Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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"Perhaps Mr. Dene will explain," suggested Sir Lyster.

"Sure," said John Dene, "your submarine isn't a submarine at all, it's a submersible. Under water it's useless, because it can't see. As well call a seal a fish. A submarine must be able to fight under water, and until it can it won't be any more a submarine than I'm a tunny fish."

Mr. Llewellyn John nodded in eager acquiescence.

"I've spent over a million dollars, and now I've got a boat that can see under water and fight under water and do a lot of other fancy tricks."

Mr. Llewellyn John sprang to his feet.

"You have. Tell me, where is it? This is wonderful, wonderful! It takes us a year forward."

"It's on the St. Lawrence River, just below Quebec," explained John Dene.

"And how long will it take to construct say a hundred?" asked Mr. Llewellyn John eagerly, dropping back into his chair.

"Longer than any of us are going to live," replied John Dene grimly.

Mr. Llewellyn John looked at his visitor in surprise. Sir Lyster and the Admiral exchanged meaning glances. The Prime Minister was experiencing what in Toronto were known as "John's snags."

"But if you've made one – " began Mr. Llewellyn John.

"There's only going to be one," announced John Dene grimly.

"But – "

"You can but like a he-goat," announced John Dene, "still there'll be only our Destroyer."

Sir Lyster smiled inwardly. His bruised dignity was recovering at the sight of the surprised look on the face of the Prime Minister at John Dene's comparison.

"Perhaps Mr. Dene will explain to us the difficulties," insinuated Sir Lyster.

"Sure," said John Dene; then turning to Admiral Heyworth, "What would happen if Germany got a submarine that could see and do fancy stunts?" he demanded.

"It might embarrass – " began the Admiral.

"Shucks!" cried John Dene, "it would bust us up. What about the American transports, food-ships, munitions and the rest of it. They'd be attacked all along the three thousand miles route, and would go down like neck-oil on a permit night. You get me?"

Suddenly Mr. Llewellyn John struck the table with his fist.

"You're right, Mr. Dene," he cried; "they might capture one and copy it. You remember the Gothas," he added, turning to Sir Lyster.

"Sure," was John Dene's laconic reply.

"But how can we be sure they will not capture the Destroyer?" enquired Sir Lyster.

"Because there'll be John Dene and a hundred-weight of high-explosive on board," said John Dene drily as he chewed at the end of his cigar.

"Then you propose – " began Admiral Heyworth.

"I'll put you wise. This is my offer. I'm willing to send U-boats to merry hell; but only on my own terms. I won't take a cent for my boat or anything else. It's my funeral. The Destroyer is now in Canada, with German spies buzzing around like flies over a dead rat. If you agree, I'll cable to my boys to bring the Destroyer, and it won't be done without some fancy shooting, I take it! You," turning to Admiral Heyworth, "will appoint an officer, two if you like, to come aboard and count the bag.

I'll supply the crew, and you'll give me a commander's commission in the Navy. Now, is it a deal?"

"But – " began Sir Lyster.

"You make me tired," said John Dene wearily. "Is it or is it not a deal?" he enquired of Mr. Llewellyn John.

With an effort the Prime Minister seemed to gather himself together. He found the pace a little breathless, even for him.

"I think it might be arranged, Grayne," he said tactfully. "Mr. Dene knows his own invention and we might enrol his crew in the Navy; what do you think?" Mr. Llewellyn John abounded in tact.

"I take it that you understand navigation, Mr. Dene?" ventured the Admiral.

"Sure," was the reply. "You come a trip with me, and I'll show you navigation that'll make your hair stand on end. Sorry," he added a moment after, observing that Admiral Heyworth was almost aggressively bald.

"That's all right," laughed the Admiral; "they call me the coot."

"Well, is it a deal?" demanded John Dene, rising.

"It is," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "and a splendid deal for the British Empire, Mr. Dene," he added, holding out his hand. "It's a great privilege to meet a patriot such as you. Sir Lyster and Admiral Heyworth will settle all details to your entire satisfaction."

"If they do for me, I want you to give the command to Blake, then to Quinton, and so on, only to my own boys; is that agreed?"

"Do for you?" queried Mr. Llewellyn John.

"Huns, they're after me every hour of the day. There was a little chap even in your own building."

"We really must intern these Germans – " began Mr. Llewellyn John.

"You're barking up the wrong tree, over here," said John Dene with conviction. "You think a German spy's got a square head and says 'Ach himmel' and 'Ja wohl' on street-cars. It's the neutrals mostly, and sometimes the British," he added under his breath.

"In any case you will, I am sure, find that Sir Lyster will do whatever you want," said Mr. Llewellyn John as they walked towards the door.

