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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 12, 1915 - Part I - Questions of Identity

---- 8:00 AM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 75 miles east of Ocean City, Maryland

The captain did not need the map to know where he was. He had, after all, been here before, many times these last many months. This area was an exceptionally active one; Baltimore possessed one of the largest natural harbors in the world. Traffic from that port, together with a variety of hulls emerging from several rivers with unpronounceable names, could easily occupy the attentions of several patrollers searching for contraband. Two, though, were all the Admiralty seemed to be able to spare for the task. In fact, Val's Tract had been more or less alone on station since just after dawn; her partner had departed then and was sweeping ahead.

Normally, his ship and the other would have remained off the Chesapeake Bay for another three days or so. However, early yesterday two more AMCs had left Bermuda, almost a week ahead of schedule, and they would soon take the southern area of this portion of the picket line off the US East Coast. Admiral Patey had gotten the wind up over the possibility of a blockade runner, or even a raider.

"Bloody nonsense," said Captain Randolph Moore aloud to no one, "or my name's not Nell."

A couple crewmen on the bridge exchanged looks, but made no comment.

"Sir, Niobe's smoke is no longer in sight."

Moore looked to the NE himself, as though he might be able to see Niobe's smoke whilst his lookouts could not.

"Very well," he replied a moment later.

"Navigator," Moore continued, "we'll turn to follow in 30 minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir."

---- Noon, London, outside an office of the Admiralty

"Well, well, look who just washed ashore! It's Mr. Hereford, himself!"

The lieutenant looked up, already smiling, as he recognized the other's voice.

"Hello, yourself, Mr. Castleman, Lord of the Manor!"

"So, Mike, it's flag lieutenant to Grand Fleet, now?"

"Well," the lieutenant replied, "I guess. He just found out about it a couple days ago, on the way back, in Marseilles. So, there's no accounting for what'll happen with staff."

That chance remark silenced the both of them, alighting on a fresh wound as it did.

LT Castleman was the first to break the silence.

"Jackie ran us ragged, he did - 'e was impossible to predict. Bloody nonsense, mostly," he added not at all convincingly.

"Well, so far, it's been mad."

"It won't get be gettin' any better!"

"Oh, but it must. Surely, it must. France was right out of Wonderland. Days and nights on a rattletrap train full of Frenchy Tweedle-Dums and Tweedle-Dees, cold soup at every meal ...."


"I tell you, Geoff, I was never so glad to see a ship as I was to see Arethusa yesterday! I tell you, I nearly kissed the bosun's mate ...."

This was also a sly allusion to "kissing the gunner's mate." The two young men shared a brief grin at recollections of shared midshipman escapades and consequences.

"But you speak French, don't you?" Castleman asked after a moment.

"Certainment, but the Admiral gave me clear instructions not to let on. 'Not one word,' he said."


"That's what the Boche are going to find out, too."

"That's the spirit!"

"You went to Scapa with Admiral Fisher, didn't you?" He got an assenting nod. Their smiles disappeared. "How bad is it?"

"It's bad, mate. Not going to play you false on that score. Ships scattered about in yards all over the bloody place. You should've been on the Duke, though. We 'r on 'er bridge, whole starboard side of it gone from a Hun shell, you understand."

The other paused revisiting the scene, his eyes bright. Hereford swallowed, a side of the bridge "gone."

"There they stood," Castleman continued, "pretty as pie, Sir Jackie was talking sortieing the Fleet again with Burney and J[ellic]oe whilst all about yard birds 're singing in the superstructure with hammers and cutters."

"Damn me!"

"His Nibs stops his speech, and he never does that. 'Cause in the wheel, right in the bloody ship's wheel, are two metal hunks as big as me thumb. 'Leave them right there,' says Sir Jackie, not missing a beat. 'Be a lesson to those that follow us.' "

"Right in the wheel!"

"Aye, and the Huns did come out, just as Winnie said they would, him knowing this bloke Letters and all. And J[ellic]oe went right out after 'em, to get some pay back, but the bloody cowards ran right back into their hidey hole."

"De Robeck wondered about that. I heard him discussing it with Commodore Tyrwhitt. Neither of them had anticipated anything of the sort."

"Well, Churchill did, and so did Sir Jackie."

"Yes." It went unspoken that both were gone.

"How're the men taking it?" LT Hereford asked cautiously, after a moment.

"Low they were at first. Roarin' like lions when we went back out on the 6th. But, like I said, the Huns would have none of it. For the last couple days, though, the rags 'been going on about the Red Cross lists. Now, well, now I don't know."

Across the corridor, the door opened and LT Hereford saw Admiral De Robeck, and several others, emerge from the closed rooms. He stood up quickly, Castleman forgotten. He didn't notice any of the others, having eyes only for his principal.

LT Castleman tried to hide the pang of the loss he suddenly felt. A week ago, the intent, purposeful countenance of his friend had been a mirror to his own. No longer.

---- 2:30 PM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 64 miles east of Cape May, New Jersey

Captain Randolph Moore was staring west. The west-bound American freighter they had let by two hours ago was one they had seen twice before, on other deployments. The plumes from two other ships were already visible to the west, likely having come out of the Delaware Bay. The times were right for an early morning sailing from Wilmington, Delaware, and several other embarkation points up along the coasts towards the great port of Philadelphia. If today were typical, they could expect several additional ships to emerge from Delaware Bay in the hours ahead that had left from the docks further upstream during the morning hours.

"Sir, lookouts report another contact, bearing 295. The vessel appears to be going SSW."

This was routine. Coastal traffic was heavy along the seaboard in this area. In fact, it was not uncommon to have as many as 10 plumes in sight at one time all along the broad western arc, as the neutral United States prospered in its disgusting, isolationist peace with heavy north-south, intra-national commerce. Minutes before, a plume had left their sight south-bound that they'd watched for hours as the vessel worked its way down the coast. They'd never seen the ship, just her smoke. That, too, was quite common. Admiralty orders were abundantly firm on the matter so as not to offend the former colonials. The new contact to the NW was probably on a similar route.

"Very well," Moore replied.

"Sir, lookouts report new smoke on the eastern horizon, bearing 095."

Moore turned to face the newcomer who obviously was on her final leg of a crossing, like the American freighter a couple hours earlier. At this point, there was only the faint line threading into the afternoon sky to betray her.

"Sir, new contact, smoke bearing 240."

This one was probably making her way northward along the coast. It looked like it was going to be a busy day.

"Sir, the contact that bears 275, appears to be heading in this direction."

Busy indeed.

---- 2:40 PM, corridor, Admiralty

Admiral De Robeck halted and turned to his flag-lieutenant. They edged into a small alcove of sorts that was at a bay window that overlooked nothing more than a shrubbery, best Hereford could tell. A small pedestal stood in the center of the bit of open space, upon it, in the position of honor, was the bust of some notable (the lieutenant had not looked to see just who) staring triumphantly into the hallway.

"Michael, 'tis hard to say how long this lot will carry on, so do go get a bit to eat, will you."

Hereford began to demur, but the admiral would hear none of it.

"There's no advantage to having you rot out here," De Robeck said. "And, while you're at it, find out what you can about what the watcher types have come up with on Letters and Rudburg."

"Aye, aye, sir," said the lieutenant, concealing most of his reluctance.

"I want to know where they are - the both of them - and where they've been every day since they last came out."

"Yes, sir."

"Use my name, if you must, but find out all you can. Nothing's too small."


The junior officer watched as the admiral went through another set of doors that were not for him. He glanced at the bust, shrugged back at the empty marble eyes, and went on his way.

---- 2:45 PM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 65 miles east of Cape May, New Jersey

"Sir, she's altered course." The report was in reference to one of the contacts they had watched working their way down the coast. "New heading puts her directly into the Bay approaches."

"Very well."

Moore walked across the bridge and looked again at the in-bound contact.

"Any more on the contact on 095?"

"No, sir. She's still hull down."

"Very well."

The navigator drifted over to where the captain was standing. Both officers had their binoculars up.

"She's showing a lot of smoke. Don't you think, sir?"

"Yes," Moore agreed. The distant plume did seem unusually thick for the arrival still to be hull down, but Moore was confident that it was not without precedent. "That Italian ship back in March, I cannot seem to recall her name. She showed a lot of smoke. At one point, the lookouts feared she might be on fire."

