Balt, were they? Human decoys for unsuspecting rescuers?— Well, the Nazis hadn’t reckoned on big Eli Dossett, ship’s cook
WILLIAM ARTHUR BREYFOGLE
SOMEWHERE between Cape Fear and Bermuda the submarine surfaced and stopped them. They ran the^Banfcs Maid up into the wind, what there was of it, and she hung there with her sails flapping as if in question. Captain David Scott left the wheel spinning lazily and went down to the rail, amidships. There was a queer, jumpy feeling in his burly middle, but he wasn’t going to let the Germans know that. His heavy face was as impassive as the granite of his native Newfoundland.
“They’re wanting a boat,” he said to the mate. “Put one overside, Armour.”
This was his first voyage to the West Indies. As the name of his ship attested, he had spent most of his life in deep-sea fishing. There were perils enough in that pursuit, but nothing like submarines. David Scott stared at the one lying a hundred yards away as he might have stared at a giant squid, incredulous that the sea he knew so well could spawn such a monster. The boat dropped overside and the mate came up to him. “Shall I take her across?” he asked.
“I’ll go myself. Put Clarke and Nash at the oars.”
The whole crew was on deck. They watched in silence as the boat pulled away toward the submarine. It was not until the captain was out of earshot that the talk began.
“If they mean to blow us up, what are they waiting for?”
“It’s like they mean to victual themselves from our stores, first. I’ve heard they do that. That’ll be why they called for a boat.”
“Dossett!” said the mate, turning suddenly to the man beside him at the rail. “Dossett, you’ve been drinking again!”
Eli Dossett gave no acknowledgment of the accusation. He was still watching the submarine.
The little schooners had come back to the West Indies trade like friendly ghosts from the past, to help in the hour of most need. The Banks Maid was only one of many. She sailed from New Brunswick with a cargo of lumber for one of the new U.S. bases in the Bahamas. David Scott had had a good deal of trouble in signing on a crew. If there had been any choice, he would certainly not have taken Eli Dossett as cook. But the man swore to be on his best behavior this time. Wartime pay was high, and a few voyages would make it possible for him to pay off the mortgage on his place ashore and
thus have a little peace and quiet from his wife. He added that that lady had just given him a lecture on total abstinence lasting—with time out for meals and sleep—one week. Such was the effect of this lengthy exhortation that he had come aboard sober in Saint John and, to the astonishment of all, had continued nearly sober ever since.
But somehow the stigma remained. Captain Scott detested drunkenness, particularly at sea. Ashore, a grog with a friend was something any man might decently enjoy, but Eli Dossett would have need to watch his tippling course aboard the Banks Maid.
It might well be difficult for him to abstain. On so small a vessel the cook bought and supervised all the stores, and a case purporting to be tinned peas or tomatoes could easily be brought aboard filled with much more potent though less nourishing provisions. Actually, Eli kept on a shelf a small bottle labelled Worcestershire Sauce which contained a liquid considerably more fiery and exhilarating than even that condiment.
It was his triumph to have these little devices go undetected. At sea, if you wanted a contented crew, you had to have a good cook, and the import-
ance cf the cook’s office prevented the captain from being too blunt about Eli’s occasional nips.
WESTCOTT, standing next the captain, pointed now. “The boat’s coming back, and with four extra men in it. They’re going to board us. Now, what—?”
“The stores,” someone said. “They’re going to take the stores, and then they’ll torpedo the schooner. Maybe we’ll have time to get off in the boats.”
But the Germans did no such thing. When they came aboard it was evident that they knew exactly what they had to do. Each of them had a submachine gun, and they took up positions from which they could command the whole deck. Captain Scott must have been given his orders aboard the submarine. The Germans left it to him to transmit them to the crew.
They were astonishing enough. “Westcott,” said the captain, “fetch an axe and knock in the bows of every boat but one. Then cut the rigging free and chop down the mainmast. Don’t stand gaping at me, man ! Move !”
Westcott moved. From the captain’s grim face it was plain that he was not joking. And it was equally obvious that these were not his orders, but orders given through him. The work took only a short time. There wasn’t a sound but the splintering of the boats’ thin planks and then the duller thuds as Westcott’s axe bit into the mainmast. It swayed finally and fell, carrying its own loosened rigging and most of the mizzenmast gear with it. The Banks Maid canted a little, with a lopsided, dilapidated look that brought queer expressions to the faces of her crew. Armour didn’t understand what all this portended. Eli Dossett was rubbing his stubbled chin and thinking.
The stove-in boats meant that they were not to be allowed to leave the Banks Maid. The one boat left whole would be for the use of the Germans when they went back to the submarine. It might mean that the Germans planned to make sure none of the crew should escape before they torpedoed the schooner. But then, why should they have the mainmast felled? He observed that Clarke and Nash and the captain, though they looked grim enough, did not look frightened.
