Submarine U93 Part 29

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CHAPTER XXIX--Conclusion

There is romance in all things. No one will dispute, for instance, there is romance in war; but, it is not everyone that realizes that there is just as much that is romantic in a coalfield, a factory or a dockyard.

The traveller who journeys by night through one of the great industrial centres of England cannot fail to be impressed by the enormous strides that civilization has made during the last century, at the vast wealth of modern nations and the organization of industry. In a night scene, where great chimneys and the head-gears of coal-pits tower against the starlight, and the sky is red with the reflection of thousands of flaming furnaces and ovens, and white-hot rubbish is tossed here and there like hay in a new-mown field, there is much to marvel at, and not a little of romance.

Modern industry has grown like a mushroom. The invention of the steam-engine was the first step in the great march of science that led to the conquest of nature, and placed into the hands of man the illimitable resources of the earth. Mineral wealth is the capital of a country, a source of income that is almost inexhaustible.

In all busy England, there is no greater centre of activity than the mouth of the river Tyne. Here we have, cl.u.s.tered together within a comparatively small area, a score of flouris.h.i.+ng towns--s.h.i.+elds, Tynemouth, Jarrow, Wallsend and Newcastle. Each of these is another Sheffield in itself, where working men labour for long hours, live well, grumble much, and find little time to wash. The men of Tyneside are the toughest breed in England--the toughest and, perhaps, the roughest, too.

It was to the Tyneside that the wounded "Lion" crawled home. It was to the mouth of this turbid, close-packed river, to the smoke-stained atmosphere of thousands of factories and workshops, that H.M.S.

"c.o.c.kroach" brought the crew of the "Mondavia."

Many were wounded; some were even at the door of death; and all had looked Eternity in the face. They had come through unheard-of dangers; they had waited for destruction, counting the seconds to the end; and they had been saved, as by a miracle, from out of the midst of the sea.

Perhaps one of the most singular and amazing contrasts in the universe lies in the transformation of a battlefield into a hospital ward. In one, we find such uproar and confusion, such thunder, fire, imprecations and groans of agony, as can only be compared to the nether regions. In the other, all is stillness, cleanliness, solicitude and care. It is a strange thing for a man who is but newly come from a scene of noisy and indescribable carnage, to look into the smiling eyes and red-cheeked, morning face of an English girl. It is not easy for him to comprehend that the same world can contain such vastly different aspects.

Upon a certain jetty above the mud-dyed water of the Tyne, a dozen of such women were waiting for the torpedo-boat-destroyer as she neared the sh.o.r.e. They were members of the Women's Emergency Corps, dressed as hospital nurses, who had come prepared for anything, but most of all to welcome back to Tyneside those who had helped to keep the flag of England flying on the seas.

Arrangements had been made for the casualties sustained by the Navy, but no one had reckoned upon the arrival of a score of seriously injured men of the crew of a small tramp steamer. However, there was one there--a lady in some position of authority--who took the matter into her own hands, with a degree of common-sense and prompt.i.tude that stands much to her honour.

"They must go to the American hospital," said she. "They have plenty of accommodation there, and are simply crying out for patients."

Accordingly, it was to this American hospital that the crew of the "Mondavia" were conducted, some on stretchers and some of the more seriously wounded--such as Captain Whisker--in motor ambulances which had been sent down to meet them.

It was a sad procession that pa.s.sed through the streets that famous evening, when men could do nothing else but talk of the North Sea fight, and no one showed the smallest inclination to go to bed. When it became known what the fate of the well-known cargo s.h.i.+p had been, the eyes of these slow-thinking, stubborn people were opened at last to the full meaning of the war. That a powerful battle-cruiser like the "Blucher"

should deign to direct her guns upon a defenceless merchant s.h.i.+p, proved only too clearly once again that the German Empire, thwarted in her senseless ambition, was prepared to stick at nothing.

It was conduct such as this that had turned the sympathies of the whole world towards the Allies; and it was by means of field hospitals and various Red Cross inst.i.tutions that a large section of the American public had been able to give practical expression to their feelings.

Crouch, accompanied by the medical officer himself, who had come down to the jetty, was the first to reach the hospital. The little sea-captain was so accustomed to hards.h.i.+ps, and possessed of such great vitality, that the terrible ordeal through which he had pa.s.sed did not seem to have had the slightest effect upon either his physical strength or his nerves. He walked briskly, though with his usual limp, carrying on an animated and somewhat one-sided conversation with the doctor.

It was hardly possible to mistake the American hospital--by reason of the enormous "Stars and Stripes," which, day and night, floated from above the portal. Within was everything that human ingenuity, modern science and the generosity of a great and charitable nation could devise. Captain Crouch was not the least surprised at that; but, what caused him to stop stone-dead, like a man struck, and stand gaping like a yokel at a fair, was the slim figure of a young girl, dressed in the white cap and ap.r.o.n of a trained nurse, who was the first person he set eyes upon the moment he entered the door.

