Under the Ensign of the Rising Sun, by Harry Collingwood.
DISMISSED THE SERVICE.
"Well, good-bye, old chap; keep a stiff upper lip, and hope for the best; the truth is pretty sure to come out some day, somehow, and then they will be bound to reinstate you. And be sure you call on the Pater, and tell him the whole yarn. I'll bet he will be able to give you some advice worth having. Also give my love to the Mater, and tell her that I'm looking forward to Christmas. Perhaps I may see you then. Good-bye again, and good luck to you."
The speaker was young Ronald Gordon, one of the midshipmen belonging to H.M.S. Terrible, and my particular chum; and the words were spoken as we parted company on the platform of Portland railway station, Gordon to return to his ship, while I, an outcast, was bound for London to seek my fortune.
Yes; after doing splendidly at Dartmouth, heading the list at the passing-out exam, and so at once gaining the rating of midshipman; doing equally well afloat during the subsequent three years and a half, qualifying for Gunnery, Torpedo, and Navigating duties, serving for six months aboard a destroyer, and everywhere gaining the esteem and goodwill of my superiors, here was I, Paul Swinburne, at the age of seventeen and a half, an outcast kicked out of the Navy with ignominy and my career ruined, through the machinations of another, and he my cousin!
He, Bob Carr,—like myself, a midshipman aboard the Terrible,—had committed a crime of a particularly mean and disgraceful character— there is no need for me to specify its precise nature—and with diabolical ingenuity, knowing that discovery was inevitable, had succeeded in diverting suspicion so strongly toward me that I had been accused, court martialled, and—although I had pleaded not guilty—found guilty and dismissed the Service.
Now, it is necessary for me to say here just a word or two in self-defence; for there is no reason whatever why the reader should be allowed to believe me guilty, although, for certain reasons of my own, I permitted the officers who tried me to think so.
I am an orphan, both my parents having died within a few months of each other when I was less than three years old, leaving me to the mercy of the world. My nearest relation was Aunt Betsy Carr, my father's only sister, and at my mother's death she and Uncle Bob adopted me as their own, although they had a baby boy of their own, at that time nearly two years old—the Cousin Bob who was responsible for my present trouble. They took me not only into their home but also into their hearts; they made not the slightest difference in their treatment of Bob and me; I was as much a son to them as he was; and the result was that I soon grew to love them both as much as though they had been my own parents.
At first, as children, Bob and I got on splendidly together; but later on, when we were respectively about seven and eight years of age, my cousin gradually developed a feeling of jealousy that at length became inordinate—although he was very careful to conceal the fact from his parents; so that when, in my second year at Dartmouth, the matter of sending him there also was mooted, I was exceedingly sorry, although I of course gladly promised to help him to the utmost, in the event of his being entered. And when in due time he turned up there, I redeemed my promise, so far as Bob would let me; and it cost me a good deal to do so, for he soon became exceedingly unpopular. But he managed to scrape through his final, and, some six months before the opening of this story, was appointed to the Terrible—to my great chagrin, for I had a presentiment that his coming meant trouble for me.
And now the trouble had come, with a vengeance. It was really Bob, and not I, who had committed the crime of which I was accused; and clever as the young rascal had been in diverting suspicion from himself to me, I could have cleared myself, had I so chosen, but only by fixing the guilt upon him. And that I could not bring myself to do, after all the kindness which I—had received at the hands of my aunt and uncle; for they not only idolised the lad but believed in him implicitly, and I knew that disillusion would simply break their hearts—they would never again be able to hold up their heads and look others in the face. Therefore when I was summoned to be tried by court martial, I simply pleaded Not Guilty—which was regarded as an aggravation of my offence— and did not attempt to defend myself, with the result that I was found guilty, and expelled.
Of course I knew that this would be a bitter blow to my uncle and aunt; but it would not be nearly so bitter as it would have been had the guilt been fixed upon Bob, therefore of the two evils I chose what I considered the least, although it involved the ruin of my career—a career which I loved and of which I was intensely proud.
And now I was not only without a career, but also without a home; for I simply could not endure the idea of going back to my aunt and uncle, and witnessing their grief as well as enduring their reproaches. I therefore wrote them a brief letter informing them of the misfortune which had befallen me, assuring them of my innocence, and announcing my determination to start afresh, fight my own battle, and rehabilitate myself as best I could.
In making my plans I was greatly helped by my chum, Gordon. He had been with me at Dartmouth, after that in the Vengeance, and now again in the Terrible; he therefore knew me well enough to implicitly believe me when I assured him upon my word of honour that I was innocent. He was a good chum; not only did he believe in my innocence but he also stoutly maintained it to others, whenever the matter was referred to, although the evidence so cunningly woven was strong enough to secure my conviction. And when the result of the court martial was known, he not only sat down and wrote a long account of the affair to his parents, but insisted—taking no denial—that, before doing anything else, I should call upon his parents and consult with his father, Sir Robert. And this I at length, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to do, although I was by no means sure that his people would be so ready as he was to take me upon trust. Yet, apart from my uncle and aunt, Sir Robert and Lady Gordon were the only friends I had; and now was the time when of all others I most urgently needed the help of friends. At first I permitted myself to entertain certain high-flown ideas of going out into the world and fighting my battle alone and unaided; but Gordon was a level-headed youngster, and although he was a year younger than myself I was fain to admit the wisdom of his assertion that no fellow is sufficiently independent to ignore the advice and help of friends. Besides, I had already met Sir Robert and his wife—had indeed on one occasion spent ten days' leave with Ronald under their roof; and more genial, kindly, warmer-hearted people it would be impossible to imagine; so I felt hopeful that, with Ronald for my sponsor and advocate, Sir Robert would not refuse to give me his best advice and assistance.
It was late in the afternoon when I arrived at Waterloo—too late, I knew, to catch Sir Robert Gordon at his office; I therefore slung my chest on top of a cab, and ordered the driver to take me to a certain quiet and unassuming but comfortable hotel near the Embankment, where I proposed to take up my quarters until I could see my way a little more clearly. Here I dined, took a walk along the Embankment afterwards, and turned in early, not feeling in cue for amusement of any kind.
On the following morning I rose late, of deliberate purpose, had my breakfast, and then sauntered along the Embankment toward Sir Robert's office, timing myself to arrive there about eleven o'clock, by which time I calculated that Ronald's father would about have gone through his morning's correspondence, and would be able to spare me a few minutes of his time.
As it chanced, I could not have timed my movements better, for as I was shown up to Sir Robert's private room I encountered his secretary just coming out, with a notebook in one hand and a goodly batch of letters in the other.
I may here explain that Sir Robert Gordon was an official of high position and very considerable importance in the Foreign Office. He received me very kindly, bade me be seated, and then said:
"Well, Swinburne, here you are at last. From Ronald's letter I rather gathered that I might see you some time yesterday. And now, before we go any farther, let me say how exceedingly sorry Lady Gordon and I are to hear of your misfortune—for a misfortune it is, and not a fault, Ronald assures me. Now,"—looking at his watch—"I can spare you just a quarter of an hour; so go ahead and tell me as much of the matter as you can in that time."
Thereupon I proceeded to relate, in as few words as possible, the particulars of the whole affair, not concealing the fact that my cousin was the actual culprit—for I knew that my confidence would be respected, and explaining my reasons for taking the onus upon myself instead of allowing the real culprit to suffer. But a quarter of an hour soon passes, when one is talking of oneself and one's own misfortunes; and the announcement that a certain important personage had called by appointment gave me the signal that it was time for me to go, though as I rose to take my leave I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had succeeded in convincing my friend of my innocence, for as we shook hands, Sir Robert said:
"We must talk this matter over again at our leisure, Swinburne, possibly this evening. Now, before you go, let me say that my wife and I expect you to take up your quarters with us until your future is definitely arranged. No, we will take no refusal; you are Ronald's chum, and we should not think of allowing you to stay at an hotel while there is a spare room for you at Maycroft. So off you go; get your luggage at once and make the best of your way to Norwood, where Lady Gordon will expect you to arrive in time for luncheon at one o'clock. I shall 'phone to her that you are coming."
What could one do but gratefully accept an invitation proffered in such friendly terms? It would have been boorish to refuse. I therefore returned to my modest hotel, paid my bill, and made the best of my way to Maycroft, where I was received with such kindness and cordiality as I have no words to describe.
Lady Gordon was a fit mate for her distinguished husband; smart, clever, accomplished, of attractive appearance, and so irresistibly fascinating a manner that within two minutes she succeeded in not only making me feel absolutely welcome and at home in her house, but also in some subtle fashion imbued me with the conviction that, serious as my misfortune undoubtedly was, it was by no means irretrievable. We could not talk confidentially at luncheon, the servants being present, but afterward, the weather being fine and the air warm for the time of year—it was the first day of December 1903—we adjourned to the garden, and there I told my tale all over again, this time in full detail, and received all the sympathy that my aching heart craved for.
Sir Robert reached home that night only just in time to dress for dinner, so there was therefore neither time nor opportunity for the discussion of my affairs until the meal was over and we had adjourned to the drawing-room. Then, while we were sipping our coffee, my host turned to me and said:
"I have been thinking a good deal about you, to-day, between whiles, Swinburne; and at last I think I have discovered a way to help you. By a lucky chance it happens that Viscount Hayashi—the Japanese Minister to Great Britain, you know—with whom I have been brought into very close touch of late, is dining here, en famille, to-morrow night, in order to have the opportunity to discuss certain rather delicate matters in private with me; and when we have finished talking business together—which will probably not occupy us more than an hour—I will put your case to him, giving him all the details of it—for we must be perfectly honest with him, you know—and ask him whether, under the circumstances, there is any likelihood of your being able to obtain employment in the Japanese Navy. Things are looking very black in the Far East just now; war between Russia and Japan is practically inevitable; and although the Japanese have long been preparing for it, and seem confident of success, I should imagine that they would be only too glad of the opportunity to secure the services of a smart and specially qualified young officer like yourself."
Much more was said upon the same subject which it is unnecessary to repeat here, and I also completed the story which I had begun in Sir Robert's office that morning, with the result that I was able to make my innocence as clear to him as I had already done to his wife. Sir Robert expressed the opinion that my action in taking the blame upon myself had been somewhat quixotic; but when I explained my reasons in full for doing so, he admitted that it seemed to be the only thing possible, and was good enough to say that it reflected the greatest credit upon me.
On the following night the Viscount and Sir Robert arrived at Maycroft together in the latter's limousine; and after introducing his wife and myself our host excused himself and hurried away to dress, leaving Lady Gordon and me to entertain our distinguished guest.
The conversation before and during dinner was exceedingly lively and interesting, the Ambassador telling us many remarkable things about Japan. Then the talk veered round toward naval matters, and my kind hostess afforded me the opportunity to parade my special knowledge by asking me to explain the difference between armoured and protected cruisers, one question leading to another, until at length His Excellency, who had been listening most courteously and attentively, said:
"Am I mistaken, sir, in supposing that you are an officer in the honourable Navy of Great Britain?"
That was the opportunity for which Lady Gordon had been waiting, and she at once replied:
"Mr Swinburne was, until a few days ago, senior midshipman on the same ship as my son—the battleship Terrible. But a very exalted sense of gratitude on his part has resulted in a grave miscarriage of justice whereby, through accepting the blame for another's fault, he has been dismissed from the Service, to his great grief, for he was passionately devoted to his profession."
The Viscount rather raised his eyebrows at this, and regarded me keenly, as though seeking to read my character from my face.
"Really?" he said. "That is indeed a terrible misfortune, which I should scarcely have thought could possibly happen in such a Service as yours, where, I have always understood, such matters are inquired into with the most scrupulous fairness."
"So they are, Your Excellency," I replied. "But my expulsion was not in any sense due to remissness on the part of the officers who tried me. It was due to the fact that, for the reason named by Lady Gordon, I deliberately refrained from producing evidence which would have resulted in my own acquittal and the conviction of the actual culprit; and thus the members of the court martial were, in the course of their duty, compelled to find me guilty and to pass upon me sentence of dismissal."
"I see. Yes, I think I understand," observed the Viscount. "The feeling of gratitude which could induce you to take the extreme step of ruining your entire career must have been wonderfully strong. I find the incident remarkably interesting, Mr—er—Swinburne, so much so, indeed, that when my friend Gordon and I have concluded the business talk which has brought me down here to-night I should very much like to hear all the particulars of your story, if you will do me the favour to confide them to me."
I replied that I would do so with great pleasure; and then, the meal being at an end, our hostess rose from the table and retired to the drawing-room, while Sir Robert, apologising for leaving me alone, carried off the Ambassador to the study, where he had ordered coffee to be served.
Naturally, I did not linger at the table after the others had gone, but followed my hostess to the drawing-room, where I at once proceeded to thank her for the kindly tact with which she had made my case known to so influential a personage as Viscount Hayashi. On her part, she was just as pleased as I was that so exceptionally favourable an opportunity to restore my wrecked fortunes had presented itself, and for some time we sat talking the matter over. Then Lady Gordon insisted upon my singing to her while she played my accompaniments; and in this manner the time passed rapidly, and before we dared expect them her husband and the Viscount reappeared. But even then we did not stop at once, His Excellency being polite enough to beg us to continue. At length, however, our guest rose and, beckoning me to his side, said:
"Before I go, Mr Swinburne, let me say that Sir Robert Gordon has confided to me the full particulars of your remarkable story. And, having heard it, I should like you to know that, not only am I fully convinced of your entire innocence of the foul charge preferred against you, but also that I, as a native of a country in which filial affection is held in the highest honour and esteem, am full of admiration for your conduct. I am proud to have the honour of knowing a young man possessing the courage to act as you have done; and I have no hesitation in expressing the opinion that, in dispensing with your services, your country has lost a most promising and valuable servant. But if Great Britain is unable to appreciate your value, there are other countries which can, and Japan is one of them. You are doubtless aware that war between Russia and Japan is inevitable; it is merely a question of weeks, perhaps only of days; the Japanese naval service will afford many opportunities for an officer, qualified as I understand you are, to distinguish himself, and rapidly advance his fortunes. If you would care to enter that service I believe the affair might be easily managed, backed up as you are by the recommendation of a gentleman of Sir Robert Gordon's position. Think the matter over, will you? And when you have decided, call upon me at this address, and let me know." And he handed me his card.
On the spur of the moment I was very much inclined to close with His Excellency's offer there and then; but even as the words of acceptance leapt to my lips I bethought myself that it would only be courteous to wait and hear what my kind host and hostess had to say upon the matter before taking the irrevocable step. I therefore expressed my hearty thanks for the offer, and promised to give it my best and most careful consideration.
When the Viscount had gone, Sir Robert, his wife, and I formed ourselves into a little committee to discuss His Excellency's proposal. Of course there was never a moment's doubt as to the wisdom of accepting the offer, but Sir Robert expressed his satisfaction at my self-control. He and his wife were quite of one mind that there was nothing to be gained by my appearing to be too eager, and they strongly advised me to allow at least one whole day to pass before presenting myself at the Ambassador's residence; they also advised me not to accept any rank below that of a full lieutenant, which was quite in accordance with my own views.
Accordingly, on the day but one following that of His Excellency's visit to Maycroft, I journeyed up to town with Sir Robert and, upon parting from him at the Foreign Office, made the best of my way to Viscount Hayashi's residence.
His Excellency was at home, and I was at once received. He was polite enough to express extreme satisfaction when I informed him that I had definitely decided to accept his offer, provided that the conditions could be satisfactorily arranged; and within half an hour we had come to terms, the arrangement being that I was to enter the Japanese naval service with the rank of a full lieutenant, my commission to bear date of my landing in Japan; that a passage was to be provided for me; and that I was to hold myself in readiness to depart at twenty-four hours' notice. A letter to this effect was given me to hand to a certain subordinate official whose business it was to arrange all such details; and I then made my exit, the recipient of many good wishes on His Excellency's part for my success.
My next visit was to a Mr Yuri Kuroda, the subordinate official above mentioned, who, having read the letter of which I was the bearer, immediately became very polite, requested to be favoured with my honourable name and address, which he at once entered in a big book, and then proceeded to discuss the question of my passage out to Japan. It transpired that his Government was negotiating with the Argentine Republic for the purchase of two powerful armoured cruisers, built for the Government of the latter country at Genoa; and Mr Kuroda suggested that if the negotiations resulted successfully, it might suit me to go out in one of them as an officer, the date of my commission to be advanced accordingly. I asked for some particulars of the ships; and upon learning that they measured 7700 tons, that they were entirely sheathed amidships in 6 inches of Krupp steel, and that they were armed with four 8-inch guns in their turrets, with a central battery consisting of fourteen 6-inch guns, I quickly replied that there was nothing I should like better. And so it was arranged, Kuroda undertaking to inform me in good time when my services would be likely to be required.
Two days later, however, I received a telegram from Kuroda, requesting me to call upon him at the earliest possible moment. It came while we were sitting down to dinner, and Lady Gordon expressed the opinion that if I made my call on the following morning it would be early enough, and Sir Robert was rather inclined to agree with her. But the receipt of the telegram seemed to suggest that something unexpected had happened, and I therefore determined to obey the summons that night. I accordingly scribbled a reply saying that I would present myself at nine o'clock; and within ten minutes of that hour I was once more in the Ambassador's house. His Excellency was out; but Mr Kuroda was in and waiting for me; and he expressed his gratification at my prompt response to his summons. He then proceeded to inform me that certain news had arrived—he did not state the nature of it—which rendered it highly desirable that I should expedite my departure for Japan, instead of awaiting the issue of the negotiations for the purchase of the Argentine cruisers, and inquired when I could be ready to start. My reply that I could start on the morrow, if necessary, pleased him greatly, but he intimated that the earliest date upon which it would be possible to dispatch me would be the 8th of the month—it was then the 5th—and requested me to make my arrangements accordingly, and to call upon him again on the morning of the 7th, when he would give me my final instructions and hand me my credentials, with railway and steamer tickets, etcetera.
The Gordons received the news of my impending departure with mixed feelings. They were delighted that, through their help and influence, I had been able to so quickly find another opening for my energies, but were exceedingly sorry that I was to leave them so soon, as they had confidently reckoned upon my spending the Christmas holidays with them and Ronald. However, Sir Robert took me up to town with him, in his car, on the morning of the 7th, and Lady Gordon accompanied us, saying that she had some shopping to do. I left them at the entrance to Sir Robert's office, and in due time found myself once more in Mr Kuroda's presence.
