« ForrigeFortsæt »
sweet with the ineffable odour of spearmint and escaping steam.
“How much the Hun was shook up by that smash,” Melton continue, "you can reckon from this: We was almost dead stopped for some minnits, an' all out o’ control from the time of rammin' till we started connin' her from the engine-room. There was one fire flickerin' in the wreckage o' the forebridge, an'another somewhere 'midships, while there was also a big glare throwin' up where the foremost funnel was shot away. We was as soft an' easy a target as even a Hun could ask for; an' yet that one was in too much of a funk wi' his own hurts to let off a singl' other gun at us in all the time that he must have been flounderin' on at not much more'n point-blank range.
Mebbe he was knocked up even more'n we thought. Nothin' else would account for him not havin' 'nother go at us.
“Just one wild bally mess—that was what the Firebran' looked like when I got my feet again an' cast an eye for'ard. There was too much smoke an' steam to see clear, an' it was mostly flickers o' red light where the fires were startin', an' big, black shadows full o' wreckage. As it looked to me from aft—tho', o' course, the full effects wasn't vis'bl’ till daylight, the bridge an' searchlight platform an' mast was shoved right back an' piled up on the foremost funnel. The whaler an’ dingy was carried away, an' my first thought, for I was sure she was sinkin', was that we had no boats to put off in. I could see two or three wounded crawlin' out o'the raffle, but I knew that the most to be dished would be in the wreck o' the bridge. The queerest thing o' all was the flashes o' green an' blue light flutterin' thro' the tangled steel o' the wreckage. At first I thought
I was sort o' secin' things; but fin'lly I figgered it out as the juice from the busted 'lectric wires short-circuitin'. It meant, I tol' myself, that the men under them tons o' steel was bein' 'lectrocuted on top o' bein' crushed.
“It looked like any one o' three or four things would be enough to finish the ol' Firebran'. I remember thinkin' that if she didn't blow up, she was sure to burn up; an' that if, by chance, she missed doin' one o' them, she was goin' to founder anyhow. She was already well down by the head, an'- leastways, it looked so to me at the timestill settlin' fast. An' I was just reflectin' that, even if she was lucky enough not to burn up, or blow up, or founder, she was still too easy pickin' for the Huns to miss doin' her in one way or 'nother, when, thunderin' out o' the darkness an' headin' up to crumpli underfoot what was left o' the stopped an' helpless Firebran', come a hulking bit battl' cru'ser, the one I was just tellin' you the 'Lympus set me thinkin' on a while back.
“Starin' at our own fires must have blinded me a good bit, or I'd have seen him sooner'n I did. He looked like he been gettin' no end o' a hammerin', for his second funnel was gone, an' out of the hole it left a big spurt o' flame an' smoke was rushin' that would have showed him up for miles. There was a red hot fire ragin' under his fo'c'sl', too, an' I saw the flames lashin' round thro' some jagged shell holes in his port bow. Lucky for us, he was runnin' for his life, an' had no time to more than try to run us down in passin'.
"It must have been just from habit I yelled down my voice-pipe, for I knew they was no longer controllin' her from the bridge; but the roarin' o' a fire an' the clank of bangin' metal was the only sounds that come back. When I looked up again the Hun was right on top of us, an' I must have just stood there—frozelike to-night wi' the 'Lympus. By the grace o' Gawd, he hadn't been abl' to alter course enough to do the trick. His stem shot by wi' twenty feet or more clearance, an' it was only the fat bulge of him that kissed us off in passin'. It was by the glare o' his fires, not ours, which throwed no light abaft the superstructure I was on, that I saw some of the hands was already workin' to rig a jury steerin' gear aft. Then he was gone, an' much too full o' his own troubles to turn back, or even send the one heavy proj that would have cooked us for good an' all. A few minutes more, an' the wreck o the Firebran' begun gatherin' way again, an' when I saw her come round to her nor'westerly course an' push ahead wi'out settlin' any deeper, I knew that the bulkheads were holdin' an' that-always providin' we run into no more Huns—there was a fightin' chance o' pullin' thro'.
