Dave Darrin After The Mine Layers
Hitting the Enemy a Hard Naval Blow
H. IRVING HANCOCK
Author of "Dave Darrin at Vera Cruz," "Dave Darrin on Mediterranean Service," "Dave Darrin's South American Cruise," "Dave Darrin on the Asiatic Station," "Dave Darrin and the German Submarines," etc., etc.
P H I L A D E L P H I A HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY HOWARD E. ALTEMUS
CHAPTER I—WEIGHING ANCHOR FOR THE GREAT CRUISE 11 Dan is a business man. Sea orders in a jiffy. Anchors a-weigh. The mine-sweepers at work. In the torpedo's path. The Hun that slipped away. An indignant neutral skipper. "You vill do vat ve you tell—yes!"
CHAPTER II—"THE ACCURSED POWER OF GOLD!" 30 Dave dares Fate. A new "boss." Secret of the after-hold. Dave is disgusted. "Vat? Can't proof it you?" Sweeping for more evidence. The prize crew. The vanishing periscope.
CHAPTER III—A FIGHT OF THE GOOD OLD KIND 41 A fair hit. Distant firing. A real sea fight. The "Grigsby" turns tail. "Circle!" At deadly close quarters. Dan Dalzell scores. A stern chase. With the wounded.
CHAPTER IV—WHAT A FLOATING MINE DID 55 The liner in trouble. The flash of a mine. True to his trust. Seaman Streeter is busy. A deaf jacky. Not present or accounted for. Rescue work. Dan protests. Dave sets the pace. Out for sterner work.
CHAPTER V—EYES THAT LOOKED DOWN FROM THE AIR 63 Why the flash was seen. The "blimp" sighted. A question out of the air. New help. The sea hornet. A narrow squeak. "Laid an egg in your path." Blimp and limp. Seaman Hedgeby enjoys himself. "British hot air," and Dave gets a pal's share indeed. The story of a capture. In deadly peril.
CHAPTER VI—IN THE TEETH OF THE CHANNEL GALE 78 Dave turns real helper. "I thought we were goners!" Making the grapple again. The day's work of a mine-sweeper. In a boiling sea. Life lines up. "Commanding officer overboard!"
CHAPTER VII—IN THE HOUR OF DESPAIR 84 The vanishing destroyer. Hope, then despair. The meeting of searchlights. Fighting pluck. The rope from somewhere. Looped! "Ugh!" The big sleep. The "Rigsdak." A cowboy Dane.
CHAPTER VIII—DAVE MEETS THE FATE OF THE SEA 95 From the pages of the Arabian Nights. Mr. and Mrs. Launce. The shattering jar. To the boats! No enemy in sight. The gray tower. The hail and a bad time of it. Dave stands revealed. A German prisoner at last!
CHAPTER IX—THREATS TO A PRISONER 103 What the Danes "got." The chorus of terror. The ober-lieutenant talks. The inquisition. Talk of courtesy. Dave turns stiff. "Where have I heard that name before?" "Things will go badly with you when you arrive in Germany!"
CHAPTER X—LIKE THE FRENCH AND ENGLISH 109 Captain Kennor is polite. A look-in at the periscope. "Yankee meat." Dave is tricky. Shots and a threatened ramming. "You idiot!" Dave plays for his own finish.
CHAPTER XI—A VICTIM OF COURTESY 115 What of the woman? Mrs. Launce speaks for herself. The game of cross-bluff. An invitation bluntly refused. The turn of the prisoners. On the surface. "You are eager for death." The mystery of the Launces. "You are the Countess of Denby!" "Save your denials for use before a German court." Dave invited on deck. "You are a good boaster." Something to interest him.
CHAPTER XII—GERMAN BRUTALITY AT ITS WORST 126 Radio direct to Germany. Could any woman love this fellow? Dave expresses thanks to the enemy. "My card." The same as confession. "A pleasant evening for four!" The wild brutes of the sea.
CHAPTER XIII—FACING THE PLANNED DEATH 135 The dropping platform. Adrift! Captain Kennor, sea scout. A splendid inspiration. A bully for safety. The tantalizing craft. A glow-worm of the waves. And then—! Like a dream. A bad report.
CHAPTER XIV—DAVE PLEDGES HIS WORD FOR RESULTS 146 Just hospital. A treat for Dave's eyes. Days of bliss. "You little patriot!" Back to duty. "The Germans are beating us." The council of war. Dave's campaign map. Planning the Big Hunt. Something new—results.
CHAPTER XV—DARRIN SUSPECTS THE GERMAN PLAN 155 Sweeping as a fine art. Nosing out the unseen. The "Grigsby" nearly blown out of the water. A wild Yankee cheer. Touching off a nest of "sea eggs." The job of the divers. The double find. Guessing the mine-layers' trick. The "Reed" starts something.
CHAPTER XVI—HITTING CLOSE TO THE SALT TRAIL 164 The non-fighting Huns. A tame capture. Not so tame! What the search showed. "Spot the stupid ones." Questioning Herr Dull-wit. The trap that worked. German bad language.
CHAPTER XVII—TRYING OUT THE BIG, NEW PLAN 173 The admiral approves. Off for the real thing. Stirring up a tidal wave. Knowing how to get the thrills out of life. Trying to run up the score. The traveller in the haze. A ship of mystery and shots.
CHAPTER XVIII—STRIKING A REAL SURPRISE 183 "Leave the steamship to me." The shot across the bow. A shooting game for two. "You're dealing with the United States Navy!" Darrin proves himself. Irons for three. The summons that worked. A tough lot to handle. Juno of the Cabin. A deadly one, too.
CHAPTER XIX—THE GOOD WORK GOES ON 192 Dave takes a chance. So does Juno. The all-right cargo. Who can the woman be? Dalzell has a fine report. Story of the sub-hold. Mother and daughter no longer mysteries. "The best in a six-month!"
CHAPTER XX—DARRIN TURNS THE TABLES 204 Weather the ship master dreads. "Look at that!" Getting the drop on Fritz. Old acquaintances. Dave is angry. The German whine. Not man enough to play the game. "Why do you hate us Germans so?" Ever at Fate's orders.
CHAPTER XXI—ON A MISSION OF GREAT TRUST 215 The sport of kings. "Don't shoot!" begs Danny Grin. The dull wait and the sharp dash. Out to meet the hospital ship. "One of the passengers is Mrs. Darrin." "A special interest."
CHAPTER XXII—THE RED CROSS TRAGEDY 222 The Navy and family matters. Under treble lookout. Sighted. Big pay for a periscope. A wail of anguish. The race of rescue. S. O. S. The sight of Belle. Crowded decks. Two compartments smashed in. "No use, sir."
CHAPTER XXIII—A NOBLE FIGHT WITHOUT WEAPONS 230 Marine patchwork. Not enough rescue to go around. "Those Red Cross women ought to be saved." But they decline. Dave approves. An answer to S. O. S. The fight to survive. The nurses admit defeat. The lurking peril.
CHAPTER XXIV—CONCLUSION 244
AFTER THE MINE LAYERS
WEIGHING ANCHOR FOR THE GREAT CRUISE
"IT sounds like the greatest cruise ever!" declared Danny Grin, enthusiastically, as he rose and began to pace the narrow limits of the chart-room of the destroyer commanded by his chum, Lieutenant-Commander Dave Darrin.
"It is undoubtedly the most dangerous work we've ever undertaken," Darrin observed thoughtfully.
"All the better!" answered Dan lightly.
"In our drive against the submarines off the Irish coast," Dave continued, "we met perils enough to satisfy the average salt water man. But this——"
"Is going to prove the very essence and joy of real fighting work at sea!" Dan interposed.
"Oh, you old fire-eater!" laughed Darrin.
"Not a bit of a fire-eater," declared Dalzell with dignity. "I'm a business man, Davy. Our business, just now, is to win the war by killing Germans, and I've embarked upon that career with all the enthusiasm that goes with it. That's all."
"And quite enough," Darrin added, soberly. "I agree with you that it's our business to kill Germans, yet I could wish that the Germans themselves were in better business, for then we wouldn't have to do any killing."
"You talk almost like a pacifist," snorted Dan Dalzell.
"After this war has been won by our side, but not before, I hope to find it possible to be a pacifist for at least a few years," smiled Darrin, rising from his seat at the chart table.
Dan stood looking out through the starboard porthole. His glance roved over other craft of war tugging at their anchors in the goodly harbor of a port on the coast of England. As the destroyer swung lazily at her moorings the little port town came into view. On all sides were signs of war. Forts upreared their grim walls. Earthen redoubts screened guns that alert artillerymen could bring into play at a moment's notice. Overhead, dirigibles floated and airplanes buzzed dinfully to and fro.
Readers of the preceding volume in this series know how Dave Darrin came to be ordered to the command of the brand-new, big and up-to-the-minute destroyer, "Asa Grigsby," while Dan Dalzell, reaching the grade of lieutenant-commander, had been ordered to the command of the twin destroyer, "Joseph Reed."
At the door there sounded a knock so insistent that Darrin knew instantly that it was a summons. Springing from his chair, reaching for his uniform cap and setting it squarely on his head, he drew the curtains aside.
"Special signal for the 'Grigsby,' sir, from the flagship," reported an orderly.
Returning the young seaman's salute, Dave, with Dalzell close at his heels, darted up the steps to the bridge.
"Signal 'Ready to receive,'" was Darrin's command to his signalman, who stood waiting, signal flags in hand.
Rapidly the two flags moved, then paused. Dave's eyes, like Dan's, were turned toward the United States battleship that had lately acted as flagship for the destroyers and other small Yankee craft assembled in this port.
Brief indeed were the motions of the signalman on the bridge of the battleship, but the signal, translated, read:
"Proceed to sea in an hour, under instructions already received by you. Am proceeding to new station. Report to British admiral, this port, hereafter. No additions to these orders."
