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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas - Part II

---- 10:30 AM, Chocorua Princess, course 070, speed 9 knots

The ladies had screamed, but only briefly. The first time had been when large shells had exploded in the water just a few hundred yards dead ahead. The second time had been when the Americans had seemed to fire right at them, but there had been no splashes. At least, none that the foursome had noticed. The fleeing AMCs had just churned past barely a few hundred yards away on either side, great gobbets of smoke roiling the air behind both.

The bow waves from the British soon met them, and their craft pitched sickeningly. Nik's awkward perch suddenly became somewhat perilous, as the mast kept trying to sling him into the sea. The frustrating part, though, was that he could not see when slung to starboard, as it put sailcloth in his line of sight. This was how a metronome must feel, Nik thought. At that instant, he was "tick"ed and could not see anything ahead.

The combination of the waves and the smoke had the ladies almost as green as the water. The heaviest odors were acrid, as the smoke was heavily sooted, but there were other odors.

"What in the world," began one of the ladies, "is burning over there? It almost smells like ..." There were gagging noises. Lannon decided that they had just stumbled upon the answer.

"Ladies, ladies," soothed Lannon, "at least they've all stopped shooting!"

"There," called down Nik, momentarily "tock"ed to port. His pronouncement was cut short as he determined empirically that he could not point without great risk.

"Looks like we're gonna' need to come about 10 - 15 degrees to port," Nik clarified, after winning his tussle with gravity and inertia.

"No can do," Lannon shouted back. "Got a great leg going ... lose too much way on that heading. Gotta' get closer before I can tack. Keep them in sight, OK?"

Nik was "tick"ing and unable to reply.

---- 10:30 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course (changing), speed (increasing)

Here we go again, thought Commander Leverett.

"Ahead Full," he ordered. "Make turns for 18 knots. XO, prepare for rescue operations."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Leverett kept a skeptical eye on the liners, as his destroyer began to overtake them. So much had become clearer now. So much, as well, for having seen the last of Strassburg! The up-gunned German light cruiser was ahead and further out to sea, to starboard. She was well past the liners, who had remained placidly on a course paralleling the original track of Alton's force and obviously just inside the 3-Mile Limit. Strassburg had not been stalling to delay their inevitable demise or internment. Not at all!

Destroyer No. 47 slid by the liners, which looked to be slowing. Many curious and incurious eyes looked out from the rails; there were indeed women and children aboard them. American women and children. Had this been just Strassburg's lucky day? A colossal jest of the gods? Or had this entire thing been the setup it now seemed? He tried to recall exactly his last conversation with Kommodore von Hoban. Let's see, he thought. He remembered asking the German what he was going to do when he got to the edge of US waters and found the British formed up in squadron strength, just waiting for him. What was it that commodore had said under his breath?

"Seaman First Henkle to the bridge," Leverett ordered. He passed the few moments watching Kaiser Wilhelm II drop astern and Imperator draw alongside.

Could it really have been a trap all along? Since June 12?! Watching Imperator come alongside, a young woman waved at one rail, he scowled. The crisp cruiser, the great liners, the Americans - bait?! Niobe's bow still pointed skyward from the waves, ahead to starboard.

"Seaman Henkle reporting, sir."

"Very well," Leverett acknowledged. "Henkle, what was the thing that commodore said again?"

" ‘Leere Hände locken keine Falken,' sir. My grandmother said it meant, ‘Empty hands "gather" no hawks.' "

"Thank you, Seaman," Leverett replied.

All along, he thought. The whole time. Bait!

--- 10:30 AM, Imperator, course 030, speed 5 knots

"Herren? Gentlemen?"

"Ah, yes, Mr. Ballin." Browning answered. "Can we help you?"

"Er, I was actually hoping to aid the both of you," Ballin began. "I was, um, hesitant to speak until I sighted the marina's dispatch boat."

"The ‘dispatch boat'?" Fox wondered aloud.

"Yes, there," Ballin pointed. "I engaged them to meet us an hour before noon."

The two reporters turned to follow the HAPAG's owner's gesture. What looked to be a brightly painted steam launch was emerging from the shallows and was pointing their way.

"We have used them extensively, before the war, that is. I would have mentioned it earlier, but I had feared the shooting might, um, dissuade them. I had hoped to give you more time ..."

Of course, Fox thought, his thoughts straying. Fresh newspapers for the millionaires, tips from and for brokers, valuable pre-wireless insider stuff. No wonder the rich always seem to get richer. Wait! What was he saying?!

