The poor fellow complained a good deal about having had his voyage cut short.
“No chance for me to get a crack at the Huns,” he repeated again and again.
The boys from Seacove tried to comfort him. Ensign MacMasters told him that he had done his share, even if his fate was not so brilliant as that of men shot down in battle.
“I wouldn’t mind being shot for my country,” said the poor fellow. “But I hate like a dog to be boiled for it! There ain’t nothing heroic in this, Ensign.”
The cruise of the steamer was not unattended with peril. They were confident that German U-boats were beginning to infest the sea bordering on the Atlantic coast of the United States. One might pop up at any time and take a shot at the tender.
A sharp lookout was kept, and the gun crews scarcely slept. Every sail or streamer of smoke created excitement on board.
But the first night passed in safety and the day broke charmingly. The steamer was kept at top speed. Everything was going smoothly when, about midforenoon, they sighted a strange vessel hull down and somewhat to the northeast of their course.
It was rather hazy, and the strange craft was at some distance. Her course was not one to bring her very near that of the battleship’s steamer.
She did not appear to be more than two hundred feet long, and the concurrence of opinion was that she was some small tramp freight boat and was laden heavily. She had a high bow, rail all around, and, as far as could be seen, she flew no flag at all.
“Some old tub taking a chance with a rich cargo,” suggested the warrant officer, as Ensign MacMasters’ second in command. “Why, at the present time, freight rates are so high and wages so much advanced, that shipowners can find skippers and crews willing to take regular sieves to sea!”
“She looks peculiar,” Mr. MacMasters said. “If it wasn’t for Grant, here, being in such pain, poor fellow, I’d throw a shell at her and hold her up. But we’ve got our orders to hasten to the Roads and return again to the Kennebunk as soon as possible.”
Therefore the strange craft was allowed to pass unchallenged. Later they had reason to believe that they had made a small mistake regarding the unknown vessel, yet they had made no mistake in allowing her to go unmolested.
In time they raised the Capes of Virginia, and a few hours later steamed into the dock at Fortress Monroe. Grant, the injured fireman from the Kennebunk, was taken ashore and sent to the marine hospital.
Ensign MacMasters had his full orders from the commander of the battleship; but he had a wireless message relayed to the Kennebunk stating his arrival. The wireless instrument aboard the steamer was of too narrow a radius to reach the superdreadnaught in her present position.
Orders were soon repeated for the auxiliary craft to make for the battleship again, and laying the course for Ensign MacMasters to follow. There were storm signals flying; but the steamer was to keep near the shore until she got around Hatteras. It was presumed that she would find the Kennebunk within a week at the most, and the tender was well provisioned and took on extra fuel at the dock.