Instantly Darrin ordered the signal wigwagged back:
Immediately following this the flagship signalled the "Reed," Dan's ship, giving the same order, which Dan's executive officer, from the bridge of the other destroyer, acknowledged.
"Now, Darry, if you'll have your man signal for my gig," Dan urged, in a low voice, "I'll return to my ship. You and I are to cruise in company, as far as it may be done, and you are ranking officer. I am to part company from you only on your order."
"That is the admiral's order," Darrin acquiesced.
"Good-bye, old chap!" said Dan, with more than his wonted fervor, gripping his brother officer's hand. "And may we have the best of luck!"
"The best of a 'business' kind," smiled Dave.
"That's it!" laughed Dan, as he started down the steps. "I'm hoping for 'big business' this time!"
Dalzell had used the word "gig" in a figurative sense. It was a power launch that put smartly away from the "Reed" and was speedily alongside. Dan waved his hand to his chum, who was leaning over the bridge rail.
Dave did not return to the chart-room. He received the report of his chief engineer at the bridge telephone, then gazed musingly out over the crowded waters of the port. It was a busy scene, bristling with war activities.
Having compared his watch with the clock on the bridge, Dave glanced frequently at that time-keeper. Five minutes before the hour was up he gave a quiet order to the watch officer, who telephoned to the engine-room and then issued brisk deck orders. At this time Lieutenant Fernald, executive officer, joined the group on the bridge, as did also the navigation officer.
Promptly to the minute the "Grigsby," anchor up, turned and steamed slowly out of the harbor. As she passed, none of the other craft made signals. As though unnoticed Dave's ship slipped out of port, the "Reed" following.
Then out upon the Channel the two destroyers moved, into the lane now followed by all craft that sailed between England and the continent.
"All clear hereabouts," signalled the master of a small mine-sweeping craft, meaning that the destroyers, while in that immediate vicinity, might feel secure against the hidden mines with which the enemy were wont to strew these waters.
"A few miles from here," Dave murmured to Fernald, "we shall have to look after our own security. It is going to be lively work."
"Yes, sir?" Fernald inquired, with a rising inflection, for he did not know the purpose of this cruise.
Turning to make sure that the signalman could not overhear, Darrin went on, in a lower voice:
"Our orders take us out to wage war against the German mine-layers!"
"A great work, sir!" replied the executive officer with enthusiasm. "There is sure to be plenty of sport. Then the enemy mine-layers have been working more industriously of late?"
"The waters to the north are more thickly strewn with mines than at any time previously," Dave continued. "Six British mine-sweeping craft have been sent north to do all they can to remove those hidden perils from the paths of transports and freighters. Our first mission is to protect the mine-sweepers as far as possible, but we are also to keep a sharp lookout for German submarines; and especially submarines of the mine-laying kind."
"I understand, sir," Fernald nodded. The tone of enthusiasm had faded from his voice. Now he displayed only the grave interest of the professional sea-fighter.
"All officers and men will have to work twice as hard as usual," Darrin went on. "There will be some chance to sleep, but no other leisure. Meals will be taken in the least possible time. Our entire crew must be at all times ready for instant response to the call to quarters."
"That will not be hard in such times, sir," answered Fernald. "All officers and men laid in a good supply of sleep while in port. A few added waking hours in each day won't hurt any of us."
"Direct all officers to see that they and their men are fully awake and alert at all times when they are on duty," continued Dave. "Otherwise, we are not likely to make port again. Dalzell and I have been intrusted with keeping down the mine-laying peril as close to zero as possible."
"Very good, sir," replied Lieutenant Fernald. That capable executive officer had nothing more to say at present, for his quick mind was already devising methods for keeping the crew unusually alert.
An hour and a half after sailing night had settled down. The English shore was but a vague, distant line. A short, choppy sea was running. In the sky was a new moon that would set early.
The watch had changed, but Dave and his executive officer remained on the bridge. Down in the wardroom such officers as were off duty were stowing away food in record time.
Half a mile off to the west steamed the "Reed." Suddenly the lookouts on both craft reported a vessel ahead. Orders quietly given sent the men to gun stations. All eyes were turned on the approaching craft. Then her identification signal shone forth in the night. The stranger was a British scout cruiser racing back to port from some errand.
In almost the same instant Dave and Dan displayed recognition signals, yet the two Yankee craft closely watched the stranger until she moved between them, when she was fully recognized as one of John Bull's friendly sea-racers.
"Any enemy signs?" Dave signalled.
"No," came the answer.
Soon the British scout cruiser had passed on into the night and vanished, but the Yankee lookouts kept vigil even more zealously than before.
Half an hour later an English patrol boat, after exchange of signals, passed near by on Dave's port side. Twenty minutes after that two British mine-sweepers were found at work combing the seas with their wire sweepers. If those wires should touch a hidden mine it would be quickly known to the seamen who operated the mine-detecting device, and the mine would be hauled up and taken aboard the mine-sweeping craft, provided it did not explode in the meantime.
As these two mine-sweepers were under Darrin's command, at need, he steamed near one of the pair, and, ordering a navy launch over the side, went to visit one of the Britons.
"There's not very much in the way of catches to-night, sir," reported the commander of the sweeper, a ruddy-faced, square-shouldered young Englishman in his twenties, who had been watch officer on a steamship at the outbreak of the war. "Sometimes the fishing is much better."
"This is the area in which we have been ordered to make a strict search," Dave observed.
"I know, sir. But, according to my experience, we may search for hours and find nothing at all, and then, of a sudden, run into a mine field and take up a score of the pests."
"What is your present course?"
The commander of the mine-sweeper named it, adding the distance he had been ordered to go.
"And the other sweeper sticks near by you?"
"Yes, sir. In that way there's a much better chance of one of us striking a regular mine field. Then again, sir, if one of us gets into trouble, as sometimes happens, the other craft can stand by promptly."
"What is the most common trouble?"
"First," explained the Englishman, "being torpedoed by a submarine; second, touching off a mine by bad handling; third, being sunk by some raiding German destroyer."
"Then you often hit mines?"
"Since the war began, sir," replied the young Englishman, "we've lost—" He named the number of mine-sweepers that had disappeared without leaving a trace, and the number that were definitely known to have been torpedoed or to have hit floating mines.
"As you see, sir," the Englishman went on, "it's no simple thing that we have to do. I lay it to sheer luck that I've escaped so long, but my turn may come at any moment. I've lost a number of friends in this same branch of the service, sir."
"Then you would call mine-sweeping the most dangerous kind of naval service performed to-day?" Dave suggested.
"I don't know that I'd say that, sir, but it's dangerous enough."
Many more pointers did Darrin pick up from this young officer of long experience in mine-hunting.
"I'm going farther north," said Dave. "If you run into anything and need help, send up rocket signals and we'll steam back to you at top speed."
Before ten o'clock that night Darrin had encountered and spoken with or signalled to the commanders of not less than a dozen mine-sweeping craft. What struck Dave as the most prominent feature of these small, unpretentious craft was the slow, systematic way in which they performed their duty.
"It's a wonderful work," Dave explained to Fernald. "If it were not for these dingy, stub-nosed little craft, and the fine spirit of their crews, hundreds of steamships would probably be blown up in these waters in a month. The Hun sneaks through these waters, laying mines, mostly from submarines built for the purpose, and these patient mine-sweeper commanders go along after them, removing most of the mines from the paths of navigation."
Having cruised as far north as his instructions directed him to do, Darrin ordered the "Grigsby" and the "Reed" to turn about and nose their way back under bare headway.
Every mine-sweeper carried a radio outfit for sending messages. Each craft was also supplied with the mast-head "blinkers" for flashing night signals. When the craft signalled to, however, was near enough, colored lights operated from the deck were used instead, that the messages might not be sent far enough into the night to be picked up by skulking enemy craft.
"It looks like a night of tame sport, sir," said Fernald, just before he went below for a nap.
"It has been quiet so far," Darrin agreed. "But the most striking thing in naval service is that whatever starts comes without warning. We might have a whole week as quiet as to-night has been, and then run into twenty-four hours of work that would give both of us gray hair."
An hour after Fernald went below Dave had a steamer chair brought to the bridge, also a rug. The chair was placed where a canvas wind-shield would protect the sitter from the keen edge of the wind.
"I'm going to doze right here, Mr. Ormsby," Dave explained to the ensign who was on bridge watch. "I'm to be called the instant anything turns up."
Accustomed to such sleeps Darrin had barely closed his eyes when he was off in the Land o' Nod. Some time afterwards the sharp orders of Ensign Andrews, new officer of the bridge watch, caused Darrin to open his eyes, cast aside the rug and spring to his feet all in the same instant.
"Torpedo coming on our starboard bow, sir," reported Mr. Andrews, turning and finding his chief at his post.
At that instant the "Grigsby" gave a sharp turn to port and sprang ahead under quickened speed.
Bump! Swift as the discovery had been made, quickly as the saving orders had been given, the oncoming torpedo bumped the hull of the "Grigsby" with a crash audible to those within a hundred feet of the point of impact. But it did not strike full on, the contact being only glancing, like that of a boat going alongside a landing stage. The watchers from the bridge saw the torpedo's wake as the deflected projectile continued on its harmless way.
"We couldn't have had a much narrower squeak than that!" Dave ejaculated. "Andrews, I congratulate you."
"I'm naturally interested in saving the ship, sir, and my own skin as well," replied Ensign Andrews with a grin.
Dave, not having taken his eyes from the faint streak on the water, called for highest speed and a complete turn. Then, ordering the rays of the searchlight to play over the water, Darrin sent the "Grigsby" racing, bow-on, toward the spot from which he judged the torpedo to have been launched. In the meantime Dalzell's "Reed" had turned her prow in the same general direction, steaming slowly after the "Grigsby."
