Authors: J. Clayton Rogers
The credentials that gave him a berth with the Fleet were impressive--so impressive that the Navy had arranged accommodations for him on the
when it had been part of the Special Service Squadron. Singleton had helped design and set up the complicated photoheliographs used by the Squadron during its expedition to the Mediterranean to study the eclipse of 1905. Rumor had it that he was with the Atlantic Fleet to observe the effects of twelve-inch shells in case they came up against the Japanese.
Ever since they destroyed the Baltic Fleet, the Japanese had begun to think of the Pacific as their personal swimming hole. Did Roosevelt anticipate a sea battle with their little Asian brothers, Kaiser Wilhelm's 'yellow peril'? If so, Singleton's presence made sense. It was always a good idea to have a scientist around who could explain a catastrophe.
The British had given Singleton his most potent source of sarcasm to date. For a long time they had heard rumors that the Limeys were working on an entirely new kind of battleship. On October 3, 1906, it fell that, once again, the grapevine of the oceans was accurate as ever. The
would give its name to an entire class of ships. The particulars were dribbling out
not that the British Admiralty was trying to keep their new toy a secret. The
maneuver and out
last anything afloat, so the Royal Navy said. And truth be known, as more and more details of the ship were learned, more than one non
English salt sadly agreed.
"We're sailing in antiques, gentlemen," Singleton had stated flatly a few days earlier. "The
could sail into Hampton Roads and flatten fleet, towns and coastline in two hours. How is that for progress?"
There were plenty of officers who agreed with this observation, but they kept their doubts to themselves. Had any one of them been caught disparaging the Fleet the way the good doctor did, he might not only be reprimanded, but cashiered as well.
For days, an easterly had whipped the ships with fifty mile an hour winds. A cold gust now blew in from the
starboard quarter. Hundreds of hats flew into the air and there was a mad scramble as the sailors and marines chased their headgear in circles. Raising himself on his toes, Captain Oates could just make out Singleton's straw hat prominent among the runaways. The doctor watched as Midshipman Davis ran to and fro, chasing the treacherous air currents beneath the turrets. Oates thought it would be a fine thing if he could see the last of that damn hat, so casual, so...
. What the hell was he doing wearing sunshine straw on this cold, blustery day?
Oates crossed his fingers. Singleton's hat was still on the loose. The midshipman looked like a lame spider as he dodged this way and that in his attempts to retrieve it. Picture the doctor's grim visage if it flew over the port railing! His blustering at naval inefficiency would attain Lincolnian eloquence if his straw was lost.
Midshipman Davis ran head-on into a marine who was chasing after his own short-visored hat. They went down in a spastic jumble of gangly arms and legs. The marine hopped up and went his way without a second glance at the sailor. Oates experienced a twinge of sympathy for the junior officer fresh out of Annapolis.
"Blasted way to run a navy," he groused, turning to his executive officer, Lieutenant Grissom.
"The president has reached the
," the exec blandly informed him.
Bounding up from the barge, Roosevelt landed on the deck at a gallop and charged over to the admiral of his choice, leaving a martial ring in the Swiss cheese plates and an OOD who could only nod amiably.
In fact, Evans was only a rear admiral. There were four other rear admirals with the Fleet, so he was only unique by presidential fiat. Fighting Bob Evans had desperately wanted the status of full admiral conferred on him in advance of the expedition. But after granting Admiral "You
Ready" Dewey the equivalent of five stars, Congress had had its fill of sea
going prima donnas. They refused the president's request to grant Evans a promotion. This meant that in the upcoming journey he would have to sit below the salt at banquets. When he entered foreign ports, the gun salutes his two stars drew would be over before the echoes came back. All of which could have been forgiven, had his most fervent secret prayer been answered:
God, deliver me from this gout
, was Rear Admiral Evans' foremost thought as he hobbled forward to grasp the president's firm hand.
The president glowered at the reporters clustered on the gangway. This was a surprising expression from someone who'd won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was also a caution to the photographers to be ready next time.
Evans could not keep from casting nervous glances about him. A great many of his boys were fresh from the Midwest, where Navy recruiters had gone to flush out good-looking, all-American types. Officially, the upcoming voyage was slated for the training of personnel and the testing of new equipment. Unofficially, everyone knew that Teddy was whipping out his 'big stick' and showing it for all the world to see. In which case, it would hardly do to have foreigners observe the average American sailor--hardened, tattooed and blemished with poor teeth if he was lucky enough to have any remaining. The thousands of scrubbed-pink faces that had been poured into the Fleet had not yet won their sea legs. Standing before Roosevelt, Evans wondered which of the green lads around him would puke in front of the president.
"Bob," Roosevelt declaimed, "you know this is a peaceful mission I'm sending you on. But there's always the unexpected. If it comes to a fight, I know I can count on you."
"Good God, what's he
?" some of the correspondents whispered among themselves. "Is he challenging the
Fighting Bob smiled with grim equanimity and matched the firmness of the president's grasp. The possibility that they would lock horns with the Japanese was an ironic testament to the fluid world. He had been commander of the Asiatic Fleet when the Naval War College recommended its withdrawal from the Far East in 1903. The Japanese Embassy had lodged a protest. They felt that a strong American presence in the region preserved the peace.
Apparently, that was no longer their belief.
"Well vittled, are you?" the president inquired.
"Captain Ingersoll has the figures."