"... your stories," Ballin finished.

"You can?" Browning exclaimed with vast enthusiasm.

"Ja," nodded Ballin. "They will return directly to the marina there, and there is a phone at the inn, within meters of the gate."

"And they will report exactly ...?" Fox began.

"I have never violated a passenger's trust." Ballin frowned, a black thundercloud on his normally tranquil visage. "Never! But this is war, and I can understand such concerns."

Ballin reflected but for only a moment.

"Often," he continued, "documents of some size needed to be delivered before my liners would dock. There are cars at the inn for hire. A call can alert your editors that your stories are enroute; you may seal them here, or you can go yourself, of course. You may make whatever arrangements you prefer. The marina has long benefitted from our, er, association and they will certainly seek to comply with your instructions.

"However," Ballin continued," I expect we will proceed out to meet the rest of our escorts, once the dispatch boat leaves. There will be more stories. Even some pictures."

The two Americans looked at each other, eyes growing, glowing. Scoop - front page - headlines and all! And they could meet the afternoon deadline! They had 30 - 45 minutes!

---- 10:45 AM, bridge of New York, course 150, speed 8 knots

Rear-Admiral Alton had given certain orders and scanned the wrecks off to the East as he waited. The battlecruiser and Strassburg both had stopped. Their guns were peacefully fore-and-aft, but he wasn't fooled. Sparkles from glasses came and went in their tops, undoubtedly lookouts keeping close tabs on Alton and the two surviving RN AMCs. Right now, though, they had boats in the water. Rescuing or, rather, taking prisoners. Aylwin was making her way towards them; men were forming up on her decks and canvas covers were coming off her boats. Possible conflict there, he realized, but that's why he'd sent young Leverett, who the Germans should certainly know well enough by now.

Alton looked at the other German in sight, further to the SE. She, too, had stopped. Presumably, she also was getting men out of the water. The damn fool who'd done his best to become "an innocent bystander" was sailing blithely right out into the middle of it all. Nor was he alone. There were many other private craft now in sight, all making for the scene of the action. A few of them already were outboard of the American battleline.

The liners, though, had come to a dead stop, content to sit just inside American Territorial waters. That made no sense to him but, in light of quite recent events, he was ready to suppose that the Germans had some sound reason. Nefarious, but sound.

"Admiral, Mina has acknowledged."

"Very well." Alton half-turned, catching the flags on that Destroyer's halyards as she began her turn away. White was already frothing at her stern, and the others in her division were turning smartly to follow.

Good, Alton thought to himself. He could depend on Captain Atanacio to offer the British assistance, but also to make them comply with Alton's orders to put in at the New York Naval Station. He'd considered assigning Snepp's group to the task - it would get Snepp out of his hair. What instantly dissuaded him, though, was that Snepp might be tempted to let them sink, or to threaten them. He already was going to be in enough trouble with Stennis and Washington as it was. Atanacio would get them to obey without complaint. Though he certainly could put the hammer down - gods and goddesses! - he seldom needed to.

There was still the question of what had happened to Patey and the three cruisers he had taken out into the Atlantic. Well, the smoke threads on the horizon were probably the answer to THAT question, but surely this pair could not have dispatched Patey's sortie force that quickly.

"Admiral?" It was his chief of staff, and the damn clipboard. With the message to Stennis, still unsent.

"In a minute," the American admiral said. Brusquely. Too much so, he realized, a moment too late.

"George," he relented, "we all saw what the Germans just did, and reporting that's pretty straightforward. Ugly, and we'll be eating a lot of crow over it, but straightforward.

"But, George, there're two things these guys have NOT done. And that's got my attention just now.

"For one, almost no signal flags.

"For the other, they're in no hurry to get back out there."

His staff was still considering that when the report was relayed into the bridge.

"Admiral, you were right," said the newcomer officer, as he stepped into the bridge and saw he had Alton's attention. "Lookouts confirm. Neither German is flying a broad pennant and both DO show battle damage."

There was no inflection in the officer's voice. Getting answers to odd questions from senior officers was what he'd been doing since before leaving Annapolis. Also, he'd just witnessed Alton pulling "German battlecruiser" out of his hat. In his boyhood fantasies, admirals were all-knowing; Alton had done nothing to disabuse him of that notion today.

"Very well," Alton replied, repressing a sigh. Gods and goddesses, but his stomach hurt!

The conclusion was inescapable. There were more Germans out there. Including one senior to a commodore.

by Jim

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