"The Hun can't be located," Dave confessed, a few minutes later. "That chap is like most of the other Hun submarine commanders. He'll launch a torpedo by stealth, but as soon as he knows the destroyer is after him he hunts depth and runs away."
Dave's next order was to send a wireless message, warning all mine-sweepers and other craft that an enemy submarine had been discovered in that location.
Though no word had been passed for Lieutenant Fernald, that executive officer, awakened by the bump and the abrupt change in the destroyer's course, hurried to the bridge.
"Did you get a good rest, Fernald?" Dave queried, half an hour later.
"Then I am going to the chart-room to rest for a while. I got chilled dozing in that chair. Set the bell going in the chart-room if I'm wanted."
Then Dave slept on, without call, for a few hours, well knowing that Lieutenant Fernald could well fill his place. The first signs of dawn awakened Darrin. He sprang up, reaching for the bridge telephone.
"All secure, sir," reported Fernald, from the bridge.
Dave therefore delayed long enough to make his toilet—a none too frequent luxury aboard a destroyer in the danger zone. Then, fully refreshed and ruddy, Darrin drew on his tunic and over that his sheepskin coat. Placing his uniform cap on his head he stepped out on deck before the sun had begun to rise up above the sea.
In the distance, in three different directions, as many British mine-sweepers could be seen patiently combing the seas for mines.
"What number recovered?" Dave signalled.
"Three," replied one craft. "Five," said another. "One," came from the third sweeper.
"Nine in all," Dave remarked to Fernald. "We're in a mine field, then. We shall need to be vigilant."
The sun soon rose, strong and brilliant, only to pass behind a bank of clouds and leave the air damp and chilly. An hour later a fog settled over the English Channel, soon becoming so dense that one could not see beyond about three hundred yards.
Dave went below to a hurried breakfast. Returning, he sent Lieutenant Fernald to his meal and rest.
"I'll remain on the bridge all day, unless this fog lifts," Darrin decided. He increased the number of lookouts and ordered slow speed, so that the long, narrow destroyer, capable of racing rapidly over the waves, now merely crept along.
When the watch was changed Dave barely returned the salutes of the departing and oncoming watch officers, for his whole attention was centered on the sea. Half an hour after that he started slightly, then stared hard.
Off the starboard bow he thought he made out something moving as slowly as the "Grigsby" herself was proceeding.
"Pick that up, Mr. Ormsby, and see if it's anything more than a dream," ordered Dave, pointing.
Instantly the course of the destroyer was changed several points to starboard and speed increased a trifle.
Through the haze there soon developed the outlines of a steam craft, set low in the water, and of not more than two thousand tons. She was not a handsome craft, but, on the contrary, appeared ghostlike as she stood only half-revealed through the fog.
Undoubtedly the stranger had a lookout up forward, but no sign of one could be made out as the "Grigsby" gained on her.
Her markings indicated that she belonged to one of the neutral countries to the northward. The wet flag that she flew drooped so tightly around the staff that nothing could be learned from that bit of bunting.
"One of the neutral traders," remarked Ensign Ormsby.
"She must give an account of herself," Dave answered. "Whatever she is, or carries, she doesn't look like a craft to be entrusted with a valuable cargo."
As the "Grigsby" ranged up alongside, an officer stepped out from the stranger's wheelhouse and came to the rail.
"What craft is that?" Dave demanded.
The skipper, if such he was, replied in broken English, naming a neutral country, and adding that the vessel was the "Olga," bound for an English port with a cargo of wood pulp.
"I knew she couldn't carry a costly cargo," Dave muttered, then commanded, through a megaphone:
"Lie to and stand by to be inspected."
"Vat?" demanded the foreign skipper, in evident amazement.
Dave repeated the order.
"But ve all right are," insisted the skipper, "vot I told you iss our cargo."
"Lie to, just the same," Dave commanded. "We'll be aboard at once."
That made the skipper angry, but he dared not resist. The muzzles of two of the "Grigsby's" three-inch guns were pointed straight at him now, so the clumsy craft stopped and lay tossing on the choppy sea.
Ensign Burton and a boarding crew were told off for one of the power launches. At the last instant Dave decided to go with the party and took his place in the launch. He was first aboard the stranger when the launch had been made fast alongside.
It was now a younger officer who met him at the rail.
"Where is your skipper?" Darrin demanded.
"He me has given der papers to you show," replied the younger officer. "Come mit me to der cabin, please."
"I must see this craft's master, and at once," Darrin insisted.
"He here cannot be at dis minute," replied the foreign mate. "To de cabin mit me come, please."
"Your cargo is wood pulp, you say?" Dave continued.
"Where is it?"
"In our hold, already, sir," answered the mate.
"Throw off that hatch," Dave directed, pointing. "I am going to inspect your cargo."
The hatch was promptly uncovered. Leaving Burton and his men on deck, Dave descended into the hold by a ladder, followed by the mate and two of the "Olga's" seamen. A brief inspection proved that the hold was well filled with a cargo of wood pulp.
"Now, you vill go to de after hold, please?" asked the mate, as Darrin climbed up to the deck.
"Yes," Dave nodded, and went aft, followed by four of his men, while Burton and the others remained forward. Here in the after hold the same kind of cargo was found. The "Olga" looked like a straight enough craft, but there was something in the manner of the mate that made Darrin suspicious.
Calling two of his seamen below Dave produced a tape measure.
"Get the distance from the hatchway to the after end of this hold," he directed.
Then, wheeling, he noted that the mate's face had turned to a greenish color.
"What ails you, man?" Darrin demanded, eyeing the fellow sharply.
"N-n-nutten, sir," stammered the mate.
One of the seamen reported the measurement he had taken.
"Now, go on deck and measure aft from the hatchway," Dave commanded.
The instant that Darrin was left alone with the mate a pair of muscular arms encircled the throat of the young American naval commander from behind. In the same instant the mate sprang at him. The two assailants, taking him so by surprise, overcame Darrin with comparative ease. In the same moment they backed him through a small doorway opening into the hold forward.
Down on his back Dave Darrin was thrown, the skipper sitting on his chest, while the mate swiftly drew the door to and securely bolted it. In this stuffy apartment, lighted only by two swinging lanterns, Darrin realized that he must fight promptly if he expected to escape.
A steel tube was pressed against one of Dave's temples, while a hoarse, low voice proclaimed:
"Say a vord, and you die shall!"
It was the skipper who was holding a revolver to Darrin's head, and the returning mate bent over with an iron hatch bar in his right hand.
"You do vill vat we tell you—yes!" insisted the skipper, his breath coming fast.
"THE ACCURSED POWER OF GOLD!"
DAVE made no struggle.
"You're a pair of fools!" he declared, somewhat hoarsely, for the effects of the severe choking were still present.
"Fools, maybe," assented the skipper of the "Olga." "But if ve must trouble have den you die shall."
"What do you want me to do?" Darrin demanded.
"You send your men to your ship back," declared the big fellow. "Den your ship it must out of sight go yet. Ve shall sail back vonce. If your ship, or any udder ship to stop us try, den you die shall already—on deck, in sight your friends of."
"You big chump!" uttered Darrin.
"Vy you call me dot?"
"Because, no matter what you do or don't do to me, you are going to be taken and punished. Do you think my ship would sail without me?"
"Maybe, sooner dan see you killed vonce," glowered the skipper of the "Olga."
"You idiot, my subordinates, their suspicions aroused, are bound to take this craft, no matter what happens to me. They must do their duty without consideration for my safety."
"So?" uttered the skipper, looking at Dave dully.
"So!" Darrin assured him.
"But den you die must vonce."
"Go ahead and kill me," Darrin dared him.
"But if you vill to reason yet listen—"
"You're wasting time and breath," Darrin assured him, coolly.
Just then something happened. Darrin, using a trick that he had learned on the wrestling mat and had since perfected, threw both his arms around the left arm of the "Olga's" skipper. Clasping his hands and pressing his arms against the skipper's left arm, Dave gave a great heave and rolled to his own left. The trick depended upon speed.
The skipper crashed over on his head. The revolver was discharged in the overturn, but the bullet went wild.
In the twinkling of an eye Dave had grabbed the weapon, and leaped to his feet just in time to dodge the hatch bar that the mate tried to smash down on his head.
"Back, unless you want yours right now!" Darrin challenged. Swiftly he changed the revolver into his left hand as he still covered the pair. Then he reached for his own automatic, throwing off the safety device.
"Now, you, Mr. Mate, slip around and unbolt the door, throwing it open," Dave ordered. "Any sign of a trick will end your life on the spot!"
Seemingly cowed, the mate obeyed.
"Open the door—throw it wide open," Dave commanded.
The door was thrust ajar just as the two seamen with the tape reached the bottom of the ladder coming from the deck. These two seamen stared in astonishment at the stuffy apartment off the after hold.
"Men, take charge of these two rascals!" Darrin commanded, briskly. "Step lively, both of you!"—this last to skipper and mate, who obeyed as though dazed.
"Pass them up on deck as prisoners," ordered Darrin, and this was done, the two seamen drawing their revolvers and standing by the "Olga's" discomfited officers.
"Now, for your report," Darrin went on. One of the sailors reported the deck-length from hatchway to stern-post.
"A difference of twenty-one feet," smiled Dave, darkly, pointing aft in the hold. "You see, men, there are a good many feet of length to be accounted for, which means that there is another compartment aft of this hold. You," turning to one of the sailors, "go forward and request Ensign Burton, with my compliments, to take charge of this steamer. He will round up the crew and place them under guard. Then the ensign will leave a petty officer in charge of deck and prisoners and report to me here."
