the transports were safe within the nets and the convoys scattered to their bases, the Gyandotte following four of the destroyers up the coast by Penmarch Point, across the Channel entrance and past the Sally Islands and so home to the green-rimmed waters of Queenstown.

Nelson found promotion awaiting him, as did four others, as a result of the Gyandotte's North Sea engagement. It was no longer Seaman Gunner Troy, but Third Class Gunner's Mate Troy, and he was soon wearing his single chevron and the crossed cannons on his sleeve and trying to avoid looking down at them when anyone was around. In honor of the advancement, Tip took him to dinner on shore and they made a very splendid occasion of it. Tip was still in the dark as to what was to happen to him, and spoke scathingly of the Admiralty because of its indifference to his future. Meanwhile, however, he seemed to be getting along very comfortably, spending a good deal of time at the Officers' Club or aboard ships in harbor, hobnobbing with his friends. The second day after the Gyandotte's return two events of interest occurred.

The first was the arrival in port of four new United States destroyers. They came gliding in soon after sun-up, the Stars-and-Stripes fluttering bravely, to a welcoming shriek of whistles from anchored craft. Big, able ships they were, long and low-cut abaft the forecastle, but with staunch, stiff bows. Triple torpedo tubes instead of twins: five-inch guns in the main battery instead of fours: "all the modern improvements," as Garey phrased it, and a reputed speed of thirty-four! Cheering and cheered, the newcomer, swept to anchorage, and officers decked and hurried shoreward to report to headquarters on the Hill. Those fine, new sea-terrors chirked everyone up immensely, and there was a marked increase in patriotic fervor, or, at least, in the expression of it. It was generally conceded now that the Kaiser's day was about over! Even Ferris, although critical of several features about the new craft, was heard to remark that he guessed "the Limies couldn't show anything better." Nelson got ashore in the afternoon and met Tip and was secretly very proud when Tip went into raptures over the new destroyers and sighed for the command of one of them.

The second event arrived some twenty minutes later and left Nelson momentarily breathless. He and Tip were on the way to Police Headquarters for a chat with the sergeant, who had become quite a crony when, turning a corner, they ran plump into a broad-shouldered American Jackie, who emitted a blood-curdling yell and rushed upon them. Tip squared off, resolved to sell his life dearly, but Nelson, after a moment's stupefaction, began to yell too, and the bystanders were treated to the sight of two hitherto apparently sane young sailors locked in each other's arms and doing a sort of bear dance about the pavement.

Tip retired to a position of safety and grinned sympathetically and counted "One, two, three! One, two, three! Swing!" until, laughing breathlessly, the two broke apart and became coherent.

"Nep, you old horse-thief!"

"Mart! Where'd did you come from?

"Right out of my little tin fish! She's down the harbor a ways. Got in this morning. I didn't know the old Dry-an-rot was here. Where's she lying? How are you? I say, owld de-ah, what's happened to your sleeve? Blow me, the lad's been promoted!"

"Mart, shake hands with Mr. Tipper. Tip, you've heard me speak of Townsend."

"Wot cheer, Townsend! As we say in dear old Amurica, put her thar!"

"Glad to know you!" laughed Mart, shaking hands. "You're one of the Arizona Tippers, of course. Can tell by your accent!"

"Right-o! Born and reared within sight of the jolly old Missouri!"

Tip declared that the occasion demanded food and drink and led the way to his favorite hostelry where, for the better part of two hours, the trio talked thirteen to the dozen and Mart recounted his adventures up north and got his tongue so twisted with Scottish words that Nelson feared for him. "Oh, it's all right if you like that sort of thing," declared Mart, "but excuse me! I got so finally that, begging Mr. Tipperary's pardon, it would have been a grand relief to me if the British Grand Fleet had sunk at its moorings! I was never gladder to see the last of anything than I was to watch Kinnaird Head lose itself in the mist. It's those horrible mists that make life miserable up that way. And then the sea's beastly, too, most of the time. And cold! My word, fellows, submerging in Moray is like going into an ice-chest! Still, at that, it was interesting, and we had our thrills. One of 'em came when we took a practice plunge and something went wrong with the tanks and we stayed on the bottom for seven hours before we could get up again. Those little things make life interesting. I never knew until that day how many of us carried Bibles in our old kit bags!"

"And what are you up to now, if I may ask?" inquired Tip.

"You may ask, all right, friend, but don't expect me to tell you. They sent three of us down here, but we don't know why, unless it's to get the icicles out of the balance tanks. We had a weird run of it, too, down that east coast of yours. Do you know that there are exactly nine thousand different currents along there? Well, there are. I heard the Old Man say so, and he ought to know, for he was on duty every minute. He's ashore now somewhere. I heard him say he was going to get a bath and a shave, but I'll bet you anything you like he's filled himself with steak and onions and gone to sleep!"

"Speaking of steak and onions," murmured Tip wistfully, "let's eat something else."

"Tell me where you got the decorations, Nep," said Mart, waving the suggestion of food aside and nodding at Nelson's right sleeve. "You don't have to salute me any more, do you? Not that you ever did, though. What's the big idea? You in training to take Sims' place?"

