« AnkstesnisTęsti »
deep sea tends to breed in those who follow it long enough. I have known some old Tartars greatly hated by those under them, but to whom a woman or child would take naturally.
What you say about my possibly being taken prisoner both amuses and touches me. The former because it seems so highly unlikely a contingency. Submarines do not take prisoners if they can help it, and least of all from a man-of-war. But I have often thought of just what I should do in such a case, and I have decided that it would be far better to die than to submit to certain things. In which case, I should use my utmost ingenuity to take along one or two adversaries with me.
So the boys at home don't all take kindly to being conscripted, eh? Well, I wish for a lot of reasons that the conscription might be as complete and farreaching as it is in, for instance, France. I think for one thing that universal conscription is the final test of democracy. Again, I think it would do every individual in the nation good to find out that there was something a little bit bigger than he - something that neither money nor politics nor obscurity nor the Labor Union nor any one else could help him to wriggle out of. It would go far towards disillusioning those many who seem to feel that they do not have to take too seriously a government because they have helped to create it.
While I have precious little sympathy for slackers of any variety, one must not judge them too harshly because their minds do not happen to work the same as ours. In nine cases out of ten it is not a question of courage, but one of mental process. Some people come of a caste to whom war or the idea of fighting for their country is second nature. They take it for
granted, like death and taxes. If they ever permitted themselves seriously to question the rightness of it; to submit patriotism and courage to an acid analysis, they might suddenly turn arrant cowards. How much harder is it, then, for people who have never even faced the idea of it before to be suddenly placed up against the actual fact!
I have been having a little extra fun on my own hook recently. The poor captain has had to have an operation, and will be on his back for some weeks.
Do I like going to war all on my own? Oh no, just like a cat hates cream. It is a wee bit strenuous, as I have to do double duty; and one night I was on the bridge steadily from 9 P.M. to 7 a.m. But the funny part is that I did n't feel especially all in afterward, and one good sleep fixed me up completely.
I had a big disappointment on my first run out. I nearly bagged a submarine for you. We got her on the surface as nice as anything, but it was very rough, and she was far away, and before I could plunk her, she got under. If she had only but, as the saying — goes, if the dog had n't stopped to scratch himself, he would have got the rabbit (not, however, that we stopped to scratch ourselves).
I am still in command of the ship and love it, but there is a difference between being second in command and being It. It makes you introspective to realize that a hundred lives and a $700,000 ship are absolutely dependent upon you, without anybody but the Almighty to ask for advice if you get into difficulty.
It is not so much the submarines, which are largely a matter of luck, but the navigating. Say I am heading back for port after several days out, the
weather is thick as pea-soup, and I have not seen land or had an observation for days. I know where I am, at least I think I do, but what if I have miscalculated, or am carried off my course by the strong and treacherous tides on this coast, and am heading right into the breakers somewhere, or perchance a mine-field! Then the fog lifts a little, and I see the cliffs or mountains that I recognize, and bring her in with a slam-bang, much bravado, and a sigh of relief. Don't you remember the days when you thought son was dying if he cried or if he did n't? Well, that's it!
Don't get the idea that I have no recreations. We walk and play golf, go to the movies on occasion, and there is always a jolly gang of mixed services to play with.
Life here does n't vary much. The captain is up and taking a few days' leave, though I doubt if he will take command for two or three weeks yet. But I am having a lovely time running her.
The other night we had a very interesting chap for dinner-a New Zealander he was, who has served in Egypt, Gallipoli, the trenches in France, and is now in the Royal Naval Reserve. The tales he told were of wonderful interest. He was modest and seemed to have been a decent sort, but you could sense the brutalizing effect of war on him. Some of the things he told were such jokes on the Germans that we laughed right heartily.
The beast in man lies so close to the surface. We think we are human and law-abiding of our own volition, whereas, as a matter of fact, nine-tenths of it is from pure habit. It does n't occur to us to be anything else. But let all standards and customs be scrapped, let us see the things done freely that never even entered our minds before,
and a lot of us are liable to develop ape and tiger proclivities. We nearly all put unconscious limits to our humanity. The most chivalrous and kindly Westerner or Southerner would admit that massacring Chinamen, Mexicans, or Negroes is not such a great crime; and the most devoted mother or father is prone to regard as unspanked brats children who to a third party appear quite as well as the critic's own.
I am still in command and loving every minute of it. With any other captain than ours it would be a comedown to resume my place as a subordinate. But in his case I think that all mourn a little when he is away.