“There was about a hundred jobs that needed doin' all at once, an' 'tween the loss o' dead an' woundedonly about half of the reg'lar ship's company was fit for work. The bulkheads had to be shored, for, wi' the fo'c'sl' crumpled up like a concertina an' the deck an' side platin' ripped off from the stem right back to the capstan engine, she was open to the whole North Sea from the galley right for’ard. This made the first an' second bulkheads o no use, an' made the third bulkhead all that stood 'tween us an' goin' to the bottom. Then there was the fires—'bove an' 'tween decks—that had to be put out 'fore they got to the magazines, an' the engines to be kept goin', an' the ship to be navigated, an' the wounded to be looked to. An' on top o' all this, the ship had to be got into some kind o' fightin' trim in case any more Huns come pokin' her way. I won't be havin' to tell you it was one bally awful job, carryin' on like that in the dark, an' wi' half the ship's company knocked out.
"When I saw it was the first lieutenant that seemed to be directin' things, I took it the captain was done for, an' that was what everyone thought till, all o' a sudden, he come wrigglin' out o' the wreck o' the bridge—all messed up an' covered wi' blood, but not much hurt otherways—an' began carryin' on just as if it was 'Gen'ral Quarters.' Some cove wi' the stump o' his hand tied up wi' First Aid dressin' was sent up to relieve me on the lookout, an' I was put to fightin' fires an' clearin' up the wreck 'bove decks. As there ain't much to burn on a 'stroyer if the cordite ain't started, we were not long gettin' the fires in hand, even wi' havin'-cause the hoses an' the fire-mains was knocked out—to dip up water in buckets throwed over the side. Wi' the wreckage, the most we could do was to dig out the dead an' wounded an' rig up for connin' ship from aft.
“It was a nasty job when we started in on the wreck o' the forebridge, for the witch-lights o' the short-circuit were still dancin' a cancan in the smashed an' twisted steel plates an' girders, an' it kept a cove lookin' lively to keep from switchin' some of the blue-green lightnin' into his own frame by way o' his ax or saw. that had been on any part o' the bridge was wi'out some kind o' hurt, but the three dead was a deal less than was to be expected. There was also three very bad knocked up, an' on one o' them the surgeon—a young probasuner R. N. V. R.—performed an operashun in the dark. It was a cove he was 'fraid to move wi'out tinkerin' up a bit, an' he pulled him thro' all right in
No one the end. One o' the crew of the foremost gun never turned up, an' we figured he must have been lost overboard when she rammed.
“Pois'nous as it was workin' on deck, that wasn't a circumstance to what it must have been carryin' on below. I didn't see nothin' o' that end o' the show, thank Gawd, but every man as come out o' it alive said it was just one livin' bloomin' hell, no less. There was a good number o' coves who did things off han' that saved the ship from blowin' up, or burnin' up, or sinkin', an' three o' the best o' 'em was a engine-room artif'cer, a stoker P. O., and a stoker that was in the fore stokehold when the bridge was pushed back an' carried away that funnel. They ducked into their resp'rators, stuck to their posts an' kept the fans goin' till the fumes was all cleared away. Nothin' else would have saved the foremost boiler-an' wi' it the ship herself-blowin' up right then an' there. Same way, gettin' on the jump in backin' up Number 3 bulkhead—the one that was holding back the whole North Sea—was all that kept it from bulgin' in an' floodin' right back into the stokeholds. It was the chief art'ficer engineer that took on that job, an' it was him, too, that stopped up the gaps left by the knocking down o' the first and second funnels.
“Even after it at last seemed like we was goin' to keep her from sinkin' or blowin' up, things still looked so bad to the captain that he ditched the box o' secret books for fear o' their fallin' into the hands o' the Hun. As we'd have been more hindrance than help to the Fleet, he did not try to rejoin the flotilla, but turned west an' headed for the coast o' England on the chance of makin' the nearest base while she still hung together. All night she went slap-bangin' along, wi' the