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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XX

---- Philadelphia Inquirer

"... The host of last night's so-called 'Party on the Pier' was the wealthy publisher, former-Congressman, and gubernatorial candidate William Randolph Hearst [NOTE 1]. Among the notables sighted at the gala were acclaimed author and editor H. L. Mencken, Secretary of State the Honorable William Jennnings Bryan, .... Nor were the 'who's who' of fashionably decked out participants limited to Americans, as those in attendance reportedly included a Countess, a Sultan, ....

"Secretary Bryan heatedly denied that his attendance represented any signal or favoritism on the part of the current Administration but, instead, demonstrated simply to the World that the United States welcomed the commerce of all nations, despite the current European Conflict [NOTE 2]. Waving off follow-up questions, Mr. Bryan declined further comment further, stating that that was enough of politics for the evening, and that he intended to fully enjoy his host's hospitality. And such hospitality it was! Three different ...."

---- Wilhelmshaven

Korvettenkapitan Vogel listened very carefully to the lookouts' report. Unconsciously, he twisted his face into a grave expression such as he imagined a commodore would exhibit.

"Two formations?" Vogel asked. "Each a hand of torpedo boats led by a cruiser?"

He wanted to scratch his chin but restrained himself, with some difficulty, struck as he was with the realization that he might well be looking at himself.

"Very well," Vogel continued, after a long introspective moment, "I order course change. New course is the same bearing as the smoke sighted behind the two formations. My intention is not to turn away until the range to these formations drops below 12,000 yards.

"Unless," he amended, "unless there is some other change. More enemy sightings ..."

Vogel suddenly recalled the tall towers of water that had fountained near his beloved Frankfurt just five days ago.

"... or other such signs," he added, quickly.

---- 12:20 PM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Pier

"I must protest, Colonel!"

Schmidt opened the car door and got out. The action drew the eyes of those nearby. Eyes that had, until then, been striving to make out the passage of the first stretchers up Rostock's distant gangway. A bank of particularly dark clouds was passing overhead, making the light uncertain for distance photography. Lionel got out, as well, but in a more measured manner.

"Tell me, sir, if you please," Schmidt continued, a full step away from the limousine, his voice even but loud enough to carry. "Upon just what basis does the American military deny an accredited German embassy official access to a ship of the Kaiserliche Marine?"

God, but he hated this assignment, Anton reflected once again. The spots in his eyes from the reporter's sudden pyrotechnics did not make it any easier. The look on the face of the American officer with the holstered sidearm made Lionel uncomfortable. He stayed where he was, with the chassis of the automobile between him and the colonel.

"I am not denying you access, sir. Not at all."

"No?" Schmidt interjected, waving perhaps somewhat theatrically at the Marines stolidly blocking his way, bayonets sparkling with each flash.

"I don't know how it is in Germany, sir," Anton replied. "But, in America, injured and wounded come first, and vehicles with the Red Cross always have the right of way."

"It is the same in my country," Schmidt protested, trying not to wince at this unexpected counter-thrust. "But the pier is wide and my duty is there. I am to meet with Rostock's commanding officer." Getting into a photographic setting with the American admiral was also very desirable, but the embassy official did not vocalize that.

"Ah, 'duty.' Then you DO understand, sir," Anton said, smiling professionally as he put hand to haft to twist the blade. "You see, at this moment, MY duty is to those men, to get them into those ambulances and on their way to the hospital as quickly and as smoothly as I can." And to keep silk-hatted leeches like you out of my admiral's hair, the colonel dearly wished he could add.

The two nodded, pleasant but insincere expressions plastered on the faces of both.

---- Wilhelmshaven

"Two plumes?" Vogel considered this development. They had not extended their screen to oppose him. Why not?

"I continue on intercept. Hoist 'prepare torpedo attack,' both flotillas. Signal the flagship."

"You intend to attack?"

"With opportunity and advantage, yes. For now, I must get closer."

Seeing the other's expression, Vogel realized that more explanation was required.

"Four cruisers," he observed, "with two flotillas within supporting range. I have enough force to deal with any light scouting formation," he explained. "They should retire before me unless they are screen. If so, then my duty is to learn what they are shielding."

