The score of each gun crew was transmitted to Washington by favor of the auxiliary steamer which towed the target, and she disappeared coastward just at sunset. The superdreadnaught was under orders to proceed on a southerly course, and parallel with the coast, for some considerable distance. She was doing outside patrol duty on this, her first real cruise.
Men and officers were first of all expected to get used to each other and to the ship. This familiarity could only come about through drills and practice work in every branch. The men must have confidence in their officers, and the officers know their men thoroughly before the commander could feel that he had a smoothly working ship’s company.
The excitement caused by the first blow struck at the enemy and the successful target practice that followed would not soon wear off. And both incidents helped the morale of the crew.
Almost every enlisted man showed delight in his face. Only Hans Hertig displayed a woful countenance. The solemnity of the boatswain’s mate attracted even Ensign MacMasters’ attention.
“What’s the matter with you, Hans?” he demanded of the petty officer.
It was difficult to get any explanation out of Seven Knott; but finally the tale of the ghostly “clock” on the lower deck was blurted out by the superstitious petty officer.
“What do you mean, a ghost?” growled the ensign. “Don’t let me hear of your repeating such nonsense, Hertig. Let me tell you it will interfere with your advance in rating if you do circulate the story. I’ll take the matter up with Captain Trevor if I hear anything more about it.”
But it was impossible to stop the circulation of such a story on shipboard. Rumor flies from deck to deck on wings. A hint of the strange noise below decks made others besides Seven Knott investigate. Many declared they heard the “tick-tock” sound.
There never was a crew at sea yet in which some of its members were not superstitious. Seven Knott was not the only one troubled by the ghostly clock. Stories of haunted ships became common among certain groups of seamen and marines during the hours off duty.
To most of the boys and enlisted men it was all a huge joke; nevertheless there were enough of the crew really superstitious for the tale of the clock-ticking sound to interfere with the general morale of the ship’s company.
The chief master-at-arms finally made what he deemed a thorough investigation of the report. But it was evident that he had made up his mind to counteract the influence of the strange sound upon the men by denying its existence.
This, of course, did no good at all. The men, or, at least, some of them, could hear the “tick-tock! tick-tock! tick-tock!” for themselves. Those who wandered into the room where the lumber was stowed were strongly impressed by the unexplained sounds. By and by the men as a rule fought shy of entering that part of the ship.