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The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, June 7, 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-01-01
Produced Maurie Mulcahy

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LET it not be imagined by thoughtless readers that the Gentle Buccaneers were always splashing about in purple patches. There were intervals between lightning streaks of lurid adventure when they sat quietly down round their own fireside, so to speak, and occasionally indulged in the dubious pleasures of introspection. Now, introspection is not always a pleasant thing, even to an amateur pirate, especially if he be connected with some ancient family and still bears upon him the rags of tradition as taught in English schools and universities. Even if such a man has done something which parts him violently and secretly from this native land, he cannot altogether forget the playing fields and the covert side and the glamour of the river. And some such thoughts as these obsessed Jimmy Graydon, otherwise known as Truthful James, as he sat on the deck of the Gehenna with the Buccaneers around him. And, sooth to say, Wallace, known as the Brigadier, was in somewhat similar case. They were both suffering from what Peter Shacklock, otherwise the Prodigal Son, called hobnail conscience, or an enlargement of the moral spleen. Anyway, they were a moody crowd, conversing fitfully in the absence of Endellion the Skipper, who just then was down below in confab with the taciturn individual who was responsible for the Gehenna's wireless. This, by-the-way, was something of a new toy, and had been installed on the Gehenna after a furtive visit to a nameless port in North New Zealand, where Endellion had been in secret conclave for at least two days with the officer in command of an English destroyer. What it all meant Endellion had not said. There were certain things he kept to himself, which is one of the privileges of the commander all the world over.

For some days now, they had been aimlessly drifting about amongst the little group of coral islands, two or three hundred miles away from the usual base, and perhaps the slowness of the proceedings had something to do with the gloom which had settled upon the Gentle Buccaneers. For a week they had enjoyed the inestimable privilege of a lady's company on board, until at length they had deported Audrey Lashford and her father in a place of comparative safety with a view to conveying them elsewhere as soon as circumstances would permit.

So they were lounging on the deck under the lee of a little island and waiting on events. They had been talking in a desultory sort of way for some time, and, for the most part, listening to the lamentations of the Brigadier with regard to the cruel circumstances that prevented him offering his services to a distressed motherland in the hour of her need. For the Brigadier received papers from time to time, and, now that their wireless had been installed, was not entirely outside the ring of current events.

"I ought not to be here," the Brigadier said moodily.

"Well, if it comes to that," said Jimmy Graydon, "neither should any of us."

"Yes, but my case is different," Wallace went on. "I was a gunner, remember, and a dashed good officer, too, though I say it as shouldn't. They could do with me out in France now."

"Yes, you'd better give yourself up," Shacklock drawled unkindly. "Throw yourself on the mercy of the court."

"I couldn't do it," the Brigadier groaned. "They'd know all about me in a week. I was wondering if we couldn't help in the great game out here."

"I'm not quite sure we can't," said Endellion as he came up on deck and joined the group. "If I'm right, sonny, you may be able to strike a blow for the flag yet."

The Brigadier's face cleared.

"Get on with it," he said. "You've got some deep scheme in your mind, I'm sure, else you'd never have shoved up that wireless. Now, then, cough it up."

Endellion proceeded to unfold a newspaper.

"Well, it's like this," he said. "Here is an old copy of the Times, which contains an interesting account of the voyage of a huge German submarine called the Deutschland."

"Isn't that the boat that went to America before we came in?" Shacklock asked. "Crossed the Atlantic under water and got back home with a cargo of rubber."

"That's right," Endellion said. "She used to be a pioneer, they were going to build a fleet of 'em, and cheat the British blockade that way. Now, this Deutschland was never heard of after the return voyage, and when the British unofficially claimed to have sunk her the Huns didn't deny it. Because why? I think I can tell you. It was all bluff. Germany never expected to feed her population by U-boats, however big. Her game was to supply submarines thousands of miles from their base with lubricating oils and petrol."

"I believe that's right," Shacklock said. "Don't you remember that soon after the first voyage of the Deutschland certain English vessels were torpedoed off the American coast? That was done to get the wind up Uncle Sam. But still they did it."

