by Grace Anastasia
"...look how red the sky is. The whole world seems to be bathed in blood."
-- Kptlt. Otto Weddigen
"Jeez, you certainly took your sweet bloody time," the sailor muttered to the silhouette coming through the fog. "It's as cold as a witch's teat tonight." He slapped his arms against his body in a futile effort to keep warm.
As the figure finally got close enough to be seen clearly, the sailor jumped quickly to attention, and spluttered, "Beggin' the Cap'n's pardon, sir."
Lieutenant Commander Lance Carstairs suppressed a smile at the seaman's apology. Standard procedure would have been to place the sailor on report for breach of conduct between officers and subordinates. The infraction was minor, and Peters was right, it is as cold as a witch's teat tonight, however, he was far more concerned by who the man was expecting to see than he was regarding his comment. The sailor was supposed to be on bow lookout.
"Pete, you certain you left them in the galley?" Another sailor called out as he approached through the fog.
The seaman rolled his eyes heavenward; this was not his night.
"What is it, Kaplan?"
"Uh, sorry, sir," he stumbled over his words, surprised by the officer's presence. Even though it was nearly pitch, he could tell from the Captain's tone that the man was none pleased.
"You know there's no smoking on deck at night," Carstairs tone was brusque. Cigarettes were a luxury the men enjoyed, but even in the worst fog that small, glowing ember could still give away their position to an enemy ship.
"Aye, sir, but it wasn't a pack of fags that I was looking for."
"That's right, sir," added Peters quickly. "I've lost me gloves, sir. Kappy volunteered to look for them as soon as he was off duty."
Like Carroll's bizarre twins, these two were a curious pair. Fiercely competitive, each always attempted to get the better of the other in games, sports, and, from what Carstairs had heard, women. Yet, despite their rivalry, both stood ready to help and defend one another. Had he not known their disparate backgrounds, he might have been tempted to believe them brothers.
"Very well, Kaplan. You're dismissed."
The seaman breathed a sigh, at least the Captain wasn't going to be placing him on report. He tried to give Pete the eye that he'd continue looking for the missing gloves, as he replied, "Aye, sir."
"And, I'd also suggest you spend the rest of your off duty hours in your quarters. Is that understood?"
Carstairs had come down hard on him on this one. "Aye, sir." He saluted formally, as he hared back below deck.
"Now, Peters," began the Captain, once he was certain Kaplan was gone, "why didn't you report your equipment missing to Mr. Chesterton before you reported for your watch?"
"Sir, I-I was going to, but the Commodore was with him -- "
The Captain held up his hand to signal that the sailor needn't continue. His men had been walking on eggs since Cmdor. Nayland's arrival a fortnight ago, trying to prove to that 19th Century Imperialist that the Arcadia was a competent, well-disciplined, and well-run ship. Carstairs was grateful for his men's devotion, but they had nothing to prove to him, the Commodore or even Lloyd-George. Besides, there was only one man aboard whose fitness for duty Nayland was here to judge.
"So, you reported for duty anyway?" Carstairs sighed.
"How long till your relief?"
"'Bout two and a half hours, sir."
"When your relief arrives, you're to report your loss to Mr. Chesterton. Additionally, there will be no rum privileges for three days."
Carstairs removed his own gloves and handed them to Peters. "Continue your watch."
"Sir?" asked the seaman dumbly as he held the fine kid in his hand.
"I need you thinking about hun U-boats and 'bergs, sailor. Not about frostbite."
Nodding, the Captain turned quickly, to be once again swallowed by the fog.
Peters shook his head, as he placed his freezing hands in the warmly lined gloves. In the ten years he'd been in the Royal Canadian Navy, he'd never served under anyone like Carstairs before. The Captain knew every man's name aboard, and recognized their competence in doing their respective jobs, which in itself was a rarity. Moreover, the man ran a very formal ship -- he could be one hell of a disciplinarian -- yet at the same time, he didn't stand on the class and privilege structure that their previous Captain had. And, now this incident with the gloves ... yes, Carstairs was certainly a queer one, he thought.
* * * * * * * * * *
The foul stench of fuel mixed with human sweat and vomit hung in the air, making his eyes tear, and his throat choke.