For the second time that morning John Dene smiled as he left No. 110, Downing Street, with Sir Lyster and Admiral Heyworth, whilst Mr. Llewellyn John rang up the chief of Department Z.

CHAPTER II
JOHN DENE'S WAY

As Sir Lyster entered Mr. Blair's room, accompanied by John Dene and Admiral Heyworth, he was informed that Sir Bridgman North, the First Sea Lord, was anxious to see him.

"Ask him if he can step over now, Blair," said Sir Lyster, and the three men passed into the First Lord's room. Two minutes later Sir Bridgman North entered, and Sir Lyster introduced John Dene.

For a moment the two men eyed one another in mutual appraisement; the big, bluff Sea Lord, with his humorous blue eyes and ready laugh, and the keen, heavy-featured Canadian, as suspicious of a gold band as of a pickpocket.

"Pleased to meet you," said John Dene perfunctorily, as they shook hands. "Now you'd better give me a chance to work off my music;" and with that he seated himself.

Sir Bridgman exchanged an amused glance with Admiral Heyworth, as they too found chairs.

In a few words Sir Lyster explained the reason of John Dene's visit. Sir Bridgman listened with the keen interest of one to whom his profession is everything.

"Now, Mr. Dene," said Sir Lyster when he had finished, "perhaps you will continue."

In short, jerky sentences John Dene outlined his scheme of operations, the others listening intently. From time to time Sir Bridgman or Admiral Heyworth would interpolate a question upon some technical point, which was promptly and satisfactorily answered. John Dene seemed to have forgotten nothing.

For two hours the four sat discussing plans for a campaign that was once and for all to put an end to Germany's submarine hopes.

During those two hours the three Englishmen learned something of the man with whom they had to deal. Sir Bridgman's tact, cheery personality and understanding of how to handle men did much to improve the atmosphere, and gradually John Dene's irritation disappeared.

It was nearly three o'clock before all the arrangements were completed. John Dene was to receive a temporary commission as commander as soon as the King's signature could be obtained. The Destroyer was entered on the Navy List as H4, thus taking the place of a submarine that was "missing." John Dene had stipulated that she should be rated in some existing class, so that the secret of her existence might be preserved. In short, sharp sentences he had presented his demands, they were nothing less, and the others had acquiesced. By now they were all convinced that he was right, and that the greatest chance of success lay in "giving him his head," as Sir Bridgman North expressed it in a whisper to Sir Lyster.

A base was to be selected on some island in the North of Scotland, and fitted with wireless with aerials a hundred and fifty feet high, "to pick up all that's going," explained John Dene, conscious of the surprise of his hearers at a request for such a long-range plant. Here the Destroyer was to be based, and stores and fuel sufficient for six months accumulated. This was to be proceeded with at once.

"I shall want charts of the minefields," he said, "and full particulars as to patrol flotillas and the like."

Admiral Heyworth nodded comprehendingly.

"By the way," he said, "there's one thing I do not quite understand."

"Put a name to it," said John Dene tersely.

"How do you propose to keep at sea for any length of time without recharging your batteries?"

"We shall be lying doggo most of the time," was the reply.

"Then in all probability the U-boats will pass over you."

"We shan't be lying at the bottom of the sea, either," said John Dene.

"What!" exclaimed Admiral Heyworth, "but if your motor's cut off, you'll sink to the bed of the sea – the law of gravity."

"The Destroyer is fitted with buoyancy chambers, and she can generate a gas that will hold her suspended at any depth," he explained. "This gas can be liquefied in a few seconds. Her microphone will tell her when the U-boats are about; it's my own invention."

Sir Lyster looked from one to the other, unable to grasp such technicalities; but conscious that Admiral Heyworth seemed surprised at what he heard.

"It's up to you to see that none of your boys start dropping depth-charges around," said John Dene.

He went on to explain that he proposed a certain restricted area for operations, and that the Admiralty should issue instructions that no depth charges were to be dropped on any submarine within that area until further notice.

"There's one thing I must leave you to supply," said John Dene, as he leaned back in his chair smoking a cigar. John Dene chewed the end of a cigar during the period of negotiations, and smoked it when the deal was struck.

"And what is that?" asked Sir Bridgman.

"I shall want a 'mother' – "

"A mother!" ejaculated Sir Lyster, looking from John Dene to the First Sea Lord, who laughed loudly. Sir Lyster always felt that Sir Bridgman should have left his laugh on the quarter-deck when he relinquished active command.

"A 'mother,'" he explained, "is a kangaroo-ship, a dry-dock ship for salvage and repair of submarines. Yes, we'll fit you out."

Sir Lyster looked chagrined. He had found some difficulty in mastering naval technicalities. When war broke out he was directing a large dock from which vast numbers of troops were shipped to France. He had shown such administrative genius, that Mr. Llewellyn John had selected him for the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, with results that satisfied every one, even the Sea Lords.