"You are very bright this afternoon, my worthy prodigal," Endellion smiled. "Yes, you've got it. That was a brainy idea. But no one seemed to spot it, at least, I thought nobody had till I met that naval acquaintance of mine the other day. He told me that the Deutschland was never sunk at all. She's knocking about in these seas feeding the U-boats responsible for the sinking of shipping in the Bay of Bengal. And somewhere, on one of these coral islands here, is a vast store of 'juice' ready for the Deutschland when she wants it. And now you understand why I was closeted for two days with a certain naval officer and why we had that wireless installed. Boys, the Deutschland is not far off, and if we can down her then I reckon we shall have struck a blow for the old flag that we can be proud of. What says the Brigadier?"

"Oh, the Brigadier's willing enough," Wallace replied grimly. "But where, precisely, do I come in?"

"Well, I suppose you can still handle a four-inch gun," Endellion said. "Don't forget that we have got a couple on board."

The Brigadier's eyes lighted up.

"I have forgotten nothing," he said. "I guess I'm as good a shot as ever I was. Give me a clear horizon, and the Deutschland, and I'll sink her at four miles in as many shots, or for ever hold my peace. Now, then, commodore, what's the little scheme?"

They talked on for an hour or so as they lay in that little bay until presently round the headland appeared a rowing boat with four men aboard. It was clear that the Gehenna was their destination, for they pulled straight to the side and presently two men scrambled on her deck. At the sight of one of them Endellion stuck his glass in his eye and for once in his life appeared to be almost astonished.

"Great Scott, it's Billy Hutton," he said. "Now what does that infernal rascal want here?"

The big man with the huge black beard came smilingly across the deck in Endellion's direction with the air of one who is sure of his welcome, and serene in the knowledge that there was no enmity between them.

"Didn't expect to see me, eh?" he said. "Well, Billy Hutton never bore no malice. You downed me in fair fight right enough, and I'm too big a man not to admit it."

"That's very nice of you," Endellion said sweetly. "Now what can I do for you, Mr. Hutton?"

"Well, you see, we're both Englishmen," Hutton said. "And I thought there being a war on, as you might like to help me. That is, me and my friend here. Mr. Franks, the great naturalist. Let me introduce him."

The man called Franks brought his heels together and bowed stiffly from the waist. He was of middle age, stiffly built, and looking every inch of him as hard as nails, as he removed his cap he disclosed a close-cropped head of grey hair that stood up right from a forehead absolutely square. He spoke pleasantly enough, his English refined and correct.

"What my friend Mr. Hutton says is quite right," he said. "I am a naturalist connected with the Museum of South Kensington. Unfortunately, some of my specimen cases were capsized into a place where the water is too deep to recover them, that is, without injury to the tin cases. So I thought, we might be able to pump the little lagoon dry and recover them, without rough handling. Mr. Hutton has a high pressure pump, but no armored hose. I thought perhaps you might be able to supply the deficiency. We only want it for a day or two."

"I dare say I could," Endellion drawled. "On second thoughts, I am quite sure I can. And I shall be happy to deliver the hose anywhere you want."

"Ah, that is very good of you," Franks said. "It is not very far away. On the north-west of the island there are three palm trees and there the coral reef sheers away into deep water. The lagoon is just behind."

"Oh, that's all right," Endellion said. "I will see that you have the stuff tomorrow morning. In fact, I'll take it myself. Will forty fathoms be sufficient?"

Mr. Franks was of the opinion that it would be more than ample. He was exceedingly sorry to trouble Mr. Endellion and was overwhelmed with the latter's kindness. He partook of the whisky and soda and cigars hospitably produced by Endellion, and after a further exchange of compliments left the deck of the Gehenna in the wake of the grinning Hutton.

"Well, what do you think of that?" Graydon asked. "What's the game, Skipper?"

"I don't know," Endellion said thoughtfully. "Perhaps I shall be able to tell you more about it after I have delivered the goods to-morrow. But Billy Hutton is hardly the sort of man to go out of his way to help a harmless naturalist."

"Naturalist, be damned," Shacklock exclaimed. "Why, that man's a German officer. He's got it written all over him. And see how he stood. Did you see how he brought his heels together and bowed from his waist? Why, another second and he would have given us a salute."

"A regular man of the world, the Prodigal Son," Wallace laughed. "What makes you so sure, old chap?"