The Kapitän waved his men to remain on their bunks. Even with the oppressive odor, rest had been a too rare commodity for the crew of late.
"For how long has he been like this?" He looked down at the young Gefreiter. The boy was burning up with fever, and tossing in a fitful delirium.
"It started the last few hours, sir," replied Leutnant zur See Berger.
"Nein, Mein Leutnant," interrupted Hauptgefreiter Hesse, "Manheim has been ill for the past five days."
"And, you've said nothing of this?"
Hesse gulped uneasily, as he felt the steely eyes of his Kapitän watching him. "Otto thought it was merely a cold. He didn't want his illness to delay our return to Kiel."
The Kapitän sighed wearily. Kiel. Wasn't the whole crew looking forward to finally returning to the Fatherland? Stopping at Port au Prince would have delayed them only by a day or two. But, the boy would no more have wanted to be put ashore in Haiti, then he would have wanted a limb amputated.
He knew what Manheim had; he'd seen enough of it in his travels to know its signs -- the Spanish Influenza. On land, even on a freighter or warship, there were things he could do: isolate the boy, disinfect the bedding and the bunk. But, here aboard an unterseeboot, there was no place for such luxuries.
The thought of abandoning Manheim to the sea passed briefly through his mind -- the survival of the many outweighing the life of the one. However, it would do little good in protecting any of them from the influenza. They had already been infected; the best he could do was keep the boot functioning until they could reach Kiel and get proper medical attention.
"Hesse, I have a bottle of cognac. See if you can force some down his throat, until he passes out. And get someone to clean up this mess."
"Jawohl, Mein Kapitän."
* * * * * * * * * *
Carstairs opened the hatch to the galley, and quickly stepped behind the blackout curtain as the hatch closed behind him. It felt good to finally get warm; his hands were already raw and chaffed from the damp and biting cold.
"Cuppa coffee, sir?" asked the cook's boy, as he looked up from the game of cards he was playing with some of the crew.
He nodded toward the lad. "Thank you, Daly."
The galley was one of the largest areas on the ship, and most definitely the warmest. Which was the primary reason why most of the men congregated there when off duty.
The Arcadia was one of the many converted yachts that had been pressed into wartime service. The galley had at one time been the ship's salon, and under the previous Captain's command had been reserved for the exclusive use of ship's officers. On a larger naval vessel, perhaps such outmoded concepts could be justified; but the Arcadia was too small for what Carstairs considered such nonsense. And, it was that continued disregard for the old boy class and privilege structure that had gotten him into trouble with the War Office. A disgruntled Lieutenant, passed over for promotion to Executive Officer, had dashed off an angry letter of protest in the way he commanded the ship. That, and his none too quiet opinion on the question of Eire's independence, had led to the Commodore's inspection visit.
"Won't you join me, Captain?" called Nayland to him.
The Lieutenant Commander sighed inwardly. The tone was clear enough, it was not a request, but an order. Nodding politely, he strode briskly to the Commodore's table. "Thank you, sir." He removed his heavy outercoat and cap, and sat down tiredly.
"Weather's taking its toll on you, isn't it?"
Was that actually concern in the man's voice? Since this witch of a winter had begun, his command day averaged between 18 and 20 hours, and for the past fortnight, it had been closer to 22 hours. "If this blasted fog would just lift ... " his voice trailed off as Daly placed the cup in front of him.
The cook's boy looked toward the Commodore, "Can I get you anything, sir?"
Nayland shook his head. What he really wanted from the boy was that he stop his incessant humming of that American Negro music. Jazz was an offense to the ears and his nerves, but he refrained from voicing that opinion.
When Daly had returned to his own table, he continued. "Have you eaten yet?"
Carstairs sipped at his coffee. "There hasn't been time, sir. I'll have something sent to my cabin before turning in."
"You're doing yourself and your men a disservice, Captain," he said gruffly, as he stood up. "When you finish eating, report to my cabin. We have some things that need to be discussed before the ship reaches Newfoundland."
"Aye, sir," he replied as he watched the Commodore exit through the interior hatch.
