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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XIV

---- 10:30 AM, Strassburg, stopped (Roughly 40 miles East of Delaware Bay entrance)

"Sir, the Justine has gotten underway."

The officers were bending over the charting table, as the bosun updated the plots for their two current contacts. The one originally sighted bearing 210 forty minutes ago was outbound and would pass to their south, with a closest approach of 8,000 yards, in about twenty-five minutes. The one spotted at the same time on bearing 035 would pass just 3,000 yards to their north in about thirty-five minutes. Captain Siegmund had swung Strassburg to present their bow to the outbound ship. The inbound ship had a bit of a better look at her profile, but not by very much.

In any case, it was a clear statement by the Strassburg CO that his primary interest was in hulls that were outbound.

"Very well," Siegmund replied. That was good, as it might delay questions arising in the minds of their present quarries and each minute brought both vessels conveniently nearer to the hunter. His brow furrowed as he regarded the tracks, and the possible near-term sequences of events they suggested.

"The lookouts know to report any flag sighting," Gommel supplied, before he could be asked.

If the outbound ship was flying a Neutral flag, Siegmund's focus would shift instantly to the other. Later it might be different, but not this morning. Admiral Hanzik had been quite clear on that point.

"Thank you, XO."

---- 10:50 AM, Bermuda


The commander noted that the admiral was over at the chart on his wall, staring hard. Looking for warships, maybe?


"Just in from Philadelphia. You had it exactly! Both Imperator and Kaiser Wilhelm II docked there this morning."

The admiral just nodded. It was clear the other still had something else to add.

"But there's more, sir. Another Hun liner!"


"No, sir. That is, Vaterland is still there, just as you said, but another liner came in with the ones out of New York."

"A fourth liner?" Another German ship? Was there no end to them?

---- 11:10 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Admiral Alton, sir."

"Very well, thank you." Stennis got up and went to the door himself.

"Come on in, Admiral. Coffee? Yeoman, would you pass the word for my steward please?"

Alton looked tired and Stennis knew full well that he was probably hiding most of it.

"A good transit, Dave. Secretary Daniels and Admiral Benson were on the phone with me when your '30 minutes out' message came in. That was just in time for Daniels to use it with the British ambassador and take with him to his meeting with the President."

"The President? Wilson?"

"The same," Stennis replied lightly, but it was his turn to conceal inner feelings. He was shocked at Alton's weary puzzlement. Had the other not slept at all? Had his fast run up channel sapped him so heavily?

The arrival of the steward bearing fresh hot coffee was welcomed by both men.

"Anything new to report?" Stennis asked, as he lifted his cup.

"I lost two more this morning before we turned them over to the base hospital."

Ah, thought Stennis. So that's it.

"Dave, you saved a lot of British lives yesterday, and every Tar you got ashore this morning now has a decent chance. A hell of a lot better chance than they would've had outside on Moltke's deck."

Alton nodded, sipping the hot brew.

"But we need to move on, Admiral." Stennis was glad to see the other getting a bit of color back and that he straightened at the sound of his title. He wished he could give Alton a few more minutes, but he dared not.

"Have you seen this morning's Times? No? Well, here's one - I seem to have a few to spare," Stennis added dryly. "You'd better take a few minutes right now and do that. I expect Daniels to call any minute and he'll want to hear your version."

Alton glanced down at the headlines, and the photos.

"Yeoman? Is my steward still out there? We seem to have had a coffee spill ...."

---- 11:15 AM, Bermuda

The admiral suddenly turned away from his splendid view to face the man who was probably his acting-deputy.

"Fireship? Bloody hell! What if they use her as a fireship?" He looked out the window again.


"Commander, what would be the result if the Huns steamed the SS Justine into the harbour, right there," he added, pointing, "and then set her on fire?"

The other officer blanched. A million-plus pounds of explosives - if they went off where the elderly admiral was aiming his right index finger, it'd scour the beaches and hillside clear of every building in sight. Including the one he was standing it, he realized, numbly. He stood there, trying to come up with a reason why it could not happen. They had nothing that really could stop them, certainly not if the Huns came in backed up by those damn battlecruisers. Nothing, nothing at all. He felt his pulse lurch - but wait ....

"Why here, though, sir?"


"What I mean, sir, is that there's nothing here, or at least not very much," he added hastily, hearing how that sounded.

"If the Huns were going to try something like that," he continued, "wouldn't it make more sense to do it at Halifax? They could even ram one prize with another and make it look like an accident." (NOTE)

---- 11:30 AM, Base hospital at the New York Naval Station

The two stood in the hospital vestibule amidst near-chaos. Many others about them clamored for information, and no one seemed to have any to give. The older one, a lady, looked up into the eyes of the young man who had just emerged from the press of the crowd to rejoin her.

"Any word as to which room your Cousin Raymond is in now?"

