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Rounding up the Raider: A Naval Story of the Great War By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 10856

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Under reduced speed, in order to economize her coal, the Pelikan held on her southerly course. By dint of careful stoking, her funnels emitted little or no smoke that might betray her position. At night every light was screened.

Fortune seemed to be favouring her, for without sighting a single vessel she reached the fortieth parallel, or considerably farther to the south'ard than she need do in ordinary circumstances in order to round the Cape of Good Hope.

The air was rapidly becoming colder, and her crew, being unprovided with warm garments, suffered acutely after coming straight from the Tropics.

While the work of repairing the damage done by the British cruiser's shells was progressing as well as the limited means at the disposal of the ship would permit, one of the crew slipped, and striking his head against the edge of an iron plate, was so severely injured that he died within two hours of the accident.

It was then that Denbigh and O'Hara had yet another example of the thoroughness of the German system. The usual practice would have been to sew the body up in a shotted hammock and throw it overboard, but Kapitan von Riesser had another plan.

One of the boats, with the name "Zwaan-Rotterdam" painted on the stern, was lowered. In it the corpse was placed and the boat turned adrift.

In due course, the kapitan hoped-and the crew, realizing that necessity knows no law, agreed with him-that the boat would be sighted by one of the British cruisers, and thus give the impression that the raider had sunk.

About four on the following morning the two subs were roused by the sudden increase of the revolutions of the propellers, and the frantic tramp of feet on deck.

"Hulloa, what's wrong now?" asked O'Hara. "They've got a move on for something."

"One of our ships in chase, I think," replied Denbigh. "As we are locked in we may just as well go to sleep again. I'd like to wake up and find the hooker hove-to and a prize."

"Not bad advice," rejoined the Irishman, turning over and rolling himself in his blankets. "Thank goodness it's not our watch. If these fellows carry on much farther we'll find ourselves on the way to the South Pole."

Sleep, however, was out of the question. The two chums talked at intervals until the appearance of Fritz warned them that it was time to dress for breakfast.

After the meal the subs found, somewhat to their surprise, that they were not prohibited from going on deck, as was generally the case when another vessel was sighted.

It was piercingly cold. A heavy dew had frozen as it fell, rendering the decks very slippery. Several of the crew were at work with hoses, washing down the planks with salt water in order to clear away the thin coating of ice. So keen was the wind that Denbigh and his companion were glad to take shelter under the lee of the deck-houses.

Astern, at a distance of about two miles, was a long, rakish-looking craft, with two short masts and two funnels. She was painted a dark grey, almost appearing black. She flew no flag, but a signal fluttered from the foremast. Owing to the direction of the wind it was impossible, even with the aid of powerful glasses, to distinguish the flags, since the vessel was steaming directly in the wake of the runaway Pelikan.

Several of the latter's officers were aft keeping the mysterious craft under observation, while on the after-bridge Kapitan von Riesser and the officers of the watch were engaged upon a similar task.

Seeing the British officers appear the kapitan descended the bridge and strolled aft. Affecting surprise at finding Denbigh and the Irishman on deck he asked:

"What do you make of that vessel, Herr Denbigh? Is she one of yours?"

The sub shook his head.

"I really cannot say," he replied. "You see we've added considerably to our fleet since the outbreak of war, and I haven't been in Home Waters since October, 1913. She's coming up pretty fast, I should imagine."

"She is," agreed Kapitan von Riesser dryly. "But not so fast as you would like, perhaps. It is somewhat strange that she hasn't opened fire before now. Perhaps it is because your compatriots are afraid of hitting you," he added with a slight sneer.

"And for similar humanitarian reasons you have refrained from using your quick-firers, I presume?" retorted O'Hara.

"She's hoisting Argentine colours, sir," reported one of the Pelikan's officers.

He was right, for altering helm slightly the pursuing vessel enabled the flag to blow athwartships. At the same moment the signal that had been kept flying at the masthead could be distinguished. It read: "What ship is that?"

"Those colours may be an English trick," said the kapitan. "I'll carry on."

"By Jove, old man!" he whispered to his chum. "It looks as if we are dished this time. We were a little too premature in chipping the Old Man."

In an hour the pursuing craft had closed to slightly less than a mile. Still she made no attempt to open fire. There were, in fact, no guns visible.

"Hoist our proper colours," ordered Kapitan von Riesser at length. "It will be all the same in another twenty minutes' time whether we use our own ensign or any other."

