DENBIGH AND HIS COMPANIONS ARE RESCUED BY A MONITOR Page 207. Frontispiece
A Naval Story of the Great War
PERCY F. WESTERMAN
Author of "The Fight for Constantinople"
"Sea Scouts All"
Illustrated by E. S. Hodgson
BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
LONDON AND GLASGOW
By Percy F. Westerman
His Unfinished Voyage.
Midshipman Webb's Treasure
His First Ship.
The Red Pirate.
The Call of the Sea.
Standish of the Air Police.
Sleuths of the Air.
The Westow Talisman.
The White Arab.
The Buccaneers of Boya.
Rounding up the Raider.
Captain Fosdyke's Gold.
In Defiance of the Ban.
The Senior Cadet.
The Amir's Ruby.
The Secret of the Plateau.
Leslie Dexter, Cadet.
All Hands to the Boats.
A Mystery of the Broads.
Rivals of the Reef.
On the Wings of the Wind.
Captain Blundell's Treasure.
The Third Officer.
Pat Stobart in the "Golden Dawn".
Ringed by Fire.
Chums of the "Golden Vanity".
King for a Month.
The Disappearing Dhow.
The Luck of the "Golden Dawn".
The Salving of the "Fusi Yama".
Winning his Wings.
The Good Ship "Golden Effort".
East in the "Golden Gain".
The Quest of the "Golden Hope".
The Wireless Officer.
The Submarine Hunters.
The Thick of the Fray at Zeebrugge.
With Beatty off Jutland.
The Dispatch Riders.
A Cadet of the Mercantile Marine.
With the Last of the Buccaneers.
A Lively Bit of the Front.
The Westerman Omnibus Book
Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow
ROUNDING UP THE RAIDER
The Captured Liner
"Fifteen days more and then Old England once again!" exclaimed Frank Denbigh.
"And bonnie Scotland for me!" added Charlie Stirling.
"You'll not be forgettin' 'tis Ould Oireland I'm bound for," remonstrated Pat O'Hara, purposely dropping into the brogue.
The three chums had just been reading the "miles made good" announcement that, printed in English and Japanese, was daily exhibited in various parts of S.S. Nichi Maru.
"Hostile submarines permitting," remarked Denbigh with a laugh, after he had taken good care that no lady passengers were within earshot.
"Rot!" ejaculated Stirling. "We've cleared them out of the Channel pretty well. It's part of the work of the British Navy under——"
"Stop it!" interrupted O'Hara good-humouredly. "I know what you were going to say: that old tag from the Articles of War. I propose that every time the word submarine is mentioned by anyone of us while on board this vessel the delinquent shall be suitably punished as soon as the sun's over the fore-yard."
"Hear, hear! I second that," agreed Stirling. "No more 'shop'. We'll get plenty of that in a few weeks' time. I fancy My Lords won't let us kick our heels in idleness for long, and honestly, the sooner we settle down to business the better."
The three chums were Sub-lieutenants, homeward bound from a portion of a certain group of islands off the coast of New Guinea, having till recently the high-sounding title of the Bismarck Archipelago. The youthful but none the less glorious Australian Navy had quickly changed the colour of that portion of the map, but the climate was a more formidable foe than the former German garrison. Thus the three young officers, who had been "lent" to the recently-formed navy, had the misfortune to be stricken with fever.
After a long convalescence, which by a pure coincidence lasted almost exactly the same time in each of the three cases, Denbigh, Stirling, and O'Hara were ordered to return to England and to resume their duties with the navy of the Motherland.
They had travelled by an intermediate boat to Singapore, whence, in order to save delay, they had proceeded by a Japanese liner, the Nichi Maru, bound from Nagasaki to London. It was a case of misdirected zeal, for, owing to the torpedoing of a large Japanese liner in the Mediterranean, the Nichi Maru had been ordered to take the longer passage round the Cape instead of the usual route via the Suez Canal.
"Hulloa! What's the excitement?" enquired Denbigh, pointing in the direction of the bridge. The chums had gained the promenade deck, whence most of the navigating bridge of the liner could be seen. There was evidently something to warrant his exclamation, for the dapper little Japanese officer of the watch was steadily keeping his binoculars upon some distant object.
"There's a smudge of smoke away to the nor'east'ard," announced Stirling. "The mild excitement of sighting a vessel will help to push the hands of the clock. Now if someone will kindly suggest a sweepstake on the nationality of yonder craft——"
The door of the wireless room opened. The sharp peculiar cackle of the instruments announced that an exchange of messages was in progress. A messenger made his way to the bridge. Almost immediately after, the captain hurried from his cabin. Evidently "something was in the wind", for the appearance of the imperturbable commander of the Nichi Maru at this time of day was rather unusual.
"We're altering helm," declared O'Hara after a brief interval. "Since we can speak with that vessel without the necessity of having to close, it points to something of the nature of a serious mishap."
The rest of the passengers were now making their way on deck. By an inexplicable intuition the presence of the still invisible vessel had made itself felt. None of the officers had communicated the news that the Nichi Maru was in touch with another craft, yet in five minutes the decks were crowded with a medley of Europeans and Asiatics.
"Do you know what is wrong, sir?" asked Denbigh, addressing one of the Japanese officers who happened to be making his way aft.
The Jap shook his head. Like most of the Nichi Maru's officers he spoke English. The question was plain to him, but with Oriental reticence he politely evaded it.
"I'll get my glasses," announced O'Hara.
"And mine, while you are about it," said Denbigh.
"And mine, too," added the Scot.
O'Hara quickly returned with the desired articles. Bringing their binoculars to bear upon the smudge on the horizon the three Subs made the discovery that there was a two-masted, three-funnelled vessel lying apparently hove-to. Smoke was issuing from her after-funnel in dense clouds, that rose slowly in the still sultry air.
"She's flying an ensign," remarked the Irishman.
"Yes, straight up and down like a wet dishclout," added Stirling. "For all the good it's doing it needn't be there."
"Perhaps her propeller shaft is broken," suggested one of the passengers, an English merchant who had given up a good position in Tokio to return home in order to "do his bit".