"I'm afraid not, Auntie," the young man replied. "Everybody's got the same problem. They had to move almost every patient in the entire hospital this morning and I don't think they know themselves who's where. It'll be hours ...."

"Good heavens!" The plump but pert lady exclaimed. "Why in the world would they do that?"

"It seems there's been a sea battle, Auntie. A real one! Just outside the harbor!"

"Good heavens," she repeated. "That doesn't make any sense, Arthur. We're not at war with anyone!"

"That's what they're saying though, Aunt Angela. They had to empty out three wards just so that they'd have a place to put them all."

"Well, if that is indeed the case, Dear, then the Germans must have beaten the British, and quite badly at that."

"Auntie! That, that is EXACTLY what they...," his voice trailed off in exasperation. He took a breath. "But how'd YOU know that?"

Angela Seasbury, the author of a very great many popular fictional stories of naval battles, squared her feminine shoulders.

"It's really quite simple, Dear," she began. "If the British had won, they'd've taken their wounded and their prisoners away with them. If they had lost but had gotten mostly away, there'd not be any number as would fill three wards."

The young man just shook his head.

"Only if the Germans had won a decisive victory would there be so many wounded here," she continued. "After all, nephew, they've no place to take them."

"Well, however you did it, that seems to be just what they're saying happened."

"It's not really that hard, dear. Events cast shadows, one merely has to look for them."

"_Cannons in the Caribbean_!" Arthur moaned out loud.

"Did I do it again?" Seasbury frowned, embarrassed.

"Yes, you did," he lamented. "That's just what your Irish pirate said when ...."

"Oh, I guess you're right."

"I've always thought that he was one of your stranger ones, Auntie. An Irish pirate! 'Errol' Something-or-Other. Who could believe anyone with a name like that could be a swashbuckler?"

"Well, it sold well enough. Arthur, I've no intention of waiting all day. The soldiers all went that way, so let us go THIS way."

---- 11:45 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Sir, Secretary Daniels, on Line 1."

"Thank you." Stennis looked over at Alton, and got a nod in return. The two flag officers had both the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer open on the table, copies of the latter having arrived a few minutes earlier.

"Good morning again, Mr. Secretary. And good morning to you, too, admiral! I have Admiral Alton here with me and, with your permission, I'll have him pick up on an extension here. Ah, thank you."

Why was Fiske there, Stennis wondered. And where was Admiral Benson?

"Go ahead, Dave," he told Alton, with a hand over the mouthpiece. "Admiral Fiske's on, too."

"The latest news here," Stennis began, in answer to Daniels' first question, "is that the British and German wounded are at the base hospital, British consulate officers are there already and I expect I'll be hearing from the Germans any minute. The Brits have also gotten some of their consulate folk aboard those two armed merchant cruisers of theirs we escorted in yesterday.

"And there's been a couple developments offshore that you need to know about, also. Yes, out where the German battlecruisers are - the first one, anyway.

"Messages from the Destroyer Aylwin. As you'll recall, I left her out there to keep an eye on them. Her captain, Commander Leverett, has reported that the Germans have been stopping some of the merchant traffic ..."

"Yes, sir. Not all, just some of them.

"As of his last message, they'd stopped and apparently seized three inbound but let another one pass right by them. They'd also let two others go by outbound.

"No, sir. We don't. Leverett wasn't close enough, but we DO know who the three they let by were. That's correct. American. Two of them, anyway. The third was an Italian.

"Yes, sir. That's a good bet, or they could've been French, or even Russian."

The two admirals sipped at their coffee. By now, they had completely lost track of how many cups they had had.

"Reinforcements? Mid-afternoon, sir. That's my best estimate. Boston reported that Admiral McDonald cast off from the pier at 0550. He's got with him Texas, Florida, and a section of Destroyers.

"Yes, sir, I did say 'a couple.' We've picked up some distress calls on the wireless this morning. One identified herself as the SS Justine, British registry. She reported that she was being taken by a German warship ...

"No, sir. This looks to be a different ship.

"The position, Mr. Secretary. She reported a latitude and longitude that puts her 50 miles dead east of Philadelphia.

"Yes, Mr. Secretary. A mistake is always possible, but that's not quite all we have on her. We've been able to confirm that she put out from Philadelphia late yesterday afternoon.

"Yes, sir. That's straight from the Port Authority there. So what we're left with is ...

"Yes, sir. More Germans. It could be Strassburg, she certainly could've gotten there easily enough, but maybe it's not. If it IS Strassburg, what in the hell happened to those two liners that commodore was so damn - excuse my French - anxious to escort back to Germany?"

---- 11:50 AM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New York

"Here's my son coming back now," she said into the phone.

"Well? Did you find Mr. Lannon? Is he coming?"

"No, Momma."

She frowned. Lannon had been in the clubhouse just a few minutes ago. She was sure of it.

"Did you check his boat? The Chocorua Princess?"

"I looked there, too, Momma, but I ... didn't see him there."