Evans summoned his chief of staff. Ingersoll, prepared, recited, "Mr. President, the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts has supplied us with more than six million pounds of provisions, excluding fifteen thousand pounds of English plum pudding, just arrived and to be stowed aboard this evening."
Evans noted Roosevelt's keen interest. They all understood this was the tender prelude to the best statistic of all. The admiral nodded for Ingersoll to continue.
"For the pleasure of the men, there are included four hundred sheets of popular music, thirty-two pianos, two hundred sets of boxing gloves, one hundred sets of quoits, three hundred handballs and horse billiards, sixteen tridents and sets of whiskers--for the Neptunes, when we cross the Line--eight hundred packs of playing cards, sixty phonographs, uncounted Bibles, and three hundred copies of your latest State of the Union Address."
Now... the moment....
"Mr. President, the combined weight of the fighting Grand Atlantic Fleet is two hundred and twenty-three thousand tons. On the sixteen ships there is a total of nine hundred and twenty-five naval guns, perhaps the greatest concentration of firepower in history. Some of the ships mount thirteen-inchers, but just as effective are the twelve-inch guns. In all, one hundred and forty-four guns of major caliber. In five minutes of firing, one of the newer ships, such as the
, can develop 3,927,172 foot-tons of energy. The Fleet carries 35,000,000 pounds in its magazines. We carry not only the standard Whitehead torpedoes, but many of the new turbine-driven Bliss-Leavitt models. Among the explosives are dynamite, maxemite, lyddite and shimose."
Imposing statistics, imposingly stacked. With each increment Roosevelt visibly swelled, as if gearing up for a hunt.
"Wonderful! Marvelous! Absolutely... bully!"
Ingersoll saluted, then vanished like a dropped decimal place.
Roosevelt scowled. This time, the photographers were ready. President and Rear Admiral were surrounded by pops and flashes, as though a battle were already underway.
"Yoo-hoo! Roger! Roger!"
Ensign Roger Garrett was dismantling the head of the dragon when the female voice clanged overhead. He cursed, then threw a vicious scowl at the men of the dragon crew grinning at him.
"Roger! You'll never guess... never!"
Garrett spotted the portly man struggling to keep up with the attractive brunette, and immediately guessed.
They were tied up at the Hotel Chamberlin pier. On the quay between hotel and river a large crowd had gathered to see how the magical dragon was taken apart. It was a clever, portable disguise that extended several yards fore and aft of the cutter. Garrett's dubious command. His main concern had been to prevent the burning naphtha that shot out the nose from catching the dragon and cutter on fire. He'd succeeded, but barely. The dragon's snout was charred to a crisp.
The girl's mouth, on the other hand, was moist, inviting, and constantly open. He'd met Emily--
good God, what was her last name
?--at one of the frequent football games the sailors of the Fleet played on shore while stationed at Norfolk. He'd seen her swooning extravagantly in the bleachers. Covered with dirt and sweat, he'd introduced himself to her after the game, and soon had a pretty decoration to attend his arm at the innumerable parties that made the Capes so boisterous that year. The problem was that Emily pranced at his elbow like one espoused. As of yet, the only banns had been in her heart and mind, which seemed nuptial enough for her.
He gave her a brief wave, then turned and shouted commands at the crew of the cutter at the top of his lungs.
Which did nothing to chase Emily away. Just the opposite. Clapping her hands in admiration, she grabbed the stranger by the elbow and dragged him forward. What was it she said her father did for a living? A dry-goods drummer? Yes, that was it. At least, Emily put out like the daughter of a dry-goods drummer. Things had been too dry in her life and she'd been on the lookout for something a little... wetter. Either that or she was under the mistaken impression that ensigns in the U.S. Navy made more than $2,700 a year. Of course, if he was ever to advance himself, a wife would be a necessity.
But the daughter of a dry-goods drummer?
"Roger! Look! It's my
Damn. For the life of him, Garrett couldn't remember... what
her last name?
He turned. "Ah! Emily's father!" They shook hands. The father's palm felt dry.
"Seems my Emily's grown quite attached while I've been away," said the dry-goods drummer.
"Well," said Garrett, cautiously veering away from the insinuation, "I've become fond of Emily."
Without further preliminary, the man asked, "And how fond is that?"
How in the world did Emily know I'd be here
? Garrett wondered. She'd heard something somewhere, that much was obvious. The wonder of it was that she had stopped working her mouth long enough to listen.
Her father was taking full advantage of the crew's presence. Even as Garrett guided him out of earshot, he all but shouted, "And how fond is that, sir?"
The bluejackets in the cutter were privy to a splendid mime show. Ensign Garrett entreated the sky, then begged of the planet. He spread his arms in a bombastic explosion, then shuffled his foot in contrition. He demanded absolution and forgave enormities. He touched the father's shoulder, then the girl's shoulder. One would have thought he was trying to matchmake
Then, after a firm handshake, a chaste kiss, and a display of his hand over his heart, Garrett parted from the father and daughter and returned to the cutter.
"Looks like you've been raked fore and aft, Mr. Garrett," one of the men chuckled.
"Yeah, when's the wedding?"
"But we set sail tomorrow!"
"The dragon's packed away? Good. Let's get back to the
. I've got some holystones need warming up."
"He won't do it, Methuselah. The Navy's changed. You'll see. Oh, he might kick the Japs off. That only makes sense, if we're going to California. They'd only get their heads bashed there."