Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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CHAPTER XII
THE DESTROYER READY FOR SEA

James Blake stood in the bows of the Toronto gazing down at the long, cigar-shaped object that lay like a huge grey cocoon reposing in her bowels. The morrow would see the Destroyer floated out to carry her three hundred odd feet of menace into the blues and greys of the ocean.

Blake was a man upon whom silence had descended as a blight; heavy of build, slow of thought, ponderous of movement, he absorbed all and apparently gave out nothing. His most acute emotion he expressed by fingering the right-hand side of his ragged beard, whilst his eyes seemed to smoulder as his thoughts slowly took shape.

As he gazed down at the grey shape of the Destroyer's hull, there was in his eyes a strange look of absorption. For nearly two years he had lived for the Destroyer. It had been wife and family to him, home and holiday, labour and recreation, food and drink. Nothing else mattered, because nothing else was. The war existed only in so far as it was concerned with the Destroyer. It was the mise en sc?ne for this wonder-boat. It was to be her setting, just as a stage is the setting for a play.

As he gazed down at her, he fumbled in the pocket of his pilot-jacket and drew forth a cigar, one of a box that John Dene had sent him. Slowly and deliberately he pulled out his jack-knife, cut off the end and, taking a good grip of the cigar with his teeth, lighted it, all without once raising his eyes from the Destroyer.

As he puffed clouds of smoke for the breeze to pick up and scurry off with to the west, he thought lovingly of the work of the last two years, of the last month in particular. Never had men worked as had James Blake and his "boys." It was not for country or for gain that they slaved and sweated; it was not patriotism or pride of race that caused them to work until forced, by sheer inability to keep awake, to lie down for a few hours' sleep, always within sound of their comrades' hammers, often beside the Destroyer herself. It was "the Boss" for whom they worked. They were his men, and this was their boat. Every time John Dene wrote to Blake, there was always a message for "the boys." "I know the boys will show these Britishers what Canada can do," he would write, or, "see that the boys get all they want and plenty to smoke." Remembering was John Dene's long suit; and his men would do anything for "the Boss."

Blake had not spared himself. When not engaged in the work of overseeing, he had thrown off his coat and worked with the most vigorous. He seemed never to sleep or rest. Every detail of the Destroyer's construction he carried in his head. Plans there had been in his shack; but what were the use of plans to a man who had every line, every bolt and nut engraved upon his brain. He had them merely for reference.

And now all was ready. That morning the Destroyer had been floated into the Toronto to see that everything on the mother-ship was in order.

Once floated out again, there remained only the taking on board stores and munitions. These lay piled upon the Toronto's deck ready at the word of command to be transferred to the Destroyer.

In design the Destroyer was very similar to the latest form of submarine: 310 ft. 6 ins. in length, she had a breadth of 26 ft. 6. ins. amidships, tapering to a point fore and aft. She carried two ordinary torpedo tubes and mounted two 3 in. guns; but these were in the nature of an auxiliary armament. Her main armament consisted of eight pneumatic-tubes, two in the bows, two in the stern, one on either bow and one on either beam. These fired small arrow-headed missiles, rather like miniature torpedoes fitted with lance-heads for cutting through nets. They had sufficient power to penetrate the plates of a submarine, and were furnished with an automatic detonator, which caused the bursting charge to explode three seconds after impact. The charge was sufficient to blow a hole in the side of a "U" – boat large enough to ensure its immediate destruction.

These projectiles were rendered additionally deadly by the fact that their heads became automatically magnetic as they sped through the water. Thus the target against which they were launched achieved its own destination. They were fitted with small gyroscopes to keep them straight until the magnetic-heads began to exert a dominating influence.

Amidships was the conning-tower, with its four searchlights, so arranged as to be capable of being used singly or together. Thus it was possible to illuminate the waters for half a mile in every direction. Above the conning-tower were two collapsible periscopes, and beneath it the central ballast, beneath which lay the charge of T.N.T. that John Dene had boasted would send the Destroyer to Kingdom Come should she ever be in danger of capture.

Abaft the conning-tower were the engines, a switchboard, and finally the berths of the engine-room staff. For'ard of the conning-tower were the berths of the crew, and still further for'ard were those of John Dene and the officers. John Dene's invention of a new and lighter storage-battery had enabled him to control the Destroyer entirely by electricity. She possessed an endurance of fifteen-hundred miles, and as for the most part she held a watching brief, this would mean that she could remain at sea for a month or more.

Her speed submerged was fourteen knots, which gave her a superiority over the fastest German craft, and she could remain submerged for two days. She could then recharge her compressed-air chambers without coming to the surface by means of a tube, through which fresh air could be sucked from the surface, and the foul discharged. These were weighted and floated in various parts in such a manner that they could be thrown out in a diagonal direction. The object of this was to protect the Destroyer from depth-charges in the event of her whereabouts being discovered by an enemy ship, which would render it dangerous for her to come to the surface.

"The Destroyer's a submarine," John Dene had remarked, "and submarines fight and live under water and not on it."

Consequently in designing the Destroyer he had first considered the special requirements entailed by the novelty of the methods she would employ. She had deck-guns, periscopes and torpedo-tubes; but they were in every sense subsidiary to those qualities that rendered her unique among boats capable of submersion, viz., her searchlights and her magnetic projectiles. Under water there were only two dangers capable of threatening her – mines and depth-charges. Properly handled and without mishap, there was no reason why she should ever return to the surface except in the neighbourhood of her own harbour.

Her most remarkable device, however, was the microphone, so sensitive that, with the aid of her searchlights it would enable the Destroyer to account for any "U" – boat that came within seven or eight miles of where she was lying.

As Blake stood surveying his handiwork, he was joined by his second-in-command, Jasper Quinton, known among his intimates as "Spotty," a nickname due to the irregularity of his complexion. Quinton was an Englishman who had gone to Canada to make his fortune as a mining-engineer. Soon after war broke out he had successfully applied to John Dene for a job, and had acquitted himself so well that John Dene had taken him into his confidence in regard to the Destroyer, and "Jasp," as he called him, had proved "a cinch." John Dene made few mistakes about men and none about women: the one he understood, the other he avoided.

"Spotty" Quint on spat meditatively upon the hull of the Destroyer. He was a man to whom words came infrequently and with difficulty; but he could spit a whole gamut of emotions: anger, contempt, approval, indifference, all were represented by salivation. If he were forced to speech, he built up his phrases upon the foundation of a single word, "ruddy"; but apparently with entire unconsciousness that it had its uses as an oath. To "Spotty" Quinton, John Dene was the "ruddy boss," his invention the "ruddy Destroyer," the enemy the "ruddy Hun," the ocean the "ruddy water." He served out his favourite adjective with entire impartiality. He no more meant reproach to the Hun than to John Dene. He tacitly accepted them both, the one as a power for evil, the other as a power for good.

As Quinton silently took up a position by his side, Blake turned and looked at him interrogatingly.

"Ruddy masterpiece," exclaimed Quinton, spitting his admiration.

Blake gazed upon the unprepossessing features of his subordinate, and tugging a cigar from his pocket, handed it to him.

Silently "Spotty" took the cigar, bit off the end and spat it together with his thanks into the hold of the Toronto. He then proceeded to light the cigar. The two men turned and made their way to the cabin allotted to them as a sort of office of works. Both were thinking of the morrow when the Destroyer would be floated out from the parent ship ready for her first voyage. In addition to John Dene and his second-in-command, she would carry Commander Ryles, who had a distinguished record in submarine warfare. He would represent the Admiralty. John Dene had experienced some difficulty at the Admiralty over the personnel of the Destroyer's crew; but he had stood resolutely to his guns, and the Authorities had capitulated. This was largely due to Sir Bridgman North's wise counsels.

"When," he remarked, "I have to choose between giving John Dene his head and being gingered-up, I prefer the first. It's infinitely less painful."

Sir Lyster had been inclined to expostulate with his colleague upon the manner in which he gave way to John Dene's demands. Sir Lyster felt that the dignity of his office was being undermined by the blunt-spoken Canadian.

"Do you not think," he had remarked in the early days of the descent of John Dene upon the Admiralty, "that it would be better for us to stand up to Mr. Dene? I think the effect would be salutary."

"For us, undoubtedly," Sir Bridgman had said drily. "Personally I object to being gingered-up. Look at poor Blair. There you see the results of the process. He ceased to be an Imperialist within twenty-four hours of John Dene's coming upon the scene. Now he goes about with a hunted look in his eyes, and a prayer in his heart that he may get through the day without being gingered-up by the unspeakable John Dene."

"I really think I shall have to speak to Mr. Dene about – " Sir Lyster had begun.

"Take my advice and don't," was the retort. "Blair and John Dene represent two epochs: Blair is the British Empire that was, John Dene is the British Empire that is to be. It's like one of Nelson's old three-deckers against a super-dreadnought, and Blair ain't the dreadnought."

