“What will we do now, Mother?”
“Do?” Anneke van Ruyper stood silently for a moment, watching as the men set to work filling the grave. “I believe the first thing to do is sell the ship.”
Marritje looked, if anything, more stricken than before. “Then how would we live? The sea is what we know.”
“Ah, yes, live. Tell me, would you care for another voyage like this last one? No, you don’t need to speak. I can see it in your eyes. I think we both have had enough of tramping all around the world. And I have had more than enough of sailors.” She could feel her face grow hard at the thought. “Well, there are other ways to make a living on the water. I have been looking around and listening. Tomorrow, we will see.”
“This may suit you and your daughter, Mevrouw van Ruyper. Easily handled.” The broker reached out and hooked onto the gunwale of a small jacht anchored in the stream.
Anneke straightened up and stepped across in one smooth motion, Marritje following close behind her. She cast a swift glance around the deck, the rigging, and what she could see of the furled sails. After all the years with Andries, she didn’t need to ask anyone’s opinion of a boat. The paintwork needed a little touching up, but that was superficial. If everything looked sound below, they’d have to careen it on a beach to inspect the bottom closely—that was always a place to watch for weakness and uncaring patchwork. With that bluff bow, it wouldn’t be fast, something to think about if they wanted to work as a shore boat.
She let her gaze wander out across the harbor, as she turned things over in her mind. Her eye fell on a strange sharp-lined little vessel anchored a couple of hundred yards away. She shaded her eyes and looked more closely. The bow was sharply raked and the sides were beautifully smooth; you couldn’t even see where the caulking was. One rather tall mast, all in one piece and set fairly far back, and an unusual arrangement of stays. And the hull had a cleanness to its flowing lines that proclaimed new.
“Mijnheer Overbeek, what is that?”
The broker looked where she was pointing. “Mmm? That’s a Slusa sloop. They’ve started building them in a couple of little Scandinavian ports, for fishing and getting around and whatnot, but that one is particularly fine. It belongs to a Mecklenburg noble. It was his pleasure boat until he fell on hard times.”
“Hard times? Yes, I’ve heard something of the hard times in Mecklenburg.”
“Yes, well, it got him and his whole family away alive. But now it’s served its purpose, and they wish to sell it.”
That set off her merchant’s instinct. “They need to sell it, you mean. Well, it looks like it might be fast . . . “
“Indeed. Would you like to see it, then?”
“Der Ritter cannot be with us today. I am his chief servant, Ebert Ettler. You may call me Ebert.” He glanced down at Anneke’s left hand, where she held a thin book. “You have read it, then?”
She couldn’t resist giving back a wry expression as she held it up, Fore and Aft Rig in Fair Weather and Foul. “An instruction handbook for a boat? A new and very odd sort of idea, but yes. I read the parts in English. I know that language fairly well because of the wool trade.”
“Ah, well, it’s a new sort of boat. It can be a little deceptive at first, and there are things to be warned about. The book helped me, I’ll tell you. But Overbeek said you wish to do everything yourselves and take the measure of this little jewel, so I imagine you’re impatient to be about it. Let us row out there, then.” He gestured toward a small dinghy floating alongside the stairs.
“Very well, Ebert, getting the sails up was simple enough. Strange doing it still at anchor.” Anneke paused and looked around. The boat still streamed from the mooring line on the last of the incoming tide; the two sails they’d raised fluttered slack in the morning breeze, but otherwise did nothing at the moment. The wind was almost dead foul for leaving the harbor, though. “So, now we’re ready to take up the anchor and sail back and forth a little?”
Humor danced in his eyes. “If you please. But I think we can do a little better than that.” He flaked down the line as Anneke and Marritje hauled up the anchor hand-over-hand; the little windlass wasn’t needed in these conditions. It took only a minute or so to get it on deck and stowed. He went aft and reached out with his arm to a spot above the rail. “We’ll want the boom about here, so if you’ll take up the slack in the mainsheet and belay it, Marritje—good, right there—and now you can take the tiller and get ready to steer. You can just hold it amidships for now. Anneke, I think you will want to handle the jib yourself, and see what it can do in your hands.”
Anneke stepped just forward of the mast and looked at him. “All right, we’re drifting back.”
“So we are. Now, haul in the port jibsheet if you will, and watch what happens.”
With a few economical motions she drew in the line, tossing it to one side on the deck so it wouldn’t get underfoot. Immediately the sail bellied inboard and began pushing the bow to the right.
“We call this ‘backing the jib.’ You see what’s happening? The jib turns us so that we can get under way. As we pivot, the boom is swinging free, and in a moment it will take up the slack in the mainsheet and the sail will fill. But we’ve already turned far enough so the jib can fill on the other side and drive us forward instead of backward. So let go the port jibsheet and haul in to starboard, please.”
“I see.” She tossed aside the line she was holding and stepped across the deck. “It’s clear now why you wanted both lines free at once.” She hauled in. “All the way?”
“Yes, for now. And you can secure it to the cleat. We’ll steer by the set of the sails. All right, Marritje, you see how the leading edge of the mainsail is fluttering? Fall off the wind a little more, and that will stop. Good. Now both sails are driving us properly. You can hold that course for the moment.”
