Contraband Matrimony

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Contraband

Matrimony


by

Arthur D. Howden Smith

Author of “Fair Salvage” “Primitive Christianity,” etc.

I

McCONAUGHY entered the offices of the Red Funnel Line with the soul-warming satisfaction of the man who has sixty thousand pounds banked to his credit. The clerks in the counting-room whispered behind their ledgers as he passed, for he was a great man now. No other skipper stood so high with the managing director and the board, and it was even rumored that he was to be permitted to purchase an interest in the line.

To McConaughy the stir he created meant nothing. He nodded casually to a few underlings he knew and brushed through the swinging baize-covered door that led to the private offices. Here he found himself in a lobby. The door in front of him was labeled “Managing Director;” the door to his left “Board Room,” and the door to his right “Captain’s Room.” As he hesitated a moment, a high tenor laugh echoed from behind the managing director’s door.

“Haw—haw—haw. I say, you know—haw—haw—haw. Rather neat—what? Take your bally motor to the Esplanade—what? And I said to him——

A deep bass voice rumbled indistinctly, and again there came a feeble “haw—haw.”

McConaughy compressed his lips at the obvious English accent of that labored laughter, and turned into the door marked “Captain’s Room.”

“What ho, McConaughy? Back again, eh? Where from this time?”

The speaker was Captain Craven, port superintendent of the line.

“I’m from the States. Ma ship is docked. There was worrd the young leddy wished to see me.”

“That’s right. She sent word you were to come straight up.” Craven leaned closer to him. “Who do you suppose is in there with her now?”

McConaughy shook his head.

“Lord Claragh.”

“The Claragh Line?”

“Ye guessed it.”

“An’ what for would he be there?”

Craven raised his eyebrows and winked mysteriously.

“I think little o’ his mannerr, judgin’ by the seelly foolishness o’ his laughterr,” growled McConaughy.

“That was not Claragh,” said Craven, with another wink. “’Twas his son, man—the Hon. Herbert Tibbotts.”

“Whoever he may be, he’s a fool—just that,” rejoined McConaughy. “I could all but smell he was English.”

This seemed to strike Craven as uproariously funny. McConaughy looked at him with pronounced disfavor.

“Ha’ ye some jest?” he demanded.

“In a fashion, yes,” admitted Craven, wiping away the tears which had run down to his face. “To put the case in a nutshell, McConaughy, Claragh’s anxious to marry his son to Miss McNish.”

“What? That brrayin’ donkey from the London mews?”

“Yes.”

“Hecht! An’ ye do not rresent it, any o’ ye?”

“Why should we? Lord Claragh was a shipmate of Miss McNish’s father. He was the only Englishman McNish ever cared for. This marriage was something the two of them talked over years ago, when the children were small. Besides, do ye see, the old chaps were plain cracked on the subject of joinin’ the two lines. Ye’ll imagine what that would mean. The Claragh Line and the Red Funnel together. Where would be the Cunard or the Hamburg-American? ”

“But do ye not think o’ the lassie?” cried McConaughy.

“Certainly. But ’tis time she was finding a husband.”

“Ay, but must it be a husband wit’ a brray like a mule?”

“You’re not fair to the young man, McConaughy. Lady Claragh she’d be, wi’ her own coronet, an’ the queen’s friend.”

McConaughy snorted.

“Ye’re gone daft. All ye think o’ is the line. An’ what use or mannerr o’ orrnament would be a coronet for Miss McNish? She’s well-enough wi’out such gewgaws. Friend o’ the queen! She’s a young leddy highly respected in Belfast by old an’ young, wi’ an abeelity for commerrce beyond her yearrs, an’ a disposeetion unsourred by clabberrin’ old lunatics like yourrselft What more could ye ask?”

“Well, well,” said Craven peaceably, trying to smooth down the situation. “’Tis plain to see where ye stand, McConaughy. But my advice is that ye wait until ye have seen the young man and his father. He’s a great man, Claragh.”

“Ye’re thinkin’ more o’ the fleet an’ the increased powerrs o’ the porrt superrintendent than o’ the young leddy’s comforrt, I’ll venture,” observed McConaughy dryly.

Captain Craven’s ruddy face flamed with resentment. But the tinkling of a bell beside his desk cut off his hot rejoinder, and he disappeared in the direction of the managing director’s office. In a minute he was back, still glowering.

“She’ll see ye, now,” he announced curtly.

McConaughy grinned.

“Hecht, Craven, ye’ll not be put out wi’ me for expressin’ ma opeenions?” He thrust out a hand that closed like a hawser-bight on the port superintendent’s. “Ye’re too good a friend, man, for me to quarrel wi’ overr some English pup.”

Somewhat mollified, Captain Craven returned the grip. The door shut to behind McConaughy, and the port superintendent started out; but he paused at the sound of McConaughy’s bull-voice as it roared a greeting to the managing director.

“Miss McNish! It does ma hearrt good to see ye again. An’ all the men o’ ma crrew send grretin’s, wi’ many rrecollections o’ the kindnesses ye ha’ done them. Ay, ma’am, we had a grrand voyage to the States. But tame worrk we found——

Here Miss McNish managed temporarily to stem the tide, but in a moment McConaughy burst forth again:

“How do ye do, sir? I’m glad to know ye. Ye ha’ been a mastherr, I’m told. In steam? That’s well. Ay, an’ yourr son. Young man, I like to meet yourr fatherr’s son. But I canna say ye favorr him.”

Craven laughed silently.

“Ye might know Miles McConaughy would not call any man ‘me lord,’” he murmured. “He’d not call the king on his throne ‘your majesty.’ He’d give the king his just due, ye may wager. He’d call him ‘king’ and hand him a ‘sir,’ now and then, as befits a man o’ position in the world. But he’d never let the king nor anybody else get from him any title that admitted another man was bom to more respect than is comin’ to Miles McConaughy.”

And chuckling, Craven went out and shut the door after him.

 

II

McCONAUGHY had eyes only for Miss McNish when he entered the managing director’s office. His keen glance noted the fine-drawn wrinkles new-come to her brow, the tensity of mouth, the indefinable shadow that masked her square-chinned, honest face. He knew there was nothing in the affairs of the line that could worry her to that extent, and instantly his anger seethed within him at the thought of the gossip of his fellow skippers and what it meant.

“Poorr lassie,” he told himself.

There was one woman in the world, and only one, for whom Miles McConaughy was willing to check his feelings—and she was Miss Tabitha McNish, managing director of McNish’s Red Funnel Line. She had stood by him in the past. She had stood by his men, better still. McConaughy was never a woman’s man. In fact, he was an ardent woman-hater, on general principles, and despite his Presbyterianism, entertained privately some Mohammedan notions regarding the probability of female participation in the joys of paradise.

But Miss McNish was different. There was something almost masculine, something that was certainly inspiring of trust, in the firm set of her jaw, the straight flash of her eye, the aggressive, open-minded personality that surrounded her. McConaughy often said to himself that if he had a daughter he would like her to be “the spit an’ image o’ the young leddy.” That title, by the way, was by itself sufficient indication of the respect in which he held her. He knew no other “leddy.”

So if Miss McNish wanted him, Miles McConaughy, to treat Lord Claragh and the Hon. Herbert Tibbotts with friendliness that was all there was to be said on the subject. Miss McNish rewarded his hearty response with a look of warm appreciation. Lord Claragh observed McConaughy with unconcealed interest. The Hon. Herbert Tibbotts, after one yawning glance, turned away and swung his dangling legs listlessly, whilst he surveyed the studies in oils of the steamers that decorated the walls.

It would be idle to say that McConaughy was unimpressed by Lord Claragh. There was not a sea-captain in the world ignorant of the story of the rise of this Liverpool lad from the bridge of a tramp-steamer to the ownership of the greatest one-man line in the world. Plain William Tibbotts, he had been, Bill Tibbotts to Miss McNish’s father and the shipmate of his youth. Now, he was a viscount and baron, a peer of the realm, a privy councillor, friend and confidant of kings, builder of empire, hero of countless legends, participant in the financing of nations, dictator of the fate of ports, wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of Carthage and Tyre, demigod of the humble, symbol of attainment to mariners wherever his house-flag was known.

He was an old man, but a man still possessed of boundless vitality, whose gray eyes smoldered under heavily-thatched, white eyebrows, whose rumpled, frosty hair grew thick all over his massive head, whose huge, big-boned figure was held erect by the indomitable will that refused to submit to three-score and ten. He was known for a hard man. He never forgave a mistake. He was irritable, dictatorial, hard-headed, passionately wedded to his own way, a born egotist. But he loved a man for being a man.

“Ha,” he growled in a rasping, deep-sea voice that had proved itself against the hurricane. “So you’re Captain McConaughy. I’ve heard of you, Captain. You’re a man after my own heart.”

“And I ha’ hearrd o’ ye, sir,” answered McConaughy seriously.

Lord Claragh chuckled.