Looking down at the coffee cup, he felt the weight of these past several years press upon him. Hell, he was only 30 years old, yet at the moment, he felt like a man twice his age. His outspokenness, his constant defiance of protocol, his anarchist politics were all going to be used to remove him from command, and send him home. Lost in thought, he twisted absentmindedly at his wedding band.
"He's right you know, sir."
The voice spoke barely above a whisper, and definitely not loud enough for any of the galley to hear, but it crashed upon the Lieutenant Commander's melancholia like a thunderbolt. Carstairs was surprised to see that it was his acting Exec, Yeoman Malcolm Chesterton standing beside the table.
"I've finished the daily logs, Captain. Was wondering if you'd care to take a look at them."
Chesterton's tone was formal, all business as he handed over the logs. Except for a slight furrow upon his brow, there was nothing to reveal to Carstairs that it had been he who made the comment.
Rubbing his eyes wearily with his forefinger and thumb, the Captain tried to focus on the log books, but the words danced into an incomprehensible jumble of letters.
"I'll finish reading these in my cabin," he said tersely, as he pulled away from the table, nearly knocking the already cold coffee over.
"Very good, sir." Chesterton watched his Captain leave the galley. He mentally shook his head. Carstairs was too damn good an officer for this bloody war, and the world that created it. The man commanded the crew with fairness and equality, rebuilding the spirit of a demoralized ship, reducing the casualty rate, and increasing the Arcadia's effectiveness as a convoy defense ship. Yet, there was also an almost obsessive behavior about the man -- a need to prove himself, all the while setting greater and greater challenges and obstacles for himself. And, thought Chesterton sadly, that obsession was slowly eating the man up.
* * * * * * * * * *
He re-read the letter once again -- the child-like scrawl, the poor grammar and horrible spelling -- yet the words conveyed love and hope that stirred his heart in ways he had believed long dead. Thank goodness for the American Methodist missionaries who had come to her island, otherwise he would only have memories until his return. And he would return -- he had given her his vow, his promise, his love. Besides, there was nothing now in Bad Kitzingen to keep him from returning. Illness had long since taken his wife, and Ypres had claimed his son.
The knock on the wall outside his curtained cabin startled him from his thoughts. It was his command second, LtzS. Berger. "Ja. Come in Hans."
The Kapitän turned his chair about to face his second. While his cabin was the largest personal accommodation aboard, it was still no longer than a wardrobe -- a bunk, a desk and a small patch of space for standing.
"Sir, Manheim is unconscious -- the cognac did what you hoped -- but his fever still rages. I do not think he will last another day."
"You're probably right," his tone was regretful.
"I fear that some of the other men are beginning to show signs of the same illness -- Gruber looks flushed. Schmidt has refused food and Hesse has complained of headaches. Sir, do you think they have pneumonia?"
"Nein," he shook his head, debating whether to tell Berger the truth, "they have the influenza."
"Gott in himmel!" the Leutnant zur See's voice was a whisper. "You are certain?"
"Ja. My wife died of it in '02. I know its signs too well."
"Manheim ... the others ... we must get them off the boot."
"We are all infected, Hans. In this close space," he indicated the unterseeboot, "the disease has been able to find a purchase."
"But, how-how could Manheim have gotten it.?"
"From food? From water? From a dalliance with one of the darkies on Providencialés? It may not even have been he. He was merely the first to show signs of it."
"Will we make it back to Kiel?" There was a growing panic in the man's voice.
The Kapitän pressed his hand's together. "I have been weighing our options, and trying to plot the fastest course.
"We are four days from Kiel, provided we run on the surface ... which naturally increases our risk. I've considered sending a distress message to all ships -- both our enemies and our allies -- of our condition, and that we will engage in no conflict because of it. While the English, French and Canadians would honour such a message, I very much doubt the Americans would."
Berger nodded in agreement. So desperate were the Yankees to prove they were the equal of Europeans that in their zealousness, they had been known to fire on neutral, friendly and even hospital ships.
"And as of now, we have neither the manpower nor armaments to engage in a fight."
"Are you speaking surrender, sir?" Berger felt his hands reflexively ball into fists; his anger at that thought was fast replacing the fear he had felt moments before.
