HITTING CLOSE TO THE SALT TRAIL
"GIVE us a rocket signal if you need help," Dave signalled the attendant mine-sweeper.
Then to the officer of the watch:
"Give us full speed, and we'll run down to see if the 'Reed' has work enough for two of our kind."
A little further south he signalled same orders to the patrol boat that he had given to the mine-sweeper.
Then the "Grigsby" rushed onward as if she scented something of which she did not wish her crew to be deprived.
As soon as Darrin discovered that Dalzell was using his searchlight he ordered the "Grigsby's" also to be used. Over the waters the bar of light swept until it picked up a sight that made the officers on the bridge gasp for sheer astonishment.
Two submarines, some five hundred yards apart, lay on the surface of the sea.
Strangest part of all, neither craft was serving its guns. Why they neither fought nor dived puzzled the "Grigsby's" officers until the "Reed's" guns ceased firing and her blinkers signalled to Dave:
"Don't fire on them unless I do. They're helpless."
The "Reed," first to approach the submarines, steamed in between them. Then as the "Grigsby" raced up, she received this message from Dalzell:
"Wish you would take charge of the nearer submarine. I'll handle the other."
On both enemy craft, as seen under the searchlight, the German crews had come out on deck. It was clear that they wished to surrender without further loss of life.
So Dave ordered a launch cleared away, with a prize crew armed to the teeth, Ensign Andrews in command.
"You men get as far forward as possible," Andrews shouted to the huddled enemy. "Be careful not to have any weapons about you. We'll accept you as prisoners of war, but any attempt at treachery will be sternly punished!"
As he spoke the ensign rested one hand on the barrel of a machine gun in the launch's bow. Instantly the Germans began to move forward, only their four officers remaining near the conning tower.
"Stand by to catch a line and make fast," called the ensign, as the launch, under headway, lay in close.
Though they plainly understood, not one of the German officers made a move to catch a rope. Instead, one of them called to the huddled seamen, two of whom came back to take the line.
Making fast, Andrews stepped aboard, followed by some of his armed crew.
"You are the only officers of this craft?" Andrews demanded.
"Yes," sullenly replied the ober-lieutenant.
"Be good enough to hold up your hands while we search you."
Though their eyes flashed their rage, the German officers raised their hands while a petty officer "frisked" them one after the other.
"None of them armed, sir," was the report.
"Then into the launch with them. Next, order the seamen and engine-tenders aft and search them. The launch will carry about twenty prisoners on the first trip."
Soon the score of prisoners had been delivered aboard the "Grigsby." A second lot was sent over, after which Andrews decided that he could take charge of the remainder on their own craft. He now had force enough with him to keep this unarmed remainder in subjection.
Heading an armed party the ensign went below in the submarine to make an inspection. He had already noted a shell-hole through the hull which had made it impossible for this submarine to dive without drowning the crew. But he found other matters to interest him. This was a mine-layer craft, and at the present moment she had more than twenty mines on board.
One of Dalzell's junior officers, searching the other submarine, found her to be a mine-layer, too, but with only two mines on board. This second craft, also, had been pierced through the hull in such fashion that there had been no chance for her to escape by submerging.
On each craft forward a crane had been set up, and still stood. Dan Dalzell's report, when made, shed a good deal of light on German methods.
The "Reed" had been barely drifting when two submarines had come up within two miles of the destroyer. It was the noise of erecting the cranes that had warned Dalzell's watch officer of their presence there on the dark sea.
Suddenly, through night glasses, Dan, who had been called to the bridge, discovered what was taking place. On the quiet waters of this night the two craft had managed to get near enough to each other to attempt to transfer mines from one to the other.
Then it was that the "Reed" had opened fire with her guns, had turned on her searchlight and had rushed in.
As soon as the German commanders found their boats punctured into helplessness they had signalled their surrender.
"But I was glad indeed when I saw you bearing down on us," Dan announced, when he visited his chum a little later. "The enemy had surrendered, but I know enough of German treachery to realize that they might let me drive in close and then try to torpedo me. I needn't have worried, but of course I could not afford to take chances."
Sending for Boatswain's Mate Runkle, Dave inquired:
"Do you speak German?"
"I know about six words, sir; not as many as eight."
"Then you are the man for the job, Runkle. Go down among the prisoners that have been sent on board, the seamen, I mean, not the officers. Act as though you were there on duty, but not very busy. Use your six words of German and make English do for the rest. The German sailors won't understand you, unless some of them speak English. That will be all the better, for as soon as you discover that some of the men don't know what you are saying you will be able to judge which of those who speak no English are the most stupid, or the most likely to talk and tell us the truth. Spot three or four of these stupid ones, and then bring one of them here to the chart-room."
"Now, what on earth does the 'Old Man' want?" wondered Runkle, as he started away on this errand. "But never mind. Even if I can't guess what he wants it's a cinch that he knows. The stupidest one, eh? I wonder why any Fritz wouldn't do, then!"
Runkle found his man within five minutes, detached him from the other prisoners, and led him to the chart-room. Darrin tried his own German on the fellow, asking:
"Your craft had just arrived from the base port?"
The man stared, then slowly nodded.
"How many mines did you have on board when you left the base port?"
"Thirty, I heard."
"You planted some on the way?"
"A few, so I heard."
"Most of the mines you were to deliver here tonight?"
"How many trips a week has your craft been making between here and the base port?"
"Usually about four."
"Did you always deliver, here, to the same mine-layer?"
"No; that was as it happened. Sometimes to one boat, sometimes to another."
"How many mines could your craft carry?"
As this agreed with the information supplied by Ensign Andrews, Dave believed that the seaman was telling the truth.
"Did your craft always come to these same waters to deliver mines to mine-layers?"
"Always, since I have been aboard, to some one of the shoals in this stretch of them," replied the sailor.
"Do you know how many mine-layers wait over here on the English side to have mines delivered to them?"
"No, but they are not so many."
"A few, supplied four times a week, can plant a lot of mines," quizzed Darrin.
"And the craft you were aboard was one of the smaller ones that brought cargoes of mines. Your people have some that carry much larger numbers of mines?"
"Yes, and the larger boats that bring mines over to the real mine-layers travel faster under water than our boat did."
"So that these larger boats can make at least five round trips a week?" Dave asked.
"You have not told me the name of your base port," Darrin went on.
"And I don't intend to," retorted the seaman. "You are asking me too many questions. I should not have said as much as I did, and I shall not answer any more questions."
"You do not need to," Dave assured him. "I already know the answers to a lot of questions that I might have asked you. But you look like a reasonable fellow, and also like a fellow fond of some of the good things of life. Had I found you more ready to talk I might have arranged for you to have a pleasanter time in the English prison than your mates will have."
"A pleasanter time until the hangman called for us?" demanded the German, a cunning look coming into his eyes.
"The hangman?" Darrin repeated.
"Oh, yes! I know! We all know. The English hang the crews of German submarines. Our officers have told us all about it. You are wrong, too, to hang us, for it is the knowledge that the English will hang us that makes us fight more desperately when we are attacked."
"But the English will not hang you. You and your mates will be treated as prisoners of war," Darrin assured him. "You will be well fed. You will have some amusements. When spring comes you will have gardens to work in and the flowers or vegetables that you raise will belong to you. It is a stupid lie to tell you that the English hang you all. You will soon be on shore, and in an English prison camp, and then you will know that you have been lied to. You will enjoy finding yourself on shore, for you were not often allowed to go ashore when you got back from these trips to take on your next mine cargo at—"
It was a simple trap, but as Darrin paused, the seaman replied:
"No, we were not often allowed ashore in ——," naming the port.
The port that the seaman mentioned was the one Darrin had been trying to get him to name. The German had unwittingly allowed himself to name the base port from which the mines were shipped. As soon as the German realized his blunder he used some bad language.
"That is all," said Dave Darrin. "You may go back to your mates, and by daylight you will know that an English military prison is not at all a bad place."
TRYING OUT THE BIG, NEW PLAN
"YOU see," Dave nodded to his brother officers, "the theory we had worked out about the method of supplying mines to the submarine layers was the right one. I think that we shall be able to show some results to the admiral."
Dan was then instructed to remain to keep watch over the shoals, while the "Grigsby" soon afterwards started for port, escorting the two prizes.
Before daylight the captured under-sea boats were duly turned over to the British authorities. Darrin then sought the admiral, and, despite the lateness of the hour, he was soon admitted.
"What do you need for your enterprise?" inquired the admiral after listening attentively to the plan Dave had unfolded to him.
"Nothing but a dirigible, commanded by the right man," Dave explained.
"That ought not to be difficult," declared the British officer. "You shall have what you want. Now, suppose we go over the chart, to make sure that I understand just what you propose to do."
On the map Darrin traced the course that he felt sure the German underseas craft pursued when bringing cargoes of mines to the other submarines that were laying mines in British waters.
"That would be the natural course for such craft to take," agreed Admiral Wheatleigh. "I trust that you are right in your surmises. If you are, we should have some excellent results within the next few days."
"I shall know, sir, within forty-eight hours, and I think it likely that the enemy will also hear something about it within the next few days. At least, sir, the German admiralty should be able to guess."
Dave took his leave, hastening back to the "Grigsby," which, an hour later, weighed anchor and stood out to sea. By that time Dave was sound asleep, for he had been through a great deal and was sorely in need of rest before he reached the scene of his intended activities.
Some hours later he was called, and was soon on the bridge.
"You are at the point at which you wished to be called," said Fernald when Dave reached the bridge.
"And you will do well to seek your own rest now, Mr. Fernald," Darrin answered. "You can be called, if needed."