Anneke busied herself for half a minute, coiling up the lines properly and hanging them out of the way, ready to throw free again at a moment’s notice. You did not want any lines in a sailing vessel getting tangled up. When she straightened up and looked around again, she was startled to see that they weren’t steering past the stern of the big boat anchored nearby, they were about to pass to windward of the bow, and they weren’t headed across the harbor, they were angling sharply toward the mouth. The wind was coming from far forward of the port beam, and yet they weren’t just making steerage way, they were throwing up a hissing bow wave and leaving a curling wake behind. They were going fast. What she had read the night before began to sink in—with this odd new rig, it hardly mattered which way the wind blew, as long as they had enough of it. They could go where they wanted, when they wanted. This beautiful boat would be a godsend for a coast and harbor business; they could carry passengers and cargo while others had to wait.
She took a firm grip on herself. There was a great deal more they needed to know about this boat, before taking the serious step of making an offer. But there was one thing she could decide in this moment. If this boat became theirs, by no means would she and Marritje leave the name Anna emblazoned across the stern. There were uncountable boats by that name, and uncountable women, none of them belonging to their family. No, if they bought it, they would rename it in memory of Andries. Andries Leydecker it would be.
Sauerkraut, of all things, a shipment of it small enough to stow in their little hold. And now something else a sloop’s boom was good for—a cargo derrick. The men hoisted out the last barrel and swung it outboard to the wagon on the pier alongside. Anneke got the agent’s signature on two copies of the manifest, one to send back to the shipper by post, and the other to keep, just in case. She and Marritje shoved off, before somebody got the idea of charging them for time alongside.
Time to look for some more business. As they got further out, she could see over toward a cluster of landings. Not many people around, but just at the moment there were only a couple of boats nearby. Maybe they could pick up a few coppers ferrying somebody out to a ship. They worked their way over in the light breeze.
As they came closer, Marritje pointed out a prosperous-looking burgher standing alongside a young boy and a collection of baggage, looking their way. Anneke nodded. “Ahoy, Mijnheer. Are you looking to be carried out to one of these ships?”
The man called back in a noticeable French accent, “To Harlingen, Mevrouw. Your boat looks like it can manage in shoal water. If so, may I speak with the captain?”
“Anneke van Ruyper, at your service. And yes, I know the Waddenzee well. We can make that trip, as soon as I take on provisions for a few days.”
The man showed no visible surprise at that, but by the way he spoke Dutch, women merchants were probably no novelty to him.
“Ah. Well, for that, I have only good words for Salomon Voets, whose establishment is just over there. He and I are in the same way of business; he will treat you fairly, certainly when he sees you in my company. But I forget my manners. I am Henri Fourchet, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
By then, Marritje had them bow-in. Anneke spilled the last of the wind out of the mainsail, and they came to a stop just close enough to toss a line ashore. The boy ran to throw it over a post.
United States Navy base, Harlingen
Edelstein checked the vernier scales on the plotting table one more time against the field notes, and made a tiny blue mark on the acetate sheet where the lines crossed. He lined up a wax-backed buoy symbol at the mark, and secured it in place.
Done. The surveyed channel across the shallows to the base was now charted. He fastened a protective sheet over it and slid it into a waterproof portfolio, ready to ship off to the photo-engraving shop at the government map office.
There was an official letter waiting for him in the mail room.
Warrant Officer Lothar Edelstein:
Following completion of your current assignment, you are to plan and direct the mapping of Heligoland, and the charting of the surrounding waters out to a depth of twelve meters. Present a work schedule and budget with personnel, equipment, and logistic requirements no later than . . .
He gave a low whistle. Leading a field survey team was nothing new, but this time they were putting him in charge of an entire expedition! Get that right, and it could very well mean a commission. There was no hint of that in the orders, of course; Commander Harting didn’t have that kind of authority. What he did have was a reputation for scrupulously honest personnel reports. Things were definitely looking up for Lothar Edelstein.
The view out the window faded from his mind, as the pieces of the task began to take shape and fit themselves together. The first thing to do was get a rough idea of what the place was like. How easy would it be to get around? Who lived there, and what were they like to deal with? Could he buy food for his teams, or would it all have to be brought in? Was there an inn? Was there any kind of sheltered anchorage?
By the end of the afternoon, he’d run through everybody at the base, and established that: 1.) nobody had ever been there; 2.) it would probably take longer to query other bases for information about the island than to go there himself and look around for a couple of days; and 3.) there was no navy transportation scheduled toward that direction for at least three weeks, and maybe not then. He went off to ask around on the commercial side of the harbor.
“Farewell, Monsieur Fourchet. Farewell, Jules. My best wishes to your family, and good luck with your business.”
“Merci, it goes well enough. And good fortune to you, Mevrouw van Ruyper, and to you, Marritje. I remain sorry about your late husband and father. I never had the honor to meet him, but I have heard his name. He was well known along this coast, and a good man by all accounts.”
“Ah, well, life is what it is. Andries and I had many good years together. And now Marritje and I had better give some attention to his namesake here.”
“So? Supplies? Bits and pieces maritime? You know where to find me.”
There was a little two-master in port. Edelstein rowed out and hailed the deck watch. “Bound eastward, Lieutenant? No, we’re for the Bay of Biscay.” The Portuguese mate conspicuously didn’t say where in the Bay of Biscay, and by his nervous air and rapid disappearance, it was glaringly obvious he didn’t want to talk to anyone in a uniform. Lothar didn’t bother to correct him on navy rank insignia.