John Dene then proceeded to indicate the nature of the alterations he would require made in the vessel, showing a remarkable knowledge of the British type of mother-ship.

"You ought either to be shot as a spy or made First Sea Lord," said Sir Bridgman, looking up from a diagram that John Dene had produced.

"The Hun'll try to do the shooting; and as for my becoming Sea Lord, I should be sorry for some of the plugs here."

John Dene's thoroughness impressed his three hearers. Everything had been foreseen, even the spot where the Destroyer was to be based. The small island of Auchinlech possessed a natural harbour of sufficient size for the mother-ship to enter, after which the entrance was to be guarded by a defensive boom as a safeguard against U-boats.

John Dene explained that a month or five weeks must elapse before the Destroyer would be ready for action. In about three weeks she could be at Auchinlech, crossing the Atlantic under her own power. Another week or ten days would be required for refitting and taking in stores.

"When you've delivered the goods you can quit, and I shall be pleased to see your boys again in four months."

John Dene regarded his listeners with the air of a man who had just thrown a bombshell and is conscious of the fact.

"Four months!" ejaculated Sir Lyster.

"Yep!" He uttered the monosyllable in a tone that convinced at least one of his listeners that expostulation would be useless.

"But," protested Sir Lyster, "how shall we know what is happening?"

"You won't," was the laconic reply.

"But – " began Sir Lyster again.

"If no one knows what is happening," interrupted John Dene, "no one can tell anyone else."

"Surely, Mr. Dene," said Sir Lyster with some asperity in his voice, "you do not suspect the War Cabinet, for instance, of divulging secrets of national importance."

"I don't suspect the War Cabinet of anything," was the dry retort, "not even of trying to win the war." John Dene looked straight into Sir Lyster's eyes.

There was an awkward pause.

"Who's going to guarantee that the War Cabinet doesn't talk in its sleep?" he continued. "I'm not out to take risks. If this country doesn't want my boat on my terms, then I shan't worry, although you may," he added as an afterthought. "No, sir," he banged his fist on the table vehemently. "This is the biggest thing that's come into the war so far, and I'm not going to have anyone monkeying about with my plans. I'm going to have a written document that I've got a free hand, otherwise I don't deal, that's understood."

"But – " began Sir Lyster once more.

"Excuse me, Grayne," broke in Sir Bridgman, "may I suggest that, as we are all keenly interested parties, Mr. Dene might give us his reasons."

"Sure," said John Dene without waiting for Sir Lyster's reply. "In Can'da a man gets a job because he's the man for that job, leastwise if he's not he's fired. Here I'll auction that half the big jobs are held by mutts whose granddad's had a pleasant way of saying how d'ye do to a prince. If any of them came around you'd have me skippin' like a scalded cat, and when I'm like that I'm liable to say things. I'm my own man and my own boss, and I take a man's size in most things. I'm too old to feel meek at the sight of gold bands. I want to feel kind to everybody, and I find I can do that in this country better when everybody keeps out of my way."

John Dene paused, and the others looked at each other, a little nonplussed how to respond to such directness.

"It's been in my head-fillin' quite a while to tell you this;" and John Dene suddenly smiled, one of those rare smiles that seemed to take the sting out of his words. "I'd be real sorry to hurt anybody's feelings," he added, "but we've got different notions of things in Can'da."

It was Sir Bridgman who eased the situation.

"If ever you want a second in command, I'm your man," he laughed. "Straight talk makes men friends, and if we do wrap things up a bit more here, we aren't so thin-skinned as not to be able to take it from the shoulder. What say you, Grayne?"

"Yes – certainly," said Sir Lyster with unconvincing hesitation.

"You were mentioning spies," said Admiral Heyworth.

"So would you if they'd plagued you as they've plagued me," said John Dene. "They've already stolen three sets of plans."

"Three sets of plans!" cried Sir Lyster, starting up in alarm.

John Dene nodded as he proceeded to relight the stump of his cigar. "One set in T'ronto, one on the steamer and the other from my room at the Ritzton."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Sir Lyster in alarm, "what is to be done?"

"Oh! I've got another three sets," said John Dene calmly.

Sir Lyster looked at him as if doubtful of his sanity.

"Don't you worry," said John Dene imperturbably, "one set of plans was of the U1, the first boat the Germans built, the second set was of the U2, and the third of the U9."

Sir Bridgman's laugh rang out as he thumped the table with his fist.

"Splendid!" he cried. Sir Lyster sank back into his chair with a sigh of relief.

"By the way, Dene," said Sir Bridgman casually, "suppose the Destroyer was – er – lost and you with her."

"I've arranged for a set of plans to be delivered to the First Lord, whoever he may be at the time," said John Dene.