And then Eli Dossett had it. He struck his thick hand on the rail, and everyone but the Germans jumped. “Bait!” he cried. “That’s what they’re
going to use us for—bait! We’ll be a stalking-horse, a Judas ship! I’ve heard of them doing it with lifeboats before now.”
The Germans scowled at him, but Captain Scott was angrier than they. “Get to your galley!” he snapped. “Who’s wanting your opinion? Get to your galley and get a lunch ready for the men.”
Only slightly discomfited, Dossett withdrew to his own sanctum, trailed by one of the Germans. He was used to hard words from his superiors, and used to disregarding them. Far more important, to his mind, was his solution of what was being done to the schooner and to them. The captain’s anger confirmed him in his opinion. The submarine would lurk near them where they lay dismasted and helpless, and wait for a rescue vessel to come up, some ship better worth a torpedo than the little schooner.
No wonder Captain Scott, a decent seafaring man, was outraged. It wasn’t only the shame of having his ship used to lure another ship to its doom. Almost as bad was the dismasting of the schooner—as if he were not seaman enough to keep the sticks in her in the easy weather they had had !
The submarine had submerged again, so the four Germans would stay aboard the Banks Maid as a prize crew. They were enough. So far as Dossett knew, there were no weapons carried aboard the little schooner and her crew numbered only thirteen, beside the two officers and himself. It didn’t look hopeful. Sighing, he reached for the bottle. After all, at the moment there seemed reason enough. Sometimes a drink made him think better, and always it made him feel better.
Ashore, Eli Dossett’s weakness had got him into a variety of predicaments and he had had to learn to think quickly to extricate himself from them. While he stirred the stew for lunch and sliced the bread and got down the thick plates and mugs, he meditated deeply. He knew something about rough-and-tumble waterfront fighting and, within limits, he enjoyed it. But to try to rush the armed Germans would mean being shot down like dogs. The chances might be a little better after dark, except that their guards would probably herd crew members into the fo’c’sle and lock them in. Besides, how was Dossett to get word to the rest of the men, with the Germans always watching? It was fairly certain that they spoke English, too.
He was distraught, and slow in getting the men’s lunch ready. Once, in his abstraction, he touched his bare, hairy forearm against a boiler of water steaming at the back of the galley stove, and grunted with the pain. Then Armour came to the door, irritable and with his nerves on edge, to see what kept the cook so long. Eli was restoring a bottle to its place on a shelf. “Just seasoning the stew,” he explained. “Nothing like a drop of sauce for that. I’ll ring the bell and the men can come and get it now.”
“No, you won’t. You’re to bring their lunch out to the men today. The Germans want them where they can watch them, not all huddled about the galley at once.”
Eli Dossett stared at him. “I forgot about lunch for the Germans!” he ejaculated. “And now the stew’s gone. I’ll have to—”
“Well, they didn’t forget about it! This one is standing by to watch what you cook up for them —to see that you don’t poison them, I guess. The other three will stay out on deck and keep an eye on us.”
YOU COULD guess at the mate’s cold fury— only a little less than the captain’s—by the hard edge his voice had. Nothing like that had ever happened to him before. Nothing like this ought ever to happen to any decent man. They were being made accomplices in mass murder, and there was no way they could help themselves or the unknown victims. They themselves might well be victims before this bitter game was played out. And here was this damned Dossett, chatty, and worried about lunch for the Germans!
Eli gaped at Armour while rubbing a red spot on his forearm. He gloated silently, “There’s only one of them staying here, eh ! Just the one!”
Suddenly Eli Dossett smote his table and
bellowed with laughter. “What’ll I give ’em for lunch? Oh, what’ll it be? Eggs, now, and a rasher of bacon? I couldn’t very well poison that, could I?” In a level voice, Armour cursed him. “Serve up the stew for the men and bring it out. If you know of any way to outwit these Germans go to it. From this out, they’re your dish.”
That, as Eli Dossett saw it, was true. There was no one but himself to deal with the Germans, since all the others were closely watched by a triple guard. Armour had gone, so he carried* their full mugs and plates out to the men, idle on the deck, still followed by his own single jailer.
It took a good many trips to get them all served. The Germans watched his every move, and when all the crew had been given their lunch the guard followed Dossett back to the galley. He had his gun under his arm and he gave the muzzle a casual twitch. “Now you cook for us,” he said, “and I watch you !”
The cook wiped his big hands on the apron he wore. “What you want? Eggs? Bacon and eggs?” The German considered, then nodded. Bacon and eggs would take only a short time and it would be hard to tamper with a dish like that.
