Submarine U93 Part 23
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None the less, Crouch stoutly refused to give up the chase. He loudly protested that he would overtake the "Marigold" or go down to Davy Jones.
The "Mondavia" was then about four miles to the west, between the "Marigold" and the coast. They had no means of signalling to the steamer, since there was not a flag on board, and though there was a signalling lamp, this was quite useless whilst the daylight lasted.
At length, at the end of about ten minutes, the "Kitty McQuaire" was. .h.i.t. One of the round projectiles from the mortar struck the mainsail obliquely, so that it tore a great rent that flapped open in the wind.
Crouch clenched both fists, and stamped upon the deck.
"Are we to go ahead?" he cried to Jimmy. "Are we to go on with it, or give up the chase?"
"Go on!" cried the boy, who was quite beside himself with excitement. "I don't care what happens. It's too late to go back now."
They were then almost within revolver range of the "Marigold." Crouch went to the bows, and fired three shots in quick succession at the fugitives.
"Heave to, you curs!" he shouted at the full power of his lungs.
It was the voice of Stork that answered.
"Come and take us," he cried in loud derision.
"Do you think we dare not?" answered Jimmy.
Before Stork could answer, Crouch broke in again, telling Stork to blaze away with what he called his "pop-gun" which was not capable of knocking a hole through an empty rain-barrel. These words, in spite of the fact that they were never spoken seriously, were uttered at a most inopportune moment; for, hardly had they left the little captain's lips than a shot struck the starboard quarter of the "Kitty McQuaire" about a foot below the water-line.
Whisker was the first to recognize the danger, and ordered all on board to stand by the hand-pump, which was the only means they had of bailing the s.h.i.+p.
"And even that won't save us," he added in a doleful voice. "She'll fill for a certainty. She'll not take ten minutes to settle down."
The alarming truth of this was at once wholly apparent. Within the s.p.a.ce of a few minutes, the "Kitty McQuaire" took on a decided list. At the same time, she slowed down; every second, the "Marigold" widened the distance between herself and her pursuer. As they lowered the sails, they heard Stork's loud, boisterous laugh, as the man looked back upon the sinking s.h.i.+p upon the deck of which his victims stood in silence, side by side.
Indeed, Crouch and his companions were face to face with inevitable destruction. Though the storm had subsided, the sea was still too rough to launch the only small boat the "Kitty" carried. This was a small dinghy used for harbour work, which could neither carry all who were on board nor live for two minutes in such a sea without being swamped.
The "Kitty McQuaire" was sinking slowly by the bows, turning over quite gently--like a tired beast that lies down to sleep. The deck was now so much aslant that they were obliged to hold fast to the masts and rigging, to prevent themselves slipping down, one after the other, into the cold, hungry sea.
The sun, at last, was setting. Darkness was spreading from the east; and at the same time, a lowering ma.s.s of cloud was drifting forward on the wind which presently would shut out the starlight and the moon.
There is no situation more terrible, there is nothing that requires greater fort.i.tude to bear, than to find oneself doomed and deserted upon the unutterable loneliness of the sea, as the sun sinks in the sky and the mists of twilight glide upon the surface of the waters. There was no help for it; they knew that they must die. At such an hour, it was but human nature that their thoughts should turn to the G.o.d Who had given them life. Each man closed his eyes; and standing together, clinging to the last of the sinking s.h.i.+p, one and all prayed silently and swiftly that death might be easy, and that the wrong they had done in their lives should be forgiven.
And then, as if to make their lot more hard, the cruelty of their end more bitter, within a hundred feet of the fis.h.i.+ng-smack, silhouetted against the red glow of a winter's sunset, there arose from out of the water, the shark-like, threatening form of the U93.
[Ill.u.s.tration: AS THEY SANK OUT OF THE RED GLARE OF A WINTER'S SUNSET THERE APPEARED THE THREATENING FORM OF THE U93.]
CHAPTER XXIII--The Loss of the "Kitty McQuaire"
The submarine had made its appearance quite suddenly, rising in silence to the surface of the water, where the waves broke against the superstructure, which was presently the centre of a white circle of foam. A little afterwards, the figures of two men appeared upon the conning-tower, one of whom Jimmy Burke recognized immediately as the German officer who had hailed the "Harlech," and whom he had followed to the engine-room of the deserted s.h.i.+p.
There was something almost uncanny in the thought that this dreaded submarine monster had travelled northward all the way from the Lizard, evading the Allied destroyers which thronged the Channel and the Straits of Dover, steering amid the shoals and shallows of the Goodwin Sands, pa.s.sing under water in all probability often within a stone's throw of His Majesty's s.h.i.+ps guarding the sh.o.r.es of England.
Of all craft that put to sea, the modern submarine is the most formidable, inasmuch as it seems gifted with an intelligence of its own.
It is an invention so highly organized and delicately equipped, its capabilities are so marvellous, its possibilities so great, that it is not difficult to imagine it even possessed of a kind of consciousness of its own. As a matter of fact, it is no more than a perfectly complete machine which--after the manner of all machinery--answers to the will of its commander. When that commander is ruthless and pitiless, when his orders are to wage war upon innocent men, women and children, to show neither gallantry nor clemency to whomsoever may fall into his clutches, then a submarine--such as the U93--becomes the shark, the s.h.i.+p of prey, among the navies of the world.
The "Kitty McQuaire" was sinking fast by the bows. In the red sunset--the last of a dying day--she had not ten minutes in which to live; and yet, faced with such a tragedy, with the spectacle of so many men so indubitably doomed, the commander of the U93 threw back his head, and laughed.