“Doubtless,” he agreed. “You’re just in from sea,’I hear. Have you salvaged any derelicts or confounded the king’s enemies?”

“There are none such in the Norrth Atlantic lanes.”

“That speaks well for the navy.”

“Why wouldna the navy pen in half their strength or less?” flashed McConaughy. “Hecht, it’s taken the English long enough to learrn the way. I lost ma own ship, the William an’ Mary, out o’ their dodderrin’ self-suffeeciency that wouldna admit a Gerrman Dutchman could outwit them.”

“Captain McConaughy has strong views on this subject,” interposed Miss McNish hastily. “He had an unfortunate experience early in the war. You may have heard.”

Lord Claragh chuckled again.

“The Bad Samaritan story, eh?” he said. “I heard. Well, a man with your record is entitled to his own opinion on naval matters. I’ll not try to gainsay you. But what would you say if you were told the navy wanted your help?”

“Say?” snorted McConaughy. “Well, sir, ’twould depend on who said it, but I’d be sorre tempted to laugh in his face.”

“I say it.”

McConaughy hesitated and glanced at Miss McNish.

 

THE Hon. Herbert Tibbotts, who had surveyed every picture on the walls with ever increasing boredom, grew weary of his lot at this point and rose languidly from his chair. He was a tall, excessively thin young man, with a carefully cultivated stoop, a long, narrow face and ash-colored hair. He wore a morning-coat, a monocle and a very lackadaisical air.

“Oh, I say, governor,” he protested in an extreme Oxford drawl. “You’re taking rather long to get to the point, aren’t you? Why not put it to the Johnny straight, what? Perfectly simple matter. Ask him, and be done with it. Ah, don’t you agree with me, Miss McNish?”

“Sit down, Herbert,” said his father impassively.

The Hon. Herbert sat down.

“The fact is as I have stated, Captain,” resumed Lord Claragh. “The navy wants your help. I have asked permission of Miss McNish to put the proposition before you. She has said it is for you to decide whether to accept it or not.”

“That is quite true, Captain McConaughy,” supplemented Miss McNish, “I think you’ll be interested in what Lord Claragh has to say.”

McConaughy sat down.

“I’ll hearr ye,” he said briefly.

A smile flitted across Lord Claragh’s face. Here was no ordinary man, and instinctively he abandoned the arguments he had marshaled in advance, and told his story in plain, forthright terms.

“You know the North Sea?”

“Fairrly well. As a lad I was in trawlerrs off an’ on.”

“Then you know the North German coast up by the Danish frontier? The North Friesian Islands?”

“Ay.”

“Good. It’s a desolate coast—no need to tell you that. Sand-banks and shoal water for miles out to sea. Our war-craft have steered a wide berth of it, for fear of mines and because there were no advantages to be gained close inshore. There are no towns worth the bombarding, a fishing village, now and then, that’s all. Now, for reasons I can’t disclose, the Admiralty want more definite information of the seas between the Jutland Bank and Röm, the northernmost of the North Friesians. The task is not as easy as it sounds. Röm must be visited, the coast searched for information of patrols and military posts.

“It will also be necessary to enter Danish waters. The Admiralty wish to know for certain if the Germans have established themselves in any way on the Island of Fano, if they have planted mines in any of the Danish territorial waterways, where submarine bases could be located and where there are depths of water close inshore in which submarines might operate.

“For many reasons this work can not be done by a regular naval craft. Also, it requires a man of unusual ability and initiative, rather above the standard of the destroyer cub. It is dangerous, of course. Much more dangerous than periscope-potting off the Dogger Bank. But the men who go will be regularly commissioned as volunteer officers of the Royal Navy, and their crew will have regular status, as well. If possible, the work is to be done secretly and at night. For full success the enterprise should never become known to the enemy or to the Danes.

“I have just given the navy for this purpose my new speed-yacht Saucy Mona. She can do thirty-two knots or better, and the builders sent her over from the States under her own power. I designed her myself for fast going in rough weather. She’ll stand up to anything that a destroyer can live through, and a dozen men can handle her. Will you take command?”

“Umph,” grunted McConaughy.

“As to your cruise, you can make your own arrangements,” Lord Claragh went on. “There is just one request I should like to make—as a personal favor. I want my son to go along as a volunteer. I can’t let him go into khaki. It would not be right for my son and the man who will succeed to the Claragh Line to fight through this war on land. You see the point, I’m sure? I ask you, as a sailor, Captain McConaughy.”

The frown which had been deepening on McConaughy’s face lifted slightly.

“If the sea’s in a man’s blood ’twill worrk its will,” he pronounced judiciously.

Lord Claragh hesitated.

“My son is—er—a fairly good sailor, I think I may say. I have had decided ideas about his career, Captain McConaughy. He has been two voyages to Australia as apprentice, and if it had not been for the war he would have made a number more. I believe a ship-owner should know his own problems.”

The Hon. Herbert Tibbotts, who had been twining and untwining his legs throughout his father’s lengthy speech, interrupted again.

“I say, governor, you haven’t twigged it at all, you know. You’ve forgotten the one bally thing that makes me jolly well worth while. Haw—haw-haw! I say, you know, Miss McNish, that’s rather good, what? If I do say it myself, rather good. The fact of the matter is, Captain—Captain—oh, yes, Captain McHoneybee—I’ve been out in these submarine-catchers, and the governor fixed it so I could take a course in the machine-gunners school at Bisley. They tell me I’m a cracking fine shot with a Lewis gun.”

Miss McNish had been tapping on the desk with a pencil during this oration. But she hastened to add—

“It’s quite true, Captain McConaughy, Mr. Tibbotts is a first-rate gunner. Lord Claragh thought you might take him along as machine-gun officer, as the Saucy Mona has two guns—I think you said?”

She appealed to Lord Claragh.

“Quite so,” he said. “But I haven’t used what I think is my strongest argument of persuasion, captain. I particularly want you to accept this task, because I should like to have my son see active service of this character under your tutelage.”

McConaughy shook his head.

“Ye’ll do me the justice to believe I wouldna accept o’ an underrtakin’ as important as this out o’ vanity,” he said. “For the rest, ye must leave me to talk it overr wi’ Miss McNish.”

“Then you won’t give me an answer now?”

Lord Claragh’s bristling eyebrows drew down in a gesture of savage impatience.

“No,” stated McConaughy calmly.

Lord Claragh started to say something, then shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

“You’re in the right of it, Captain McConaughy,” he admitted, “although it is not to my taste to await an answer. When may I hear from you?”

“Before evening.”

“Very good.” Lord Claragh turned to Miss McNish. “My dear Tabitha, you should go a little easy on yourself. The Red Funnel Line must be earning dividends every bit as large as the Claragh Line, so you have nothing of that kind to fret yourself unduly over. You’re carrying too heavy a load, my dear, too heavy a load. As your dear father’s friend, I can’t stand by and see it, without a word of advice.”

“And yet you are taking my best captain away from me,” she objected with sudden bitterness.

Lord Claragh looked uneasy.

“Only temporarily, my dear, and you agreed it’s what we call ‘doing our bit’.”

“Doing Captains McConaughy’s bit, you mean. Ah, well, don’t mind me.”

“And shall you be in Liverpool next week?” pressed Lord Claragh, as he picked up his stick and gloves. “Then you’ll dine with us, of course. Herbert is looking forward to it, aren’t you, lad?”

The Hon. Herbert ceased munching the handle of his stick, stifled a yawn and agreed:

“Quite right, governor, quite right.”

Lord Claragh gave McConaughy a handshake in passing toward the door.

“You’re a man after my own heart, Captain,” he repeated. “I’d like to hear the story of that salvage coup some time. It reminds me of my young days.”

The Hon. Herbert likewise ventured a handclasp, but winced at McConaughy’s bear grip.

“Ah—ah—charmed to have met you, Captain—Captain—ah—McHoneybee. I shall look forward to this—ah—voyage with you. Rather different from a chug-chug up the Mersey, what? Good, that. Haw—haw—haw. If I do say it myself, rather good, eh, Miss McNish?”

 

McCONAUGHY stared after him in dumb amazement. The Picadilly nut was as strange to him as a monkey on a stick. He had known many odd characters, but nothing like this. The idea of going to sea with such a person simply appalled him. He seriously doubted the young man’s sanity. In fact, so worried had he been on this point that he had passed over without resentment the mistake in his name and the irritating drawl and lady-like punctiliousness of accent.

“Well?” said Miss McNish, breaking in on his silence.

McConaughy came to himself with a start.

“Hecht,” he said, “I was wonderrin’ was the young man sane.”

She repressed a smile.

“I’m afraid he is, Captain.”

Something in the way she spoke drew his attention.

“Ye’ll ha’ worrries on your mind, as the lorrd said,” he exclaimed.

“Nothing worth mentioning. But tell me. Shall you accept Lord Claragh’s proposition?”

A look of positive horror dawned on McConaughy’s face.

“What? Go to sea wi’ that loon?”

“Oh, he’s not so bad. Besides, you must remember that it would be an undertaking after your own heart—a chance for fine seamanship, and perhaps a fight before you got back.”

“Humph,” grunted McConaughy uncompromisingly.

Miss McNish drew intricate patterns on her desk-pad.

“Lord Claragh did not tell you his real reason for the enterprise,” she said suddenly. “He is deathly afraid his son will have to join the army. Anything would be better than that, and he looks upon his cruise as a sop to the authorities. If they will permit him to lend Mr. Tibbotts for occasional sea-forage he will be satisfied.”

“The more ye say, the less prejudiced I am for the mattherr,” barked McConaughy.

“You mustn’t consider me in making up your mind,” she continued. “If you can be of any use to the navy, I feel that I have no right to withhold your services. At the same time, I shouldn’t care to undertake the responsibility of ordering you or any of your men into danger.”

“They’ll be uncommon strrange to danger, ma men,” commented McConaughy with unusual wit.

“Well, will you go?”

“For why should I inconvenience maself for the self-suffeecient English navy an’ a man wi’ no claim upon me but soft worrds an’ a sickly son?” countered McConaughy. “Is there aught bindin’ the Red Funnel an’ the Claragh?”

Miss McNish shielded her face with her hand and continued to draw geometric patterns over the blotter.

“No,” she said finally. “There is no tie between the Red Funnel and the Claragh.”

She paused.

“Not yet,” she added after a moment.

McConaughy gasped.

“Then there’ll be truth in the yarrns I ha’ hearrred?” he challenged.

“Well,” said Miss McNish, smiling nervously, “if you’d only tell me the kind of yarns, Captain McConaughy.”

“About your marrryin’ that—that”—he jerked inarticulately toward the door.

She nodded.

“But—but—are ye daft?”

For the first time she looked up at him squarely.

“Captain McConaughy,” she said, “I don’t suppose you have the faintest idea of the pressure that can be brought to bear upon a woman in my position in a case like this. In the first place, my father and Lord Claragh talked about the—the—marriage”—she rapped out the word with a venom that impressed even McConaughy—“when we were children. It was the wish of my father’s heart—one of the last things he said to me. Lord Claragh thinks that I would have a good effect on Herbert, steady him down, get him interested in the business. And he wants to see the lines brought together. Everybody has the same desire—even my own employees. Do you know you are the first person who has indicated opposition to the idea?”

McConaughy opened his mouth, then felt there was nothing for him to say.

“There is a stunning effect in concerted pressure by many wills upon a single individual,” she went on. “You can not imagine how it affects one. I am conscious continually of all these people wishing a certain thing. It baffles me. It wears me down. I am not emotional, Captain, but I begin to feel as though it would be easier to give in.”

A crooked smile twisted her mouth.

“Besides, you know, I’m getting on. I’m not so young as I was—the women all tell me that. Sometimes it seems it would be good to have a man to lean on.”

“Ay, but not to supporrt,” protested McConaughy. “If ye would ha’ a man, lassie, tak’ one will not expect ye to think for him. Ye’re an extraorrdinarr’ likely crreaturre, if ye will not mind ma sayin’ so, an”tis plain rridiculous to suppose ye are required to bind yourself wi’ a monkey in a paper-collarr.”

“Why, you talk as if you meant it, Captain!” she cried.

“I do mean it, ma’am.”

“I wish I had some more friends like you. But no. What is the use?” She shook her head sadly. “You’ll be sailing off again presently, and then——

McConaughy brought his fist down with a crash upon the desk.

“I have it,” he shouted in a voice that carried out to the counting-room.

“You have what?”

“A—the—the—well, what ye might——

He scratched his head uncomfortably.

“I’m just a bit excited, ma’am,” he apologized at last. “But don’t ye worrry longerr. I ha’ thoughts in ma mind. Ye shall not do what ye willna.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. Have you——

But he was at the door before she could stop him.

“Oh, Captain,” she called as he slipped into the hall, “what shall we tell Lord Claragh? We had both better have the same story, so in case——

“I’ll be goin’,” he answered briefly.

Surprise lighted up her face.

“You’ll accept?” she exclaimed.

“Ay. If ye meant what ye said about givin’ me leave.”

“Oh, yes, to be sure,” she replied vaguely. “But—but——

“’Twill tak’ only a few days, wi’ luck,” he assured her.

“But why—you know Mr. Tibbotts is to go along?”

A satanic grin wreathed McConaughy’s face.

“Ay,” he said soulfully.

 

III

SHE’LL be unco well-favored, I’ll say that for her.” Thus Jock Grant, McConaughy’s first officer, as he cast an appraising eye along the Saucy Mona's hull. “But man, Skipperr, she fair shrieks o’ the sinfu’ness o’ niches.”

“I ne’er knew ye to disclaim the advantages o’ wealth, Jock,” remarked McConaughy dryly.

“Aweel, I’ll nae deny I hae a properr appreeciation o’ the value o’ siller, but I wouldna spend it on a toy like yon.”

“I believe ye.”

They were joined on the dock by Evan Apgar, McConaughy’s chief engineer, fresh from the engine-room. His face was still flushed with enthusiasm, and one hand crumpled a handkerchief, the only substitute for his pet ball of waste that he had been able to find.

“She’ll pe t’e graandest pit craaft I efer tit see, whateffer,” he exploded. “Engines like a waatche’s works. An’ clean! Why, I hafe peen eferywhere pelow an’ t’ere is no tirt on me. So smaall an’ so powerrful. T’irrty-two knots an ’our. T’ink o’ it, Jock. T’irrty-two knots an ’our! When we got fourteen out o’ t’e old Joan we t’ought we were doin’ t’ings.”

“She’s a good boat o’ her kind,” agreed McConaughy.

“She’s new to me,” Evan went on. “I hafe hearrt o’ t’ese motor-poats but nefer tit I see one pefore. Ye coult put her engines in t’e tingy an’ row ’em ashore.” He shook his head sadly. “Put I tell ye t’e truth, Skipperr, I caannot taake t’e responsipility o’ engines I to not know.”

“Don’t fash yourself, Evan,” returned McConaughy quietly. “I ha’ seen to that. Claragh’s own engineer goes along. He’ll be under ye, but ma thought is that ye’ll let him do all the worrk. I’ll want ye an’ Jock to help me in more imporrtant mattherrs. We’ll tak’ a picked crew. There’s room for no more than twenty, an’ the men we ha’ will be busy all the time.”

“She’ll hae machine guns fore an’ aft, I see,” commented Jock.

“Ay. Young See-the-worrld is theirr keeperr.”

Jock swung around with a wrinkle between his eyes.

“Ye’ll mean the lad no harrm?” he asked. “I’m no wishfu’ tae impute aught tae ye, Skipperr, but ’tis a——

“Hecht!” said McConaughy impatiently. “He’ll be in uniforrm. I ha’ seen to that. His Majesty’s Royal Naval Rreserrve—no less. Ye ken what that means.”

“But they Germans——

“Leave mattherrs to me, Jock. I ha’ thought all out. I trreasurre no evil intentions against the lad. He’s a fool, but he can’t help that. He’ll come out bettherr an’ wiserr for the experriences I ha’ in storre for him.”

Evan nodded wisely.

“Ye say truth, Skipper. A Gotless life he must hafe lifet, py whaat ye hafe tolt us. Atverrsity will pe goot for him. T’ere is naught prings religion to a man like t’e scourrge o’ pain an’ haart’ship. T’e young man is lucky.”

“I hope he thinks so,” remarked McConaughy grimly.

“An’ wull there be fechtin’?” queries Jock with a wistful note in his voice.

“I canna say more than I ha’, Jock. If the Germans do not be plain fools an’ incompetents—an’ ma observations so farr do not stamp ’em such—we must ha’ some chance at ’em.”

“Whaat apout t’e nafy’s reasons for t’is pusiness?” asked Evan.

McConaughy shrugged his shoulders.

“I will na worrry about the navy’s thoughts,” he answered. “They ha’ suddenly discoverred they know nothin’ about something they should know all about. So they send us to discoverr it for ’em. That’s the navy’s way, an’ as it is exactly what I should expect ’em to do, I see no prroblem to be solved.”

“Good,” rumbled a deep voice behind them. “There’s a man who isn’t afraid to speak what he thinks.”

McConaughy turned slowly to face Lord Claragh, who was accompanied by Miss McNish and his son.

“I ha’ neverr concealed ma opeenion yet, sir,” he returned calmly. “If the Admirralty everr want it, ’tis their’s for the askin’.”

Lord Claragh chuckled.

“I’ll wager. Who are these men with you?”

“Ma firrst officerr, Mr. Grant. Ma chief, Mr. Apgar.”

Lord Claragh shook hands with each.

“I’ve heard of you two. Like skipper, like crew, eh? Wish I could be conscienceless enough to pry you away from the Red Funnel.”

“Ye couldnae, sir,” stated Jock simply.