"Hardly," replied Denbigh. "She's bound to be a twin screw, and it isn't likely that both engines would break down."
"I don't know so much about that," said O'Hara, pointing aft, where a crowd of Japanese seamen were engaged in preparing a large flexible steel hawser. "It looks as if we were going to take her in tow. And it's a long, long way to Las Palmas, worse luck."
"She's a Dutchman," declared Stirling. "I can make out the red, white, and blue ensign. I wouldn't mind betting she's one of the Rotterdam and Batavia liners."
The three British officers relapsed into silence, devoting their whole attention upon the disabled liner which was now momentarily looming larger and larger as the Nichi Maru hastened to her aid.
Presently the engine-room telegraph bell clanged and the Japanese vessel's engines began to slow down. Two of the boats were swung out ready to be lowered, while the four ship's surgeons stood by, ready to be taken to the helpless Dutchman.
"Bad boiler-room accident," exclaimed one of the European passengers, who had learnt the news from a Japanese petty-officer.
"Boiler accident be hanged!" ejaculated Denbigh, excitedly. "We're done in, you fellows. That vessel's no Dutchman."
As if in confirmation of the Sub's announcement the tricolour of Holland was smartly lowered, its place being taken by that shame-faced and palpable imitation of the good old British White Ensign—the Black Cross of Germany. Simultaneously portions of the vessel's plating swung outboard, revealing a battery of six fifteen-centimetre Krupp guns.
"Nichi Maru, ahoy!" shouted a guttural voice in English, for the two vessels were now within megaphone-hailing distance. "Surrender instantly, or we send you to the bottom."
There was a pause, while the officer who had shouted the message was being prompted.
"Make no attempt to use your wireless," he continued. "That will not save you. It will make things very bad for you. Stand by to receive a prize crew."
Although completely surprised by the dramatic turn of events, both the crew and passengers of the Nichi Maru remained perfectly calm. The captain, a descendant of the knightly Samurai of Old Japan, was on the point of ordering full speed ahead, with the object of ramming the perfidious vessel and sending both ships to a common destruction; but the knowledge that the safety of nearly a thousand non-combatants, many of them women and children, would be in dire peril through such an act compelled him to submit to the inevitable.
Humanity, not fear, had conquered the courteous and lion-hearted yellow skipper.
Boats were lowered from the German auxiliary cruiser—for such she undoubtedly was. Into them clambered a number of motley-garbed men armed with rifles and automatic pistols. But for their modern weapons the boat's crew might have come from the deck of an Eighteenth-Century buccaneering craft.
"I say, you fellows," said O'Hara, "I'm off below."
"What for?" asked his companions in surprise. Not for one moment did they imagine that the Irishman was showing the white feather, but at the same time they were mystified by his announcement.
"To get into uniform," he replied. "Those skunks won't find me in mufti."
"Right oh!" declared Denbigh. "We'll slip into ours, too."
In a few minutes the chums had changed into their naval uniforms. By the time they regained the promenade deck the Germans were in possession of the ship.
A fat ober-leutnant, backed up by half a dozen armed seamen, held the bridge, the Japanese captain and deck officers being compelled to retire to the chart-room. A couple of arrogant unter-leutnants with much sabre-rattling, were herding the European male passengers on the port side of the promenade deck. The Japanese passengers they drove forward with every insulting expression they could make use of. It was the German officers' idea of revenge, for the fall of Kiau Chau, where the boasted Teutonic fortress had succumbed to Oriental valour, rankled in the breasts of the subjects of the All-Highest War Lord.
Two German officers, apparently of the Accountant branch, had possessed themselves of the passenger list of the captured vessel, and were proceeding to call the names it contained. Each person on hearing his name had to step forward. "Denbigh, Frank," exclaimed one of the officers. Denbigh, standing erect, faced his captors. "Ah! Englander officer, hein?" queried the Teuton insolently. "Goot! More to say soon. Step there over, quick."
The Sub obeyed. He realized that at times even passive resistance was indiscreet.
"Stirling, Charles," continued the German. "Ach, yet anoder Englander. Unter-leutnant? Goot, a goot capture of Englanders we haf."
"I'm a Scot—not an Englishman," protested Stirling.
"No matter. The one is as bad as odder, if nod worse. Over dere," and he pointed to the place where Denbigh was standing.
"We're marked down for something, old man," whispered Denbigh.
"Yes, but listen. They're tackling O'Hara now."
Sub-lieutenant O'Hara faced his inquisitor with a broad smile on his face. The Germans could not understand why a man should look pleasant in time of adversity.
"Irish? Ach, goot!" declared the Teuton. "Der Irish not like Englischmans. When we Germans take London, Ireland free country will be."
"You haven't got to London yet," remarked O'Hara with the perplexing smile still on his lips.
"Already our Zeppelins hab there been. It is matter of time. Ach? Brussels, Warsaw, Bukharest, Cettigne—five capitals—all conquered."
"How about Paris?" enquired O'Hara. "To say nothing of Calais. And who commands the sea? You Germans haven't a vessel afloat outside your own territorial waters."
"Vot is dis?" asked the Teuton, pointing to the armed liner. His voice rose to a crescendo of triumph.
O'Hara was temporarily non-plussed. Evidently something was at fault somewhere. How could a large vessel like that evade the strong cordon of British warships?
"You're at the end of your tether, old sport," he said after a brief hesitation. "That ship will be at the bottom before another twenty-four hours."
"You tink so?" almost howled the exasperated German. "You vill see. If she sink, den you sink mit her. Over dere."
O'Hara rejoined his chums. A couple of armed seamen mounted guard over them while the work of investigation and pillage continued.
"We're marked down as hostages," began the Irishman; but one of the seamen, bringing the butt end of his rifle down on the deck within a couple of inches of O'Hara's toes, rendered unnecessary the guttural "Verboten" that accompanied the action.
In silence the three Subs watched the proceedings. Under the orders of their captors the Japanese seamen were compelled to transfer bullion stores from the Nichi Maru into the boats. German seamen brought charges of explosives and placed them below. It was apparent that the destruction of the captured vessel was already decided.