"'E's a bloomin' 'ero, 'e is," explained Tip. "Fought hoff the 'ole German Nivy, 'e did, and got 'it in the 'ead and ain't been the sime since!"

Nelson gave a brief account of the Gyandotte's adventure, aided by Tip, who supplied a deal of interesting but scarcely credible matter, and Mart declared warmly that he had always known "Nep had it in him, by Jupiter!" After which, as Nelson and Mart both refused to eat any more or countenance the opening of further bottles of ginger beer, the trio went out and sought adventures along the water front. But adventures don't happen in Queenstown merely for the seeking, and they finally parted after making an appointment for the next day.

Nelson went back to the ship feeling very happy, for it was good to have Mart around again. He thought of a lot he meant to tell that youth at the first opportunity, for he had always found it easy to confide in him and was sure of sympathy, but the opportunity for confidences didn't arrive until long after, as it happened. Mart and Tip kept the appointment the next forenoon, but not Nelson, and, after kicking their heels along the quay for an hour, the two decided to pay a visit to the Gyandotte and enjoy the ineffable pleasure of watching Nelson work. Tip was certain of a welcome and Mart saw no reason for being refused on board, and so they engaged a waterman and set forth.

Once aboard, Tip set off to visit the officers' quarters as a matter of duty and politeness, and Mart sought Nelson. "Sorry I couldn't make it," said the latter when he had greeted his friend, "but they've granted no liberty at all today, for some reason. Looks as if we might be going out, although we're not due to until tomorrow. Want to see what a real ship looks like?"

Mart said he did, and asked if there was one in port. Presently, viewing the engine room, they were joined by Tip, who had wrested himself from the blandishments of the ward room officers. The three were still making a lagging round of the ship when one of the men, hurrying by, called to Nelson: "Better get your friends off, Mate. We're pulling out!"

"Fine hospitality!" complained Mart: "Well, be good, Nep. Come on, Tipperary, or we'll be on the briny!"

"I say," was the response. "I'd rather like it, you know. I wonder if they'd mind if I did."

"Why don't you ask?" said Nelson. "I wish you would. And I wish you might come, too, Mart. You might stow away!"

"No, thanks I I've seen enough sea duty for awhile. Me for shore and real food! Well, see you all later."

The anchors were already coming up and the siren was blowing a warning as they gained the deck. Mart looked over the side for the boat in which they had made the trip from shore and which had been instructed to wait for them. But they had made the mistake of paying off their boatman for the outward trip, and, like many happy-go-lucky denizens of that port, he saw no cause for further labor while there was a shilling in his pocket. At all events, he was not there, and Mart cast a dubious gaze about the harbor. Tip, who had dashed off to obtain permission to remain aboard and had got it, came back and went into fits of laughter over Mart's quandary. Nowhere was there a boat within signaling distance, and everyone was far too busy to give ear to Mart's troubles. Nelson sought the officer of the deck and held a hurried consultation, and presently returned with word that, if they found a chance of sending Mart back, they would do so, but that it looked very much to the officer as if he would have to swim or stay aboard!

"Oh, well, that's all right," said Mart. "I'll get Hail Columbia, of course, and be shot for desertion, but who cares? I say, Nep, when you get a chance see if you can persuade the radio shark to report me to the Q-4, will you?"

Nelson agreed and hurried off to his station, leaving Martin a bit worried and Tip chuckling. The Gyandotte turned and passed down the channel, signaling for the gate, and slid forth to the sea in the glory of a sunshiny November afternoon. Once past the mine fields she picked up her heels and went plunging southward in the teeth of a chill breeze dashing the foam from her bow and playing a tune on her aerial that sounded like the first efforts of a jew's-harp performer. Although Mart watched and hoped until Kinsale Head was lost to sight, nothing offered in the way of transportation back to Queenstown, and, for that matter, and in spite of the officer's promise, it is extremely doubtful if the Gyandotte would have slowed down to put him off. There was something wry determined and objective in the cruiser's manner this evening, and Nelson secretly believed that nothing short of a "moldie" was likely to stop her.

Mart accepted the situation at last and threw off dull care. Nelson had succeeded in getting a wireless back to the Q-4 explaining the cause of his desertion, and Mart declared that there was no more to be done. He was made welcome in Nelson's mess and ate a good supper and was given a hammock and a place to swing it. Tip was not much in evidence that evening, but they learned the next morning that he had slept most comfortably on an improvised bunk in the ward room. The cruiser met a heavy sea shortly before midnight and performed quite a few fancy steps between then and morning, and Mart, who should have been inured to any sort of discomfort, confessed the next day that the motion had been so strange to him that he had not slept much!

What the Gyandotte's original plan had been they never learned, for about nine that morning a messenger burst out of the wireless room and scurried to the bridge and the cruiser promptly showed signs of increased activity below decks and spouted blacker smoke and more of it and wheeled south-westward. And some three minutes later the whole ship's company knew that somewhere a U-boat was "strafing" an American merchantman and that the little Gyandotte was off to see about it!