“How many eggs? How much bacon?” Eli Dossett was stooping down and had his hand on the door of a low cupboard when the German kicked him.
It was a hard kick, hard enough to send the big cook sprawling. “It might be eggs in there,” the German said. “And it might be a little gun, eh? Get back. I will look.”
Dossett was oddly docile under this cavalier treatment. He sat up against the opposite wall of the galley rubbing not the elbow he had bruised in his fall but the burned spot on his forearm. “Bacon’s there, too,” he said meekly. “Just eggs and bacon. No gun. I’ll make you some nice toast, too, if you like.”
The German, having inspected the cupboard, let him get to his feet. “Toast, yes,” he said. “And be quick !”
Eli Dossett sliced the bread first and spread it out to brown on the hot top of the stove. Then he got out the eggs and bacon and, with a quick glance at his guard, took down a bottle labelled Worcestershire Sauce. The German intervened at once. “What is that? To make us sick?”
“Sauce,” said Eli. “Good stuff. Look!” He tilted the bottle to his lips. That was a nip he had needed and deserved.
The German grunted. “So ! But do not put it on the eggs. Only salt and pepper.”
“Yes, sir,” said the cook, and reached across the stove for a big frying pan hanging against the wall. Kick an unarmed man, would he?
Then it appeared that the copper boiler of water was going to be in his way. He turned and cleared a place for it on the table, then essayed to lift it. The German watched him, grinning. Dossett got it as far as the front of the stove, gathered his strength and heaved it up. He took one staggering step, spun about suddenly, and dashed the whole Continued on page 18
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three scalding gallons in one torturing deluge over the man who had kicked him.
The German flung up his hands to shield his eyes and his gun clattered to the floor. Eli Dossett snatched it up and ran outside with an agility remarkable in so heavy a man. The German’s screams were still ringing in his ears. He darted behind the bin where the coal for the galley stove was kept, before those screams brought the other Germans running. The scalded man was out on deck by then, tearing at his clothing, and they clustered about him. Dossett put his head around the end of the coalbin and took good aim. It was the first time in his life that he had set about killing a man, but he had not a qualm in the world. The submachine gun was steady in his big hands. He was aiming at their heads.
ÏT DIDN’T all go his way. One of the guards had time to loose a burst of fire and his bullets made a flesh wound in Eli’s shoulder and a long crease in his tough scalp. But in less than twenty seconds they all lay still, even the scalded man, and the cook got to his feet. Armour and the captain had come running up.
“What’s this?” Captain Scott gasped. “They’re all dead !”
“Dead, sir, and no time to waste over them now! We’d best drag them under cover and four of the crew can put on their uniforms and stand about with their guns. It’s lucky that the door of the galley opens to starboard and not to port. Otherwise they might have had a glimpse of all this through their periscope. As it is, I don’t think they’ll have seen aught.”
“No,” said Armour, staring at him. “The sub’s been under for an hour and more. They’ll lie like that till they hear the screw of a steamer. But what I want to know—”
“It’ll have to wait. We’ve no time to lose. First, we want four men to put on these Germans’ togs and take their guns. Then, after that, I thought—well, I thought—”
The flush of accomplishment was already beginning to leave him. With the eyes of the captain and the mate upon him, Eli Dossett was feeling guilty and uneasy, quite as usual. Maybe he shouldn’t have meddled. But nobody else was doing anything, and that German had kicked him when he wasn’t looking. He shifted from one big foot to the other, much as an elephant rolls in its paddock. His shoulder had begun to ache dully. “I didn’t mean to make trouble,” he said.
With a kind of disbelief the captain’s eyes went from the ragged stump of the mainmast to the huddled bodies of the four Germans and thence to the face of his cook. “You didn’t, eh?” he said. And for the first time that day he laughed.
Armour’s face, though, was serious. “He’s done very well,” he told the captain. “Better than anyone could have expected or hoped. I don’t see yet how he got the gun away from one of them and shot down all four. But it leaves us in a tighter spot than ever! If the sub surfaces again and signals for the boat—”
Dossett plucked at the mate’s sleeve. “That’s what I say! We’ve got to get four of the crew into the German uniforms. Then we take the one sound boat and patch up the hole in the bow of another—with a few thicknesses of oiled canvas, say—and we put two or three men in each and send them out in different directions. They won’t go far before they fall in with a ship that’s got wireless, or a warship even. Then they give our position and—well, we wait here until they come and finish off the sub.” He took a deep breath. “That’s my notion of it anyway.”
His words had come with a rush, not at all like his usual halting, half-apologetic speech. Captain Scott said sharply, “Dossett, you’ve been hit! Your shoulder’s bleeding, and so is your head.” “No matter. We’ve got to move and move fast. At the best it’s a long chance, but it’s the only one we’ve got. There’s no time to waste, not a minute!”