At length all preparations were completed. One of the Nichi Maru's officers, acting under the authority of the ober-leutnant gave the order—first in Japanese and then in English—to abandon the ship.
"Fifteen minutes only are allowed. Boats to be provisioned and manned. No personal property is to be taken. Women and children first."
The Japanese captain was expostulating, firmly and in a dignified manner. He pointed out the inhumanity of sending women and children adrift in mid-Atlantic and under a tropical sun. His protests were in vain.
"We will send a small vessel to pick up the boats," retorted the German lieutenant. "We will not sink a small one purposely. A little discomfort will do these English good. You yellow apes are used to it."
The Japanese accepted the direct insult without signs of emotion. The disguise of his feelings was a national trait, but it would have gone hard with the arrogant Prussian had the captain of the Nichi Maru not been hampered with a crowd of non-combatants.
"Now, Englishmen," exclaimed the German. "Into that boat. Any trouble make and you dead men. Ach! You smile now: your trouble it only has just commenced."
The Last of the Nichi Maru
In silence the three Subs left the doomed Nichi Maru and entered the waiting boat. At the word of command the men pushed off and rowed towards the modern pirate.
The disguised vessel had now swung round and was lying motionless at a distance of two cables' length from her prize. The hull was painted a light yellow, with a broad black band. Her funnels were buff with black tops. On her stern were the words, Zwaan—Rotterdam.
"She's no more the Zwaan of Rotterdam than I am," cogitated Denbigh.
He was right in his surmise. The vessel was originally the Pelikan—a supplementary Hamburg-Amerika Line boat. On the outbreak of the war she was homeward bound from South America, with, as was the case with all liners flying the German flag, an armament of quick-firers stowed away in her hold.
Unfortunately for Kaiser Wilhelm's plans the abrupt entry of Great Britain into the arena of war had nipped in the bud the activities of German commerce raiders. A few ran amok until promptly rounded up and settled by the ubiquitous British cruisers. Others fled for neutral ports. Amongst them was the Pelikan, whose captain, with considerable astuteness, contrived to make for a harbour belonging to an obscure South American Republic.
Before doing so he had fallen in with the light cruiser Karlsruhe—a craft doomed shortly afterwards to end her career at the hands of her own crew rather than face an action that would end either in destruction or ignominious capture—and from her received a number of additional officers and men.
For a twelvemonth or more the Pelikan lay hidden. Lavish sums expended in bribery sealed the mouths of the grasping officials of the port, in addition to procuring coal and stores to enable the German vessel to put to sea whenever an opportunity offered.
At length the chance came. Acting under wireless orders from Berlin the Pelikan was to make a dash for the Atlantic, do as much damage as she possibly could to shipping of the Allies, and finally attempt to reach Dar es Salaam, the principal port of German East Africa. Here, should she succeed in evading the British patrols, she was to transfer her crew, armament, and munitions to shore to assist the land forces of the Colony against a threatened advance from Rhodesia.
Accordingly the Pelikan became the Zwaan. Disguised by a different colour paint and supplied with forged ship's papers she easily evaded the lax authority of the neutral port and made for the open sea.
A course was shaped to cut the Dutch East Indies liners' route in the latitude of Cape Verde. Then, following in a parallel direction, the track usually taken by the vessels she was impersonating, the pseudo Zwaan headed due south.
Kapitan von Riesser, her commanding officer, was a resourceful and crafty Hun. He was steeped in the doctrine of "frightfulness", but in the present instance there were limits.
Had he been the commander of a U boat he would not have hesitated to send the Nichi Maru to the bottom without warning, for a German submarine could strike a fatal blow and not show herself during the attack. The Pelikan—-to revert to her original name—was not capable of emulating the methods of German unterseebooten without risk of subsequent capture. And as the possibility of being taken by a British warship always loomed upon von Riesser's mental horizon, he was determined to tread warily.
The fear of reprisals alone kept him within the bounds of discretion as laid down by up-to-date rules of warfare. He might sink any merchant-vessel that fell into his clutches, provided he gave the passengers and crew time to take to their boats.
Three days before sighting the Nichi Maru the Pelikan had been stopped and examined by a British cruiser. The boarding-officer knew neither German nor Dutch, and conversation had to be conducted in English. The ship's papers were apparently in order. The British lieutenant failed to pay sufficient attention to the bulky deck-gear that concealed the raider's quick-firers; nor did he discover that, hidden between double bulkheads abaft the engine-room, two torpedo-tubes, removed from the Karlsruhe, were ready for instant use should occasion arise.
The cruiser had, indeed, a very narrow escape of sharing the fate of a British battleship that was torpedoed in the Channel on a dark and stormy night, the deadly missile being launched from a vessel sailing under the Dutch flag. Only Kapitan von Riesser's doubts as to the immediate success of a torpedo attack prevented him putting his treacherous design into effect. A stricken cruiser, he knew, could use her guns with tremendous results, and he had no wish to lay down his life for the Fatherland while an easier course lay open to him. Accordingly the boarding officer, with many apologies for having detained a neutral vessel, returned to the cruiser, which immediately steamed northwards, while the Pelikan proceeded on her course.
Having assumed that the British cruiser was well out of her way, the raider began to send out wireless calls, limiting the radius of action to about fifty miles. She did not call in vain, for the Nichi Maru, picking up the appeal for aid, hastened to the Pelikan's assistance and, all unsuspecting, fell a victim to her captor.
During the "round-up" of the passengers, Kapitan von Riesser had been informed by signal of the presence of three British naval officers on board the Nichi Maru, and instructions were asked as to their disposal.
The kapitan resolved the problem in his mind. He could not murder the prisoners without the news being conveyed by the rest of the passengers of the Japanese liner. If they were brought on board the Pelikan, they would be a source of danger should the ship again be overhauled by a patrolling cruiser, unless——
He consulted the ship's surgeon. Apparently the latter's advice was satisfactory. In addition, should the Pelikan arrive at Dar es Salaam with three British naval officers on board as prisoners, well and good. If, on the other hand, the vessel were captured on the high seas, the prisoners would no doubt be willing to testify to the fact that Kapitan von Riesser had committed no unpardonable breach of the usages of war. From which it will be seen that von Riesser was always considering how to save his own skin in the event of capture.
"Up—at once!" ordered the unter-leutnant as the boat containing Denbigh and his companions ran alongside the lowered accommodation-ladder of the Pelikan. The German did not hesitate to show his arrogance; but he was severely snubbed by his kapitan.
"I must apologize, gentlemen," began von Riesser in good English as the British officers came over the side. "My subordinate, Herr Klick, has allowed his zeal to outrun his discretion. It is necessary for me to detain you. I know you will bow to the inevitable and recognize that it is the fortune of war. I will speak to you again shortly!"
The kapitan hurried off, leaving Denbigh and his fellow-prisoners standing close to the head of the accommodation-ladder. Beyond the fact that a sentry stood within ten feet of them, no attempt was made to place them under restraint. They were free to speak, and to watch the scene that was being enacted a few hundred yards from the vessel to which they had been removed.
The Nichi Maru was lowering her boats rapidly yet with admirable discipline. Without accident the heavy lifeboats with their human freights took the water. As soon as the falls were cast off, the crews rowed to a safe distance, where they lay on their oars and awaited the end of the huge liner.
With some minutes to spare, the work of abandoning the vessel was completed. The captain was the last to leave, the imperturbable look upon his olive features masking the rage and grief that gripped his mind.
The two German boats still lay alongside. Presently half a dozen Teutons hurriedly scrambled into the waiting craft, which without delay were rowed quickly toward the Pelikan.
Three muffled reports came almost simultaneously from the interior of the doomed liner. These were followed by two more at comparatively long intervals. The Nichi Maru heeled slightly, and began to settle slowly by the bows.
The ship took her time. The wreaths of fleecy steam mingled with denser columns of smoke that issued from 'tween decks. Then, as the in rushing water came in contact with the furnaces, the vessel was enveloped in a cloud of eddying pungent fumes.
When the cloud dispersed, the Nichi Maru's bows were level with the water, while her stern was raised until the blades of her now motionless propellers were clear of the agitated sea.
Lower and lower sank the doomed ship. At frequent intervals, small explosions of compressed air took place. The sea was strewn with fragments of floating wreckage.
"She's going!" whispered Stirling.
The liner recovered herself. For a moment it seemed as if she were floating on an even keel. Then, with a convulsive effort, she flung her stern high out of the water and slid rapidly to her ocean grave. Almost the last to be seen of her was the mercantile flag of Japan, still floating proudly from the ensign staff.
In the liner's crowded boats the Japanese officers were standing erect and at the salute as the vessel disappeared from view. They, too, were of a breed that is not to be intimidated by Teutonic frightfulness.
On Board the Raider
"I wish to call attention to the fact, gentlemen, that we acted in strict accordance with the rights of belligerents," remarked Kapitan von Riesser.
The Pelikan's captain was seated in his cabin. On either side of him stood von Langer, the ober-leutnant who had been in charge of the boarding-party, and Unter-leutnant Kaspar Klick. Facing him stood Denbigh, Stirling, and O'Hara.
"I am afraid we cannot agree with you," replied Denbigh.
"Possibly not," retorted von Riesser, "but on what grounds?"
"It is hardly a humane act to turn those people adrift in open boats," continued the Sub.
"What else could I do? Surely you would not expect us to receive a thousand people on board this ship? They will be picked up, without doubt, within a few hours."
"Perhaps," declared Denbigh. "But there is always a risk. Your action in sinking that ship is unjustifiable. I am not here to argue the point, but I will merely state a case in which one of your captains did not think it advisable to go to the lengths you did. When, in the early part of the war, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse compelled the British liners Galicia and Arlanza to heave-to, these ships were subsequently allowed to proceed——"
"Yes, but at that time you English were not attempting to starve us out by a blockade," interrupted the kapitan excitedly, as men do when cornered in argument.
Denbigh shrugged his shoulders. He had made his protest and had scored a point.
"We have done with the past," continued von Riesser. "My object in sending for you is to explain your position. You are, of course, prisoners of war. It is my intention to accord you treatment as your rank demands. In ordinary circumstances you are at liberty to leave your cabins and come on deck whenever you wish during hours of daylight. There may be times when it will be necessary for you to be locked in—perhaps taken below. But, understand: if you attempt to jeopardize the safety of the ship, or to communicate with any passing vessel, or, in short, to behave other than officers on parole——"
"But we are not on parole," interrupted O'Hara.
"It matters not," declared the kapitan. "If I choose to consider that you are equivalent to being on parole that is my affair. If, then, you break any of the conditions I have mentioned you will be tried by a properly constituted court consisting of officers of the ship, and if found guilty you will be shot. Is that perfectly clear?"
The three prisoners signified their assent. After all, the German's stipulations were reasonable.
Von Riesser turned and conversed for a few minutes with his ober-leutnant. O'Hara, being ignorant of German, and Stirling having but a slight knowledge of the language, were unable to understand the drift of the conversation. Denbigh, on the other hand, was a fluent linguist, but he had already decided to keep that knowledge from his captors.
Presently Kapitan von Riesser produced a British Navy List. Somewhat to the British officers' surprise they noticed that it was dated "April 1916", or more than a twelvemonth since the last list had been obtainable by the public.
"You have qualified as an interpreter, I see," remarked von Riesser. "For what languages?"
"Hindustani, Swahili, and Arabic," replied Denbigh promptly. He did not think it necessary to add that German was amongst his qualifications, and he thanked his lucky stars that the recent Navy Lists do not specify the language in which officer-interpreters are expert.
"You are evidently considered a promising young officer," continued the kapitan. He could not refrain from adding, with a thinly-veiled sneer, "I am afraid your services will be lost to the English Admiralty for some time to come."
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"Perhaps," drawled Denbigh, with such well-feigned indifference that von Riesser glanced keenly at the young officer's clear-cut features.
Having subjected Stirling and O'Hara to an examination—in which the Irishman scored more than once by his smart repartees—the prisoners were dismissed.
The first meal on board the raider was served in the cabin allotted them. Judging by the nature of the repast provisions were neither scarce nor unvaried. Having finished, they went on deck. No one offered to interfere with them. The seamen affected to ignore them. Once Unter-leutnant Kaspar Klick passed, and gave them such a look that O'Hara afterwards remarked he would like to have a quiet five minutes with the German.
"I wonder they haven't searched us," said Stirling in a low voice. "Now I wish I had put my small revolver into my coat pocket. I thought it would have been too risky."
"For the same reason I practically emptied my pockets before we left the Nichi Maru," declared Denbigh.
"And so did I," added O'Hara, "but I took jolly good care to hide that little automatic pistol—you know the one: I collared it from a German officer in that little scrap at Herbertshöhe."
"For goodness sake be careful," protested the cautious and level-headed Scot.
"I'll try to be," replied O'Hara non-committedly.
"Where is the pistol?" asked Denbigh.
"Inside the lining of my cap," replied the Irishman. "Can you see any sign of a bulge under the cap-cover?"
"Not a trace," declared Denbigh. "Only, old man, remember you are rather hot-headed. Let's hope there won't be a premature explosion."
"There won't," said O'Hara emphatically. "Because I've no cartridges."
"That's something to be thankful for," remarked Stirling. "But what, might I ask, is the use of an automatic pistol, if you haven't any cartridges?"
"You never know your luck," replied O'Hara. "I may manage to pick up some on board. Whist!"
Von Langer, the fat ober-leutnant who had been in charge of the boarding-party, was approaching.
Possibly at a hint from his chief he had dropped his overbearing manner, for he addressed the prisoners in a mild tone.
"It is nearly sunset," he remarked. "You vos go below. I am sorry to tell you dis, but dese are orders. Wir mussen vorsichtig zu Werke gehen."
Denbigh gave no sign that he understood. Von Langer had hoped to trip the Englishman, but he had failed.
"What was that Johnny spouting about?" asked Stirling, when the three chums had retired to the cabin.
"That they had to be very careful," replied Denbigh. "That I don't doubt. I'll give them a week at the very outside. If we are not free men then, I reckon we're booked to Davy Jones his locker."
The cabin was plainly furnished. An electric light was burning, but the porthole had been previously closed and locked. Overhead an electric fan was buzzing, while fresh air was admitted by means of ventilation pipes communicating with the open air.
"We might do worse," remarked O'Hara as he proceeded to undress. "The rotten part of it is, we can't see what's going on outside. The beggars have cooped us up pretty well."
"They are evidently busy," said Stirling, as the bustling of some hundreds of men was plainly audible above the hum of the fan. "Perhaps they do the worst of their dirty work during the hours of darkness."
The three officers proceeded to make an examination of their quarters. The walls were of pitch-pine, but upon O'Hara sacrificing one of his razors, it was found that the woodwork merely formed a casing to a thin steel bulkhead. The ceiling, too, was of steel, coated with a patent cement to preserve the metal and to prevent "sweating". The door was of steel, and was fitted with a "jalousie" or latticed shutter; but their captors had taken the precaution of bolting a solid metal plate over the opening.
"Not much chance for anyone who happens to be a somnambulist," said Denbigh. "Well, it's no use kicking against the pricks when you're barefooted. I'm going to turn in. By Jove, I do feel horribly sleepy."
"And so do I," added Stirling, unable to stifle a terrific yawn.
"I believe I'm asleep already," muttered O'Hara drowsily.
A moment later the three chums were lost in oblivion. An opiate secretly administered by the doctor had been mixed with their food. So soundly did they sleep that they were unaware of a terrific crash that took place during the middle watch—the explosion of a torpedo launched from the supposed Dutch liner at a large French vessel.
Von Riesser had risked an example of frightfulness. The huge, heavily-charged missile—powerful enough to sink the largest battleship afloat within a couple of hours from the moment of impact—had literally torn to pieces the lightly-built hull of its victim. Before the luckless passengers and crew rushed for the boats—and these were for the most part shattered—the French craft sunk like a stone.
It was not until the sun was almost overhead that Pat O'Hara awoke. The deadlight of the porthole had been unshipped and the cabin was flooded with dazzling sunlight.
He sat up in his bunk. His head seemed to be splitting. Everything in view was slowly moving to and fro with a semicircular motion.
"What the deuce have I been up to?" he soliloquized. "Where was I last night? By Jove, I must have had another touch of that rotten malaria."
Presently the erratic movements of his surroundings quieted down. He became aware that Denbigh and Stirling, lying in their bunks on the other side of the cabin, were still sleeping and breathing stertorously.
"Now how in the name of goodness did those fellows get into my cabin?" asked the puzzled Irishman, for he was under the impression that he was on board the Nichi Maru. "Has someone been having a rag?"
From the alley-way came the sound of voices. He listened. The speakers were making use of a foreign language. It was not the soft, pleasing Japanese tongue—something harsh and guttural.
"German!" ejaculated O'Hara. "By my blessed namesake I remember it all now."
He leapt from his bunk and, crossing the cabin, shook Denbigh by the shoulders. The Sub's only reply was a grunt of semi-conscious expostulation. O'Hara turned his attentions to the Scot.
"Fore!" muttered Stirling, engrossed in the joys of a round of golf in dreamland.
"More like twelve, be jabbers," retorted O'Hara. "The sun's well over the fore-yard. Show a leg and shine, you lazy bounder."
The discipline imbued in the old Dartmouth College was too strong to resist the nautical invitation to get up. Stirling rolled from his bunk—fortunately it was the underneath one—and subsided heavily upon the floor.
"Pull yourself together, man," counselled O'Hara. "Those rotten Huns have been hocussing our grub."
"If they have, they have," muttered the imperturbable Stirling. "That's no reason why you should bellow into my ear like a ninety-thousand horse-power siren."
Leaving the Sub huddled upon the floor O'Hara proceeded to dress.
Suddenly he exclaimed:
"The dirty spalpeens! They've been to my pockets while I was asleep."
This announcement literally electrified his companion, for Stirling remembered that he had over twenty pounds in Australian sovereigns in his purse. Alas! The gold had vanished.
"Your pistol?" asked Stirling.
The Irishman whipped his uniform cap from a hat-peg.
"It's there," he reported. "And might you be wanting it to let daylight into the fellow who collared your cash?"
"Not much use without cartridges," replied Stirling savagely. "It might have got us into hot water if they had found it. Better pitch it through the port-hole, old man, before it lands you in queer street."
"No fear," declared O'Hara. "It may come in handy some day."
Some time elapsed before the two men were able to rouse Denbigh from his stupor. He, too, discovered that a small amount of gold that he happened to have on him at the time of the capture of the Nichi Maru had been taken from him. Some silver and a few Japanese coins had been left.
"We've been drugged right enough," said Denbigh. "I wonder why? There's some underhand game afoot during the hours of darkness. To-night we'll do without wine at dinner, and see how that acts."
Having completed their toilet the three Subs left the cabin, for the door was now unlocked and the metal covering to the jalousie removed. Without stood a seaman on sentry duty. He drew himself up stiffly as the British officers passed, but made no salute, nor did he attempt to bar their progress.
At the foot of the companion-ladder a petty-officer stopped them.
"Breakfast awaits you in this cabin," he said in German. Neither Stirling nor O'Hara understood, while Denbigh was sufficiently on his guard to feign ignorance of the nature of the announcement.
"Der vos a meal for you in dere," announced von Langer, stepping from behind the shaft of a ventilator.
"Thank you!" replied the three Subs in unison.
"But it's nearly lunch time, isn't it?" added O'Hara.
"Dey vos tell me der Englische are very fond of sleep," retorted von Langer with a laugh. "Himmel! I tink dot is very true."
The meal over, the prisoners went on deck. Out of curiosity Denbigh walked to the rail and leant over the side. He was not surprised at what he saw. The ship's sides had been painted during the night. The black band still remained, but the yellow paint had been replaced with a coat of blue. Already the tropical sun was blistering the still wet paint, revealing patches of the original hue underneath. The funnels, too, had been redecorated. They were now red with black tops.
Some minutes later Kapitan von Riesser descended from the bridge and walked aft. Seeing the British officer he crossed the deck.
"You like our new colour scheme?" he asked.
Denbigh did not reply to the question. He asked another.
"Mr. Stirling and I both lost some gold during the night. Our cabin was entered while we were asleep and the money taken from our pockets. Was the—er—theft committed at your instigation?"
For a moment von Riesser hesitated.
"There was no theft," he replied. "The gold was taken from you prisoners——"
"Contrary to——" began Stirling hotly.
"In accordance with my instructions," continued the Kapitan. "Gold is of no use to you. Instead, you will be furnished with Notes to its equivalent as soon as we arrive."
"You may as well get your purser to write out a receipt," said O'Hara. "It will come in handy when the Zwaan—if that's her proper name—is captured."
Von Riesser laughed boisterously.
"Captured?" he repeated. "Ach! I don't think there is much danger now. South of the Line there is not a solitary British cruiser that can touch us in speed. There are plenty of them, I admit, but that is your English all over. Three swift vessels would be worth all your East India fleet put together, yet you pack highly-trained crews into slow and out-of-date tubs."
"Possibly the captain of the Emden thought the same as you do," remarked Stirling.
"Müller had difficulties that I have not," replied von Riesser. "He was known to be in the Indian Ocean and swift cruisers were dispatched from England and Australia to hunt for him. Our presence on the High Seas will not be known to your Admiralty until it is too late. So, gentlemen, I must ask you to seriously consider the possibility of finding yourselves prisoners of war in our well-defended Colony of German East Africa."
That night, according to their pre-arranged plans, the captive sub-lieutenants avoided taking any of the wines that were placed before them.
They dined alone in a small cabin placed at least fifty feet from their sleeping quarters.
As it was now after sunset the porthole was closed and locked. The door, too, was shut, but not secured. Outside, a sentry paced to and fro.
"Look here, you fellows!" exclaimed Denbigh after the man deputed to attend to their needs had gone. "It's all very well knocking off the fizz, but they'll notice we haven't drunk any."
"Pour it into the grate," suggested Pat O'Hara recklessly.
Denbigh shook his head.
"Won't do," he objected, giving a glance in the direction of the small "bogie" stove. "I suppose there isn't any possibility of prizing open the port-lid?"
"You'd be spotted even if you could. There are plenty of men on deck," said O'Hara, glad of the opportunity of countering Denbigh's objection with another. "Come along, old bird; what do you suggest?"
Stirling, to whom the invitation was addressed, thrust his hand into the breast pocket of his coat.
"What would you do if I weren't here to look after you?" he enquired, at the same time producing three sponges. "I took them from our cabin."
"For dessert?" queried O'Hara, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.
"Yes, if you are a goat," said Stirling with asperity. "Goats are, I believe, rather partial to this sort of tack."
Coolly the Scot poured out a wineglassful of sherry—it was from the same decanter that they had taken some the previous evening—and slowly spilt the liquid on the sponge.
"Fill your glass first," cautioned Stirling. "Then they'll think we have had some of the poisonous stuff. Slip your sponge into your pocket, Denbigh. Don't squeeze it. I am presuming you'll want it again later. Of course if Pat wishes, he can chew his."
Dinner over, the chums retired to their sleeping cabin. In fact they had no option, since they were forbidden to go on deck after sunset. Here they talked and looked at the illustrations of some old Spanish newspapers until lights out; then, turning in, they lay awake awaiting possible developments. Eight bells struck. The Pelikan was no longer moving through the water. Outside the cabin men were talking. Springing from his bunk Denbigh approached the door, putting his ear to the covered jalousie.
"I suppose those English swine are sound asleep," said a voice which the sub recognized as that of Kapitan von Riesser. "I cannot hear them grunting—we did last night."
"Nor can I, sir," replied Unter-leutnant Klick, who as officer of the watch was accompanying the captain on his rounds. "But they must be. They went for that doctored sherry like fishes."
"Himmel! That is good news," exclaimed von Riesser. "It will be quite safe to settle that vessel. When she first answered our call she was only forty kilometres away. In twenty minutes——"
The listener fancied he could hear the kapitan rubbing his hands with glee.
"It is much the better way," continued von Riesser: "'Lost with all hands' is quite a plausible theory. I am almost sorry we didn't wait until night when we tackled the Japanese ship. We run a good risk of being made a quarry for a dozen or more of those accursed cruisers. Those English may even send some swift destroyers on our track. You are sure those fellows are quite insensible?"
"As quiet as the grave, sir," assured the unter-leutnant. "They will hear nothing. Even that terrific explosion when our torpedo took the Frenchman by surprise never disturbed them. But, of course, sir, I'll make doubly sure. We'll squirt some chloroform into the cabin."
"Then be sharp about it," said von Riesser. "There's no time to be lost. That English vessel ought to be in sight within the next quarter of an hour."
The German officer moved away. In a trice Denbigh communicated the news to his companions.
"Oh for a respirator!" whispered O'Hara.
"Don't worry," said Stirling. "The electric fan will carry off the fumes as quickly as they pump them in."
Even as he spoke the fan ceased to revolve. The current actuating the ventilating gear had been switched off. Already Unter-leutnant Klick was putting his scheme into effect.
"Those voice tubes," hissed Denbigh.
"They lead nowhere," protested Stirling. "They are blocked. I tried them some time ago."
The cabin had previously been used as the purser's office, and from it voice-tubes had communicated with the captain's cabin, the head steward's quarters, and the clerk's office. The metal pipes had been removed, but three lengths of flexible tubing had been left.
With a sharp tug Denbigh wrenched one of the tubes from the flange securing it to the bulkhead. The second gave more trouble. As he was straining at it a sharp rasping sound fell upon his ear. In the adjoining cabin someone was at work drilling a hole through the metal partition.
Smearing the bell-shaped mouth-pieces of two of the detached pipes with soap from the wash-basin, Denbigh clapped them together.
"Hold on here, Pat," he whispered. "Press 'em tightly."
O'Hara obeyed unhesitatingly. Instinctively he realized that this was Denbigh's pigeon, and once Denbigh undertook a task he was pretty certain of the result.
Stirling was then told to hold one end of the second and third sections. The united length of tubing was now nearly nine feet. One end Denbigh wedged into the opening in the ceiling for the electric fan. The other he held in his hand in readiness.
At length, after a tedious wait, Denbigh saw the tip of the drill emerging from the bulkhead. Marking the spot he instantly switched off the light. A dull thud announced that the boring tool had made a complete perforation and that the handle had struck home against the steelwork.
The drill was withdrawn. In its place a small metal tube was inserted. Deftly and noiselessly Denbigh slipped the lower end of the flexible piping over the projecting nozzle. Then he waited. He could hear the Irishman breathing heavily. The portion of the tube that he was holding quivered in his excitable grasp. Stirling, cool and collected, gave no sign of the potential alertness that possessed him.
A gentle hissing sound, repeated at short intervals, announced that the Germans were injecting the stupefying fumes by means of a bellows. A faint, sickly odour assailed Denbigh's nostrils. He had to fight hard to refrain from gasping. Grimly he stood by until the hissing noise ceased.
His plan had been successful. Save for a slight leakage the fumes had travelled through the pipe and had been carried through the louvres of the ventilator, while the hot air of the cabin was sufficient to create an up-draught to disperse the noxious vapour.
Denbigh removed his end of the tube. As he did so he heard a voice exclaim:
"It is enough. More will kill them. You had better enter the cabin, Herr Doktor, and see that they are still breathing."
The sub drew the piping from his companions' grasp.
"Turn in and pretend you're insensible," he whispered, fearful lest the sound should be heard through the newly-made hole in the bulkhead.
It was less than five minutes later when the door was unlocked and a dim figure cautiously entered.
"Not half so bad as I expected," said a guttural voice. The smell of the anæsthetic had almost dispersed. "Where is the switch?"
"Here, Herr Doktor," replied a petty officer.
The next instant the cabin was bathed in brilliant light. In spite of their efforts to the contrary the three supposed sleepers twitched their eyelids.
The ship's surgeon bent over O'Hara. A short scrutiny confirmed his suspicions. He turned to the bunk on which Stirling was lying, and, lifting the sub's eyelid, placed the tip of his forefinger upon the eyeball.
"Ach, is it so?" ejaculated the German, for Stirling had been compelled to contract his eyelids.
A similar test bore the same result in Denbigh's case; then, without another word, the doctor hurried from the cabin.
"The old pillbox has tumbled to it," muttered Denbigh. "Now what will their little game be?"
The sub was not left long in doubt. Ober-leutnant von Langer, who had followed the doctor into the cabin, made his presence known by bawling out an order to half a dozen of the crew who were waiting without:
"Come! Out mit you!" he exclaimed, addressing the sham sleepers. "It is that I know your little pretend. Ach! you tink you smart?"
Yet Denbigh and his companions kept still, half-hoping that the doctor's test had not been successful and von Langer was trying his hand.
The ober-leutnant gave another order. Unceremoniously the three British officers were hauled out of the bunks by the seamen, who seemed to take a delight in roughly handling anyone of commissioned rank. Perhaps, if von Langer did but know it, his men would have been only too pleased to use him in the same way, for the ober-leutnant was a Prussian and a Junker, while the crew were for the most part from Schleswig-Holstein.
With as much dignity as their dishevelled appearance would permit, Denbigh and his companions allowed themselves to be taken on deck, where they had to cool their heels at the pleasure of their captors. It was a bright moonlight night. The air was decidedly chilly for the Tropics. A heavy dew was falling. The lightly-clad men—for the sub-lieutenants were in pyjamas—realized that there was a grave risk of tropical fever.
The ship was once more under way. With a true seaman's instinct Denbigh glanced aloft. By the relative position of the moon—since no stars were visible—he was able to fix the approximate course of the vessel. She was steering roughly sou'-sou'-east. Far away to the nor'ard a masthead lamp was blinking—calling in Morse to know why they had been summoned.