Everyone else afloat at the moment was interested only in local fishing. All that was normal enough, but Edelstein wanted to deliver results, not excuses. Back to the waterfront.
Once more, he emerged from one of the taverns with no better answers than before. When he glanced out across the anchorage this time, though, something was different. Fourchet and his son were just debarking on the quayside in front of their ship chandlery, from an unfamiliar craft. Unfamiliar, in a way. It looked like the little brother of a navy courier schooner. One gaff-rigged mast instead of two, and a loose-footed jib. Attractive paint job, medium-green with white trim. The boat glided out into the harbor and dropped anchor.
Lothar went to ask Fourchet about the vessel he’d come home in.
Listening to Anneke van Ruyper and Lieutenant Liebenberg hammer out a charter contract was an education.
“Pay your mark-up for supplies on top of some chandler’s? I think not, Madame. Navy stores will furnish what is required. Provide us a list, please.”
“Selection of a cook for the two-week charter to be subject to your approval? Certainly, Captain van Ruyper, it’s your boat. But choose a navy cook, who we are already paying . . . “
Military Research and Development Laboratory, aka the Phantom Works
Magdeburg Navy Yard
“Heligoland? Are you mad? There’s a whole fishing community there. Word will get out as soon as you appear!”
“Master Bölcke, no one understands the reasons for secrecy better than I do, but how long do you think this will stay secret, once it’s deployed with the fleet? A month? Probably not. Where do you expect us to go for shipboard test firings, Spitzbergen, maybe? Or van Diemen’s Land, for heaven’s sake? We can’t afford the time to traipse halfway to Hades to find out whether it works on a pitching deck, and what, if anything, must be fixed. The island is as out of the way as we need it to be, and it’s less than a day’s sail from the Elbe.”
Perhaps strong words weren’t the most productive way to deal with this civilian, though. Dengler went on, “You and your men have done well, truly, and we in the navy who know your work are grateful. But are you aware that the keel is already laid and the carpenters have begun shaping frames? The pace here must not fall behind. So who will you send with us?”
“Four point three.”
Edelstein whipped down the signal flag in his left hand to mark the station for the theodolite parties tracking them from the shore, then wrote down the figures on the next numbered line in the field book and read back the sounding. Taking up both signal flags from the lanyard hanging over his shoulders, he semaphored the station number to the watching parties. Meanwhile, Seaman Kraus hauled up the lead from the bottom, reported “Nothing in the tallow,” and cast it again.
Chartering the sloop Andries Leydecker had turned out to be a real stroke of luck. Things had gone so well during that first short visit, that he’d requested, and gotten, approval to hire boat and crew for the charting job itself. He glanced over toward Marritje at the helm. Slight and shy as she was, with quiet competence she was keeping them lined up with the two spar buoys they’d dropped earlier, as they ran the traverse with their sails reefed-down and the mainsheet let out, so that they wouldn’t outrun the sailing dories taking soundings a stone’s throw away on either side. Marritje’s mother was something else again. Anneke van Ruyper could be a little crusty, until you gained her respect.
The lead line was coming straight up-and-down again. Edelstein raised one flag.
“Four point one.”
He logged the data point and signaled the station number, then looked suspiciously at the water ahead. Shoaling? No, it didn’t look like it, and Marritje said nothing. Still, it paid to be cautious. After all, they were sailing in uncharted waters. Well, there was time enough to finish this pass and one more, before the daylight went and it was time to return to camp.
“Mister Edelstein, you didn’t tell us there was going to be another survey party here.”
“Huh? What are you talking about, Bartel?”
“Fennemann was just on the hill over there, and he says there are a couple of navy men setting up on the north end of the island.”
“Strange, that’s news to me. Well, everything looks like it’s under control here. I’ll take a walk over there and find out what’s going on. You can get going compiling today’s data, okay?”
“Maybe you want to go after dinner, boss? The fishermen had a good catch today, and the cook bought some.”
Lothar glanced up toward the eastern sky, and nodded. “He did, eh? Well then, maybe I will. It should be easy enough to see where I’m going, there and back; the moon’s already up.”
By the time Lothar got close enough to talk to anyone, it was already clear that this was no survey party. There were stakes in the ground in a regular order, and someone was carrying a ranging pole down to a boat drawn up on the shore, but there was a tiny newly-dug field fortification on top of the bluff, and a row of large paper targets set up between wooden sticks. Artillery targets. A small ship rode hove-to a kilometer or so off to the northwest.
A petty officer eyed him cautiously as he approached.
“Good evening. I’m Warrant Officer Lothar Edelstein, with the government mapping party on the south end of the island. What brings you here?”
“Ah, I’m Petty Officer Oskar Mielke. I don’t want to seem rude, but all I can tell you is that it’s classified.”
Lothar shrugged. Another one of those up-time notions making its way around the navy. What it seemed to mean in practice was that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and vice-versa. “Well, you don’t need to tell me you’re going to be shooting cannon balls up here, I can see that for myself. That doesn’t look like a warship out there, but I suppose you know what you’re doing. All I want to know is, how far away are your stray shots liable to land, so I can keep my men out of harm’s way, and when will you be done so we can finish surveying up this way?”
“I don’t exactly know about all that myself, Mister Edelstein. The best thing would be for you to talk with Commander Dengler. Would you like me to signal him for you?”
