Copyright
Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

Banzai! by Parabellum online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


stead the thread of the conversation was taken up by Dr. Morris, of
Brighton, an unusually cadaverous-looking individual, who sometimes
maintained absolute silence for days at a time, and who was supposed to
possess Japanese bronzes of untold value and to be on his way to
Hokkaido to complete his collection.

"You must not believe everything you see in the papers," he said. "If
the Japanese were only better farmers, nobody in Japan need go hungry;
there is no question of her being overpeopled, and this mania for
emigration is nothing but a disease, a fashion, of which the government
at Tokio, to be sure, makes very good use for political purposes.
Whoever speaks in all seriousness of Japan's being overpeopled is merely
quoting newspaper editorials, and is not acquainted with the conditions
of the country."

Dr. Morris had scarcely said as much as this during the whole of his
two weeks' stay on board the _Tacoma_. It is true that he had got to
know Japan very thoroughly during his many years' sojourn in the
interior in search of old bronzes, and he knew what he was talking
about. His views, however, were not in accord with those current at the
moment, and consequently, although his words were listened to
attentively, they did not produce much effect.

The conversation continued along the same lines, and the possibility of
a war again came up for discussion. The German officer was the only one
to whom they could put military questions, and it was no light task for
him to find satisfactory answers. He could only repeat again and again
that such a war would offer such endless possibilities of attack and
defense, that it was absolutely impossible to forecast the probable
course of events. The Shanghai merchant conversed with the captain in a
low tone of voice about the system of Japanese spies in America, and
related a few anecdotes of his experiences in China in this connection.

"But one can distinguish between a Jap and a Chinaman at a glance,"
interrupted the son of a New York multi-millionaire sitting opposite
him. "I could never understand why the Japanese spies are so overrated."

"If you can tell one from the other, you are more observant than the
ordinary mortal," remarked the Englishman dryly. "I can't for one, and
if you'll look me up in Shanghai, I'll give myself the pleasure of
putting you to the test. I'll invite a party of Chinamen and ask you to
pick out from among them a Japanese naval officer who has been in
Shanghai for a year and a half on a secret, I had better say, a
perfectly open mission."

"You'll lose your bet," said the captain to the New Yorker, "for I've
lost a similar wager under the same circumstances."

"But the Japanese don't wear pigtails," said the New Yorker, somewhat
abashed.

"Those Japanese do wear pigtails," said the Englishman with a grin.

"What's up?" said the captain, looking involuntarily towards the
entrance to the dining-saloon. "What's up? We're only going at half
speed."

The dull throbbing of the engine had indeed stopped, and any one who
noticed the vibration of the ship could tell that the propeller was
revolving only slightly.

The captain got up quietly to go on deck, but as he was making his way
out between the long rows of chairs, he met one of the crew, who
whispered to him that the first mate begged him to come on the bridge.

"We're not moving," said some one near the center of the table. "We
can't have arrived this soon."

"Perhaps we have met a disabled ship," said a young French girl; "that
would be awfully interesting."

The captain remained away, while the dinner continued to be served.
Suddenly all conversation was stopped by the dull howl of the steam
whistle, and when two more calls followed the first, an old globe
trotter thought he had discovered the reason for the ship's slowing
down, and declared with certainty: "This is the third time on my way to
Japan that we have run into a fog just before entering the harbor; the
last time it made us a day and a half late. I tell you it was no joke to
sit in that gray mist with nothing to do but wait for the fog to
lift - - " and then he narrated a few anecdotes about that particular
voyage, which at once introduced the subject of fog at his table, a
subject that was greedily pounced upon by all. London fog and other fogs
were discussed, and no one noticed that the ship had come to a full stop
and was gradually beginning to pitch heavily, a motion that soon had
the effect of causing several of the ladies to abandon the conversation
and play nervously with their coffee-spoons, as the nightmare of
seasickness forced itself every moment more disagreeably on their
memories.

A few of the men got up and went on deck. A merchant from San Francisco
came down and told his wife that a strange ship not far from the
_Tacoma_ had its searchlights turned on her. No reason for this
extraordinary proceeding could be given, as the officers seemed to know
as little about it as the passengers.