Half an hour later Darrin made out, in the sky astern, a tiny speck that rapidly came closer, and proved to be the dirigible sent at his request.
As the dirigible came nearer signals were rapidly exchanged. The course for the aircraft was made plain. As for the "Grigsby," her speed was slowed down to mere headway and she loafed over the waters.
Two hours passed during which the "blimp" aloft sailed rapidly to and fro in the sky, zig-zagging over the course in a way that covered several square miles in an hour.
"She's found something, sir!" cried Ensign Andrews.
"She has sighted a craft, bound over the course we had suspected," said Darrin, as signals broke out rapidly from the car under the big gas bag. "We'll let the submarine get by us before we start in chase."
Another half hour passed, for, though the dirigible moved swiftly, the underseas craft she was watching was moving only at submerged speed.
Then the chase led on past the "Grigsby." Purposely Darrin allowed it to go by him by about a mile ere he joined in the pursuit. Starting at half speed ahead he soon changed it to full speed.
And now the dirigible had slowed down, until she was travelling, as her signals stated, at just the speed of the submerged craft directly under her.
"We'll go in by the stern and try to make a quick job of it," Darrin proposed, as he gave Andrews final instructions, and turned to see that the signalman with his flag stood well aft on the superstructure.
As the destroyer raced in almost under the dirigible Darrin raised his right hand. The signalman with the flag did the same.
Just as the "Grigsby's" bridge passed in under the tail of the aircraft Dave Darrin read the signal for which he had waited. The airmen were telling him that the bridge of his craft was almost over the bow of the hidden enemy beneath.
Down came Dave's raised hand. Seeing it fall, the signalman let his flag drop.
In that same instant the depth bomb was released for its course over the "Grigsby's" stern.
Almost in the same second there sounded a terrific if muffled report under the surface. The water rose in three distinct columns, lifting the stern of the "Grigsby" and almost burying her bow under.
It was as though a great geyser and an earthquake had met. Columns like waterspouts hurled themselves across and over the reeling destroyer. Even when the "Grigsby's" nose came out and up once more the destroyer rocked in the near tidal wave that the swift series of explosions had produced.
"Pardon me, sir," begged Ensign Andrews, when he had regained control of himself. "I feel constrained to remark, sir, that you appear to know how to get all the thrills out of life."
"We must have landed right over a mine cargo once more," Dave answered smiling. "There were several explosions, but they came nearly together. One of these days we'll start something like that that will send us up half a mile into the air. But it's great sport, Andrews, especially when you pause to think what it all means."
"Great sport for us, but too sudden for the Huns," rejoined the watch officer. "They cannot have had the satisfaction, even, of realizing that anything had hit them."
Satisfied that there would be no more underseas explosions, Darrin gave the order to come about.
That the underseas craft had been struck was indicated clearly enough by the patches of oil on the water. The force of the explosion told the Yankee tars that the craft must have been blown into bits.
"Best thing I ever saw done!" signalled the British officer in command of the "blimp."
"Find us another, and we'll try to show you something just as good," Darrin caused to be signalled back.
Fernald, who had been called, having reported, was sent with the chief engineer to make a hull inspection below decks. Though some of the hull plates had been dented inward enough to attract attention, no leak could be found. The "Grigsby" was as seaworthy as ever, though after that rocking shock this seemed a marvel.
Off in the distance the "blimp" soon became a mere speck to the watchful eyes of those on the destroyer.
Dave directed that the aircraft be followed at cruising speed so long as she remained in sight. When the dirigible was at last lost to view the destroyer lay to, her lookouts using their glasses.
"Think the aircraft is coming back, sir," reported a lookout from the military mast.
From where he stood on the bridge Darrin could make out nothing for several minutes, though in the interval the lookout aloft reported that he could make out the "blimp" with surety, and that she appeared to be flying a signal, though he could not see what it was.
Then from the bridge the "blimp" became visible. A little later, too, the flag signal could be seen and read.
"Following another submarine," was what the signal said.
Going to starboard of the course Darrin advanced at ordinary speed to meet the "blimp," which, as in the former case, was flying just barely astern of the hidden monster, so that the forward British airman lookout could discern the shape of the craft that was being pursued.
Dave waited until the dirigible had passed. He then gave the order, "Full speed ahead," and came about behind the "blimp."
Leaping forward the "Grigsby" gave chase, the "blimp" at the same time moving up directly over the intended prey.
At the drop of the flag above, Darrin let go his right hand, the signalman transmitted the order, and the bomb rolled overboard.
As Dave's hand fell the watch officer advanced the lever of the engine-room telegraph. An extra jump was put into the speed.
Again a column of water rose astern, but this time there was only the normal explosion of the depth bomb.
"Good hit," said the dirigible, by radio, and the message was called up to the bridge. "Saw her stagger. She's done for."
The "blimp" veered off once more, going back over her late course. As the "Grigsby" went about Darrin made out the tell-tale spread of oil on the waves.
"This is the real form of hunting," he exclaimed.
"Too bad, sir, that none of us thought of it before," remarked Ensign Andrews.
"We had to wait and learn," Dave explained. "That's the way that all progress in this war has been registered. We are fighting an ingenious enemy. Destroying the submarine mine-carriers, as we are doing today, won't end the planting of German mines. As soon as the enemy finds out how we are checkmating him he'll invent another scheme, which we'll have to discover before we can beat it."
Half an hour later the British aircraft located a third submarine.
"A big one, too," she signalled. "Following the same course."
"Mr. 'Blimp' might try a bomb himself," suggested Ensign Andrews. "I believe he carries a few."
"Not as powerful ones as we carry," Darrin answered. "Besides, he has to be at a greater altitude, when hunting submarines, than it's handy to drop a bomb from. There is too much margin of chance that the enemy craft will graze by when the bomb is dropped from the air. In our case, if we drop when directly over the Hun, there can hardly be a miss, and it's the dirigible's business to tell us when we are directly over the enemy."
In the meantime, on board the destroyer, all was made ready, and Dave followed the same tactics as before. This time, too, there was a normal explosion, though a solid hit was made and the submarine destroyed. Apart from the "blimp's" report there could be no doubt as to the destruction. The spread of oil on the surface of the sea told the story.
"If you and we hurry, we may bag another before dark," Dave sent by wireless, as the aircraft started back again.
"We'll do our best, believe us!" came back the word.
In the late afternoon a slight haze came up, which gradually deepened.
Darrin followed for a few miles, keeping the "blimp" in sight. She was some six miles away when a radio message came from her in code in these words:
"Can you see steamship about four knots north-west of us?"
Dave challenged the lookout on the military mast, but that seaman reported the weather a bit too thick to enable him to make out the steamship. Darrin accordingly wirelessed back this information.
"Looks like a tramp steamer," came the next message, "but she acted suspiciously when she sighted us. Her skipper appears perturbed, which he would hardly be if his business is honest. Weather is thickening so we may lose him in the haze. Better close in."
"Will do so," Dave replied.
Then followed explicit directions as to the course the destroyer must follow.
The next code message from the airship was:
"Skipper of steamship so bothered that he appears to be rigging anti-aircraft gun. Am about to signal him to stop for search."
Despite the haze over the sea the "blimp's" movements could still be made out from the deck of the destroyer. Mast lookouts and those on bridge and deck followed the "blimp's" movements with keen interest.
"He maneuvers as if he were closing in on the steamship," declared Ensign Andrews.
"If the steamer's skipper uses anti-aircraft guns the dirigible's commander will be justified in dropping bombs," Dave returned. "It's a stupid piece of business for any lightly armed steamer to attempt to resist a 'blimp.' But of course the steamer's skipper does not know that there is a warship so close."
"The rascal's firing on us," reported the "blimp."
"If you'll keep back we'll close in and talk to the stranger," Darrin suggested, by wireless.
"We're hit," almost instantly came the report from the airship.
"Badly?" Dave asked by radio.
"Investigating. Report soon."
"That ship must be up to something extremely desperate to dare to fire on a British 'blimp'!" exclaimed Dave Darrin. "But we're getting close, and soon ought to know what we have to tackle!"
STRIKING A REAL SURPRISE
"ARE we heading straight course?" was Dave's next question through the air.
"You're going straight," came the cheering information.
"Found out your hurt?"
"Yes; gas-bag intact, and we've withdrawn out of easy range. One motor damaged more than we can repair in air. Can limp home, however."
"Leave the steamship to me," Darrin wirelessed back.
Inside of another minute and a half, Darrin made out the mast-tops of the stranger sticking up from the fringe of haze as the cloudy, reddish curtain shifted.
If Dave had sighted his intended prey, so had the stranger caught sight of the destroyer. The steamship cut a wide circle and turned tail.
"He's going at nineteen knots, we judge," came the radio report from the "blimp."
"That won't do him any good!" was the laconic answer that Darrin returned, this time in plain English instead of code.
The lower masts, the stack and then the hull of the stranger became visible as Darrin gained on him.
Bang! A shell struck the water ahead of the stranger, the war-ship's world-wide signal to halt.
Instead, the stranger appeared to be trying to crowd on more speed.
"Give him one in the stern-post," Darrin ordered.
The shell fell just a few feet short. The third one landed on the after-part of the stranger's deck-house.
And now there went fluttering up the top of the destroyer's mast the international code signal:
"Stop or we'll sink you!"
It took another shell, this one crashing through the stern of the stranger, to convince her skipper that the destroyer was in deadly earnest.
By this time the "Grigsby" was a bare half-mile away, and going fast.
"We're bringing to bear on you to blow you out of the water," Darrin signalled this time. "Will you stop?"
If he had made any plan to die fighting the fleeing skipper must have lost his nerve at that point, for he suddenly swung his bow around, reduced speed and moved ahead at mere steerage-way.
"Call Ensign Peters to clear away a launch with an armed crew," Darrin directed. "I will accompany him, for I must see what reason that craft had for firing on a British dirigible."
On either bow of the strange steamship was painted the national flag of the same neutral nation to which the "Olga" had appeared to belong. She flew no bunting.
"Stand by to receive boarding party," a signalman on the "Grigsby's" bridge wigwagged as the launch started toward the water.
The two craft lay now not more than five hundred yards apart. Across the water sped the fast power launch and came up alongside of the unknown steamship, which displayed no name.
Not a human being was now visible on her deck. An undersized watch officer had appeared on the bridge, but he now vanished.
"Who commands that destroyer?" demanded a voice in English, though it had the broken accent of a German-born speaker.
"I do," Darrin replied.
"Then stay where you are, for you're covered!" ordered the same voice in a frenzied tone. "We're not going to have you aboard. Signal the destroyer to make off at top speed and we'll leave you when she is out of sight. Refuse, and we kill you at once. Refuse, and you lose your life."
"Lower your gangway, and stop your nonsense," Dave ordered, angrily. "You're dealing with the United States Navy, and your orders cannot control our conduct."
"Then you are a dead man, at once!" declared the voice of the unseen speaker.
Unnoticed by others, Darrin had given a hand signal to a petty officer in the bow of the launch.
"If you do not lower your side gangway at once, we shall find our own means for boarding," Dave shouted, wrathfully. "Instantly, sir!"
Thereupon half a dozen heads appeared over a bulwark above. As many rifle muzzles were thrust over the edge of the bulwark and a prompt fire began.
Disdaining to draw his automatic Darrin stood up in the launch, the center of such a hail of bullets that his continued existence seemed incredible. Above the reports of the rifles could be heard the voice of Ensign Peters as he directed the swinging around of the launch.
R-r-r-r-rip! The launch's machine gun came swiftly into play. Bullets rattled against the iron sides of the ship.
Four of the six seamen on her deck were seen to fall back; the remaining two fled as fast as they could go.
Then the muzzle of the machine gun was swung, and a hundred little missiles were driven through the wheel-house.
At an unspoken signal the launch moved in until a sailor in the bow could hurl upward an iron grappling hook. At the first cast it caught on at the top of the rail, while the machine gunners trained their weapon to "get" any one who endeavored to cast off the grapple.
"Up with you!" shouted Darrin. One after another half a dozen sailors raced up the rope, swinging over to the deck.
Dave followed next, then more seamen. All were armed and ready for instant work of the sternest kind.
Two sailors lay dead, rifles beside them. Pools of blood showed that at least two more wounded men had been there, but had fled. No one else belonging to the ship was in sight on deck.
"Boatswain's mate, take the bridge," ordered Dave, as more men came up on board. "Put two men in the wheel-house. Take command of the deck with such men as I do not take with me."
Calling half a dozen seamen, and ordering them to draw their automatic revolvers, Darrin proceeded to the chart-room. He tried the door, but found it locked.
"Break it down," he ordered, and in a jiffy the thing had been done. But the chart-room proved to be empty.
Further aft Darrin went along the deck-house. The cabins of the captain and two mates were found to be empty.
"We'll soon know where the crew have gone to," he remarked.
In the dining-room were found three men in dingy blue uniforms, who appeared to be ship's officers. The oldest, who scowled hardest at the same time, Dave took to be the skipper.
"You command this ship?" Darrin inquired.
"If you say so," replied the man addressed.
"You must, for you are the fellow who ordered me to send my ship away," Darrin smiled grimly. "Are you a German?"
"None of your business. Why have you killed two of our crew and hurt others?"
"Drop that nonsense," Darrin retorted, sternly. "You know why we fired on you. And your men slightly wounded two of mine."
"We had a right to," scowled the other.
"You'll know better, by the time you've reached a British prison," Dave rejoined. "Men, place these three fellows under arrest. Search them."
Only the man who appeared to be the craft's master resisted being searched. He swung at one of the sailors, but Darrin jumped in, knocking him down and holding him to the floor.
"Put irons on this scoundrel," he ordered, sharply, a command so quickly obeyed that almost instantly the defiant one found himself manacled. Then Dave yanked the fellow to his feet.
"You are a bully," growled the prisoner.
"I am," mocked Dave, "when I have fellows of your stripe to handle. Men, you'd better iron that pair, too. They belong to the same outfit."
None of the three proved to have any arms on his person.
"Now, where are the members of your crew?" Dave demanded of the manacled skipper.
"Find them!" came the surly retort.
"In what business is this ship engaged?"
"Bring these prisoners out on deck," Darrin commanded. Then, as the order was obeyed, Darrin made his way to the bridge.
"Boatswain's mate, pipe all hands on deck," he directed.
Shrilly the whistle sounded at the lips of the petty officer. But no men came to answer.
"We'll try other tactics, then," Darrin smiled.
Stepping to the wheel-house door he pulled it open. Inside was evidence of the havoc that the machine gun fire had worked there. Everything had been riddled, including the helmsman, who lay dead on the floor.
At this moment, however, Dave had no time to do more than glance at the dead man. Reaching for the whistle he blew a long blast, and caused the fire bell to be rung, the signal to stand by to abandon ship.
That brought seamen and stokers trooping to the deck, until more than thirty had so appeared.
"Does any man among you understand English?" Darrin called down as he leaned over the rail in front of the wheel-house.
"I do," came from one of the crew.
"Then inform your mates that this craft has been seized as lawful prize of the United States Navy. Where is your boatswain?"
"That's me," said the same speaker, gruffly.
"Very good. Deliver my message to the crew. Then make sure that all hands are on deck. If you deceive me you will be held sternly to account for trickery."
"All here," reported the boatswain, after a quick count, "except the cook and his helpers."
"Send for them, and tell them to report here at once."
When the ship's force had been summoned, save for the two sailors known to be dead on the starboard side of the ship, Darrin continued:
"There were some wounded men."
"Two," said the boatswain.
"Where are they?"
"Below. One is badly hurt. The other is binding his wounds."
Dave had by this time walked down on to the deck. There was a forecastle large enough to hold the crew, and he ordered all of the men into it, except the boatswain, whom he sent with three of his own men to find the wounded. These latter two were brought to the captain's cabin. The two dead seamen, after Darrin had gained their names from the boatswain, were picked up and thrown overboard into the sea. The boatswain was then sent to join the prisoners.
"Four of you men come with me, and we'll search the rest of the cabin part of the ship," Darrin directed.
Off the dining room were four doors that Dave believed opened into sleeping cabins. The first door that Darrin tried proved to be locked. One of his men carried a sledge-hammer that had been found in the wheel-house.
"Batter down the door!" Dave ordered.
Ere this order could be carried out the door flew open. A tall young woman, barely more than twenty years of age, stood in the doorway, her head thrown back, cheeks flushed, her look proud and disdainful. In her right hand she held a revolver.
"Go away from here!" she ordered. "Else I shall kill you!"
THE GOOD WORK GOES ON
"YOU will have to lower that pistol, young lady," warned Dave, calmly, as he walked toward her. The sailors had drawn back to either side of the doorway, but the young woman stood where she could aim at anyone in the American party.
The seaman nearest the revolver glanced quickly at Darrin, as if to inquire whether he should make an attempt to seize her pistol wrist and wrench the weapon away.
But Dave ignored the man's glance as he stepped up, eyeing the young woman coolly.
"Lower the pistol," he warned, again. "If you tried to use it, it would tell against you hard, before an English court, and these are wartimes, you know."
He was now within two feet of the weapon, which was pointed at his head.
"I shall kill you if you try to come near me," the young woman insisted desperately.
But Dave took another step. She pulled the trigger. There was a bright flash, a loud report.
Dave, however, had been watching that trigger finger. As he saw it stiffen he dropped suddenly almost to his knees, the bullet passing over his head and embedding itself in woodwork across the cabin.
Darrin sprang up unharmed. His cap had caught a powder burn; that was all. He gripped the woman's wrist in a hand of steel. With his other hand he coolly took the pistol away from her, then dropped her wrist.
Bursting into a fit of hysterical weeping the woman drew back, endeavoring to close the cabin door. But Darrin's foot across the sill defeated her purpose.
"You are a brute!" she panted, frantically trying to close the door.
"At least," he assured her, "I have saved you from a crime that would have cost you your own life. Look out, please, for I am going to throw your door wide open."
"You—you coward!" she panted, and struggled to close the door.
"Stand back! I am sorry to have to use force, but you compel it."
As she refused to give ground Darrin gave the door a push that forced her back, crowding her against a berth. Then he stepped into the little cabin.
In a lower berth lay a middle-aged woman whose piercing black eyes snapped as she surveyed the young naval officer.
"You are a wretch, to intrude here!" cried the older woman.
"One must often do disagreeable things in the line of war duty," Darrin answered, gravely. "For one thing, I must place you both in arrest. Then I shall be obliged to have your cabin searched."
"Oh, if I but had a weapon!" cried the older woman.
"If you had, and were quick enough," Dave assured her, "you might succeed in killing me, but that would not affect our duty here, for there are other officers at hand. Madam, I perceive that you are fully dressed, so I must ask you to rise and leave this cabin, for a few minutes, at least."
"I shall not do it," she snapped.
"Then you will oblige me to call my men in, and they will remove you, using no unnecessary violence, you may be sure, yet employing force just the same."
The younger woman, too, started in to berate him, but Dave remained calm.
"Will you, at least, not leave the room until I have risen?" demanded the older woman.