The Kapitän stood in rage. "NEIN!" he shouted. "Never! No power in heaven or hell will keep us from returning home, is that understood, Leutnant!"
Coming swiftly to attention, the Leutnant zur See shouted, "Jawohl, Mein Kapitän."
His rage spent, the Kapitän pointed Berger to the charts on his desk. "There is another option ... Reykjavik."
"It is two days at most from our position, north of convoy shipping, and we will be able to get medical help there."
"But, it is Danish territory, sir."
"The Dänes have oppressed the Islandpferdes for centuries. While not neutral, they do not look unkindly upon the Kaiser. During the famine of the 1840s, it was the Hapsburg's who ordered food and medicine taken there. As a race, they owe their survival to the Empire."
Berger nodded. "I shall order the boot surfaced and the course changed, sir."
"Very good. Order the men rotated in four-hour shifts; and under no circumstances is this boot to engage the enemy."
* * * * * * * * * *
The Captain walked the corridor to his cabin, regretting taking his ire out on Chesterton. The man had served quite capably as Exec over the past year. It was unfortunate that the world in which they lived prevented the Yeoman from officially receiving the rank he deserved. Had this been any other place, any other time, perhaps they might even have been friends.
As he turned the knob to his cabin door, the warning bell sounded. Dropping log books, coat and cap to the floor, he picked up the bridge-telephone.
"MacKenzie, what is it?" he shouted into the mouthpiece.
The voice coming through the line was thin, and slightly tinged with fear, "Cap'n ... Peters spotted something in the fog. Hydrophone thinks it's a U-boat."
"Sound the alert, Ensign. I'll be on the bridge momentarily."
* * * * * * * * * *
The Kapitän read the scripture verse from his Bible, his voice an emotionless monotone, as Manheim's body slipped silently beneath the ocean's surface. The few men he could spare for the funeral detail looked up at him; their eyes imploring him to tell them that the Gefreiter would be the last death.
What could he say to them? He had stopped believing in the mercy of a divine being a long time ago. But, if they were to get through this, his men needed hope ... needed to believe in something.
"We are in good running order, and making excellent progress toward Reykjavik." His voice was quiet. "There is no reason to doubt we shall be with our families by Christmas."
He saw the tension ease a bit from their faces. "Secure, the det -- "
"Mein Kapitän," called the grizzled Stabsbootsmann, pointing to an opening in the fog, "a ship!"
The outline of the vessel -- even with no lights visible -- was clear against the refraction from the fog. Despite the ambient noise from his own boot and the howling wind, its engines were discernible, and it sailed directly in their path.
"Prepare forward torpedoes," he ordered, watching with grim satisfaction as his men moved animatedly, preparing for battle.
"But, your order, Mein Kapitän," Berger whispered at him.
Looking at his command second, the Kapitän replied, "It is a small enemy craft, Hans; but a victory over it may be motivation enough to give the men strength to get us home."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Are they aware of our presence?" asked Carstairs as he bolted onto the Arcadia's bridge.
Ens. MacKenzie hesitated in his response, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. He looked up at Carstairs. "I-I don't know, sir," he finally replied.
The Captain turned to the hydrophone operator, glad to see that Kaplan had relieved the night crewman. "Her engines haven't changed, sir, she's still on the surface."
"Blast," he muttered, and regretted saying it aloud as he saw the Commodore enter the bridge. They were caught between Scylla and Charibdis; and the outcome of his decision stood in the hands of the fates.
"Hard to port, all ahead flank." If they were going into battle, Carstairs preferred to face the enemy head on, rather than fighting a rear action.
* * * * * * * * * *
The fog made it nearly impossible to discern the movement and distance of the enemy ship, which still gave the unterseeboot the advantage -- they had no need to see the enemy in order to attack.
"Fire forward torpedoes," barked the Kapitän. The rush of battle giving his men the will to survive. "For the Fatherland."
The boot shuddered slightly as the two missiles were released and headed to meet their target.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Sir, they've fired!" shouted Kaplan.
The engines were already straining to move the Arcadia away from the direction of the oncoming missiles. Had his decision to turn the ship been quick enough, thought the Captain.
