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Captain

by Alex Shell Briscoe

THE beat of their hoofs was a long roll as they passed down the road in a white cloud of macadam dust. There were blacks and browns, sorrels and bays, but never a white or gray. For these horses had been bought for the French army, and a white one is decidedly too attractive a target.

Across the road at a gate to a drive that led up to a neat white house and a big red barn stood one whose eyes kindled at the sight—a little old man whose white beard could not entirely conceal the furrow where a saber had laid open his cheek from jaw to temple.

For were not these horses on their way to help France; were they not going forth to see battles, to do their part, to be maimed, to die; even as he, Jean Louis de Tourville, had done his part, had been maimed, had been ready to die in the red days of "Seventy-one"?

His heart went out to them for the sufferings that would be theirs, but it glorified them for the work they would do for his beloved France. And it held something of envy, too; envy of the beautiful, intelligent creatures on their way across the seas to do their part in the great war. They would be of use there, and he would not with his empty sleeve and burden of seventy years.

He spoke his thoughts aloud as he beamed upon them. That slim sorrel that trotted as though on springs—what a mount for a dragoon! Yonder up-standing chestnut— probably it would draw one of the famous "seventy-fives."

A touch on his shoulder caused him to turn and lay a caressing hand on the sleek neck of a tall bay gelding that had reached over the fence from the barnyard and was nosing the old man's pockets in search of sugar and to attract attention.

De Tourville ran his fingers through the rippling mane, smoothed the satin coat. Surely this was a horse to be proud of, a horse that was a credit to the house of the De Tourvilles. There was intelligence in the clear, brown eyes set wide apart in a noble head; the pointed, sensitively twitching ears told of breeding; there was strength and speed in every trim-line of body and limbs.

The Frenchman's eyes glowed. "A horse fit for a general," he breathed, "a mount for even a marshal of France!"

The last of the army horses had clattered by, trailed by a handful of men who sat loosely in high saddles—lanky, bronzed men wearing wide hats and brilliant handkerchiefs about their necks. One drew his pony aside and stopped, running an appraising eye over the bay gelding in the barn lot.

"Mighty likely looking hawse, stranger," he said, and De Tourville looked up with a smile and nodded appreciation.

"Any use to talk business with you?" came from the other with Western directness, and De Tourville shook his head.

"I could not sell Captain," he replied. "He—well—"

The would-be buyer nodded in understanding. "I see," he said, "been a sort o' pet, I guess. Don't know as I blame you much. He's a darn fine hawse—too good for cannon fodder," and with a last glance at the bay and a nod to its owner he was gone at a lope.

But in the mind of De Tourville a germ had been planted. Always had he desired to do something for La Patrie. In his heart was deep regret that he was too old to join the colors; something of bitterness, too, because he did not have a son to send. At times he even had wished that Yvette—

He turned toward where his daughter stood with capable hands on her plump hips watching with eyes sparkling with interest as her tanned giant of an American husband tinkered with the engine of the shiny new automobile which bumper crops and war-time prices had made possible for him to buy.

"If Yvette were a man," was the thought in the father's mind, "a man to go to the front where a De Tourville should be when France needs her children, then I would feel I had done something at least."

The gelding again nosed the old man's

empty sleeve. It was like a hint. De Tourville nodded in sudden decision. A mount fit for a marshal of France. He could do that much. Emerson, the husband of Yvette, straightened up from his inspection of the motor and closed the hood.

"It's sure some humdinger of a car," he exulted, and Yvette's eyes sparkled assent.

"Guess we'll sell off the surrey team now," the man went on. "We don't need them, but we'll keep Captain, of course. Your daddy wouldn't—"

"He'd never sell Captain," the woman broke it. "Why, he raised him, and—"

De Tourville's voice caused them to turn. "My children," he said gravely, "now that you have your fine new car you will not have need for all the horses; you no longer will need Captain."



Emerson stood silent, waiting for the other to continue; but Yvette spoke her surprise.

"You're not going to sell Captain?"

The old man's shoulders straightened, his head lifted, there was a ring in his voice as he answered:

"No, I shall give him away—to France!"

Thus it came about that when the Steamer Calais cleared from New York with munitions, barbed wire and horses, Captain was aboard on his way to do his part, to strike a blow in his own way for France, for De Tourville's loved Patrie.

The weeks since he had been led away from the broad-acred mid-western farm had been full of experiences and discomfort. The last few days at the farm had been most delightful, with De Tourville and Yvette feeding him more sugar than is good for a horse, and even Emerson in a contained, man sort of way, showing him he was an object of special consideration.

Then had come the parting, though Captain didn't know it was a final one when he went trotting down the road led by a man in a wide hat who sat loosely upon the back of a roan of unmistakable broncho ancestry.

The interval in the big corral while he waited to be sent east was not so bad. He was an object of special attention there, just as he was later on the long, jolty ride in a cramped box-car to the sea coast; for the story of how De Tourville had given him to France had gotten around. Besides, Captain was a horse that one looked at a second time.

Of course, Captain did not know the why of all this, any more than he realized where he was going and his probable fate. He only knew that close confinement was irksome, that the box-car was uncomfortable, that he missed the sweet grass of the country, and now that the uneasy heave and roll of the ship bothered him.

The Calais was a 5,000-ton freighter under charter to the French government, and every inch of her cargo space was filled, while on her deck box-stalls for horses had been built in long rows.

Captain was in one of these deck stalls. It was so narrow he could not turn and he grew restive from lack of exercise. Always he stood with his head thrust far out through the narrow window, snuffing the salt air that came strange to his nostrils and wondering in a horse's way over the ever-moving plain of the sea.

On the ship, too, Captain was treated as a creature of distinction. Seamen as well as hostler paused to pat his neck; even Devereaux, the bearded shipmaster, stopping to feed him sugar and exclaim over his points.

And it was Devereaux who one day echoed the words of De Tourville as he stood admiring the fine gelding.

"A horse fit for a marshal of France!"

But there were other things, things more sinister than the patriotism of De Tourville and the admiration of Devereaux, that had to do

with Captain's destiny.

In a certain war council it had been decided that upon ruthless submarine warfare rested all hopes of final victory for the Central Powers—and victory was the only thing that counted with those who made the decision.

Results were a calm announcement to the world that broke the ties of immemorial friendships between nations and brought them to the parting of the ways, and certain orders to U-boat commanders that sent them forth to destroy every ship they met.

So it was that on a certain day when the U-69 lay wallowing with decks awash in a choppy sea a hundred miles off Cherbourg, her commander was cheered by the prospect of action when a plume of smoke was sighted on the western horizon.

The hunting had been bad, very bad indeed, in these waters on this last cruise of the big submarine. The swift destroyers with their many spiteful guns were uncomfortably numerous; merchant vessels, too, now carried long cannon manned by gunners whose instructions were to shoot first and parley afterward. Only the big, lumbering American freighters were easy prey, ridiculously helpless when attacked.

Sinking armed ships was a hazardous business. A submarine must strike quickly and dive quicker, or meet disaster, and the commander of the U-69 knew this well as he ordered his craft submerged and lay a course to meet the oncoming steamer.

A half-hour later the U-boat poked three feet of its periscope out of the water and there was a mutter of satisfaction in the conning tower as it revealed the steamer less than half a mile away, steaming along apparently unsuspecting of the lurking menace.

Two huge American flags and the name "Calais U. S. A." painted on her sides and the Stars and Stripes flying astern told the vessel's nationality. Carefully the submarine commander surveyed the ship. He smiled. The ship was American; it was carrying contraband—he could see the horse stalls on the deck—and it was unarmed.



The commander reflected. Should he use the torpedo, or rise to the surface and perform his task with shell-fire? Again he inspected the freighter. True, no gun was in sight; but one never could tell. It would be better to use the torpedo, and he gave the order.

The Calais had cleared from New York while the United States Senate was still wrangling over the question of arming ships, and Devereaux knew his danger. Constant watch was kept from the moment the vessel entered the forbidden zone, every man was on the alert, and the first flash of white spume as the torpedo loosed by the U-69 cut through the choppy waves brought a startled yell from a lookout.

There was a sharp signal from the bridge, a jolting shudder as the ship's engines were reversed, and she lost headway, just in time.

Right under the steamer's bows shot the torpedo, a long gray, sharklike thing; and Devereaux, his thick hands gripping the rail of the bridge, spat out a fierce imprecation as he turned his eyes toward a white line a quarter of a mile away where the submarine's periscope ripped through the water.

But danger had not passed merely because the torpedo had missed. The shipmaster knew the slowness of his heavily loaded craft, realized that he probably would be overhauled if he tried to run, and elected to take the other course.

His decision was instant. There was a signal for full speed ahead, and again the engines began to throb.

Immediately the periscope of the U-6g rose higher from the water. The submarine commander had determined that the freighter really was unarmed and was coming up to finish her off with shell-fire rather than waste

another precious torpedo.

There emerged the conning tower, then the long deck, wet and shiny like the back of a whale. A hatch opened and men started scrambling out.

It was the moment Devereaux had been waiting for. The Calais had gathered full headway; an order, and it swung around, heading straight for the U-boat.

So well was the maneuver timed that the submarine was put in a desperate position, and its commander realized it even as his men tumbled below and the hatch slammed. To turn broadside to the on-rushing steamer meant the certainty of being rammed and sunk. There was but one chance. He took it.

Straight at the Calais he pointed his craft, and there was a dull throb of compressed air as another torpedo left its tube. It scored a square hit. The freighter reeled, a gaping hole torn in her bow, and she heeled swiftly as the sea rushed in.

But the steamer still drove on, though her wound was mortal. It was hardly a hundred yards away when the torpedo struck. The submarine veered swiftly to escape a collision.

Hardly did it avoid a fatal blow, but it did, though the sides of the two vessels scraped as they passed!

With his head through the window of his stall, Captain was twitching his ears in inquiry as to the reason for the running and commotion on the deck of the Calais and the sudden jar as the engines were reversed when there came the blasting shock and terrifying upheaval of the second torpedo against the bows.

The freighter wallowed to port and flung him against the wall of his stall, then as it swung back he gave a mighty spring. There was a splintering of planking and he burst through to freedom.

In his terror he did not pause. Straight for the rail he dashed, clearing it with a magnificent leap. Rippling mane and flowing tail tossed upward as the bay gelding plunged downward.

Square underneath, scraping along the side of the Calais was the U-boat, decks already awash as it dived for safety; and square upon it fell Captain, legs stretched stiffly downward.

A dull metallic crash as the iron-shod hoofs tore through the thin plates of the submarine's hull; then, as the sea rushed in through the rents, Captain and the U-69 went

down together.

Twenty minutes later the crew of the Calais rested on their oars as they sat in their boats watching for the end of their ship, now going down by the head.

About them the sea was strangely quiet as a great patch of oil welled upward to the surface and smoothed the waters over the spot where Captain had struck a blow for France— and the house of the De Tourvilles.