---- Philadelphia Inquirer

"... number of powerful electric lights rendered the entire pier as bright as if it were high noon. Perhaps first amongst those expressing their admiration for the display was Secretary Bryan himself, who loudly announced that he had not seen so many electrical engineers in one place at one time since addressing the 1914 graduating class of Bliss Electrical School." [NOTE 3]

---- 12:30 PM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Pier

Again, Herr Schmidt nodded, but this time in satisfaction as the reporters all seemed to be getting good shots of the ambulances as they passed by enroute to the hospital, loaded with British wounded. He would have liked to have gotten onto the pier itself with the admiral, to set up the angles a bit better, but this was more than satisfactory. Even the light had improved, making the reporters' task so much easier.

LT Lionel sighed with relief. He had feared that the embassy official would continue to argue with the armed American officer. The one in command of the soldiers with the bayonets.

Colonel Anton noted that Admiral Martin must have concluded his business with the Germans, as he had turned and was on his way back. Once the admiral was well clear, Anton gestured for his sentries to pass the embassy car on through. He scowled as the mob of reporters - an ill-kempt, scrofulous bunch - edged forward to press, demandingly, at the barricade. Despite Admiral Martin's words, he doubted he could long forbid their entry, given Salamis' non-military status and the German embassy official's obvious agenda.

He really, really hated this assignment.

---- New Jersey, bridge of 1914 Model-T Runabout, course 120, speed 14 knots

"Pull over," Nik directed. " 'Davies Marina'," he read from the sign. Let's check it out."

"Look," protested Lannon, "I'm starting to get tired of this. Yeah, I know I agreed to come along, but I didn't expect to be infinitely wandering along the Jersey coastline."

"It's only the fourth one. We can make it the last, if you really insist."

"That's an odd spelling," Lannon commented magnanimously, upon the other's capitulation. "Shouldn't it be 'D-a-v-y-apostrophe-s', you think?"

"No telling. Take the turn over there, to the right."

"Got it. Hang on. It's washboarded pretty bad."

---- Wilhelmshaven

The mystery of the plume pair seemed to be resolved. Mostly.

"Battlecruisers? Two? Bearing 120, range 20,000?" Vogel asked, drawing a nod of confirmation. He considered the matter only briefly, as his needful actions seemed clear.

"Course and speed?"

"Northerly, speed not yet known - more than 10 knots, but less than 25."

At the stated range, that was about as good an estimate as he could expect until the plotting team obtained more sighting data and could establish a track.

"Very well," the "commodore" said. "I alter course to 180. Speed to remain 20 knots. Report to flagship."

"Your intentions?"

"Scout. The battlecruiser force may be detached scout or van. I shall endeavor to ascertain which. The afternoon is young and visibility is excellent. Now that I have found them, they cannot break contact unless I let them.

"And I will do no such thing."

---- New Jersey, Davies Marina

"Good afternoon, sir," opened Lannon, trying to speed things along. They'd parked the runabout back where the "road" had run out. Having gotten Nik's concession, he wanted to get on with this. He'd lost most of his interest in looking at other folks' boats a couple hours ago.

The swarthy, unshaven man turned from the net he was working on.

"Yay?" His expression was not inviting.

"Lookin' for a boat. Big one, yellow trim, fast, deep water. Think her name's 'Sea Skimmer.' "

The man looked the pair up and down suspiciously, jaw busy with something that bulged out one cheek, then the other. Finally, he turned his head away and spat out a textured brown stream. It was aimed away from the pair, but not by all that much. Lannon wondered if the offset correlated with the other's disdain. If so, the man hardly held them in high regard..

"Two piers," the man nodded faintly southward.

"Thank you," Lannon replied, politely.

"Mind Augustus, now," the other half-cackled, turning back to his task.

"Whatta' you make of that?" Lannon put to Nik, as they trudged across the rutted paths.

"Dunno. Friendly codger, though, wasn't he?"

---- Wilhelmshaven

Commander Vogel's report placed the enemy battlecruiser force about 30 miles to ESE, screened by two or more light formations.

Admiral Necki considered what his most likely course of action might be. Could he "know" that the HSF's dreadnoughts were at sea? Did it matter? He could not hope catch the faster battlecruisers in any kind of stern chase, but neither could their dreadnoughts catch him. There were also flotillas of other considerations. His brow furrowed in thought. Though he felt he had a shrewd guess as to what J[ellic]oe would do, he had far less of an idea what De Robeck might try.

"The reported course was 000?" Necki asked, and nodded at the confirmation.

"Then I order course change. Directly towards the last reported position."

