The grimy coal-hole of the battleship of the line was hot, and Cedric felt the loss of his parasol keenly. It was his duty to feed the huge furnace that sent the ship rolling over and over in the sea, heated the sailors' bedrooms, and ran the washing machine. Cedric was hard at work. He would fill his hat with a heap of the black coals, carry them to the huge furnace, and throw them in. His hat was now soiled beyond recognition, and try as he might he could not keep his hands clean.
He was interrupted in his work by the jingle of the telephone bell. “Captain wishes to speak to you, Mr. Cedric,” said the girl at the exchange. Cedric rushed to the phone.
“How's your mother,” asked the Captain.
“Very well, thank you, sir,” answered Cedric.
“Is it hot enough for you, down there?” said the Captain.
“Quite,” replied Cedric, courteously.
The Captain's voice changed. He would change it every now and then. “Come to my office at once,” he said, “we are about to go into action and I wish your advice.”
Cedric rushed to the elevator, and getting off at the fourth floor, ran to the office. He found the Captain rubbing his face with cold cream to remove sunburn.
“Cedric,” said the Captain, sticking a lump of the greasy stuff into his mouth, and chewing it while he talked, “You are a bright child, rattle off the binomial theorem.”
Cedric repeated it forwards, backwards, and from the middle to both ends.
“Now name all the salts of phosphoric acid!”
Cedric named them all, and four or five extra.
“Now the Iliad!”
Here Cedric did his most difficult task. He repeated the Iliad backwards leaving out alternately every seventh and fourth word.
“You are efficient,” said the Captain smilingly. He took from his mouth the cold cream, which he had chewed into a hard porous lump, and dropped it back into the jar. “I shall trust you with all our lives.” He drew Cedric closer to him.
“Listen,” he whispered; “the enemy are attacking in force. They are far stronger than we. We outnumber them only five to one: nevertheless we shall fight with the utmost bravery. As commander of the fleet, I have ordered the crews of all my ships to struggle to the last shell and powder roll, and then to flee for their lives. This ship is not so fast as the others so I guess it had better begin fleeing now!”
“Sir—” began Cedric, but he was interrupted by the stacatto noise of the huge forward turret pop-guns as the two fleets joined in battle. They could hear the sharp raps of the paddles as the bosuns spanked their crews to make them work faster. Their ears were deafened by the cursing of the pilots as the ships fouled one another. All the hideous sounds of battle rose and assailed them. Cedric rushed to the window and threw it open. He shrank back, aghast. Bearing down upon them, and only ten miles away, was the huge Hoboken, the biggest of all ferry-boats, captured by the enemy from the Erie Railroad in the fall of '92. So close she was that Cedric could read her route sign “Bronx West to Toid Avenoo.” The very words struck him numb. On she came, andon, throwing mountains of spray a mile in front of her and several miles to her rear.
“Is she coming fast, boy?” asked the Captain.
“Sir, she's making every bit of a knot an hour,” answered Cedric, trembling.
The Captain seized him roughly by the shoulders. “We'll fight to the end,” he said; “even though she is faster than we are. Quick! To the cellars, and stoke, stoke, STOKE!!”
Cedric unable to take his eyes from the terrible sight, ran backwards down the passageway, fell down the elevator shaft, and rushed to the furnace. Madly he carried coal back and forth, from the bin to the furnace door, and then back to the bin. Already the speed of the ship had increased. It tore through the water in twenty-foot jumps. But it was not enough. Cedric worked more madly, and still more madly. At last he had thrown the last lump of coal into the furnace. There was nothing more to be done. He rested his tired body against the glowing side of the furnace.
Again the telephone bell rang. Cedric answered it himself, not wishing to take the exchange girl away from her knitting. It was the Captain.
“We must have more speed,” he shouted: “We must have more speed. Throw on more coal—more coal!”
For a moment Cedric was wrapped in thought, his face twitching with horror. Then he realized his duty, and rushed forward *****
Late that evening, when they were safe in port, the Captain smoking his after-dinner cigar, came down to the stoke-hole. He called for Cedric. There was not a sound. Again he called. Still there was silence. Suddenly the horror of the truth rushed upon him. He tore open the furnace door, and convulsed with sobs, drew forth a Brooks-Livingstone Collar, a half-melted piece of Spearmint gum, and a suit of Yerger asbestos underwear. For a moment he held them in his arms, and then fell howling upon the floor. The truth had turned out to be the truth.
Cedric had turned himself into calories.
Published in The Princeton Tiger magazine (November 10, 1917).