Darrin, who had a notion that the women wanted to conceal or destroy something, nodded his assent, but signed to two of the seamen to enter. Under his instructions they took the door off its hinges, carried it outside and laid it on the floor of the dining cabin.
"Now, ladies," Dave called, as he stepped outside, "you will be good enough to come out at once."
"We will come at our good convenience!" snapped the older woman.
"Wrong again. As I am discharging my duty here, you will necessarily come out at once. I shall not be patient if my instructions are defied."
Plainly furious that the door could not be closed, the younger woman assisted the older one to rise from the berth. Then, both expressing their resentment in their glances, the two women came out of the cabin.
"Mother and daughter," guessed Dave.
"Where will you have us sit, Brute?" demanded the younger woman.
"Take any seat in this dining cabin that you please," he replied. "You must sit together, and one of my men will stand before you."
Seats having been taken by the women, Darrin, calling one of the sailors to him, entered the little cabin. The only baggage there, beyond a hand satchel, appeared to be a locked steamer trunk under the lower berth.
"Take that outside," Dave directed. "It need not be investigated until we reach port."
Two dressing sacks and a few toilet articles were all the personal belongings that could be found there, though Darrin did not stop until he and the seaman had inspected pillows, mattresses and all other places that might have concealed papers or other little belongings.
Coming outside after some minutes Darrin asked:
"Ladies, do you wish to remain in the dining room, or will you go back to your sleeping cabin?"
"We will remain here for the present," replied the older woman. "If we wish to return to our own cabin later on we will do so."
"Wrong again," Dave informed her. "You must remain in one place. There can be no roaming about. This seaman who is your guard will see that you remain where you are for the present. I cannot permit you to leave this part of the dining room. Ladies, I regret being obliged to be so disagreeable, but I beg to assure you that your rights will be respected, and that you shall come to no harm if you obey instructions."
Then he looked into the other three cabins, but found them empty. With that Darrin left the dining room, after detailing another seaman to remain on duty there with the guard over the two women.
Darrin's next care was to inspect the holds. Here he found a cargo that appeared to consist of hundreds of cases of dried fish. At random he selected one of the cases, had it carried to the deck, and ordered that it be opened. Its contents proved to be dried fish.
"There is something worse than that on board, or the skipper would not have acted so much like a lunatic," Dave told himself.
Next inspecting the engine room and stoke hole he found these departments in order, though the fires under the boilers would soon need attention.
Going above, Dave called the stokers and engineers out from among the prisoners, told them that he intended to send them to their posts, and asked them if they would pledge themselves to obey all orders and bridge signals, and not attempt any treachery.
This promise was quickly given.
"I hope you will all keep your word," Dave added, firmly, "for, if any of you attempts treachery, he will be shot down where he stands. I shall post guards."
He posted two of his men in the engine-room, and four in the stoke-hole.
"Be vigilant, and don't stand any nonsense," he ordered.
Returning to deck he gave his final orders to Ensign Peters, who had come on board and relieved the boatswain's mate.
"We are going to take this ship through to our base port," he informed the ensign. "You will command, and will use the petty officers as you need them. I shall require but three of the launch crew to take me back to the 'Grigsby.' You have sufficient force here, Mr. Peters, but we shall stand by and so be ready to give any assistance you may need. Keep yourself informed as to the comfort and conduct of the women prisoners in the dining cabin, and do not permit them to be annoyed by your men. They must have no chance, though, to destroy or conceal any papers they may have on their persons."
With that Darrin went over the side. The launch took him back to his own craft.
Overhead the "blimp" moved slowly about. While her commander was sure he could reach England safely he preferred to remain in company that could rescue his crew and himself if it became necessary.
"Who can the women be?" Lieutenant Fernald wondered, when he had heard Dave's account of the visit to the steamship.
"I don't know. But their conduct, like the skipper's, is the main cause of their predicament. Had they behaved naturally I would have guessed them to be passengers from a neutral port to England. All I can say is that, though they speak English well, I am sure that they are not Englishwomen."
"The younger woman is a beauty, you say?"
"Yes, and her mother, if the older woman be such, is not at all unprepossessing."
The two ships and their aerial companion were now headed toward Darrin's base port, traveling at a good rate of speed.
It was well along in the evening when they passed the "Reed." In code Dalzell exultantly reported that an unusually large number of mines had been swept and removed from the water, and that two submarines had been located on the middle shoal and destroyed.
"Good work!" Dave wirelessed back.
Late that night, the "blimp" still leading the way, the destroyer and her prize entered the base port.
As soon as they had come to anchor Darrin communicated with the British flag-ship. Officials promptly went aboard the steamer to attend to the removal to a prison on shore of the officers and crew of the steamship, and of the women passengers as well.
Immediately after that the ship was subjected to a systematic search by seamen and longshoremen acting under the direction of British naval officers.
A name-plate, ready to fit to the front of the wheel-house, was found. The craft proved to be the "Louisa," well known in a certain British port at which she had been accustomed to call with cargoes of dried fish. The fish now on board was taken off rapidly into lighters. And then it was that, in a sub-hold under the cargo deck, a more significant cargo was found.
From that sub-hold were removed nearly six hundred floating mines of the commonest German pattern. All had been packed with extreme care, and all were ready for transferring to German submarine mine-layers at sea.
It was after two in the morning when Captain Allaire, an officer of the British military intelligence department, came on board the "Grigsby," requesting that her commander be called. Dave received Captain Allaire in the chart-room. Allaire had come to seek information as to the speech and conduct of the two women at the time of their arrest.
Dave answered these questions carefully, then added:
"I shall be glad, indeed, if I brought in women prisoners of real importance along with the other prisoners."
"There are very few pairs whom we would rather have in our prisons," answered Captain Allaire. "The older woman is the notorious Sophia Weiner; the younger is her daughter, Anna Weiner. They use various other names, though. Every intelligence and secret service officer in Great Britain knows of their exploits, and is ever on the lookout for them."
"Then I am astonished that they should have embarked on a steamship bound for England," Dave returned. "They must have faced certain arrest on landing."
"I don't believe they intended coming to England," Allaire answered. "Probably they were on their way to Spain. It may have been that no German submarine was leaving for the Spanish coast just at the time, and it was imperative that they reach Spain early. So, I take it, they journeyed to the neutral country and embarked on the 'Louisa,' knowing that the skipper could transfer them to a submarine bound for Spain. We are amazed at this fellow, Hadkor, skipper of the 'Louisa.' We had believed him to be all right, and he had ready access to our ports with his cargoes. But his ship has been found to be fitted with all facilities for transferring mines at sea, and also with an anti-aircraft gun and a stock of rifles and ammunition. The work must have been excellently paid for by the Germans, for the crew were assuredly in the secret, and ready even to fight, and they surely had to be paid for their risks."
"Then it was a very important catch that the 'blimp' ran us into."
"One of the best in a six-month," replied Captain Allaire. "And yet that skipper fellow and his crew must be lunatics, for their conduct lays them liable to being hanged as pirates."
When the "Grigsby" put out to sea before daylight Dave Darrin lay asleep. He slept extremely well, too, in the consciousness of a day's duties well done.
DARRIN TURNS THE TABLES
BOTH commanding officers were asleep when the "Grigsby" and the "Reed" passed each other that morning, the "Grigsby" proceeding on to her station.
Dave would have gone back on the same water route he had hunted over the day before, but the dirigible, which had reached England safely, had not yet been put in shape for further service, and there was at present no other dirigible that could be spared for his service.
Therefore it was a matter of back to the shoals for temporary duty, yet of a kind that was very important.
At ten o'clock he was called, as that was the hour he had named for relieving Lieutenant Fernald.
The executive officer had come into the chart-room to call him, and remained while Darrin performed his hasty toilet.
"What's the weather?" Darrin asked.
"Misty, sir," replied the executive officer. "There's a fine drizzle, mixed with some fog. For the last half hour it has been impossible to see more than six hundred yards. That is why we are running at half speed. We're close to the middle shoal and I was afraid we'd run down one of our own mine-sweepers."
"The kind of weather every ship's master dreads," Dave remarked.
"Yes, sir, and the weather bites you through to the marrow. The temperature isn't very low, but I think you'll find yourself more comfortable if you dress warmly. I found it so cold as to be necessary to wear the sheepskin under my heaviest rain-coat."
In finishing his dressing Darrin bore this suggestion in mind. In a few minutes he stepped out on deck. The weather proved to be as unpleasant as Fernald had asserted, and Dave was glad that he was warmly clad, for the wind, though not strong, was piercing.
"Sighted any mine-sweeper on the shoal?" Dave asked of Ensign Ormsby, the watch officer, as soon as he reached the deck.
"Only on the first shoal, which is in the 'Reed's' station, sir," Mr. Ormsby replied. "Those belonging to our station must be farther north. And we've sighted none out in deeper water. We couldn't in this thick weather, anyway."
"The view is so limited that this doesn't look like a promising day for us," Dave mused aloud, as he gazed around at as much of the water as he could see.
"It really doesn't, sir."
"Better reduce to one-quarter speed. The less speed the less chance there will be of the enemy hearing us."
Accordingly the "Grigsby" rolled along slowly, the splash and ripple of the water along her sides being a soothing accompaniment.
For an hour they proceeded thus, without sighting a ship. They had passed the middle shoal, and were somewhat north of it when the two officers on the bridge observed that the sun was struggling feebly through the clouds and mist. A minute later, as if by magic, it burst out brightly, and the mist began to fade away.
"By Jove, sir, look at that!" almost whispered Ensign Ormsby.