"Formation change?"

"Nein, visibility is over 20,000 yards."

---- New Jersey, Davies Marina

There was a large berth there, alright. The slip, however, was empty. Nik tried to make out the name on the landing placard, as Lannon's eyes swept the water off shore.

And so it came as a shock to both of them when a large snarling gray form pounded against the fence slats beside them.

"!!!" Unwittingly, Lannon repeated Max Browning's exclamation of yesterday in Philadelphia. Nik was completely unoffended, saying much the same and more as they both nearly fell down in their efforts to evade the long, feral snout that thrust out at them with eager white fangs.

Lannon gulped, pulse racing, while Nik continued to hold forth with some energy. Lannon noted now that a sort of picket fence surrounded a sizeable enclosure. The roofs of several buildings were visible beyond, but Nik's continuing pronouncements drew his attention.

"Did he get you? You hurt?"

"I don't think so - no blood. But look what that son of a bitch did to my trousers! These cost me ..."

Lannon whistled in awe at the tear in the fabric, prompting fresh snarls from beyond the fence.

"Nik, count your blessings! Look at those teeth! That's no dog! That's a wolf!"

"They'll pay for this!" Nik's anger remained unabated.

"Looks like no one's home," Lannon commented. "Wanta' bet we're not standing inside their property line?"

"Nuts," responded Nik, shaking his pants' leg ruefully. "And I'm pretty sure that sign over there does say 'Sea Skimmer,' too."

"And I'm even surer that's 'Augustus,' " Lannon retorted, pointing, convinced that their explorations had come to an end.

"Yeah, okay. 'Davies Marina.' Let's get outa' here."

----1:30 PM, New York, HAPAG Pier

"Colonel Anton? We'se got more company. Official company."

"Who now?" Anton wondered as he stepped back out into the hot sun. The volume here was threatening to make a mockery of his efforts at traffic control. The grocers had left just an hour ago, saying they'd be back in four hours. And the Greeks, of course, had their own steady come-an-go. He'd even had to pass that flock of reporters through a few minutes ago, no telling WHAT mischief would come out of that.

He shaded his eyes. The car now slowing to a stop at the outer checkpoint definitely was flying a pennant, alright. The cloth's insignia and red and yellow horizontals showed it to be ....

"Hello," the junior officer at his side remarked. "That's Spanish, sir."

"Yes, I have some acquaintance with it, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"No problem, Lieutenant. No problem at all. You're on your toes. Stay there."

Out at the checkpoint, Gunnery Sergeant Fideles casually stood up from his interchange with the occupants of the car and looked towards his commanding officer. Anton gave a tiny nod and Fideles waved the gleaming sedan on through. As the rear bumper passed him, the sergeant put his right hand on his left cuff with four fingers extended across his sleeve.

"A navy captain?" Anton exclaimed in a low voice. "Here? Why? Why now?"

In Anton's experience, he had found the Spanish to have distinct, strongly-held, and oft unfathomable views on correctness and form. He most definitely could not dispatch a junior officer to meet a full captain without risking insult. No, it would have to be bird meets bird.


Anton ignored the question as he stepped forward to greet this latest conundrum.

The embassy car eased sedately to a stop, and two naval officers emerged: the warned-of captain and, presumably, his aide. The Spanish-American War was hardly a decade and a half gone, so Anton had some grounds for the misgivings he felt as the other approached. The senior Spaniard was tall, perhaps 40, and moved with an easy athletic grace. His spectacular dress uniform, complete with exotic fruit salad and a sword on his hip, did nothing to ease the Marine's concern.

"Good day, Senor Colonel," the other began, with the patrician smile of an hidalgo. "Santiago Unday, at your service."

And a good day to you, too, Capitan de Navio Unday," Anton replied courteously, in Español. "Colonel Anton," he announced, extending his hand. "And how can the United States Marine Corps be of service to the Armada Española this afternoon?"

"Ah, you say it well!"

The two officers exchanged additional pleasantries, though Anton refrained from putting his Spanish to any further test, not trusting his accent.

---- Wilhelmshaven

Vice-Admiral Baron Letters looked at the map. First Scouting was in contact with substantial RN scouting forces. The plot put Derfflinger and Seydlitz and their screen about 50,000 yards to the WNW of the ten dreadnoughts of the Main Body.