Within a very short time Mr. Burton had so reported. Dave, in the meantime, having worked his way over the cargo, had found a cleverly concealed door at the after end of the hold.
"There should be a key to this door, sir," said Ensign Burton, "but if there is a key-hole we are unable to find it. If this really be a door it must be operated by a hidden spring."
"Perhaps an axe will work as well as either key or spring," Darrin suggested. "Pass the word for one."
The axe was brought by a heavily built seaman, who prepared to swing it against the door panelling.
"Break away the boards as gently as possible," continued Dave. "There may be an explosive device on the other side of the panelling. For that reason I'll stand by you, to take equal risk."
"If there is any risk, I'd rather you wouldn't take it, sir," urged the sailor.
"Thank you, but I'll stand by. Swing the axe," ordered Dave.
A few blows knocked in the panelling, revealing, beyond, a room of considerable size. Into this stepped the two officers, followed by the seamen with them. Unlike any part of the ship they had previously seen, this place was lighted by electricity. Burton found the switch, and turning it on, let in a flood of light.
"Sir, did you ever!" gasped the ensign.
The purpose of this room was all too plain. It was fitted with compressors, leading to a tube that left the ship under water. A small but powerful crane was in place over a closed hatchway. The latter, when opened, was found to lead down into a second hold, also electrically lighted. The two officers explored this second hold.
"Mines were kept here," Dave nodded, "and were hoisted above as needed. They were dropped astern by means of a compressed air apparatus which, when the mine tube was open, kept the sea from entering. This ugly looking little steamer, outwardly a wood pulp carrier, is really a very capable mine-layer. She has been busy, too, on this cruise to England, but had sown all her mines before we overhauled her."
"It's plain enough, sir," agreed Ensign Burton.
"Confound this rascally skipper!" blazed Darrin, wrathfully. "While naval craft have been searching everywhere for submarine mine-layers, this skipper has been sailing openly on the seas and sowing mines right under the eyes of our allies! The accursed power of gold! This skipper, his mate and crew have been selling their very souls to the Hun for a bit of his miserable money!"
"They won't do it again, sir!" uttered Burton, grimly.
"Mr. Burton, you will remain aboard as prize officer, and take the 'Olga' into the nearest British port and turn her over to the British Admiralty authorities. On receiving competent orders you will rejoin."
"Very good, sir."
"And now we'll hurry above and try to get hold of this ship's papers before any rascal has a chance to destroy them."
Boatswain's Mate Runkle had kept the officers and crew of the "Olga" under such close guard that they were unable to get at their papers, which were quickly found by Darrin in the cabin to which he had first been invited on boarding the "Olga."
Out on deck, herded forward, were master and mate, seamen, engineers and stokers, a motley-looking outfit of twenty-one men all told.
"Bring that fellow here," Dave directed, coming on deck after having examined the ship's papers and then turning them over to Ensign Burton.
The master, purple-faced and ugly-looking, his eyes cast down, was brought before Darrin.
"Well, sir," announced Dave Darrin, eyeing the man grimly, "we have seen the cargo you have on board, and we have been able to judge the character of the cargo that you have dropped overboard."
The skipper started, but did not make any reply in words.
"How could you ever bring yourself to commit such villainy?" Darrin demanded, sternly. "You are not a German?"
"No," assented the other, shifting his weight from his right foot to his left.
"You are a subject of a neutral country."
"Dot is true," admitted the skipper.
"And yet, for hire, you and your men have been engaged in sowing mines, and have taken pay from Germany for your crimes."
"Mines? No! Ve do it not any. Ve never any had," declared the skipper.
"Tell that to an Admiralty court-martial," Darrin retorted. "You will have difficulty in clearing yourself. Fellow, you will find that you and your men will be charged with piracy, for you have been sowing death and destruction in the seas. Indeed, there can be no estimating how many ships you have already helped send to the bottom, no guessing how many lives your infamous work has cost. And you a neutral! Piracy!"
Skipper, mate and chief engineer turned pale at this significant speech. The rest of the crew looked on in stolid wonder, for they understood no word of English.
"Vat? You proof it can't!" quivered the skipper.
Dave gave Ensign Burton an order in an undertone. The ensign hurried to the bridge and almost immediately from the "Olga's" whistle a series of sharp blasts struck out on the air.
From the distance came an answering whistle. The "Olga's" whistle sounded again, and continued at minute intervals, until the outlines of another craft came up out of the mist and proved to be one of the mine-sweepers.
Dave had already reasoned out the probable course of the neutral country's freighter in the last hour before he had overhauled it. As the mine-sweeper slowly came abreast, Darrin, a megaphone at his lips, shouted an order for the course to be taken by his small helper, and added:
"Sweep thoroughly, and try to find some mines near by."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Within fifteen minutes a distant whistle came up from the fog.
"They've picked up one mine," Darrin announced.
Ten minutes later the sweeper's signal whistle was repeated.
"Two mines," he added, and the "Olga's" skipper shivered slightly.
Twenty minutes later came a whistle that was barely heard.
"Three mines," clicked Dave, and ordered the recall sounded, to be by direction signals at minute intervals.
"You make dot noise too much den have us all torpedoed yet," protested the "Olga's" skipper.
"If that happens, we have a rescue craft near at hand," retorted Darrin, meaning the "Grigsby," though the destroyer was now hidden by the fog. "That was more than you knew when you planted mines to destroy vessels on the high seas."
"I did noddings do," growled the skipper.
In time the mine-sweeper came up into view, again reporting that she had picked up three mines by sweeping broadly over the course that the "Olga" was believed to have taken. Then a junior officer from the sweeper came aboard with the measurements of the captured mines. These dimensions were quickly found to correspond with those of the planting device installed in the secret compartment of the "Olga."
"Which proves, or doesn't prove, that the 'Olga' sowed the mines," Dave declared. "That remains for the court-martial to decide. But the three mines just swept up will be interesting evidence for the court to consider."
Learning that the commander of the mine-sweeper would be glad to furnish some members for a prize crew, and to convoy the prize into port, Dave decided to leave Ensign Burton aboard with only three men from the "Grigsby," filling out the prize crew with English sailors. This was accordingly done. Dave's own ship was then signalled and located by whistle, and the launch started on its return.
"Keep that captured crew under strict guard. Don't give them any chance to recapture their vessel!" was Dave's last warning to Ensign Burton.
The "Olga" quickly faded away in the fog and then the "Grigsby" was picked up and boarded.
"Great work, sir, I'd call it!" declared Lieutenant Fernald, when he heard the details of what had taken place.
"The scoundrel, to sail as a neutral, and do such dirty work for the Huns for mere pay!" uttered Dave, indignantly. "Fernald, do you know that there were moments when I had to restrain myself to keep from kicking that scoundrel about his own deck?"
"I can understand the temptation," nodded the executive officer.
"On second thought, though," Darrin continued, "the skipper is certainly being much worse punished by the suspense of mind in which his present plight places him. He knows that, if convicted, the finding of the court will be 'piracy,' and he knows the punishment for that crime."
"It used to be hanging," nodded Fernald. "It seems almost a pity that this war has introduced the swifter and more merciful punishment of death by shooting."
"And as he looks around at his crew he knows that they must face the same fate with him, and he knows, too, that they know that he has brought the penalty upon them."
"But is it possible that the crew were ignorant, or most of them ignorant, of what he was doing in addition to really carrying wood pulp cargoes?" asked Fernald.
"That will be another question for the court-martial to decide," Darrin answered. "It doesn't seem possible that any member of the crew could really be in ignorance of the mine-laying work."
A long blast from either the invisible "Olga" or the equally invisible mine-sweeper now announced that the prize was proceeding on her way. The "Grigsby" did not answer, for on a sea infested by hidden enemies it was not wise to use too many whistle signals.
The "Grigsby" now returned to her course and former speed, and again started on her way. Barely ten minutes had passed when from a bow lookout came the sharp hail:
"'Ware submarine, dead ahead, sir!"
Sharp eyes, indeed, that had made out the presence of the enemy craft by sighting the slender, almost pencil-like periscope that projected some few feet above the water.
At the instant it was discovered the periscope sank down below the surface.
A FIGHT OF THE GOOD OLD KIND
FULL speed ahead! Then ahead she leaped. Ere the destroyer had gained full momentum her bow struck something under the water. Men were thrown from their feet by force of the shock, and the destroyer lurched heavily.
"Hope we haven't torn our bottom out," muttered Darrin as he joined the bow lookouts.
On the water appeared a patch of oil which rapidly broadened. A wooden stool and other floating objects were visible.
"That looks like a fair score," declared the young lieutenant-commander, at which the on-looking seamen grinned broadly.
Over the spot the destroyer again steamed, but nothing passing under her keel was noticed. The sea was clear before her.
It was hours later when Darrin received, in a special code of the British Admiralty, word that the "Olga" and her convoy had reached port, and the "Olga's" officers and crew had been turned over to the Admiralty officials.
In the meantime Dan Dalzell and the "Reed," as learned by occasional wireless messages, had been separated at no time by more than two miles, though neither craft was visible from the other.
Towards the end of the afternoon the fog began to lift. By nightfall it had disappeared. The stars came out and the crescent moon hung near the western horizon. Both destroyers had again turned north, the two craft having drawn in within half a mile of each other.
Dave, after a two-hour nap, went to the bridge at about two bells—nine o'clock. He had been there some ten minutes, chatting with Ensign Ormsby in low tones, when of a sudden he broke off, listening intently.
"Sounds like distant firing, sir, two points off the port bow," hailed one of the bow lookouts.
In a silence, broken only by the wash of the waters and the jar of the engines, distant rumbling sounds were again heard.
"That's gun-fire," Dave declared. "Mr. Ormsby, have the signals shown so that word may be conveyed to the 'Reed' to keep with us at full speed."