Collectively, breaths were held throughout the ship as the seconds till death or salvation passed.
The sound of the whirring torpedoes droned closer, and then receded into the distance.
"Cap'n," called Chesterton from below, "they've missed!"
All right, Herr Kapitän, you started it, thought Carstairs determinedly, I intend to finish it.
* * * * * * * * * *
It should have been an easy target, impossible to miss; and yet, somehow the enemy ship had cheated death.
"Prepare to dive!" ordered the Kapitän, as he hurried his men below deck. On the surface they might have better speed and maneuverability, but below the sea; the boot would be harder to track.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Gunnery crew," Carstairs ordered, "commence firing."
The pulse of the weapons lit up the night sky, as the shells headed for their target. There was a muffled thump as one of the shells struck the U-boat before it submerged completely.
"Chesterton, prepare depth charges."
"Aye, sir," nodded the Yeoman as he moved his crew to action.
The Captain turned toward his Navigation Officer, "Hard to starboard."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Mein Kapitän, we've taken a hit aft," said LtzS. Berger, "near the mine stores."
"How bad is the damage?"
"We're shipping water -- "
Picking up the communications headphones, the Kapitän gave the order, "Have the men move forward. Seal all watertight hatches aft."
The boot shuddered as an underwater explosion reached them.
"Depth charges," whispered Gruber.
The Kapitän nodded grimly. "We have forward torpedoes only; but it may still be enough."
Looking toward the hydrophone man, he asked, "Where are they relative to our posit -- " His words were cut off as another explosion rocked the boot.
Hesse examined his equipment, trying to make an accurate determination -- their survival depended on him. "Four hundred yards, Mein Kapitän, fifteen degrees to port."
Another explosion jolted the boot.
"Prepare forward tubes for firing," the Kapitän's voice was steady. "Fire!"
* * * * * * * * * *
Carstairs took the headset from Kaplan. The hydrophone man was good -- one of the best in the RCN -- but there was a sound the Captain was listening for, and it wasn't the noise from the U-boat's engines.
There it was ... a metallic grating ... torpedo tubes being opened.
"Hard to port!" he shouted, as he handed the headset to Kaplan.
Looking out at the men working with the ash-cans, Carstairs called out the distance and range.
The Yeoman nodded to his Captain, as the order was carried out.
* * * * * * * * * *
Water was seeping in through the seals; that last depth charge had caused the torpedoes to misfire, and explode prematurely -- too close to the already damaged boot.
The Kapitän surveyed the damage of his command. The air was acrid with the smell of diesel and the blackness from soot and smoke. Hans was dead; the young Leutnant's face crushed by a fallen pipe. Hesse was struggling to extricate himself from the dead Stabsbootsmann that lay on top of him.
"S-surface," he cursed himself for the next order he would have to give -- the order to surrender to the enemy.
The boot did not rise.
"Gruber," he shouted, "surface the boot."
The Bootsmann continued to stare down at the deck at another body lying there, sobbing for his fallen comrade.
"He gave his life for the Fatherland, Gruber ... he died a hero ... " the Kapitän's voice was gentle. "We still have our duty to perform. We shall not give our enemy the satisfaction of seeing us weak."
Gruber shuddered, and nodded to himself as he began the task of bringing the dying boot to the surface.
The Kapitän looked toward the fallen body that had been the source of the Bootsmann's grief, and screamed as its identity became all too apparent.
* * * * * * * * * *
The deep, green-black water glowed with an unholy red light as the damaged hulk of the U-boat strained to broach the surface.
"Sweet Jesus, Mary," whispered MacKenzie.
Carstairs cast a quick, angry glare at the young Ensign to force a reaction from him. This was the lad's first experience with death, and if this bloody war lasted longer, it would not be his last. The last thing the Lt. Commander needed was any of his crew turning coward; there was still too much to do.
"Chesterton, guns at the ready," he barked the order, making certain his words would be heard over the U-boat's grinding engines and the bitter north wind.
"Aye, sir." Having already anticipated his Captain's command, the blond nodded to the already assembled gunnery crew to stand ready.