It was easy to see that the little man was so busy that he scarcely knew which way to turn, but he was as smiling and polite as ever, and had everything ready for me, neatly enclosed in a stout official envelope, the contents of which he turned out for my inspection. There was my railway ticket from London to Dover, my steamer ticket from Dover to Calais, my railway ticket from Calais to Marseilles, via Paris, my steamer ticket from Marseilles to Yokohama, and my credentials, which were to be presented to a certain official in Tokio, who would hand me my commission and give me my final instructions. Everything was cut and dried, even to a travelling schedule giving me the train and steamer times of departure and arrival; therefore, having looked them through and satisfied myself that nothing had been omitted, I returned the several documents to the envelope, thrust the latter into my pocket, and bade Mr Kuroda farewell. He replied with hearty good wishes for my welfare and success, expressed his deep regret that he was not going with me instead of remaining in London, shook my hand with great fervour and friendliness, and, as he bowed me out, touched the bell which was the signal for another visitor to be ushered in.
When Sir Robert came home that night, he brought with him two parcels wrapped in stout brown paper, one of them being rather long and slim; but I thought nothing of it, as I knew that it was a custom, when things were urgently needed, to have them sent to his office, so that they might be brought home at night in his car. After dinner, however, the two parcels were produced, opened, and found to contain, the one a handsome oak case containing a pair of heavy and very business-like Colt automatic pistols, with all necessary tools, bottle of oil, and one hundred cartridges; while the other was a beautiful naval sword and sheath, the blade perfectly plain but of such exquisite temper that, by exerting my full strength, I was able to bend it until the point met the hilt. The pistols were a farewell gift to me from dear Lady Gordon, while the sword was from Sir Robert. The gifts were accompanied by the heartfelt good wishes of the donors for my welfare, happiness, and safety in the strenuous times that seemed to be looming ahead, and the hope that the weapons would prove useful to me in my new service. They were, as will be seen from the account of my adventures, set forth in the following pages.
THE RUSSIAN DESTROYER.
At a quarter to eleven o'clock on the morning of December 8, 1903, I stepped out of a cab at Charing Cross railway station, and forthwith proceeded to get my luggage properly labelled and checked through to Marseilles. While I was doing this, I became aware of some one by my side, and, looking up, saw a little man, the formation of whose features and the colour of whose skin at once apprised me that he was a Japanese. He was dressed in a neat travelling suit of tweed, and wore a bowler hat and brown boots. He was reading my name, legibly painted on my sea chest, and as I looked at him he turned to me and bowed.
"You are Mr Paul Swinburne, bound for Japan?" he said, putting the statement in the form of a question, and speaking in perfect English.
"I am," I replied. "And you?"
"I am Captain Murata Nakamura, of the Japanese army, in England on Government business, and now returning to Japan in the Matsuma Maru, the steamer in which I understand you are going out. Half an hour ago I was with Mr Kuroda, whom you know, and he told me about you, and bade me look out for you. I am pleased to make your honourable acquaintance, Mr Swinburne, and shall be happy to place my humble services at your honourable disposal."
"Gad! that's very good of you," I said. "Very glad to know you, Captain. Is your baggage ready? Then, let us try to secure a compartment to ourselves and travel through together."
"It will give me great pleasure to travel in your honourable company," replied my new acquaintance. "And I have already secured a compartment by, as you say, 'squaring' the guard. There he is now. Let us go and— how do you say? Oh yes, I remember—'interview' him."
We obtained a compartment to ourselves, and my new friend at once started smoking cigarettes and chatting in the most animated manner upon the prospects of war. He was in high spirits, and apparently had no doubts at all as to the outcome of the fighting—if fighting there was to be. And of this also he appeared to entertain no doubt, although there were people who still believed that either Russia or Japan would climb down and so avoid a fight.
By the time that the train reached Dover we were "as thick as thieves," for Nakamura's perfect frankness and his geniality of manner quickly conquered my insular aloofness toward the foreigner; and upon boarding the Channel steamer we at once went below and were busy with our luncheon almost before the boat had cast off from the pier.
At Calais, Nakamura, who seemed to speak every language under the sun, took charge of my baggage as well as his own, and by some mysterious process, probably not altogether unconnected with "backsheesh," managed to clear the whole through the Customs in about five minutes. Then he again "squared" the guard and secured our privacy as far as Paris, where we arrived about five o'clock in the evening. There was a train leaving for Marseilles at half-past seven, so we took a cab, drove across the city, and dined at the railway station in comfort before beginning the long night journey. Then, once more securing a compartment to ourselves, we settled down for our twelve hours' run to the shore of the Mediterranean.
I was very much amused at the naivete of some of my companion's remarks. He asked the most intimate questions in the coolest possible manner, and if I had not already resolved to be absolutely frank with my new comrades in arms I should have been somewhat embarrassed to find replies for some of them. He was greatly surprised to learn that I was not yet eighteen years of age, and was still growing, for although he appeared to be not more than twenty-five, he informed me that he was actually thirty-three, and I was a head taller than he, the fact being that I had a natural tendency toward bulkiness which my passion for athletics had further encouraged. He jocularly remarked that he hoped the authorities would have sense enough to appoint me to a battleship, for he was sure that in no other quarters would I find room to stand upright.
We reached Marseilles without adventure at eight o'clock on the following morning, and, after breakfasting at the railway station, chartered a cab and drove down to the Joliet, where we found our ship, the Matsuma Maru, lying alongside a wharf piled yards high with crates, bales, and cases of all sorts and sizes waiting to be stowed in the ship's holds. The skipper was somewhere ashore, it appeared, but we hunted up the chief officer and introduced ourselves, upon which we learned that every effort was being made to have the ship ready for sea by three o'clock that afternoon, but that it would be impossible for her to get away a minute earlier than that; we therefore found the chief steward, got him to show us our cabins, and had our baggage carried aboard. Then we went ashore again and, Nakamura happening to learn that the place boasted a zoological garden, nothing would satisfy him but we must needs go there, which we did, afterwards finding our way to the handsome Museum. Then down into the town again to lunch, finally returning to the ship at a quarter to three. I had been accustomed to seeing work smartly done in our own navy, but I was amazed to see what a few hours of strenuous labour had effected upon that wharf. It was practically cleared, and even as we stood and watched, the last cases were slung aboard, and the first bell, warning visitors that the ship was about to start, was rung, whereupon we trotted aboard and took up a position on the poop, where some fifty or sixty other passengers, all men, with about half a dozen exceptions, were already congregated. Nakamura looked eagerly about him and quickly spotted at least a dozen acquaintances and fellow-countrymen, to all of whom he insisted upon introducing me; and his mention of the fact that I was going out for the express purpose of fighting for Japan at once ensured me a most friendly welcome among them. While this was going on, the ship was unmoored, and a few minutes later we were outside the harbour and shaping a course that took us at no great distance past the islet which Hugo has immortalised in his Count of Monte Christo.
Once clear of the harbour, the skipper rang for full speed; and the Matsuma Maru, a white-hulled, steel-built ship of some four thousand tons, rigged as a topsail schooner, soon showed that she was the possessor of a nimble pair of heels. She was loaded well down, yet an hour after the patent log had been put overboard it recorded a run of seventeen knots. The weather was gloriously fine and the sea glass-smooth, so that one had not much opportunity of judging her quality as a sea boat, but when I went forward and, duly paying my footing, looked over the bows and noted their outward flare as the sides rose from the water, I had not much difficulty in deciding that she would prove very comfortable and easy in a seaway.
Upon going below to dinner that night, a glance round the saloon tables showed that at least seventy-five per cent, of the passengers were Japanese, while, of the remainder, half, perhaps, were English, the rest being composed, in pretty nearly equal proportions, of French, Germans, and, somewhat to my surprise, Russians. These last, however, it eventually transpired, had booked only as far as Hong Kong, from whence it was probable that they intended to proceed to Port Arthur, although they said nothing to that effect.
We passed through the Straits of Bonifacio and Messina, and in due course arrived at Port Said without incident, except that, thanks to Nakamura, I soon became upon friendly and even intimate terms with all the Japanese passengers in the saloon, as well as the ship's officers. There was one old gentleman in particular, rejoicing in the name of Matsudaira Hashimoto, an ex-professor of languages at the Imperial College of Tokio, who, happening to hear that I was anxious to utilise the large amount of time occupied by the voyage in acquiring as much knowledge as possible of the Japanese language, at once came forward with an offer to gratuitously teach me, in order that, as he remarked, I might be equipped with a working knowledge of the language upon my arrival, and so be in a position to immediately render my services valuable. The old gentleman, it appeared, had been remarkably successful in his day as a teacher of languages, working upon a system which he had himself invented; and, luckily for me, his system was so excellent that, working with me for five hours daily, he actually succeeded in redeeming his promise so thoroughly that when we at length reached Yokohama I was able to manage quite fairly well without the services of an interpreter. This by the way.
It was a part of the skipper's plan to replenish his bunkers at Port Said, an operation involving a detention of three hours. We therefore all went ashore, and I posted a letter to my friends, the Gordons, attaching to it a number of stamps of different denominations, for the benefit of Ronald, who was an enthusiastic collector. We then roved about the town, but, finding nothing to interest us, soon returned to the ship, which we found enveloped in a cloud of coal dust which was playing havoc with her fresh white paint, despite the canvas screens spread to protect it.
We got under way again shortly after three o'clock that afternoon, two of our passengers—Russians who looked very much like military men in mufti—cutting things so fine that they were actually compelled to follow after us in a steam launch; and when at length they overtook us, scrambled aboard, and went at once to the cabin which they shared, the skipper, with whom Nakamura and I had become very chummy, caught our eyes and signed to us both to come up to his cabin on the bridge, the ship then being in charge of a canal pilot, with Sadakiyo, the chief officer, standing beside him on the navigating bridge.
Accordingly, we sauntered up in a nonchalant sort of way, as though intent upon watching the progress of the ship through the canal, for there had been something of furtiveness in the skipper's action which seemed to hint that he did not wish his sign to be observed by others, which led me at least to imagine that there might be something in the wind.
And so, apparently there was, for when we had entered the cabin, the skipper softly closed the door and drew the curtains across the two after ports, as though desirous of concealing the fact of our presence in his cabin. Then, having produced whisky and soda and a box of cigars, he seated himself on the sofa, facing us, and said in English:
"You saw those two Russians come aboard, just now, after nearly losing their passage?"
And when we nodded affirmation he continued:
"I am wondering whether the circumstance means trouble for us. And for this reason. When I was ashore, about an hour ago, I had business that took me into McIntosh's store. Now, McIntosh is a very good fellow, whom I have known for some time. He is very friendly to us Japanese, and 'has his knife'—as you English term it—into the Russians. Well, after chatting together for a little while, he took me into his inner room and informed me that there is a steamer, flying the Russian naval ensign, and a Russian destroyer lurking near the southern extremity of the Red Sea, which seem disposed to give trouble to Japanese merchant craft. It appears that only last week, one or the other of these— McIntosh is not sure which—stopped and boarded the Mishima Maru and insisted upon examining her papers and inspecting her passengers, for what reason McIntosh could not say, as he had merely heard the bare facts of the case. And about a quarter of an hour later, shortly after I had left McIntosh's place, I saw those two Russians who nearly missed us enter the telegraph office, and I began to smell mischief. Of course it may only be imagination, but remembering what McIntosh had told me, I wondered whether by any chance they were wiring to Dgiboutil the news of our arrival, and warning their friends to be on the lookout for us."
"But why wire to Dgiboutil?" I demanded.
"Because," replied Kusumoto, "Dgiboutil belongs to the French, who are strongly pro-Russian; and those craft must have a sort of headquarters at which they may receive news and instructions, and where they can replenish their bunkers and storerooms, and I know of no place so likely for this as Dgiboutil."
"I see," said I. "Yes, you are most probably right, so far. But why on earth should those fellows interfere with Japanese ships? By what right do they claim to do it? The two countries are not yet at war, whatever may be the case within the next few months."
"That is true," agreed the skipper. "But the mouth of the Red Sea is a long way from Japan; we have no warships anywhere near there to protect us; the Russians are by nature a very high-handed people, and not too scrupulous when dealing with a prospective enemy; and perhaps they think that before Japan could make an effective protest, we may be at war, and have other things than pin-pricks to occupy our attention."
"Very true," I assented. "That may be so. But I should like to know upon what pretext they presume to molest and interfere with Japanese ships. Such action is contrary to international law, and in fact is closely akin to piracy, if indeed it is not piracy, pure and simple. Now, suppose these fellows attempt to interfere with us, what do you propose to do?"
"Ah!" ejaculated Kusumoto, "that is an exceedingly difficult question to answer. I do not want them to come aboard me, if it can be helped, for—to let you into a secret—our cargo consists of munitions of war of various kinds, and if the Russians should discover that fact, as they must if they board us and force me to show my papers, they may be unscrupulous enough to play some trick upon me, either jeopardising my cargo, or possibly detaining me in some way until war is actually declared, and then confiscating both ship and cargo. I must think the matter over, and try to hit upon some plan of 'besting' them, as you English say. And perhaps you two gentlemen will also give it a thought. I am only a mercantile shipmaster, and have had no experience in matters of this sort to guide me, but you are both military men, and out of your knowledge you may be able to suggest something helpful to me. Of course nothing may happen; we may not fall in with the Russians at all, which will be so much the better; but if we should encounter them, and they should attempt to interfere with me, I want to be prepared."
We continued to discuss the matter for some time longer; but it is not necessary to repeat more of what was said, sufficient having been already recorded to indicate the nature of the trouble that was possibly waiting for us.
The engines were only stopped long enough at Suez to enable us to land the pilot and the big searchlight which we had shipped at Port Said to help us through the canal; and, this done, we steamed on into the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea.
Our passage down the Red Sea was quite uneventful until the Hanish Islands hove in sight over the port bow—uneventful, that is to say, with one exception only, but it was an exception which seemed to cause our two Russian passengers much perturbation of spirit. For the chat which Nakamura and I had had with the skipper, shortly after leaving Port Said, had been succeeded by another on the following day, the outcome of which was that Kusumoto, with the full approval of my friend Nakamura and myself, had resolved to take the very serious step of broaching cargo, with the result that, when the passengers came up on deck, on the morning which found us off Shadwan Island, they were amazed to discover two 1-pounder Hotchkisses mounted, one on the forecastle-head and the other right aft over the taffrail, while a Maxim graced either extremity of the navigating bridge. The circumstance, with the reasons which seemed to make such a step necessary and desirable, was recorded at length in the Matsuma Maru official log, signed by the skipper and countersigned, at his request, by Nakamura and myself, as accessories, so to speak.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when the Hanish Islands hove up above the horizon, at which moment, as it happened, Nakamura and I were in the captain's cabin, where indeed we had spent most of the time of late, when we were not in our bunks. The Hanish Islands are, roughly speaking, within about one hundred miles of the Strait of Bab el Mandeb; and as we had not been interfered with thus far, we had practically made up our minds that if the Russians intended to molest us at all, it would be here, the back of the islands affording an excellent place of concealment from which to dash out upon a passing ship.
Nor were we disappointed in our expectations; for when we had brought the northernmost island square abeam, a long, black, four-funnelled destroyer suddenly slid out past its southern extremity, heading west, so as to intercept us. And, looking at her through our glasses, we saw that she was flying the International Code signal, "Heave-to. I wish to speak you."
"So! it's time for us to be making a move, Nakamura," said I. "You quite understand the line you are to take with those fellows, skipper? Good! Then, all that remains to be done is to get some ammunition on deck, and we shall be ready. Will you give the necessary orders?"
The skipper's response was to send for the chief officer, who, at least nominally, was off duty for the time being; and five minutes later I was on the forecastle-head, the Hotchkiss' tarpaulin jacket was off, a case of ammunition for the weapon stood conveniently at hand, and "All ready for'ard!" I reported. A minute or two later, Nakamura on the bridge was also ready, with a belt of cartridges in each of his Maxims, and more at hand, if required. Meanwhile, by the skipper's order, the answering pennant had been run up to our span, and dipped to show that the signal was understood, while the Japanese mercantile flag—white, with a red ball in the centre, which is also the Japanese "Jack"—was hoisted at our gaff-end.
Ten minutes later we were within hail of the destroyer, which, flying the Russian naval ensign, was lying motionless right athwart our hawse, broadside-on to us. Our engines were still running at full speed, and our safety valves were lifting, allowing a "feather" of steam to show at the head of our waste-pipe, while our quartermaster grimly kept our stem pointed fair and square between the second and third funnels of the Russian.
Then skipper Kusumoto raised his megaphone and hailed the destroyer, in Russian, with:
"Ho! the destroyer ahoy! Why are you lying athwart my hawse? Do you wish me to run you down?"
There were two officers on the destroyer's bridge, one of whom sprang to the engine-room telegraph and thrust it over to "Full speed ahead," while the other seized a megaphone and hailed back:
"Stop your engines instantly, sir! Did you not understand my signal that I wished to speak you? Starboard your helm, you confounded fool; hard a-starboard, or you'll be over us."
"Then get out of my way," retorted Kusumoto. "Starboard a little," (to the quartermaster), "and just shave his stern. I'll teach him to lay his tin kettle athwart a Japanese ship's bows."
The destroyer leaped from under our bows like a frightened thing, though not so quickly but that we caught her quarter with the rounding of our bows and gave her a pretty severe shaking up. Her skipper shook his fist at us and stamped on the bridge with fury. Then he raised his megaphone again and hailed:
"You infernal scoundrel, I'll make you suffer for that outrage! Heave-to at once, or I'll fire into you."
The boat was sweeping round on a starboard helm, and was now running practically parallel to us, at a distance of about a hundred feet.
"You will fire into me, if I don't stop, you say? Is Russia at war with my country, then?" hailed Kusumoto.
There was silence for a minute or two aboard the destroyer, during which the two officers on her bridge consulted eagerly together. We could see that her engine-room telegraph stood at "Full speed," yet, strange to say, she was only just holding her own with us. Then the commander of her again raised his megaphone.
"My instructions are that I am to examine the papers of all foreign vessels passing down the Red Sea," he shouted; "and I must insist that you heave-to and let me board you."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," retorted our skipper. "I do not admit your right to board me, so try it if you dare. I believe you are nothing less than a pirate masquerading as a Russian ship of war; and I shall treat you accordingly if you do not sheer off."
This defiance was more than enough for the proud and choleric Russian, accustomed to have his every order servilely obeyed. Such unparalleled insolence from a "little yellow-skinned monkey"—as the Russians had already begun to dub the Japanese—and in the presence of his own crew, too! It was unendurable, and must be severely punished. He called an order, and the Russian seamen, who had been standing about the deck, listening half-amused and half-indignant, to the altercation, made a move in the direction of the destroyer's 4-pounder and her port torpedo deck tube. But our skipper had been expecting and keenly on the watch for such a move, and he now hailed again:
"Destroyer ahoy! Keep away from the tube and the gun, you men! If I see a man attempt to approach either, I will sweep your decks with Maxim fire. Do you hear what I say?"—as half a dozen men continued to slouch toward the tube. "Open fire, there, the starboard Maxim!"
Nakamura was at the gun mentioned, which he was keeping steadily trained upon the tube. At the word, he fired a single shot, and the bullet spattered into a star as it struck the mounting. The Russians halted as if turned to stone, and glanced anxiously at their commander. Kusumoto raised his megaphone and hailed:
"Is that enough, or will you have more? Now, sheer off at once, if you please. If you don't, I shall fire again; and my next shots—with my Hotchkiss guns—will be at your waterline and your boilers."
The Russian commander was by this time literally foaming at the mouth; he seemed speechless and beside himself with rage, and there is no knowing what the outcome might have been, had not his second in command here intervened, and, forcibly seizing him by the arms, shook him violently as he said something which we were too far off to hear. Meanwhile, ever since the firing of the shot, the helmsman of the destroyer had been quietly edging away from us; and presently, at a sign, apparently, from the junior officer, he put his helm hard over to port, and the venomous-looking craft swung sharply upon her heel, listing heavily as she did so, and a few seconds later was speeding away in the opposite direction to ourselves. But even now we had not quite done with her, for almost immediately she swung round to cross our stern, and a moment later we saw the silvery flash of a torpedo as it left her tube. Kusumoto, however, was not to be caught unawares; apparently he more than half suspected something of the kind, and was on the watch. For an instant he watched the bubbles which marked the course of the missile, and then shouted an order to our helmsman; the Matsuma Maru swerved from her course, and the torpedo sped harmlessly past us, a hundred yards to port. I, too, had quite expected that the fiery Russian would not allow us to go scot-free if he could help it, therefore the moment that the destroyer swerved away from us I sprang off the forecastle and ran aft to the other Hotchkiss, which I reached too late to prevent the discharge of the torpedo. But I saw men clustering about her 4-pounder, as though about to bring it into action, and as I was more afraid of this gun than of the torpedoes, I unhesitatingly opened fire upon it, and at the fifth shot had the pleasure of dismounting it. This was enough for the Russians; they realised at last that they had caught a Tartar, and bore away for their lurking-place behind the Hanish Islands, where we eventually lost sight of them.
As soon as the destroyer had disappeared, Kusumoto retired to his cabin and wrote a lengthy account of the affair in his official log-book, getting Nakamura and me to sign it, as before, in testimony of its veracity. This he did in order to justify himself for broaching cargo and temporarily mounting the Hotchkiss and Maxim guns; and it may be said here that not only was his justification accepted, but his conduct was highly commended by the authorities.
About four bells in the first watch that night, we passed through the strait, and shifted our helm for Cape Guardafui, not calling at Aden, since we had coal enough to carry us on to Colombo; and we saw nothing more of the Russians until after our arrival in Japan on 22nd January 1904.
On the morning of the day which witnessed my arrival in the Land of the Rising Sun, the berth-room steward who brought me my early cup of coffee informed me, with a broad grin of satisfaction, that we were in Sagami Bay; that it was a beautiful morning, but very cold; and that he would advise me to turn out at once if I desired to obtain the best possible view of Fujiyama, or Fujisan, as the Japanese love to call it. I took his advice, bathed and dressed with seamanlike celerity, and, donning a thick, warm ulster, made my way to the navigating bridge, catching my first glimpses of Japan—Shimoda, on the port, and the island of Oshima on the starboard quarter, as I went. And when I reached the bridge and took my stand beside Sadakiyo, the chief officer, I mentally returned thanks to that steward for his advice, and was glad that I had acted upon it, for the sight which met my gaze was beautiful beyond all power of description, and such as I shall never forget.
The air was clear as crystal, there was no wind, and the water was mirror-smooth, its surface dotted with fishing-boats, the unpainted hulls and white sails of which floated double, with nothing to show the junction of substance with reflection. Reflected, too, were the serrated ridges of Awa's and Kasusa's mountain-peaks and their ravines, dark and mysterious, with little villages of grey huts surmounted by high-pitched roofs of thatch clustering here and there along the beach to starboard, while, to port, dominating all else, towered high in air the majestic, snow-crowned peak of Fujisan, its summit blushing a delicate rosy pink in the first light of dawn. And, as I gazed, that beautiful rosy tint suddenly changed to gold as it caught the first rays of the rising sun, invisible to us, as yet, behind the high land to starboard, and as speedy as thought the light flashed down the mountain-side, revealing its matchless perfection of form, and bathing it in the glory of a hundred varied and beautiful tints.
Moving forward at reduced speed, to avoid the destruction of a few of the fishing-boats or junks that were ever becoming more numerous as the land closed in upon us on either side, we at length sighted and passed a lightship with, somewhat to my surprise, the words "Treaty Point" painted in large letters upon her red sides. If I had thought upon the matter at all, I should naturally have expected to see the name of the ship set forth in, to me, unintelligible hieroglyphics, but instead, there it was in plain homely English, and I comforted myself with the reflection that if the Japanese used British characters and words to distinguish their lightships, my as yet very imperfect knowledge of their tongue was not going to handicap me as heavily as I had feared.
In due time we arrived in the roadstead of Yokohama—not so very long ago a small fishing village, but now an important city—and made fast to our buoy. Instantly the ship was surrounded by sampans, and the occupants, not a few of whom were Chinese, swarmed aboard, eager to find buyers for the fruit, sake, and other articles which they had for sale. The jabber of tongues was incessant and deafening, and the importunities of the salesmen a trifle annoying; but Nakamura quickly sent them to the right-about, and inviting me to go up on the bridge with him—we were staying aboard to lunch with the skipper—we amused ourselves by watching the debarkation of the other passengers, my companion, between whiles, pointing out the various objects of interest visible from our standpoint.
I must confess that I was not very greatly impressed by Yokohama, as viewed from the roadstead. The most prominent object was the "Bund," or water-front, which is a wide wharf or esplanade, backed by gardens, hotels, and well-built dwelling-houses. Then there is the "Bluff," covered with fine villas and dwelling-houses, large and small, and of pleasing varieties of architecture; and, finally, there are the "Settlement" and the native town, about which I need say nothing.
After luncheon, by which time all the passengers but ourselves had gone ashore, we engaged a sampan, bade Kusumoto and the ship's officers farewell, and landed in the English "hatoba," which is a sort of floating basin, the shore end of which consists of landing-steps alongside which a whole fleet of boats can be accommodated at once. A word from Nakamura caused our baggage to be at once passed through the Customs with only the merest pretence at examination, and then, engaging rickshas, or "kurumas," as the Japanese call them, we wended our way to the railway station, and took train for Tokio.
The journey of eighteen miles was performed in an hour, in an exceedingly comfortable first-class carriage, upholstered in red morocco; and I noticed that the guard and engine-driver of the train were Englishmen—another good sign for me, I thought. Although the speed of the train was nothing to boast of, I found the journey interesting, for the scenery, with its little grey villages of thatched, wooden houses, and the temples with their quaintly shaped roofs on the one hand, and the sea on the other, with its islands, wooded gardens, and hundreds of fishing-boats, with Fujisan always dominating everything else, were all novelties to me.
The railway does not run right into the city of Tokio, but has its terminus at the village of Shimbashi, on the outskirts; here, therefore, we left the train and, engaging kurumas for ourselves and our baggage, drove to the Imperial Hotel, where Nakamura advised me to take up my quarters pro tem, and where he also intended to stay, that night. It was then six o'clock in the evening, and too late to transact our business, so, after a wash and brush-up, we sallied forth to see something of the city.
On the following morning, at ten o'clock, I presented myself before Vice-Admiral Baron Yamamoto, the Minister of the Navy, and handed him my credentials. He received me with great politeness, read a private letter from Viscount Hayashi, of which I was the bearer, asked me a good many questions as to the length and nature of my service in the British Navy, and my experiences therein, and finally handed me my commission as Lieutenant, together with a letter to Admiral Togo, which I was to deliver to him at Sasebo, without delay.
Now, Sasebo is situated on the north-western extremity of the island of Kiushiu, and is nearer seven than six hundred miles from Tokio; moreover, I found that during my voyage out to Japan, events had been progressing by leaps and bounds—so far at least as Japan was concerned. In diplomatic circles war with Russia was regarded as not only inevitable but imminent, and preparations for the struggle were being breathlessly pushed forward day and night. Of the evacuation of Manchuria by Russia, which should have been completed on the 8th of the preceding October, there was still no sign; on the contrary, everything pointed to a determination on the part of Russia to make her occupation permanent. Actions, it is said, speak louder than words, and while the diplomats on both sides were still engaged in an apparent endeavour to settle matters amicably, the action of those on the Russian side was characterised by systematic procrastination and delay which admitted of but one interpretation, namely, that Russia had no intention to quit Manchuria until she was compelled to do so by force.
This being the state of affairs, I interpreted Baron Yamamoto's order literally, leaving Tokio by the first available train. This took me back to Yokohama, where I only quitted it because I found I could proceed no farther until nine o'clock that night. At that hour, then, I made a fresh start and, not to dwell unduly upon this part of my story, reached Sasebo late in the evening of 26th January, having been delayed upon the road owing to the congestion of traffic caused by the war preparations.
Sasebo was a very hive of activity, to such an extent indeed that I had the greatest difficulty in finding quarters. All the hotels were packed to their utmost limit, and indeed I do not know how I should eventually have fared had I not luckily encountered an unmistakable Briton, whom I halted, and to whom I confided my plight, asking if he could direct me to some place where I could find accommodation for the night. He turned out to be a Scotsman named Boyd, in business at Sasebo, and no sooner had I made my situation plain to him than he took me by the arm in the most friendly manner and exclaimed:
"Come awa' hame wi' me, laddie. I'll pit ye up wi' the greatest of pleasure, and the gude-wife 'll be gey an' pleased to meet a body fresh frae the auld country."
It was easy to see that the fine fellow was absolutely sincere in his invitation; I therefore gladly accepted it, and, half an hour later, found myself comfortably housed in the bosom of a typically hospitable Scottish family, whom I found most delightfully genial, and from whom I subsequently received much kindness.
By my friend Boyd's advice I sallied forth early the next morning in search of Admiral Togo, who was of course up to his eyes in business, and who would be difficult to find unless I could catch him before he left his hotel. I was fortunate enough to arrive while he was still at breakfast, and, having sent in my card, was at once admitted.
I found him still seated at the table, in company with several other officers, all of them dressed in a naval uniform almost identical in cut and appearance with our own. Like every other Japanese I ever met, he received me with the utmost politeness, and, having read Baron Yamamoto's letter of introduction, again shook hands with me most heartily, expressed the pleasure it afforded him to welcome another Englishman into Japan's naval service, and forthwith proceeded to introduce me to the other officers present, one of whom, I remember, was Captain Ijichi, of the Mikasa, Togo's flagship. They all spoke English, more or less, Togo perfectly, for he had served as a boy aboard the British training ship Worcester, and later in our own navy. Also he had taken a course of study at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He was a typical Japanese, short and thick-set, with black eyes that seemed to pierce one through and through and read one's innermost thoughts. His hair, beard, and moustache were black, lightly touched here and there with grey, and though it is a little difficult to correctly estimate the age of a Japanese, I set him down at about fifty, which I subsequently learned was not far out.
Like Baron Yamamoto, the Admiral asked me quite a number of questions; and at length, when he found that I had qualified for gunnery, torpedo, and navigating duties, and had seen service in a destroyer, he said:
"You seem to have an exceptionally good record for a young man of your years, Mr Swinburne; so good, indeed, that I feel disposed to avail myself to the utmost possible extent of your services. I foresee that in the coming war the destroyer is destined to play a most important part, and while I anticipate that the service which that class of craft will be called upon to perform will be of the most arduous description, and of course exceedingly dangerous, it will also afford its officers exceptional opportunities to distinguish themselves. Now, it happens that I have one destroyer—the Kasanumi, one of our best boats—for which, thus far, I have been unable to find a suitable commander; your arrival comes therefore at a most opportune moment, for the perusal of your record convinces me that you are the very man for whom I have been looking. I rather flatter myself that I am a good judge of character, and I believe that you will do as much credit to the ship as she will to you. Now, what do you say? Will the command of a destroyer be satisfactory to you?"
"Indeed it will, sir," I replied, "and more than satisfactory. I have not dared to hope for such a big slice of good fortune, and I know not how to adequately express my thanks for the confidence you are reposing in me."
"Nay," answered Togo, "there is no need for thanks, at least in words. You can best show your appreciation by deeds, for which I promise you shall be afforded abundant opportunity. And now, if you are anything like what I take you to be, you will be all anxiety to see your ship; is it not so? Very well; you will find her in the small graving dock, where she is being scraped and repainted. Go down and have a good look at her, inside and out; and if you can offer any suggestions for improvements on board, I will give them my best consideration. Do you know your way to the docks? If not, I will find somebody to act as guide for you."
"I am very much obliged, sir," I replied, "but I should prefer to find my own way, if you please. I have been studying Japanese during the passage out, and I am anxious to make the most of every opportunity to increase my knowledge of the language."
"Good!" exclaimed Togo, in Japanese. "I believe you will do very well. Do you understand that?" he added, in English.
"Yes, sir," I replied, in Japanese; "and I am much obliged for your good opinion." My speech was a bit halting and my pronunciation by no means perfect, but it was evidently intelligible, for the whole party applauded me and shouted words of encouragement, some of which I understood, while others puzzled me. Then, as I turned to leave the room, the Admiral said:
"When you have had a good look at your ship, Mr Swinburne, come to me aboard the Mikasa, where I shall be all the morning."
I found the docks without difficulty, and in the smaller graving dock lay the Kasanumi, my first command! Seen thus, out of water, she looked a craft of quite important dimensions, as indeed she was, being more than two hundred feet in length. She had four funnels, the space between the second and third being only about half that between numbers one and two, and three and four. She had beautiful lines, and looked as though she ought to be an excellent sea boat. Her armament consisted of one 12-pounder, mounted aft, and five 6-pounders, all quick-fire guns capable of discharging ten shots per minute. She also mounted on the after-deck two 18-inch torpedo tubes, firing Whiteheads of an effective range of eight hundred yards at a speed of thirty knots, and carrying a charge of one hundred and seventy-one pounds of gun-cotton—enough to destroy a battleship, if it happened to hit the right spot. The dock foreman, who happened to be an Englishman, told me that she was British built—a Thorneycroft boat, he believed—and that, on trial, she had steamed as much as thirty-three knots! Here was a craft which any reasonable man might be proud to command, and I there and then registered a vow that it should not be my fault if she did not make a name for herself during the coming war.
She was painted white, with a lead-colour bottom, and her four funnels were white with black tops. But they were burning and scraping off all her outside paint, from the sheer-strake downward, and I asked the foreman what colour they were going to repaint her. He answered that this had not yet been decided, whereupon I requested him to provide me with three small pots of paint, white, black, and blue, and with these three I compounded a smoky-grey tint of medium depth which I believed would be practically invisible by day and quite invisible at night, and this tint I applied to a small piece of board which I requested the foreman to take care of for me.
Then I went aboard and had a look at the Kasanumi's interior arrangements. The engine and boiler-rooms, the torpedo room, and magazine naturally absorbed a large proportion of the interior space, but the accommodation for officers and crew, though a trifle cramped, was sufficient to ensure quite a reasonable amount of comfort. Everything of course was done to economise space, and the fittings were all quite plain, but the cabin which would be mine was a compact, cosy, little cubbyhole, with a tiny stove to warm it in cold weather, and I believed I could make myself very happy and comfortable in it, although the beams were so low that I should never be able to stand upright. The engines were superb pieces of machinery, as of course they had need to be, to drive the boat at a speed of thirty-three knots, and the working parts shone like burnished silver and gold, while the rest was painted green. I spent two hours aboard, making a few notes referring to suggestions which I proposed to make to the Admiral, and then started off to find the Mikasa.
This was not difficult, for the whole fleet—excepting one battleship and two cruisers in dry dock—were lying off the dockyard, while the Mikasa was easily distinguishable, even to a stranger, from the fact that she was flying the Admiral's flag. I noticed also that her stem-head was decorated with a gilded conventional representation of the open chrysanthemum, the Imperial crest. The Admiral was in his cabin, I was informed, when I got aboard, but I was kept waiting nearly an hour before I was admitted to his presence, for he was holding something very much like a council of war with the officers of his fleet when I arrived. But when at length—the council coming to an end—I was ushered into the cabin, I could not avoid being surprised at the wonderful courtesy and politeness which everybody exhibited to everybody else, notwithstanding that they were all evidently so full of business that they seemed scarcely to know which job to tackle first. As soon as Togo caught sight of me he beckoned me forward and introduced me to as many of those present as I had not already met, and, this done, he handed me my appointment to the Kasanumi, and requested me to at once take up my command. Then he asked me if I had any suggestions to make; and upon my answering that I had, he opened a notebook which lay upon the table, and jotted them down as I read them out to him, and promised to give them early consideration. As I bowed myself out of the cabin he called after me, advising me to see to the ordering of my uniforms at once, as events were progressing rapidly, and there was no knowing how soon it might be necessary for us all to go to sea. Stepping out on deck, I encountered Captain Ijichi, the skipper of the ship, in earnest converse with several of his officers, to whom he at once introduced me, whereupon the First Lieutenant invited me to dine that night, aboard the ship, as his guest, which invitation I naturally accepted.
A week of feverish activity now ensued, by the end of which time every dock in Sasebo was empty, and every ship in the harbour ready, down to the last ropeyarn, bunkers and magazines full, and even the fires laid under the boilers ready to light at a second's notice. War was by this time an absolute certainty, and the only question was when would it break out. The Japanese plan of campaign was ready cut and dried, and Togo, resolved to be in a position to act upon the instant of the receipt of his orders, had already dispatched the cruiser Akashi to sea, with instructions to ascertain the whereabouts of the Russian fleet and, after securing this information, to rendezvous at Mokpo, a port situate at the south-western extremity of the Korean peninsula. I had said farewell to my very kind friends, the Boyds, some days before, and had taken up my abode aboard the Kasanumi, which, with the Asashio, Shirakumo, and Akatsuki, constituted the 1st Division of the destroyer flotilla. Admiral Togo had approved my suggestion to paint the entire exterior of the boat a medium smoky-grey tint, and the effect had proved so satisfactory that the skippers of several other destroyers had followed my example.