In another moment both destroyers dashed forward with a great roaring of machinery and dense clouds of smoke trailing behind from the four stacks of each.
When some miles had been covered, with the gun-fire sounding with much greater distinctness, Darrin felt that he could judge the distance properly. Turning on a screened light he consulted the chart.
"It's just about there," Darrin declared, placing his finger on a spot on the map. "Ormsby, I believe that enemy craft are bombarding the little fishing village of Helston. It's an unfortified, small port."
"That's the kind the Huns would prefer," returned the ensign, with a savage smile.
"Ask the chief engineer if a bit more speed is obtainable; then sound the bell in Mr. Fernald's cabin."
A knot an hour more was soon forced from the "Grigsby's" engines, though at that racing gait it would have been difficult for an amateur observer to have detected the fact that speed had been gained. The "Reed," too, leaped forward.
Minute after minute of breathless racing followed. Presently the flashes of guns could be made out ahead against the darkness of the night. Helston showed no lights, but the sound of bursting shells located the fishing village to those on the bridges of the approaching destroyers.
"The hounds!" blazed Dave, indignantly. "Up to their old and favorite game of killing defenseless people!"
Long ago the crew had been called to quarters. Everything was in readiness to attack the enemy.
"Three of them, and all destroyers, judging by the size of the flash of their guns," Darrin judged.
Throughout the war it has been a favorite trick of the enemy, when the opportunity offered, to send these swift craft out on night attacks. No other craft on the seas, except Entente destroyers, are capable of pursuing and overtaking German destroyers when they flee.
"Open fire when we do," was the signal flashed to the "Reed."
"We're ready," came back the instant answer.
Two minutes later one of Darrin's forward guns flashed out into the night. From the "Reed" there came a similar flash.
"Let 'em have it, fast and hard!" ordered Dave.
As the two destroyers sprang forward, firing at full capacity, the three German craft turned and steamed toward them.
"They outnumber us, and think we'll turn tail!" exulted Dave. "They may sink us, but if we do go down at least we'll try to carry our own weight in enemy ships down with us!"
Though he did not make an unnecessary movement, all of Darrin's calm had vanished. He watched every one of the "Grigsby's" shots, his eyes flashing, breath indrawn. When he saw a hit his glance was snapping. Many of the shells, however, splashed in the water only, for now the five engaged craft were circling about each other in a life-and-death struggle.
As they circled and zigzagged the German craft did not offer a very certain mark. Darrin and Dalzell were maneuvering in similar fashion.
"If we lose, we lose gamely," thought Fernald under his breath. "Was there ever a better or braver commander than Darry? He will ask no odds, but is ever willing to give them!"
"Ah!" The exclamation, half sigh, broke from Dave's lips as he saw the burst of flame and smoke as a shell landed on the superstructure of the leading German destroyer.
Then another shell from the "Grigsby" struck the same enemy's mast, smashing the crow's-nest and hurling German seamen, dead or crippled, into the sea.
Three enemy shells landed on the "Grigsby," causing no serious damage. But the fourth hit dismounted one of Darrin's forward guns, killing three men and wounding five. Hardly an instant later another German shell landed on the bridge, reducing some of the metal work to a mass of twisted junk and ripping out part of the deck.
Shell fragments and flying splinters flew on all sides, yet out of this hurricane of destruction emerged Darrin, Fernald and the watch officer, all uninjured.
An instant later Darrin shouted his orders in Fernald's ear, then gained the deck below in a series of leaps.
With one of her forward guns dismounted, the "Grigsby" was to that extent out of business. Preferring not to trust to his torpedo tubes, at this juncture Darrin raced aft, just as the destroyer began to execute a swift turn.
And now Dave's craft turned tail and ran for it, the young commander directing personally the service of the after guns as the foremost German destroyer gave chase.
Two more hits were scored by the enemy, with the result that two more of Dave's hardy young seamen were killed and four wounded. Matters were beginning to look decidedly serious.
As for Dan Dalzell, when he saw the "Grigsby" turn tail and flee, his heart gave a great bound.
"Good old Darry didn't do that unless he had to," Dan told himself. "I must cover his retreat somehow."
So, his guns barking, and men standing by at the torpedo tubes, Dalzell darted straight for the second of the German destroyers.
Fortunately there was plenty of sea-room, for Dave Darrin was not in reality running away. He was still alert to win the fight, but he wanted to win with the smallest possible loss among his own men.
The Hun craft pursuing him was the slowest of the three enemies. This Dave had already guessed. He allowed the other craft to gain for half a mile, then suddenly shot ahead. By this time several hits had been scored by both combatants, and the third enemy destroyer was maneuvering for a position from which she could render herself effective to send Darrin and his men to the bottom.
Just when it happened Lieutenant Fernald hardly knew, but once more Darrin stood on the bridge at his side.
"Circle!" Dave shouted. "The shortest circle we can make, so as not to show our broadside longer than we must."
Running under full speed, and with a helm that she minded, the "Grigsby" swung around. So unlooked for was this maneuver that the pursuing Hun craft did not succeed in making a direct hit on the Yankee ship during the turn.
And then, just as the turn brought him where he wished to be, and at deadly close quarters, Darrin gave his next order.
Forward leaped the American destroyer. Too late the astonished German commander saw the purpose of the maneuver.
With knife-like prow the "Grigsby" crashed into the German vessel, the blow striking just forward of amidships.
As the butcher's cleaver passes through the bone, so did the bow of the Yankee destroyer go through the Hun.
Yet in the moment of impact Darrin rang the bridge signal to the engine-room for full speed astern. Nor was this command executed an instant too soon. Just in the nick of time Dave's gallant little ship drew back out of the fearful hole that she had torn in the enemy.
Aboard the Hun craft the yells of dying men rose on the air, for the enemy destroyer had been all but cut in two.
Listing before an irresistible inrush of water, the German destroyer almost turned turtle, then sank quickly beneath the waves.
To the northward a muffled roar sounded, followed instantly by another. Dalzell had let go with both forward torpedo tubes, and both had scored. The second stricken enemy ship began to fill and sink slowly.
"Shall we stop to pick up men?" called Fernald.
"Too bad, but we cannot linger while one of the enemy craft still floats," Darrin replied, calmly. "Our first business is to sink enemy ships. We cannot be humane just yet. Give full chase, Mr. Fernald!"
The German survivor had already turned tail, for these Yankee fighters were altogether too swift in their style of combat. Dalzell, whose craft was nearer the fugitive, was now first in pursuit.
To avoid firing over his chum's craft Darrin steered obliquely to starboard, then joined in the chase, firing frequently with his remaining forward three-inch gun.
As to speed it proved a losing race. The German craft that had survived proved to be a shade more speedy than either the "Grigsby" or the "Reed," so the two craft in chase endeavored to make up for the difference with active fire.
Some direct hits were made. In a little more than half an hour, however, the Hun destroyer was out of range of the Yankee guns.
"We'll drive her back to her base port, anyway," Darrin signalled Dalzell.
So two narrow ribbons of searchlight glow played over the sea, keeping the enemy in sight as long as possible.
Presently the German's hull vanished below the horizon; then the lower parts of her masts and stacks went out of sight. Still the two Yankee destroyers hung on, in a race that they knew they could not win.
Only when Darrin's knowledge of these waters told him that the fleeing destroyer was safe did he signal the "Reed" to "abandon chase."
Reluctantly Dan Dalzell's little ship swung around, heading to keep the "Grigsby" company on the new course.
"Tackled superior numbers, and sank two out of three," Dave commented, calmly. "Not what one would call a poor evening's work, gentlemen."
"It was splendidly done, sir," glowed Lieutenant Fernald.
"We won't take too much credit to ourselves," Dave proposed. "Let us give some of the credit to luck."
"Not with you in command, sir," protested the executive officer.
"But we did have a lot of luck," Dave insisted.
"The luck that you planned and schemed for, with your mind working like lightning," Fernald retorted.
He was too much of a man to try to flatter his chief. Fernald spoke from the depths of complete conviction. He had known Dave Darrin's reputation at sea even before he had come to serve under this swift-thinking young officer.
Dave's first care, now, was to inspect the dismounted gun. Only a few moments did he need to convince himself that the piece was a wreck that could never be put in use again.
He then descended to the sick bay, where the surgeon and four baymen were giving tender attention to the wounded men.
"It was a good fight, men," Dave said, as he passed through the bay.
"Then I'm not kicking at what I found," cried one young sailor lad, cheerily.
"Nor I," added another. "It was worth something, sir, to take part in a fight like that. Ouch! O-o-o-h!"
Dave paused to bend over the sufferer, resting a hand on his nearer shoulder.
"I beg pardon, sir," said the lad. "I didn't mean to make such a fuss. You'll think me a regular baby, sir."
"No one is to be blamed for yelling, with a pair of shell fragment wounds like yours," broke in the surgeon, bending over and examining. "My boy, you have regular man's-size wounds."
"Not going to croak me, are you, sir?" asked the young sailor, looking up into Medico's eyes.
"Oh, no; not this trip, my lad."
"Then I don't care," returned the young seaman. "Wouldn't care much, anyway, but there's a mother at home who would! Ouch! There I go again. My mother'd be ashamed of me."
"No, she wouldn't," smiled the surgeon. "Look here, what I took out of that hole in your leg."
He held up a jagged fragment of shell. It was somewhat oval-shaped, about an inch and a half in length and half as wide.
"It hurt you more when I took that out than it would to pull a dozen of your teeth at once. Let's look at this other hole, the one on the other thigh. That's going to be a tougher job. I'll give you a few whiffs of chloroform, so you won't notice anything."
"Do I have to have the chloroform, sir?" demanded the sailor lad, who was not more than eighteen.
