From: The World Peril Of 1910
The events of that memorable night formed a most emphatic contradiction
to the prophecy in Macaulay's "Armada":
"Such night in England ne'er had been, nor e'er again shall be."
The speeches in the House of Commons and in the House of Peers were
being printed even as they were spoken; hundreds of printing-presses
were grinding out millions of copies of newspapers. Thousands of
newsboys were running along the pavements, or with great bags of new
editions slung on their shoulders tearing through the traffic on
bicycles; but all the speeches in the two Houses of Parliament, all the
reports and hurriedly-written leaders in the papers just represented to
the popular mind one word, and that word was war.
It was true that for over a hundred years no year had passed in which
the British Empire had not been engaged in a war of some kind, but they
were wars waged somewhere in the outlands of the earth. To the
stop-at-home man in the street they were rather more matters of latitude
and longitude than battle, murder, and sudden death. The South African
War, and even the terrible struggle between Russia and Japan, were
already memories drifting out of sight in the rush of the headlong
current of twentieth-century life.
But this was quite another matter; here was war--not war that was being
waged thousands of miles away in another hemisphere or on another side
of the globe--but war within twenty-one miles of English land--within
two or three hours, as it were, of every Englishman's front door.
This went home to every man who had a home, or who possessed anything
worth living for. It was not now a case of sending soldiers, militia and
yeomanry away in transports, and cheering them as they went. Not now, as
Kipling too truly had said of the fight for South Africa:
"When your strong men cheered in their millions, while your
striplings went to the war."
Now it was the turn of the strong men; the turn of every man who had the
strength and courage to fight in defence of all that was nearest and
dearest to him.
As yet there was no excitement. At every theatre and every music-hall in
London and the great provincial cities and towns, the performances were
stopped as soon as the news was received by telegraph. The managers read
the news from the stage, the orchestras played the first bar of the
National Anthem, the audiences rose to their feet, and all over the
British Islands millions of voices sang "God save the King," and then,
obeying some impulse, which seemed to have inspired the whole land,
burst into the triumphant psalm of "Rule Britannia."
And when the theatres and music-halls closed, men and women went on
their way home quietly discussing the tremendous tidings which had been
officially announced. There was no attempt at demonstration, there was
very little cheering. It was too serious a matter for that. The men and
women of Britain were thinking, not about what they should say, but
about what they should do. There was no time for shouting, for
to-morrow, perhaps even to-night, the guns would be talking--"The
drumming guns which have no doubts."
The House rose at half-past eleven, and at ten minutes to twelve
Lieutenant Denis Castellan, came into the smoking-room of the Keppel's
Head Hotel, Portsmouth, with a copy of the last edition of the Southern
Evening News in his hand, and said to Captain Erskine:
"It's all right, my boy. It's war, and you've got the Ithuriel. Your
own ship, too. Designer, creator, captain; and I'm your First Luff."
"I think that's about good enough for a bottle of the best, Castellan,"
said Erskine, in the quiet tone in which the officer of the finest
Service in the world always speaks. "Touch the button, will you?"
As Denis Castellan put his finger on the button of the electric bell, a
man got up from an armchair on the opposite side of the room, and said,
as he came towards the table at which Erskine was sitting:
"You will pardon me, I hope, if I introduce myself without the usual
formalities. My name is Gilbert Lennard."
"Then, I take it, you're the man who swam that race with my brother
John, in Clifden Bay, when Miss Parmenter was thrown out of her skiff.
But he's no brother of mine now. He's sold himself to the Germans, and,"
he continued, suddenly lowering his voice almost to a whisper, "come up
to my room, we'll have the bottle there, and Mr Lennard will join us.
Yes, waiter, you can take it up to No. 24, we can't talk here," he went
on in a louder tone. "There's a German spy in the room, and by the piper
that was supposed to play before Moses, if he's here when I come back,
I'll throw him out."
