If he was afraid he did not know it!
One of his mates fell back from position. It was not Torry, as Whistler immediately saw. The man’s shoulder dripped blood from a raking wound. Had it been Torry, Phil knew he would still have stepped forward, just as he was doing, and have calmly taken the place of the wounded man.
“Keep it up, boys!” grinned the wounded one. “I’ll be back soon’s the doc gives this the once over.”
The work went on. Shell, powder, breech! Ready all! A moment while the captain’s finger trembled on the trigger button. Then the hiss of air as the breech swung open, yawning for another charge.
The thousand-pound shell, hurtling through the smoke-filled air, found the vitals of the Kennebunk’s immediate enemy. It scarcely shocked Whistler when he peered out to see that vast mountain of steel burst open amidships. She sank in seconds, and the Kennebunk steamed on to attack a second monster of the deep.
The battle continued. Moments seemed longer than minutes; minutes dragged by like hours. The wonder of it all was that so much damage could be done in so short a time.
Ships that had cost months of labor to build settled and disappeared beneath the surface in a few minutes. And their crews? Best not talk about them.
History will relate in detail and with exactness, the story of this fight. The superdreadnaught, so shortly off the ways, endured her baptism of fire, coming through the battle scarred but victorious. Alone she sank two of the enemy.
Her own casualty list was small. But it was some hours after the battle before Philip Morgan made sure that his three friends were safe. Repairs and other necessary work took up the attention of the crew until long past nightfall, although the battle itself had lasted just under two hours.
Then Phil found Al first, for they had fought in the same turret. They went to look for the younger boys, and came across an agile little chap with his head done up in bandages, working with a deck-washing crew aft of Turret Number Three, which had been wrecked by a Hun shell.
“It’s Ikey!” shouted Torry. “What’s the matter with your head, Ikey?”
“Don’t say a word,” said Ikey, shaking his bandaged head. “The doc used all the gauze he had left aboard after binding those up that was really hurt.”
“But you’ve got some kind of a wound, haven’t you?” demanded Whistler.
“Oi, oi! I ought to have, eh? But it’s only that boil I had coming on the back of my neck. You remember? Somehow the head got knocked off of it and it was bleeding. So the doc grabbed me and bandaged me like this,” he added in a much disgusted tone.
It was Michael Donahue who proudly showed himself later with his arm in a sling. He had actually got a piece of shell through the flesh below his elbow. The others were inclined to scorn his wound as they did Ikey’s boil.