His voice sounded false and fiendish amid the soft, rhythmic was.h.i.+ng of the waves. It was the laugh of a coward in his hour of triumph; for there can be no true courage which does not go hand in hand with clemency and generosity. a.s.suredly, the kindness of the seas, the sense of gallantry that led Nelson's sailors to risk their lives so often in saving their drowning foes, does not extend to all. The German Navy is a thing of yesterday; and it had been better for the honour of the Fatherland had German naval officers and seamen learnt something more of the glorious traditions that British sailors honour and respect. It was not enough to copy the latest type of British super-Dreadnought or battle-cruiser. There is no such thing as a seaman without a sailor's heart.
The man's laugh died away in the distance, as the submarine raced after the "Marigold," which was now almost a mile ahead. The U93 had made her intentions perfectly clear in the brutal laugh of her commander. She was in no way disposed to hold out a helping hand to enemies in distress.
Captain Crouch and his friends on board the sinking fis.h.i.+ng-boat could be safely left to drown like rats. Their lives had been a menace to the German Empire; Crouch, in his own small way, was one of those who had stood between Germany and the sun. It was as well that they should be thrown upon the mercy of the sea, to swim at random, desperate, until great fatigue and a sense of their own helplessness should weigh them down, to sink, one by one. The U93 followed in the wake of the "Marigold," which had heaved-to, and from which a signalling lamp was now throwing out its dots and dashes in the twilight.
Crouch turned to Captain Whisker. They were clinging, side by side, to an iron bollard fastened to the deck; for the smack was leaning over so that her deck sloped like the roof of a house.
"How long do you give her?" he asked.
"Three minutes more, perhaps. She may dive on a sudden, or she may settle down quite quietly. They sometimes do, as you know as well as I."
They remained silent for some moments, both staring hard at a certain fixed point in the midst of the gathering darkness. Here, like a small star, a red light suddenly shone out; and as they looked, a white light appeared, higher up and in front of the red one, and then higher still, another, so that all three together formed an isosceles triangle.
"There's the 'Mondavia'!" said Crouch. "I know the skipper well--a man called Cookson, who once sailed with me to Melbourne. As a last hope, I'll try to pick her up."
He asked for the signalling lamp, lit up, and raised and closed the shutter to see that it was in working order. Whilst Crouch was so employed, Captain Whisker gave his final instructions. Every man was ordered to put on his lifebelt; several spars were loosened, and left upon the deck, so that when the boat went down they would float. As soon as the "Kitty" foundered, the men were to take to the sea, where they could cling to the floating spars. They were warned, however, to avoid the dinghy, which would prove nothing but a death-trap.
Seeing that their chances of ultimate salvation were very small, all these instructions and precautions must appear somewhat unnecessary and useless. It is, however, a natural instinct for men to cling to life.
Life is held to be so precious, and death so gloomy and uncertain, that no sane man of his own free will can bring himself to take the first step that leads to the Great Unknown. These rough seamen of the Yorks.h.i.+re coast thought of the wives and children that they would leave behind in Hull and Grimsby, and such thoughts are enough in themselves to lend strength and courage to the last. In grim silence, they set to work following the skipper's instructions, fastening their lifebelts around their waists, still clinging to the s.h.i.+p that was now in such desperate plight that the forward part was almost entirely under water.
Captain Crouch, holding with one hand to the tiller, used the other to work the signalling lamp, the face of which was directed towards the "Mondavia." Darkness had now set in; neither the "Marigold" nor the U93 was to be seen, and of the tramp steamer nothing was visible but the two masthead lights and the red light on the port quarter.
Suddenly, Jimmy Burke--who had never left the side of his good friend, Captain Crouch--let out a loud cry, and pointed excitedly towards the Jason steamer.
"Look there!" he exclaimed. "She has seen our light. She's swinging round."
All eyes were turned towards the west. In the half-light, the men were just able to discern the faces of their comrades, and everywhere were the same emotions legible: hopelessness, pity for those who would be left without support, bitterness at the harshness of their fate, and a set determination to die like British seamen. They looked in the direction indicated with hungry, sorrowful eyes, as if each knew only too well in his heart that help was so far away that it was sheer folly to think of it at all.
None the less, they could not dispute the evidence of what they saw.
Even as they looked, the lights of the steamer swung round, so that the two white lights appeared in the same vertical plane, the one above the other. The red light also grew smaller and less distinct, and at the same time a green light appeared on the same level as the red.
To anyone who had the smallest knowledge of the sea, there can be no mistaking signs so manifest. The "Mondavia," which hitherto had shown her port light to the east, had now changed her course, and was making straight for the sinking boat. Though there was no necessity to explain to sea-faring men exactly what had happened, Captain Whisker seized the opportunity to speak words of courage to his men.
"Bear up, my lads," he cried. "She has sighted us; you may be sure of that."
"She'll reach us in time?" asked Jimmy.
"There's no chance of it," answered the burly captain. Then on a sudden, his voice became much louder, as he struck a note of alarm.
"She's going, now!" he cried. "Take to the water, lads; and each man for himself!"
As he said the words, he threw off his coat, waistcoat, and his long gum-boots, and plunged headforemost into the sea.
The "Kitty McQuaire" had run her course; her days of usefulness were ended. As all honest s.h.i.+ps--and, indeed, all honest men--are some day bound to do, she had come to the Parting of the Ways. She had been a good craft in her time, as Captain Whisker himself could testify; and she went down into the depths gently and silently, as if she welcomed an eternity of rest.
Submarine U93 Part 23
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Submarine U93 Part 23 summary
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