Oh, it's great stuff, this being in command and handling the ship alone. Particularly I enjoy swooping down on some giant freighter, like a hawk on a turkey, running close alongside, where a wrong touch to helm or engine may spell destruction, and then demanding through a megaphone why she does or does not do so and so. I have learned more navigation and ship-handling since being over here than in all my previous seagoing experience. In the old ante-bellum days one hesitated to get too close to another ship, even in daytime, far more so at night, even with the required navigation lights on. Now, without so much light as a glowworm could give, we run around, never quite certain when the darkness ahead may turn into a ship close enough to throw a brick at.
However, I am back in the ranks again now, as the captain has come back and resumed command.
You must not be resentful because of the things you have gone through,
unappreciated by those perhaps for whom you have undergone them. It is one of the laws of life, and a hard law too, but it comes to everybody, either in a few big things or a multitude of little ones. Do the people who keep the world turning around ever get due recognition? I was thinking in much the same resentful vein myself to-day, in my own small way, how thankless the job of an executive officer is; how you never reach any big end, or even feel that you have made progress, but just keep on the job, watching and inspecting and fussing to keep the whole personnel-matériel machine running smoothly, and knowing that your recognition is purely negative, in that, if all goes well, you don't get called down. And then I calm down and realize that it is all in the game, and that it is the best tribute so to handle your job in life that nothing has to be said. If your car runs perfectly, you neither feel nor hear it, and give it little credit on that account. But let it strip a gear or something go!!
I hate to tell you what, I was doing this afternoon. You will think I am not at war at all when I tell you that I have been roller-skating. I was a bit rusty at first, but warmed up to it. It is about the only exercise we can get on shore, for it rains all the time. Each shower puts an added crimp in my temper, as I have been trying to get a new coat of camouflage paint on the ship. I think, if some of the old paintand-polish captains and admirals could see her now, they would die of apoplexy.
I fear there is no chance for you to come over. Admiral Sims disapproves, not of you personally, one cannot find a place to live here, and there would be too many hardships. How would it be for you when we had said good-bye, and you saw the ship start out into a howling gale or go out right
after several ships had been sunk outside? With you at home among friends. I can keep my mind on my job, which I could n't if you were alone over here.
Let me say right now that the destroyer torpedoed was not ours. It was hard on you all to have the news published that one had been and a man killed, and not say what boat, as that leaves every one in suspense. I suppose the relatives of the man were notified, but that does n't help other people who were anxious.
I don't suppose I can tell you which boat either, if the authorities won't. You do not know any one on board of her, however. They saw it coming. jammed on full speed, and nearly cleared it. It took them just at the stern and blew off about 30 feet as neatly as son would bite the end off a banana. The submarine heard the explosion, of course, from below, and came to the surface to see the 'damned Yankee' sink, only to find the rudderless, sternless boat steaming full speed in a circle with her one remaining propeller, and to be greeted by a salvo of four-inch shells that made her duck promptly. The man killed saw the torpedo coming and ran aft to throw overboard some high explosives stowed there but he did n't quite make it. Our destroyers are really wonderful boats you can shoot off one end of them, ram them, cut them in two, and still they float and get back to port somehow.
Some time ago, on a pitch-dark night, one of them was rammed by a British boat and nearly cut in two. Was there a panic? Not at all. As she settled in the water, they got out their boats and life-rafts, the officers and a few selected men stayed on board, and the rest pulled off in the darkness singing, ‘Are we downhearted? No!' and 'Hail, hail, the gang's all here.' She floated, though with her deck awash; the boats
were recalled, and they brought her in. She is fixed up and back in the game again now.
Where did you hear that about two destroyers being sunk off the coast of Ireland on September 3? False alarm. Of course, you have read in the papers about the convoy destroyed in the North Sea by German raiders. The two British destroyers with the convoy stood up to them and fought as a bulldog would fight a tiger — and with the same result. Somebody was arguing with the Admiral, our boss, to the effect that it would have been better for them to have saved themselves, trailed the raiders, and sent radio, so that British cruisers could have intercepted and destroyed them. Said the Admiral, 'Yes, it would have been better, but I would court-martial and shoot the man that did it.' He's a wonder to serve under, as grim and strict as a Prussian, but very just, and runs things in a way that secures all our admiration — though we may fuss a bit when, expecting two or three comfortable days in port, we get chased out on short notice into a raving gale outside.
A BRITISH DOCK YARD November 4.
