Bill Todd -- A Man of Three Names
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 5

The Memories of Dr. Goodman Narrison I

The anchorage of the German fleet, unprotected by any high ground anywhere, was cold and wind-swept. It was just after midnight, two days before the Christmas of 1915, and a freighter, the HEIKE HEIDLER, swung uneasily at her anchor. Although she was only a few months old, and could steam at the unusually fast speed of thirteen knots, she had the tall stack and largely open bridge of ships a generation older. Lower down, there were extensive streaks of rust along her hull which could only have been the product of deliberate oversight in such a new ship. These, of course, were presently hidden by the darkness.

Also hidden, even in daylight, were six brightly polished six inch guns behind steel flaps which hinged out from her hull. In addition, well below the waterline and just forward of the engine room, there were two torpedo tubes on each side.

High above this powerful armament, the young second officer on the bridge drew his watch-coat tightly around him. Leutnant Leif Thostolfson was originally an Icelander, and thus no stranger to weather much worse than this. However, in order to gain quicker promotion in the merchant marine, he had become a German citizen eight years previously. At the outbreak of war in the August of 1914 he had, at the age of twenty eight, been the first mate of a steamer approaching Hamburg with a cargo of hides from the Argentine.

With Germany's ocean trade shut down within days, the officers of the merchant marine, who were already reservists, were taken into the navy. After a year of minesweeping in the Channel, and fighting brief but deadly battles with the British light forces, young Leif finally got an appointment which excited him.

He had never had any particular love for Germany or the Germans, but he loved action and hardly cared who he fought for or against. Some of his brother officers sensed this attitude, and resented it. On the other hand, Leif was much bigger, stronger, and more violent than they. He also, because of a youth spent fishing off the coasts of Iceland, was a better seaman.

For this last reason, more than any other, he was given the coveted appointment as a watch-keeping officer on one of the few disguised surface raiders attempting to run the British blockade. After all, she might be at sea for a year or more. Good seamanship would be more important than an exaggerated love for the Kaiser.

The mates didn't ordinarily keep watch when anchored in port, but this was the night of their departure. The preparations had already been made, and then checked a dozen times. In an hour's time, they would attempt to slip out of the harbor without attracting the attention of any British spy who might lie watching from the attic window of one of the old stone houses bordering the waterfront.

Just as the captain came up and they cast off from their mooring, Dr. Narrison's reverie was interrupted by the present reality of Rosalie Morales. She was, in fact, handing him a cup of coffee.

Dr. Narrison was sitting in the bright sunlight in an easy chair which was positioned to overlook Addison Avenue. Wrigley Field was a few hundred yards down the street, and the people were just coming out after the game. Most of them looked rather disconsolate, and Rosalie said,

"The way they look, the Bears must have lost."

She spoke in a pleasant voice with a noticeable accent. The doctor replied,

"We should go to a game sometime, Rosie, see what it's like."

"I've been. I couldn't understand it at all. The other women didn't seem to either. Anyhow, people don't get as excited as they do at soccer games at home."

"Did a man take you?"

Rosalie nodded and sat down opposite him with her own coffee. She said,

"I'd rather go to the seashore."

"You've never seen the ocean at all, have you?"

"No. Is it like the lake?"

"Not much. This lake is just a shallow dish scooped out of the prairie."

"Could you be a captain again and take me on an ocean voyage?"

The captain laughed without much mirth.

"I've left the sea forever."

"Do you miss it much?"

Dr. Narrison explained that he didn't, that he was glad to be ashore, and that it had been, at best, a hard life. However, the more he explained, the more Rosie seemed to think that his life had been exciting and romantic. He at last relented and told her about their escape from the North Sea.

"We were disguised as a Norwegian cargo steamer, but the British were searching any neutral ships they found in the North Sea. Anyhow, we had good luck. Two days of bad weather and fog which got us opposite Bergen. It was when I came on duty at midnight that the weather began to moderate."

It was hard to make clear the scene to someone who had never even seen the ocean. They were steaming along the Norwegian coast, rolling heavily in a cross sea, with the full moon occasionally breaking through the clouds.

Leif was on the port wing of the bridge, beside the lookout, each of them alert to the slightest irregularity in the west. It was the same as in the minesweepers, always knowing that the darkness might contain a lethal threat, but seeing nothing above or beyond the waves that came foaming at them.

After something like an hour, Leif had the vague feeling that there might be a ship to seaward steaming parallel and somewhat ahead of them. There was nothing he could see exactly, but the pattern of the waves had been somewhat interrupted, as if a ship's wake had disturbed it. He was tempted to slow from their maximum speed of thirteen knots so as to allow a cruiser, if there was one, to go ahead. But he'd have to call the captain up to get permission, and he didn't want to seem over-cautious. Besides, if one always acted on the basis of such fears, one would never get anywhere.