"You don't have to, Bassett, but it will be for your comfort," replied Medico.
"Then don't ask me to smell the stuff, sir. When this war is over I want to look back and think of myself as a fighting man—not as a chap who had to be gassed every time the sawbones looked at him. Beg your pardon, sir."
But Medico merely smiled at being called sawbones.
"Chloroform or not, just as you like, lad," the surgeon went on. "Either way, you can always look back with satisfaction on your record as a fighting man, for your grit is all of the right kind."
"Much obliged to you, sir, for saying that," replied the young sailor. "Ouch! Wait, please, sir. Let me get a grip on the cot frame with both hands. Now, I'm all ready, sir."
"Same old breed of Yankee sailor as always," Darrin smiled down into the lad's face while the surgeon began the painful work of extracting another shell fragment. This one being more deeply imbedded, the surgeon was obliged to make a selection of scalpel and tissue scissors and do some nerve-racking cutting. But the seaman, his hands tightly gripped on the edges of the operating table, which he had termed a cot, did not once cry out, though ice-cold sweat beaded his forehead under Darrin's warm hand.
Then a bayman washed down the enameled surface of the table, rinsing the blood away, and another attendant skilfully dressed and bandaged the second wound as he had done the first. Two baymen brought a stretcher and the lad was taken to a bunk. Here he was given a drink that, after five minutes, caused him to doze and dream fitfully of the battle through which he had lately passed.
By this time nearly all of the wounded had received first attention. Dave Darrin, followed by a junior officer, went forward to another, still smaller room, where he gazed down with heaving breast at the forms of the seamen who had given up their lives under the Stars and Stripes in the gallant work of that night.
Over the face of each dead man lay a cloth. Each cloth was removed in turn by a sailor as Darrin passed along.
"A good fighting man and a great romp on shore," said Dave, looking down at the face of one man. "One of the best fellows we ever had on any ship I've ever served on," he said, glancing at another face. "A new lad," he said, of a third, "but he joined on so recently that I know only that he was a brave young American!" And so on.
It was just as the sailor was laying the cloth back over the features of the last one in the row that a seaman sprang into the room precipitately.
"Beg pardon, sir," he called excitedly, "but telephone message, with compliments of executive officer, and commanding officer's presence is desired on the bridge—instantly!"
That surely meant business!
WHAT A FLOATING MINE DID
AS Dave reached the deck he caught a fleeting glimpse of a big steamship ahead, which was revealed in the glare of the destroyer's searchlight.
But he did not stop to linger there. Up to the damaged bridge he ran as fast as he could go.
Evidently putting on her best effort at speed the steamship was moving forward fast in a zig-zagging course.
"She was working her radio and blowing her whistle, all in the same moment, sir," Lieutenant Fernald explained. "She must have seen a torpedo that passed by her. There must be a submarine somewhere, but we haven't picked up a sign of it as yet."
The ship was nearly two miles away. Having seen the destroyer's searchlight the big craft's whistle was again blowing.
"Her master hardly expects to get away from the submarine," Dave observed, and instantly turned his night glass on the dark waters to try to pick up some sign of the Hun pirate craft that was causing all this excitement aboard a respectable neutral liner.
"She's a Dutch craft," Dave commented. "Head in, Mr. Fernald, as that will give us a better chance to try to find out on which side of her the pest is operating. Ask her which side."
Promptly the signal flashed out from the blinkers of the "Grigsby." Plainly the excited skipper of the liner hadn't thought of offering that important bit of information.
"Starboard side, probably eight hundred yards away," came back the Dutchman's blinker response.
Dave accordingly ordered the "Grigsby" laid over to starboard and raced on to place the Yankee ship between the pirate and the intended victim.
Hardly had the course been altered, however, in the roughening sea, when a dull lurid flash some twelve or fifteen feet high was seen just under the liner's starboard bow. A cloud of smoke rose, the lower half of which was promptly washed out by a rising wave.
"That was a mine, no torpedo!" cried Dave, his eyes snapping. "Full speed ahead, Mr. Fernald, and prepare to clear away our launches. That ship cannot float long!"
Through the night glass it could be seen that throngs of passengers were rushing about the deck of the Dutch vessel. Ship's officers were trying to quell the panic that was quite natural, for the mine, if it were such a thing, had torn a huge hole in the bow, and the liner was settling by the head.
Up raced the "Grigsby," the "Reed" arriving less than a minute afterward. Both destroyers had manned their launches, and these were now lowered and cleared away.
Even though the passengers appeared to have lost their heads, the Dutch skipper proved true to his trust. He was lowering his own boats and rafts as rapidly as he could, and making swift work of getting human beings away from the stricken ship.
Fully two-score passengers of either sex jumped. Striking the water they bobbed up again, for they had not neglected their life-belts.
In the hurry one lifeboat was overturned just before it reached the water. The "Grigsby's" leading launch raced to the spot. Half a dozen jackies promptly dove over into the icy water to give a hand to passengers too frightened to realize the importance of getting quickly away from the sinking liner.
"No more men go overboard," sternly ordered Ensign Andrews, as he saw more of his men moving to the side of the launch. "Stand by to haul the rescued aboard!"
All care was needed, for the liner was a big one, and doomed soon to take her final plunge. The suction effect on small boats would be tremendous, if they were caught too close to the scene of the foundering.
Lines were cast to jackies who were towing frightened passengers. Rescue moved along swiftly, the launches from both destroyers backing slowly away from the settling craft.
"Here y'are, lady!" coaxed one seaman from the first launch, catching a line at twenty feet and placing it in the hands of a frightened woman whose teeth chattered and who was nearly dead from the cold that the icy water sent through to the marrow of her bones. "Think y' can hold on, lady? If y' can, I can go back and help some one else."
The woman, though she spoke no English, guessed the meaning of the question, and shrieked with terror.
"Oh, all right, ma'am," the sailor went on, in a tone of good-humored resignation. "I'll make sure of you, and hope that some one else won't drown."
With one arm around her, the other hand holding tight to the rope the jacky allowed himself to be hauled in alongside the launch.
"Take this lady in, quick!" ordered Jacky. "She's about all in with the cold."
"Better come on board, too, Streeter," advised a petty officer on the launch.
"Too much to be done," replied Seaman Streeter, shoving off and starting to swim back.
"Your teeth are chattering now," called the petty officer, but Seaman Streeter, with lusty strokes, was heading for a hatless, white-haired old man whom he made out, under the searchlight glare, a hundred yards away. This man, too chilled to swim for himself, though buoyed up by a belt, Streeter brought in.
"Come on board, Streeter," insisted the same petty officer.
But surely that jacky was deaf, for he turned and once more struck out. By the time that the liner had been down four minutes, and the last visible and living person in the water had been rescued, Seaman Streeter had brought in six men and women, five of whom would surely have died of the cold had he not gone to their aid. And he had turned to swim back after a possible seventh.
Nearly six hundred passengers and members of the sunken liner's crew had been saved. Of these the greatest sufferers were taken aboard the "Grigsby" and the "Reed" and the remainder were left in the boats, which were towed astern.
Dave decided that the rescued ones should be landed at an English port twenty-two miles away. This port had rail communication and prompt, effective care could be given to these hundreds of people.
As soon as the start had been made for port, roll-call was held of those who had put off in the launches. Seaman Streeter was not present, nor even accounted for. Promptly Darrin ordered the course changed and the two destroyers went back, making careful search under the searchlights of the surface of the sea near the scene of the foundering. No trace of the missing seaman was found.
Seaman Streeter did not die in battle. He perished in the gentler but no less useful field of saving human life! An orphaned sister in Iowa, his only living near relative, gazes to-day at the appreciative letter she has received from the Navy Department at Washington. Then she turns to a longer and more glowing letter written by the, to her, strange hand of David Darrin, Lieutenant-Commander, United States Navy.
In less than two hours the destroyers, with their respective strings of towed boats, arrived at the British port and the work of transferring the rescued to shore began. Dan's dead and wounded were also sent ashore.
It was afterward reported that nine human beings were unaccounted for. Four more died in the boats on the way to land.
While the transfers to shore were being made Dan Dalzell came aboard the "Grigsby" to greet his chum. They chatted while the damaged bridge was being repaired.
"Danny-boy," Dave remarked seriously, "that exploding mine showed us clearly what is expected of us. It is our task to see that all these near-by waters are cleared of such dangerous objects."
"Surely we cannot get every mine that the Huns plant," objected Dalzell.
"We must get as many of them as we can. I know that all the British mine-sweepers are constantly on the job, but if necessary we must have more mine-sweepers. We must keep the paths of navigation better cleared than proved to be the case to-night."
"Oh, say!" expostulated Dalzell, his eyes wide open, "we simply cannot, even with twice as many mine-sweepers, find every blooming mine that the Huns choose to sow in the Channel and North Sea."
"To find and take up every mine should be our standard," Dave insisted, "and we must live as close to that standard as we possibly can."
"Then we did wrong to go after the destroyers this night?" Dan demanded, curtly.
"Of course not, for that bombardment of that defenseless little town, carried on longer, might have cost as many lives as are likely to be lost in the case of a steamship hitting a floating mine."
"We can't do everything at the same time," Dan contended.
"Then we must strive to do ninety-nine per cent. of everything," Darrin urged, his jaws set. "Danny-boy, I feel as badly as you do when a single innocent life is lost in the area that we are held responsible for."
"How soon do you put for sea?" Dalzell asked.
"As soon as our boats return and are hoisted on board."
Darrin was as good as his word. Twenty-one minutes later, while dawn was still invisible, the two Yankee destroyers turned seaward again. There was more work, and sterner, for them to do, and it lurked just beyond!
EYES THAT LOOKED DOWN FROM THE AIR
DAWN found the two destroyers cruising slowly northward, a little more than a mile apart.