He tapped on the edge of the table. Grosser Kurfurst led the Third Battle Squadron today, with Kronprinz, and Markgraf filling out the First Division, and Kaiserin, Prinzregent Luitpold, König Albert comprising Second Division. Ostfreisland headed First Battle Squadron, followed by Helgoland, Posen and Rheinland, with each pair a Division. But was there a better arrangement? He tapped some more.

Should he instead have two formations with five in each? He could even make them closer in combat power. Certainly, such an approach had some merit. Perhaps three Konigs, one Helgoland, and one Nassau in one Squadron, with three Kaisers, one Helgoland, and one Nassau in the other. Well, he would give it some more thought later. Perhaps, Karl Johann might have some insights to bring to bear.

Letters brought his attention back to the map. If the Grand Fleet really were at sea, where would they be? What would this De Robeck do?

---- 2:45 PM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"Admiral Benson is calling, sir."

"Thank you, Jenkins."

"Admiral Stennis speaking, sir. Thank you for returning my call."

The day was another hot one - and one that seemed to want to rain but could not. The slowly revolving fan in the overhead was doing what it could, but that was simply to move the steamy humid air around. Stennis mopped at his forehead with a cloth.

"Yes, sir. I do have a few to report. First, 32 British wounded came off the Rostock. They're all at the hospital now. Including a post captain.

"Yes, sir. Captain Theargus - he had the Melbourne. The Brits are most, most anxious to meet with him, of course ...

"No, sir. Not yet. I took the liberty of clearing a wing, posted sentries with orders that it's strictly off limits to any and all outsiders. And that those orders will stand until Doctor O'Brien has notified me that he is satisfied with the conditions of his new patients. Furthermore, I've told the Commander that he is under absolutely no time pressure ...."

Actually, O'Brien had been quite indignant at even the suggestion that he might be pressured. Stennis had realized that his words apparently must have rung false to the ears of the strong-willed doctor. The Vice-Admiral had soon straightened it out, though. Armed Marine sentries constituted most cogent and tangible symbology.

And the Marines reported to Stennis.

"Oh, and another thing, Admiral. And this one might be of especial interest to the Secretary. It's Salamis. Her captain wants to sail tomorrow noon.

"No, sir. I don't know why he's in such a damn hurry but, like I told you earlier, he wants the United States Navy to give him an escort down to Philly.

"And here's the kicker, sir. He says if we won't do it, the Germans have told him THEY would."

----3:00 PM, New York, HAPAG Pier

"... after all, gentlemen," Kommodore von Hoban (through LT Lionel) was telling the reporters, "we escorted her all the way across the Atlantic. Privilege it would be to see her safe the rest of the way, if that is needed. Our duty. We had to fight our way past the British blockade of your coast to get her here. Terrible it would for Salamis to lost be now."

Some of the reporters scratched their heads at that, but the rest were too busy scratching in their note pads to quibble over grammar.

"What makes you gents think the British Navy'd bother 'er? She's not German; she's Greek."

Well off to the side, Herr Schmidt tensed, but remained silent and expressionless, though only through immense effort. This was one of the great lessons of diplomacy: Often, an answer is right only if the right person says it.

"She was built in Germany," Lionel heard himself relaying from von Hoban, "maybe that's enough. Ask them yourselves. Whatever they claim, know that the cruiser with her lost many men defending her yesterday. Including her captain. From the British. 80 kilometers, er, ah, 50 miles off your coast here."

There was an excited murmur from the reporters.

"Hey! Wait just a damn minute!" "Fifty miles?" "You're saying there was ANOTHER battle off our coast?!" "We're supposed to believe that? On just your say-so?"

Herr Schmidt relaxed ever so slightly.

"Believe not my voice," Lionel struggled. "Would you Greeks believe? Salamis was there and is at this very pier. Put questions to them, if you wish. They are Neutrals in this war, after all, as are you. Would British you believe? Three of the wounded you just saw come off Rostock were rescued from the water from the British warship that made the attack. Ask them."

The reporters fell into a brief, stunned silence. Von Hoban did not fall into the trap of offering even a single gratuitous iota, forcing them ask for themselves.

"I don't get it." "What the hell?" "Yeah, what exactly happened?"

Schmidt felt more tension leave his body. They were hooked. Even the tone of the questions had changed, shifting from disbelief to ... something else. A couple already were casting impatient glances towards the berth occupied by the Greek Salamis.