The fourth officer, whose place was at the head of one of the long
tables, now appeared in the dining-saloon, and was at once besieged with
questions from all sides. In a loud voice he announced that the captain
wished him to say that there was no cause for alarm. A strange ship had
its searchlights turned on the _Tacoma_, probably a man-of-war that had
some communication to make. The captain begged the passengers not to
allow themselves to be disturbed in their dinner. The next course was
served immediately afterwards, the reason for the interruption was soon
forgotten, and conversation continued as before.

"But we're not moving yet," said a young woman about ten minutes later
to her husband, with whom she was taking a honeymoon trip round the
world, "we're not moving yet."

The fourth officer gave an evasive answer in order to reassure his
neighbor, but, as a matter of fact, the ship had not yet got under way
again. To complicate the situation, another member of the crew came in
at this moment and whispered something to the officer, who at once
hurried on deck.

It was a positive relief to him to escape from the smell of food and the
loud voices into the fresh air. It seemed like another world on deck.
The stars twinkled in the silent sky, and the soft night air refreshed
the nerves that had been exhausted by the heat of the day. The fourth
officer mounted quickly to the bridge and reported to the captain.

The latter gave him the following brief order: "Mr. Warren, I shall ask
you to see that the passengers are not unnecessarily alarmed; let the
band play a few pieces, and see that the dinner proceeds quietly. Make a
short speech in my stead, tell the passengers what a pleasant time we
have all had on this voyage, and say a few words of farewell to them for
me. We've been signaled by a Japanese warship," he continued, "and asked
to stop and wait for a Japanese boat. I haven't the slightest idea what
the fellows want, but we must obey orders; the matter will no doubt be
settled in a few minutes as soon as the boat has arrived."

The officer disappeared, and the captain, standing by the port yardarm
on the bridge, waited anxiously for the cutter which was approaching at
full speed. The gangway had already been lowered. The cutter, after
describing a sharp curve, came alongside, and two marines armed with
rifles immediately jumped on the gangway.

"Halloo," said the captain, "a double guard! I wonder what that means?"

The Japanese officer got out of the cutter and came up the gangway,
followed by four more soldiers, two of whom were posted at the upper
entrance to the gangway. The other two followed the officer to the
bridge. A seventh man got out of the boat and carried a square box on
the bridge, while finally two soldiers brought a long heavy object up
the gangway and set it down against the wall of the cabin in the stern.

The Japanese officer ordered the two marines to take up their stand at
the foot of the steps leading to the bridge, and with a wave of his hand
ordered the third to station himself with his square box at the port
railing. At the same time he gave him an order in Japanese, and the
rattling noise which followed made it clear that the apparatus was a
lantern which was signaling across to the man-of-war.

"This is carrying the joke a little too far. What does it all mean?"
cried the captain of the _Tacoma_, starting to pull the man with the
lantern back from the railing. But the Japanese officer laid his hand
firmly on his right arm and said in a decisive tone: "Captain, in the
name of the Japanese Government I declare the American steamer _Tacoma_
a lawful prize and her whole crew prisoners of war."

The captain shook off the grasp of the Japanese, and stepping back a
pace shouted: "You must be crazy; we have nothing to do with the
Japanese naval maneuvers, and I shall have to ask you not to carry your
maneuver game too far. If you must have naval maneuvers, please practice
on your own merchant vessels and leave neutral ships alone."

The Japanese saluted and said: "I am very sorry, captain, to have to
correct your impression that this is part of our maneuvers. Japan is at
war with the United States of America, and every merchantman flying the
American flag is from now on a lawful prize."

The captain, a strapping fellow, seized the little Japanese, and pushed
him toward the railing, evidently with the intention of throwing the
impertinent fellow overboard. But in the same instant he noticed two
Japanese rifles pointed at him, whereupon he let his arms drop with an
oath and stared at the two Japanese marines in utter astonishment. The
lantern signal continued to rattle behind him, and suddenly the pale
blue searchlight from the man-of-war was thrown on the bridge of the
_Tacoma_, lighting up the strange scene as if by moonlight. At the same
time the shot from a gun boomed across the quiet surface of the water.
Things really seemed to be getting serious.