“If you would, please. I’d appreciate it.”
Mielke looked relieved to pass the buck. He turned and called down toward the boat, “Ahoy below. Break out the semaphore flags again and bring them up here on the double.” There was just about enough light left to get off a couple of exchanges.
All three shore stations signaled “OK.” Lothar dropped the second spar buoy. Half his mind was on planning the next few days’ work, as they got under way for the morning’s first run. He’d probably be sending Anneke and Marritje off on a supply run to Ritsenbuttel in a day or two, as soon as they got word by radio that their requisition was ready to pick up. They could do land-side surveying while the boat was away.
It was annoying that the boat would be out of touch until they got back. Lothar had been pestering navy supply to pry loose a second rig so they could keep in touch beyond sight of the shore camp, but so far nobody was promising anything.
There was one faint bang in the far distance, and then nothing for the rest of the day. Whatever was going on up there, it wasn’t gunnery training. In the end, he hadn’t taken the time to row out to Cornucopia and back, he’d just exchanged a couple of semaphore messages with the mysterious Lieutenant Commander Dengler.
There wasn’t any doubt that the gun worked. Dengler had seen it bang away on the range and hit the same spot time after time. There was nothing insincere in the praise he’d given Bölcke, either, but as good as the gunsmiths and machinists were who’d created this thing, there was one thing they weren’t—seamen.
The big question now was, would it work on shipboard as a practical weapon? If not, they’d better find out quick, and get to work on something else.
Well, they had the right conditions this morning. A good wind from the west-southwest, bowling them along toward the buoy that marked the first firing position. Enough pitch and roll for a realistic test; more yaw than he’d expect from the modern schooner the gun was meant for, though. He mentally laughed at himself—modern! How times changed! Ten years ago this merchantman the navy had chartered for the sea trial would have been the very latest thing. Now the spritsail rig and the high, narrow poop felt quaint. As for the whipstaff steering, it was more than quaint, it made him shake his head and wonder why seamen had put up with the maddeningly inadequate travesty for whole centuries.
He took a careful look all around. The red flag was hoisted on shore, meaning that the range was cleared and the observers were in their bunker and ready. Cleary, his gunnery specialist, was stationed aft by the helmsman and the ship’s mate with a telescope in his hands, where powder smoke wouldn’t block his view of the impacts. He turned back again to watch the gun’s operation. The ship’s captain was hovering almost at his elbow, curious as a cat to see how this curiosity did its tricks, but he wasn’t really in the way. Kieffer, the mechanic from the lab, finished filling the gravity magazine.
“Ready when you are, Commander.”
“Thank you. You can fire your first round as soon as we pass the buoy.” Dengler sidled over a couple of steps, to see how he handled it.
Chief Petty Officer Michael Cleary was skeptical from the beginning that an elevation screw on a long-range ship’s weapon would work in the real world. No doubt it was the Phantom Works’ great gift to army artillery, but they’d found out in a hurry yesterday that there was no way to run it up and down fast enough to keep the sights on target from a rolling deck. Now they had the gun more-or-less balanced in the gimbal by a hastily-carved ballast rock lashed under the frame, so that the gunner could move it easily by hand in time with the ship’s motion.
Maybe the engineering tests would go better this time; they needed to get through that before his men began their part of the evaluation.
He heard Commander Dengler’s order from up forward, and the clatter as Kieffer turned the crank to chamber a round. Nothing for three or four seconds, then a boom. He stared at the bluff, watching for a shell burst. What he got was a splash of sand; the shell must have traveled a few inches into the dirt before the main charge exploded. “Shot number one. I log that as twenty low and six to the left, sir.” He wrote quickly in his notebook.
The crank turned again, and a clunk sounded as the empty cartridge case fell to the deck. Another pause while Kieffer took careful aim, then the gun went off again.
“Shot two. Close to the middle target. About three left.”
Dengler called out, “Hold that aim point, Kieffer. I want to see how close you can come to hitting the same spot four more times in succession.”
Cleary kept taking notes, as two more shots went off, half a minute apart. For sure, that mechanic was taking his time and doing the best he could to hit the same place, never mind that it wasn’t on the target. The big question was, how controllable was the gun in these conditions? Then Kieffer turned the crank again, and there wasn’t any thud of an empty hitting the deck. Cleary heard Dengler start to ask, “What . . . ” and then all hell broke loose.
There was a completely different kind of a bang and a tremendous flash, things whizzed through the air and hit somewhere on deck, and the Commander shrieked. When Cleary spun around to look, Kieffer and Dengler were both down, and the captain was half-propped on one elbow with a slack expression on his face. Kieffer was covered with blood and not moving. While the young mate was still taking in the situation, Cleary shouted down the main hatch, “Medic! On deck!” A couple of sailors were already moving toward the three men. From below, somebody repeated, “Pass the word for the navy medic. To the deck.”
Then a flutter of motion caught Cleary’s eye—motion where it didn’t belong. The weather foremast shrouds were whipping around in the wind; whatever had happened, something had torn through them, leaving a single strand still bracing the mast. He pointed and shouted over his shoulder, “Sir!”
Mate Wentzlin spun to look where he was pointing. “I see it.” His voice rose to a roar. “Cast off the foresheets! Helm alee!”
