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 ...."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
He really, really hated this assignment.
---- New Jersey, bridge of 1914 Model-T Runabout, course 120, speed 14
"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
"That's an odd spelling," Lannon commented magnanimously, upon
the other's capitulation. "Shouldn't it be 'D-a-v-y-apostrophe-s',
"No telling. Take the turn over there, to the right."
"Got it. Hang on. It's washboarded pretty bad."
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
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
"Very well," the "commodore" said. "I alter
course to 180. Speed to remain 20 knots. Report to flagship."
"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
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?"
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
"Then I order course change. Directly towards the last reported
"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
"Yes, I have some acquaintance with it, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
"No problem, Lieutenant. No problem at all. You're on your toes.
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
---- 3:05 PM, New York Naval Station, Office of the Commander - Atlantic
"... 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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
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
"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?
"Aye," Theargus admitted, after a long moment. "That was
"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
"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
_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: