(This was at a little session in a green-curtained “wardroom” cum owner’s cabin.)
“Then there’s no truth in the yarn that you can feel when the torpedo’s going to get home?” I asked.
“Not a word. You sometimes see it get home, or miss, as the case may be. Of course, it’s never your fault if it misses. It’s all your second-in command.”
“That’s true, too,” said the second. “I catch it all round. That’s what I am here for.”
“And what about the third man?” There was one aboard at the time.
“He generally comes from a smaller boat, to pick up real work—if he can suppress his intellect and doesn’t talk ‘last commission,’”
The third hand promptly denied the possession of any intellect, and was quite dumb about his last boat.
“And the men?”
“They train on, too. They train each other. Yes, one gets to know ’em about as well as they get to know us. Up topside, a man can take you in—take himself in—for months; for half a commission, p’rhaps. Down below he can’t. It’s all in cold blood—not like at the front, where they have something exciting all the time.”
“Then bumping mines isn’t exciting?”
“Not one little bit. You can’t bump back at ’em. Even with a Zepp——”
“Oh, now and then,” one interrupted, and they laughed as they explained.
“Yes, that was rather funny. One of our boats came up slap underneath a low Zepp. ’Looked for the sky, you know, and couldn’t see anything except this fat, shining belly almost on top of ’em, Luckily, it wasn’t the Zepp’s stingin’ end. So our boat went to windward and kept lust awash. There was a bit of a sea, and the Zepp had to work against the wind. (They don’t like that.) Our boat sent a man to the gun. He was pretty well drowned, of course, but he hung on, choking and spitting, and held his breath, and got in shots where he could. This Zepp was strafing bombs about for all she was worth, and—who was it? Macartney, I think, potting at her between dives; and naturally all hands wanted to look at the performance, so about half the North Sea flopped down below and—oh, they had a Charlie Chaplin time of it! Well, somehow, Macartney managed to rip the Zepp a bit, and she went to leeward with a list on her. We saw her a fortnight later with a patch on her port side. Oh, if Fritz only fought clean, this wouldn’t be half a bad show. But Fritz can’t fight clean.”
“And we can’t do what he does—even if we were allowed to,” one said.
“No, we can’t. ’Tisn’t done. We have to fish Fritz out of the water, dry him, and give him cocktails, and send him to Donnington Hall.”
“And what does Fritz do?” I asked.
“He sputters and clicks and bows. He has all the correct motions, you know; but, of course, when he’s your prisoner you can’t tell him what he really is.”
“And do you suppose Fritz understands any of it?” I went on.
“No. Or he wouldn’t have lusitaniaed. This war was his first chance of making his name, and he chucked it all away for the sake of showin’ off as a foul Gottstrafer.”
And they talked of that hour of the night when submarines come to the top like mermaids to get and give information; of boats whose business it is to fire as much and to splash about as aggressively as possible; and of other boats who avoid any sort of display—dumb boats watching and relieving watch, with their periscope just showing like a crocodile’s eye, at the back of islands and the mouths of channels where something may some day move out in procession to its doom.