CHAPTER VI: PADANG
ON the twenty-third of November, early in the morning, the ship was "cleared for action," for we were now getting near land, and it was not at all improbable that we would run across an English or Japanese torpedo boat destroyer coaling somewhere among the islands. For such an emergency my plans were made. I intended to tack ahead of the destroyer, which would certainly not be expecting an attack from us, to bring up alongside of it by an apparently unsuccessful manoeuvre, and then to grapple with the enemy at close quarters. To make the best use of our armament we had cut four holes in the bulwarks of the "Ayesha" where the machine guns could be placed to some advantage, although the rigging, with its lanyards and dead ends, would certainly be a great hindrance. The rifles and pistols were taken up on deck, and the ammunition was set within easy reach. As the machine guns had not been used for some time, a shot was fired from each of them, to test them.
At ten o'clock in the morning the lookout at the mast-head reported: "Land in sight ahead." just where we were, and what land we were approaching, it was quite impossible for us to know, with the limited means of navigation at our command. But to be near any land whatever was a source of satisfaction to us. Gradually, one island after another came in sight. By four o'clock in the afternoon we had got our bearings sufficiently to know that we were just outside of Seaflower Channel, and about eighty nautical miles from Padang.
Of Seaflower Channel we had no charts whatever; we only knew that it abounded in reefs. As a calm always set in towards evening, and I dared not venture to pass at night through this channel so unfamiliar to me, we lay to, and slowly drifted seaward under reefed sails. just before sunrise we turned about, and steered for the Channel again.
Lookouts were stationed in the masts to watch the water for the change in color that indicates the presence of reefs or shoals. With all sails set, and with a light wind in our favor, we passed through the Channel during the course of the day without meeting with any serious difficulties in the way of navigation.
As we no longer had any reason to fear a shortage in our fresh water supply before reaching Padang, the bottles of Seltzer water were brought out, and one was given to each man, as an especial treat, and probably afforded us more enjoyment than had a bottle of champagne under ordinary circumstances. On that evening, just before seven o'clock, our log registered the eight-hundredth mile.
Before the night was over, a final gale, with a rain like a veritable cloudburst, gave us considerable to do. As the day dawned, the high mountains of Sumatra came in sight against the horizon. Unfortunately, the wind was not only very light, but off shore also, and we could make but little headway. The heat was so intense that towards noon a sail had to be spread for an awning.
Our supply of tobacco had given out entirely by this time. The men smoked tea leaves as a substitute. The officers tried it also, but bah, the devil was welcome to it! The crew seemed to get considerable enjoyment out of it, however.
As a guide for the run into Padang, between all the many reefs and islands, we had drawn a chart for ourselves according to information gathered from an antiquated sailors' hand-book that some one had raked up. Although this chart could lay no claim to being either accurate or complete, it was nevertheless better than none. During the evening we saw, on one of the islands that we passed, a beacon which was wholly a surprise to us. Before the night was over the long-looked-for flash-light of Padang came in sight, but we passed it at a great distance. Much to our regret, the current, instead of taking us toward land, was steadily carrying us farther out to sea, and, with the light breeze that was blowing, to tack was out of the question. By morning, therefore, we were five nautical miles farther off shore than we had been on the previous evening.
The strait in which we now were is the highway for all ships. We had little desire to remain here, if for no other reason than that we were very likely to encounter some hostile cruiser. By this time a complete calm had set in. We therefore lowered our two jolly-boats, the smaller one manned by one, the larger boat by two men, hitched them to our "Ayesha," and so attempted to make some headway. For the men at the oars, this was no light task, exposed as they were to the full rays of a tropical sun, as they sat unprotected from it in the open boats. We, on board, were not idle either. The oars of the "Emden's" two cutters, which we had with us, were fetched out and tied together by pairs, so as to lengthen them, and with these we proceeded to row the "Ayesha." Although it cannot be said that we attained the speed of a fast mail steamer in this way, we did, however, make some progress.
On the following day a light wind did at last set in, and relieved us of this strenuous labor. In the distance, near the coast, we saw a number of steamers that were evidently either entering or leaving the port of Padang. One of these roused our interest more than any of the others, because she apparently did not change her position at all, and so was evidently laying to, as the great depth of water in this vicinity precludes the possibility of anchoring. As we drew near to the vessel, we could make out with some degree of certainty that she was not a merchantman. She appeared to be a small warship of some kind - a gun-boat, or a torpedo-boat destroyer, and flew a flag which we could not distinguish, because of its great distance from us.