Within sight of the bridges of the two craft were eight small, snub-nosed mine-sweepers. Frequently changing their course, these little craft were doing their utmost to pick up any mine that may have been planted just far enough under water to be struck below the water line by passing vessels.
"I suppose we're of the few who have ever seen the flash of an exploding floating mine," Dave remarked to Lieutenant Fernald. "The sea was so rough and choppy, last night, that the mine, at the instant of impact, happened to be in the trough of the sea and partly above water."
"Yes," nodded Fernald. "Had the waves been longer, the mine would have sunk to its usual depth. Had it not cost lives and a good ship, it would have been a sight worth seeing. As it was, since the lives and the ship had to be lost, I am glad that I was there to see it."
It was broad daylight now. Red streaks off in the east indicated that the sun would soon appear. But from the southwest something of at least equal interest appeared in the sky.
At the lookout's call Fernald turned to study the object in the sky through his glass.
"It's an airship, a dirigible," announced the executive officer.
"If an English dirigible, then it's all right," Dave nodded. "But, if it happens to be a German Zeppelin returning from a raid over England, then it will become our solemn duty to get the anti-aircraft gun in position and pray for a chance to take a fair shot."
"It's a craft of the smaller English dirigible pattern," Fernald announced, still studying the distant speck in the sky, which, of course, looked much larger in the field of his glass. "Yes, it's an unmistakable 'blimp'."
This latter is the slang name given to the British dirigibles.
"Better have the air-craft gun men at their station," advised Dave, and this was done.
Ten minutes later, however, the "blimp" was so close at hand that there could be no mistaking its identity. It belonged, beyond a question, to one of the squadrons of the Royal Naval Air Service.
"Radio message from the 'blimp,' sir," called a messenger, darting from the doorway of the wireless room. "Do you wish a written copy, sir?"
Lieutenant Fernald glanced at Dave, who shook his head.
"Let's have the message orally," Fernald called down to the deck.
"'Blimp' wants to know, sir, if these two craft are the 'Grigsby' and 'Reed.'"
"Tell the operator to admit the fact," Fernald ordered.
"Officer in charge of the 'blimp,' sir, says that he was to report and help you yesterday, but that the weather was too foggy."
"Tell the operator to send back: 'Good morning. Glad to have you with us. Signature, Darrin,'" Dave directed.
The seamen and petty officer at the anti-aircraft gun left their station. Straight onward came the "blimp," dropping much lower just as it passed over. From the car beneath the big gas-bag several men leaned over to wave friendly hands, a greeting that was instantly responded to by Dave's and Dan's jackies, for the dirigible, after sailing over the "Grigsby," turned and floated over the "Reed."
"Message from the 'blimp,' sir," again iterated the messenger on the deck. "Message says: 'We're to keep near you and try to spot submarines for you.'"
"More power to your vision," was the message sent back by Dave.
"You're working northward, toward the shoals?" asked "Blimp."
"Yes," Darrin acknowledged.
"That's a likely place to find one or two of the Hun pirates resting," "Blimp" continued.
"Always a good hunting ground," Dave assented, in a radio message.
This took place while the dirigible was flying back and forth, ahead and astern, between the destroyers and to either side of their course.
"It's a fine thing to be able to move at aircraft speed," said Lieutenant Fernald, rather enviously. "If we could only make such speed, sir!"
"If we could build ships that would steam sixty to a hundred miles an hour, then the enemy could build them also," Dave returned. "There would be little, if any, net gain for us. But if we could find the secret of doubling the speed of aircraft, and keep said secret from the boches, that would be an achievement that would soon end the war."
For ten miles the sweepers proceeded, with a total "catch" of only three mines, which must have been left-overs from other cruises. By this time the little fleet was approaching the nearest of the shoals, some three miles from shore.
"Blimp" was now well ahead, presently signalling back.
"Found a sea-hornet for you, resting in the mud."
"Good enough! We'll draw his sting," the "Grigsby's" radio reply promised.
Darrin caused a signal to be made to two of the mine-sweepers to come in close to him. The "Reed" still continued on her way further out.
Aircraft are of the greatest help in discovering submerged submarines. Depending on the altitude at which they fly, air observers are able to see, in reasonably smooth water, submarines that are moving at from eighty to a hundred feet beneath the surface. A submarine that is "resting" with her nose in the mud close to shore has more to fear from aircraft than from all other possible foes.
The aircraft men, though they can drop bombs upon such lurking craft, cannot do so with anything like the accuracy that is possible to the crews of vessels on the surface. Hence when aircraft and destroyers hunt together it is almost always left to the surface craft to give the "grace blow" to the resting submarine, as also to a submarine in motion beneath the waves.
As the "blimp" moved over the shoal in question a smoke bomb left the car and hovered almost motionless in the air, though briefly. This indicated that the submarine lay on the bottom directly underneath the smoke bomb.
"And the commander of that Hun craft knows that we are approaching," Darrin commented, as the "Grigsby" raced roaringly forward. "He can hear the noise of our propellers. If his engines are ready, he'll likely back off into deeper water."
Thrice more the "blimp" passed over the submarine that was invisible to surface eyes, and each time let loose a smoke bomb.
"Now, you're directly in line," came the radio message from above. "Move dead ahead. Will tell you when you are passing over. We'll signal the word 'drop'."
The meaning of "drop" would be clear enough. It would mean that the "Grigsby" was instantly to release, over the stern, a depth bomb.
As the "Grigsby" neared the spot speed was considerably reduced. Overhead hovered the "blimp," ready for instant signalling of one word. The command had already been passed to the men stationed by the depth bomb to let go as soon as the messenger gave the word from the operator.
As Darrin glanced upward he saw the "blimp" nearly overhead.
Suddenly the messenger's startled voice roared out the message passed by the radio operator:
"Full speed astern!"
In the same instant Lieutenant Fernald repeated the order over the engine-room telegraph. There was a jolting jar as the "Grigsby" shivered, then glided back in her own wake.
"Jove! That was a narrow squeak!" came down from the sky. "That hornet laid an egg in your path. It came within an ace of bumping your keel."
"Never did speed pay a prompter profit, then," uttered Darrin, his cheeks paling slightly.
For the Englishman's laconic message meant that the submarine had just proved herself to be of the mine-laying variety. Further, the Hun craft, hearing the destroyer's propellers almost overhead, had judged the moment at which to let loose a mine, which, rising to its proper level under water, would have struck the hull of the advancing destroyer.
Had that happened, the career of the "Grigsby" would have been over, and several officers' and seamen's names would have been added to the war's list of dead.
"Going to try again, sir?" asked Lieutenant Fernald, quietly, as Dave himself changed the full-speed-astern order.
"It's out of our line, I guess," Darrin confessed, with a smile. "Signal yonder mine-sweeper to close in on the job."
As a result of the message, and aided by the "blimp" overhead, the snub-nosed mine-sweeper steamed into position. First, her wire sweeper picked up the mine that had been sprung for the "Grigsby's" undoing, and backed away.
Then, under Dave's further order, after the mine had been hoisted on board, the snub-nosed craft moved in with a different type of sweeper. To different wires of this implement were attached small but powerful contact bombs. Jauntily the snub-nosed craft moved over the lurking place of the submarine, and passed on ahead.
From the depths came muffled sounds, followed by a big and growing spread of oil on the water.
"Enemy done for!" signalled the "blimp."
"Thank you, sir. We know it," the "Grigsby" wirelessed back.
The mine-sweeper, having passed on ahead, now circled back, her crew grinning at sight of the mass of floating oil.
The contact bombs dangling from the sweep wires had struck against the submarine's hull and exploded, letting in the water at several points. The Hun seamen were even now drowning, caught without a show for their lives, just as they had probably sent many souls to graves in the ocean.
For some minutes more the dirigible moved back and forth through the air, her observers watching for the presence of hidden enemy craft. Then, without warning, came the message:
"Sorry, but engine trouble threatens and will compel our return to land, and to our base if possible."
"The best of luck to you," Dave ordered wirelessed back to these British comrades. "We'll stand by until we're as close to shore as we can go."
For he knew that, near shore, the shoals became dangerous shallows at this point on the coast.
Away limped the "blimp," the "Grigsby" following, and standing ready to do rescue work should the dirigible need assistance.
But the "blimp" not only made her way over to shore, but vanished slowly in the distance.
All of the mine-sweepers that had come up were ordered by signal to continue sweeping over the shoals.
"I want to see more of this work personally," Dave told his executive officer, who was now to be left in command. "Clear away one of the power launches. I'll take Mr. Ormsby with me."
So Dave was taken over to one of the mine-sweeping, snub-nosed craft that had formerly been a steam trawler on the Dogger Banks. The commanding officer, Hartley, proved most glad to welcome them.
"We'll make you as comfortable as we can," promised Hartley.
"Now, please don't do anything of the sort," Darry protested. "Let us be mere spectators, or pupils, and have no fuss made over us. Instruct your men, if you'll be good enough, to omit salutes and to chat with us, if they have a chance, like comrades or pals. We want to see your real working ways, not a demonstration."
"All right, then," sighed Mr. Hartley, and passed the orders.
"When do you men sleep?" Dave inquired of a sailor who paused to light a pipe as he stood well up in the bow.
"When the blooming ship is hin dry-dock, sir," answered the British tar.
"Don't you have regular watches?"
"How long are the watches?"
"Usually twenty-four hours in each day, sir."
Darry laughed, for he knew no living man could stand working twenty-four hours a day for any length of time.
"You were a trawler before you came into this branch of the service?" Ormsby asked.
"No, sir. Hi was a chimney sweep; that's wot made me good for this bally old business, sir."
"You like this work?" Ormsby next asked.
"Yes, sir, hit's the next best thing to being killed, sir," was the solemn response.