At length dawned the eventful 6th of February 1904. A fresh north-easter was blowing, the sky was heavy and louring, and a fierce squall of snow and sleet was sweeping the harbour when a gun from the Mikasa caused all eyes to turn toward her, and the next moment there fluttered from her yardarms the signals commanding the fleet to light fires and prepare to weigh! So it had come then, that fateful moment for which we had all been waiting with bated breath, for a full week; and as the purport of the signals became known, a frenzied roar of "Banzai Nippon!" went up from ships and shore, a roar that sent a shiver of excitement thrilling through me, so deep, so intense, so indicative of indomitable determination, of courage, and of intense patriotism was it. Peal after peal of "Banzais" swept over the sullen, turbulent waters of the harbour, to be taken up and repeated by the thousands who thronged the wharves ashore, and who seemed to have sprung from nowhere in an instant; and before the shouts died away thin curls of light brown smoke were already rising from the funnels of the fleet and six fast transport steamers which were lying a little nearer the shore. Half an hour later, the blare of bands was heard ashore, one of the wharves was hurriedly cleared of people, and presently soldiers were seen marching down on to that wharf and aboard a whole fleet of lighters that were lying alongside. It was indicative of the thoroughness with which the Japanese authorities had thought out every minutest detail, that within three hours, three thousand troops, horse, foot, and artillery, with all their kit and camp equipment complete, were transferred from the shore to the transports, and the latter had signalled that they were ready to get under way.
It was not, however, until shortly before two o'clock in the afternoon that the signal was made for the fleet to weigh and proceed to sea, by which time every ship was under a full head of steam; and then the fleet, which up to then had lain quiescent, burst into strenuous but orderly activity. Officers on the several bridges seized megaphones and shouted orders through them; boatswain's whistles shrilled and boatswain's lungs bellowed, "Clear lower deck! Hands up anchor, ahoy!" the massive cables began to quiver and clank as they were hove in; the flagship became a very rainbow of rapidly changing signal flags; answering pennants appeared like magic and vanished again; hundreds of sampans and craft of every description—anything and everything that would float, apparently—loaded with men and women, all frantic with patriotic excitement, put off from the shore and formed a sort of lane for the fleet to steam through, the men yelling "Banzai!" until it seemed as though their throats would crack, while the women—many of whom were very pretty, while all looked charmingly demure—urged the boatmen to pull in as close as possible to the ships, that they might strew with artificial flowers the water through which we were about to pass. The military bands aboard the transports were playing what I supposed to be patriotic airs, from the applause which they evoked, steam was roaring from the safety valves, fussy little tugs were rushing hither and thither, and at the precise moment when the water under the Mikasa's counter broke into a sudden swirl and the ship began to move, a transient gleam of wintry sunshine burst through the clouds and fell full upon her! It was the finishing touch; everybody unquestioningly accepted it as an omen of victory and triumph, and the thousands afloat and ashore incontinently went mad with joy. And indeed there was every excuse for so much enthusiasm, for we presented a truly imposing sight as we swept out to sea, a fleet consisting of six battleships, six armoured cruisers, four 23-knot light cruisers, six protected cruisers, and eighteen destroyers, surrounding the six transports. The primary object of the expedition was to escort the transports to Chemulpo, where the troops were to be landed to effect the seizure of Seoul, the capital of Korea; and, this accomplished, Togo was to find and defeat the Russian fleet, which, so long as it existed and was free to roam the seas, constituted a most formidable menace to Japan.
Twelve knots was the steaming speed ordered for the fleet; and the course was due west for the passage between the islands of Gotoshima and Ukushima. As soon as we were clear of the harbour the destroyers, in five divisions, were ordered to take up scouting duty, which we did by arranging ourselves in a complete circle round the fleet, the boats being about a mile apart, thus forming a circle of eighteen miles in circumference.
The weather was vile, for after that transient gleam of sunshine which had marked the moment of our departure, the clouds had closed over us again in a compact mass, and pelted us with sleet and snow so thickly that it was only with the utmost difficulty we were able to see the next boat ahead and astern; also it was so piercingly cold that even the long lamb's-wool coat, with which I had taken the precaution to provide myself, seemed utterly inadequate. Fortunately, excitement and the joy of finding myself not only once more under a pennant but actually in command, with a war before me in which I felt convinced I should have ample opportunity to prove my mettle, helped to keep me warm. And there was pride, too; pride in my ship and pride in my crew; for there was not a better or faster little ship in the fleet than the Kasanumi, while my crew, officers, and men alike, were splendid fellows, fine sturdy men, with the courage of lions, the lithe, light-footed activity of cats, and respectfully and promptly obedient to an extent which left nothing to be desired. My "sub," a merry, light-hearted little fellow, named Ito, although more than a year my senior, displayed not an atom of jealousy, but carried out my every order with the same prompt, unquestioning alacrity as the men; he was keen as mustard, and his chief, indeed his only, recreation seemed to be the working out of battle problems.
For the first four hours of our voyage, while we were still well under the lee of the land, the water was moderately smooth; but when, about seven o'clock that evening, the negotiation of the passage between the islands had been successfully accomplished, and we found ourselves fairly out at sea, and shifted our helms to pass to the northward of Quelpart Island, we soon found that we were in for a regular "dusting." For we presently ran into a high, steep sea, which our shift of helm brought almost square abeam, yet just enough on our starboard quarter to set us all rolling and squirming most atrociously, particularly the "mosquito" division. Our every roll, whether to port or starboard, sent us gunwale under, so that it was only with the utmost difficulty we managed to retain our footing, while more than half my complement, on deck as well as below, suffered agonies of sea-sickness; yet they stuck to their work like heroes. The spray swept us continually from end to end, flying high over the tops of our low funnels, and freezing as it fell, so that the watch on deck were kept busy chipping the ice off our decks and shovelling it overboard; yet, wretchedly uncomfortable as was the weather, the destroyers, running at less than half-speed, rode the sea like gulls, and kept station with the utmost ease.
Shortly after eight bells in the middle watch, the weather cleared and the stars shone out with piercing brilliancy, enabling us to see the whole of the big ships and the transports, although we were all steaming with lights out, except for a solitary shrouded lantern carried by each ship right aft, to enable her next astern to keep station.
The night passed without incident, but shortly after sunrise, smoke was sighted broad on our port bow, the ship from which it proceeded evidently steering to the northward. We all seemed to see it at the same instant, for in less than half a minute the signal reporting the circumstance was flying aboard nearly every craft in the fleet. But the lookouts aboard the Mikasa were evidently as wide awake as any of us, for our flags were scarcely aloft when the flagship signalled the armoured cruiser Asama to chase in the south-western board; and in little more than an hour afterward she rejoined the fleet, accompanied by the Russian steamer Argun, as a prize. We flattered ourselves that the honour of capturing the first prize of the war had fallen to us; but, later on, we learned, to our disgust, that when the Argun was taken into Sasebo, there were already three more prizes there to keep her company.
We arrived off Mokpo about ten o'clock that morning, when the Akashi came out to meet us and make her report. We of the rank and file, so to speak, did not, of course, know at the time what was the nature of that report, which was for the Admiral's ear alone; but, later on, it leaked out that it was to the effect that the Russian fleet at Port Arthur had begun to move on the last day of January, by warping and towing certain of the ships out of harbour. This movement had continued on the first and second days of February, by the end of which time the entire fleet was anchored in the roadstead; and it seemed pretty evident that Admiral Alexieff was preparing to vigorously carry the war into the enemy's country, which was the great fear that had been haunting Togo from the moment when he received his instructions to put to sea. His dread was that the Russian fleet would forestall him by getting to sea first, steam to the southward, and, getting into touch with one or more of the craft which were certain to be watching the Japanese fleet, would lie perdu until that fleet had passed to the northward, and then fall upon and ravage the unprotected Japanese coast. And, at first sight, this seemed to be the Russian Admiral's intention, for, on the 4th of February, the fleet, having coaled, weighed and steamed out to sea, leaving only two battleships—the Sevastopol and Peresviet—in the harbour, where they had perversely stuck on the mud and refused to be got afloat again, for the moment at least. The Russians, twenty-six ships strong, inclusive of eleven destroyers, having cleared the roadstead, steamed slowly to the eastward, and were, that same day, sighted in the offing from Wei-hai-wei, apparently practising evolutions. But on the following day they all returned to Port Arthur, and anchored in the roadstead, under the guns of the batteries. The pith of the Akashi's report, therefore, was that there were two Russian ships—the new cruiser Variag, and the gunboat Korietz—at Chemulpo, four cruisers and an armed merchantman at Vladivostock, while the remainder of the Russian fleet was at Port Arthur.
Possessed of this knowledge, Togo issued orders to Rear-Admiral Uriu, in the Takachiho, to take command of a squadron consisting of, in addition to his own ship, the Asatna, Chiyoda, Niitaka, and Miyako, with eight destroyers, and with them to convoy the transports to Chemulpo, taking measures upon his arrival, to insure that the Russian ships should not interfere with the landing of the troops. Those were the only orders of which we were aware, but in the light of what occurred after Uriu's arrival at Chemulpo, it is probable that the Vice-Admiral was given a considerable amount of latitude with regard to his further proceedings.
