Those who had glasses were mostly on the upper deck, so Jimmie did not see anything of the rescue; the transports, of course, did not swerve or delay, for their orders forbade all altruisms. Even the little destroyers would not approach the raft until they had scoured the sea for miles about, and then they did not stop entirely, but slid by and tossed ropes to the people on the raft, dragging them aboard one by one. A seaman standing near Jimmie explained this procedure; it appeared that the submarines were accustomed to lurk near rafts and life-boats, preying upon those vessels which came to their rescue. Distressed castaways were bait—“live bait”, explained the seaman; the U-boats would lurk about for days, sometimes for a week, watching the people in the life-boats struggle against the waves, watching them die of exposure, and starvation and thirst, watching them signal frantically, waving rags tied on to oars, shouting and praying for help. One by one the castaways would perish, and when the last of them was gone, the U-boat would steal away. “Dead bait’s no good,” explained the seaman.
This mariner, Toms by name, came from Cornwall; for the transport was British, and so also the convoying warships—Jimmie’s fate had been entrusted to “perfidious Albion”! Seven times this Toms had been torpedoed and seven times rescued, and he had most amazing tales to tell to landlubbers, and a new light to throw on a subject which our Socialist landlubber had been debating for several years—the torpedoing of passenger-vessels with women and children on board. Somehow Jimmie found it a different proposition when he heard of particular women and children, how they looked and what they said, and what happened when they took to open boats in midwinter, and the boats filled up with water, and the children turned blue and then white, and were rescued with noses and ears and hands and feet frozen off.
Jimmie was a working-man, and understood the language of working-men, their standards and ways of looking at life. And here was a working-man; not a conscious Socialist, to be sure, but a union man, sharing the Socialist distrust of capitalists and rulers. What this weather-bitten toiler of the sea told to Jimmie, Jimmie was prepared to understand and believe; so he learned, what he had refused to learn from prostitute newspapers, that there was a code of sea-manners and sea-morals, a law of marine decency, which for centuries had been unbroken save by pirates and savages. The men who went down to the sea in ships were a class of their own, with instincts born of the peculiar cruelties of the element they defied—instincts which broke across all barriers of nations and races, and even across the hatreds of war.