MEANTIME (it was on the hour of evening drinks) one of the boats was still unaccounted for. No one talked of her. They rather discussed motor-cars and Admiralty constructors, but—it felt like that queer twilight watch at the front when the homing aeroplanes drop in. Presently a signaller entered: V. 42 outside, sir; wants to know which channel she shall use.” “Oh, thank you. Tell her to take so-and-so.” . . . Mine, I remember, was vermouth and bitters, and later on V. 42 himself found a soft chair and joined the committee of instruction. Those next for duty, as well as those in training, wished to hear what was going on, and who had shifted what to where, and how certain arrangements had worked. They were told in language not to be found in any printable book. Questions and answers were alike Hebrew to one listener? but he gathered that every boat carried a second in command—a strong, persevering youth, who seemed responsible for every thing that went wrong, from a motor cylinder to a torpedo. Then somebody touched on the mercantile marine and its habits.
Said one philosopher: “They can’t be expected to take any more risks than they do. I wouldn’t, if I was a skipper. I’d loose off at any blessed periscope I saw.”
“That’s all very fine. You wait till you’ve had a patriotic tramp trying to strafe you at your own back-door,” said another.
Some one told a tale of a man with a voice, notable even in a Service where men are not trained to whisper. He was coming back, empty-handed, dirty, tired, and best left alone. From the peace of the German side he had entered our hectic home-waters, where the usual tramp shelled, and by miraculous luck, crumpled his periscope. Another man might have dived, but Boanerges kept on rising. Majestic and wrathful he rose personally through his main hatch, and at 2000 yards (have I said it was a still day?) addressed the tramp. Even at that distance she gathered it was a Naval officer with a grievance, and by the time he ran alongside she was in a state of coma, but managed to stammer: “Well, sir, at least you’ll admit that our shooting was pretty good.”
“And that,” said my informant, “put the lid on!” Boanerges went down lest he should be tempted to murder, and the tramp affirms she heard him rumbling beneath her, like an inverted thunderstorm, for fifteen minutes.
“All those tramps ought to be disarmed, and we ought to have all their guns,” said a voice out of a corner,
“What? Still worrying over your ‘mug’?” some one replied.
“He was a mug!” went on the man of one idea. “If I’d had a couple of twelves even, I could have strafed him proper. I don’t know whether I shall mutiny, or desert, or write to the First Sea Lord about it.”
“Strafe all Admiralty constructors to begin with. I could build a better boat with a 4-inch lathe and a sardine-tin than ——,” the speaker named her by letter and number.
“That’s pure jealousy,” her commander explained to the company. “Ever since I installed—ahem!—my patent electric wash-basin he’s been intriguin’ to get her. Why? We know he doesn’t wash. He’d only use the basin to keep beer in.”