She regarded her imp of a boy with suspicion. He'd chosen his words carefully. Too carefully. Like he'd rehearsed them. He also had something in his little right clenched fist, which he now thrust guiltily behind him.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said reluctantly. She turned away from her son to conceal her expression. It wouldn't do to encourage him. "I guess you'll have to tell that admiral that he's nowhere to be found here."

---- 11:55 AM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

" 'What do they really want?' Obviously, I can't be sure, Mr. Secretary, but their admiral claimed that all he wanted was to replenish and go back where he came from. He was adamant, though, that they weren't going anywhere until we either kicked the two Brits back out or interred them like the treaty says."

The two admirals listened to a distant dialogue. It was at times like this that Stennis still had a hard time believing in Bell's new-fangled invention. This was like eavesdropping at a fantastical distance. Yet, how had they ever managed without it?

"Yes, Mr. Secretary. I do agree with Admiral Fiske. They can sit out there as long as they want and we can't do a damn thing about it. They've already grabbed enough ships to keep them in food and coal for weeks. Water, though. Water could be a problem for them, but keep in mind that they've got something like 1,000 prisoners sitting on Moltke's deck who'll go thirsty first."

Alton grimaced at that, but Stennis just shrugged at him as they listened to the word from Washington.

"If we stall? The papers have all this, I'm sure of it. If they don't yet, they will. The whole East Coast is going to start shutting down, export-wise, and the Germans will short stop a lot of the imports until the Brits choke it off. They'll send a fleet, but by then the Germans will probably have had to disperse just to keep themselves in coal. They'll be months running them all down - if they ever do - and each battle off our coast could turn into another press fiasco."

---- 11:55 AM, Base hospital at the New York Naval Station

Ms. Seasbury and her nephew had managed to find their relative with only minor difficulty. The bedlam associated with the arrival of the wounded had the hospital staff thoroughly confused and not disposed to question anyone who acted like they belonged there. Arthur's Aunt Angela, of course, had mastered that technique before Arthur had himself mastered breeches. All that had remained was to grandly traverse a ward or three until they caught sight of him. He'd been directed to commandeer a wheelchair, they'd popped Raymond into it, and off they went.

The three of them were now out on a side veranda. The breeze there was hardly fresh, tinged as it was with coal smoke, but the air was far better than what they'd had to breathe back in the crowded ward. Raymond - who'd never been stout and now looked as though a good wind would carry him off - had begun to wolfe down what his aunt had produced from her capacious purse. Her other nephew was staring at all the warships, their iron sides gleaming in the noon sun.

"I know what a Shore Patrol is, dear," she said, "but I still don't understand how your injuries occurred."

"I was chasing a guy on AWOL, Auntie."

"Yes, you said that."

"Well, I'd chased him all the way down Della Street. It was getting dark and he put on a cloak, with cowl. Pulled it over his head and shoulders like a monk."

"Imitating a man of the cloth! Sacrilegious! Then what?"

"Yeah, Ray, how did that let him almost give you the slip?"

"I was chasing him, like I said," the other continued, giving his cousin a black look. "That was right when he cut across the park. He got a good head start on me, Arthur, upfield before I spotted him again. That's when he tried to go up and over a wall. A high wall. Using a rose trellis. He almost made it, but the trellis couldn't take it."

"Ah, so then the cad fell down right on top of you, Raymond, burrs, masonry, and all."

"Aunt Angela, it didn't fail in your _The Cutlass Cavalier_ ..."

"Dear, that trellis was iron stapled in brick. The one that landed on you was wood. Be glad of the difference."

---- Noon, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Very well, Mr. Secretary, Admiral Fiske," answered Vice-Admiral Stennis. "With your permission, I'll have Admiral Alton lead the delegation, personally." Stennis did not miss Alton's nod. "He saved their lives, each and every one of them, on both ships. If they're going to protest the internment, let them try to tell him that face-to-face."

The two listened for a few moments.

"Mr. Secretary, one more thing, if you will. If you'd have someone down there look into that request I just got over the phone from the Greeks, I'd appreciate it. Unless I am otherwise directed, however, I plan to give them the escort they've asked for." Stennis had opined that if the USN refused them and something happened, the consequences could be drastic. Daniels had not resisted, but the Greek official had said that it'd be a day or two before Salamis was ready to get back underway.

They hung up the phone and stared at each other for a moment. Stennis got up and stuck his head out the door.

"Call down to the Master At Arms," he ordered. "I want a two full detachments up here, under officers and ready to go, in 30 minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Dave, let's take a minute to go over what we just heard. Let me jot down some notes."

"Of course, sir. Could you explain Daniels' 'two column inches below the fold' comment?"

"Yes. He's a newspaper man. Whatever havoc the Germans may have caused, they damn near drove Roosevelt, rally and all, right off the front page."

AUTHOR's NOTE: To understand the characters' reactions, consider the following url:

by Jim

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