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trance, suddenly laughs in glee. From the corridor come whoops and a staccato cackle of laughter, followed by a portentous roll of thunder from the great gong. The boy puts his hand over his mouth in his ecstasy, the waiters grin as they hasten, the head waiter moves over from the windows, thinking seriously, and one has a vision of Emma, mildly distraught, at the door. Captain Gosnell, holding up the corner of his serviette, remarks that they are coming, and studies the winelist.
They rush in, and a monocled major at a near-by table pauses, fork in air over his fried sea-trout, and glares. In the forefront of the bizarre procession comes Heatly, with a Russian guardsman on his back. The other two guardsmen follow, dancing a stately measure, revolving with rhythmic gravity. Behind, waltzing alone, is Mr. Marks, the mate. Instantly, however, the play is over. They break away, the guardsman slips to the floor, and they all assume a demeanor of impenetrable reserve as they walk decorously toward us. They sit, and become merged in the collective mood of the chamber. Yet one has a distinct impression of a sudden glimpse into another world — as if the thin yet durable membrane of existence had split open a little, and one saw, for a single moment, men as they really are.
And while I am preoccupied with this fancy, which is mysteriously collated in the mind with a salmi of quails, Captain Gosnell becomes articulate. He is explaining something to me.
It is time Captain Gosnell should be described. He sits on my left, a portly, "powerful man, with a large red nose and great baggy pouches under his stern eyes. It is he who tells the story. I watch him as he dissects his quail. Of his own volition he tells me he has twice swallowed the anchor. And here
he is, still on the job. Did he say twice? Three times, counting — well, it was this way.
First of all, an aunt left him a little money and he quit a second mate's job to start a small provision store. Failed. Had to go to sea again. Then he married. Wife had a little money, so they started again. Prospered. Two stores, both doing well. Two counters, I am to understand. Canned goods, wines and spirits on one side; meats and so forth on the other. High-class clientele. Wonderful head for business, Mrs. Gosnell's. He himself, understand, not so dusty. Had a way with customers. Could sell pork in a synagogue, as the saying is.
And then Mrs. Gosnell died. Great shock to him, of course, and took all the heart out of him. Buried her and went back to sea. She was insured, and later, with what little money he had, he started an agency for carpet-sweeping machinery. Found it difficult to get on with his captain, you see, being a senior man in a junior billet. As I very likely am aware, standing rigging makes poor running gear. Was doing a very decent little. business too, when — the war. So he went into the Naval Reserve. That's how it all came about. Now, his idea is to go back, with the experience he has gained, and start a store again—merchandising in his opinion, is the thing of the future. With a little money, the thing can be done. Well!
But it was necessary to have a little capital. Say five thousand. So here we were.
A bad attack of pneumonia with gastritis finished him at Dover. Doctor said if he got away to a warmer climate, it would make a new man of him. So a chat with a surgeon-commander in London resulted in his being appointed to a mine-layer bound for the Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps I had heard of her. The Ouzel. Sidewheeler built for the excursionists. Started away from Devonport and took her to Port Said. Imagine it! Think of her bouncing from one mountainous wave to another, off Finisterre. Think of her turning over and over, almost, going round St. Vincent. Fine little craft for all that. Heatly here was Chief. Marks here was Mate. It was a serious responsibility.
And when they reached Port Said, they were immediately loaded with mines and sent straight out again to join the others, who were laying a complicated barrage about fifty miles north. Four days out, one day in. It was n't so bad at first, being one of a company, with constant signaling and visits in fine weather. But later, when the Ouzel floated alone in an immense blue circle of sea and sky, they began to get acquainted. This took the common English method of discovering, one by one, each other's weaknesses, and brooding over them in secret. What held them together most firmly appears to have been a sort of sophisticated avoidance of women. Not in so many words, Captain Gosnell assures me, but tafkiiig it for granted, they found a common ground in 'Keeping in the fairway.' Marks was a bachelor, it is true, but Marks had no intention of being anything else. Marks had other fish to fry, I am to understand.
I look at Marks, who sits opposite to me. He has a full round face, cleanshaved, and flexible as an actor's. His rich brown hair, a thick, solid-looking auburn thatch, suddenly impresses me with its extreme incongruity. As I look at him, he puts up his hand, pushes his hair slowly up over his forehead, like a cap, revealing a pink scalp, rolls the whole contrivance from side to side, and brings it back to its normal position.