Some seven hundred yards away from them, motionless on the water, her deck fully exposed, lay a submarine.
Neither deck gun was above decks. At least a dozen of the crew stood near the conning tower, and, of all things in the world, fishing.
"Quick work, there!" Dave called through the bridge telephone to the gunners forward. "Let number one gun send a shell over the craft. Don't hit her at the first shot. We'll capture that fellow, if possible!"
So quickly did the shot come that it was the first intimation the German seamen had of enemy presence.
From aloft the signal broke out:
"Don't try to fire a shot, or to turn, or we'll sink you!"
An officer's head popped up through the manhole of the conning tower, then almost as quickly was withdrawn.
As the "Grigsby," obeying her engines, leaped forward, the men behind both forward guns stood ready to fire at the word.
For the submarine crew to bring either gun into place would be the signal for the destroyer to open fire at a range constantly decreasing. Nor could the enemy craft employ her torpedo tubes without turning, which would have been instant signal for Darrin to order his gunners to fire on the submarine.
Through the manhole of the enemy craft leaped a signalman, flags in hand. Using the international code he wigwagged rapidly this message:
"We will make a grace of necessity and surrender."
"That doesn't necessarily mean that they do surrender," Dave 'phoned to the officer in charge of the forward gun division. "If the enemy makes a move to bring a gun into view, or to swing so that a torpedo tube could be used, fire without order and fire to sink!"
The German commander evidently understood that this would be the course of the Yankees, for as the "Grigsby" bore down upon the submarine not a threatening move was visible.
Instead, the Hun crew, unarmed so far as the watchers on the destroyer could see, emerged from the conning tower and moved well up forward.
"Prepare to lower two boats," Dave called, and added instructions for a large crew for each launch. As the "Grigsby" came about and lay to, the launches were lowered. In the bow of each small craft was mounted a machine gun ready for instant action. The double prize crew was permitted to board the submarine without sign of opposition. At the command, German seamen began to file past two petty officers, submitting to search for hidden weapons, then passing on into the launches alongside.
Last of all four officers came through the manhole, preparatory to enduring the same search. When all the prisoners had been taken aboard, the launches started back to the "Grigsby."
Dave Darrin caught sight of the officers, as the launches approached the destroyer, and felt like rubbing his eyes.
"The ober-lieutenant and von Schelling!" he exclaimed with a start. "They haven't recognized me yet. When they do that ober-lieutenant is going to wish that he had voted for going to the bottom of the sea!"
Not, indeed, until the officers came up over the side of the "Grigsby," and found Dave Darrin waiting on the deck, did the quartette of officers discover who their captor was.
"You?" gasped the ober-lieutenant! "Impossible!"
"Yes; you didn't expect to see me again, did you?"
"I—I—I thought you were——"
The German checked himself.
"You thought you had sent me to the bottom of the sea," Dave went on. "It wasn't your fault that you didn't, but you missed your guess."
Dave then gave the order for housing the prisoners below.
"Are you sending the officers to the same place of detention that you are sending my men?" demanded the ober-lieutenant, a spark of assertiveness in his manner.
"Unfortunately, I am obliged to do so," Dave answered. "I am aware that German officers consider themselves to be of a brand of clay much superior to that used in making their men."
"But we officers are gentlemen!" retorted the ober-lieutenant, drawing himself up stiffly.
"It's a point that might be argued," returned Darrin, lightly. "Yet there is no other course, for we have no detention space apart from the main one on board, so it is the only place that we can use for confining German officers—and gentlemen."
"May I request the privilege of a few words with you before you send me below?" requested the ober-lieutenant, unbending a trifle.
"Certainly," Dave assured him, and the guard that was marshaling the prisoners below permitted the recent German commander to step out of the line.
"I will see you in my chart-room," said Dave. Lieutenant Fernald, who had been standing by, caught Dave's signal and entered with his chief.
Once inside Ober-Lieutenant Dreiner turned and gazed at Fernald.
"I had expected a private interview, Herr Darrin," he said, rather stiffly.
"Lieutenant Fernald is my executive officer, and nothing goes on board with which he is not familiar," Darrin replied. "Have a seat, Herr Ober-Lieutenant."
"And must I speak before—before your subordinate?" asked the German, as he dropped into the chair that had been indicated.
"If you speak at all," Darrin answered.
"But will Herr Fernald keep inviolate what I have to say?"
"In that," Darrin promised, "he will be governed by circumstances."
Dreiner hesitated for a few seconds before he began:
"I—I—er—I have to refer to an incident that followed our last words together on a former occasion."
"You mean, of course, the time, when you assembled on the deck of your craft four prisoners, of whom I was one, then closed your manhole and submerged, leaving us floundering in the water, and, as you expected, to die by drowning?"
"I have not admitted that any such thing took place," Herr Dreiner cried, hastily, with a side glance at Lieutenant Fernald.
"It will make no difference, Herr Dreiner, whether you admit or deny that inhuman attempt to murder four helpless prisoners," Dave rejoined. "It so happened that all four of us kept alive until rescued, and we are all four ready, at any time, to appear against you. So there is no use in evasion."
"Then you intend to bring the charge against me?" asked Dreiner, in a voice husky with either emotion or dread.
"I can make neither promises nor threats as to that," Darrin countered.
"The stern British military courts would sentence me to death on that charge."
"Probably," Dave agreed.
"And I have a very particular reason for wanting to live," Dreiner went on.
"I have eight young children at home, and their sole dependence is on what I earn," the German continued. "I do not mind dying, for myself, but in that event what will become of my poor little children?"
"You Germans fill me with disgust!" Dave Darrin exclaimed, rising, as though to terminate the interview. "It seems to be a rule with you fellows, when you find yourselves facing death, to whine about the children you must leave behind to starve. Before you set out to murder me in an especially brutal manner, did you take the trouble to ask me whether I had any children who would starve? Did you ask Mr. and Mrs. Launce whether they had children that were not provided for? And what about that honest old sea-dog, Captain Kennor? Did you pause to inquire whether he was leaving hungry children behind? For that matter, have any of you wild beasts on German submarines ever worried yourselves about the families you orphaned by your inhuman crimes at sea? Even in the case of the 'Lusitania,' did that submarine commander ask himself, or any one else, what would happen to the women and children who were pitched into the sea? You are wild to murder innocent, harmless people belonging to an enemy nation, yet when you yourselves are brought face to face with death you are all alike. You whine! You beg! Dreiner, you are not man enough to play the game! Your appeal in the name of your eight children, who, for that matter, may not even exist, falls on deaf ears when you address me. I hope that you will be summoned before a British court and that you may be sentenced to pay the full penalty for your crimes!"
Dreiner's face went ashen-gray as he staggered to his feet. Probably he really was concerned for the fate of his children, but his was not the sort of record that invited pity.
"I will not detain you here," Dave finished coldly. "If I did, I might be tempted to abuse a prisoner, and that is something no American fighting man can really do. Orderly!"
As the orderly stepped in, saluting, Dreiner tried a last appeal:
"Why do you hate us Germans so?" he whined. "I know that you do not hate me especially, but that you hate all of our race!"
"Why do we hate you?" Darrin echoed. "The reason is that, from all we hear, fellows like yourself appear to be fair samples of the German officer, on land and afloat. If that does not answer your question fully, I can think of other reasons to give you. I would rather not, for it brings me perilously close to the offense of abusing a prisoner, and that I do not wish to do. Orderly, call two men and instruct them to take Ober-Lieutenant Dreiner below to join the other prisoners."
As the German stepped past the Yankee commander he glared into Dave's face, hissing:
"To-day it is your chance to humiliate and condemn a German. It may not be long ere your turn comes, and a German officer tells you what your end is to be!"
"I am ever at Fate's orders," Darrin answered, with a bow.
ON A MISSION OF GREAT TRUST
WHEN the "Grigsby," in broad daylight, steamed into the base port with a captured submarine and her crew, and a German commanding officer who was liable for a dastardly crime at sea, there was great rejoicing both on the other naval vessels and on shore.
If the German prisoners expected a stormy reception when they were landed and placed under a guard of soldiers, they were disappointed, for nothing of the sort awaited them.
The British populace, though it turned out to see the captives marched through the streets, proved to be too good sportsmen to make a violent demonstration against their now helpless enemies.
Darrin had no sooner turned over the prize and made his report to the British admiral than he was ready for sea once more.
"Mr. Darrin," said the admiral, heartily, "when you went out the other day you promised to show me results. I take this opportunity to assure you that you have. You yourself have made some notable captures, and have destroyed some enemies whom you could not capture. Mr. Dalzell's record has also been a splendid one. The plan by which you are catching mine-layers on or near the shoals before they start out on new mine-laying work is one that has enabled our mine-sweeping craft to accomplish more than they have hitherto been able to do. The record of mines discovered and swept out of the paths of navigation is a fine one, but you have done even better work in blocking the enemy so thoroughly in their operation of laying the mines in the first instance. Your successes are assuming extremely notable proportions. To-morrow the dirigible will be ready to start out again to aid in finding mine-cargo-carrying submarines bound for these waters."
"Sir," Dave replied, "I greatly appreciate your words of praise, and I can speak in the same vein for Mr. Dalzell. Now, as he has had no share in destroying the submarines that bring over cargoes of mines I intend to detail him for that work to-morrow."
"That fits in with my plans," nodded the admiral. "If you will put to sea and find the 'Reed,' and then return to this port, dropping anchor, but keeping up steam, I shall have for you, to-night or to-morrow, a special task of the greatest importance."
"Very good, sir. Is that all for the present?"
"Yes. Your further instructions will be given to you when the time comes."
"Very good, sir. Thank you."
Saluting, Darrin left the flagship, returning at once to the "Grigsby," which soon put to sea. The weather being now comparatively clear, Darrin raced away at nearly full speed. Not long afterward he overhauled and boarded the "Reed," informing Dalzell of his chance to go on the hunt for the submarine mine-carrying craft on the morrow.
"I had been wondering if I was to have a little share in that sport of kings," said Dan, with one of his grins.
"You prevaricator!" Darrin uttered, sternly. "When did I ever hog all of the best sport and leave you the rind?"
"Kamerad! Don't shoot!" begged Dan, with another grin.
"Kamerad" (comrade) is the word the German soldiers employ when offering to surrender to Allied troops. But "Kamerad" does not always mean as much as it conveys, for instances have been numerous when Germans have pretended so to surrender, then have whipped out hitherto hidden weapons and slain their captors.
Returning to port before dark, Darrin put in that night in catching up with his sleep. He slumbered almost without stirring, for it had been long since he had enjoyed more than a part of his needed rest at sea.
Officers and men, too, made the most of their opportunity to sleep that night. Only one officer at a time kept deck watch, and only one engineer officer down below. The "Grigsby" was ready to put to sea almost on an instant's notice from the flagship, but no word came.
Fully refreshed, and in the best of condition, Dave Darrin enjoyed a famously good breakfast the next morning, as did every officer and man on the destroyer. Still the orders for special duty had not arrived, and Dave was beginning to chafe under the delay.
"If it were the first of April I might suspect the bluff old admiral were playing a joke on us," Dave confided to Lieutenant Fernald. "I might think this was his way of affording us all a chance to get even with our rest. I am wondering much what the special duty is to be."
"You will know, sir, in the same breath that you are ordered away to that duty," smiled the executive officer.
"Yes, this is war-time and advance information is very rare," Darrin admitted.
It was, in fact, nearly eleven o'clock when a man of the deck watch reported that a boat had put off from the flagship and was apparently heading for the "Grigsby."
"I'll go out to receive the visitor," said Fernald, rising and leaving the chart-room.
The boat was, indeed, heading for the destroyer. It soon came alongside, bringing a staff officer from the admiral. Lieutenant Fernald received the visitor, conducted him to the chart-room, presented the officer caller to Dave, then discreetly withdrew.
"The admiral's compliments, Mr. Darrin. He spoke to you yesterday of special duty of a most important nature. I have the honor to bear his final instructions."
"Then you are doubly welcome," smiled Dave, "for we have been chafing a bit, fearing that the admiral's plans might have been changed."
"There has been considerable activity on the part of German submarines in these waters of late," continued the British naval staff officer. "As a rule the Huns keep out of the channel, but they have been so active lately that we fear for the safety of the hospital ship 'Gloucester,' which is bringing home about two thousand wounded men. It was the admiral's plan to have you leave port, under full speed, an hour before the sailing time of the 'Gloucester' from France."
"Is there still time for us to get that hour's start?" asked Darrin, rising.
"Unfortunately, the orders were misunderstood, Mr. Darrin. The 'Gloucester' actually sailed about an hour ago. You will find her exact course written on this paper, and you are directed by the admiral to reach her with all speed and convoy her——"
"One moment, please!"
Darrin broke off the conversation long enough to telephone the executive officer, instructing him to transmit the needful orders to the engineer officer on duty, and to pipe all hands on deck.
"I am listening, sir," Darrin resumed, wheeling about.
"Outside you will find two of our fastest mine-sweepers," continued the staff officer. "They are to follow you as closely as possible, and, on nearing the 'Gloucester,' they are to turn and sweep the course ahead of the hospital ship, while you are to be extremely alert for submarines."
"I understand, sir," Darrin nodded. "Are there any further orders?"
"No, Mr. Darrin. Whatever else comes up must be left to your own discretion to handle. The admiral bade me state that he has the fullest confidence in your proven ability to handle circumstances as they arise."
"My thanks to the admiral for his good opinion, and to yourself for informing me of it," smiled Dave, still on his feet and moving slowly toward the door.
"I—er—have some further information, Mr. Darrin, that will prove of considerable interest to you," resumed the naval staff officer, also moving toward the door.
"It possesses a personal interest for you. There are, of course, nurses on board, and other Red Cross workers. One of them is Mrs. Darrin."
Dave's quick smile of happiness was reflected in the staff officer's ruddy face.
"So, you see, Mr. Darrin, you have more than a professional interest in meeting the hospital ship and bringing her through safely, for in doing so you will also be guarding your wife. It is rather an unusual stimulus to duty, isn't it?"
THE RED CROSS TRAGEDY
"NO, sir!" said Dave, promptly. "I love my wife, and it will not surprise you to hear me say it, but in the discharge of my duty Mrs. Darrin has exactly the same status as a stranger. I shall be glad, for my own sake, to bring through in safety any ship on which she sails, but I shall be just as glad to be able to insure the safety of any wounded Tommy Atkins on the 'Gloucester' who is longing for a sight of his loved ones at home."
"By Jove, that's a bully attitude, and I know you mean it!" cried the staff officer, holding out his hand. "I must not delay you. Good-bye, Darrin, and the best of good luck to you!"
A moment later the British officer was over the side and being borne back to the flagship, while quick orders rang out on the "Grigsby." In as short a time as the thing could be done the anchor was stowed, and the destroyer was on her way out of port at half speed.
Just beyond the harbor Darrin gave the order for full speed ahead. From the bridge, three miles farther out on the course, he made out the two mine-sweepers.
"All starts well," commented Dave to Lieutenant Fernald. "May all end as well! By the way, Mrs. Darrin is said to be on board the 'Gloucester'."
"Congratulations," said Fernald, heartily. "And you may look, sir, for every officer and man aboard this craft to redouble his efforts to make the day's task a complete success."
"I don't want it for that reason, although I expect from all on board the fullest efficiency. Fernald, I'm not running an American naval vessel primarily for the safety of my family."
For this trip the lookouts were trebled. They stood at every point of vantage from which anything on the sea might be sighted.
Mile after mile the "Grigsby" logged, plunging and dipping in the sea, her decks running water and spray dashing continuously over the bridge. It was wet work, and over all was the roaring racket of the ship's powerful machinery. To Darrin it was music; the dash and the sense of responsibility thrilled him.
At last came the anxiously awaited hail from the lookout aloft:
"Topmasts of a ship almost dead ahead, sir."
"Keep her constantly in sight, and as soon as you can make out the hull report whether she displays the hospital Red Cross," the watch officer called back.
"Aye, aye, sir."
To those on the bridge the mastheads were soon visible. After that came the lookout's hail:
"She's a hospital ship, sir. I can make out the Red Cross plainly through the glass."
"It must be the 'Gloucester,' then," remarked Lieutenant Fernald.
"Pass the word that the first man really to sight a periscope or a conning tower shall have a fortnight's shore leave extra," Dave ordered.
He smiled as he heard the scattering cheer that greeted that announcement.
"The real way to the sailorman's heart lies through extra shore leave," he told Fernald.
"I wouldn't mind winning that prize myself," muttered the executive officer. "That is, if I were sure that I could honestly accept the leave without prejudice to duty."
"Find the periscope, then," smiled Darrin. "I am sure I can win the promised reward, even for the executive officer."
Not long afterward they were in plain sight of the "Gloucester." On she came, the smoke pouring from her pair of funnels. A fast craft, the hospital ship was making about her best time in her hurry to get safely across with her precious human cargo.
Then the "Grigsby" swung far out to port, cut a part of a circle, and came back on the hospital ship's port bow, darting ahead again, cutting across the hospital ship's bow far ahead and to port, then turning and crossing once more.
After the two craft had proceeded some distance farther the two mine-sweepers were sighted well ahead. These craft would soon turn and sweep the waters for mines ahead of the hospital ship.
Not mere fancy capers was the "Grigsby" cutting. As she crossed the "Gloucester's" bows time and again her lookouts were able to keep sharp watch to port and starboard of the ship that bore a human cargo of pain and suffering. It was the only way for a solitary destroyer to keep effective watch on both sides of the ship she was convoying.
Twice Dave used his glass to glance along the nearer rail of the steamship in search of Belle Darrin. He did not find her thus, and did not try again, for he must not fail in his unceasing watch for the ship's safety.
The mine-sweepers signalled their message of greeting, then turned and swung into place. From this point the "Gloucester" and her escort slowed down speed to accommodate that of the smaller craft.
The vessel wearing the emblem of the Red Cross had not yet reached the spot at which the sweepers had turned.
Over the sea came a sullen, significant roar. The "Gloucester" shivered from stem to stern. A wail of anguish went up in concert from the soldiers on board the hospital ship who were worst wounded.
It had come so suddenly that, for an instant, Dave Darrin was dazed.
"That wasn't a torpedo!" he cried, hoarsely, a second or two later.
"She hit a mine, sir," reported Lieutenant Fernald. "It wasn't the fault of the sweepers, either, for they hadn't time to get that far. But it's awful—awful! There'll be hundreds of the poor fellows drowned!"
Dave quickly recovered his presence of mind. As the "Gloucester" shut off speed Darrin turned and dashed at full speed to the aid of the stricken craft.
Even as the race of rescue began Darrin sent to the radio operator this message to send broadcast through the air:
"S. O. S.! Hospital ship 'Gloucester' has struck mine and must founder soon. Rush at best speed to give aid. S. O. S.!"
In the message Darrin included also the exact position of the stricken vessel.
Two launches were swung outward on the davits. Darrin sprang down to the deck to personally select the men to man the launches. Into the launches were thrown several rolls of heavy canvas and rolls of cordage, as well as such tools as might be needed.