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The captain took out his watch. “It’s just after one.”
“And the sub’s not likely to show itself before dusk, unless they hear a ship coming. With any luck the boats could be out of sight before then, long out of sight.”
Armour had been thinking.“Couldn’t we patch up two or three more boats and all leave the schooner?” he asked. “That way—”
“That way,” said the captain suddenly, “they’d see that something was up if they chanced to surface and signal us. They’d put a torpedo in the schooner and be off, scot-free. No, no, Armour; it won’t do! They owe us even more than Dossett’s collected.”
The mate flushed. “I didn’t mean that—”
“I know you didn’t. Tell them to mend one of the boats. Get four of the men into the German togs. Dossett, you come along while I patch you up.”
Once Captain Scott had recovered from his first astonishment he moved quickly enough, and with a new light in his eye. They got the uniforms off the dead Germans and dressed four of the crew in them. They got the boats overside, one sound and one with a bow that two men had just finished patching. They put three men in each and watched them row quickly away. Westcott went in one.
THEN there was nothing but the taut waiting, the hardest part of the risky game they played. The slow minutes crept by, while they stared at the spot where the submarine’s periscope had disappeared. Not a ship of any kind came near them. The fair weather held, and the dismasted Banks Maid scarcely rolled in the long, easy swell. They had huddled the bodies of the dead Germans together in the starboard scuppers and covered them with an old sail. Captain Scott asked suddenly, “Did they have lanterns with them in those boats?”
Armour nodded. “And compasses, and enough food and water.”
“We’ll put up our own lights at dusk. The Germans ordered that. We’re to show distress signals, and we’ll fire off rockets when it’s dark enough. The more show we make the better.”
Captain Scott drummed on the rail, considering. “Armour, I think we’ll patch up three more boats after all. We can start now and be done by dark. We may not need them, but—” In spite of having nothing to do the men behaved splendidly. They knew their danger, but were free now from their first paralyzing sense of helplessness. They hadn’t taken it lying down ! They had struck back, and first blood was theirs.
That was Eli Dossett’s doing, and he deserved well of them all for it. But he had retired to his galley now, whence his voice could be heard raised in song. Captain Scott could not match this lightheartedness. In that tense atmosphere he found it discordant, though he had no inten-
tion of interfering with the cook’s pleasure. The ship and the crew were his own responsibility, and bore upon him more heavily as the slow afternoon passed. You could not tell how long it would take the two boats to carry word of their plight, or what might happen before help came, or when it came. The fastest ship might be too slow to help them, might merely fall a victim itself. Captain Scott had never known a longer day.
Between five and six o’clock Eli served them a dinner he had been most of the afternoon preparing. It began with potato soup—a weakness of Armour’s—and progressed through the Captain’s favorite roast pork thatched with strips of bacon to apple pie with cheese. For an hour that dinner took their minds off their predicament. But at dusk, when they put the lights in the rigging of the foremast, their anxiety returned. Any time now the submarine might come to the surface again. In the failing light they strained their eyes for the smoke of an approaching ship but there was nothing to be seen, even with night-glasses. It grew darker, and Captain Scott had the rockets brought out on deck.
Still there was no sign of the submarine. But an hour later, by the light of the first rocket they set off, they could make out its periscope a little way out of the water. Evidently the Germans wanted to see without being seen, and would not come to the surface even after dark.
All at once Armour clutched at the captain’s arm. “Hear that? Planes, and coming in low and fast ! They’ve done better than I thought for. They’ve sent planes instead of a destroyer. The sub won’t hear them until it’s too late!”
The captain said, “Quick! Send up a whole burst of rockets. If we’re lucky the sub may surface to see what the fuss is about. Then they’ll have it for sure!”
It all happened very quickly. The rockets lit up the sea for a long way, and the periscope rose a little, as if in surprise. But before the conning tower was well awash the three planes had swept in, scarcely higher than the schooner’s remaining masts. The first dropped flares that plainly showed the submarine frantically attempting a crash-dive. While it still lay half exposed the second and third planes let go their bombs and the grey, shiny hull shot upward like a whale just breaching. By the time the planes had circled and returned there was nothing but a vast slick of oil, a calmer patch amid the easy swells.
Captain Scott took off his cap and mopped his forehead. Now they could look for a ship and a tow into port. Less than twelve hours ago they had had nothing to look for but disaster. He settled his cap back on his head at a more rakish angle.
“Armour,” said the captain, “go tell that man Dossett I want him. Tell all the others to come, too, and bring the rum cask. There’s a toast I’m going to propose.”