The remaining shroud line was vibrating. Getting the lines off the belaying pins was taking too long. Cleary ran forward, shouting, “Out knives! Cut them free!” He had no business giving that kind of order, but they could chew him out afterward. That mate—hardly more than an apprentice—was too new at this business to know what to do, he was figuring out what to do.
Time ran out. The last strand parted under the strain, and the mast bent under the thrust of the sails, creaking, starting to crackle.
“Stand clear o’ the foremast!”
The military medical technician halted for a second with one foot just coming over the hatch coaming.
With a crash the whole mast went over the lee rail, smashing one boat to kindling and striking the other a glancing blow as it kicked back. Within seconds, the drag started slewing the ship. Doc Redlich picked up his medical kit again and ran toward the injured men.
Wentzlin ordered, “Cast off all sheets! Jump to it!”
The last part was superfluous. Every man on board knew what would happen if they went aback in this wind.
With the rest of the rigging saved, there was no need at all to order the men to start cutting away all the snarled lines holding the wreckage to the hull. Men were already grabbing every axe within reach.
Then Cleary spotted the flash of brass rolling on the deck. No telling what condition those live rounds were in, after being flung out of the magazine when something blew up. “Out of my way! Loose ammunition! Don’t step on those things.”
Carefully, smoothly, Cleary threw the two remaining shells as far away as he could. If they were going to go off when they hit the water, he didn’t want it happening next to the hull. When he turned to see what the medic was doing, he saw a mangled bit of metal in the blood by Kieffer’s side. He picked it up. An extraction disk. He looked into what was left of the gun. Sure enough, most of a cartridge case was still in the barrel. He went to report to Mate Wentzlin. The captain and his own superior were in no shape to listen to reports or give orders or do much of anything else; Redlich was just pulling a needle out of Dengler’s arm—painkillers, probably—and saying something to the man holding direct pressure on the injured captain’s shoulder. Nobody was doing anything at all about Kieffer. Nobody could.
“All right, Cleary, I understand. Your mechanical gun is no longer any danger to us. But the rest of this—isn’t it your duty to report what happened to your own people without delay? Just in case?”
Cleary glanced toward the bluff. The observers were out of their bunker and studying them through a telescope. “Aye, that makes sense, sir. I could semaphore it to the spotting team up there.”
Wentzlin jerked his thumb toward the wire running up the mainmast on porcelain insulators. “Not straight to Magdeburg? Didn’t you say that’s where they’re making that cannon of yours?”
Cleary mentally kicked himself. Whatever the youngster lacked in experience, he was missing nothing in mental agility. That was equipment the navy had brought aboard. “You’re right, sir. Of course.” He shouted toward the beehive on the forecastle, “Braunstein! Leave that work to the ship’s crew. I need you to fire up the transmitter.”
“No luck, Chief. None of the coastal stations are answering, not even Ritsenbuttel. I don’t think we’re getting out. You know half the antenna went with the foremast, and a lot of what’s left is hanging straight down from the crosstrees.”
“Oh, yes? Well, it wouldn’t take one of us long to climb up and jury-rig it to the topmast, if that will help.” A short burst of Morse code came out of the receiver. “What was that? It sounded loud enough to be the horn of the holy Gabriel.”
“I don’t know. It’s a navy call sign, but not one I’ve ever heard of.”
“What would you wager it’s that parcel of surveyors on the other side of the island, then?” He slapped his notebook down on the mess table in front of Braunstein. “Call them. If they answer, send them this. They can pass the word on to headquarters.”
One more pass done. Another page of soundings in the book. Anneke maneuvered them up to the buoys at this end; they pulled them up, then set them for the next run in this direction, guided by flag signals from the shore. A little poking around until they were lined up with the buoys at the far end, and off they went. Lothar cast the lead this time; Peter Kraus was a strong young sailor, but even he needed a break once in a while doing the comparatively light job of recording and signaling.
They were about a third of the way to the turn point, when somebody ran down to one of the distant theodolite parties, and a couple seconds later the flags started waving “Attention.”
“Anneke, can we heave to for a minute and see what they want?”
“Yes, let the jib fly.”
As soon as Anneke put the helm down, Lothar took back the field book and flipped to an empty back page. “All right, Kraus, signal ‘Ready.’ “
The message came fast. Fifteen seconds in, his heart turned to ice. Marritje must have been watching his face; she asked, “What is it, Lothar? Is something wrong?”
He turned so she could read over his shoulder while he went on copying the message. “Cornucopia dismasted. Off northwest point.”
They all knew what that meant; they’d talked with the fishermen during their first visit. Hard stone reefs running out from the northern end of the island. Reefs they hadn’t begun to chart yet. “Anneke, can we . . . “
“Go to them? Ja. Marritje, hold us like this for a minute. Peter, shake the reefs out of the mainsail and hoist it all the way. I’m going to unfurl the outer jib. As soon as we’re moving again, I want you to help me raise the topsail. We’ll go up the east side; I want to be off a windward shore.”
Anneke van Ruyper hardly ever used the gaff topsail; he’d never seen her hoist it in anything but light airs. He went on writing. The dories headed for shore, to drop their sounding parties and follow as they could.