"He is certainly a remarkable man," Sir Lyster had admitted conventionally, referring to John Dene.

"He's more than that, Grayne," said Sir Bridgman, "he's the first genus-patriot produced by the British Empire, possibly by the world," he added drily, proceeding to light a cigarette. "Think of it," he added half to himself, "he could have got literally millions for his invention from any of the big naval powers; yet he chooses to give it to us for nothing, and what's more he's not out for honours. Ginger or no ginger, John Dene's a man worth meeting, Grayne, on my soul he is."

Blake and Quinton seated themselves one on either side of the little wooden table in the cabin of the Toronto that answered as an office of works, Blake looking straight in front of him, Quinton absorbed in smoking and expectoration. Presently Blake took from his pocket a large silver watch, gazed at it with deliberation, then raising his eyes nodded to his companion. With a final expectoration, "Spotty" rose and left the cabin, walked over to the starboard side and climbed down into the motor-boat that lay there manned by her crew of three men.

Without a word the man with the boat-hook pushed off, the motor was started and the boat throbbed her way to the entrance to the little harbour. The crew of the Destroyer had learned from Blake the virtue of silence. For half an hour the motor-boat tore her way over the waters, heading due south. From time to time Quinton gazed ahead through a pair of binoculars.

"Starb'd," he called to the helmsman as he lowered the glass from his eyes for the twentieth time, then by way of explanation added, "The ruddy chaser." "Steady," he added a moment later.

A few minutes later a cloud of white spray indicated the approach of a small craft travelling at a high rate of speed. Quinton continued to watch the approaching boat until the humped shoulders of a submarine-chaser were distinguishable through the spume. As the boats neared each other he gave a quick command to the engineer, and the speed of the motor-boat decreased. At the same moment the curtain of spray that screened the on-coming chaser died down, her fine and sinister lines becoming discernible.

Dexterously the helmsman brought the motor-boat alongside the larger vessel and, without a word there stepped on board a little man wearing motor-goggles and a red beard of rather truculent shape, and a naval commander whom the stranger introduced to Quinton as Commander Ryles. With a nod to the man with the boathook, and a wave of his arm to those aboard the chaser, James Grant took his seat together with Commander Ryles beside Quinton, the motor-boat pushed off and, with a graceful sweep, turned her nose northwards and proceeded to run up her own track.

Grant and Quinton continued to talk in undertones, Grant asking questions, Quinton answering with great economy of words and prodigious salivation. The chaser, steering a south-westerly course, was soon out of sight.

As the motor-boat entered the little harbour, Grant's eyes eagerly fixed themselves upon the Toronto, seeming to take in every detail of her construction.

"Ready for the trial trip?" he enquired of Quinton.

"Sure," was the reply as he spat over the side.

"Jim there?"

Quinton jerked his thumb in the direction of the Toronto, for which the motor-boat was making. As they reached her the two men nimbly climbed up the side and, Quinton leading, dived below to the office of works. As they entered Blake was sitting exactly as Quinton had left him an hour and a half previously. At the sight of Grant his eyes seemed to flash; but he made no movement except to hold out his hand, which Grant gripped.

"Through with everything?" he enquired, as he seated himself, and Quinton threw himself on a locker.

"Sure," replied Blake.

"I – " began Grant, then breaking off cast a swift look over his shoulder.

Blake nodded his head comprehendingly, whilst Quinton spat in the direction of the door as if to defy eavesdroppers.

From his pocket Grant drew a map, which he proceeded to unfold upon the table. Quinton walked across and the three bent over, studying it with absorbed interest. Meanwhile Commander Ryles had been shown to his cabin.

CHAPTER XIII
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JOHN DENE

"No more Saturday afternoons for you and John Dene, little mother," cried Dorothy with forced gaiety as she rose from the breakfast table.

Mrs. West looked up quickly. "Why?" she asked, a falter in her voice.

"He's going away," announced Dorothy indifferently, as she pinned on her hat.

"To Canada?" asked Mrs. West anxiously.

"No," replied Dorothy in a toneless voice, "he's going away on business."

"Oh!" Mrs. West's relief was too obvious for dissimulation.

"He won't be back for months," continued Dorothy relentlessly, "and I shall spend my time in counting my fingers and flirting with Sir Bridgman. Good-byeeeeee," and brushing a kiss on her mother's cheek she was gone, leaving Mrs. West puzzled, more by her manner than the announcement she had made.

