The Wreck of the Titan or, Futility

The Pirates

Chapter XXI

Morgan Robertson

AFTER breakfast, King, one of the machinists, and a pleasant-faced young man, came aft with an ensign, a hammer, chisel, and paint pot.

“This is work, sir,” he said, as he passed, tipping his cap politely to Miss Florrie. “Should have been done before.”

He went to the taffrail, and, leaning over with the hammer and chisel, removed the raised letters that spelled the boat’s name. Then he covered the hiatus with paint, and hoisted the ensign to the flagstaff.

“Now, sir,” he remarked, as he gathered up his tools and paint pot, “she’s a government craft again.”

“I see,” commented Denman; and then to Florrie as King went forward: “They’re getting foxy. We’re steaming into the crowd again, and they want to forestall inspection and suspicion. I wonder if our being allowed on deck is part of the plan? A lady and an officer aft look legitimate.”

At noon every man was dressed to the regulations, in clean blue, with neckerchief and knife lanyard, while Jenkins and Forsythe appeared in full undress uniform, with tasteful linen and neckwear.

That this was part of the plan was proven when, after a display of bunting in the International Signal Code from the yard up forward, they ranged alongside of an outbound tank steamer that had kindly slowed down for them.

All hands but one cook and one engineer had mustered on deck, showing a fair semblance of a full-powered watch; and the one cook—Billings—displayed himself above the hatch for one brief moment, clad in a spotless white jacket.

Then, just before the two bridges came together, Jenkins hurried down the steps and aft to Denman to speak a few words, then hasten forward. It was sufficiently theatrical to impress the skipper of the tanker, but what Jenkins really said to Denman was: “You are to remember your parole, sir, and not hail that steamer.”

To which Denman had nodded assent.

“Steamer ahoy!” shouted Forsythe, through a small megaphone. “You are laden with oil, as you said by signal. We would like to replenish our supply, which is almost exhausted.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the skipper; “but to whom shall I send the bill?”

“To the superintendent of the Charlestown Navy Yard. It will very likely be paid to your owners before you get back. We want as much as a hundred tons. I have made out a receipt for that amount. Throw us a heaving line to take our hose, and I will send it up on the bight.”

“Very well, sir. Anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Yes; we want about two hundred gallons of water. Been out a long time.”

“Certainly, sir—very glad to accommodate you. Been after that runaway torpedo boat?”

“Yes; any news of her on shore? Our wireless is out of order.”

“Well, the opinion is that she was lost in the big blow a few days ago. She was reported well to the nor’ard; and it was a St. Lawrence Valley storm. Did you get any of it?”

“Very little,” answered Forsythe. “We were well to the s’uth’ard.”

“A slight stumble in good diction there, Mr. Forsythe,” muttered the listening Denman. “Otherwise, very well carried out.”

But the deluded tank skipper made no strictures on Forsythe’s diction; and, while the pleasant conversation was going on, the two lines of hose were passed, and the receipt for oil and water sent up to the steamer.

In a short time the tanks were filled, the hose hauled back, and the starting bells run in both engine rooms.

The destroyer was first to gather way; and, as her stern drew abreast of the tanker’s bridge, the skipper lifted his cap to Florrie and Denman, and called out: “Good afternoon, captain, I’m very glad that I was able to accommodate you.”

To which Denman, with all hands looking expectantly at him, only replied with a bow—as became a dignified commander with two well-trained officers on his bridge to attend to the work.

The boat circled around, headed northwest, and went on at full speed until, not only the tanker, but every other craft in view, had sunk beneath the horizon. Then the engines were stopped, and the signal yard sent down.

“Back in the pocket again,” said Denman to Florrie. “What on earth can they be driving at?”

“And why,” she answered, with another query, “did they go to all that trouble to be so polite and nice, when, as you say, they are fully committed to piracy, and robbed the other vessels by force?”

“This seems to show,” he said, “the master hand of Jenkins, who is a natural-born gentleman, as against the work of Forsythe, who is a natural-born brute.”

“Yet he is a high-school graduate.”

“And Jenkins is a passed seaman apprentice.”

“What is that?”

“One who enters the navy at about fifteen or sixteen to serve until he is twenty-one, then to leave the navy or reënlist. They seldom reënlist, for they are trained, tutored, and disciplined into good workmen, to whom shore life offers better opportunities. Those who do reënlist have raised the standard of the navy sailor to the highest in the world; but those that don’t are a sad loss to the navy. Jenkins reënlisted. So did Forsythe.”

“But do you think the training and tutoring that Jenkins received equal to an education like Forsythe’s—or yours?”

“They learn more facts,” answered Denman. “The training makes a man of a bad boy, and a gentleman of a good one. What a ghastly pity that, because of conservatism and politics, all this splendid material for officers should go to waste, and the appointments to Annapolis be given to good high-school scholars, who might be cowardly sissies at heart, or blackguards like Forsythe!”

“But that is how you received your appointment, Billie Denman,” said the girl, warmly; “and you are neither a sissy nor a blackguard.”

“I hope not,” he answered, grimly. “Yet, if I had first served my time as seaman apprentice before being appointed to Annapolis, I might be up on that bridge now, instead of standing supinely by while one seaman apprentice does the navigating and another the bossing.”

“There is that man again. I’m afraid of him, Billie. All the others, except Forsythe, have been civil to me; but he looks at me—so—so hatefully.”

Billings, minus his clean white jacket, had come up the hatch and gone forward. He came back soon, showing a sullen, scowling face, as though his cheerful disposition had entirely left him.

As he reached the galley hatch, he cast upon the girl a look of such intense hatred and malevolence that Denman, white with anger, sprang to the hatch, and halted him.

“If ever again,” he said, explosively, “I catch you glaring at this lady in that manner, parole or no parole, I’ll throw you overboard.”

Billings’ face straightened; he saluted, and, without a word, went down the hatch, while Denman returned to the girl.

“He is an enlisted man,” he said, bitterly, “not a passed seaman apprentice; so I downed him easily with a few words.”

And then came the thought, which he did not express to Florrie, that his fancied limitations, which prevented him from being on the bridge, also prevented him from enlightening the morbid Billings as to the real source of the “terrible punch” he had received; for, while he could justify his silence to Florrie, he could only, with regard to Billings, feel a masculine dread of ridicule at dressing in feminine clothing.

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