There are lots of our army people here. Some of them are just passing through, while others are stationed at near-by training camps or hospitals. I was wandering around the big hotel here, when I saw a familiar face in army uniform, and who should it be but M. Much joy! He is near here, on temporary duty at a British hospital. I had him over to the ship for lunch, and hope to see him again. I certainly respect that boy. He has no military ambitions, and wishes the war were over, so he could get back to his wife and children; but he answered the call while others were hiding behind
volleys of language, and he is here to see it through. I am afraid he is homesick and lonely, for it is harder for a boy who does not know the English than for us hardened mercenaries, who are accustomed to hobnob with everybody from Cubans to Cossacks.
I will be glad when American Army and Navy uniforms are designed by a tailor who really knows something about it. Alas, our people are distinctly inferior to the British in the cut of their jib. I think it is the high standing collar that queers us. It is only at its best when one stands at Attention, head up, chest out, arms at side, — being distinctly a parade uniform. The British, with their rolling collar, and coat tight where it may be and loose where it needs to be, are, you might say, less military and better dressed.
Tell the Enfant that I am very proud when he gets gold honor-marks on his school-papers, and I think that it probably means about the same as a star on a midshipman's collar. (That ought to get him.)
I must close and get a bit of sleep. It seems as if, when it is all over, all the heaven I will want is to be with you and son again, perfectly quiet.
AT SEA, November 16.
I think a true democracy is necessarily inefficient in a way. The only really efficient government in the world is the one which we intend to pull down, or else go down ourselves, trying to!
Can't you imagine, in the dim Valhalla beyond, how the archer of Pharaoh, the swordsman from the plains before Troy, and the Roman legionary will greet the hurrying souls of the aviator, the bomb-thrower, and the bayonet-man with, 'Brother, what were you?'
I'd hate to have to explain to their uncomprehending ears what a conscientious objector is!
December 2. Well, to-day is one of the big days of my life, for I assumed command of this little packet. I put on my sword and fixings and reported to Captain Paine, who was most benevolent. Several of us went on shore to celebrate with a little dinner. Some of the boys just over joined in, and we became involved with some Highland officers of a fighting regiment famous throughout Europe for the last three hundred years. One's first ship, like the first baby, is an event that cannot be duplicated.
I needed your letter, being about twenty years older than I was a week ago. No, no harm done. Just had my first experience of what it means under certain circumstances to be in command. Went out with certain others on a certain job. All went well, though we had a poor grade of oil in our bunkers and were burning more than we should ordinarily. Then, through certain chances, we had to go farther than expected. Still, I figured to get back with a moderate margin, when the gale struck us. You may have read of Biscay storms; well, believe me, they are not overrated. I have seen just as bad, perhaps, but not from the deck of a destroyer. And while I am frantically calculating whether I shall have enough fuel to make port or not, there is a wild yell from the bridge that the rudder is jammed at hard-a-starboard and can't be moved. She, of course, at once fell off into the trough of the sea, and the big green combers swept clear over her at every roll, raising merry hob. All the boats were smashed to kindlingwood; chests, and everything on deck not riveted down, went over the side. In that sea you could no more manœuvre by your engines alone than you could dam Niagara with a handful of sand. A man alongside of me aft, where
we were working on the steering-gear, was swept overboard, but, having a line around his waist, was hauled back like a hooked fish.
All I could do was to steam in a big circle, and at one point would be running before it, and could work for an instant or two with the seas running up to our waists. When they get over your head, you probably won't be there any longer. At that time I didn't really expect to stay afloat, but was too busy with the matters in hand to care. Well, we finally got it fixed, though we could only use about 15 degrees of rudder instead of full.
All this time we were drifting merrily to leeward at a rate that I hated even to guess at, with the certainty, unless matters mended, of eventually piling up on the Spanish coast, then not far away, though I had n't had a sight of sun or stars in days, and did n't know within fifty miles where I was. Well, when I finally headed up into it, I could just about hold her, without making any headway to speak of. You cannot drive a destroyer dead into a heavy sea at full speed without busting her in two. Still the situation would have been nothing to worry about much if I had had sufficient fuel. Now, you on shore may fancy that a ship just keeps on steaming till she gets there, whether it takes a month or more; but such is far from the case. Every mile you go consumes just so much fuel, and, if your margin of safety is too small, you are liable to be out of luck. And my calculations showed me that while I was using up oil enough to be making knots, in the teeth of the gale we were only making knots, and that at that rate I never would make port.
There were three courses open to me: to let her drift, consuming my oil, in the hope that it would blow over; to run into a Spanish port; or to run for France, my destination, and, if I fell