Like a harpooned whale, the deck of the U-boat finally rose above the water line. The boat listed heavily to one side as flames feeding on the surface oxygen billowed from the exposed front torpedo tube.
"Can you tell yet if she's a U-20 or U-44?" asked the Commodore of the crewman who was scanning the water.
The Chief licked his lips dryly, "U-44, sir."
"Damn." Carstairs had been fairly certain of it from the way the U-boat had avoided them. Of the two types of unterseeboots, the U-44 was the more dangerous. Damaged as the sub was, its additional armour plating and better maneuverability still enabled it to sink the Arcadia if the boat's Kapitän had enough control and command of his ship to try a ramming maneuver.
"Gun crew," he looked through the field glasses toward the damaged craft. God forgive him, but there was no choice. "Five degrees vertical. Twelve degrees horizontal. Fire on my mark."
Before the order to fire could be given, the aft hatch on the U-boat sprang open, looking more as though it had exploded, rather than being forced open, from the inside. A human-shaped wall of flame clawed its way onto the deck and dived into the frigid waters. The sea, already coated in the grease and oil from the damaged craft, offered no reprieve for the poor sailor, as it burst into flames when the body hit it. The scream and stench from the burnt flesh hung in the air long after the man sank below the surface.
"Belay that." He looked through the choking smoke that was being whipped by the cruel wind. "Keep the marksman trained on the U-44's crew, Chesterton. MacKenzie get a party to help any survivors aboard."
The Ensign nodded dumbly, and began to organize a crew. Saving the life of the enemy had never been taught at the Royal Military College, but neither had seeing a man burned alive. For the first time since being posted to the Arcadia, MacKenzie understood what his Captain meant by throwing out the books in war. At this moment in time, the huns weren't the enemy; they were dying men trapped in a hellish burning coffin of steel. "All right, Peters lend a hand ... "
Carstairs heard the Ensign's voice fade away as he organized the crew. The lad would do well enough; he had overcome the first and worst hurdle of war -- fear.
The heat from the spreading fires had raised the temperature in the area to nearly tropical proportions after the bone-numbing cold that had been their companion for the past weeks. The Captain felt the sweat coursing a path down the back of his uniform, the hair under his cap was already damp with perspiration. Unbuttoning and removing his heavy outer coat, he placed it alongside him on the bridge.
"You did well, laddie." The Commodore nodded toward him.
Shaking off the compliment, the Lt. Commander looked out toward the dying boat. Something was wrong. Whether it was the hellish way the flames danced upon the water or the inhuman wail from the drowning engines of the U-44, he didn't know. Carstairs felt it ... palpable, choking, oppressive, malevolent. He had heard the tales from those who had served in the Crimea ... of meeting Mars on the battlefield as the god of war claimed victory. But, it wasn't Mars who was out there ...
Carstairs looked out toward his men. MacKenzie and Peters were helping three huns aboard, while the pharmacist's mate, Jenkins, was trying to tend another injured man. Chesterton, his right hand, was keeping the gun crews standing by to sink the sub should it be necessary. Looking toward the radio shack, Sparks was busy on the Marconi wiring their position to Newfoundland.
A low, grinding rumble spread through the water as an explosion rocked the Arcadia. Thrown off balance by the suddenness of it, Carstairs hit the wood deck hard enough to knock the breath from him. Quickly regaining his balance, he choked out the words as he got to his feet, "K-Kapl-pl-an another U-boat?"
The hydrophone man shook his head. "No, sir." He pointed toward the U-44. "She's sinking, sir."
Carstairs nodded as he looked in the U-boat's direction. Illuminated by the conflagration, the Lt. Commander saw a bloody, defiant figure standing on the boot's flying bridge. Even separated by the distance they were, Carstairs could feel the hatred radiating from the man.
The noise, the flames, time itself seemed to stand still as both ships' captains looked at each other. An involuntary shiver went through the Lt. Commander. Had this been what he had been sensing? Was the man part devil to be standing there so coolly just staring, despite his apparently serious injuries?
"Let us give you a hand." The words Carstairs said were hoarse and strained, and it wasn't because of the gutturalness of his poorly accented German.
A smile, bourne of madness and hatred, passed across the U-boat Kapitän's face.