"Because I have seen the tribe before," Shacklock grinned. "During my brief but brilliant career in the United States I put in a few months at West Point, and there we had a dozen or more retired German officers. They were quite a cult with us at one time. Oh, I am sure I am right."

"And so am I," Endellion said curtly. "That chap's a German naval officer, and Billy Hutton's in his pay. Now, what I make of it is this. We are almost on the top of a big petrol store and unless I'm greatly mistaken the Deutschland is coming here before long to fill up. That's what they want the armored hose for. They have lost theirs, or they haven't got enough. The whole thing's plain as a pikestaff. The oil is hidden just round the headland yonder so that it can be pumped straight into the submarine. You heard what our quasi- naturalist said about the edge of the island where the reef sheers into deep water. Well, there you are, and within the next eight-and-forty hours the biggest submarine in the world will be here. Now, if we can down that boat I guess we can stop all these raids on shipping in the Indian Ocean. At least, that's my idea, and that was the idea of the Naval Lieutenant who shall be nameless. And there's no time to be lost. We'll just get out to sea as soon as the tide turns."

"You've got a scheme?" the brigadier asked eagerly.

"More than one," Endellion said. "But with any luck one will be enough. Now then, lads, jump about a bit. Take a boat, two of you, and dump down that armored hose on the spot indicated by the gentle Mr. Franks. And, whatever you do, don't go prospecting around. Just chuck the stuff on shore and come away."

Nightfall saw the Gehenna out at sea steering an erratic course till dawn, when she ran alongside a dirty, dilapidated tramp steamer that was at once a byword and a laughing-stock in the whole of those tropical seas. She was dirty and dingy and rusty and slow, a veritable mollusk of the ocean creeping from port to port and floating more by the grace of God than anything else. A grimy-looking individual behind a short pipe grunted something in response to Endellion's hail. As far as the eye could see there was no sign of a sail anywhere.

"That you, Gunter?" Endellion asked.

"Tain't nobody else," the man behind the black pipe grunted. "What will you be wantin' with me?"

"Well, come on board and I'll tell you," Endellion replied. "We've still got a bottle or two of whisky left."

Five minutes later the skipper of the tramp Sardonyx lounged on the spotless deck of the Gehenna. After his fourth excursion in the direction of the whisky bottle he began to listen more complacently to the proposal that Endellion had to make. Briefly, it was this.

For a valuable consideration Mr. Gunter contracted to hand over the Sardonyx to the crew of the Gehenna and take himself modestly away, with his men to one of the little islands in the neighborhood where they were to remain hidden for a week. And, meanwhile, the Gehenna would anchor up in one of the many tiny harbours, not only as a guarantee of good faith, but as an earnest that both tobacco and whisky would be plentiful so far as the voluntary prisoners were concerned. And if anything happened to the Sardonyx then Endellion contracted to make good the loss. And as he was known in those seas as a man of his word, and as he was recognised as a man of substance, Gunter raised no further objections.

"That's all right, sir," he said. "You can sink the confounded old hooker if you like. If I can get a new boat out of this business I shall be well satisfied."

These high diplomatic arrangements having been completed, the two boats lay side by side in a little land-locked harbour far away from all prying eyes, and for the next few hours the two crews worked harder than they had ever worked in their lives before. By sunset the wireless installation of the Gehenna had been transferred to the Sardonyx, and so, also, had the two four- inch guns. And the crew of the Gehenna, who were crawling about the deck of the Sardonyx like so many lice, were transformed out of all recognition, too. Gone were their smart uniforms, gone all semblance of discipline and order, and in the place of a smart collection of sailormen appeared a lounging set of deck hands, sullen almost to the verge of mutiny. It was a fine piece of stage work, and Endellion was naturally proud of it. But there was a method behind all this, despite the grease and dirt, and the blackened, visages. And so the Sardonyx crept across the surface of the waters, a greasy dingy oily outrage on the face of the ocean. It was, in the language of Graydon, who had a pretty turn for metaphor, like a squashed blue-bottle flattened out on the surface of a marine landscape.

