Chapter XX
 

When Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara, of H.M.S. Panther, boarded the steamer Narcissus via the Jacob's ladder Mr. Reardon hove overside at his command, he paused a moment, balanced on the ship's rail, and stared.

"My word!" he said, and leaped to the deck, to make room for a pink-and-white middy. The pink-and-white one stared and said "My aunt!" Then he, too, leaped to the deck, and a stocky cockney blue-jacket poked his nose over the rail.

"Damn my eyes!" said this individual. "'Ere's a bloomin' mess!"

"Who is that person?" Captain Desmond O'Hara demanded, pointing to the semiconscious Mr. Henckel, who was moaning and saying things in his mother tongue.

"That," said Mr. Reardon with a familiar wink, "was a fine, decent German until I operated on him!"

"So I observed. And who might you be?"

"Me name is Terence P. Reardon, an' I'm the chief engineer av the United Shtates steamer Narcissus, av San Francisco."

"Ah! An Irish-American, eh?"

Mr. Reardon looked down at the deck, smiled a cunning little smile and looked up at Captain O'Hara. "Well, sor," he declared, "I had me hyphen wit' me whin I shipped; as late as yestherd'y afthernoon 'twas in good worrkin' ordher; but what wit' the exertion av chasin' our Gerrman crew round the decks, faith I've lost me hyphen, an' I'm thinkin' the skipper's lost his too. That's him forninst ye. For the prisent he's in dhrydock awaitin' repairs, which leaves me in command av the ship. And since he's in no condition to go to his shtate-room an' unlock the ship's safe, an' sorra wan av me knows the combination, the divil a look will ye have at our papers. I'll save time an' throuble for us all be tellin' ye now that we've ten t'ousand tons av soft coal undher deck, that we cleared from Norfolk, Virginia, for Manila or Batavia, Pernambuco for ordhers, an' that we're a couple av t'ousand miles off our course. So confiscate the ship an' be damned to ye! Only I'm hopin' ye'll not be above takin' a bit av advice from wan who knows. There's a Gerrman fleet not far off, an' if ye shtop to monkey wit' us, faith ye may live to regret it--an' ye may not."

Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara smiled sweetly. "Divil a fear," he said, in no way cast down. "We met the beggars off the Falklands yesterday and sunk them all but the Dresden. She slipped away from us in the dark, making for the mainland, and we were looking for her when we saw your searchlight cutting up such queer didos, so the Panther dropped behind to investigate. Had it not been for your searchlight we would have missed you."

"An' be the same token a little dead Englishman signalled ye." Mr. Reardon gave another hitch to his dungarees. "Sor," he said doggedly, "I never t'ought I'd live to see the day I'd want to cheer a British victh'ry--but I do." He glanced down at his right hand and shook his head. "Englishmen that ye are," he continued, "I'll not offer ye a hand like that--much as I want to shake hands wit' ye."

"Faith, don't let that worry you, Mr. Reardon. I'm not an Englishman."

"In the divil's name, you're not an--an--"

"I'm an Irishman! My name is Desmond O'Hara."

Mr. Reardon was fully aware that here was a grand specimen of the kind of Irish he had been taught to despise--the Irish that take the king's shilling, the gentlemen Irish that lead the king's cockneys into battle. And yet, strange to say, no thought of that entered his head now. He stepped up to Captain O'Hara, looked round cautiously as if expecting to be overheard, winked knowingly and whispered, as he jerked a significant thumb toward the unhappy Mr. Henckel: "Sure 'tis the likes av us that can take the measure av the likes av thim."

"It is," replied Captain O'Hara, and reached for Terry Reardon's awful hand. "It is!"

Together they lifted Michael J. Murphy into a boson's chair, the jackies unslung a cargo derrick, Mr. Reardon went to the winch, and the skipper was hoisted overside into the Panther's boat and taken aboard the warship for medical attention. Just before Mr. Reardon hoisted him he drew the chief's ear down to his lips.

"About von Staden," he whispered. "I thought I wanted to see him hung. Legally he's a pirate; but, Terence, he was raised wrong; you know, Terence--Deutschland ueber Alles. These Dutch devils thought it was all right to steal our ship--national necessity, you know. Let von Staden out of the mate's store-room and tell him the English have us--that his fleet is gone. Then turn your back on him, Terence."

Mr. Reardon followed orders. "Captain Murphy ordhered me to let ye out," he explained to the supercargo, "an' towld me to turrn me back on ye."

"Please thank him for me," von Staden replied gently. "I scarcely expected such kindness at his hands. You may turn your back now, Mr. Reardon."

So Mr. Reardon turned his back, and, despite the rush of the British jackies to stop him, Herr August Carl von Staden reached the rail. "Deutschland ueber Alles!" he shouted defiantly--and jumped. He did not come up.

Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara removed his cap. "They die so infernally well," he said presently, "one hates to fight them--individually. Yesterday the Nuernberg fell to us. We outranged her, and when she was out of action and sinking, with her men swimming and drowning all round her, the Panther was stripped of life preservers in two minutes. Some of my lads went overboard to help the Boche."

Mr. Reardon remembered he had wrapped waste round the head of his monkey wrench and curtailed his indicated horse-power when tapping individuals; yet, when he fought them in bulk, with what savage joy had he struck down Mr. Uhl, a poor, inoffensive devil and the victim of a false ideal of national honor! Mr. Reardon was quite sure he despised Englishmen; yet the tears came to his eyes when the jackies carried poor little Riggins away from the searchlight, and he prayed for eternal rest for the soul of his late assistants, for he had learned in a night, as he fought with tooth and fist and monkey wrench, what those who fight with tongue and typewriter will never learn--that racial and religious animosities are just a pitiful human bugaboo--in bulk. Only that valiant minority that sheds its blood for the heartless majority can ever know this great truth--and the pity of it--that warriors never hate each other.

They are too generous for that.