Suddenly, the ship that had been lying so motionless began to move. Thick clouds of smoke poured from the smokestacks; she turned sharply, headed for us, and approached at high speed. In a short time we recognised the war flag of the Netherlands flying at the masthead. As we had no desire to drop our incognito as yet, and as we were sailing in free waters, there was no reason why we should show our colors. We therefore quickly gathered up all our rifles, and, together with our artillery equipment, stowed them away below decks. All the men quickly disappeared down the main hatchway, which was closed after them. The wildest looking one of the sailors and myself were the only ones who remained in sight. That we both belonged to the Imperial Navy no one would ever have imagined, as our clothing was so scant that we would much more readily have been sized up as belonging to the war fleet of some one of the island kingdoms of the Pacific.
Before long, the torpedo-boat destroyer was close beside us, and began to evince an interest in us, which, inexplicable from the first, soon became extremely embarrassing. At a distance of fifty meters she slowly passed by. On the commander's bridge stood all the officers, each provided with marine glasses, through which they examined our ship with great curiosity. From the lively conversation that was going on between the officers, we concluded that they were talking about us. The destroyer passed around us, close under our stern, and all the binoculars were turned toward our ship's name, which had long since disappeared under a coat of the thickest white paint. We were just congratulating ourselves that we had bluffed her, when, at a distance Of 5,000 meters, she suddenly turned, and lay to. At this, I could not rid myself of the thought that we had been expected.
At the destroyer's approach we had got our war flag ready to run up, for if we had been spoken, we would, of course, have replied by a display of our colors.
In the course of the afternoon our attendant, whom by this time we had identified by the ship's name as the Dutch destroyer, "Lynx," left us, and disappeared in the direction of Padang. In our cheerful but overhasty conclusion that she was preceding us into port to give notice of our coming, so that maids of honor might be in waiting, and triumphal arches be prepared for us, we were doomed to disappointment, however.
By nightfall we lay close before the small, flat coral islands that lie in front of the entrance to the harbor. We could see the lights of a steamer that was coming out of the harbor. Another was moving into port. We looked upon both of them with suspicion, as we supposed one of them to be our companion of the foregoing afternoon. We therefore carefully screened the "Ayesha's" lights. We had made no mistake, for in signaling to the incoming steamer, the outgoing ship revealed herself to be our old acquaintance, the "Lynx." To our regret, she had sighted us in spite of all the precaution we had taken. Again she became our close companion, and for a while her green and red side lights could be seen immediately astern, at a distance of not more than one hundred meters. We felt truly sorry for the "Lynx." It must have been very irritating to her to have to trundle behind us at the wonderful speed of one nautical mile, a speed which, with the light breeze blowing, the "Ayesha" could not exceed. The engineers at the 1,000 horse-power engines of the "Lynx" probably wished us elsewhere more than once that night.
In so far as our problems of navigation were concerned, the presence of the "Lynx" was a distinct advantage to us, for we were sailing in waters with which we were wholly unacquainted, but we could feel perfectly sure that wherever the "Lynx" could float, we could also. We knew that if we were nearing a shoal, our escort would retreat in time, and we could then turn and follow her.
Otherwise, however, her companionship was little to our liking, for it gave us the appearance of a disreputable little vagabond being brought in by a burly policeman. As we were a warship, we had no intention of allowing ourselves to be thus escorted. I therefore determined to communicate with the "Lynx" by signal. For this purpose I had a white bull's eye lantern, that usually hung in the men's quarters, brought on deck. In front of this lantern we held a board, and by raising and lowering it, we gave our Morse signals. By means of this apparatus of high technical development, we conveyed to our escort the message in English, "Why are you following me?" Although the "Lynx" acknowledged our signal as having understood it, we received no reply to our question. After a half hour had passed without an answer, we resorted to our Morse signal again, but this time asked in German, "Why do you follow me?" And again the signal was acknowledged, but no answer given. Shortly afterward, however, the "Lynx" increased her speed, and steamed off. For another whole day the poor "Lynx" had to dog our footsteps, for the wind continued to fail us.
When, on the following day, the "Ayesha" had carried us within the limits of Dutch territorial waters, we immediately ran up our war flag and pennants. The "Lynx" did not again draw near to us, but kept at a distance of several thousand meters.
Toward noon we found ourselves in a position of some peril. We were aware that we were now in a region of submerged reefs over which a vessel of even our light draught could not pass in safety, but of the exact location of these reefs we knew nothing. To our great relief, a little Malay sailboat came alongside, and brought us a native pilot, whom I was glad to employ. The only prospect of remuneration that I could hold out to him was through our consul, as the entire amount of cash on board consisted of a shilling and twopence, which we had found in a pocket-book that the former captain had forgotten to take with him, and which we had confiscated for the benefit of the Imperial treasury. In marked contrast to the impression we made on the Dutch as developed later - this Malay pilot, who seemed to us to be a very intelligent person, was from the outset untroubled by any doubt of our status as a German warship, for he at once declared himself willing to accept our promise of a later payment through the German consul.
Hardly had the pilot come alongside, when the "Lynx" made a dash for us at high speed. As we had no idea what her intentions were, I ordered the war flag, which had been lowered in the meantime, to be run up again. In order to impress the "Lynx" more fully with the fact that she was dealing with an Imperial ship of war, I ordered the salute customary between warships to be given, as she sped past us at a distance of about sixty meters. Our entire crew stood at attention on deck, and our officers saluted. The "Lynx" at once returned our salute in like manner.
Just before running into the harbor, I flagged a signal to the "Lynx," saying, "I am sending a boat." Then I donned my full-dress uniform - my khaki brown landing suit from the "Emden," of which I had been most careful and went on board the "Lynx."
Her commander received me at the gangway ladder, and escorted me to, the messroom. I opened the conversation, saying that we had felt much flattered at the lively interest he had shown in us during the past day and a half, that we were a landing squad from the "Emden," and were on the way to Padang with his Majesty's ship, "Ayesha," that at Padang we wished to repair damages, and relieve the distress on board by replenishing our store of provisions and our water supply. I then inquired whether he knew of any reason why we could not run into the harbor. To this the commander replied that he had orders to accompany us, that there was nothing to prevent us from running into the harbor, but that in all probability we would not be allowed to run out again; that these matters would, however, be decided by the civil authorities on shore, and that he could give us neither further, nor more definite, information.
I represented to him that the "Ayesha," being a warship, could leave the harbor at any time, and that no one had the right to detain us. Then I added in jest: "I hope you and I will not get into a fight when I run out."
As I left the destroyer, I saw the "Ayesha" for the first time from a distance, and under full sail. I must say that she made a capital appearance, and looked very pretty, even though the patched and torn sails she carried were little in harmony with the pennant and war flag of the German Empire.
Just before we reached the entrance to the harbor, a small steam tug came out to meet us. It was bringing the harbor master, who was coming to show us where to drop anchor. He indicated a place quite far out. It was my intention, however, to get as close as possible to the steamships lying in the harbor, for even now I could distinguish the German and Austrian flags flying on some of them. I therefore told the harbor master that I would rather not anchor so far out, but would like to run farther into the harbor. It was not a sufficiently sheltered place for my ship, I explained, and furthermore, that it required a great length of chain to anchor in water of that depth. That our chains were in fact quite long enough to reach to the bottom of water six times as deep, I did not feel obliged to tell him. By and by his objections were overcome by argument in plain German. But, as we got farther in, he demanded very insistently that we anchor at once. Now it chanced that by a mishap the two topsails, the very ones by which a ship makes the most headway, absolutely refused to come down. Again and again the sheets and halyards hitched, so that, as was my original intention, we had come close up to the steamers before we found it possible to anchor.
As soon as the "Ayesha" lay at anchor, I sent my senior officer, Lieutenant Schmidt, on shore to report our arrival officially, and to make my wishes known to the authorities. At the same time, the German consul was asked to come on board. Furthermore, I announced that, in accordance with international custom) no one would be allowed to come on board without the permission of the government authorities, nor would any one from the ship be permitted to go ashore.