Denbigh gave a grunt of satisfaction. For once von Riesser's plan had gone awry. He had feared to treacherously torpedo an unsuspecting merchantman since there were hostile eye-witnesses on board the Pelikan.
Presently the kapitan, clad in a greatcoat over his white uniform, appeared at the head of the bridge-ladder.
"You there, von Langer?" he called.
"Yes, sir," replied the ober-leutnant. "Shall I bring the prisoners to you?"
"No, I'll see them in my cabin," replied von Riesser. "Tell off a couple of hands to guard the prisoners and another half-dozen to wait outside in case there is any trouble. I'll be there in a few minutes."
The kapitan's quarters were situated aft on the upper deck. They comprised a large cabin, used for meals and recreation, and a sleeping cabin opening from it. Denbigh and his companions were marched into the outer cabin and told to take up a position facing von Riesser's empty arm-chair and separated from it by a long mahogany table.
The cabin was plainly furnished. In addition to the arm-chair and table there were two sideboards, a large book-rack, and half a dozen cane chairs. On the table lay a pile of Dutch charts. Books for navigation and sailing directions in the same language occupied the shelves in company with a few American novels.
Everything German, with one exception, had been studiously eliminated, in order to baffle the curiosity of a British boarding-officer in the event of the supposed Zwaan being held up. The exception was a large oil painting of the Kaiser in the uniform of a German Admiral of the Fleet. The portrait was framed in a massive oak frame securely fixed to the bulkhead between the two cabins. The only other picture was a sepia-toned photograph of the Queen of Holland, in a narrow, plain gilt frame. When it became necessary to hide the features of the All Highest War Lord from the eyes of the strafed English, who had practically contrived to drive the War Lord's battleships from the face of the five oceans, von Riesser took the risk of committing lese majesté by placing the portrait of Queen Wilhelmina over that of the Emperor Wilhelm II. Then, to all appearances, the captain's cabin of the Zwaan was loyally adorned by a photograph of the Queen of the Netherlands in a deep oak frame with a thin gold slip.
In the circumstances, however, it was not considered necessary to eclipse the All Highest War Lord, so the three British subs found themselves confronted by the painted features of the modern Attila.
The door was thrown open. Von Langer and the two seamen clicked their heels and saluted as von Riesser entered with the dramatic effect of which Prussians are so fond. Gravely saluting the Emperor's portrait and then returning his subordinates' mark of respect the kapitan took his seat.
"You know why you are here?" asked von Riesser abruptly, lowering his brows and looking sternly at the three British officers.
"We do not," replied Denbigh. "In fact, it is rather unusual to turn a fellow out of his bunk at one in the morning."
"Do not bandy words, Herr Denbigh," snapped the kapitan. "You have been causing trouble."
"Is it causing trouble to take steps to avoid being gassed or chloroformed?" asked O'Hara.
"Yes," almost shouted the kapitan. "If we think it desirable that our prisoners should be put to sleep it is not for them to resist."
"In that case there's no more to be said," declared the Irishman. "You are top-dog——"
"You call me a dog, you English swine!" almost howled the now infuriated Prussian.
O'Hara burst out into violent laughter. Denbigh smiled broadly, while around Stirling's firm lips hovered the suspicion of a grim smile. Their utter indifference to the ravings of their captor took von Riesser by surprise.
"I may as well tell you," began Denbigh, seizing his opportunity, "that I can speak German perhaps as well as you can speak English. I overheard your conversation outside our cabin an hour or so ago, and we know what you proposed to do to the ship which you were luring. I suppose you call those tactics frightfulness. I call them low-down, skulking treachery. How a man who professes to be a sailor, who has lived a free and healthy life upon the sea, could belittle himself to act as you propose to do, and possibly have done, passes my understanding. I give you fair warning, Kapitan von Riesser, that, should we be set free by an English cruiser, you will have a grave indictment to answer."
Von Riesser did not reply for a few moments. He was greatly agitated. Once or twice he glanced anxiously at his ober-leutnant, as if curious to know whether von Langer understood Denbigh's words.
Then he, too, laughed, but it was not a natural outburst of an unburdened and evenly-balanced mind.
"You threaten?" he asked. "Well, I can threaten also. Suppose I decide to put into operation the principle of your worthy Prime Minister? One of his maxims, oft quoted in the Press, is, I believe, 'Wait and see'?"
"It ought to be particularly applicable in your case," rejoined Denbigh coolly.
"Ach! And in yours. What is to prevent me from ordering a weight to be put about your neck and cast you into the sea? Weight and sea. Himmel, that is great!"
He roared at his own joke, while von Langer, although unable to comprehend the significance, showed his servile approbation by laughing in a minor key.
"I don't think that it would make very much difference if you did," replied Denbigh. "You see, the Nichi Maru's people know that you carried us off. Some day you will have to answer some rather searching questions if you could not produce us."
Again von Riesser pondered. He was beginning to feel horribly annoyed with himself for having ever received the three British officers on board the Pelikan. He was plunging deeper and deeper into the mire. He lacked the determination to cut the Gordian Knot.
By way of an excuse he scribbled a note and tossed it to von Langer.
"Take that to the officer of the watch," he said carelessly.
The ober-leutnant quitted the cabin. The two impassive seamen remained. They, fortunately, knew no English, save a few catch phrases picked up when lying in dock in that dim period before the War.
"Suppose we cry quits," resumed von Riesser. "I am ready to apologize for having exceeded my rights in dealing with you. After all there's no great harm done. I'll admit I planned to trap yonder vessel. You must have misunderstood me when I said that I had intended to torpedo her. We use our torpedoes only in cases of extreme necessity. Are you willing to forget this night?"
"We would like to talk the matter over between ourselves," replied Denbigh. "If you have no objection, we will give our reply at noon to-morrow."
"I agree," said von Riesser, with a meekness that quite surprised Denbigh and his companions. He gave an order to the two seamen. They turned and left the cabin.
Two minutes later the British officers were back in their own quarters. Time had been called after the first round, and the Prussian had not come out top-dog.