I WAS honoured by a glimpse into this veiled life in a boat which was merely practising between trips. Submarines are like cats. They never tell “who they were with last night,” and they sleep as much as they can, If you board a submarine off duty you generally see a perspective of fore-shortened fattish men laid all along. 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. After all, why should they if they don’t want to? They know that they are responsible in their department for their comrades” lives as their comrades are responsible for theirs. What’s the use of flapping about? 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.
“Suppose there are more mines knocking about?” I suggested.
“We’ll hope there aren’t,” was the soothing reply. “Mines are all Joss. You either hit ’em or you don’t. And if you do, they don’t always go off. They scrape alongside.”
“What’s the etiquette then?”
“Shut off both propellers and hope.”
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.
“Ah! That’s the King of the Trawlers, Isn’t he carrying dog, too! Give him room!” one said.
We were all in the narrowed harbour mouth together.
“‘There’s my youngest daughter. Take a look at her!’” some one hummed as a punctilious navy cap slid by on a very near bridge.
“We’ll fall in behind him, They’re going over to the neutral. Then they’ll sweep. By the bye, did you hear about one of the passengers in the neutral yesterday. He was taken off, of course, by a destroyer, and the only thing he said was:
“‘Twenty-five time I ’ave insured, but not this time. . . . ’Ang it!’”
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.
“Lord! What a shot!” somebody said enviously. 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.
“There’s the bottom. We bumped at fifty—fifty-two,” he said.
“I didn’t feel it”
“We’ll try again. Watch the gauge, and you’ll see it flick a little.”