Soon the "Ayesha" was surrounded by boats coming from the German ships. There were the "Kleist," the "Rheinland," and the "Choising" of the Lloyd line, besides an Austrian ship. They all had their top flags set, and greeted us with a "Hurrah." Cigars; cigarettes, tobacco, watches, clothing, poems, letters, and, what we wanted most of all, German newspapers, were thrown to us. That these were old, none later than the second of October, and it was now the twenty-seventh of November, mattered little. They were most welcome, for up to this time, the only news that we had obtained was from the English papers that we had found on board the English steamers that the "Emden" had raided. All that we had heard of the war, therefore, were the widely disseminated Reuter tales of horror such as: The Russians near Berlin - the Kaiser wounded - the Crown Prince fallen - suicide epidemic among German generals - revolution in Germany - the last horse slaughtered - complete rout on the western front, and the like. Together with the newspapers, many pictures had been thrown on board also, and, on coming into the cabin and mess soon afterward, I found the walls covered with pictures of the Kaiser, the chief of the fleet, the Secretary of State for the Imperial Navy, and others, which the men had tacked up for decoration.
At first the Dutch government authorities made trouble for us, as they were not disposed to accord us the status of a warship, but intended to regard us as a prize of war. Against this, I made an instant and vigorous protest by declaring that it was only to my superior officers in Germany that I would have to account for my right to command this ship. At the same time I asked permission to take aboard water, provisions, ropes, sailcloth, clothing, nautical charts, and the simplest toilet necessities, such as soap, tooth brushes, hair brushes, shoe polish, etc. The German consul took charge of this. The "neutrality officer," especially appointed by the Dutch government to look after such matters, immediately wired to Batavia to get his orders concerning us direct from the authorities there. Altogether, the impression I received was that every effort was being made to hold the "Ayesha," and to intern the officers and crew. It was very evident that the local authorities were much disturbed, and feared complications with Japan or England, if we were allowed to leave.
The person most concerned, and the one with whom the decision lay, seemed to be the harbor master, a subaltern official, and a Belgian at that. When the afternoon had well nigh passed, and the things ordered for the ship had not arrived, I requested the senior Dutch commander at Padang to order the goods to be delivered at once, as, in conformity to the neutral code, I would have to run out of the harbor within twenty-four hours. Finally, at seven o'clock in the evening, a part of what had been ordered arrived, and with the things came the neutrality officer. He made every possible effort to induce me to allow officers and crew to be interned. As I had foreseen this, my officers had been asked to be present and take part in the conversation, so that he might be convinced from the beginning that the "Ayesha's" officers were unanimous in refusing to consider his proposition.
In the first place, the neutrality officer represented to me - in so far as I could see, by advice from Batavia - how wholly impossible it would be for us to get away, as it was forbidden to deliver either marine charts, or nautical books. There were many other things also with which we could not be supplied, such as clothing, for instance, since, to provide us with these, as well as with soap, tooth powder, etc., would be to "increase our war strength."
As it had now been three weeks since any of us had been able to brush our teeth, we decided that this hardship could be endured a little longer. Nor had the one comb we possessed failed to serve our modest demands. As the harbor master had seen that my men were going almost naked for want of clothing, and as he also was aware that we had no marine charts, I could but conclude that there was intention in refusing us these very necessary articles. When I persisted in my determination to sail with or without charts, I was told that we could not escape capture if we ran out, as the waters round about were being scoured by Japanese and English cruisers; that it had only been by a lucky chance that we had escaped capture so far, and that we would surely be caught if we put to sea again; that the "Emden" had acquitted herself well enough, and that no one would criticize us if this hopeless attempt were abandoned. It is needless to say that we absolutely refused to be moved by all this persuasion.
Meanwhile, the provisions had been delivered and stowed away on board, and the ship made ready to weigh anchor, the only hindrance to our departure being the ten live pigs that we had taken with us, for they persisted in standing just where our anchor chain was being hove up. At eight o'clock in the evening we left our anchorage.
From the Dutch papers that we received a few weeks later, we learned that the people had occupied themselves with various speculations as to what we were going to do, and where we were bound. They might have spared themselves the trouble of these speculations if they had listened as we departed, for the answer to the question whither we were going and what were our intentions, was born back to them upon the breeze, as the "Ayesha" vanished into the night:
To the Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine,
To guard its sacred boundary line!"
“Christ's ... yoke is an easy yoke; his burden like the burden of wings to a bird, that makes her fly the higher.”
–Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax