The Crusaders. Ii


IT is a quarter to four next morning when the ward-room steward on night-duty brings me a cup of tea and a bloater-paste sandwich.

‘Anything doing?’ I inquire, rolling over to reach the cup.

He murmurs that he thinks we’re going half-speed, and the airmen are all dressing.

‘See anything yet?’

‘Oh, yes, you can see artillery at it ashore,’ he observes casually.

I sit up. It has not been my lot to behold artillery at it ashore, so I swallow the tea, dress hurriedly, and go out on deck. It is still dark, but away to starboard hangs a peculiar faint glow. At intervals this glow brightens and quivers, and the brightening and quivering is followed by a sound like the distant closing of a heavy door. Ahead and astern of us are ships keeping station, black blots in the indeterminate mingling of sky and sea. At intervals one can make out smaller blots moving restlessly hither and yon, passing and repassing, turning and gliding with silent and enigmatic persistence toward unknown goals.

I yawn, conclude that these small craft are saving us the fatigue of zigzagging, and go below. Mr. Ferguson is descending the ladder just in front of me. Mr. de Courcy, a slender wraith in white overalls, appears at the other door of the engine-room, and follows. Eight faint strokes sound on the bellbar below, very faint, out of consideration for enemy underwater-craft who may be, and in fact are, listening in tense vigilance not far away. It is four o’clock.

The engineer going off watch hands me a chit from the Chief to the effect that the planes will be launched at daybreak, when I am to call him. Good enough! We carry on, and presently the revolution-gongs begin to clatter, now more, now less, and through the skylight one can see the sky beginning to lighten.

Mr. Ferguson lounges to and fro, as I stand by the manœuvring-valve, and whistles ‘ I wanter go back, I wanter go back, to the place where I was born.’ It occurs to me that this is an engaging fiction. I doubt very much if he would care to go back there — somewhere on the western edge of Ulster. He once said his adventures might go into a book. What he ought to have said was that his adventures might have come out of a book; for, though he is communicative, he says very little about himself. It is the adventure which interests him, not the biography of the adventurer. He has the happy love of incognito which is the mark of your true romantic. It happened to him, certainly. Well, it was this way — And off he goes.

Off he went as I inquired where he walked when he started away through England. Well, his boots wore out first, being his thin patents, and he bought a pair of heavy country shoes, with soles all hobnails and great horseshoe-shaped flangings on the heels. Once he had suppled them, they were fine walking-gear. And he went on into Yorkshire and down through Lincolnshire, doing a job of work here and a chore or two there for the country-folk, and marveling how empty England seemed. Almost as empty as the sea, he remarks. But of course he was taking a line that took him past the big cities. He slept in sheds and under hay-ricks.

Once he strolled into the huge garage of a hunting-hotel in Leicestershire, and got into a palatial limousine in a far corner, and slept like a duke. Note the metaphor. Your true romantic preserves the faith in fairyland, for all his gross ineptitudes and tawdry sociological taradiddles. Mr. Ferguson slept like a duke. Don’t imagine, however, that he is unfamiliar with dukes. He knows more of them than either you or I, who have never seen one, and who are unfamiliar with the habits of the species.

Mr. Ferguson has told me the pathetic story of his efforts to make a fresh start in life when he had exhausted the resources and the patience of his native hamlet. As usual, he was vague at points, but I imagine it was the old poaching business that induced the irate bench to lock him up. And when he emerged, a pale, lathy emblem of repentance, it was decreed by an outraged parent that he should emigrate to England, said parent having a brother who was a locomotive-driver on a branch line. The idea was to interest Master Ferguson in locomotives, and in the sylvan loveliness of East Anglia set his feet in the paths of virtue.

So it fell out, and Mr. Ferguson found himself cleaning freight-engines in a barn at the end of a branch line. It was a branch on a branch — almost a twig-line in fact, he implies whimsically. It seems that his uncle was a driver distinguished far above other drivers, inasmuch as he hauled the train which was appointed to stop on occasion at the duke’s private station on the twig-line. And the duke in question often availed himself of the wellknown eccentricity of the ducal classes by riding on the foot-plate instead of in his reserved compartment. This sounds far-fetched, no doubt, to democrats, but it is quite credible. Dukes have more sense than many people give them credit for. Possibly, too, this particular duke was a true romantic himself, and was only realizing in his maturity what every boy desires — to ride on the foot-plate. And hence it turned out that Mr. Ferguson found himself in possession of a relative who knew a duke.

The pity of it was that Mr. Ferguson could not be induced to display any particular aptitude or mark of genius which would justify anyone in bringing him to the notice of the family liegelord.

One gets a glimpse of feudal England while listening to Mr. Ferguson’s account of that happy valley, with its twig-line of railway, rabbits and hares and pheasants visible on the single track during the long hours between the twig-trains, the vast ducal seat showing its high turrets and gold-leaf window-frames among the ancestral trees, the little village snuggled along the ducal fence, owned lock, stock, and barrel by the romantic foot-plate rider, and wrapped in immemorial quiet. All except Mr. Ferguson. He was lively when he was young, he admits, and apt to be a bit wild. A game-keeper spoke with unwonted feeling to the uncle one evening at the Cow-Roast Inn on the subject of slaying game-birds with stones. Mr. Ferguson, attacked by ennui, had sauntered down the track one day and done this frightful deed, visible to an indignant game-keeper concealed in a neighboring copse. A lad with an eye good enough to hit a bird with a stone at thirty yards or so ought to be playing county cricket or serving in the army, he observed, wiping his mouth.

His lordship was n't as stern as he might be on the subject of preserving. Indeed, I have a notion, bom of Mr. Ferguson’s fugitive hints, that this particular lordship had certain rudimentary views on the importance of preserving other things besides game — humanity, for instance, and kindliness and Christian charity and a sense of humor. Anyhow, when the incident came to his ears, he expressed a desire to do something for the youth beyond sending him to jail. Riding up the twigline on the foot-plate to join the express for London, he ordered his henchman to bring the guilty nephew before him for interrogation. So it was done, and one day Mr. Ferguson, a gawky hobbledehoy with wild red hair standing every which-way on his turbulent head, was ushered into one of the vast chambers of the ducal mansion—ushered in and left alone. His acute misery was rendered almost unendurable by the fact that an expanse of shimmering parquetry separated him from the nearest chair. For a moment he had a wild notion of crossing this precarious floor on his hands and knees. For yet another moment he thought of flight. Even the marble steps up which he had ascended from the side entrance were preferable to this dark shining mirror in which he could see the room upside down and his own scared face.

And then a door opened on the other side of the room, and a majestic butler appeared, followed by his Grace himself in a smoking-jacket of peacock-blue silk with old-gold frogs and piping. The butler beckoned sternly. The duke, going to a desk in the corner and sitting down, beckoned amiably. The perspiration broke from Mr. Ferguson’s scalp, and the tickling of his hair nearly drove him distracted. He essayed a step, quailed, and drew back to the friendly bear-skin. The majestic butler made an imperious gesture that brooked no delay. The duke looked round in innocent surprise. Mr. Ferguson, clutching at his cap, flaming in hair and visage, and nursing in his heart a new-born hatred of the governing classes and their insane luxury, started hastily across the glassy surface, slipped, recovered by a miracle that left a deep scratch and a heel-dent on the floor, wavered, stumbled, deployed sideways, and finally, in one last desperate grasp at equilibrium, threw himself backward, whereupon his heels both shot forward from under him, he fell with a terrible thud full length, and lay still, waiting for death with closed eyes.

But of course the days when he would have been taken out and beheaded were long gone by. Life is more complicated now. The majestic seneschal, instead of clapping his hands and summoning men-at-arms to remove the clumsy varlet, rushed forward and assisted the unfortunate to his feet, looking horror-stricken at the scratches, and supporting him to the small but priceless Armenian carpet where sat the duke, at his desk, laughing heartily.

A good sort of duke I surmise; but Mr. Ferguson will not admit it. He hates the whole race of ‘popinjays,’ as he calls them. Even the beneficence which followed — a complete colonial kit and fifty pounds to start life in the great Northwest — does not soften his asperity. He thinks as little of the great Northwest as of the House of Lords or the Royal Navy. It was the beginning of his odyssey, at all events. How he sold his colonial kit in Manitoba and got a job as a bar-tender, and later a job as a trolley-driver, and later a job as something else, cannot be set out at length. Mr. Ferguson may some day amplify his tantalizing allusions, just as I hope to learn more of his matrimonial adventures in the Argentine.

In the meantime I must return to the tale he told me as we worked the engines to and fro, and the ship worked in close to the shore of the Holy Land, off Askalon, and the monitors and cruisers took up their positions around us, and the planes were swung out and soared away over the enemy’s lines round Gaza. It was a long hot day for all of us; longer and hotter for the Turks, I fancy, for our guns broke their great stone bridges and blew up their dumps, and destroyed their batteries, and they fell back and back and back until they had lost horse, foot, and guns, and tortured Syria was free from them for ever.

Mr. Ferguson and I have to take a good deal of this for granted. We hear the thunder of the captains and the shouting, but in our breasts flames no martial ardor. We are preoccupied with certain defects in our ancient engines, and fill up the intervals with an idle tale.


Sleeping like a duke in a palatial limousine and like a tramp under a hedge, after the fashion of the true romantics, Mr. Ferguson fared southward. It was a pleasant life withal, he observes, and he marvels that, as it is so easy, so few, comparatively speaking, adopt it. Perhaps for the same reason that he abandoned it, which was that he came to a town, and was lured once more into industry, unable to escape the wage-system, as he calls it, and then was blown by the winds of fortune out to sea once more. It must not be supposed that he is opposed in toto to the economic principle of wages. Indeed, one of his most attractive theories is that every man ought to have enough to live on without doing very much for it. ‘Twelve to one and an hour for lunch,’ as he phrases it in his picturesque way. Nor did he, as I have noted, object to an occasional diversion as a wage-slave, providing always that he could, at a moment’s notice, move on. It was when the industrial octopus reached out its steel tentacles and began feeling for his free wild spirit, to hold it forever, that he began to squirm and wriggle. Would have squirmed and wriggled in vain, probably, but for a fantastic dénouement, as you shall see.

As he talks, we become aware of events taking place outside. Mr. de Courcy, who has been up to call the Chief, reports our planes over the lines and Turkish machines making for us as we lie on the motionless blue water under the blazing forenoon sun. And presently, as we stand by, engines moving dead-slow, destroyers and motor-boats rushing in swift interweaving circles about us, a terrific concussion makes our old ship quiver to her iron keel, and the lights dance, and the boiler-casing trembles visibly, shaking a cloud of soot from the skirting and making us sneeze. A moment, and another tremendous explosion follows. Our planes are sending back the range, and the next ship, a monitor with fourteeninch guns, is sending her shells eight miles inland upon the bridges over which the enemy must retreat. At intervals six-inch guns from British cruisers and ten-inch guns on French ships join in the game, and a continuous fog of soot is maintained in my clean engine-room.

Mr. Ferguson is not concerned very much with this. Your true romantic has but small interest in the domestic virtues, and he considers that I worry unnecessarily about dirt in the engineroom. With a passing sneer at capitalists, he deprecates worrying about anything; quotes a song which is very popular just now, and which clinches his argument neatly enough, and permits him to resume.

For as he wandered here and there through England, it so chanced that he came upon a quiet valley through which ran a little river and a little railway very much like the twig-line, reminding him of it and leading him to digress into that episode of the duke and the dead-beat, which I have already narrated. And standing at the head of this valley, some little way from the hamlet, was a factory of sorts, with a red-brick smoke-stack sending out a lazy dark-blue trail of smoke to mingle with the pale-blue mist of an autumn evening.

Mr. Ferguson marveled afresh at this anomalous affair, for the country was rural and for miles he had plodded among the fair fields of the ‘nookshotten isle of Albion.’ He was unfamiliar with southern and midland England, where you may come suddenly upon a boiler-shop or a dynamo-factory far from the coal and iron fields, where flowers grow along the foundrywall and the manager sits by a window screened with geraniums.

It was some such place as this Mr. Ferguson had found when he realized that he had no money and that it was necessary, at any rate, to truckle to capitalists long enough to earn the price of a meal. Standing on the bridge over the little river, he decided to ‘see how the land lay up there. ’ Quite apart from his bodily needs, he had the true romantic curiosity to know what they manufactured in this idyllic corner of an empty land. Indeed, that was his first question to the anxious-eyed foreman whom he found in deep converse with a manager on the gravel-path outside an office covered with honeysuckle. They turned upon him and sized him up; asked him what he wanted to know for. What could he do ? Did he want a job? Had he ever worked a lathe? Could he work a big one?

Almost before he realized it, these supposedly sleepy denizens of a forgotten fairyland had pushed him along the flower-beds, through big sliding doors, past a trumpeting steam-hammer and a tempestuous rotary-blower, into a machine-shop whose farther end was chiefly occupied by a face-lathe to which was bolted an immense fly-wheel. And all those other machines, Mr. Ferguson assures me, were manned by boys from school, who leaned over their slide-rests and regarded the dusty wayworn newcomer with pop-eyed interest. The manager and foreman deployed on either side of their captive, and besought him to turn to and finish the flywheel, which was a rush-job for a factory fifty miles away, and their only experienced machinist was ill in bed with pneumonia.

Mr. Ferguson was intrigued. It was a dream, he imagined. Never in all his varied experience of a world darkened by capitalists had he ever heard the like of this: a capitalists’ minion imploring a toiler to toil, offering him a bonus if finished in three days, and time-anda-half overtime for night-work. He started to remove his coat, for the fever of action was infectious, and the foreman almost tore it from his back. Remarking that it was ‘a week’s work, in a general way,’ he found himself examining the rim, which was still rough, and sorting out the tools. Evidently regarding him as an angel sent from heaven to assist them in their extremity, foreman and manager backed away and watched him with shining eyes. And Mr. Ferguson, for once blinded to the madness of his action in trusting himself to the tender mercies of a hated industrialism, turned to.

And he worked. As Mr. de Courcy comes down and reports that enemy planes are overhead, and the telegraph gong rings sharply ‘Full Ahead,’ and our twelve-pounder anti-aircraft guns explode with full-throated bangs that astonish us with their unaccustomed anger, Mr. Ferguson assures me that he worked like a galley-slave. He ignores Mr. de Courcy’s delicate insinuation that the enemy is trying to sink us with bombs, and inquires passionately if I have ever turned a fourteen-foot fly-wheel in an old lathe. I never have, and he commands me never to try, especially if the lathe is too small and I am inexperienced at turning compound castings.

Our three guns, keeping up a deafening fusillade of twelve-pounder shells into the blue sky, overpower even the fourteen-inch monsters on the next ship. We go ‘Full Ahead’ for a few minutes, the steering-engine clattering like a mad thing as the helm is put to and fro. Mr. Ferguson resigns the telegraph to Mr. de Courcy and comes over to where I stand at the manœuvringvalve. There is a smile on his reddish, freckled features, and the ridge of his twisted nose glistens in the swift, glancing reflections of the shining rods.

‘Pneumonia!’ he whispers, with a far look in his eyes. That old machine was enough to give a man heart-disease and brain-fever, let alone pneumonia. More than once, just as he was finishing a cut, the wheel suddenly appeared out of truth, and he had to invoke the aid of the boys-from-school and hydraulic jacks from the store and a partially demented foreman from his office, who was in terror lest he, Mr. Ferguson, should throw up the billet. Mr. Ferguson was assured that, if he liked, he could have permanent employment there, if he only made out successfully.

Mr. Ferguson snorts at this. Imagine the fatuous idiocy of offering him a permanency, the one thing from which he eternally flies! And so he goes on hour after hour, struggling with the old machine, with the bubbly casting, with his own inexperience, with the greasy belts and poorly tempered tools. For this was in the old days, when much good work was done on worn-out machinery, when precision instruments were looked at askance, and a man had to have a certain dexterity of touch and experience of eye to evolve accuracy out of the rough material of a country shop. Mr. Ferguson has a great contempt for those old days in the abstract, though he forgives them because of their romantic distance from him.

But at length it came to pass, on the third evening, that he seemed about to achieve success, all that remained to be done to the outer rim being a finishing cut to give a fine smooth surface that would assume in time the silvery polish proper to well-bred fly-wheels. That was at tea-time, and when he returned from the cottage where an old woman was providing him with his meals and a bed for his scanty hours of sleep, he found the works deserted save for the elderly engine-man who was to keep the shafting going during the night. It was understood that Mr. Ferguson was to keep at it for this last night until he had completely finished, so that the wheel might be slotted and shipped off first thing in the morning. A big naphtha flare hissing over his head, Mr. Ferguson leaned negligently on the narrow bench that ran along the wall behind him, and watched the tool gnawing softly at the slowly revolving wheel. What a life! he was thinking. The life of a cog in a wheel, a deadly dull round of grinding toil, for a mere ‘beggarly pittance’ — which is another of Mr. Ferguson’s favorite phrases. Ninepence an hour, forsooth! And heaven only knows what this little sawed-off firm would make out of the transaction — hundreds of pounds, very likely. It was true that they had magnanimously advanced him three pounds on account, two of which reposed in his jeans at the moment; but that was only the devilish cunning of the capitalist class, to hold him in their clutches a little longer.

However, it would soon be over. In the morning, after a good sleep at old Mrs. Thingummy’s, he would step out once more and seek fresh woods and pastures new.

What was that? He opened his eyes and noted that his much-vaunted finishing cut had revealed yet another blow-hole in the rim of the wheel — a big one too, darn it! Well, that was the capitalists’ look-out. With folded arms he watched the blunt-nosed tool gnawing softly away at the gray powdery surface and then relapsed into gloomy introspection. He was bored. He was also tired. And when a man is both bored and tired, he tends to relinquish his hold upon the realities. The shop was full of mysterious shadows and pale glimmers as the belts flapped in listless agitation on the idler-pulleys. At the far end a wheel squeaked, and he could hear the leisurely rumble and cough of the steam-engine in its corrugated house outside. Life? It was a living grave, cooped up here in a sort of iron mortuary, an imprisoned spirit toiling in the service of a sinister genie. Bump again! That blow-hole must be quite a big affair. It would need another cut to clean it out of the wheel. More work. More ninepences. More truckling to the mercenary spirit of the age.

But the soft murmur of the lathe was very soothing, and in spite of his bitterness of spirit, Mr. Ferguson grew drowsy. His head nodded over his folded arms. He grew more than drowsy. He slept.

Mr. Ferguson does not know how long or how often he slept and awakened. He remembers vaguely that time and again he did something or other to the slide-rest, or perhaps adjusted the tool for another cut. It must have been past two in the morning anyway, when the grand catastrophe overtook him; for soon after came daylight in the little wood where he slept till noon. But as he stood there, nodding over his folded arms, he became aware of a great noise in his ears and a stertorous rumble of disintegrating material; and straightening up, he was horrified at what he thought at first was a nightmare woven out of his long toil and trouble. There was a spatter of sparks from the tool as it broke and flew asunder, and the whole fourteen-foot wheel was caught on the rest and was rising, rising, like some dreadful destiny, and hovering over him.

He stood in an ecstasy of expectation, petrified with an unearthly desire to know what would happen next. It rose and rose until balanced above him, pausing while the last holding bolt was sheared from the face-plate and fell into the heap of turnings below. And then, in a sublime epicycloid curve, it descended, crashed lightly through the brick wall behind the bench, smothering him in broken mortar and plaster-dust, trundled leisurely across the yard, and striking a prostrate cementgrinder that lay up-ended awaiting repair, fell with a hollow boom among the debris.

Mr. Ferguson reached for his coat in a sort of trance. The thing was unbelievable, but it is your true romantic who takes advantage of the unbelievable. With one look round at the ghostly shadows of the little shop, he leaped upon the bench and out through the hole in the wall. And in a few minutes he was on the road leading up out of the valley, breasting the hill in the small hours, seeking afresh the adventures he craved, and musing with a meditative eye upon the scene at which he regretfully relinquished all idea of being present when day broke and the result of his labors was discovered.


Mr. Ferguson pauses as a couple of crashes resound nearby. We look at each other in some trepidation. The Chief runs lightly half-way down the ladder, waves his hand in a complicated manner, and rapidly ascends out of sight. Another crash — or perhaps crash does not convey the meaning. At the risk of appearing meticulous, one may say that those Turkish bombs now dropping around the ship sound to us below as if several thousand waiters, each with a tray of glasses, had fallen down some immense marble staircase in one grand débâcle.

‘Good Heavens! what’s that?’ says Mr. Ferguson.

Mr. de Courcy mentions what it is, in his opinion.

‘Fancy!’ says Mr. Ferguson, staring hard at the young gentleman.

I don’t think these two have ever made each other out yet. As a true romantic, Mr. Ferguson is doubtful of Mr. de Courcy’s credentials. He suspects him of being one of those whom he calls ‘popinjays,’ and a conventional popinjay at that.

What Mr. de Courcy suspects, no man has ever discovered. I sometimes think he is one of those people who have no real existence of their own, who are evoked only by a conventional necessity, and who, if you were to go to them as you go to those whom you love or hate, would be found to have vanished. I am always prepared, when I open Mr. de Courcy’s cabin door, to find it empty, swept and garnished, the bed neat, untouched, the washstand closed, and a faint musty smell in the air. I cannot believe in his existence save when I behold him; and even then the long elegant fingers manipulating the goldtipped cigarette, the tolerantly benignant smile, the jaunty pose, the mincing gait, suddenly assail me without any corresponding conviction that there is a human being concealed anywhere behind them. He is uncanny that way, and Mr. Ferguson feels it without understanding it.

As we climb the ladder, the Chief and Third Engineer having relieved us until the bombs have ceased dropping, Mr. Ferguson admits that the young fellow ‘makes him afraid to live, sometimes’ — a cryptic phrase. We lean on the bulwarks and watch the performances of our airmen chasing the Turks. Or is it the Turks chasing ours? We are not sufficiently versed in these warlike matters to decide. Ashore, on the long strip of yellow sand, we see the British Army on the march. We see the shrapnel bursting into black plumes ahead of them, and the sharp darts of flame from the ruins to the northward, where the Turks are working a battery to cover their retreat. We see the shrapnel, and the quick wink of heliographs from inland beyond the dunes. Someone points, and at length, after much searching, we descry one of our machines, a mere dot in the blue, over the Turkish fort.

This, mark you, is war. It has the precision of clockwork. It is clockwork. The huge squat monitor next us slowly swivels her turret toward the fort. One of the fourteen-inch muzzles rears, moves up and down and to and fro, as a man moves his neck in his collar.

‘Now then,’ breathes Mr. Ferguson, ‘here we go gathering nuts and may, nuts and may, nuts and — Gee! Now, I ask you,’ he says, after a pause between the explosion and the sudden rise of a tall plume of yellow smoke over the Turkish fort, ‘Now, I ask you, as one man to another, what is the use of all this? Think of those men in that — ’

A shrapnel shell fired by a methodical and business-like Turkish gunner drops between us and a racing motor-launch, bursts with a damp thump, and spatters one or two fragments against the ship’s sides.

Mr. Ferguson stops short, and looks offended. ‘No, but is it?’ he insists, not sparing me his oratory. ‘Here we are, wasting precious lives and money and so on, all at the bidding of the capitalistic classes. Is n’t it silly? Is n’t it sickening? Is n’t it wicked? Why should n’t the workers —

‘Below there! Stand by to hoist in planes!’ sings out the C.P.O.; and instantly we are thrust aside as a swarm of men range themselves along the rail. A plane flutters slowly over the water, one float smashed, wings slit, observer looking rather sick with a bullet in his thigh.

Well, he will get a medal, never fear. According to Mr. Ferguson, every airman receives three medals a week, just as he receives three meals a day. He is so bitter about it, you would think it was a personal grievance. That is his way. He thrives on grievances, as no dull realist could ever thrive on good fortune. The whole war is one gigantic grievance. Society is a festering sore and humanity a bad joke, posterity a bad dream. So he tells me.

Yet I have my own view. I have set it out here in a way. I see Mr. Ferguson away ahead, at peace let us hope, in some Home for Aged and Deserving Seamen, and I hear him telling the children round his wheel-chair how the Great War was fought, and how he too was there, as witness the medal with the faded ribbon on his breast. There is no bitterness in his voice, nor any talk of Capitalism (children not knowing such long words) or ‘popinjays’ or ‘grinding toil.’ He has long since seen these things in a new light. But he is faithful in this, that he paints the irrevocable in all colors of fairyland. He will speak of the ship and the crew — even of me — with fond regret. He will lapse into silence as these memories overwhelm him. The sharp ridge of his twisted nose will glisten as it droops over his white beard, and he will mumble that those were heroic days.

It may be that they are. It may be that, while we plodding realists go on, forever preoccupied with our daily chores, abstracting a microscopic pleasure from each microscopic duty, your true romantic has the truer vision, and beholds, afar off, in all its lurid splendor and terrible proportion, the piquant adventure we call life.

(The End)