SHE WAS the largest, fastest, and latest thing in seagoing destroyers, and though the specifications called for but thirty-six knots’ speed, she had made thirty-eight on her trial trip, and later, under careful nursing by her engineers, she had increased this to forty knots an hour—five knots faster than any craft afloat—and, with a clean bottom, this speed could be depended upon at any time it was needed.
She derived this speed from six water-tube boilers, feeding at a pressure of three hundred pounds live steam to five turbine engines working three screws, one high-pressure turbine on the center shaft, and four low-pressure on the wing shafts. Besides these she possessed two “astern” turbines and two cruising turbines—all four on the wing shafts.
She made steam with oil fuel, there being no coal on board except for heating and cooking, and could carry a hundred and thirty tons of it, which gave her a cruising radius of about two thousand miles; also, with “peace tanks” filled, she could steam three thousand miles without replenishing. This would carry her across the Atlantic at thirteen knots’ speed, but if she was in a hurry, using all turbines, she would exhaust her oil in two days.
When in a hurry, she was a spectacle to remember. Built on conventional lines, she showed at a mile’s distance nothing but a high bow and four short funnels over a mighty bow wave that hid the rest of her long, dark-hued hull, and a black, horizontal cloud of smoke that stretched astern half a mile before the wind could catch and rend it.
She carried four twenty-one-inch torpedo tubes and a battery of six twelve-pounder, rapid-fire guns; also, she carried two large searchlights and a wireless equipment of seventy miles reach, the aërials of which stretched from the truck of her short signal mast aft to a short pole at the taffrail.
Packed with machinery, she was a “hot box,” even when at rest, and when in action a veritable bake oven. She had hygienic air space below decks for about a dozen men, and this number could handle her; but she carried berths and accommodations for sixty.
Her crew was not on board, however. Newly scraped and painted in the dry dock, she had been hauled out, stored, and fueled by a navy-yard gang, and now lay at the dock, ready for sea—ready for her draft of men in the morning, and with no one on board for the night but the executive officer, who, with something on his mind, had elected to remain, while the captain and other commissioned officers went ashore for the night.
Four years at the Naval Academy, a two years’ sea cruise, and a year of actual service had made many changes in Denman. He was now twenty-five, an ensign, but, because of his position as executive, bearing the complimentary title of lieutenant.
He was a little taller and much straighter and squarer of shoulder than when he had gone to the academy. He had grown a trim mustache, and the sun and winds of many seas had tanned his face to the color of his eyes; which were of a clear brown, and only in repose did they now show the old-time preponderance of white beneath the brown.
In action these eyes looked out through two slits formed by nearly parallel eyelids, and with the tightly closed lips and high arching eyebrows—sure sign of the highest and best form of physical and moral courage—they gave his face a sort of “take care” look, which most men heeded.
Some women would have thought him handsome, some would not; it all depended upon the impression they made on him, and the consequent look in his eyes.
At Annapolis he had done well; he was the most popular man of his class, had won honors from his studies and fist fights from his fellows, while at sea he had shown a reckless disregard for his life, in such matters as bursting flues, men overboard, and other casualties of seafaring, that brought him many type-written letters from Washington, a few numbers of advancement, and the respect and admiration of all that knew or had heard of him.
His courage, like Mrs. Cæsar’s morals, was above suspicion. Yet there was one man in the world who was firmly convinced that Lieutenant Denman had a yellow streak in him, and that man was Denman himself.
He had never been home since his departure for Annapolis. He had promised a small girl that if he came back there would be another fight, in which, as he mentally vowed, he would redeem himself. In this he had been sincere, but as the months at the academy went on, with the unsettled fight still in the future, his keen resentment died away, leaving in its place a sense of humiliation and chagrin.
He still meant to go back, however, and would have done so when vacation came; but a classmate invited him to his home, and there he went, glad of the reprieve from an embarrassing, and, as it seemed to him now, an undignified conflict with a civilian. But the surrender brought its sting, and his self-respect lessened.
At the next vacation he surrendered again, and the sting began eating into his soul. He thought of the overdue redemption he had promised himself at all times and upon all occasions, but oftenest just before going to sleep, when the mental picture of Jack Forsythe swaggering around the corner, while he lay conquered and helpless on the ground, would accompany him through his dreams, and be with him when he wakened in the morning.
It became an obsession, and very soon the sudden thought of his coming fight with Forsythe brought the uplift of the heart and the slight choking sensation that betokened nothing but fear.
He would not admit it at first, but finally was compelled to. Honest with himself as he was with others, he finally yielded in the mental struggle, and accepted the dictum of his mind. He was afraid to fight Jack Forsythe, with no reference to, or regard for, his standing as an officer and a gentleman.
But now, it seemed, all this was to leave him. A month before, he had thought strongly of his child friend Florrie, and, with nothing to do one afternoon, he had written her a letter—a jolly, rollicking letter, filled with masculine colloquialisms and friendly endearments, such as he had bestowed upon her at home; and it was the dignity of her reply—received that day—with the contents of the letter, which was the “something on his mind” that kept him aboard.
His cheeks burned as he realized that she was now about twenty years old, a young lady, and that his letter to her had been sadly conceived and much out of place. But the news in the letter, which began with “Dear Sir,” and ended with “Sincerely yours,” affected him most. It read:
“I presume you know that your enemy, Jack Forsythe, took his disappointment so keenly that he never amounted to much at home, and about two years ago enlisted in the navy. This relieves you, as father tells me, from the necessity of thrashing him—as you declared you would. Officers and enlisted men cannot fight, he said, as the officer has the advantage, and can always order the man to jail. I thank you very much for remembering me after all these years—in fact, I shall never forget your kindness.”
His cheeks and ears had burned all day, and when his fellow officers had gone, and he was alone, he reread the letter.
“Sarcasm and contempt between every line,” he muttered. “She expected me—the whole town expected me—to come back and lick that fellow. Well”—his eyelids became rigidly parallel—“I’ll do it. When I find him, I’ll get shore leave for both of us, take him home, and square the account.”
This resolution did him good; the heat left his cheek, and the sudden jump of the heart did not come with the occasional thought of the task. Gradually the project took form; he would learn what ship Forsythe was in, get transferred to her, and when in port arrange the shore leave. He could not fight him in the navy, but as man to man, in civilian’s clothing in the town park, he would fight him and thrash him before the populace.
It was late when he had finished the planning. He lighted a last cigar, and sauntered around the deck until the cigar was consumed. Then he went to his room and turned in, thinking of the caustic words of Miss Florrie, forgiving her the while, and wondering how she looked—grown up.
They were pleasant thoughts to go to sleep on, but sleep did not come. It was an intensely hot, muggy night, and the mosquitoes were thick. He tried another room, then another, and at last, driven out of the wardroom by the pests, he took refuge in the steward’s pantry, and spreading his blanket on the floor, went to sleep on it.