“Eh?” Lord Claragh looked puzzled.

“He’ll mean our serrvice wi’ Miss McNish is na an affairr o’ pounds an’ shillin’s,” explained McConaughy.

The bushy eyebrows of the Lord of the Claragh Line, master of fleets and argosies, bent together in a straight ridge. Then he decided to laugh.

“How I envy you, Tabitha,” he said. “There are no men in my line I could say that of.”

Miss McNish looked almost beautiful at that moment.

“They mean it, too,” she said.

“We do,” endorsed McConaughy.

“The feminine influence goes for something, then,” remarked Claragh with a touch of pleasant cynicism.

But McConaughy frowned.

“’Tis a mattherr between honest Christians, that’s all,” he said.

“Humph, I wish I could find some of the same sort of Christians. Any time you want—but I’m not a recruiting sergeant. Tell me what you think of the Mona?"

“She’ll do.”

“If she lacks anything you have only to ask for it.”

“She’ll do,” McConaughy repeated. “Wi’ the engineer ye spoke o’ and the storres cited in the indents we shall be all rright. I’ll tak’ twenty o’ ma own crew.”

The Hon. Herbert Tibbotts returned from a saunter up the dock in the interests of diversion, in time to overhear this last statement.

“I say, governor,” he volunteered, “don’t you think the old tub would do better if we had a navy man or two along? No offense to you, Mr.—that is, Captain—Captain McHoneybee.”

McConaughy’s teeth showed for an instant between his tight-drawn lips, but otherwise he restrained the sudden murderous impulse that took possession of him.

“No, Herbert,” Lord Claragh said firmly. “I see no reason for employing navy officers. In fact, the Admiralty people are particularly anxious to give Captain McConaughy a free hand.”

“Quite so, quite so. But then, you know, governor, it’s no child’s play, this driftin’ up to Germany’s front-door and rappin’ to see if Kaiser Bill is home. I say, Miss McNish, not a half-bad way to put it, what? I’ll try that out at the club when I get back, eh?”

Miss McNish, with an appealing glance at McConaughy, put a resolute hand on the Hon. Herbert’s arm.

“Come, and show me how the machine guns work,” she said.

“Oh, rather. But I didn’t think you were interested. It’s like the girl at the Variety who meets the old codger in the antiquary shop, you know, and he says, ‘Why, bless me, my dear, I didn’t know——’”

They disappeared toward the speedboat’s fo’c’s’le, and McConaughy slowly regained control of himself. Evan was muttering openly.

“You said something, Mr. Apgar?” asked Lord Claragh.

“Naught,” snapped Evan.

“Ah. And what do you think of the Mona's engines?”

“Goot enough, inteet.”

Lord Claragh turned to Jock.

“Did you notice the steering-gear?” he said. “They tell me she can all but turn on her tail.”

“She’ll be weell-foundit,” conceded Jock.

Lord Claragh looked somewhat humorously at McConaughy.

“I’m glad you all like her. And I do think she’ll stand up for you. But it doesn’t matter whether you bring her back or not—so long as you get the information you are after. Remember, though, I’d rather see you all safe than anything else.”

“We ha’ lived through worrse nor this is likely to be,” said McConaughy.

“How soon can you get away?”

“Any time ye say. Tomorrer momin’?”

“That will be excellent.”

Lord Claragh looked around him nervously. Then, satisfied that no eavesdroppers were present, he continued—

“I think it only right to tell you, Captain McConaughy, that I am particularly anxious to keep my son incommunicado, as it were. He is, I may say, inclined to be susceptible—especially to young women. I have learned lately of an incipient affection which has sprung up between him and a person—a—a—to be frank, a theatrical person. It is not the first. I have—well, I have paid substantial prices before. I regard this enterprise as a Godsend, if it suffices to keep him out of the way until she can be disposed of. I have plans for my son, which make it necessary that he should be protected against those who impose upon his good-nature.”

“Do ye tell me so?” replied McConaughy. “Hecht, sirr.”

And while he affected to blow his nose he winked vigorously at Jock and Evan, who wandered off presently behind a dismantled landing-stage to give vent to their mirth.

“He’s suscepteeble, mon,” appealed Jock. “He’s tae be kepit in—what did the auld lorrd say?”

“I caannot tell’ee,” rejoined Evan. “Put we’ll keep him so, Jock.”

“Ay, he’ll be weell keepit care o’, puir loon.”

 

IV

THE knife-bow of the Saucy Mona sliced through the first foam-capped surge off White Head, then swung northward on the course by the Maidens, that isolated clump of rocks crowned by a lighthouse off the Ulster coast, a scant hour’s run from the mouth of Belfast Lough. Trawlers and destroyers of the submarine patrol, charged with keeping the North Channel free from the German commerce raiders, were the only craft they met. So vigilant was the patrol that there was little danger from the elusive under-sea boat, but McConaughy judged precaution wise, and he traveled at twenty miles an hour, an easy clip for the Mona, with lookouts fore and aft and his machine guns uncased and ready.

An hour and a half passing the Maidens, they sighted Rathlin Island. Off to star board was the Mull of Kintyre, and as they dropped the rocky coast of Ireland abeam they struck the heavier swells that boomed in from the North Atlantic, checked only by the Hebrides. In a short time they were out of sight of land, and to McConaughy’s intense delight the Hon. Herbert became painfully ill. Abandoning the for’ard machine gun, which he had insisted upon serving, the heir of the Claragh Line succumbed groaning in the scuppers. McConaughy saw to it that more than one wave-top licked over him, but he never stirred, except to gulp and groan.

“A bonnie laddie tae be ownerr o’ kittle ships,” said Jock Grant disgustedly. “Wad ye e’er dream de was the son o’ his daddie? He’ll hae nae mair o’ the sailorr i’ him than sensabeelity.”

“He’ll ha’ been severral voyages to Australia, the old man said,” answered McConaughy.

“Ay, an’ ye’ll ken fine what that meant,” returned Jock. “The ownerr’s son, an’ a’ hands fashin’ theirrselves tae mak’ siccar wi’ him, bowin’ an’ scrapin’ an’ bletherrin’. ‘Are ye sick, Mr. Tibbotts? Dinna fyke ye’reself wi’ duties ony lad i’ the crew may do juist as weell. Lie ye doon i’ ye’re cabin an’ rest.’”

“Hecht, there na talk the like o’ that on a vessel I command,” declared McConaughy. “Ma young lorrd will ha’ had rest enough by now.”

With which he abandoned the little bridge, raised man-height above the deck, and strode down upon the luckless Tibbotts.

“Mistherr Tibbotts!” he called.

The Hon. Herbert made no answer.

“Mistherr Tibbotts!”

A groan was the only acknowledgement.

McConaughy stopped, seized one shoulder and yanked the limp figure to its feet.

“When the mastherr o’ a craft, whetherr navy or merrchant marrine, calls to a memberr o’ his crew, officerr or seaman, he expects instant answerr,” he said sternly. “Mind that, ma laddie. Your fatherr’s son should know bettherr.”

The Hon. Herbert dashed the salt water from his face and essayed weak anger.

“Wh-wh-what do you mean, my—my—good man?” he chattered, for he was really cold and miserable. “D-d-don’t y-you know m-my father is L-l-lord Claragh? You sh-sh-shouldn’t speak t-to me like th-that.”

McConaughy held him off at arm’s-length and surveyed him steadily for as much as a minute. Then he delivered himself of a speech which was quite incomprehensible to the Hon. Herbert.

“Ye poor drowned rat o’ a misbegotten side-swipe o’ fantastical English conceit,” he said softly. “’Twas in ma mind maybe I cherrished too harrd feelin’s towarrd ye, but from this minute I ha’ only pleasure in the contemplation o’ your fate. Thank yourself for it.”

“But you mustn’t talk to me like that,” almost sobbed the Hon. Herbert. “It isn’t right, you know. Why, it isn’t done. Really, I assure you, you have quite the wrong conception of your duties. Laying aside all question of class, and quite as man to man——

“Bill Tibbotts’ son talkin’ o’ class an’ class,” muttered McConaughy, with a shake of his head. “Young man, ye ha’ much to learrn—more than I ha’ time to teach ye at this time. Come wi’ me.”

Still with an efficient grip on the Hon. Herbert’s dripping shoulder, he led him toward the cabin-companionway, despite the protests and feeble physical opposition offered to their progress.

“Bide, bide,” urged McConaughy, when temper flared in childish resentment. “Ye’ll mak’ a spectacle o’ yourrself beforre the men. Think o’ class an’ class, laddie. ’Twould never do, never. Gently, now.” They gained the stairs. “Here’s your cabin. Now, in ye go.” A dexterous push, and the Hon. Herbert landed in his berth. “Become a shaderr o’ a man, laddie. That’s ma counsel. Learrn humeelity an’ seamanship. Ye ha’ farr to go.”

And McConaughy shut the door.

