The Southern Ocean
Dr. Narrison had brought Rosalie Morales a present, an Indian sari complete with a page of instructions on how to wear it. The sari consisted only of a length of the most expensive silk, with a blue and white flowered pattern, which he had found in Chicago. The instructions, which weren't readily available in the shops that sold fabric, had been composed by Dr. Narrison himself.
After Rosalie changed in her bedroom, she came delightedly into the living room of her flat, evidently pleased with what she had seen in her mirror. Dr. Narrison was most gratified and complimented her liberally. After curvetting around the room, she lifted the skirt slightly, and, looking down at her feet, asked,
"Indian women don't wear high heels and nylon stockings, do they?"
"No. They wear sandals. They also wear little cotton tops instead of the silk one I got you. However, there are glamorous Indo-European women all over the south seas who wear a combination of Indian and western dress."
Rosalie smiled and replied,
"I bet you had a girl friend like that."
Rosalie wasn't inclined to the extremes of jealousy, and Dr. Narrison admitted it. Rosalie asked,
"Did you enjoy unwinding her sari."
"She wouldn't let me."
"And you continued to see her?"
"Until she finally disappeared."
He hadn't intended to tell Rosalie the whole story, but it gradually came out. At the end, Rosalie kissed him and said,
"So now, you finally have someone you can unwind."
Rosalie was not, of course, Sumita. But Rosalie had a nice lithe body, and, in the gathering dusk of a winter night in her unlit apartment, the difference between Rosalie and the long-ago woman wasn't really so great. Afterwards, as Dr. Narrison lay silently on the thick rug and Rosalie put a blanket over him, his mind went back some forty years.
In the hot summer of 1917, the German surface raider HEIKE HEIDLER, now disguised as the British SS ESKMOUTH, was steaming slowly eastward, some five hundred miles north- northeast of Cape Bobaomby, the northern tip of Madagascar. There was almost no wind and a suffocating white fog. The swells rolled gently across the shoals surrounding the Amirante Islands, and the men on the bridge stood silently, hoping to hear the surf before they piled up on a reef. Hard as they listened, they could hear only the engine going dead slow.
The man unmistakeably in charge was a small thin youth clad in a dirty singlet and drawers that had taken on a mottled gray-yellow color. On his head was perched the distinctive officer's cap of the German navy, its white top as dirty as the rest of his costume.
One might reasonably have concluded from this young officer's appearance that discipline had gone to hell in the ship. On the contrary, no one took the first mate lightly. What he lacked in tailoring, he made up for with a quick violence that was much feared. It was certain, for example, that none of the men on the bridge had forgotten that he had almost blinded a seaman who displeased him by hitting him across the face with a length of knotted rope.
On this occasion, as always, the young man's quietly- spoken order was obeyed instantly. The engine telegraph was set to half-speed astern to check the ship's already modest way, and the leadsman in the bows prepared to take a sounding.
When the report of twenty-one fathoms came back, Captain Leif Thostolfson arrived on the bridge. As the ship rolled slowly, having backed into her own cloud of noxious black smoke, the two officers bent over the chart laid out on the table. Satisfied that they were in the channel, the captain went below. The young man on the bridge ordered slow ahead and altered the course southward by a point.
Down in his hot cabin, Leif Thostolfson thought, once again, about his first officer. From one of the most distinguished families in Germany, it was against all probability that he was contemptuous of authority, lacked even the semblence of a sense of honor, and was an accomplished mimic of Kaiser Wilhelm. Leif had gradually discovered that Manfred hoped that Germany would lose the war, if only because he hated his parents and relatives and wanted to see them humbled and humiliated. He had recently said to Leif,
"After I've become an American and gotten rich, I'll go back just once, to rub their noses in it."
Partly as a result of such remarks, Leif had come increasingly to include Manfred in his plans.
It was one of their many shared secrets that they could still get news of the outside world. The shell that had dispatched Captain von Bock and so many others had also destroyed the radio room. Both operators had been in it at the time, and they, too, had been killed. When they repaired and cleaned up the ship in Iceland, Manfred took the remains of the radio equipment to his cabin. He was really very good with gadgetry, and, about a week later, he told Leif that he had produced a functioning receiving set. They then locked it up in a trunk in Leif's cabin, and, with the door locked, had spent many hours listening to the bits of news that came crackling over the air in a large number of languages.
Since the British had destroyed the German relay stations in most parts of the world, they couldn't get messages from Germany in the southern ocean, nor could they send messages if they had been so inclined. But they could still listen to everyone else.
A good many of the discussions in English on the wing of the bridge concerned the attitude of the crew. They were allowed to believe that Leif was still loyally carrying out the orders of the High Command, and that he had received further orders in Buenos Aires, sending them around the Cape of Good Hope. That last was a fiction, but no one had questioned it.
Having rounded the cape, it occurred to Leif and Manfred that they could control all the news that the crew got. Since their only other source might be from the crews of captured ships, special measures were taken.