"Have you seen any mine-sweepers destroyed while at work?"
Instantly the sailor dropped his bantering tone, his face becoming solemn in his expression.
"You may well say that, sir," he answered. "More mine-sweepers are lost than any other kind of naval craft."
"Why is that?"
"Principally, sir, because we 'ave only a trawler's speed, and everything else that floats, including the National Debt, can overtake us."
"Is there any scarcity of men for this sort of work?" Ormsby queried.
"No, sir, it's the 'eight hof a British sailorman's ambition, sir, to die early and be buried, sir, in water a mile deep. We fairly long for hit, sir."
"Hedgeby!" came, indignantly, from Mr. Hartley, who had approached unnoticed. "What do you mean by chaffing these American officers so outrageously."
"Must 'ave mistook my horders, sir," returned Hedgeby, saluting his commander. "Some blooming bloke told as 'ow these gentlemen wanted to be treated like pals."
"The fault is mine, I guess," admitted Mr. Hartley, turning to Darrin and Ormsby. "These men are always chaffing each other, and they thought you wanted some of the same thing."
"We don't object," Dave smiled. "If hot air is the motive power that drives these men, then we want to sample it."
Hedgeby regarded this last speaker with a puzzled expression.
"If you're talking about fuel, sir," he went on, as Mr. Hartley moved away, "Hi'll say that 'ot air engines wouldn't be no good wotever on these 'ere craft. Gasoline is what we use, mostly, for our engines, sir, though some of the biggest use petroleum."
"Hot air is furnished by the men themselves," Dave explained. "It's a favorite fuel at sea."
"Maybe, sir, maybe," admitted Hedgeby, slowly, looking as solemn as an owl. "Of course you know, sir, wot's used on the Yankee boats, anyway, sir, and if your Admiralty recommends 'ot air then no doubt hit's because you Yankees know 'ow to use it better than other fuel."
"And the joke of it is," muttered Ormsby, as Hedgeby sprang to obey an order, "one can't tell whether a chap like that is laughing at us, or trying to sympathize with our ignorance."
Dave laughed, then soon forgot the chaffing, for he was greatly interested in what he saw of the work that was being carried on. Certainly, for such a comparatively slow craft, a large area of sea surface could be covered in a forenoon.
Presently Hedgeby came back to them, and Ormsby tried once more to extract some real information.
"With the amount of speed you can command," he resumed, "what does a craft like this do, Hedgeby, if a German destroyer comes racing along after you?"
"We just shut off speed, sir, and the blooming destroyer goes by so fast that nine times hout of ten she doesn't see us at all."
"But if the destroyer sees you and stops to engage, what then?"
Once more the quizzical expression faded from the British sailorman's eyes. He stepped back, resting one hand on a light gun mounted on a swivel pedestal.
"We do hour best with this piece, sir."
"An unequal combat, Hedgeby!"
"You may well say it, sir, but hat least we come hout of the fracas as well as does the submarine that our sweep locates on the bottom."
"Have you known of any case in which a mine-sweeper had any show at all against a German destroyer?"
"Yes, sir; this very craft was the boat, sir. The destroyer 'eld 'er fire and come hup close, sir, to 'ave fun teasing us. Only one shot we fired, sir, from our after gun, at the houtset, sir, but that one shot carried away the destroyer's rudder just below the water line. It was hall a piece of luck, sir."
"And then?" pressed Ormsby, for at last Hedgeby seemed to be imparting real information.
"Well, of course, sir, the 'Uns started hin at once to rig a jury rudder with timbers and canvas."
"Naturally, sir, we didn't give 'em any time or chance we could 'elp, sir. We sailed round and round 'er, taking position so that we could play both guns on 'er at the same time. She couldn't steer, sir, to back 'er aim, that 'ere 'Un, so we banged away at 'er stacks and her water line until she was worse than 'elpless."
"Did you sink her?"
"No, sir. She was captured."
"By two of 'is majesty's destroyers, sir, that came up. And maybe you think Hi'm joking, sir, w'en Hi tell you that the destroyers were credited with the capture because they made the 'Un strike 'is colors and take a prize crew."
Subsequently Dave and Ormsby learned from Mr. Hartley that this account was a true one.
"But we got a bit of credit in the public press," Hartley added, modestly.
Right after that it was reported that one of the wire sweeps had located a bomb. Instantly several men were rushed to aid in landing the prize. Dave and Ormsby hurried to join the group and watch a mine being taken aboard.
On account of its weight the deadly thing was handled by tackle. Carefully the men proceeded to hoist the mine aboard.
"You'll note the little horns standing out from the top of the mine," explained Mr. Hartley, pointing to the circular mine. "These horns are usually called studs. Hit one of these studs even a light blow with a tack hammer, gentlemen, and the mine would explode. A mine like this is more deadly than the biggest shell carried by a super-dreadnaught. Let this mine explode, for instance, under our hull forward, and it would tear us to pieces in a way that would leave us afloat for hardly sixty seconds. Moreover, it would kill any man standing at or near the rail over the point of contact."
He had no more than finished speaking, while the mine was being hoisted aboard, than a terrified gasp escaped the workers.
For the mine slipped from its tackle, and slipped back toward the water, striking the side hull in its downward course!
Dave Darrin did not move. He knew there would not be time to escape!
IN THE TEETH OF THE CHANNEL GALE
The mine sank below the surface.
A quick turn by the helmsman at the wheel, and the course changed violently on the instant.
"No stud struck or scraped the side as the mine went down!" exclaimed Mr. Hartley, in a voice as cool as though he were discussing the weather. "That was what saved us."
"That, and the presence of mind displayed by your man at the wheel," Dave calmly supplemented. "That quick turn of the wheel saved your hull under the water line from striking against the infernal thing."
"I thought we were goners!" exclaimed Ormsby.
"So did I," Dave nodded, "until I saw the thing sink and then realized how prompt the helmsman had been to act without orders."
"The helmsman's act was almost routine," Hartley continued. "On a craft like this every man instinctively knows what should be done in any moment of escapable peril."
Dave now withdrew the elbow which, up to now, he had leaned against the rail. He knew that he had been within a hair's breadth of instant death, but there was nothing in his bearing to betray the fact.
Hartley quickly gave the order to put about.
"Another try for that slippery customer, eh?" queried Ormsby.
"I'd feel like a murderer, if I knowingly left that thing in the sea, to destroy some fine craft," declared Mr. Hartley, gravely. "Once we've located a mine we never leave it. We'll make the 'catch' again, but we'll inspect our tackle before we try to take it aboard. I think you gentlemen had better step back well out of the way."
"Of course we will, sir, if we are really in the way," Darrin smiled.
"You're not in our way," Hartley promptly denied. "But you will hardly care, should the tackle still be defective, to be loitering at the point of danger."
"I want to see you repair the tackle," Dave replied. "Then I want to see you make the grapple again and bring the mine safely on board."
"All right, gentlemen, if you love danger well enough to take the risk twice when you're only spectators," Hartley answered, with a shrug of his shoulders.
Again the mine was caught, grappled, and this time successfully hoisted on board.
All of this Darrin and his junior officer noted carefully, even giving a hand at the work.
Through the day at least one of the mine-sweepers continued over this line of shoal, trying constantly with the sweeps. Farther out to sea Dalzell and the "Reed" accompanied others of the craft. By nightfall it was reported that more than sixty mines had been picked up.
"The mine-layers must be actively at work in these waters," said Dave. "Undoubtedly they plant the mines at night, then toward daylight move in toward the shoal and hide there during the day. We'll try that shoal again after daylight to-morrow morning—weather permitting."
This last Darrin said because there were now lurking indications of a coming storm. Dave returned to his own craft in time.
By nine o'clock that night, or an hour after the new watch had gone on, the wind was howling through the rigging in a way that made conversation difficult on the bridge.
"Mr. Fernald, at the rate the weather is thickening I shall be on the bridge all night. I shall be glad, therefore, if after your last rounds of the ship, and after you have turned in your report, you will seek your berth and get all the sleep you can until you're called."
"Very good, sir," agreed the executive officer.
He would have liked to stand watch in Darrin's place, but he knew that, with a gale coming, Darrin would not consent.
By this time the destroyer was rolling at such an angle that the order was passed for the life-lines. Soon after that a second order was issued that all men on outside duty must don life-belts. Even up on the bridge, with an abundance of hand-holds, Dave and Ensign Andrews wore the belts.
With a nearly head wind from the northeast the "Grigsby" labored in the running seas, spray dashing over the bridge and against the rubber coats and sou'westers of the two officers. Below, on the deck, the water was sometimes several inches deep, gorging the scuppers in its flow overboard. Officers and men alike wore rubber boots.
"All secure, sir," reported Lieutenant Fernald, returning after his last rounds. "A nasty time you'll have of it, sir, to-night."
"Like some other times that I've known since I took to the sea," Dave shouted back through the gale.
Wild, indeed, was the night, yet the stars remained visible. The wind had increased still more by eight bells (midnight), when the watch again changed.
"Is the weather bad enough for you to have to remain here, sir?" asked Ensign Ormsby, respectfully.
"Yes," Darrin nodded. "I am charged with the safety of this craft."
Having gone the limit of her northerly patrol, the "Grigsby" had now headed about, dipping and lunging ahead of the wind and rolling as though the narrow craft would like nothing better than to turn turtle.
Owing to the fact that neither craft carried lights in these dangerous waters Dalzell had pulled far off. At this moment Danny Grin and the "Reed" were four miles nearer the mainland of Europe than the "Grigsby" was.
After an especially heady plunge, followed by some wild rolling from side to side, Dave shouted in his watch officer's ear:
"Ormsby, I'm going to make the round of the deck, to make sure that the life lines are all up and secure."