"Good!" said Sir Bridgman. "You think of everything. We shall have you commanding the Grand Fleet before the war's over."'

Sir Lyster said nothing. He did not quite relish the qualification "whoever he may be at the time."

"About the spies," he said after a pause. "I think it would be advisable to arrange for your protection."

"Not on your life!" cried John Dene with energy. "I don't want any policemen following me around. I've got my own – well," he added, "I've fixed things up all right, and if the worst comes to the worst, well there aren't many men in this country that can beat John Dene with a gun. Now it's up to me to make good on this proposition." He looked from one to the other, as if challenging contradiction. Finding there was none, he continued: "But there are a few things that I want before I can start in, and then you won't see me for dust. You get me?" He looked suddenly at Sir Lyster.

"We'll do everything in our power to help you, Mr. Dene," said Sir Lyster, reaching for a clean sheet of paper from the rack before him.

"Well, I've got it all figured out here," said John Dene, taking a paper from his jacket pocket. "First I want a written undertaking, signed by you," turning to Sir Lyster, "and Mr. Llewellyn John that I'm to have four months to run the Destroyer with no one butting in."

Sir Lyster nodded and made a note.

"Next," continued John Dene, "I want a mothership fully equipped with stores and fuel sufficient for four months."

Again Sir Lyster inclined his head and made a note.

"I'll give you a schedule of everything I'm likely to want. Then I want an undertaking that if anything happens to me the command goes to Blake and then to Quinton. If I don't get these things," he announced with decision, "I'll call a halt right here."

"I think you can depend upon Sir Lyster doing all you want, Mr. Dene," said Sir Bridgman; "and when you see the way he does it, perhaps you'll have a better opinion of the Admiralty."

Sir Lyster smiled slightly. He had already determined to show John Dene that nowhere in the world was there an organisation equal to that of the Admiralty Victualling and Stores Departments.

"You help John Dene and he's with you till the cows come to roost," was the response; "and now," he added shrewdly, "you'd better get the cables to work and find out something about me."

"Something about you!" queried Sir Lyster.

"You're not going to trust a man because he talks big, I'll gamble on that. Well, you'll learn a deal about John Dene, and now it's time you got a rustle on."

"In all probability our Intelligence Department knows all about you by now, Mr. Dene," said Sir Bridgman with a laugh. "It's supposed to be fairly up to date in most things."

"Well," said John Dene, as he leaned back in his chair, puffing vigorously at his cigar, "you've treated me better'n I expected, and you won't regret it. Remembering's my long suit. I don't want any honour or glory out of this stunt, I just want to get the job done. If there are any garters, or collars going around, you may have 'em, personally I don't wear 'em, – garters, I mean. A couple of rubber-bands are good enough for me."

Sir Bridgman laughed, Sir Lyster smiled indulgently, and Admiral Heyworth rose to go.

"There's only one thing more; I want a room here and someone to take down letters."

"I will tell my secretary to arrange everything," said Sir Lyster. "You have only to ask for what you require, Mr. Dene."

"Well, that's settled," said John Dene, rising. "Now it's up to me, and if the Destroyer doesn't give those Huns merry hell, then I'm green goods;" and with this enigmatical utterance he abruptly left the room, with a nod, and a "See you all in the morning."

As the door closed, the three men gazed at each other for a few seconds.

"An original character," said Sir Lyster indulgently. "Going, Heyworth?" he enquired, as Admiral Heyworth moved towards the door.

"Yes, I've hardly touched the day's work yet," was the reply.

"Never mind," said Sir Bridgman, "you've done the best day's work you're likely to do during this war."

"I think I agree with you," said Admiral Heyworth as he left the room.

"Well, Grayne, what do you think of our friend, John Dene?" inquired Sir Bridgman as he lighted a cigarette.

"He's rather abrupt," said Sir Lyster hesitatingly, "but I think he's a sterling character."

"You're right," said Sir Bridgman heartily. "I wish we had a dozen John Denes in the Service. When the colonies do produce a man they do the thing in style, and Canada has made no mistake about John Dene. He's going nearer to win the war than any other man in the Empire."

"Ah! your incurable enthusiasm," smiled Sir Lyster.

"What I like about him," remarked Sir Bridgman, "is that he never waits to be contradicted."

"He certainly does seem to take everything for granted," said Sir Lyster, with a note of complaint in his voice.

"The man who has all the cards generally does," said Sir Bridgman drily. "Dene will always get there, because he has no axe to grind, and the only thing he respects is brains. That is why he snubs us all so unmercifully," he added with the laugh that always made Sir Lyster wish he wouldn't.

"Now I want to consult you about a rather embarrassing question that's on the paper for Friday," said Sir Lyster.



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