More for comfort than anything else, Vol. its—No. t
Captain Gosnell assures me, for nobody is deceived by a wig like that. What is a man to do when he has pretty near the whole top of his head blown off by a gasometer exploding on the Western Front? There's Marks, minus his hair and everything else, pretty well buried in a pit of loose cinders. Lamppost blown over, lying across him. Marks lay quiet enough, thinking. He was n't dead, he could breathe, and one hand moved easily in the cinders. Began to paddle with that hand. Went on thinking and paddling. Soon he could move the other hand. Head knocking against the lamp-post, he paddled downward. Found he was moving slowly forward. Head clear of the lamppost. Gritty work, swimming, as it were, in loose ashes. Hands in shocking condition. Scalp painful. Lost his hair, but kept his head. Suddenly his industriously paddling hands swirled into the air, jerking legs drove him upward, and he spewed the abrasive element from his lips. He had come back. And had brought an idea with him. Before he went into the army, Marks was second officer in the Marchioness Line, afflicted with dreams of inventing unsinkable ships and collapsible life-boats. Now he came back to life with a brand-new notion. What was it? Well, we 'd be having a run over to the ship bye-and-bye and I would see it. It could do everything except sing a comic song.
'We had been relieved one evening,' Captain Gosnell observes, 'and were about hull down and under, when I ordered dead slow for a few hours. The reason for this was that, at full speed, we would reach Port Said about three in the afternoon, and it was generally advised to arrive after sunset, or even after dark. Besides this, I set a course to pass round to the east'ard of a field we had laid a week or so before, instead of to the west'ard. This is a simple enough matter of running off the correct distances, for the current, if anything, increased the margin of safety. We were making about four knots, with the mine-field on the starboard bow, as I calculated, and we were enjoying a very pleasant supper in my cabin, which had been the passenger saloon in the Ouzel's excursion days — a fine large room on the upper deck, with big windows, like a house ashore. The old bus was chugging along, and from my table you could see the horizon all round, except just astern, which was hid by the funnel. Nothing there, however, but good salt water, and the Holy Land a long way behind. It was like sitting in a conservatory. The sea was as smooth as glass, with a fine haze to the south'ard. This haze, as far as I could judge, was moving north at about the same speed as we were going south, which would make it eight knots, and in an hour we would be in it. I mention this because it explains why the three of us, sitting in a cabin on an upper deck, saw the battleship all together, all at once, and quite near. We all went on the bridge.
'Now you must understand,' went on Captain Gosnell, 'that the subject of conversation between us while we were at supper was money. We were discussing the best way of getting hold of money, and the absolute necessity of capital after the war, if we were to get anywhere. This war, you know, has been a three-ringed circus for the young fellows. But to men like us it has n't been anything of the sort. We have a very strong conviction that some of us are going to feel the draft. We are n't so young as we used to be, and a little money would be a blessing. Well, we were talking about our chances — of salvage, prize-money, bonuses, and so forth. Our principal notion, if I remember, that evening,
was to go into business and pool our resources. For one thing, we wanted to keep up the association. And then, out of the Lord knows where, came this great gray warship heading straight —'
Captain Gosnell paused and regarded me with an austere glance. Mr. Marks and Heatly were listening and looking at us watchfully. And over Mr. Marks's shoulder I could see the three officers with their polychromatic uniforms gleaming in the soft orange radiance of shaded lamps.
'You understand what I mean?' said Captain Gosnell. 'We stood on the bridge watching that ship come up on us, watching her through our glasses, and we did not attach any particular importance to her appearance. When we saw the Russian ensign astern, it did not mean a great deal to us. She was as much an anomaly in those terrible waters as a line-of-battle ship of Nelson's day. That was what staggered us. An enormous valuable ship like that coming out into such a sea. Suddenly the value of her, the money she cost, the money she was worth, so near and yet so far, came home to us. I had an imaginary view of her, you understand, for a moment, as something I could sell; a sort of fanciful picture of her possibilities in the junk line. Think of the brass and rubber alone, in a ship like that! And then we all simultaneously realized just what was happening. I had my hand stretched out to the whistle-lanyard, when there was a heavy, bubbling grunt, and she rolled over toward us as if some invisible hand had given her a push. She rolled back to an even keel and began pitching a very little. This was due, I believe, to the sudden going astern of her engines, coupled with the mine throwing her over. Pitched a little, and, for some extraordinary reason, her forward twelve-inch guns were rapidly elevated as if some insane gunner was going to take a shot at the North Star before going down. From what we gathered later, things were going on inside that turret which are unpleasant to think about. There was that ship, twenty-five thousand tons of her, going, through a number of peculiar evolutions. Like most battleships, she had four anchors in her bows, and suddenly they all shot out of their hawse-pipes and fell into the sea, while clouds of red dust came away, as if she was breathing fire and smoke at us through her nostrils. And then she began to swing round on them, so that, as we came up to her, she showed us her great rounded armored counter, with its captain's gallery and a little white awning to keep off the sun. And what we saw then passed anything in my experience on this earth, ashore or afloat. We were coming up on her, you know, and we had our glasses so that, as the stern swung on us, we had a perfectly close view of that gallery. There were two bearded men sitting there, in uniforms covered with gold lace and dangling decorations, smoking cigarettes, each in a large wicker chair on either side of a table. Behind them the big armored doors were open and the mahogany slides drawn back, and we could see silver and china and very elaborate electrical fittings shining on the table, and men in white coats walking about without any anxiety at all. On the stern was a great golden twoheaded eagle, and a name in their peculiar wrong-way-round lettering which Serge told us later was Fontanka. And they sat there, those two men with gray beards on their breasts like large bibs, smoking and chatting and pointing out the Ouzel to each other. It was incredible. And in the cabin behind them servants went round and round, and a lamp was burning in front of a large picture of the Virgin in a glittering frame. An icon. I can assure you,
their placid demeanor almost paralyzed us. We began to wonder if we had n't dreamed what had gone before, if we were n't still dreaming. But she continued to swing and we continued to come up on her, so that soon we had a view along her decks again, and we knew well enough we were n't dreaming very much.
