There were no maiden overs.
One came across jewels of price set in the flat official phraseology. He seemed so miserable that I let him go. Our boat fished them out and returned them, for she was not killing civilians. And in addition to matters much more marvellous than any I have hinted at, the reports deal with repairs and shifts and contrivances carried through in the face of dangers that read like the last delirium of romance. One boat went down the Straits and found herself rather canted over to one side. A mine and chain had jammed under her forward diving-plane.
AND WHO, a few months ago, could have invented, or having invented, would have dared to print such a nightmare as this: There was a boat in the North Sea who ran into a net and was caught by the nose. She rose, still entangled, meaning to cut the thing away on the surface.
But a Zeppelin in waiting saw and bombed her, and she had to go down again at once — but not too wildly or she would get herself more wrapped up than ever. She went down, and by slow working and weaving and wriggling, guided only by guesses at the meaning of each scrape and grind of the net on her blind forehead, at last she drew clear. Then she sat on the bottom and thought. The question was whether she should go back at once and warn her confederates against the trap, or wait till the destroyers which she knew the Zeppelin would have signalled for, should come out to finish her still entangled, as they would suppose, in the net?
It was a simple calculation of comparative speeds and positions, and when it was worked out she decided to try for the double event. And since we are dealing in nightmares, here are two more — one genuine, the other, mercifully, false. There was a boat not only at, but in the mouth of a river — well home in German territory. She was spotted, and went under, her commander perfectly aware that there was not more than five feet of water over her conning-towerso that even a torpedo-boat, let alone a destroyer, would hit it if she came over.
But nothing hit anything. The search was conducted on scientific principles while they sat on the silt and suffered. Then the commander heard the rasp of a wire trawl sweeping over his hull. The other nightmare arose out of silence and imagination. A boat had gone to bed on the bottom in a spot where she might reasonably expect to be looked for, but it was a convenient jumping off, or up, place for the work in hand.
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Turn out that light, please. He did not sleep, but the dreamer and the others did; and when morning came and he gave the order to rise, and she rose unhampered, and he saw the grey smeared seas from above once again, he said it was a very refreshing sight. Lastly, which is on all fours with the gamble of the chase, a man was coming home rather bored after an uneventful trip.
It was necessary for him to sit on the bottom for awhile, and there he played patience.
Of a sudden it struck him, as a vow and an omen, that if he worked out the next game correctly he would go up and strafe something. The cards fell all in order. He went up at once and found himself alongside a German, whom, as he had promised and prophesied to himself, he destroyed, She was a mine-layer, and needed only a jar to dissipate like a cracked electriclight bulb. He was somewhat impressed by the contrast between the single-handed game fifty feet below, the ascent, the attack, the amazing result, and when he descended again, his cards just as he had left them.
I WAS honoured by a glimpse into this veiled life in a boat which was merely practising between trips. Submarines are like cats. The men say that except at certain times it is rather an easy life, with relaxed regulations about smoking, calculated to make a man put on flesh. One requires well-padded nerves. Many of the men do not appear on deck throughout the whole trip.
Better lay in some magazines and cigarettes. When we set forth there had been some trouble in the fairway, and a mined neutral, whose misfortune all bore with exemplary calm, was careened on a near by shoal. They scrape alongside. We were dodging various craft down the harbour when a squadron of trawlers came out on our beam, at that extravagant rate of speed which unlimited Government coal always leads to. They were led by an ugly, upstanding, black-sided buccaneer with twelve-pounders. Take a look at her! By the bye, did you hear about one of the passengers in the neutral yesterday.
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He was taken off, of course, by a destroyer, and the only thing he said was:. The trawlers lunged ahead toward the forlorn neutral. Our destroyer nipped past us with that high-shouldered, terrier-like pouncing action of the newer boats, and went ahead. A tramp in ballast, her propeller half out of water, threshed along through the sallow haze. What a shot! The men on the little deck looked across at the slow-moving silhouette, One of them, a cigarette behind his ear, smiled at a companion.
Then we went down — not as they go when they are pressed the record, I believe, is 50 feet in 50 seconds from top to bottom , but genteelly, to an orchestra of appropriate sounds, roarings, and blowings, and after the orders, which come from the commander alone, utter silence and peace. IT MAY have been so, but I was more interested in the faces, and above all the eyes, all down the length of her.
They dropped into gear as no machine could; but the training of years and the experience of the year leaped up behind those steady eyes under the electrics in the shadow of the tall motors, between the pipes and the curved hull, or glued to their special gauges. One forgot the bodies altogether — but one will never forget the eyes or the ennobled faces. One man I remember in particular.
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And so with a much younger man, who changed into such a monk as Frank Dicksee used to draw. Only a couple of torpedo-men, not being in gear for the moment, read an illustrated paper. He is the only one who gets any fun at all — since he is the eye, the brain, and the hand of the whole — this single figure at the periscope. The others wait and follow the quick run of orders. It is, if not a convention, a fairly established custom that the commander shall inferentially give his world some idea of what is going on.
The others soliloquise, etc. Submarines nowadays are expected to look out for themselves more than at the old practices, when the destroyers walked circumspectly. Up still! Where the deuce has he got to — Ah Half a dozen orders as to helm and depth of descent, and a pause broken by a drumming noise somewhere above, which increases and passes away.
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Up again! This refers to the periscope. All right! Keep her down , damn it! That ought to be nineteen knots,. Dirty trick! Ready forward there! A valve sputters and drips, the torpedo-men crouch over their tubes and nod to themselves.
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Their faces have changed now. The dummy left; the second in command cocked one ear and looked relieved. Up we rose; the wet air and spray spattered through the hatch; the destroyer swung off to retrieve the dummy,. Did you notice? There were loads of shiny reasons, which reminded me that we were at war and cleared for action, and that the interlude had been merely play. A companion rose alongside and wanted to know whether we had seen anything of her dummy. I was rather annoyed, because I had seen that particular daughter of destruction on the stocks only a short time ago, and here she was grown up and talking about her missing children.
In the harbour again, one found more submarines, all patterns and makes and sizes, with rumours of yet more and larger to follow. Naturally their men say that we are only at the beginning of the submarine. We shall have them presently for all purposes. That commander is transferred to another boat. He is pitched into a new type twice the size of the old one, with three times as many gadgets, an unexplored temperament and unknown leanings.
After his first trip he comes back clamouring for the head of her constructor, of his own second in command, his engineer, his cox, and a few other ratings. They for their part wish him dead on the beach, because, last commission with So-and-so, nothing ever went wrong anywhere.