Arrived at the office Dorothy cleared up what remained of the previous night's work, ordered luncheon, tidied things generally, and then sat down to wait. From time to time she glanced at the watch upon her wrist, at first mechanically, then curiously, finally anxiously. For the last few days she had been more concerned than she was prepared to admit by John Dene's strangeness of manner. She was hurt that he should now treat her as if she were a stranger, whereas hitherto he had been so confidential and friendly.

Womanlike she ascribed it to illness. He had been over-working. He was a man of such impulsive energy, so full of ideas, so impatient of delays. He seemed always to want to do everything at the moment he thought of it. Incidentally he expected others to be imbued with his own vitality. He had worn himself out, she decided, or was it that he was being drugged? Time after time the idea had suggested itself to her, only to be dismissed as melodramatic.

Sometimes there would cross her mind a suspicion so strange, so fantastic that she would brush it aside as utterly ridiculous.

Luncheon arrived and no John Dene. Dorothy made an indifferent meal. One o'clock passed, two o'clock came. She had visions of him lying in his room at the hotel too ill to summon assistance. She determined upon action and rang up the Ritzton. To her enquiry as to whether or no Mr. John Dene were in came the reply that he was not. Would they find out at what time he left the hotel? It was his secretary speaking. Yes, they would if Dorothy would hold on.

At the end of what seemed an age came the reply: Mr. John Dene had left the hotel on the previous morning and had not since returned.

With a clatter the receiver fell from Dorothy's hand. It was something worse than illness then that had kept John Dene from his office! This she saw clearly. Probably he was lying dead in some out of the way spot, a victim of the hidden hand. She felt physically sick at the thought. He was such a splendid man, she told herself. Ready to give everything for nothing. The sort of man that made for victory.

Suddenly she remembered the episode of the taxi on the previous evening and became galvanised to action. What a fool she had been. Seizing the receiver of the private line to the Admiralty, she demanded to be put through to Mr. Blair. Presently she heard his mellow, patient voice. No, he had heard nothing of John Dene, nor had he seen him for several days. There was a note of plaintive gratitude in Mr. Blair's voice; but Dorothy was too worried to notice it.

Putting up the receiver, she snatched up her hat, jabbed the pins through it, one of them into her head, and almost throwing herself into her coat, dashed down the stairs and literally ran across Waterloo Place, down the Duke of York's steps into the Admiralty. She passed swiftly in and up to Mr. Blair's room, into which she burst with a lack of ceremony that convinced him she had already imbibed the qualities that made John Dene the terror of his existence.

"I want to see Sir Lyster at once," she panted.

Mr. Blair looked up at her in surprise.

"He's engaged just now, Miss West," he said mildly. "Is there anything I can do?"

"It doesn't matter whether he's engaged, you must go into him at once, Mr. Blair, and tell him I must see him."

Mr. Blair still continued to gaze at her with bovine wonder.

"Oh, you stupid creature!" Dorothy stamped her foot in her impatience. Then with a sudden movement she made for Sir Lyster's door, knocked and entered, leaving Mr. Blair gazing before him, marvelling that so short an association with John Dene should have produced such startling results. However, it was for Sir Lyster to snub her now, and he resumed his work.

Sir Lyster, Sir Bridgman North and Admiral Heyworth were bending over a table on which a large plan lay spread out. Sir Lyster was the first to look up; at the sight of the flushed and excited girl his gaze became fixed. Sir Bridgman and Admiral Heyworth followed the direction of his eyes to where Dorothy stood with heaving breast and fear in her eyes.

"Mr. Dene has disappeared!" she gasped without any preliminary apology.

"The devil!" exclaimed Sir Bridgman.

Admiral Heyworth jumped to his feet. Sir Bridgman rose and placed a chair for Dorothy into which she sank. Then she told her story, concluding with "It's all my fault for not doing something about the taxi." The three men listened without interruption. When she had concluded they looked anxiously from one to the other. It was Sir Bridgman who broke the silence.

"We had better get Walton here."

Sir Lyster nodded and going to the door requested Mr. Blair to ask Colonel Walton to come round at once on a matter of importance. Then it was that Sir Bridgman seemed to notice Dorothy's excited state. With that courtesy that made him a great favourite with women, he poured out a glass of water from a carafe on a side table and handed it to her. With her eyes she thanked him. Sir Bridgman decided that she was an extremely pretty girl. The water seemed to co-ordinate Dorothy's ideas. For the first time she appreciated that she had unceremoniously burst into the private room of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

"I – I'm very sorry," she faltered, "but it seemed so important, and Mr. Blair wouldn't let me come in."



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