The one individual who viewed the whole scene with an indifference born of familiarity was Gunter, the owner of the Sardonyx, who had been taken on board at the last moment, or so he thought, though this was part of Endellion's strategy. It had been no part of his scheme to let the grimy little Welshman into the secret until they were afloat. Not that Gunter minded, for the little man was quite a patriot in his way, especially when patriotism and pocket walked hand in hand, so to speak.

"So that's the game, whatever, Mr. Endellion," he said. "Well you can count me in, look you. And if the old tub goes down, why you'll just make it good."

"Of course I will," Endellion said.

"And if there is any trouble with that man Hutton, then I'll ask you to see me through. For it is not likely that these parts will be healthy for me in future."

"Oh, that's all right," Endellion laughed. "You'll get well paid, and if this little stunt turns up trumps I don't think you will find the Admiralty likely to be stingy. Why you ought to be able to retire out of this business."

Gunter responded that he wanted nothing better. He had done fairly well with that rusty old barge of his, and, if he could see a further thousand or two, had made up his mind to settle down somewhere in New Zealand and devote the balance of his existence to the intensive culture of vegetables. There was evidently a vein of poetry in the little man.

And so for the next twelve hours the Sardonyx blundered along, whilst miracles were being wrought on her deck. The dingy, dirty-faced crew worked like heroes until at length the two 4-in. guns were in place and trained almost to Wallace's satisfaction. To a certain extent he had had to make bricks without straw. He had rigged up iron sheeting and steel plates and bolts until a couple of fairly efficient platforms had been made. These he eyed dubiously.

"I hope they will be all right," he said. "Though I has ma doots. If those guns break loose they'll shake the guts out of this old barge. Well, we'll hope for the best."

So they drifted on through the night, apparently without aim or direction, until at length they fetched up to the lee of the coral reef where Endellion's crew had dumped down the armored hose. They were lying some three miles away from a clump of palms that marked the spot, lying lazily in the trough of a silver sea with steam oozing out of every joint of the Sardonyx. It was as if something had gone wrong with the rotten engines, a complete breakdown leaving it at the mercy of any storm that came along. The Sardonyx lay there, a pathetic object, and, at the same time, an object of proper contempt for any craft worthy of the name. Any passing boat familiar with those seas would have known at once that here was the Sardonyx in trouble, again waiting pathetically for a tow, or, in the alternative, going down to the bottom, where she should have been long ago. She was flying a distress signal, and apparently her crew were resigned to despair. A more pathetic, lamentable spectacle had never blotted the South Pacific.

All this to the outward eye, at least. But the grimy crew with their blackened faces and the temporary commander who might have just finished crawling up the funnel, were eagerly watching with keen eyes for the first sign of life on the edge of the coral reef. Endellion stood by the rail with a pair of powerful glasses to his eyes. And there he watched hour after hour until at length his patience was rewarded.

He saw a boat beached on the sand from which two men emerged dragging a box after them. Then he made out clearly enough the big burly figure of Billy Hutton and the trim, square-built man who could have been none else than the pseudo-naturalist, who called himself Franks. For a little time the two busied themselves, until presently the Sardonyx dawned upon them. Apparently this vision of beauty was rather disturbing to Franks, for he pointed it out to his companion, and an earnest conversation apparently followed. Then the motor boat slid out to the sea again with Hutton upon it, and a little later swept round under the counter of the derelict. Hutton hailed her.

At a sign from Endellion, Gunter lounged forward and stood with his elbows on the rail. The rest of the crew followed with a certain moody indifference.

"What's the trouble?" Hutton asked.

"Oh, the usual, look you," Gunter said. "Engine trouble whatever."

Then followed some jargon in the language of machinery to which Hutton listened with polite indifference.

"I can't do anything for you yet, old man," he said. "I am rather busy over yonder for an hour or two, and if you can keep going till night I'll arrange a tow for you. The usual terms, I suppose?"

The Welshman indicated that it was all the same to him, and Hutton steamed off again, apparently quite easy in his mind and suspecting no mischief. There was no time to be lost, and, in any case, it did not matter. The crew of the Sardonyx were too far away to take in any details, and even if they knew what was going on it would be out of their power to do anything till the big grey raider was at sea again. And so another hour or two passed, until suddenly Endellion emitted a sound between a sigh and a gasp, and handed over his glasses to Wallace.

"There you are, old man," he said. "She's come."

"By Jove, you are right," Wallace exclaimed as he gazed steadily through the binoculars. "The father and mother of all submarines. Lord, she must be nearly six hundred feet long! And, what a mark!"

The glasses were passed from hand to hand until there was not a man on board who had not had a good view of the big German U-boat. She lay there, on the edge of the coral reef, broadside on to the Sardonyx that yawed and dipped in a perfect bath of steam as if her last moment had come. Behind this camouflage five-and-twenty pair of eyes were watching the drama that was taking place on the edge of the reef.

"I think she's our bird now, old man," Endellion said cheerfully. "She's not a bit suspicious of us."

"Well, I hope not," Wallace said. "It looks like a case of rock me to sleep, mother, all right. But you never know with those devils. They might take it into their heads at any moment to hand us a dozen shells out of mere mischief. And if I don't get her first shot or two, we're done."

"Yes, I had thought of that," Endellion said. "When the band begins to play, we'll get the boats out, leaving just you and me and one or two more on board. They'll never see the boats in this sea, and, if the worst comes to the worst, we can pull round the point and land in the bay beyond."

To all of which the crew demurred as one man. But Endellion was firm enough, and a few moments later the deck was deserted save for the Gentle Buccaneers and the little Welshman who owned the Sardonyx.

Meanwhile a score of men had landed from the submarine and were busy on the reef, evidently opening the petrol tank and connecting it with the U-boat. Gradually the Sardonyx yawed round, still oozing steam at every pore until the guns were trained on the long grey hull that rose out of the sea like some gigantic whale.

"Let her have it," Shacklock yelled excitedly. "Plug her under the fifth rib, brigadier. Show us what Daddy did in the Great War."

But Wallace did not appear to be heeding. He was too engrossed on his task to hear anything that was going on around him. Presently there was a puff of smoke and a dull roar, and a shell from one of the guns pitched neatly into the centre of the group hovering around the petrol tanks. Then there was a sort of dissolving view, visible enough through the binoculars, and the trim figure of the man Franks crumpled up and lay like a brown speck on the burning sands.

"That was a good 'un," Graydon said. "But not quite good enough, old man."

"Oh, not bad for a sighting shot," Wallace said coolly. "Let's hand 'em another pasteboard."

The second shot was effective enough, for it struck the submarine forward, tearing a huge hole in her bows, and, exploding, seemed to fill the air with fragments of steel and fractured machinery. But apparently no vital spot had been struck, for the crew gathered to the attack, and almost before Wallace could get in another shot the submarine had fired in her turn, and with a crash down came most of the top hamper of the Sardonyx. Another and another shot followed, the third one sheering away part of the bows of the Sardonyx without apparently disturbing Wallace, who worked his guns grimly. It was touch and go even now, and it might have gone hard indeed with those on board but for the fact that Wallace's fifth and sixth shots were absolutely pictures. The fifth pitched plumb on the deck of the submarine, blowing the crew thereon into fragments, and the sixth got into the very vitals of the U-boat, for the explosion that followed shook the crazy old Sardonyx from stem to stern. Then the bows of the submarine rose until she stood on end in the grotesque likeness of a church steeple. Just for a moment she hung quivering there, then gradually went down in a cloud of steam and smoke into 400 fathoms of water off the edge of the reef and was seen no more. All that remained of her consisted of Billy Hutton and two German sailors dancing frantically on the reef and shaking their fists in the direction of the Sardonyx, which was settling by the head.

"So that's that," Wallace drawled.

"Amen, not to say Prosit," Graydon cried. "But come on, lads, we haven't got a minute to spare."

They swarmed down the side into the last boat and pulled away vigorously from the doomed Sardonyx. She went down presently like a stone, there was a ripple on the sea, and a dull explosion somewhere, and the old tram was finished.

"Now what do you think of that for a day's work?" Endellion asked. "Well, we can't take any credit, boys. That will all go to Gunter. He'll have all the kudos, to say nothing of the Admiralty dollars. But I'm sorry about the old hooker."

"Now, don't you go fretting your fat about that," Gunter grinned. "If you are satisfied and the Admiralty is satisfied, then there's no cause for me to grumble whatever. And if ever you want any really nice vegetables, you send to David Gunter and he will supply you with all you want."