Captain Crouch had a good memory. Besides, not so many weeks had elapsed since he had had his little confidential chat with Peggy Wade in the New York offices of Jason, Stileman and May. He remembered nearly everything Peggy had told him, even the story of the lucky sixpence that had once belonged to Admiral "Swiftsure Burke." He remembered, as well, the strange coincidence that had come to light in the "Goat and Compa.s.ses" hotel, on the night when he and Jimmy had deciphered the mysterious message.

"My la.s.s," said he, holding out a hand, "my la.s.s, we've met before."

Peggy must be excused if she could not at first recollect. Though Crouch's heart was the same as ever and his was the same indomitable will, he bore more than one mark of the recent conflict: his clothes were in rags, his face was cut and bruised, and he had been drenched to the skin in the salt water of the sea.

"Forgive me," said Peggy; "but, I can't remember."

And then, she saw Crouch's strange gla.s.s eye that always stared in front of him, and remembered on a sudden.

"Why, yes!" she cried, holding out both hands. "Of course, I remember now."

A few quick questions from either side were answered no less briefly.

The waters of remembrance--even of quite little things--are very sweet indeed; and it was pure joy to them to speak of the Admiral's lucky sixpence.

It was that that brought back Crouch's mind to Jimmy, whom a strange fate was bringing to the very hospital where he would be cared for by the best friend and sole companion of other far-off days.

The s.h.i.+p's officers and crew of the "Mondavia" came to this quiet haven of rest like broken men--men who had been broken upon the relentless wheel of war. Jimmy Burke was well able to walk; for all that, he was so bruised and aching in his limbs that he did so like an old man, limping painfully and leaning heavily upon a stick.

His surprise and amazement can better be imagined than described when, arrived at the hospital, he found himself confronted by Peggy Wade. It was, indeed, a strange thing that, in so short a s.p.a.ce of time, and after so many vicissitudes and dangers, these two should be brought together again. All the way across the Atlantic--more especially when they were off the coast of Ireland and pursued by a German submarine--the girl's thoughts had been of Jimmy, the friend and companion from whom she had parted in New York. Two days after the boy had gone, she had been offered a post with an American hospital which was about to be established in the north of England, prior to leaving for the scene of operations in France. And three days after her arrival in England, a strange "chance" brought him--hurt, broken and weary--to the very hospital where the girl herself was employed.

Jimmy's case was not very different from that of the majority of his companions. Though he had sustained no serious bodily injury, he had pa.s.sed through an ordeal that had been enough to shatter the nerves of the strongest men. Long hours of peril, followed by sleepless nights, during which the greatest hards.h.i.+ps have to be endured, will sap the strength and vital energy no less surely than the most dangerous wounds.

It was necessary for all these men to rest, to be given nouris.h.i.+ng food and to be allowed to sleep. As for those who were wounded--like the two merchant captains, Cookson and the burly Whisker--they received skilful treatment and the tenderest care; so that, though more than one was brought to the hospital more dead than alive, not one succ.u.mbed to his injuries.

In two days' time, when Jimmy Burke was quite restored to health, though still sore, a party of three people travelled to London by train. And these three were Captain Crouch, Peggy Wade (who had obtained a few days' leave) and Jimmy Burke himself.

Peggy and Jimmy had many things to speak of. The boy was delighted to hear that Aunt Marion was in England, too. As for Peggy, she listened in rapt attention to the whole story: of how Jimmy had discovered Stork on board the "Harlech," and how the villainous s.h.i.+p's carpenter had accused the boy of being a German spy. Crouch related his experiences at the top of his voice, working himself up into such a state of excitement that he waved his arms about him like a maniac, and from time to time laid hold of Jimmy by the shoulders and shook the boy violently, as if he desired to satisfy himself that the whole thing was not a dream.

He described the attack of the "Dresden," and the havoc that had been wrought by the guns of the German cruiser. He produced a note-book and pencil, and wrote out the mysterious message--the riddle that Jimmy had solved. And then, he told the girl how the s.h.i.+p had been sighted by the U93; and when he spoke of Jimmy's gallantry in saving the "Harlech" from destruction, Peggy felt a thrill of pride that she counted as her best and truest friend one who had rendered such signal service to his country. Somehow or other, in the stuffy New York office, she had never looked upon Jimmy Burke in the light of a hero; he had been just a boy, with whom she had been wont to revel in the joys of forbidden office "picnics," making cocoa and cooking sausages upon the stove.

Hitherto, the girl's life had been somewhat circ.u.mscribed; and Crouch's story seemed to her too wonderful to be true. If the saving of the "Harlech" was an incident that caused her pulses to throb and the blood to fly to her face, all that had happened at the empty flat in the Edgware Road was fantastic and mysterious. It resembled an episode from the "New Arabian Nights."