"Yes, sir. I remember her now. Red trim, peeling badly, green stripe on her stack. Sparks. Sparks were showering onto her decks."

"Just so." Moore nodded in agreement. "Some ship captains," he observed with distaste, "will burn anything, so long as it's cheap."

The smoke continued slowly to grow and the bearing remained steady on 095.

---- 3:00 PM, Admiralty office

"The problem, Mike, is that Letters claims kin to Kaiser Wilhelm himself."

"I've heard that, but how is that a problem?"

"Just like here, mate," the other junior officer said, looking around. "Rank hath its privileges, and rank goes to the privileged. Who commands the regiments, eh?"

"Meaning what, you get of a goat?" Hereford retorted, coming from more than a bit of privilege himself.

"Nice! Been to Egypt, have we? Aide to an admiral, perhaps?"

"Look, Harvey, I don't have to stand for this."

"Maybe you do and maybe you don't. If you don't, though, maybe you should ask yourself why not."

"Damn your eyes ...."

"Look, Michael," the other lieutenant interrupted in an intense tone of voice, "I don't begrudge you it, not a whit of it, or anything at all, for that matter. But you know it's rather hard making any sense of muddled agent reports and tripe in the foreign press. Damn near impossible, really. Ignore basic cultural factors like noblisse oblige and privilege, and there's really no point in it. No point at all."

They met each other's eye. For a moment, it looked as neither would back up. Then Hereford sighed, breaking the sharp tension, and what had promised to become a stalemate, or even a confrontation.

"You're right, Harvey. I lost my head, there. I ..."

"No call for that. Not with me, Michael. Never."

Another moment of awkward silence prevailed. This one, though, had no edge to it.

"Let me continue, then," said the one from humbler roots. "Look at it this way. Scheer gets the vapors or something, we can't tell when, by the way. Letters takes command. The Huns win big. So, who gets the credit? Letters, kin of the Kaiser, that's who."

"Lord in heaven! Do you think?"

"Well, no, actually I don't. The commander does, though. And he'd be singing it from the altar, too, except for that 'Montrose's Toast' message."

"The what?" The other explained.

"The problem in interpreting that bit is if Letters was behind it all from the start, or just took advantage of what Scheer or this Rudburg fellow did."

"But, what you're saying is that it'd be Letters getting the glory either way."

"Precisely, and Rudburg got Vice. That's two edged, the same. The Germans themselves, other than the toppers, wouldn't know. No way we could from across the Channel."


"Indeed. And it makes all the difference in the world, in predicting."

"Yes, no wonder the admiral told me to check on the both of them."

"He did?"

"Yes, he must have seen all this ...." His voice trailed off. "But, then why don't you?"

"The Dogger Bank business. Hipper bought it. But when? We don't know that one either. Letters got the garland for that, too."

"But, Harvey! That'd fit, too!"

"Yes, it would. I just don't believe in coincidence. Not ones that big, at any rate."

"I see the problem."

"Just so."

---- 3:05 PM, bridge of Val's Tract, 66 miles off Cape May, New Jersey

"Sir, the contact on 275 appears to be flying French colors."

"Very well, what's the range?"

"Sir, estimate is 18,000 yards."

"Very well."

The French vessel couldn't be doing 10 knots, Moore thought. He walked over to the other side of the bridge.

"That's a lot of smoke," said Moore aloud, looking east. There was no one standing near him.

"Sir! Contact bearing 095 appears to be a liner!"

Moore did not acknowledge. "That's a lot of smoke," he repeated. His good friend commanding Rollonot, Hawkins, had reported a lot of smoke ....


"Yes, yes. A 'liner.' Very well." Damnation, he thought, hell and damnation.

Minutes passed. He continued to stare at the oncoming pillar of smoke.

"Yes, well. Damn me, but that's Patey's runner, or my name's not Nell!"

Across the bridge, one young man, only recently assigned as messenger turned to his buddy. "But, his name ain't 'Nell,' is it?"

"Naw, but he's a way of talkin' to 'imself when he gets upset, he does. It's a quirk of 'is. Callin' 'imself Nell, and others, too."

The messenger would have asked further, but stilled at a glare from the bosun's mate.

"Inform the Engineer I'll be ordering All Ahead Flank shortly, I expect."

jim (Letterstime)

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