'Her decks were alive with men. They moved continually, replacing each other like a mass of insects on a beam. It appeared, from where we were, a cable's length or so, like an orderly panic. There must have been five or six hundred of them climbing, running, walking, pushing, pulling, like one of those football matches at the big schools, where everybody plays at once. And then our whistle blew. I give you my word I did it quite unconsciously, in my excitement. If it had been Gabriel's trumpet, it could not have caused greater consternation. I think a good many of them thought it was Gabriel's trumpet. It amounted to that almost, for the Fontanka took a sort of slide forward at that moment and sank several feet by the head. All those hundreds of men mounted the rails and put up their hands and shouted. It was the most horrible thing. They stood there with uplifted hands and their boats half-lowered, and shouted. I believe they imagined that I was going alongside to take them off. But I had no such intention. The Ouzel's sponsons would have been smashed, her paddles wrecked, and we would probably have gone to the bottom along with them. We looked at each other and shouted in sheer fury at their folly. We bawled and made motions to lower their boats. I put the helm over and moved off a little, and ordered our own boat down. The fog was coming up and the sun was going down. The only thing that was calm was the sea. It was like a lake. Suddenly, several of the Fontanka's boats almost dropped into the water, and the men began to slide down the falls like strings of blue and white beads. She took another slide, very slow but very sickening to see.
'I fixed my glasses on the superstructure between the funnels, where a large steel crane curved over a couple of launches with polished brass funnels. And I was simply appalled to find a woman sitting in one of the launches, with her arms round a little boy. She was quite composed, apparently, and was watching three men who were working very hard about the crane. The launch began to rise in the air, and two of the men climbed into her. She rose, and the crane swung outward. We cheered like maniacs when she floated. In a flash the other man was climbing up the curve of the crane, and we saw him slide down the wire into the launch.
'By this time, you must understand, the other boats were full of men, and one of them was cast off while more men were sliding down the falls. They held on with one hand and waved the other at the men above, who proceeded in a very systematic way to slide on top of them, and then the whole bunch would carry away altogether and vanish with a sort of compound splash. And then men began to come out of side-scuttles. They were in a great hurry, these chaps. A head would appear, and then shoulders and arms working violently. The man would be just getting his knees in a purchase on the scuttle frame, when he would shoot out clean head-first into the sea. And another head, the head of the man who had pushed him, would come out.
'But don't forget,' warned Captain Gosnell,' that all these things were happening at once. Don't forget that the Fontanka was still swarming with men, that the sun was just disappearing, very
red, in the west, that the ship's bows were about level with the water. Don't forget all this,' urged Captain Gosnell, 'and then, when you 've got that all firmly fixed in your mind, she turns right over, shows the great red belly of her for perhaps twenty seconds, and sinks.'
Captain Gosnell held the match for a moment longer to his cigar, threw the stick on the floor, and strode into the room, leaving me to imagine the thing he had described.
And these three, in their deftly handled and slow-moving launch, with their incredible passengers, the woman with her arms round a little boy, were the first to board the Ouzel. Captain Gosnell had stopped his engines, for the sea was thick with swimming and floating men. They explained through Serge, who had climbed down the crane, — a man of extended experience in polar regions, — that they were officers in the Imperial Russian Army, entrusted with the safe-conduct of the lady and her child, and therefore claimed precedence over naval ratings.
That was all very well, of course; but the naval ratings were already swarming up the low fenders of the Ouzel, climbing the paddle-boxes and making excellent use of the ropes and slings flung to them by the Ouzel's crew. The naval ratings were displaying the utmost activity on their own accounts; they immediately manned the launch, and set off to garner the occupants of rafts and gratings. Even in her excursion days, the Ouzel had never had so many passengers. Captain Gosnell would never have believed, if he had not seen it, that five-hundred-odd souls could have found room to breathe on her decks and in her alleyways. All dripping sea-water.
Captain Gosnell, leaning back on the