It was about seven o'clock in the evening when the two fleets parted company, the Mikasa signalling: "I congratulate you in anticipation of your success," to which the Takachiho replied: "Thanks for your kindness." Then the signal was given by wireless for the main fleet to proceed on a north-westerly course, in an extended formation of line abreast, with the destroyers scouting on both wings, and a great shout of "Banzai Nippon!" went up, for everybody knew that north-west was the road to Port Arthur, where Togo fervently hoped and prayed he might find the Russian fleet still at anchor.
For, if not, it would certainly mean that Alexieff had proved himself the better strategist of the two, and had contrived in some subtle manner to slip past us to the westward, when any one or two of three terrible things might happen. He might realise Togo's original terrible fear of an attack on the undefended coast of Japan; or he might make for Chemulpo and destroy the Japanese squadron and transports upon their arrival there; or he might pass through the Korean Strait northward to Vladivostock and there unite his two forces, when he would be strong enough to give no end of trouble, if not indeed to defeat us out of hand and so decide the war at one fell stroke. It was exceedingly difficult to know what to do for the best, and our gallant little Admiral felt to the full the responsibility attaching to his momentous decision, as was made manifest when, about two bells in the first watch, the order was wirelessed to the fleet to alter the course twenty-two degrees to the northward, evidently with the object of falling in with the Russians, should they by any chance be making for Chemulpo. Our next order was to clear for action.
To further increase our difficulties and embarrassments, the weather had again changed for the worse. The sun had set in a wrack of wild, storm-riven cloud painted with the hues of fire and smoke, which, louring threateningly, had overspread the sky with incredible rapidity, completely obscuring the light of the stars; the wind, still icy cold, had breezed up again savagely, kicking up a tremendous sea, the spray from which quickly drenched us in the destroyers to the skin, despite our "oilies," sou'-westers, and sea boots; yet the staunch little vessels, though rolling and pitching in the most distracting manner, rode like gulls the seas which, to us, seemed to be literally running "mountains high." True, our speed was only about twelve knots; what the Kasanumi's behaviour would probably have been at double that speed, in such a sea, I shuddered to think. But I was destined to know, in the not-far-distant future.
When Ito, my lieutenant, called me at midnight to relieve him, he informed me that a wireless message had just been received from the flagship, ordering a shift of helm for the Elliot group of islands, distant some sixty miles from Port Arthur, and for the speed to be increased to sixteen knots, which order he had acknowledged and executed, as I discovered, the moment I tumbled out of my hammock; for the boat was kicking up her heels more madly than ever, while every few seconds there resounded a heavy thud on the deck overhead, and the craft shivered from stem to stern as she drove her sharp nose into the heart of a great comber, throwing the water in tons over herself. This was the rough side of work aboard a destroyer, with a vengeance, and I spent four miserable hours on the navigating bridge, drenched to the skin, and pierced to the marrow by the bitter cold. All things come to an end, however, sooner or later; and about two o'clock next day we steamed into the sheltered waters of the Elliot Islands and came to an anchor. This was the spot which the Admiral had selected to serve as a rendezvous and lurking-place from which he could sally forth with a good chance of cutting off the Port Arthur fleet, should it venture to stray far from the shelter of the fortress; and subsequently it was often referred to in his dispatches as "a certain place."
THE COUNCIL IN THE MIKASA'S CABIN.
As we entered the roadstead we found there, at anchor, a small Chinese junk of such a dilapidated and weather-beaten appearance that she seemed as though she might go to pieces at any moment. She was flying the Japanese mercantile flag, a white flag with a red ball in the centre— which is also the Japanese "Jack," and I soon learned that in her case, as in many others, appearances were deceptive, for I was assured that she was as staunch as staunch could be. She was officered and manned by a Chinese crew, and she was ostensibly loaded with bricks; but surrounded by these bricks, which were only a blind, was a sturdy little closed-in engine and boiler, the smoke from the latter issuing from the unusually big chimney of her galley stove, while the engine worked a small but powerful set of pumps which strongly sucked in water through her bows and discharged it equally strongly from her stern, under water, of course, giving her a speed of seven knots in smooth water. And when I sought further information with regard to this mysterious craft, I was informed by Ito, who seemed to know all about her, that she had been purchased by the Japanese Secret Service Department, fitted with her engine, boiler, and pumps by an ingenious Japanese engineer, and that her business was to go to and fro between Port Arthur and "a certain place," ostensibly as a trader, but in reality that her skipper, a particularly bold and clever spy, might obtain information for the Japanese.
The spy's name, it appeared, was Hang-won,—a rather ominous name, I thought, under the circumstances,—while the name of the junk was Chung-sa. She had arrived from Port Arthur about midday, and this was Hang-won's first essay in Japan's service. But he had brought from Port Arthur two items of news that were likely to prove most valuable to us; one of them being, that the Russian destroyers were being sent to sea every night to reconnoitre, and that upon their return they always showed a white light above a red, to indicate that they were Russian; while the second item was to the effect that that day, 8th February, happened to be the name-day of Madame Stark, the wife of the Russian Admiral, and that in honour of the day a great banquet was to be given at nine o'clock that night, at the Admiral's house, which was to be followed by a special performance at a circus which chanced to be in the town.
The moment that this information was communicated to Togo, he recognised the magnificent possibilities offered by the occasion. For it was morally certain that, between the banquet and the circus, most of the officers, and possibly also a good many of the men, of the Russian fleet would be ashore, that night; and what better opportunity for an attack upon it was likely to offer? The chance was very much too good to be missed, and a signal was at once made for the captains of all craft, destroyers included, to repair on board the Mikasa.
I was one of the last to reach the flagship, for the destroyers were anchored outside the rest of the fleet, and when I arrived the Admiral's cabin was full of men, as many of them as could find room being seated round the table, while the rest were accommodated with chairs. All were talking indiscriminately together, for the council had not yet begun; but it was characteristic of Togo that he saw me the instant I entered the cabin, and rose to shake hands with me, exclaiming, "Ah! here comes our young British giant." Then, pointing to a chair near himself, he motioned me to be seated, saying as he did so with a humorous smile:
"Well, Mr Swinburne, I hope you find the Kasanumi a nice, steady, comfortable ship. Is there room enough in her for you to stretch yourself, or shall we have to lengthen her a few feet?"
"She is a splendid little craft, sir," I said heartily, "far better than the British boat in which I saw some service. She is a magnificent sea boat, and came through the wild weather of yesterday and last night without turning a hair. True, she is a bit cramped between the beams, and I have already raised a few bumps on my head while trying to stand upright in my cabin; but I'm ready to go anywhere and attempt anything in her."
"That's right," remarked Togo; "you show the true Nelson spirit, sir— the spirit which we expect to find in every Briton; the spirit which we so greatly admire, and which we are humbly striving to imbue our Japanese seamen with. So you are 'ready to go anywhere and attempt anything,' eh? Excellent! I hope to afford you the opportunity to show us what you can do before you are many hours older."
Then, turning to where Captain Ijichi stood near the cabin door, he said, in Japanese:
"Are all present, Ijichi?"
Some half a dozen officers had followed close upon my heels, and I noticed that, as each entered, the Mikasa's skipper had ticked off something on a list which he held in his hand.
"All present, sir," answered Ijichi, referring to his list.
"Good!" remarked the Admiral. "Then, be so good as to tell the sentry that we are on no account to be interrupted. Then close the door and find a seat for yourself."
With the closing of the cabin door the general conversation that had been proceeding came to an abrupt termination and a tense silence ensued. Togo looked round the cabin, as though taking stock of us all; then in a few terse words he communicated to us the information which he had just learned from Hang-won, who, by the way, was still in the cabin, ready to answer any questions that might be put to him.
"Now, gentlemen," he continued, "there is no need for me to enlarge upon the splendid opportunity which Madame Stark's celebration of her name-day offers us to strike a heavy blow at the enemy's fleet; I am sure that you will all see it for yourselves. The only question is: In what way can we best avail ourselves of the opportunity? What form is the blow to take?
"So far as we are concerned, we are seventeen ships strong, apart from our destroyers, while our friend, Hang-won, informs me that the Russian fleet consists of fourteen ships, again apart from destroyers. We are therefore three ships to the good. But, of those fourteen Russian ships, seven are battleships, while we muster only six; furthermore, the whole fleet is anchored under the protection of the Port Arthur batteries, a further tremendous advantage to them. Notwithstanding this, however, the opportunity is such a splendid one that, were my hands free, I should be strongly disposed to take my whole fleet into Port Arthur roadstead, engage the Russian ships at close quarters, trusting to find them unprepared; do them as much damage as possible with our heavy guns; and trust to our destroyers to complete their destruction while the confusion of the surprise was at its height. But, gentlemen, I cannot do this. My orders from the Cabinet and the Elder Statesmen are clear and precise, and under no circumstances whatever am I to disobey them. They are, that I am never to risk my ships, especially my battleships, by exposing them to the fire of the Port Arthur batteries; and if I do not myself obey orders, how may I expect that my orders will be obeyed? Strict and unquestioning obedience to orders is, as you all know, almost an article of faith with us; therefore, sorely tempted though I am, to disobey just this once, I dare not set an example which might be fraught with the most disastrous consequences. Hence, gentlemen, I have summoned you this afternoon, to assist me with your counsels. I may mention that, keeping in view the fact that my superiors, the Government, have given me certain orders which I must obey, the only thing I can see for it is to send in our destroyers, and let them do their best. Can any of you suggest a better plan?"