By the time that the "Grigsby" had shut off speed and lain to, the decks of the "Gloucester" were observed to be crowded with people.
The two launches, with Dave Darrin in one of them, shoved off and were quickly alongside the hospital ship. Two ship's ladders were let down over the side. Up these went the two boarding parties as rapidly as they could move. Lines came swirling down, and canvas rolls and other supplies were hoisted to the deck. This work was all quickly done.
Not a second must be lost. Dave ordered Ensign Peters and several men forward to the bow of the hospital ship. With the remainder, Dave, carrying a roll of canvas over one shoulder, and all hands carrying some burden, started to go below.
With a group of Red Cross nurses who stood silently and calmly by the patients who were being borne to the deck, Darrin was sure that he caught sight of Belle.
But he did not look a second time. There was too much to be done now when seconds were precious. Nor did Belle look up from the work that she was doing among the wounded on stretchers.
A member of the crew led the American party below. Here Dave found two mates and a score of sailors already at work. They were trying to accomplish the very thing Darrin had come prepared to do—to rig canvas over the hole in the hull to shut out as much of the water as was possible.
If this could be accomplished, and if the "Gloucester's" pumps could drive out most of the water that got in past the canvas patch, then it might be possible for the hospital ship to keep afloat until other rescue craft could reach the scene.
"We'll take your orders, sir," spoke up one of the mates, saluting, as Dave and his party reached a forward hold where, despite the flimsy canvas patch already rigged, the water was almost waist-deep.
"We'll work together," returned Dave, briefly. "It may turn out that the ship can be kept afloat for an hour or two."
"The bulkheads were shut, sir," the mate explained, hurriedly, "but fragments of the mine entered this first water-tight compartment, and also the second. You'd better go down into the second compartment, too, sir."
Darrin hurried up to the deck, followed by the mates and their men. The hole in the first compartment extended some six inches below water line and some two feet above. It was a long, jagged hole. Trying to descend into the second compartment with the chief mate, Darrin found that the hole here extended at least a foot below water line.
"It's going to be no use, sir," said the mate, sorrowfully. "I don't believe the ship can be kept afloat more than ten minutes before she goes down by the head. These are our two biggest compartments."
A NOBLE FIGHT WITHOUT WEAPONS
NOR was the mate's warning a panicky one. There seemed not one chance in a hundred of closing the gaps sufficiently to keep the hospital ship afloat long enough to save many of its wounded passengers.
Dave had made his plans while coming alongside. By this time the repair material he had brought along lay on the deck. He called his own men to help him, and the chief officer sent two score more of British seamen to his aid.
The engine-room fires being as yet untouched by water, the pumps were working with tremendous force.
"Unroll that canvas, there. Run it out lively," Darrin ordered.
In a twinkling the first patch was ready. Dave himself helped with weighting what was intended for the lower edge of the patch, and with reeving in ropes at the sides and top.
"Over with it!"
Lowered down into place, the patch was fitted to the hole. It still had to be made fast.
Both port and starboard gangways had been lowered, and launches from the destroyer were alongside, receiving badly wounded men who had been taken over the side on stretchers. The "Grigsby's" cutters were also alongside, picking up such of the wounded men as could jump in life belts. The "Gloucester's" own boats swung out after being loaded. The mine-sweepers had come up and had lowered their boats and sent them to the rescue. Several hundred men and women were reasonably sure of being saved, but unless Darrin succeeded in what he was undertaking, from twelve to fifteen hundred other human beings were surely doomed.
Badly as boats were needed, Dave had to commandeer two of the smallest. Himself going in one of these, he superintended the making fast of the canvas patches below from the water. Seamen over the hull's side in slings, acting under the second mate, did valiant service at the same time.
With a single outside canvas patch over the forward hole, Darrin moved back to the second breach. Here, too, a patch was quickly put in place.
By this time the "Grigsby" and the mine-sweepers had received nearly as many rescued passengers as they could hold. The small boats were returning for more.
Up to Dave rushed Captain Senby of the "Gloucester."
"Captain," he called, addressing Dave Darrin by that courtesy title, "these Red Cross women ought to be saved while there's time, but they refuse to go over the side until their patients are safe."
"Did you expect they would desert their patients?" Darrin asked quietly, his gaze still on the work that he was directing.
"But, Captain, we must save the women folks, anyway! Won't you use your persuasion to help me?"
"No," came Dave's quick response. "These women are asserting their right to prove the stuff that is in them. In this war, in their own fields, the women fight as bravely as the men."
"In a time like this the women ought to be saved!" the British master insisted.
"Not at the expense of their best sense of duty," Darrin answered.
For an instant Senby regarded the young naval officer with amazement before he blurted:
"Captain, I don't believe you have any women folks of your own!"
"My wife is one of the Red Cross women on board," Darrin answered, quietly. Then, raising his voice, he added:
"That patch is ready! Over with it!"
Thus was the second patch fitted over the forward hole, and men were busy completing another for the second hole.
And now with the small boats filled, Darrin anxiously surveyed the sea. No ships were yet in sight.
"Get more patches ready!" he shouted.
He then descended to the first compartment, stepping down into the water to take its depth. He judged it to be of about the same depth as before.
Four patches were over each hole by the time that the first trail of smoke was observed far down on the horizon. A steamship was coming to their aid, but would it arrive in time?
Another inspection showed that the pumps had made a slight gain on the water. It was going out of the compartments faster than it could get in past the canvas. But Dave knew that ship pumps, working to furious capacity, were likely to give out at any moment.
He stationed a seaman with lead and line on the stairs leading down to each compartment, with instructions to take frequent soundings and to report sharply to the deck.
The "Gloucester's" rafts, too, were now overboard. On these huddled those of the wounded or convalescing soldiers who were better able to take care of themselves.
But not a single Red Cross woman had yet gone over the side. Much as some of the wounded might need attendance on the rescue craft or in the small boats, those left helpless behind needed the women of mercy still more!
A slow gain was still being made on the water in the two compartments. If the pumps held out, and if the patches did not give way, there might yet be a fair chance to save life. But Dave knew the dangers that confronted all hands left behind, even when he could make out the hull of the oncoming steamship, and saw that she was moving at fullest speed.
"We should win out, don't you think?" demanded Captain Senby, anxiously. "I've never lost a ship."
"At least we stand a fair chance to win out," Dave answered, frankly. "Any one of three or four things might happen to us yet and send us to the bottom."
Darrin spent most of his time inspecting the canvas patches. Between times he anxiously watched the relief ship. He could see, by glass, when she was four miles away, that her davits were swung out and her boat-crews in place.
"All depends on how we hold together for the next half or three-quarters of an hour," he told Captain Senby.
There were still some two hundred patients who would have to be moved on stretchers. These were brought to the upper deck until the stretchers all but blocked passage.
What a cheer went up from those at the rail as the steamship, an Italian craft, lay to and began to lower her boats! The small boats from the hospital ship, the "Grigsby" and the mine-sweepers had already gone forward to meet her. As fast as they could move in to either side gangway these boats discharged their temporary passengers, then quickly returned to the "Gloucester."
For an hour all the small boats plied back and forth, the rescuers using all their nerve and muscle power in their efforts at speed.
Shivering, for he was drenched up to the waist, Dave stood by, receiving the reports of the leadsmen in the two compartments. The best work of the canvas patches had been done. They were slowly yielding to the fearful pressure of the water without and it was impossible to rig additional, fresh patches over them. The water was rising, inch by inch, in both compartments.
"How long do you think we can keep afloat?" asked Captain Senby, miserably.
"Your judgment will be as good as mine, sir," Dave answered. "It is impossible to name the number of moments we can hope to keep above water, but we both know it cannot be for long."
At last the decks were cleared of litters. There were no more to be brought out. The last boats had taken away many besides the stretcher patients.
"Give us ten minutes more," said Darrin, as he watched the boats discharging at the Italian steamer, and returning, "and we shall all be safe."
"They will be the longest, most anxious ten minutes that I ever lived!" sighed Captain Senby.
"Man, you're white and you look ill," Dave cried. "Buck up! You've done splendidly, and the discipline on board has been perfect. You have nothing with which to reproach yourself."
"Do you really think so?" Senby asked, with a wan smile. "I thank you, but it seems to me I should have done better."
"You could do better than you're doing now, for you've lost your nerve," Darrin warned him, in a low voice. "Yet while you needed your nerve you kept it."
"You won't mind saying that in your report, will you?" asked the master, eagerly. "I'd hate to have my family hear anything that would make them feel I had broken down."
"The discipline on this ship shows what you have done," Dave rejoined. "You're suffering, now, on account of the people who may be lost, and you're thinking of the Red Cross women who are stubborn enough to do their duty like men. But you've trained your crew well, you have the respect of your officers and men, and you've given all help possible in the shortest amount of time. A ship's master can be judged, instantly, by the discipline that prevails on his craft. Your family will hear nothing about your conduct that won't please 'em."
At this the British master "bucked up" wonderfully, but he still watched the Red Cross women with wistful eyes.
"Here are the first boats coming back to take the last of us off," Darrin said encouragingly. "Now, clear all hands off lively."
"The women first?" almost pleaded Captain Senby.
"Of course!" Dave nodded. "They've done their full duty, and done it splendidly. Now, insist."
Galvanized into action by these cheering words, Captain Senby cleared his throat, then roared in a fog-horn voice:
"All hands stand by to abandon ship! Be lively, please, ladies. No man stir over the side until the last woman has gone over!"
Some of the Red Cross women smilingly obeyed the order; others hung back.