From below, through the open skylights of the dining-saloon came the
cheers of the passengers for the captain at the close of the fourth
officer's speech, and the band at once struck up the "Star Spangled
Banner." Everybody seemed to be cheerful and happy in the dining-saloon,
and one and all seemed to have forgotten that the _Tacoma_ was not
moving.

And while from below the inspiring strains of the "Star Spangled Banner"
passed out into the night, twenty Japanese marines came alongside in a
second cutter and, climbing up the gangway, occupied all the entrances
leading from below to the deck - a double guard with loaded guns being
stationed at each door.

"I must ask you," said the Japanese officer to the captain, "to continue
to direct the ship's course under my supervision. You will take the
_Tacoma_, according to your original plans, into the harbor of Yokohama;
there the passengers will leave the ship, without any explanations being
offered, and you and the crew will be prisoners of the Japanese
Government. The prize-court will decide what is to be done with your
cargo. The baggage of the passengers, the captain, and the crew will, of
course, remain in their possession. There are now twenty of our marines
on board the _Tacoma_, but in case you should imagine that they would be
unable to command the situation in the event of any resistance being
offered by you or your crew, I consider it advisable to inform you that
for the last ten minutes there has been a powerful bomb in the stern of
the _Tacoma_, guarded by two men, who have orders to turn on the current
and blow up your ship at the first signs of serious resistance. It is
entirely to the advantage of the passengers in your care to bow to the
inevitable and avoid all insubordination - _à la guerre comme à la
guerre_."

The Japanese saluted and continued: "You will remain in command on the
bridge for the next four hours, when you will be relieved by the first
mate. Meanwhile the latter can acquaint the passengers with the altered
circumstances." And, waving his hand toward the first mate, who had
listened in silent rage, he added: "Please, sir!"

The officer addressed looked inquiringly across to the captain, who
hesitated a moment and then said in suppressed emotion: "Hardy, go down
and tell the passengers that the _Tacoma_, through an unheard-of,
treacherous surprise, has fallen into the hands of a Japanese cruiser,
but that the passengers, on whose account we are obliged to submit to
this treatment, need not be startled, for they and all their possessions
will be landed safely at Yokohama to-morrow morning."

Hardy's soles seemed positively to stick to the steps as he went down,
and he was almost overcome by the warm air at the entrance to the
dining-saloon, where the noise of boisterous laughter and lively
conversation greeted him.

"Halloo, when are we going on?" he was asked from all sides.

Mr. Hardy shook his head silently and went to the captain's place.

"We must drink your health," called several, holding their glasses
towards him. "Where's the captain?"

Hardy was silent, but remained standing and the words seemed to choke
him.

"Be quiet! Listen! Mr. Hardy is going to speak - - "

"It's high time we heard something from the captain," called out a stout
German brewer from Milwaukee over the heads of the others. "Three
cheers for Mr. Hardy!" came from one corner of the room. "Three cheers
for Mr. Hardy!" shouted the passengers on the other side, and all joined
in the chorus: "For he is a jolly good fellow." "Do let Mr. Hardy
speak," said the Secretary of Legation, turning to the passengers
reprovingly.

"Silence!" came from the other side. The hum of voices ceased gradually
and silence ensued.

"First give Mr. Hardy something to drink!" said some one, while another
passenger laughed out loud.

Hardy wiped the perspiration from his brow with the captain's napkin,
which the latter had left on his plate.

"Shocking!" said an English lady quite distinctly; "seamen haven't any
manners."

Hardy had not yet found words, but finally began in a low, stammering
voice: "The captain wishes me to tell you that the _Tacoma_ has just
been captured by a Japanese cruiser. The United States of America are
said to be at war with Japan. There is a Japanese guard on board, which
has occupied all the companionways. The captain requests the passengers
to submit quietly to the inevitable. You will all be landed safely at
Yokohama early to-morrow and - " Hardy tried to continue, but the words
would not come and he sank back exhausted into his chair.

"Three cheers for the captain!" came the ringing shout from one of the
end tables, to be repeated in different parts of the room. The German
brewer shook with laughter and exclaimed: "That's a splendid joke of the
captain's; he ought to have a medal for it."

"Stop your nonsense," said some one to the brewer.