"Well, gentlemen, I was not there myself, as you know. Nor was my translator. However," von Hoban had to stop and cough to keep the smile off his face, as Lionel stumbled over that one.

"However, he repeated, "it is my understanding that the ship that defended her will dock right here tomorrow. The light cruiser Kolberg.

"If you would like," he continued blandly, "I will try to arrange for you speak to her senior surviving officer. He ist the second officer, a lieutenant-commander, now acting captain, of course.

"Dahm, Karl Dahm."

It seemed that the reporters would, in fact, like that.

Very much.

---- 3:05 PM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

"... and another thing, sir. The officer in charge at the HAPAG terminal access control point called in a few minutes ago to report that he'd passed through a deputation from the Spanish consulate.

"That's correct, sir, 'Spanish.' They must have come along after Admiral Martin left.

"No, sir. I do not. That said, however, the senior was a navy captain in dress uniform, so it could just be professional curiosity. I don't know how it's been down there, but the papers up here have had German ships all over the front pages for the entire last week now.

"As for the Germans, their commodore, von Hoban, proposed to Admiral Martin that they cast off at noon tomorrow. Sir, by my reading of The Hague, we have some latitude here. Yes, a case could be made to make them leave a couple hours earlier, but we just gave the British the full 24 hours - a bit more, actually - at the pier before interning those two armed merchant cruisers of theirs. And the papers reported it that way, too, so I see some real value in staying consistent right now."

---- 3:10 PM, Rostock, at HAPAG terminal pier

The introductions had been warm, but very formal on Rostock's quaterdeck. To his relief, the Spaniard found his Deutsch adequate to the task.

"If you have no objection, Señor Unday, I would like to let the Captain get back to his ship. He has just 24 hours - now more like 20 - before she must be ready to depart. I, of course, remain at your service. Perhaps, you would honor me with your company? I was about to make a tour of Rostock myself. I have gained a measure of familiarity with her since Die Kaiserschlacht, having fought the final engagements of the battle from her bridge."

Captain Unday waved his assent. "Truly the honor would be all mine, Señor Commodore," he added, bowing slightly. "And perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me something of the battle as we proceed. We have heard so very little of it."

Captain Josef Westfeldt politely made his exit. He would normally have preferred being the one to show off his cruiser, even though she currently showed the effects of two full weeks at sea. But the ship was a madhouse right now! Many of his crew were hard at work shifting stores from the pallets being let down on her topsides in a steady stream. Civilian working parties were hoisting aboard bags of coal, under the flint-eyed supervision of petty officers. Hoses were draped across gunnels, with brightly-colored rags tied around them at two meter intervals to mark their presence. Men were suspended in rope chairs and slings at various places along the hull, checking, scraping, painting. In fact, the only men not actively busy were the mid-watch, sent off earlier to eat, shower, and sleep in the terminal facilities.

---- Wilhelmshaven

"This completes the first problem," Letters announced. "Staff will put together a report, but I'd like to get your first reactions now, while they are fresh. Captain Wolferein, would you care to go first?"

"Yes, sir." Wolferein hesitated for a few moments, longer, actually, than he'd taken to order his helm over to take his half-flotilla across the bows of First Scouting at Die Kaiserschlacht. "The British acted different," he observed. "Their light were quick to charge in battle, but not today."

Vogel flushed, but held his peace until Letters nodded to him with an enigmatic half-smile.

"Sir, my mission was to scout. I was willing to attack First Scouting, but only if conditions were better. As it was, any attack would simply have become a stern chase. I'd risk losses for little prospect of actually getting to make an attack. I assumed that this lesson was one that they would have learned from Die Kaiserschlacht."

"I agree, Captain," nodded Letters again, to the relief of both Vogel and Wolferein. "What conditions did you have in mind?"

Emboldened, Vogel continued in a rush, even as Wolferein leaned back with the august look of the vindicated. "I had two in mind, sir. If they'd been van to the Main Body, First Scouting might have been obliged to oppose me directly."

"Yes, and the other?"

"If I'd been able to get to their south, Admiral De Robeck might have been able to force them to come to me."

"Admiral Necki?"

"Yes, my lord baron," Necki smiled. "The Captain and I were of one mind in that regard. I could not hope to run down First Scouting, but no cripple could escape me. With the stipulated visibility, I could give battle or not, should Admiral Rudberg show up, depending on just how many dreadnoughts he had. And in a manner of my own choosing."

Rudberg agreed. "Tethered to a cripple, the British would have ample opportunities, right enough. Hard choices would there be in such a case."

"But it didn't go that way," noted Letters. "Flagcaptain?"

"Yes, sir," answered Captain Theodor. "I chose not to let 'Commodore' Vogel get between me and Wilhelmshaven. I altered course to bring him into long gun range, but he sheered off and attempted a wider circle."

"You did not think to try to turn the tables on him?"

Theodor's face betrayed him with a small smile. The Baron was being generally obscure again.

"Sir, by that do you mean did I think to let him by and then attempt to pin him against Admiral Rudberg?"

"Yes, just that."

"I did consider it, sir. However, I decided that I did not have sufficient force to support such a course of action. It would have been two battlecruisers and two flotillas against four light cruisers and two flotillas.

"I would expect to prevail but suffer substantial light ship losses, risking two capital ships to none in the process."

Theodor waited, fearing a bit that he would be judged timid, but terribly aware just why his beloved Derfflinger languished yet in the yards.

"I quite agree," Letters stated firmly, and turned to face the others.

"Gentlemen, Herr Vogel was correct. We must expect that the British will have learned from three weeks ago. Theodor also is correct, in that we must learn from our lesson of last week.

"Excellent," Letters concluded. "Gentlemen, we shall take our break now. Refreshments are laid out in the meeting room across the hall. We shall reconvene here in one hour. Assignments will be posted on the board here."

Rudberg was among the last to leave. He stared at the map table where, moments before, he had commanded a decade of dreadnoughts. The ten metal miniatures remained, still obediently lined up, ready to confront their midget mortal foes amongst the wooden waves - avatars of mighty and complex machines crewed by so many, so fragile men. Yet it was the machines that were limiting, as half of the ten were not even ready for sea, let alone for battle.

The vice-admiral looked up and saw that the Baron had also tarried. His narrowed, appraising gaze was not on the formations on the map, but on the avatars in the tray. The ones for Moltke and von der Tann.

---- 3:25 PM, Rostock

Captain Unday had really wanted to tour a battlecruiser, not Rostock, but the Commodore's invitation was hardly one he could decline gracefully. Besides, there had been something in the other's choice of phrasing ....

"Commodore," Unday essayed, as they made their way along a narrow and congested passageway, "you said, 'final engagements' of the battle. Did I get that right? My German is hardly the best."

"Ja, das ist richtig. And I find your German to be quite good, sir. You honor us with your proficiency."

"Thank you, sir. But your reference to 'final engagements,' did you mean the final ones were the only ones for you? Or, did you mean that you had fought others from another vantage?"

"Ah! I see the question. The second choice is the case."

"Indeed? I would like to hear of this, if you would be so kind!"

"Well," von Hoban began, "I began Die Kaiserschlacht with my flag on the Blucher ...."

---- 3:30 PM, NY base hospital

Captain Theargus knew he should be gratified simply no longer to be a POW on Moltke's tented fantail. And he was, he solemnly assured the heavens, he really was. After all, he was in a bed, with clean sheets, a pitcher of water at hand, and even a bit of fruit graced the table at his bedside. The medical staff had been most solicitous as they'd poked and pried, and even apologetic when they'd had to cut the tunic right off his body.

That last bit had been somewhat embarrassing, as previously-unsuspected cuts and abrasions were revealed, and that they had welded cloth to skin. Between peeling and soaking the spots in chemical-smelling solutions, he'd been fussed over like a prize ram at a fair. In the midst of all that, they'd even come upon a few bits of metal the bloody Huns had begifted him. He'd declined the proffered morbid mementos, and they'd shrugged and left, over an hour ago now, doubtless to treat others.

No, he had no problem with the medicals, though they had yet to make up their minds over resetting his arm.

The problem was that he was in a room by himself at the end of a wing in a hospital on the wrong side of the world. His ship: gone. His crew: gone. Most of them, anyway. In faithful obedience to orders. His orders. Of those left, precious few were here. The rest were back on Moltke, with neither clean sheets nor fruit. Never in his worst nightmares had anything like this ever reared its scaly head. He stared sightlessly into the speckled white ceiling, as a bottomless pit of black despair opened its mocking mouth beneath him.

"Excuse me, captain," came a voice at the door. "May we have a moment of your time?"