As he stayed transfixed by the figure, Carstairs felt the cold rush of fear pass through him. Death he had faced in all its forms ... this was something worse ... of being dead, yet living, with life and love being forever denied. It was choking him, drowning him, pulling him down in its icy embrace along with the U-44. The hun was still aboard the unterseeboot, still unmoving, but he felt him taunting, sucking the breath from his lungs, the life from his body. Couldn't anyone aboard the Arcadia see what was happening? Carstairs tried to shout for help, but the words couldn't break through the icy barrier holding him.
The Kapitän seemed to be almost atop him, savoring this hellish victory, when the apparition that had stood over him; threatened to snuff out his life, shattered apart like the shards in a fractured mirror.
Turning weakly, the Lt. Commander saw a smoking service revolver in the Commodore's hand. His legs buckled under him, as he slumped to the deck.
"Easy, Captain," Cmdor. Nayland eased a supporting arm around the Captain, "you took some shrapnel from that explosion."
Carstairs nodded slowly, looking down at the blood oozing slowly from his right side. It had all been a delirium brought on by loss of blood. Had he but left his outercoat on, he might never have been injured. There had never been any U-boat Kapitän trying to take his life and make it his own; merely a fevered nightmare. The noise and the activity on deck slowed to a dull hum, as he lost consciousness.
"That was damned good shooting, Commodore," said Chesterton as the Yeoman came over to help Nayland with his Captain.
Nayland let a small smile pass his lips at the Yeoman's breach of conduct. The Captain of the Arcadia commanded the respect and admiration of his crew. Perhaps Carstairs had been right about privilege having nothing to do with the ability to do your duty. "Bloody hun ... if I hadn't spotted that revolver in his hand ... "
* * * * * * * * * *
The Commodore looked at the watchful faces of the crew; there wasn't a man aboard who wasn't worried about the Captain's life. A fortnight ago, he'd have called the Arcadia a derelict, comprised from the dregs of the RCN, and captained by an incompetent. But, a fortnight ago, he didn't know this ship, didn't know these men and didn't know their Captain. In his nearly 25 years in the RCN, he had never seen a more efficient, more competent crew and commander -- despite their philosophical differences.
If he was of a more esoteric nature, thought Nayland, he'd almost believe in preordin --
Nayland's thoughts were interrupted as the door to the ship's surgery swung open.
The pharmacist's mate rubbed his eyes wearily as he stepped into the corridor to face a concerned crew. It had been a long night.
"How is he?" Chesterton's tone was even. But his expression at seeing the blood covering the mate's surgery uniform betrayed his concern.
Jenkins sighed deeply; he wasn't a doctor, but he was the closest the Arcadia had until reaching Newfoundland. "I managed to get the shrapnel out of him, and staunch the bleeding, sir."
Chesterton forced a drink into his hand, and the mate downed it gratefully before continuing. "He's lost quite a bit of blood ... but providing there's no infection, no peritonitis ... " Jenkins' voice grew softer.
"Will he live?" asked Nayland.
"Yes, if God's with us, sir." He nodded slowly, and whispered his own silent prayer for his Captain's recovery.
Nayland smiled to himself at the mate's comment. He had no doubt that God had been, was now, and always would be watching over this crew.
* * * * * * * * * *
Below the surface of the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, the U-444 Edelweiss lay. The wounds in the boat's belly glowed with a soft incandescence as the fires aboard her were slowly smothered by the in-rushing ocean.
The wraith of the unterseeboot's Kapitän stood on the deck of the dead U-444 and prayed. But it was not a merciful God upon whom he called. Whatever it cost him, however long it took, he would have his revenge on the man who had ended his life, and kept him from his love.
A final dying ember aboard the Edelweiss exploded upward like a vengeful phoenix from the boat's aft hatch, before being extinguished completely.
The Kapitän smiled with satisfaction at the answer to his unholy bargain. "We will meet again, Herr
Captain," he mock saluted toward the water's surface, "Gerhard Krueger looks forward to seeing you
Copyright 2000 by Grace Anastasia
Please send comments to Grace at: DreamRider_1@hotmail.com
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