“{{bar|2} you,” cried the Hon. Herbert, turning over in the bunk as the door slammed. “I don’t like you. I say you know, really, I despise you. You have annoyed me—fearfully!”

A chuckle was audible from outside.

“I shall tell my father, most certainly,” threatened the Hon. Herbert, tears welling into his pale eyes.

“In good time, ma lad, in good time,” the mocking voice returned. “An ’twill be verra good time, I’ll assurre ye.”

On deck again, McConaughy drew a long breath of the clean salt air. Mr. Grant received him with an appreciative grin as he ascended the bridge-ladder.

“Guid worrk, sirr,” said the first officer. “Ye ha’ savit us a’ trouble by grapplin’ wi’ the gomeril at the starrt-off o’ things. When he comes to, he’ll ken his poseetion i’ the worrld.”

“Ay,” said McConaughy, “he should ha’, a more properr appreciation o’ the evil o’ bein’ borrn English. But I’ll say frankly, Mr. Grant, I wouldna ha’ the handlin’ o’ him for any length o’ time for his fatherr’s interest in the Claragh Line.”

Early in the afternoon they sighted the now lanternless tower of Skerryvore, breaking the endless sea-line to port. To starboard the mass of Ben Hynish loomed up on the misty coast of Tiree, and they entered the great gulf which separates Skye and the lesser islands of the Scottish coast from the Outer Hebrides.

To Jock these dangerous waters were old-time memories of his youth, and he made nothing of piloting the Saucy Mona in darkness through the narrow gut of the Little Minch and on by starlight through the North Minch, dodging the shoals of Shiant Bank. They rounded Cape Wrath before dawn, and morning found them well to the north of Scotland. A submarine-chaser of the motor-patrol, a craft close akin to their own, raced up to demand identification, and then they bore on for the Orkneys. Late that afternoon the British guardships passed them through the Pentland firth, where submarine nettings stretched in zig-zag lines toward the lair of Britain’s mighty battle-fleet.

Here McConaughy tarried no longer than he had to. He was afraid that he might be pestered by some new orders from the Admiralty, and he wished to make use of the dark hours ahead to slip through the North Sea, without being seen by any chance German patrols and gain the shoal waters in the neighborhood of the dangerous Horn Reef or Great Jutland Bank, where he might feel reasonably safe from hostile curiosity and any force except the God of Storms. Against this last contingency, he was particularly careful to secure all the information possible from every ship they met on their way through the Firth as to the prevailing winds in the North Sea. All agreed that the past week had been particularly natty and that it was reasonable to anticipate calmer weather.

“We maun juist trust i’ Providence, that’s a’,” said Jock piously, when they had cleared finally on the last leg of their run to the enemy’s coast.

“Ay, an’ in such seamanship as we can boast,” replied his captain. “If Providence sends a wrrong wind whilst we’re under the Bank—’twill tak’ more norr the enerrgies o’ Providence to save us.”

 

THEY ran all night, eighteen to twenty knots, no lights—for that is the custom of the North Sea in war time—and double lookouts. At each of the machine guns stood muffled crews, belts ready fixed in the hoppers. The weather turned a trifle cold toward mid night, but the sky was hard and frosted with a million stars. Clearer going they could not have asked for. And if they were visible in the starshine to an enemy, no less would an enemy have been visible to them. Not even a periscope could have escaped detection under the cold blue light.

But not once did they sight anybody, for they were out of the track of such scant commerce as ventured in those narrow, mine-infested, submarine-ridden waters; and the war-craft of both fleets kept more to the southward. In fact, there was no reason for any vessel to follow the Saucy Mona's course, which led smack against the Horn Reef and the vast expanse of shoals and sand-banks that stretched south from it along the northern strip of Germany’s coast, forming a far better defense for its inhabitants than countless armored fortresses and guns.

McConaughy snatched a brief nap in the tiny cabin behind the pilot-house, leaving orders that he be awakened at four. He came on the bridge ten minutes after that hour to greet the first level rays of the sun pushing over the horizon. The wind was blowing down from the north, biting and keen. The ordinarily tempestuous floor of the North Sea was comparatively smooth, and the engines of the Saucy Mona were thrusting her along at twenty-five knots.

After his first mechanical survey of sky and waters, McConaughy turned to the chart and figured out their position.

“There used to be a lightship eight miles south of the reef,” he remarked to Grant. “Bid the lookouts watch for it. But maybe she’ll not be there any more, so we will no rely on it for a landfall. We ha’ a good way to go yet, and I’ll shoot the sun at noon. By then we’ll ken more than we do now.”

That morning they hoisted the imperial German naval ensign, for as McConaughy said, there was slim chance of their encountering Allied warships and more than a little risk of running into a stray German destroyer—in which latter case their only hope would be to elude conversation or get into shoal water where the enemy could not follow or else make the Danish coast.

At noon McConaughy verified their position. The course was true, but as he had half expected, the Horn Reef Lightship had been removed. They passed over her former anchorage, and a few minutes later spied the oily rollers that marked the outer edge of the great sands. Here they turned east and bore off on a course toward Skallingen on the Jutland coast. McConaughy kept a man in the bow with the lead going, and found, as the charts were marked, a depth of sixty feet close in the lee of the reef.

Bearing in mind his instructions to look for mines, he spent the remainder of the afternoon switching back and forth across the waters south of the reef, a heavy trawling-net overside. Once or twice they raised the dingy sails of a Danish fishing-boat, but the Danes fled with ludicrous fear at first sight of the dreaded ensign flapping at the Saucy Mona’s stern. It was evident that the German patrols did not encourage the intimacy of neutral shipping.

Darkness fell without a single mine to their credit, and the ocean about them tumbled open and gray. Warily, then, McConaughy steered a course to the southeast, giving the dangerous sands wide sea-room. Through the early hours of the night they pounded well down to the southward, never an adventure to relieve the monotony of tireless watching, and at midnight turned northward again. An hour before the glow of the false dawn, they raised the Nordly light on their port bow, and presently, straight ahead, the tower of Blaavands Huk shot its lacey beam athwart their path.

“It doesna look bad to see a lighted coast again,” McConaughy said to Jock.

“Ay, it gie’s a body a sonsy warrm feelin’ i’ the hearrt o’ him,” Jock agreed. “I hae mair use for the Danes than e’er before.”

The Mona stormed in close enough to get a brief look at Skallingen roadstead. A few fishing-craft and a brace of rusty little coasting steamers were the only occupants.

“No submarrines there,” commented McConaughy, as they ran out to sea, once more, ignoring with true German naval insolence the questioning signals flown from the coast-guard station on the nearest headland.

“Aweel,” said Jock, “an’ what’s tae be done noo?”

“We’ll ha’ a bit look at some o’ they sma’ islands to the south o’ us. ’Twill tak’ the balance o’ the day, an’ at night——

He winked solemnly at Jock, and for some reason Jock found this amazingly funny.

“We wull hae seen nothin’ o’ the laddie syne ye gied him his cabin orrderrs,” he suggested suddenly. “Wad ye not——

“Ay,” assented McConaughy, “bring him out. He should ha’ his sea legs by now.”

Hugely pleased, Jock descended upon this errand, and McConaughy sent a quartermaster in search of Apgar. Evan appeared buttoning his jacket and endeavoring to conceal the grease on his fingers.

“Hecht, Evan man, I ha’ scarrce seen ye since we came on boarrd,” remarked his skipper. “I mind ye told me, too, there was no grease i’ the engine-room below. Where ha’ ye been?”

“T’e engineer pelow is an haartificer after me own heaart,” responded Evan shamefacedly. “We hafe peen consultin’ o’ t’e mysteries o’ t’e profession.”

He burst into fiery enthusiasm:

“Maan Skipperr, I hafe nefer seen such power as t’ose wee peauties o’ his caan defise. Wi’ nefer a rumple an’ no more noise t’an a sewin’-machine t’ey trive us t’irrty knots. ’Tis marfelous. I hafe peen learrnin’ t’eir ways.”

“Well, there will be no harrm done, but from now, Evan, d’ye see, I must ha’ ye at ma orrdherrs. So ye’ll forfego the engine-room an’ stand by me here.”

“Ay,” said Evan willingly enough. “An’ to we fight, t’en?”

“I canna tell. Just bide your time, an’ ye’ll ken as much as maself.”

Jock ascended the bridge-ladder with a puzzled look on his face. He jerked one thumb over his shoulder.

“He wull be——

But before the words were out of his mouth the Hon. Herbert stepped after him. He was a vastly different figure from the wobegone youth who had collapsed in the scuppers. Clad in uniform, clean-shaven, immaculate, he sauntered up to McConaughy with his old, off-hand manner.

“Ha, Captain McHoneybee—got the name right that time, old top, what?—this is better than the last time we met. I was feelin’ rather off the other day, not a bit fit, you know. Afraid I may have ragged you some, what? But don’t let it worry you. I’m that way sometimes, when my temper’s up. Never mean a thing I say. Mal de mer and all that sort of thing, you know. Well, how is the old ark goin’? Did the governor do you right?”