"Aye, I seem to have a few to spare," Theargus commented bleakly, head turning on his pillow. Starch, it smelled of starch. A clean smell, starch.

The voice at the door turned not to belong to another medical orderly, but to a very distinguished looking American naval captain. Belatedly, Theargus sat up in the bed.

"Thank you," answered his visitor, missing or ignoring the tone. "Eberle's the name, and this is Commander Trimm. I work for Admiral Stennis, and the Commander for Admiral Alton."

Theargus hadn't noticed the younger officer. A few stilted formalities were exchanged. The Aussie officer just wished they'd leave.

"I'd like to come right to the point, captain," Eberle said. "The doctors have told me that they're not allowing any visitors until they've had everyone overnight for observation."


"Well, you're senior. I thought you'd be wanting a report on your men. I told them it was your right, their obligation."

Duty was calling him back from the abyss.

Theargus blinked, then nodded.

"I knew it," said Eberle, with evident satisfaction. "Commander, tell them 1630. And Vice-Admiral Stennis was crystal clear on this. If there's even a hint of resistance, his aide is standing by and will put them right through to the Admiral himself."

Theargus watched this byplay dispassionately. Why on earth was the commanding officer of the whole bloody Yank fleet so intent on giving him such face?

"Aye, aye, sir."

"You've had a shock, sir," Eberle began, once Trimm had shut the door behind him, leaving the two four-stripers in private. "The worst a naval officer can ever have, but your men still need you. There's no escaping it."

"What do you want?" Theargus eyed the American with respectful suspicion.

"Not much."

"But something."

"Yes," Eberle admitted.


"What happened out there - that's all."

"You know bloody well what happened."

"No, we don't. Not really. Look, captain, I was on Oregon at Santiago. Same battle, some are saying, but it's not. I was there. We ran them down coming out of a harbor; you had some searoom and were faster besides."

Theargus licked his lips uneasily.

"There were reports of smoke," Eberle prompted. "A screen? A ruse?"

"Aye," Theargus admitted, after a long moment. "That was it."


"They sucked us in range, right enough. Split north and south to dog the hatch."

Eberle sat still as Theargus swallowed, and swallowed again, hearing suddenly once more that metallic shower of Sydney shrapnel.

"Maybe we could've won free, and maybe not. No matter. Admiral Patey went straight for their throat instead. Put a torpedo into Moltke we did, maybe more, I dunno'."

"But the smoke," Eberle probed gently. "Didn't it raise suspicion?"

"Two light cruisers; we had three better. A liner with them, just like Imperator the week before. They dropped her back into it. "

The Aussie captain swallowed yet again.

"And then there were battlecruisers."


1) Among the very many achievements of his long (1863 - 1951) and active life, William Randolph Hearst was elected (and re-elected) as a Member of the New York delegation in the 58th and 59th Congresses of the United States (1902-06). Hearst also would run (and lose) for New York mayor, New York governor, and the Democratic nomination for President. He might have won one of the first two, except President Theodore Roosevelt acted against him. In the current context, two things are especially worthy of note: (1) Hearst historically hosted just such parties aboard the liner Vaterland as referenced in the text, and (2) Hearst's _The New York Journal_ was the only large New York paper to support William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896. The definitive biography of Hearst, using thousands of items of recently discovered correspondence, is David Nasaw's award winning:

_THE CHIEF: The Life of William Randolph Hearst_ (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

If the book has a failing, it may be in its dismissal of Orson Welle's widely-acclaimed 1941 movie "Citizen Kane." Some reviewers have asserted that Nasaw's work only confirmed that Welles had gotten it right, including predicting the last decade of Hearst's life.

2) The text of President Wilson's Declaration of Neutrality (delivered to the 63rd Congress on August 19, 1914) can be found at:

On the next day, August 20, 1914, President Wilson exhorted the people of the United States to be "impartial in thought as well as action" dramatizing publicly his intent not to appear biased in favor of any belligerent and to preserve US neutrality ("An Appeal by the President of the United States to the Citizens of the Republic, Requesting Their Assistance in Maintaining a State of Neutrality During the European War"). Note in the title of Wilson's address: "European War."

3) The history of Bliss Electrical School is well known amongst power professionals. Secretary Bryan did indeed give the commencement address referenced in the text, on June 3, 1914, at Bliss in Tacoma Park, Maryland. A brief but profound summary of the role of Bliss in the development of electrical technology can be found here:

by Jim

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