She listened in breathless eagerness to the description of the "Marigold," and to how the "Kitty McQuaire" had sighted the enemy's battle-cruiser squadron, steaming north-westward for the Tyne. The sinking of the fis.h.i.+ng-smack, the crew rescued by the "Mondavia" at the eleventh hour, the re-appearance of the dreaded U93, and the hurricane of sh.e.l.ls hurled from the "Blucher's" guns--all this was the very essence of adventure. And then Crouch, with becoming modesty, told how he had rammed the submarine, and sent her to the bottom, speaking of the whole episode in much the same manner as he mentioned the loss of his favourite pipe.

When Peggy heard of the sufferings they had endured and the mental torture they had gone through when adrift upon the raft, she was filled with two emotions: a great wonder that human men could face such terrors and survive, a feeling of thankfulness to the great G.o.d Who watches over all, Who holds in wonderful subjection life and death, victory and defeat.

The story of the North Sea fight rang throughout the British Empire, from Melbourne to Vancouver, from the Orkneys to the Cape. It mattered little what the Germans had to say, whether or not they believed that the "Lion" and the "Tiger" had been sent beneath the waves; the fact remained that all Britons were a.s.sured that, should the German High Seas Fleet desire to put matters to the test, should the great battles.h.i.+ps that were rusting in the Kiel Ca.n.a.l come forth upon the open sea, the Grand Fleet of Britain was prepared to meet them. Until that time, raids might take place, by aeroplanes and Zeppelins; but, as far as any grand invasion was concerned, the sh.o.r.es of England were--as they have been in the past--inviolable and secure.

A winter afternoon was far advanced, and the streets shrouded in gloomy darkness, when Crouch and his companions arrived in London. They went first to the head-offices of Jason, Stileman and May; then to Scotland Yard where they found Superintendent-detective Etheridge, who accompanied them to the Admiralty, where once again they were questioned and congratulated by Commander Fells.

All that happened in those few days in London can be told in a dozen lines.

Commander Fells had not spoken rashly when he promised that the Admiralty would not forget the services that Crouch and his young friend had rendered to the Allied cause. The firm of Jason, Stileman and May rewarded the boy handsomely for saving the "Harlech." Jimmy--who a few weeks ago had been a pauper in New York--found himself the possessor of a banking account such as he had never dreamed of. For days he carried his cheque-book about with him, as if it were a kind of pa.s.sport--as, indeed, a cheque-book is.

The boy was given the choice of a commission in the Royal Naval Division or one of the Service battalions of the new army. He now wears a khaki uniform and a Sam Browne belt, and is burnt to the colour of tan by many months in the sun; and on each shoulder-strap and on the lapels of his jacket is the grenade crest and the t.i.tle badges of the Royal Wess.e.x Fusiliers.

As for the Baron von Essling--who was no less a person than "Mr.

Valentine" of the "Hotel Magnificent"--he is to be found at a Prisoners-of-War camp at Wakefield, where he spends most of his time reading the works of Treitschke, who has much to say that is gratifying (to a German) on the subject of World Power and the downfall of the British Empire.

Unfortunately, Herr Rosencrantz still enjoys the privileges of his alleged neutrality; and it is quite unlikely--however long the war may last--that he will ever venture to risk his precious life. He still carries on his business as a money-lender, though nowadays his practices are said to have become so extremely dubious and shady that even Guildenstern has given up his share in the business.

Crouch is still Crouch, though he wears the uniform of a naval officer, with the twisted gold stripes upon his sleeve that denote the Royal Naval Reserve. The Admiralty--who were not disposed to waste the services of so valuable a man--saw to it that he received an appointment in which he was likely to have ample opportunity of displaying both his presence of mind and courage. He now holds a senior and responsible position on board one of the armed auxiliaries that are doing duty as light cruisers in the outer seas, though--in the public interest--what his work exactly is cannot be explained.

The World War has spread to the uttermost parts of the earth. It came, like a sudden and tremendous earthquake, to shake Civilization itself to its foundations. It has sent men, who in the long-off days of Peace thought little of wars and little dreamed of fighting, to all climes and countries. And so it was with Crouch and the two young friends that came with him to London. Peggy is working hard in a base hospital in France. Jimmy Burke is in Flanders. The exact whereabouts of Captain Crouch is quite unknown; he was last heard of in mid-Atlantic, where he is likely to be as much at home as anywhere else. One thing, however, is quite certain: in spite of his previous experience, in spite of the ill-fated U93, he cares no more for a German submarine than a porpoise or a black-fish.

The World War must continue to the end. Civilization can never again know the meaning of Peace until the German States themselves have endured the havoc and witnessed the desolation that follows in the path of War. To that end, Britons, Latins and Slavs will continue to strive, giving freely of their very best and bravest, that the world may, at last, be free. And it is for that far-off Freedom that the guns are thundering now, on the Yser, on the wild plains of Poland, on the towering heights of the Italian frontier, on the cla.s.sic lands of Greece, and even in the valley of the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of the human race.

THE END

Submarine U93 Part 29

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Submarine U93 Part 29 summary

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