“By the powerr o’ the Presbyterry,” swore McConaughy with unaccustomed vehemence.

Then his face wrinkled in the suspicion of a smile.

“Tak’ no more thought o’ it, Mistherr Tibbotts,” he said smoothly. “’Tis a mattherr o’ no importance. I trrust ye slept well the past day?”

Jock and Evan gaped. But the Hon. Herbert merely smiled with easy, condescending good-nature.

“Thanks, old chap,” he replied. “Yes, I had a deuced good nap last night, though the goin’ was rather poor yesterday. You seem to have picked out an easier track for the day’s run, what?”—He laughed in a high-pitched tenor—“I say, rather good that, eh? Rather good, if I do say it myself.”

And horror of horrors, he slapped McConaughy on the back. Jock and Evan gasped openly, expecting to see the rash youth hurled into the sea. But McConaughy only smiled again, a trifle constrainedly this time, it is true.

“Ye ha’ a grrand conception o’ humorr, young man,” he said. “I canna mind I e’er hearrd a man crack so mony jokes as ye do in a day’s time. Ye must ha’ a noble intellect.”

The Hon. Herbert looked puzzled.

“Intellect? Intellect?” he repeated.

“That’s a new one on me. I’ve been told a good many things, you know, but never—I say, I believe you are spoofing me. I do, really, old top. Quite good, too, by Gad. Quite good! Haw, haw, haw!”

He called upon Jock and Evan to join him.

“A great jokester, the old boy is, what? Ha, ha, ha. Never would have believed it of him. D’ye see the point? Inellect. Rummy good stuff!”

Evan saw the veins swelling on McConaughy’s forehead, sensed the need of relief and leaped into the breach.

“T’e aft machine gun ’as trapped a polt,” he remarked. “Caan ye help me to fix it? We hafe peen waitin’ for ye this ’our past.”

“Right you are, Taffy,” assented the Hon. Herbert. “Be with you in a jiffy. I say,”—he turned again to McConaughy—“where are we, Skipper?”

McConaughy choked a moment.

“I’ the Norrth Sea,” he announced thickly, after an effort.

“The North Sea? That’s definite, what? Well, I’ll take a squint at the chart by-an’-by. Come along, Taffy.”

As he left the bridge, McConaughy looked at Jock, and Jock looked at McConaughy.

“Puir Evan,” said Jock.

“Poorr Tibbotts, ye might bettherr say,” rejoined McConaughy with asperity. “But there’s no sympathy in ma hearrt for him this day.”

“Skipper,” said Jock seriously, “dinna ye see the unmistak’able worrkin’s o’ Prrovidence i’ the shapin’ o’ the laddie’s doom? He’s gey ripe to sufferr misforrtune an’ miserry.”

“Weell,” said McConaughy dryly, “ye might as well call it Providence as aught else, Jock. But I’ll say this, wi’out any intention o’ irreverrence—if ’twere not Prrovidence lookin’ out for the loon, I’d be sorre tempted to interrvene maself.”

At which cryptic remark, Jock again found cause for laughter.

 

FROM Skallingen it is only some thirty miles into German waters. A number of small islands, little more than sand-spits, dot the adjoining coasts of Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein. McConaughy found a good berth between two of these islets, well within the Danish sphere of influence and out of sight from the open sea, anchored the Mona, and then set out in a small motor-dory to explore the neighboring archipelago.

Twice they met Danish fishermen in front of huts on shallow beaches, and one of these men, who spoke a little English, assured them that the German submarines had never come here—a fact McConaughy was already convinced of by reason of the shallow water. Indeed, the fishermen said they had never seen a warship of any kind in the vicinity. Often they heard the echoes of firing to the southwest, far out in the North Sea, but otherwise the war meant nothing to them. They were as remote from it, as if they lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

By dusk, McConaughy was back on board the Saucy Mona, and summoned a council of war. It was arranged that they should start before midnight, make a quick run down to a point off the Island of Röm, and then land a party in the dory to spy out the shore defenses and pick up what information they could.

“We’ll mount a machine gun i’ the dorry’s bow,” said McConaughy to the Hon. Herbert. “That will be your job, and ’twill keep ye busy the rest o’ the evenin’—thank the Lorrd,” he added under his breath.

But Evan accosted his skipper not long afterward, with a fiery face and ruddy eye.

“W’aat to ye mean, gifin’ t’at itiot-fool t’e right to wreck a goot machine?” he demanded. “To ye t’ink t’e machine gun would pe any use whateffer if I let ’im tismantle it? For efery polt an’ screw he ’as touchet I hafe ’at to put on four to make goot t’e tamage. Caall him off.”

“I ken well your trrouble, Evan,” said McConaughy soothingly, “an’ I wouldna ha’ ye let the young man wrreck the gun. But I must give him something to do against the night’s worrk. Bearr wi’ him, ’Twill not be for long.”

Evan retired muttering Welsh profanities.

Midnight saw the Mona racing south, with a bone in her teeth, and every light hooded. Her crew stood in groups about the decks, each man equipped with a rifle, an automatic pistol and an electric flash light. The Danish Island of Fano slipped by to port, and they veered farther out to sea. At a point off Sonderho, the southern most Danish town, where the water shoals rapidly, they altered the course again. When they dropped anchor at one o’clock they were eight miles off shore, with twenty feet of water under them.

Silently, one by one, fifteen men entered the dory—McConaughy, Jock, Evan, the Hon. Herbert and eleven of the crew. Lord Claragh’s engineer was left in charge of the Mona, with orders to show a light, when the dory flashed a green lantern twice. This was to guide the landing party back to their ship.

The wind was blowing off shore, and for the first five miles McConaughy ran under power. Then he shut off the motor, and they took to the cars. It was two, when they sighted the white sands of the beach of Röm through a ragged gray blanket of North Sea mist.

Without a sound, save the easy crunching of the gravel under its keel, the dory ran up on the beach, and the landing party leaped out into the shallow water. One man was delegated to stay by the boat, the rest followed McConaughy through the sand-dunes that came close to the surf line. When they were safe amongst the marsh-grass he halted them.

“Mr. Grant an’ maself will go for’arrd,” he said. “The rest o’ ye will bide here until we give the worrd to advance. Mak’ no noise.”

“But, I say, Captain,” interrupted the Hon. Herbert, “surely you are not goin’ to do a chap out of his fun, are you? My governor was most particularly anxious that I should be in this thing, you know. Really, I think——

“Ye’ll see all the life ye can digest before the night’s done,” McConaughy reassured him grimly. “Stay here wi’ the otherrs.”

The Hon. Herbert shrank back into the group and said no more. There was an edge to McConaughy’s voice that—well, other men than the Hon. Herbert, with far more will-power, had bowed to it.

After a brief word with Evan, who was to command the party, McConaughy and Jock stole off through a gulley between the dunes in a southerly direction parallel with the coast-line. As they climbed higher, they found the mist thinner. They walked for some twenty minutes before McConaughy saw what he was after. On top of a sand-ridge to their left, well above the water-line, loomed a dark, irregular succession of quadrangular shapes, masked in marsh-grass and stunted trees and bushes. Away off to one side stood a heavy, squat tower of steel, with a quaint conical cap like a candle-extinguisher. McConaughy nudged Jock in the ribs.

“That will be a battherry,” he whispered.

“Sma’ guns, though,” amended Jock. “D’ye see the size o’ the pits, noo, skipper? Four-incherrs, maybe, or fives.”

“Ay. They wouldna ha’ big ones here, for big ships canna get in. We ken that.”

“There maun be sentries or pickets. Where wad——

A clash of arms in the bushes above them cut the whisper from Jock’s lips. Looking closer they made out dimly the bulk of a black-and-white striped sentry-box, with a small clump of pine-trees growing be tween it and the sea. Jock held his breath, but the sentry only shifted his rifle, moved about restlessly and then apparently resumed his nap or whatever he had-been disturbed in.

“Do we scrag him?” hissed Jock.

McConaughy pondered the suggestion.

“No,” he said at last. “I want a prisonerr to tak’ back wi’ me—parrt forr the information, parrt as recompense—” he grinned, but Jock could not see his face in the darkness—“for the losses we may sufferr. If we scrag him now we may mak’ a noise an’ give the job away ahead o’ time. We’ll wait an’ tak’ him when the otherrs are up.”

They crawled off cautiously along the way they had come, and after putting a few dunes between themselves and the sentry, broke into a run. A low challenge warned them they were approaching their friends, and McConaughy answered reassuringly.

“Come wi’ me,” he said, without giving the Hon. Herbert a chance to ask questions. “There’s no time to be lost. Be carefu’ how ye step, though. I’ll brain the man that stumbles.”

It required more time for the larger party to gain the foot of the dune whereon the sentry was perched. Here McConaughy left them again, and taking only Jock with him, circled the dune in order to come up on the other side. They crawled on their hands and knees through marsh-grass to the edge of the clump of trees.

