The glass had gone down with a thump
during the afternoon, and all through the night the
destroyer had been steaming home against a rapidly
Of how she came to be alone and parted
from her flotilla the less said the better.
It was due to a variety of circumstances, among them
being a blinding rain squall after dark the evening
before, in which the officer of the watch was unable
to see more than twenty yards, and some temporary
trouble with an air pump which necessitated stopping
to put it right.
The sea, as is usual with the wind
from the south-west, had risen fast, and by midnight
it was heavy and steep, while the little ship, punching
against it, had pitched, rolled, thumped and thudded
as only a destroyer can. The motion was dizzy
and maddening a combined pitch and heavy
roll which was the very acme of discomfort. Sometimes
the bows fell into the heart of an advancing, white-topped
hillock of grey water with a sickening downward plunge,
and the breaking sea came surging and crashing over
the forecastle to dash itself against the chart-house
and bridge with a shock which made the whole ship quiver
and tremble. Then, with
edged volumes with unerring accuracy
on to his long-suffering head.
The only person who really did not
mind the motion at all was the wireless operator in
his little cubby-bole abaft the chart-house.
He, with a pair of telephone receivers clipped on
over his ears ready to catch stray snatches of conversation
from invisible ships and distant shore stations, sat
enthroned in a chair bolted to the deck. His
den was hermetically sealed to keep out the water.
The smell and the heat were indescribable; but he
was reading a week-old periodical with every symptom
of enjoyment and calmly smoked a foul and very wheezy
pipe filled with the strongest and most evil-smelling
ship’s tobacco. But “Buzzer,”
as he was known to his friends, had the constitution
of an ox and an interior like the exterior of an armadillo.
He could stand anything.
An oil-skinned apparition, dripping
with wet, appeared at the chart-house door.
“The orficer of the watch says it’s daylight,
sir,” it reported. “There’s
nothin’ in sight, but ’e thinks as ’ow
the sea’s goin’ down a bit.”
The skipper, who had actually been
asleep for forty consecutive minutes, sat up with
a grunt, rubbed his eyes, and yawned. Then, in
the dull grey light of the dawn, he surveyed the unsavoury
mixture on the floor with his nose wrinkled and an
expression of intense disgust on his face. But
the sight of the broken cup reminded him of something,
and reaching his hand underneath the cushion he extracted
a vacuum flask, applied it to his lips, and swallowed
what remained of the cocoa inside it. He was
hungry, poor wight, for his dinner the night before
had consisted of two corned-beef sandwiches and a biscuit.
Next, with a little sigh of satisfaction, he produced
a pipe, tobacco, and matches from an inner pocket
and lit up, examined the chart with the ship’s
track marked upon it, and glanced at the aneroid on
the bulkhead and noticed it was rising slowly.
Two minutes later, with his pipe bowl
carefully inverted, he clambered up the iron ladder
to the bridge.
“Hail, smiling morn!”
he remarked sarcastically, ducking his head as a sheet
of spray came driving over the forecastle and across
the bridge. “Well, ‘Sub,’ how
“Pretty rotten, sir,”
answered the sub-lieutenant, whose watch it was.
“The wind shows no signs of going down, but I
think the sea’s a little less than it was.
We’re not bumping quite so badly as we were.”
The motion certainly was less violent,
and after looking for a moment at the angry sea and
the grey, cloud-wrapped sky streaked with its wisps
of flying white scud, the skipper nodded slowly.
“You’re right,” he said.
“It has gone down a bit. We’re beginning
to feel the lee of the land. Work her up gradually
to twelve knots and see how she takes it.”
The “Sub” did so, and
though the increase in speed brought heavier spray
and more of it, the movement of the ship no longer
synchronised with the period of the waves, and she
Before long the sea had gone down
even more and the speed was increased to twenty knots.
Then, on the grey horizon ahead, appeared the smoke
of many steamers, and a quarter of an hour later the
destroyer was threading her way through a sea-lane
so densely populated with shipping that it reminded
one of dodging the traffic in Piccadilly.
The next thing which hove in sight
was a red-painted lightship, and half an hour later
the destroyer, her funnels white with dried salt,
was steaming into the harbour where the remainder of
the flotilla were lying. They, having escaped
the really bad weather, had arrived the evening before,
and one of them made a facetious signal to this effect
as the destroyer secured to the tank steamer to replenish
her supply of oil-fuel.
The lost sheep had returned to its fold.