One thing Rosie didn't understand was the amount of waiting that was involved in naval warfare. Ships only crawled towards one another, and, even when the guns fired, it took many seconds for the shells to arrive at their targets. But that was in ordinary naval warfare. Night encounters could be sudden. This one was. The clouds had come in again, blotting out the moon, and the lookout was cursing under his breath. Leif couldn't see any more than the lookout, and his only warning was a whiff of oil smoke. The cruiser then burst upon them, on the opposite course, only a few hundred yards distant.

Leif later realized that the cruiser, probably making eighteen knots, had gone ahead, and then, reaching the limit of her patrol sector, had turned towards the Norwegian coast and come back. It was that turn to the east which had brought her so close.

The cruiser's searchlights almost blinded them on the bridge. There was no question of their guilt. Neutral ships were very careful to show their lights, but a blockade runner had a better chance of slipping through in the darkness than undergoing the inspection that would be demanded. Leif knew, without being able to see, that the gun turrets were being turned and the guns trained on him.

They had three six inch guns on the port side, but, even though the crews were constantly on alert, there wasn't nearly time to lower the flaps disguising them. Their only chance lay in their two port torpedo tubes. They were aimed exactly broadside and, being always armed, could be fired automatically from a pair of plungers attached to the bridge rail. It would be a matter of gauging the right time to fire.

In the meantime, Leif picked up a signal lamp and began signalling. He sent the dots and dashes of Morse code in no particular order, but he hoped to make the English wonder, for just a moment, whether they might be another English ship on patrol.

The searchlight beams moved, scanning the ship as they rushed together at a combined speed of almost forty miles an hour. Leif knew that they looked like a mechantman, and it might take the English another few seconds to conclude that they must be a German raider.

Leif, in those few seconds, ordered a turn of ten degrees to starboard, so that he could fire his torpedoes a little sooner. Then, guarding against the natural tendency to fire too soon, he waited until the cruiser's stem was approaching their own before jamming his fist down on the first plunger. He fired his other torpedo a second later. He was still in the glare of the searchlight, and, although the English wouldn't have been able to see the torpedoes shooting out underwater from the side of the ship, they might have guessed what he was doing.

The second torpedo was hardly on its way when the first salvo of shells ripped through the HEIKE HEIDLER, the explosion of one of them in the deck-house below knocking Leif up in the air. He came down on his back, and, as he was beginning to get up, he was knocked flat again. This time it was by a much greater explosion, indeed an enormous one. Then, debris began falling, some of it crashing through the roof of the pilot house and hitting the helmsman. Having reached the wounded man and gotten the ship back on course, Leif realized that the cruiser was no longer there, only a tremendous volume of smoke and the smell of cordite everywhere.

Rosie was fascinated and inclined to admiration. Dr. Narrison explained,

"It was only a lucky shot. Those English light cruisers had hardly any armor, and if you got a torpedo or shell into a magazine, they simply blew up."

Rosie, unconvinced, came and sat on the arm of his chair, her arm around his neck. She said,

"I bet the captain thought you did well."

"There was no captain by that time. A shell from the cruiser exploded practically in his cabin. The officers' cabins were all together, and most were killed in their sleep. I was the senior surviving officer."

"So you became the captain!"

Rosie was inclined to drama, and Dr. Narrison had to calm her.

"That often happens in naval warfare. Of course, once I got the fire that had started put out, I had to decide whether to turn back. The ship was a hell of a mess, but the damage was well above the waterline and didn't affect the engines or guns. So we kept going."

"What happened then?"

"I'll tell you another time. By the way, I spoke to my friend, Paul, out at the retirement home. He does want to come down."

"That's okay I guess."

"Don't you want more business?"

"Yes, but we aren't just business, you and I."

"No, but Paul's nice. A very gentle man. You should go slow with him. He may just want some affection."

"I wish you wanted more affection yourself."

"I want it, probably more than you realize. So does everyone."

"But some men have given me the feeling that they'd never let me go. You won't leave me, will you?"

Dr. Narrison laughed and replied,

"The way the others did, the ones you thought wouldn't leave?"

"You won't, will you?

"You have to realize, Rosie, that this is pretty good for me. I'm in a retirement home and not likely to go anywhere. I like you, and I'm too old to suddenly go crazy over some other woman."

"I wouldn't drop you, Goodman, no matter what."

"Yes, you would. There are some marriage proposals that you'd accept. People are like that. I've betrayed everyone and everything at one time or another."

Rosie gave a little shriek and replied,

"How can you say such things so casually, Goodman? It upsets me terribly."

Dr. Narrison put his arm around her and said consolingly,

"I don't say such things to anyone but you. Does that make you feel better?"

"I guess a little. At least, you're honest."

"Only with you, Rosie. I lie to everyone else."

Bill Todd -- A Man of Three Names
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page