“He is the man!” said an admiral. I mean, several admirals and captains said so. They seemed to like to say it. Whenever he approached one noted an eagerness, a tightening of nerves. Natural leadership expresses itself in many ways; Sir John gave it a sailor’s attractiveness. But I learned that there was steel under his happy smile; and they liked him for that, too. Watch out when he is not smiling, and sometimes when he is smiling, they say.
For failure is never excused in the fleet, as more than one commander knows. It is a luxury of consideration which the British nation cannot afford by sea in time of war. The scene which one witnessed in the cabin of the Dreadnought flagship could not have been unlike that of Nelson and his young captains on the Victory, in the animation of youth governed with one thought under the one rule that you must make good.
Splendid as the sight of the power which Sir John directed from his quarter-deck while the ships lay still in their plotted moorings, it paled beside that when the anchor chains began to rumble and, column by column, they took on life slowly and, majestically gaining speed, one after another turned toward the harbour’s entrance.
Besides the simple word spirit, there is the simple word work. Take the two together, mixing with them the proper quantity of intelligence, and you have something finer than Dreadnoughts; for it builds Dreadnoughts, or tunnels mountains, or wins victories.
In no organization would it be so easy as in the navy to become slack. If the public sees a naval review it knows that its ships can steam and keep their formations; if it goes on board it knows that the ships are clean—at least, the limited part of them which it sees; and it knows that there are turrets and guns.
But how does it know that the armour of the turrets is good, or that the guns will fire accurately? Indeed, all that it sees is the shell. The rest must be taken on trust. A navy may look all right and be quite bad. The nation gives a certain amount of money to build ships which are taken in charge by officers and men who, shut off from public observation, may do about as they please. The result rests with their industry and responsibility. If they are true to the character of the nation by and large that is all the nation may expect; if they are better, then the nation has reason to be grateful. Englishmen take more interest in their navy than Americans in theirs. They give it the best that is in them and they expect the best from it in return. Every youngster who hopes to be an officer knows that the navy is no place for idling; every man who enlists knows that he is in for no junket on a pleasure yacht. The British navy, I judged, had a relatively large percentage of the brains and application of England.
“It is not so different from what it was for ten years preceding the war,” said one of the officers. “We did all the work we could stand then; and whether cruising or lying in harbour, life is almost normal for us to-day.”