Manfred went to some trouble to find the three stupidest and least educated members of the crew. They assuredly spoke nothing but German, and, in fact, were so inarticulate that no one derived much satisfaction from talking with them. They were then designated as the only men allowed to take care of, or come in contact with, the prisoners. That is, apart from Leif and Manfred. They, with their command of languages, were able to discover some quite interesting things which rounded out the snippets they got from the radio.
As it happened, Leif was listening when there was, against all odds, a message for himself. Quickly decoding it, he headed up to the bridge to tell Manfred.
The fog had now cleared, and they were working up to eight knots and making their own breeze. Manfred, with his large cap perched precariously on his small head, looked like a street urchin who has stolen the cap of a hotel doorman. But Leif knew better than that. He caught Manfred's eye and drew him out on the wing of the bridge for one of their little chats.
The order had been to proceed back around the Cape of Good Hope and into the North Atlantic. Leif added,
"I just happened to be on the right frequency at the right time. I'm amazed that they're still sending us orders."
"They must have inferred from the reports of missing ships that we're still in operation in this general area. There may have been previous orders that we obeyed by accident."
"Yes. However, I don't want to go back into the Atlantic. It would be practically suicidal to try to attack the convoys."
Manfred smiled and replied,
"No one will ever know that we got that order."
The two men were also the only ones on the ship who knew that America had entered the war, and that Germany was therefore likely to lose it. There was then the question of what to do if they were in the middle of the Indian Ocean when the war ended. On that point, Leif said,
"When the Allies eventually win, the last thing I want to do is steam into Cape Town or Singapore with a white flag at the masthead."
"We certainly shouldn't do that. We've at least irritated the English, and they might be unpleasant."
"They might even decide to treat us as pirates."
Manfred, not having considered that possibility, laughed pleasantly and replied,
"Then we should arrange our departure from the war with some care."
"If we don't want to be hunted down by the allies after the war, we'd better find some way of returning our prisoners to them in good condition."
Partly as a result of that conversation, the bow of the HEIKE HEIDLER was pointed increasingly to the south as the days went past. From the neighborhood of the equator they passed the Seychelles, and then, steaming slowly to conserve coal, they headed out into the trackless wastes of the southern ocean.
South of latitude 40 south it was still winter. The roaring forties lived up to their reputation, and the HEIKE, her propellor turning slowly, met a succession of gales. Everyone on the bridge was now bundled in woollens, with oilskins over them. As the big seas crashed and broke over the bow, it seemed to the crew that the captain had no destination, nor even any object other than punishing the ship for some sin unknown to them. As fittings here and there broke off and were swept away by the gales, they hoped fervently that the hatches wouldn't be stoven in to admit a torrent of icy water.
Although Leif really didn't like any Germans except Manfred, he had come increasingly to understand, and rely on, their habit of obediance. Even as he came to act less like a traditional naval officer and more like a local potentate with his one trusted advisor, the former petty officers squelched even the tiniest symptoms of indiscipline. It was as if they were still commanded by Captain von Bock.
Just when the crew had almost given up hope, they made land. The Kerguelen Islands, the main one a hundred miles across, rise sharply out of deep water and are among the most isolated in the world. Closer to Antarctica than to Australia or Africa, Leif, as he had expected, found no signs of habitation. After all, no sane person would want to live in such a climate so far from civilization. The HEIKE, salt streaked and covered with ice, found a sheltering bay and dropped her anchor.
One of the problems for a surface raider was that they accumulated the crews of ships that they had captured and sunk, and then had to guard, feed, and water them. While Leif and Manfred were really interested only in keeping out of the way of English cruisers until the end of the war, the building of a colony for the prisoners on the main island furnished an excellent, and even humanitarian, excuse.
The vegetation of the island was sparse, but there was plenty of good water and small game that could be trapped. There was also good fishing to supplement a quantity of dry food that could be landed from the ship. The gales still howled over the highlands, but spring was coming and caves could be dug into the hillside above the bay for shelter.
In order to dig the caves, they had only shovels borrowed from the engine room, but the eighty prisoners were soon put to work. Materials of all sorts were contributed from the ship, and Leif assured the three captured captains that the British would be informed of their location when the war ended. Although the environment was harsh enough, the captured men would be in no danger of being sunk by a cruiser, and they seemed to be, on the whole, agreeable to the arrangement.
The digging of the caves proceeded very slowly, and Leif made no attempt to hurry it. At one point, Manfred said to him,
"I think our men are amazed at the lengths we're going to just to provide for the prisoners. They know us better than that, but they still don't seem to have any inkling of the real reason."
"Well, they seem to think that Germany is winning the war. I suppose we can afford to be magnanimous to the defeated allies."
"There remains only one problem, Leif. The crew knows that we sank that ship back in the Plate estuary."
"Yes. We didn't exactly announce it, but the torpedo crew knew that we fired one."
"And everyone on deck and on the bridge heard and saw the explosion."
"I remember that Chief Petty Officer Merkel gave me a very strange look."
Manfred nodded and replied,
"I think the crew believes us to be violent and unpredictable. That's good in many ways, but there are men who hate us."
"After the war, if anyone is curious enough, it'll be possible to discover what ship it was."
"Leif, I think some of them will be curious. And the ship might have been of any nationality, most likely a neutral."
"Yes. I'll bear that in mind."