The Black Cross ensign was run up. Its appearance was greeted by a prolonged blast on the stranger's siren, then from the extremity of the pursuing craft's bridge a man began semaphoring.

Although s

killed in semaphore, neither Denbigh nor O'Hara could understand the message. The British system differs from the German, which again varies with the French and Spanish. Yet, peculiarly, the officers and men of the Pelikan could read the signal with ease.

Grave, anxious looks gave place to smiles, while one of the crew began to cheer-a demonstration that the kapitan quickly suppressed.

Von Riesser had now ascended the bridge. Still suspicious he ordered the torpedo tubes to be charged and the engines to be reversed.

Directly the overtaking craft noticed the falling off of the liner's speed her decks were black with humanity, and the air was rent with cries of "Hoch!" Then came the strains of "Deutschland uber alles", in which the Pelikan's crew joined lustily.

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Denbigh. "What does it all mean? There's a small German colony afloat."

"'Fraid so," agreed O'Hara.

As there was hardly any sea running the two vessels ran alongside each other. The new-comer had the name San Matias painted on her stern and on her boats and life-buoys. She carried no guns except a couple of small brass signalling pieces. Her officers and a few of her crew were South Americans, beyond doubt, but the rest of the crowded complement were of marked Teutonic origin.

The British subs stood at the rail watching the unwonted sight. No one offered to order them below. It was part of the business to let them see what was going on.

No time was lost. While a party of officers from the San Matias were being entertained by von Riesser in his cabin the Germans from her transferred themselves and their belongings to the Pelikan-nearly three hundred men of military age and bearing. Then came the work of transhipping stores from the capacious holds of the South American vessel. Carcass after carcass of oxen and sheep were brought on deck. From the oxen were produced long bundles wrapped in cloth. Every bundle contained four modern magazine rifles. Enclosed with the frozen mutton were small shells and rifle ammunition. As fast as the munitions were taken from their strange places of concealment most of the carcasses were dumped overboard, a few hundred being retained for food and stored in the Pelikan's refrigerators. Then came bundles of hides, each containing parts of machine-guns, until it looked as if the ship had enough material to equip an army corps.

Long before the San Matias had disgorged her warlike stores Denbigh had overheard enough conversation to enable him to solve the mystery.

The San Matias had been chartered by a number of wealthy German merchants in Buenos Ayres for the purpose of sending some hundreds of reservists to German East Africa. The presence of the Pelikan in the South Atlantic had been expected, and her progress, based upon reports from British cruisers and duly transmitted by spies to Buenos Ayres, reached the projectors of the scheme with remarkable promptitude. The arms and ammunition had been purchased sometime previously from a pro-German firm in New York, and sent to the Argentine to fulfil a fictitious contract for the Government of that republic.

The San Matias was then chartered, her owner, captain, and crew being heavily bribed to undertake the risk, comparative immunity being afforded by means of forged ship's papers and certificates of nationality of the "passengers". At the same time the report was spread in Buenos Ayres and Monte Video that the Pelikan had been sighted making for Bahia-a matter of two thousand miles N.N.E. of the estuary of the La Plata. British agents swallowed the bait and telegraphed the news to London, whence, in turn, the false information was transmitted to the patrol vessels specially detailed to search for the daring raider.

This report had literally done the trick. The northernmost group of British cruisers instantly converged upon the Brazilian coast in the neighbourhood of Bahia. The southern patrol remained in the vicinity of the Falklands. Thus the Pelikan had the chance of a free and uninterrupted run eastwards until she approached the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope. Although her adventures were by no means over, one source of danger had been removed.

The German reservists were certainly optimists. They firmly believed that Egypt had been wrested from the British, and that their role was to join the large army concentrating in German East Africa and march victoriously down the valley of the Nile and crush the remnant of the English in the vicinity of Khartoum. According to their idea and belief South Africa was in rebellion, and that German South-West Africa was once more a Teutonic colony. India, too, had revolted and joined the Turks, who had occupied Persia and Beluchistan. Mention was also made of the impending advance of the Turco-Germanic armies through Tibet and China to establish a vast empire from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and to avenge upon Japan the loss of Kiau-Chau. In short, the German armies were everywhere triumphant, although they could hardly understand why they should have to be smuggled out to sea when the German High Seas Fleet roamed unchallenged and the British navy skulked in harbours.

At length the last of the San Mathias's cargo was transhipped. The two vessels parted company, the Argentine returning to Buenos Ayres while the Pelikan headed eastward on her perilous passage round the Cape of Good Hope.

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