"No, but really, that's a famous joke," persisted the latter. "I've
never enjoyed myself so much on a trip before."

"Be quiet, man; it's a serious matter."

"Ha! ha! You've been taken in, too, have you?" was the answer,
accompanied by a roar of laughter.

An American jumped up, crying: "I'm going to get my revolver; I guess we
can handle those chaps," and several others joined in with "Yes, yes,
we'll get our revolvers and chuck the yellow monkeys overboard!"

At this point the German major jumped up from his seat and called out to
the excited company in a sharp tone of command: "Really, gentlemen, the
affair is serious; it's not a joke, as some of you gentlemen seem to
think; you may take my word for it that it is no laughing matter."

Hardy still sat silent in his chair. The Englishman from Shanghai
overwhelmed him with questions and even the Secretary of Legation
emerged from his diplomatic reserve.

The six men who had gone to get their revolvers now returned to the
dining-saloon with their spirits considerably damped, and one of them
called out: "It's not a joke at all; the Japanese are stationed up there
with loaded rifles."

Some of the ladies screamed hysterically and asked complete strangers to
take them to their cabins. All of the passengers had jumped up from
their chairs, and a number were busily engaged looking after those
ladies who had shown sufficient discretion to withdraw at once from the
general excitement by the simple expedient of fainting. In the meantime
Hardy had regained control of himself and of the situation, and standing
behind his chair as though he were on the captain's bridge declared
simply and decisively: "On the captain's behalf I must beg the
passengers not to attempt any resistance. Your life and safety are
guaranteed by the word of the captain and the bearing of our crew, who
have also been forced to submit to the inevitable. I beg you all to
remain here and to await the further orders of the captain. There is no
danger so long as no resistance is offered; we are in the hands of the
Japanese navy, and must accustom ourselves to the altered
circumstances."

It was long after midnight before all grew quiet on board the _Tacoma_;
the passengers were busy packing their trunks, and it was quite late
before the cabin lights were extinguished on both sides of the ship,
which continued her voyage quietly and majestically in the direction of
Yokohama. The deck, generally a scene of cheerful life and gaiety until
a late hour, was empty, and only the subdued steps of the Japanese
marines echoed through the still night.

Twice more the searchlights were thrown on the _Tacoma_, but a
clattering answer from the signal lantern at once conveyed the
information that all was in order, whereupon the glaring ball of light
disappeared silently, and there was nothing on the whole expanse of dark
water to indicate that invisible eyes were on the lookout for every ship
whose keel was ploughing the deep.

The _Tacoma_ arrived at Yokohama the next morning, the passengers were
sent ashore, and the steamer herself was added as an auxiliary cruiser
to the Japanese fleet.




_Chapter III_

HOW IT BEGAN


Ding-ding-ding-ding - Ding-ding-ding-ding - went the bell of the railway
telegraph - Ding-ding-ding-ding - -

Tom Gardner looked up from his work and leaned his ax against the wall
of the low tin-roofed shanty which represented both his home and the
station Swallowtown on the Oregon Railway. "Nine o'clock already," he
mumbled, and refilling his pipe from a greasy paper-bag, he lighted it
and puffed out clouds of bluish smoke into the clear air of the hot May
morning. Then he looked at the position of the sun and verified the fact
that his nickel watch had stopped again. The shaky little house hung
like a chance knot in an endless wire in the middle of the glittering
double row of rails that stretched from east to west across the flowery
prairie. It looked like a ridiculous freak in the midst of the wide
desert, for nowhere, so far as the eye could reach, was it possible to
discover a plausible excuse for the washed-out inscription "Swallowtown"
on the old box-lid which was nailed up over the door. Only a broad band
of golden-yellow flowers crossing the tracks not far from the shanty and
disappearing in the distance in both directions showed where heavy
cart-wheels and horses' hoofs had torn up the ground.

By following this curious yellow track, which testified to the existence
of human intercourse even in the great lonely prairie, in a southerly
direction, one could notice about a mile from the station a slight
rising of the ground covered with low shrubs and a tangled mass of
thistles and creepers: This was Swallowtown No. 1, the spot where once
upon a time a dozen people or more, thrown together by chance, had
founded a homestead, but whose traces had been utterly obliterated
since. The little waves of the great national migration to this virgin
soil had after a few years washed everything away and had carried the
inhabitants of the huts with them on their backs several miles farther
south, where by another mere chance they had located on the banks of the
river. The only permanent sign of this ebb and flow was the tin-roofed
shanty near the tracks of the Oregon Railway, and the proud name of
Swallowtown, fast disappearing under the ravages of storm and rain, on
the box-lid over Tom Gardner's door.

Tom Gardner regarded his morning's work complacently. With the aid of
his ax he had transformed the tree-stump that had lain behind the
station for years into a hitching-post, which he was going to set up for
the farmers, so that they could tie their horses to it when they came to
the station. Tom had had enough of fastening the iron ring into the
outer wall of his shanty, for it had been torn out four times by the
shying of the wild horses harnessed to the vehicles sent from
Swallowtown to meet passengers. And the day before yesterday Bob
Cratchit's horses had added insult to injury by running off with a board
out of the back wall. Tom was sick and tired of it; the day before he
had temporarily stopped up the hole with a tin advertisement, which
notified the inhabitants of Swallowtown who wanted to take the train
that Millner's pills were the best remedy for indigestion. Tom decided
to set up his post at midday.

He stopped work for the present in order to be ready for station-duty
when the express from Pendleton passed through in half an hour. From
force of habit and half unconsciously, he glanced along the yellow road
running south, wondering whether in spite of its being Sunday there
might not be some traveler from Swallowtown coming to catch the local
train which stopped at the station an hour later. He shaded his eyes
with his right hand and after a careful search did discover a cart with
two persons in it approaching slowly over the waving expanse of the
flower-bedecked prairie. Tom muttered something to himself and traipsed
through the station house, being joined as usual by his dog, who had
been sleeping outside in the sun. Then he walked a little way along the
tracks and finally turned back to his dwelling, the trampled-down
flowers and grass before the entrance being the only signs that the foot
of man ever disturbed its solitary peace. The dog now seemed suddenly to
become aware of the rapidly approaching cart and barked in that
direction. Tom sent him into the house and shut the door behind him,
whereupon the dog grew frantic. The cart approached almost noiselessly
over the flowery carpet, but soon the creaking and squeaking of the
leather harness and the snorting of the horses became clearly audible.

"Halloo, Tom!" called out one of the men.

"Halloo, Winston!" was the answer; "where are you off to?"

"Going over to Pendleton."

"You're early; the express hasn't passed yet," answered Tom.

Winston jumped down from the cart, swung a sack over his shoulder, and
stepped toward the shanty.

"Who's that with you?" asked Tom, pointing with his thumb over his right
shoulder.

"Nelly's brother-in-law, Bill Parker," said the other shortly.

Nelly's brother-in-law was in the act of turning the cart round to drive
back to Swallowtown when Tom, making a megaphone of his hands, shouted
across: "Won't the gentleman do me the honor of having a drink on me?"

"All right," rang out the answer, and Nelly's brother-in-law drove the
horses to the rear of the station.

"Yes, the ring's gone," said Tom. "Bob Cratchit's horses walked off with
it yesterday. You can hunt for it out there somewhere if you want to."

Bill jumped down and fastened the horses with a rope which he tied to
Tom's old tree-stump.

"Come on, fellows!" said Tom, going toward the house. Scarcely had he
opened the door when his dog rushed madly past him out into the open,
barking with all his might at something about a hundred yards behind the
station.

"I guess he's found a gopher," said Tom, and then the three entered the
hut, and Tom, taking a half-empty whisky bottle out of a cupboard,
poured some into a cup without a handle, a shaving-cup, and an old tin
cup.

"The express ought to pass in about ten minutes," said Tom, and then
began the usual chat about the commonplaces of farm life, about the
crops, and the price of cattle, while hunting anecdotes followed. Now
and then Tom listened through the open door for sounds of the express,
which was long overdue, till suddenly the back door was slammed shut by
the wind.

It was Bill Parker's turn to treat, and he then told of how he had sold
his foals at a good profit, and Bob launched out into all sorts of vague
hints as to a big deal that he expected to pull off at Pendleton the
next day. Bill kept an eye on his two horses, which he could just see


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 4 of 23)