Yes, he had been lucky. From the Falklands to the Dardanelles, which was a more picturesque business than the battle. Any minute off the Straits you did not know but a submarine would have a try at you or you might bump into a mine. And the Inflexible did bump into one. She had two thousand tons of water on board. It was fast work to keep the remainder of the sea from coming in, too, and the same kind of dramatic experience as the Lion’s in reaching port. Yes, he had been very lucky. It was all a lark to that boy.
“It never occurs to midshipmen to be afraid of anything,” said one of the officers. “The more danger, the better they like it.”
In the wardroom was a piece of the mine or the torpedo, whichever it was, that struck the Inflexible; a strange, twisted, annealed bit of metal. Every ship which had been in action had some souvenir which the enemy had sent on board in anger and which was preserved with a collector’s enthusiasm.
The Inflexible seemed as good as ever she was. Such is the way of naval warfare. Either it is to the bottom of the sea or to dry docks and repairs. There is nothing half-way. So it is well to take care that you have “the range of them.”
Thus far we have skirted around the heart of things, which in a fleet is always the Commander-in-Chief’s flagship. Our handy, agile destroyer ran alongside a battleship with as much nonchalance as she would go alongside a pier. I should not have been surprised to see her pirouette over the hills or take to flying.
There was a time when those majestic and pampered ladies, the battleships—particularly if there were a sea running as in this harbour at the time—having in mind the pride of paint, begged all destroyers to keep off with the superciliousness of grandes dames holding their skirts aloof from contact with nimble, audacious street gamins, who dodged in and out of the traffic of muddy streets. But destroyers have learned better manners, perhaps, and battleships have been democratized. It is the day of Russian dancers and when aeroplanes loop the loop, and we have grown used to all kinds of marvels.
But the sea has refused to be trained. It is the same old sea that it was in Columbus’ time, without any loss of trickiness in bumping small craft against towering sides. The way that this destroyer slid up to the flagship without any fuss and the way her bluejackets held her off from the paint, as she rose on the crests and slipped back into the trough, did not tell the whole story. A part of it was how, at the right interval, they assisted the landlubber to step from gunwale to gangway, making him feel perfectly safe when he would have been perfectly helpless but for them.
I had often watched our own bluejackets at the same thing. They did not grin—not when you were looking at them. Nor did the British. Bluejackets are noted for their official politeness. I should like to have heard their remarks—they have a gift for remarks—about those invaders of their uniformed world in Scottish caps and other kinds of caps and the different kinds of clothes which tailors make for civilians. Without any intention of eavesdropping, I did overhear one asking another whence came these strange birds.