Everyone in the smoking-room looked up. Castellan walked out, looking at
a fair-haired, clean-shaven little man, sitting at a table in the
right-hand corner of the room from the door. He also looked up, and
glanced vacantly about the room; then as the three went out, he took a
sip of the whisky and soda beside him, and looked back on to the paper
that he was reading.
"Who's that chap?" asked Erskine, as they went upstairs.
"I'll tell you when we're a bit more to ourselves," replied Castellan;
and when they had got into his sitting-room, and the waiter had brought
the wine, he locked the door, and said:
"That is Staff-Captain Count Karl von Eckstein, of the German Imperial
Navy, and also of His Majesty, the Kaiser's, Secret Service. He knows a
little more than we do about every dockyard and fort on the South Coast,
to say nothing of the ships. That's his district, and thanks to the most
obliging kindness of the British authorities he has made very good use
"But, surely," exclaimed Lennard, "now that there is a state of war,
such a man as that could be arrested."
"Faith," said Denis Castellan, as he filled the glasses. "Law or no law,
he will be arrested to-night if he stops here long enough for me to lay
hands upon him. Now then, what's the news, Mr Lennard? I'm told that
you've just come back from the United States, what's the opinion of
things over there?"
Such news that Lennard had was, of course, even more terrible than the
news of war and invasion, which was now thrilling through England like
an electric shock, and he kept it to himself, thinking quite rightly
that the people of England had quite enough to occupy their attention
for the immediate present, and so he replied as he raised the glass
which Denis had filled for him:
"I am afraid that I have no news except this: that from all I have heard
in the States, if it does come to death-grips, the States will be with
us. But you see, of course, that I have only just got back, and this
thing has been sprung on us so suddenly. In fact, it was only this
morning that we got an aerogram from the Lizard as we came up Channel to
say that war was almost a certainty, and advising us to get into
Southampton as soon as we could."
"Well," said Erskine, taking up his glass, "that's all right, as far as
it goes. I've always believed that it's all rot saying that blood isn't
thicker than water. It is. Of course, relations quarrel more than other
people do, but it's only over domestic matters. Let an outsider start a
row, and he very soon sees what happens, and that's what I believe our
friends on the other side of the Channel are going to find out if it
comes to extremities. Well, Mr Lennard, I am very pleased that you have
introduced yourself to us to-night. Of course, we have both known you
publicly, and therefore we have all the more pleasure in knowing you
"Thanks," replied Lennard, putting his hand into the inside pocket of
his coat and taking out an envelope. "But to be quite candid with you,
although of course I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, I did
not introduce myself to you and Mr Castellan only for personal reasons.
I have devoted some attention to the higher chemistry as well as the
higher mathematics and astronomy, and I have also had the pleasure of
going through the designs of the cruiser which you have invented, and
which you are now to command. I have been greatly interested in them,
and for that reason I think that this may interest you. I brought it
here in the hope of meeting you, as I knew that your ship was lying
Erskine opened the envelope, and took out a sheet of notepaper, on which
were written just a few chemical formulae and about forty words.
Castellan, who was watching him keenly, for the first time since they
had sailed together through stress and storm under the White Ensign, saw
him start. The pupils of his eyes suddenly dilated; his eyelids and
eyebrows went up for an instant and came down again, and the rigid calm
of the British Naval Officer came back. He put the letter into his hip
pocket, buttoned it up, and said, very quietly:
"Thank you, Mr Lennard. You have done me a very great personal service,
and your country a greater one still. I shall, of course, make use of
this. I am afraid if you had sent it to the Ordnance Department you
wouldn't have heard anything about it for the next three months or more;
perhaps not till the war was over."
"And that is just why I brought it to you," laughed Lennard. "Well,
here's good luck to you and the Ithuriel, and all honour, and God save
"God save the King!" repeated Erskine and Castellan, with that note of
seriousness in their tone which you can hear in the voice of no man who
has not fought, or is not going to fight; in short, to put his words
They emptied their glasses, and as they put them down on the table
again there came a knock at the door, sharp, almost imperative.
"Come in," said Erskine.