The sentry was standing in the entrance to the sentry-box, one hand holding his rifle, the other rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was a thick-set, bearded Landsturm man, who probably found such lonesome work not at all to his fancy and was thinking more about the wife and kinder in some Friesian town than his present duties.

McConaughy and Jock popped up before him like two Jacks-in-the-box. McConaughy relieved him of his rifle with one hand, laying it dexterously on the grass, and with the other encircled his ankles in an iron grasp. Jock, seized him around the shoulders and pressed a mammoth paw across his mouth, pending application of the gag that was ready in the Scotchman’s pocket. The two of them had the poor man trussed and helpless before his dazed wits comprehended the situation.

A hiss from McConaughy brought the rest of the party to their side. He told off two men to escort the prisoner back to the dory, then they pressed on, heading this time inland, toward the rear of the fortifications and the barracks of the garrison. As they advanced, the scrub growth grew heavier, but they followed a well defined path which fifteen minutes later debouched between two dunes upon a narrow valley in the sand-hills. Shacks, houses and tents lined its bottom. Close to them was an ammunition dump, boxes of shells cloaked in tarpaulins and covered loosely with boards. Lights gleamed in one building, which McConaughy took to be the guard-house. He summoned Jock and Evan to his side and discoursed briefly his plan.

“Rememberr, Evan,” he concluded, “ye will waste no time about your retreat. Jock an’ I will tak’ care o’ the raid worrk. Two men will be enough for ye, the rest will come wi’ us.”

 

THEY split up, Evan approaching the ammunition-dump, McConaughy and the others advancing at a trot upon the guard-house, their feet making no sound in the soft sands. Outside this building McConaughy halted again. He looked in at a window. Half-a-dozen soldiers sat or lay about a wood-stove—a sergeant scratched at a heap of papers at a desk. McConaughy turned to his party.

“Smarrtly, men,” he ordered. “Rifles at the ready, shoot any man that raises a hand. Now!”

He threw open the door and his men filed in after him. Their rifles covered the bewildered Germans, some of whom were scarce awake.

“Ye are prisonerrs,” said McConaughy calmly. “I ha’ taken the forrt.” He walked up to the sergeant. “Where is the commanderr?”

The sergeant stared at him blankly.

“The commanderr?” repeated McConaughy impatiently. “Commanderr? Command-err?”

The man pointed dumbly out of the door. A glance over his shoulder showed McConaughy that the sergeant indicated a building more pretentious than any of the others which stood nearly opposite.

“Guarrd these men,” he told Jock. “Tak’ what paperrs ye find in yon desk.”

He motioned for two of his crew to follow him and ran across the street. The door of the house was unlocked and he stepped into a dark hall, flashing his electric light about him. A door to one side looked inviting and McConaughy opened it. On a camp-bed was stretched a sleeping man. The dazzling light awakened him and he sat up, rubbing his eyes, just like the yawning privates across the way.

“Wo ist das?” he asked.

McConaughy’s answer was to motion to his men to pinion the officer. The struggle that followed was short and bitter. The German gave one cry of surprise, then was throttled into submission and bound with his own bedclothes.

“Tak’ him back to the dorry, ye two,” McConaughy ordered his men. “Stay, though. I wouldna send ma worrst enemy onto the sea a raw night like this i’ his bed-clothes. Here’s his uniform. He can ha’ it when he gets on boarrd. Quick, men.”

As the German was escorted from the room, McConaughy forced the lock of a field-desk, stuffing papers, maps and plans into his pockets as fast as possible. A ticking watch on the desk said three, and he knew his time was scant. Drawer after drawer he smashed open with the butt of his automatic.

He was searching for more documentary loot when the sound of a shot startled him. A glance proved that it came from the guard-house.

McConaughy fairly hurled himself through the door. He found a scene of hubbub and confusion and in one corner of the guard-room the body of the sergeant. Jock and his men were occupied in clubbing the Germans with the butts of their rifles.

“Peace,” roared McConaughy, and his personality worked its will even upon the sullen prisoners. “What’s this?”

He pointed to the sergeant.

“The auld de’il wadna be quiet,” said Jock angrily. “Some o’ the prisonerrs began tae shuffle their feet an’ I went amang them tae stop it, an’ the next thing I kenned he was lowpin’ for the door. I shot him. There was naught else tae do.”

“Where’s Tibbotts?”

“Here,” said a meek voice in the farthest corner. The Hon. Herbert looked downcast. “Don’t you think you ought to be getting out of here, Captain McHoneybee?” he urged. “It’s rather dangerous, you know. I’m sure my governor——

McConaughy cut him short.

“Look out for the fool,” he said to Jock. “Get away, ma men. Mr. Apgar will be blowin’ up the ammuneetion i’——

A deafening roar cut him short. It was followed by an indescribable hurtling, crackling, whistling din, as tons of separate projectiles began to detonate. Shrapnel pellets shrieked around them. A fragment of the casing of a five-inch shell smashed through one corner of the guard-house.

“Run!” screamed McConaughy. “Aftherr me, men! Bearr away from the path we came.”

He led the way, and his men streamed after him, Jock and the Hon. Herbert bringing up the rear. As they ran down the street of tents and barracks, German soldiers commenced to pour out. At first the little file of running men was not noticed in the confusion. Then the prisoners of the guard house joined their comrades, and rifles began to crack through the storm of the blazing ammunition-dump and bullets flicked the heels of the Mona's crew.

McConaughy dropped back to the rear, urging every man who passed him to make rapid progress for the beach. Jock caught up with him at the first gulley between the dunes. The first officer was swearing vigorously and dragging the limp form of the Hon. Herbert by one shoulder.

“Will the lad be shot?” asked McConaughy in some alarm.

“Shot? I could wish he was,” snorted Jock. “He’ll be nae mair nor funked wi’ the fear o’ death.”

“Hecht,” grunted McConaughy contemptuously, pausing to raise his rifle and sprinkle a clip of cartridges over the leaders of their pursuers faintly seen in the mist-shot darkness.

“Ha’ we gaed farr enough?”

“Ay. Drrop him. We’ll stand here.”

Jock deposited his burden and sank down beside McConaughy in the sand, cuddling his rifle to his cheek and making every shot tell in the crowd that swarmed over the dunes on their trail.

“Wh-why d-don’t you g-go on?” chattered the Hon. Herbert miserably. “I d-don’t think my governor would like this. Really, I don’t.”

“All right,” said McConaughy. “Jock, they’ll be checked. Come on.”

Jock motioned toward their companion.

“Nonsense,” said McConaughy. “He’ll be a grrown man. He’d scorrn your aid. Come wi’ us, Mistherr Tibbotts.”

The Hon. Herbert trotted after them, but soon they lost sight of him in the gloom. Then a wail reached their ears.

“Wait, please wait. I’ve tripped over a root. Please wait!”

“Come yourr ways, laddie,” called Jock cheerfully.

“But wait for me.”

“Ay, just follow on,” McConaughy reassured him.

They heard another cry indistinctly, and then a party of Germans who had worked around to flank them opened fire, disclosing the intended trap, and McConaughy and Jock flew for their lives. It was close, too close for comfort. They dodged out of a gulley and into another, that a hasty glance at McConaughy’s compass showed should lead to the sea, and as they ran they could hear the shouts of pursuers in a gulley parallel to theirs.

“Lord send——” panted McConaughy.

“Oh, Captain. Captain McHoneybee!” The wail was very faint. “They’re all around——

A chorus of Teutonic yelps cut off the rest.

“Nae shots,” grunted Jock as he ran. “He’ll be safe i’ body, but unco sorre i’ mind. What were ye sayin’, Skipperr.”

“I’m no as—young as—I was,” replied McConaughy, breathing hard. “I was—sayin’ I hope Evan will ha’ the—machine gun—ready. Ah. Here’s the beach.”

They burst out upon the open sands. The dory, shoved off and with her nose pointed out to sea, was lying in water deep enough to float her, all the party aboard.

“Turrn loose on the dunes,” cried McConaughy. “We’re spent.”

As he and Jock staggered through the water and were helped inboard by eager hands, the machine gun drummed a warning to the first Germans that swarmed across the seaward dunes, and every man who was not busy doing something else took up the tune with his rifle.

For the next few minutes McConaughy and Jock lay in the bottom of the dory and pumped their lungs full of glorious, salt-laden air. The racket of the machine gun and the tearing clatter of the rifles meant nothing to them. It was McConaughy who recovered first.

“Evan,” he called.

The chief engineer abandoned the machine gun to an assistant and crawled across the thwarts to him.

“Ha’ ye lost any men?”

“No. Two wountid—not enough to count at all, whateffer. Put, naame o’ John Wesley, skipperr, ye hafe ploot on your coat!”

Evan stooped quickly and ran his fingers along McConaughy’s shoulder. McConaughy winced involuntarily, and Evan stripped the coat open.

“Ay,” exclaimed the Welshman. “Ye hafe a pullet t’rough t’e shoulter.”