When Cleary came back on deck, he expected to see work going on to strip down some of the fallen spars to press into service as a jury foremast. Instead, everything had been cut adrift, and Wentzlin was swinging the ship with the spritsail, about to get under way. The big lateen mizzen sail was furled; he could understand that, because with no foresail, the little spritsail would be barely able to balance the mizzen topsail, and even at that steering would be a pig. But why . . . ? Then he noticed one of the sailors glancing nervously toward the east. The pattern of waves looked different, not far away. He put up his hand to feel the wind—a little more northerly than it had been earlier. Whatever was out there, it was to leeward now. He suddenly understood. There was no time left to rig anything. There was no time even to shackle a cable onto the anchor, now that the forecastle was cleared and they could get at it, and try to manhandle it over the side without the tackle that had gone with the foremast.
The mate started calling out sail-handling orders. After a couple of minutes, he started playing the weather mizzen topsail sheet himself with a sailor tailed on behind him, trying to hold onto as much drive as possible without overpowering the spritsail and throwing them out of control. The helmsman had the whipstaff over as far as it would go. They were slow, and making leeway, but they were almost to the end of the disturbed water. It looked like they were about to pass by the thinnest of margins. Another fifty paces . . .
He felt it first through the soles of his boots, a scraping down below. They lost headway, and the bow started to come up into the wind. Wentzlin hauled in fast, spilling the wind out of the mizzen so they could get back on course. A wave lifted them a handspan or two, and dropped them again. There was a dull thunk, like a sledgehammer hitting heavy timbers. Another wave, another solid thump, then one more, much softer, and they were across the reef. Wentzlin got the bow straightened out again, and kept on going close-hauled for what Cleary judged to be a quarter of an English mile. Finally they were out of the shallow water. Some of the tension went out of the mate, and he called out, “Stand by to wear ship. Somebody go below and sound the bilge.” He turned his head to look straight at Redlich, the medic, who was standing there waiting for his attention.
“Sir, I’ve got the patients stabilized and I need to decide whether to move them below. Can you tell me what the plan is?”
“Yes. I’m taking us straight to Ritsenbuttel for repairs. It’s the closest, and we can make it on this wind. And that’s the best place to get help for my captain and your officer, yes?”
“Yes, sir, from there I’d be able to get them up-river to the infirmary. They both need a lot more treatment than I can give them with what I have. Or what I know. Commander Dengler’s knee is severely injured, I don’t know just how bad it is. The captain is starting to talk, but not clearly so far. All right, I’ll prepare them to be moved.”
Somebody shouted up the hatchway, “Ahoy on deck. We’re taking on water, I can’t see where. Must be down near the keel.”
“Thank you.” The mate didn’t look the least bit thankful. “Man the pump!”
Turning was more of a finicky business than usual, with no foremast. Wentzlin had to order the mizzen topsail clewed up, to manage it at all. The maneuver cost them more leeway than it ordinarily would have, but that wasn’t much of a concern, with the course to the Elbe being crosswind. With the sails finally balanced so the rudder had some control, he went below to get a look at the situation there.
His face was white when he came back on deck half a minute later.
“What is it, sir?”
“We can’t make it to Ritsenbuttel, Cleary. The water’s coming up so fast, we wouldn’t make it halfway.” He glanced at the men at the pump; it was obvious they were already doing all they could. “No sense leaving the island at all. I’m going to try to beach her; that’s our best chance.” By now, they were well off the east side, headed down toward the mainland. He rattled off some more orders, getting the sails trimmed to gain back as much distance to windward as possible. Cleary eyed the rocky east shore. It didn’t look promising, even if they could get there. After another minute, it didn’t look like they would.
Evidently, the mate was coming to the same conclusion. He relieved the hands at the pump, then ordered “Rig the anchor. Get it outboard on the cathead, ready to drop.”
To Michael Cleary’s mind, that meant everybody who wasn’t doing something else, no matter who they were, and never mind any old memories of brehon law and privileges of position. This was going to be a labor of Samson to do by brute force. He ran forward, sweeping up Braunstein and the rest of the navy test team along the way.
Wentzlin wasn’t done. He pointed to an older seaman. “Kellner. Take charge of the boat. As soon as we get close, get it in the water and pull for shore, then come back for more as soon as you unload.” He told off seven more men for the first boatload.
The sailor looked back at him. “What about you, sir?”
“Last trip. With the casualties and the medic. Now get ready.”
Cleary looked up a couple of times as they wrestled with the ship’s anchor, as many men as could crowd in around it to lend a hand. There might have been a few fishermen around at this time of day, but no. He didn’t even see anybody on shore to notice them and run to the settlement. Shoving and prying, they got the thing over the rail. None too soon. The mate was looking up and down along the shore, obviously trying to decide the most favorable spot. Cleary couldn’t really see much difference.
It wasn’t more than a couple of minutes. At what looked like the closest approach, Wentzlin suddenly ordered, “Stand by to drop anchor. Clew up all. Helm alee.”
Before the ship even came up into the wind, Kellner and his boat crew were already moving. Once in the water, they bent to the oars and pulled away. The mate relieved the pump again. Anything to buy time. All of a sudden there was a murmuring among the crew, and Cleary turned to see where they were looking. Half the men in the boat had stopped rowing and started throwing water over the gunwale with mess kits and a fire bucket.
Wentzlin called across, “What’s going on, there?”
Kellner shouted back, “Sir, it’s cracked worse than I thought. We’ll make it ashore, but only with four men bailing.”
“And then you couldn’t get back here with room in the boat for anybody else. I understand, Kellner. Just go. Maybe you can find something to pound into the seams. There’s rocks enough to pound with.”
He turned to the men watching him. “Bring up barrels, planks, anything that will float. We might have to kick our way ashore, if none of the islanders spot us soon, or the boat crew can’t find help.”
One of the crew spoke up, “Should we make a raft out of the yards, sir?”
Wentzlin stared at him in surprise for half a second, and answered, “Why not? All right, get the carpenter’s chest up here while we can still find it. Begin.”
The topsail and topgallant yards were the smallest, and would be the easiest to manage. Men scrambled aloft and went to work.
“Sail ho! Five points off the port bow!”
Cleary and Braunstein were holding an odd piece of timber in place for a deckhand, who was lashing it crosswise to the main topgallant yard; he straightened up to get a look over the bulwark. Something with a rig he’d never seen before was just coming into sight beyond the southeast point. It wasn’t any islander’s fishing boat, that was for certain. If anything, it looked something like a navy courier schooner, but not much more than half the size, with a single mast. It kept running downwind, probably to get well clear of whatever might be hidden under the waves, but someone on deck waved to them. So they’d been seen.
Then it whipped through a turn and headed straight for them, heeling over as the wind caught the sails, throwing up a rolling bow wave. For its size, it was fast.
As they came within hailing distance, a man in a navy uniform stood up with a speaking trumpet and shouted, “Ahoy, Cornucopia! How many on board?”
Wentzlin answered, “Sixteen. Two serious casualties. One dead.”
The navy man looked at a middle-aged woman doing something amidships; she made a thumbs-up gesture. The man raised the trumpet again. ” It will be crowded, but we can take you all. Port side by the waist?”
Marritje Leydecker delicately worked the tiller a little to one side and a little to the other without even having to think about it, holding course as they corkscrewed through the waves, poised for the moment her mother cast off the jibsheets. There really was no need for either of them to say anything, for this kind of a maneuver. And . . . now. She threw the tiller over and they coasted to a stop by the ship’s side, almost touching. It was wallowing so low in the water, that it wasn’t a lot higher than their own deck. Peter Kraus was right there with a boathook, catching the rail and holding them in place.
Lothar called up, “Send anyone who has to be carried, please, while there’s still room to move on deck.”
Someone on the ship ordered, “Right. Redlich, get your patients across and go yourself. You men, lend a hand.”
Next moment, someone jumped down to their deck and turned to receive an unconscious man being lowered on a mess table top. He had a leg in a splint and a bloodstained navy uniform. As soon as he was laid on deck, they passed down another man. He didn’t look as badly hurt, but he was mumbling something that didn’t make much sense, and he didn’t seem to know where he was. Two others jumped down to help move them. A dead body sewed up in a hammock came right behind.
Lothar looked down at the injured men. “Shall we send them below, Anneke? Put the living ones in the bunks?”
She nodded. Lothar slid the hatch back and pointed.
A face looked over the rail, watching until the deck was clear again. “Leave off pumping. Form ranks in the waist so I can count heads . . . Good. Now listen up. When you board that boat, step smartly forward or aft and get out of the way of the man behind you. All hands, abandon ship.”
The rush lasted just seconds. One of the last men slipped as he came over the rail, and might have fallen in the water, but her mother grabbed his shirt, steadying him just long enough to recover.
At that moment something carried away aloft in the dying ship, and a line with a block on the end snapped viciously across at them and struck. Marritje barely saw it move, it came so fast.
“Mother!” She couldn’t see, the crowd was so thick amidships where a knot of the survivors stood. She started to rise from her seat, and would have run forward, but the main yard caught her eye. Whatever had broken loose, it had started swinging around dangerously. If that tangled in their rigging . . . She stood up straight and shouted, “You by the starboard jib sheet! Haul in and hold it! Somebody shove off!”
Someone she couldn’t see exclaimed, “Who is that woman to . . . ” Whatever he was going to say, it ended with a sudden whoof.
Lothar Edelstein’s voice came back through the crowd, “I’ve got it, Captain!” and the outer jib went hard aback.
What? But her whole attention was taken up with getting them out of there. Peter was already pushing them away with the boathook. She yanked the rudder over to its limit, using their sternway to push them away from the ship’s side, until they could pivot far enough for the mainsail to fill, and sheet home both jibs. She stood up at the helm, moving her head from side to side, trying to see through the press of castaways. Peter came back to relieve her, finally freeing her to go see.
Mother was lying in a heap on the deck amidships, with Lothar and the man with the medical bag kneeling beside her. Lothar looked up into her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Marritje. It broke her neck. The Grantville hospital itself couldn’t have done anything.”
They cleared the southeast reef. There was no expression at all in Marritje’s voice as she gave the sail handling orders to start beating up to windward so they could make their return to the survey camp. Her hand trembled slightly on the tiller. She stared off at the horizon.
After a while she looked across to her client, where he sat writing an account of what had happened in his notebook. “Lothar, this boat is still under your charter. What do you want me to do?”
He looked up. “I’ve been thinking about that. Those two injured men need to be taken to Ritsenbuttel right away. You can leave as soon as we offload this horde; there should be time enough to get there before dark. I’ll radio ahead to have a river steamer meet you with a medical party. And I need to send off as many of the survivors as you think is safe for the boat, because we won’t have a lot of supplies in camp until you get back with the load they’re making up.” He paused. “Marritje, would you like me to ask the navy to make funeral arrangements for your mother?”