The head waiter threw the door open, and a Naval messenger walked in,
saluted, handed Erskine an official envelope, and said:
"Immediately, sir. The steam pinnace is down at the end of the Railway
Erskine tore open the envelope and read the brief order that it
contained, and said:
"Very good. We shall be on board in ten minutes."
The messenger, who was a very useful-looking specimen of the handy man,
saluted and left the room. Castellan ran out after him, and they went
downstairs together. At the door of the hotel the messenger put two
fingers into his mouth, and gave three soft whistles, not unlike the
sounds of a boatswain's pipe. In two minutes a dozen bluejackets had
appeared from nowhere, and just as a matter of formality were asked to
have a drink at the bar. Meanwhile Denis Castellan had gone into the
smoking-room, where he found the sandy-haired, blue-eyed man still
sitting at his table in the corner, smoking his cigar, and looking over
the paper. He touched him on the shoulder and whispered, in perfectly
"I thought you were a cleverer man than that, Count. Didn't I give you a
warning? God's thunder, man. You ought to have been miles away by this
time; haven't you a motor that would take you to Southampton in an hour,
and put you on the last of the German liners that's leaving? You know it
will be a shooting or a hanging matter if you're caught here. Come on
now. My name's Castellan, and that should be good enough for you. Come
on, now, and I'll see you safe."
The name of Castellan was already well known to every German
confidential agent, though it was not known that John Castellan had a
brother who was a Lieutenant in the British Navy.
Captain Count Karl von Eckstein got up, and took his hat down from the
pegs, pulled on his gloves, and said deliberately:
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr Castellan, for your warning, which I
ought to have taken at first, but I hope there is still time. I will go
and telephone for my motor at once."
"Yes, come along and do it," said Castellan, catching him by the arm.
"You haven't much time to lose, I can tell you."
They went out of the smoking-room, turned to the left, and went into the
hall. Then Castellan snatched his hand away from Eckstein's arm, took
him by the shoulders, and pitched him forward into the middle of the
semicircle of bluejackets, who were waiting for him, saying:
"That's your man, boys. Take him down to the pinnace, and put him on
board. I'll take the consequences, and I think the owners will, too,
when they know the facts."
Von Eckstein tried to shout, but a hand about half the size of a
shoulder of mutton came down hard over his mouth and nose. Other hands,
with grips like vices, picked him off his feet, and out he went, half
stifled, along the yard, and up to the Railway Pier.
"Rather summary proceedings, weren't they, Castellan?"
Denis drew himself up, formally saluted his superior officer, and said,
with a curious mixture of fun and seriousness in his voice:
"That man's the most dangerous German spy in the South of England, sir,
and all's fair in war and the other thing. We've got him. In half an
hour he'd have been aboard a fast yacht he's got here in the harbour,
and across to Dieppe, with a portmanteau full of plans and photographs
of our forts that would be worth millions in men and money to the people
we've got to fight. I can't say it here, but you know why I know."
Captain Erskine nodded, and did his best to conceal an unofficial smile.
"That's right, Castellan," he said. "I'll take your word for it. Get
that chap on board, lads, as quick as you can. We'll follow at once."
Ship's Corporal Sandy M'Grath, the huge Scotsman, whose great fist had
stifled Count von Eckstein's attempt to cry out, touched his cap and
said: "Awa' wi' him, boys," and out they went at a run. Then Erskine
turned to Lennard, and said:
"We can do all this that you've given me on board the Ithuriel. It
isn't quite regular, but in consideration of this, if you like to take a
cruise, and see your own work done, I'll take the responsibility of
inviting you, only mind, there will probably be some fighting."
Even as he spoke two deep dull bangs shook the atmosphere and the
windows of the hotel shivered in their frames.
"I'll come," said Lennard. "They seem to have begun already."
"Begorra they have," said Denis Castellan, making a dash to the door.
"Come on. If that's so, there'll be blood for supper to-night, and the
sooner we're aboard the better."
The next moment the three were outside, and sprinting for the end of the
Railway Pier for all they were worth.
Next: First Blood
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