“I ha’ neverr felt it to this minute. ’Tis ma firrst wound, Evan.”

“Got pe praiset we hafe ye safe,” rejoined Evan fiercely.

A chorus of amens echoed from the crew, who abandoned machine gun and engine to cluster around their skipper.

“’This nought,” asserted McConaughy. “Back to work, all o’ ye.”

“Put firrst we shoult hafe a wee prayer,” objected Evan. “We hafe peen teliveret out of greaat taanger—an’ yourself not the least.”

“Ay,” agreed McConaughy. “I ha’ appreeciation o’ divine merrcy. We’ll pray, Evan.”

And with the German bullets at long range still plunking in the water around them, the motor thumping in their midst, Evan delivered himself of a prayer after his own heart, aggressively humble as to themselves and trenchantly bitter with venom towards their enemies.

But he had scarce got the last amen out of his lips when he whirled around upon McConaughy again.

“Saaint Taavit!” he cried. “T’e natural! Tit ye foist him on t’e Germans?”

McConaughy grinned with pleasureable recollection and winked at Jock.

“Ay, Evan. Poor lad. He covered the rearr o’ ye to the last. We did what we could do prrotect him. If I do say it, maself”—Jock chuckled at this—“we were heroes, between us. Obsarrve ma wound in proof. But he lingerred too long, Evan. An’ that’s the long an’ the shorrt o’ it. The Germans took him, an’ he’ll spend the next yearr or two o’ his promisin’ young life scratchin’ lice an’ learrnin’ the virrtues o’ poverrty. God be prraised!”

“Amen, again,” said Evan.

“The young leddy——” Jock began.

McConaughy cut him short.

“The young leddy will neverr be mentioned in connection wi’ the incident,” he commanded. “Rememberr that, the two o’ ye. ’Twas the forrtune o’ war. I willna call it the misforrtune.”

“Tit ye”—Evan lowered his voice, at once discreetly and significantly.

“I did not, I’m thankfu’ to say. I was rready to trrip him at need or bind him an’ hand him overr to the Germans; but mattherrs worrked out betther than I dared hope for. The laddie lost himself. Hecht, I thought from the starrt all we would need to do would be leave him by his lone i’ the darrk. I was right.

Evan looked suspicious.

“Put your wount?”

“Just plain heavenly luck, Evan man. If I was you I wouldna be jealous o’ the gifts o’ Prrovidence.”

Evan shook his head doubtfully.

“Ye’re a paat maan when crosset, put I woult not put it py ye, if ye wanted the effect——

“Would ye imply self-desthrruction?” roared McConaughy.

“Well,” said Evan unabashed, “t’e wount is clean t’rough t’e flesh an’ nigh painless. It coult not hafe peen neater tone—could it, Jock?”

Obviously startled, Jock started to reply, when McConaughy interrupted.

“Jock kens naething about it. Do ye, Jock?”

“Nae, nae. ’Twas——

“Ye ken nothing, Jock.”

“Ay, Skipperr.”

Evan spat over-side with an expressiveness beyond words.

 

“AND how is the shoulder?” asked Miss McNish.

“Fine, ma’am,” returned McConaughy. “An’ yourrself?”

She smiled radiantly.

“I don’t know why it is, Captain McConaughy, but I feel better than I have in a long time. It—it seems strangely as though I had gotten some weight off my mind.”

McConaughy blinked shrewdly.

“Might it not be ye ha’ rid yourrself o’ the burrden o’ contemplatin’ enforrced matrimony?” he asked.

Miss McNish walked over to the window of her office without replying. McConaughy, after a sly glance at her back, began to flick through the pages of the manifest of the Elizabeth Barrett.

“Captain McConaughy,” she said abruptly.

He looked up.

“I have a confession to make.”

“Ay?”

She hesitated.

“The plain truth,” she said desperately, “is that I’m not a bit sorry poor Herbert Tibbotts was captured. I’m glad. Yes, glad. I find myself hoping that the war will last for years.”

“About that last ye need not fash yourself, ma’am,” remarked McConaughy dryly. “The prresent state o’ mind o’ the English an’ the bunglin’ o’ their leaderrs is a sure guarantee ye will not be botherred by the young man this mony a yearr.”

“But I ought not to feel this way. It’s—it’s rotten.”

“I wouldna say so,” he replied judiciously. “It’s ma soberr judgement ’twas for the best o’ a’ concerrned.”

“How?”

“Well, you wouldna dispute ma obserrvation so far as yourself is concerrned?”

“No, indeed.”

“As for the young man, well, ma’am, he was an uncommon worrthless spoiled prroduct o’ sodden riches. It may well be this experrience will be the makin’ o’ him. At the long worrst, it couldna do him harrm.”

“Perhaps,” she agreed. “But his father? Poor old Lord Claragh feels it bitterly. By the way, here is a letter from him that partly concerns you.”

She recrossed the room to the desk and tossed over to him several typewritten sheets.

Without answering her last objection, McConaughy began to peruse them. He read:

 

Dear Tabitha:

As you can readily understand, the news which came almost simultaneously from you and the Admiralty has wellnigh prostrated me. People refuse to believe it, but I am growing old. Herbert was all I had, as you know, and now I must think of him wasting some of the best years of his life in a German prison-camp. I at once took up with the Premier the question of securing a special exchange, but I am told that there has been so much scandal about previous exchanges of this character, the Ministry have put a stop to them altogether. However, I was able to secure intelligence through the American Ambassador at Berlin that Herbert was well and none the worse for his heroic deeds.

In fact, my dear Tabitha, the one consolation which I have is the thought of Herbert’s dauntless courage and self-sacrifice. Perhaps you have heard that he has been gazetted at the Admiralty for the War Cross. Some of my friends say that he should have had the Victoria Cross, and I dare say if I had subscribed, as I was asked, to the last Liberal fund, it would have been arranged.

But I take pleasure in thinking that after all Herbert won his decoration without family influence or pressure of any kind, simply by his own splendid devotion to duty. Captain McConaughy’s report of the way in which Herbert covered the landing-party’s retreat, has been read by many of my friends, and I hear, is receiving some circulation in the daily press. It must afford you, too, my dear, satisfaction to know that your childhood playmate has raised himself to such high esteem.

 

McConaughy stopped at the bottom of the first page.

 

“It proves ma p’int,” he said, tapping the paper. “The old lorrd is no less pleased wi’ mattherrs than yourself. If his son had come back he wouldna ha’ got the Cross an’ been called a hero. Claragh would ha’ been pleased, ’this thrue, but he wouldna ha’ gained the satisfaction he knows today.”

Miss McNish pondered this for a moment.

“Yes,” she assented at last, “I fancy you are right. But go on. You haven’t read the last page yet.”

Silently, McConaughy complied.

 

For Captain McConaughy’s share in the enterprise I entertain the most profound gratitude, both to you and to him. I wonder if I might have your permission to approach him with a proposition which has been approved by our directors. I need scarcely say that I shall remain silent concerning it if you do not care to approve of my suggestion. We have been feeling for some time the need of a technical seaman on the board to assist me in the executive control of the line. I need scarcely say that the salary would be commensurate with the responsibility entailed, and while I do not desire to seem to reflect upon the Red Funnel Line, which your dear father built up so nobly, still, it is unquestioned that the Claragh Line is the larger of the two; and Captain McConaughy would enjoy with us a correspondingly greater opportunity. Please let me know at your convenience if I may communicate with him on the subject.

 

McConaughy pushed the letter on one side and picked up the manifest of the Elizabeth Barrett.

“Well?” said Miss McNish.

“Well,” said McConaughy, “I’ll be takin’ out the Elizabeth Barrrrett next week Thursday.”

“But, Captain McConaughy,” she said eagerly, “I haven’t the slightest objection to your going to the Claragh Line. Indeed, I think you owe it to yourself.”

McConaughy put down the manifest again and looked at her severely.

“Ma’am,” he said, “d’ye think that Miles McConaughy would ever worrk for an Englishman, be he low or high, when there’s good men o’ Ulsterr will appreeciate his worrth? I ha’ no intention o’ leavin’ your employ—unless ye wish me to.”

“Wish you to?” she cried. “Never. And for what you have said, if for nothing else, you shall have a seat on our board just as soon as I can call a meeting to arrange it. Oh, how I shall enjoy writing Lord Claragh that you would rather hold a half-size position with the Red Funnel fleet than be a giant of shipping interests in the Claragh Line.”

“An’ while ye are aboot it,” counseled McConaughy, “ye might drrop him worrd that ye ha’ given overr thoughts o’ matrimony wi’ that—that long-sided, thick-headed, hairy-faced, gingerr-haired gomeril he ca’s his son!”

“Why, I never knew you felt that way about him!” exclaimed Miss McNish.

“He ca’ed me McHoneybee,” said McConaughy simply.

“Well, he has had his deserts,” she laughed.

“Ay,” said McConaughy, and there was a twinkle in his eye.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1945, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.