"There are still some wounded men on board," pleaded one of them. "Let the last wounded man go over the side, then we'll go."
"I'll kill any man on this deck who tries to go over until the last woman is taken care of!" shouted Senby, drawing a revolver.
Some of the nurses still demurred, but the master was obdurate.
"Ladies," he called out, "this craft can't keep afloat much longer. Those of you who hang back keep the men from their last chance to get away. I tell you, and I mean it, that no man stirs over the side until the last woman is on her way to a boat. Don't hold us all back, ladies!"
That swept aside the last reluctance of the nurses. They trooped forward, to one side gangway or the other, and were quickly on their way into the waiting boats.
One of them, however, drew back, then smiled and crossed the deck.
"I shall remain with you, Dave," announced a clear, firm voice, and Dave turned to find Belle's steady hand resting on his arm.
"Are you going over the side, madam?" inquired Captain Senby, pleadingly.
"You must make an exception in my case, sir," Belle Darrin answered smilingly. "I can hardly be expected to leave my husband at a time like this."
"Oh!" gasped the Briton, understandingly. "Madam, you make me anxious, but your devotion makes me proud of your sex!"
"Men, now!" shouted the Briton when he saw the last skirt flutter at the top of a companionway.
"Now, you'll go over the side, sir, won't you?" asked the master, anxiously, as two orderly files of men stepped to the sides.
"As the two commanders here," Dave answered, easily, "I believe that tradition requires you and me to go over last of all, Captain Senby."
"But your wife, sir——"
"Is an American, Captain, who has taken the oath of service to her country's flag just as you and I have done."
"But, madam, you——" began the Briton, turning to Belle.
"My husband has spoken, sir," smiled Belle. "Surely, Captain Senby, you do not believe in mutiny."
The soldier patients who had remained behind when the nurses went over the side were all men who could walk without assistance. These were now going over, too. While this was going on the chief mate and the boatswain had mustered the last of the crew and the roll had been called. All were on hand who were not in the small boats.
After the soldiers and the hospital men had gone down into boats, and other small craft had moved in to replace them, the crew went over, the chief mate being the last to go except the trio who stood in the middle of the upper deck.
"There's a boat left with room for all of you!" the mate called, lifting his hat.
With a last swift look around at the ship he had loved, the Briton almost reluctantly followed the Darrins. His legs trembled under him a bit as he descended the steps of the side companionway, but it was from neither exhaustion nor fear.
Last of all the Briton took his seat in the row-boat. He tried to clear his throat and give the order, but could not speak.
"Shove off!" called Dave to the boat-tenders, as he faced the men sitting with their oars out. "Give way! One, two, one two!"
The boat belonged to one of the mine-sweepers. With true British precision and rhythm the men pulled away. Darrin ceased counting and turned to his smiling wife.
"Not such a bad time, was it?" he asked.
"As it turned out, no. But I was afraid, Dave. Had a few hundred of the brave fellows been drowned, the horror would not have left me as long as I lived."
"Then you must steel your nerves a bit, Belle, dear. War, at the least, is a grewsome thing, but this war contains more horrors than any other war of which man has knowledge. The vast numbers engaged make it certain that the losses will be heavy, and heavier, until the struggle is over. If you work up near the front, within range of the big guns, you will necessarily have to become accustomed to seeing the visible evidence of huge losses daily."
"I shall grow to it," Belle Darrin declared, confidently.
And now Captain Senby was speaking to him.
"It's a great load off my mind, Captain Darrin. I was the merchant marine master of the 'Gloucester,' but she was taken and refitted so quickly that we were sent to sea without change of status. On our return from this voyage the mates and I had orders to take examination for commissions in the naval reserves. Then we were to continue aboard the 'Gloucester.' But she will be at the bottom in an hour and my chances of making the naval reserves will go down with her."
"I don't see why," Dave returned, heartily. "You and your mates are no less capable than you were."
Then, in an undertone that reached only Senby's ear, Darrin added:
"Man, you've been a bit unstrung, but you've gotten away without the loss of a life. Bring your nerve back from this moment! Don't let it spoil your life or your career. Pull yourself together and smile. Smile! Don't let any one see that you've a single doubt of yourself! Smile, and go up for your examination to-morrow. All that ails you is that you worry for the safety of others—a most commendable fault in a skipper!"
From that instant Captain Senby gave at least a very good imitation of a man who was modestly satisfied with his achievement, though he realized that he owed most of the success of the last two hours to Lieutenant Commander Dave Darrin, U. S. N.
Arriving at the Italian vessel, Darrin transferred Belle and himself to a launch from the "Grigsby" and promptly rejoined his craft.
Taking Belle to his own seldom-occupied quarters on the destroyer, Dave left her there, and then went to the bridge and signalled his orders to the mine-sweepers and to the Italian steamship.
The mine-sweepers were ordered to move in advance of the rescue vessel to sweep any hidden mine from her path.
"And you, Mr. Fernald, will cross the course continually ahead of the steamship and keep the most vigilant guard against submarine attack!"
Dave next went to the chart-room, his teeth chattering from his soaked, chilled condition.
Here he stripped and gave himself as vigorous a rub-down as he could administer, after which he attired himself in dry clothing throughout and sent orders to the mess kitchen for a pot of hot coffee.
Over this warmer Dave lingered long enough to gulp down three cups of the steaming beverage.
Then pulling on a dry sheepskin coat and turning up the fur collar against the wintry blast, he went to the bridge.
"All's secure, and no sign of trouble so far, sir," reported Lieutenant Fernald.
Yet, unknown to any on the destroyer, the "Grigsby," driving ahead obliquely from port to starboard well ahead of the steamship, was heading straight toward a mine that lurked beneath the surface of the water.
"SHALL I order the helm to starboard, sir?" asked Ensign Ormsby. "We're due to sail too close to that mine-sweeper."
Though the two craft were separated by several hundreds of yards, Darrin's quick, trained eye took in the fact that the mine-sweeper, by the time the "Grigsby" crossed her course, would be a safe distance ahead.
"No," he decided; "keep to the course and she'll clear us."
Ensign Ormsby nodded and remained silent. Neither could know of the hidden mine that lay in her path.
Yet less than half a minute later a signalman raced to the stern of the mine sweeper, wigwagging frantically this message:
"Hard a-starboard! We have just picked up a mine!"
The little craft had slowed down; she was maneuvering around that mine to get hold and land it on her deck.
Ormsby read the signal with his chief. Not even waiting, now, for Darrin's word, the watch officer changed the course.
Right in the course that they had been going the mine-sweeper now blocked the way. Had her sweep been thirty feet either side she would have gone on past and the destroyer would have struck the mine.
As the "Grigsby" went astern and to starboard of the little craft, then turned and darted port-wise across her bows on a new oblique, officers and men on the destroyer saw the British crew hoisting from the water the mine that would have destroyed one of the latest prides of Uncle Sam's big war fleet.
It was all over, so far as that mine was concerned, and for a moment or two Darrin found himself shaking from a chill that had not been caused by his recent soaking.
The thought of other probable dangers ahead caused him to steel himself once more. To his subordinate officers he presented the confident, smiling face to which they were accustomed.
Several craft of the British Navy and two other American war vessels had received his S. O. S. radio message and had started on their way. But all would have been too late, for some ten minutes after the rescuing fleet started for England the "Gloucester" had lowered her nose under the water. Soon after there was a violent explosion as the sea water reached glowing furnace fires and the boilers, and the hospital ship went down, another victim of inhumane warfare that respects not even the rights of the wounded and sick.
Dave Darrin did not leave the bridge until he had seen his little fleet enter the base port.
Then, pausing for only a word with Belle, he ordered a launch lowered and went direct to the British admiral, reporting his work for the afternoon in greater detail, for he had already sent in the main facts in a radio code message.
"You have done magnificently, Mr. Darrin," exclaimed the admiral. "It was a wonderful performance to keep the 'Gloucester' afloat under such conditions until every human being on board had been transferred to safety."
"That was made possible largely by the nature of the holes in the ship's hull, sir. I cannot say positively, but from my examination of the holes I believe that the mine that the 'Gloucester' struck was not moored as securely to her anchoring device as is usually the case. It was not the bow of the hospital ship, but the side of her hull forward that struck the mine. Two fragments or two groups of fragments of the exploding mine struck the hull, but from my hurried inspection it is my belief that the mine, not being securely moored, was brushed somewhat aside by the impact, and therefore the injury was not as great as it would have been had the anchoring device held the mine more firmly in place. So the ship was not as badly hurt as one would have expected her to be. That much for the mine, sir. Then I had the gallant, splendid help of Captain Senby and his mates and crew. I shall mention their performance in my written report."
"Better put it in early, then," advised the admiral, "for Senby and his mates go up for examination day after tomorrow. I can forward to the board an extract from your report."
"They are to be examined just the same, sir, though the 'Gloucester' is no more?"
"Oh, yes; England has a few more ships left," smiled the admiral, "and we cannot get along with a reduced number of hospital craft."
So, though Dave Darrin, on his return, escorted Belle to the chart-room and chatted with her a few moments, and even allowed her to remain while he worked, he sent for a yeoman and to him dictated an official report of the disaster, parts of which document did not fail to do justice to Captain Senby and his mates.
"Type that for two copies to be transmitted, and one to be filed here, as early as you can, and bring to me for signature," Dave directed. "I wish to go ashore after signing and sending off the reports."
For, at their parting, Admiral Wheatleigh had said:
"Darrin, you and your officers and men have been overworked for some time. You have done splendidly, but now you all need a short rest or your nerves will snap. You will therefore remain in port a few days, and I would recommend you to be liberal in the matter of shore leave."