“Oh, yes, please, Lothar, yes. We don’t know anybody around here.” She reached out and put her hand on his arm for just a moment. Through sudden tears she checked her course again.
“And who do you want for crew, coming back here?”
She almost gave in to the temptation to say she just wanted to be alone with her thoughts and the sea for that time. But that would have been foolish. Mother would never have fallen into such poor judgment. Lothar called me “Captain.” Heaven help me, I must act like one.
“Peter. He knows the boat.”
“An excellent choice. I’ll make out his orders.”
Meister Marcus Gerlach was dressed up for the occasion in doublet and lace collar, with his beard magnificently combed out. He positively radiated pride and satisfaction. Well, there was justification enough for a double helping of pride, standing right there on the ways.
With some time left after he finished studying the hull’s elegant lines from the outside, Lothar Edelstein climbed up the staging and joined the visitors’ tour.
It was astonishing. The changes in shipbuilding just kept coming. He’d seen close-spaced heavy framing like this before, but the diagonal internal bracing was something brand-new. It meant sacrificing some interior space, but they’d gotten some of it back by tucking in storage lockers where they could. The reinforced deck beams to support gun stanchions had been a long time coming. And the fully-enclosed mechanical steering box! He’d already gone across the yard to the fitting-out wharf and examined the masts and shrouds lying ready—steel, from the mills of Essen. This was going to be one rugged little courier schooner.
He’d heard all the stories about what it was like to serve under the penetrating eye of Admiral John Chandler Simpson, but all in all, Lothar approved of an officer who refused to settle for half-measures when sailor’s lives were on the line.
When he climbed back down to the ground, Commander Dengler was leaning on his crutches, talking with a lieutenant and a first class petty officer he didn’t know. Dengler waved him over; they exchanged salutes. “Congratulations, Ensign Edelstein. You earned it.”
“Thank you, sir. Did you ever find out what went wrong?”
“Yes. The changes are still going on. Chief Cleary sends his regrets that he cannot be here today; he and the laboratory people have their heads together with Reardon’s experts. But I don’t think you know Lieutenant Klyve, here. Olaf is accepting this work of art for the navy.”
“Well, it seems congratulations are in order for you too, sir. I think you’ll enjoy this assignment, petty officer. I did.”
The master shipwright broke into the conversation then, gesturing over Lothar’s shoulder. “Is that her?”
Lothar turned to look. Marritje Leydecker had just come in the gate. She’d changed. Physically, she was the still the same slender girl, but a firm step and a level gaze had replaced the retiring shyness. You just could never tell how someone would respond to adversity. Behind him, Dengler spoke up. “Yes. There aren’t many like her.”
Their host stepped out in front and smiled as she came up to the group. “Frau Leydecker, I’m delighted that you could be here today.”
Her eyes crinkled in amusement at the German form of address. “Thank you for the invitation, Meister Gerlach. Fortunately, I was close by; I have a party charting the Wismar approaches.”
Dengler gave her a half-smile. “Oh, it’s not by chance that you’re being offered all these charters. You’re highly regarded in the navy these days.”
“And among us.” Gerlach threw a glance toward a dignified older man standing nearby. “But since we’re all here, let us begin.” He stepped up on the low platform in front of the bow and waved for attention. The crowd drew in and quieted down. “Welcome, welcome. On this day of new beginnings, Pastor Heydenreich has a few words for us.”
The minister raised his hands and spoke a short benediction. When he finished, Gerlach gestured toward a woman with a cockade of red and white ribbons pinned to her coat. “We have with us Frau Emilia Metzger, city director for the Red Cross of Mecklenburg.”
She stepped up on the platform. “Good morning. On behalf of the Red Cross, I wish to present our lifesaving medal . . .
” . . . to Ensign Lothar Edelstein.”
The crowd broke into applause as he came forward.
“To Seaman First Class Peter Kraus . . .
“To Marritje Leydecker . . .
“And with great regret, posthumously to Anneke van Ruyper. We’re all very sorry for your loss, Frau Leydecker.”
Gerlach bowed, and gestured for Marritje to precede him up onto the platform. He looked down where the workmen stood ready, and handed her a beribboned bottle of Franconian wine. She stood still for a few seconds, looking at the fine new vessel in front of her. Then she turned to face the spectators, and called out in a clear voice, “I christen this schooner Schiff seiner imperialen Majestät Anneke van Ruyper.”
A brief flurry of hammer blows rang out, and the vessel trembled and started to move. She shattered the bottle over the bow, and added, “May God protect her and all who sail in her!”
As it gathered speed down the slipway, Peter Kraus began to sing. The rest of the navy men turned to look at him, then stood up straighter and took up the hymn. It was in English, but they all knew it.
Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” by William Whiting and John B. Dykes, 1860-1861. Also called the Navy Hymn.
Two verses can be heard at http://www.usshancockcv19.com/navyhymn.htm
The sheet music is at http://songsandhymns.org/hymns/sheetmusic/eternal-father-strong-to-save
A nautical glossary is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_nautical_terms#J
Art Director’s Note: The Lifesaving Medal’s appearance is based on suggestions from the author. Thanks, Jack! -Garrett