Whispers from Courage

Another piece that didn’t meet the required standard for the competition.

“Jack, leave that that damned penguin alone,” shouted Cradock. He whistled and the dog abandoned the mission.

Sensing victory, the penguin waddled a few paces in pursuit, then turned and returned to the flock Jack had scattered.

“Feisty bird,”said Grant, as Cradock fondled the dog.

They looked across Stanley harbour. Glasgow was coaling from the hulk of the Great Britain and Monmouth from a collier. The rest of the ragbag squadron and their colliers lay at anchor, awaiting orders.

“You’ll be raising your flag on Good Hope then?” Grant asked.

“I’d be with you Grant, if you could make more than twelve knots, but Fisher and Churchill want us to engage Spee before he rounds the Horn.” Cradock seemed pessimistic. “You’ll have to follow with the colliers and hope you can bring your guns to bear.”

The two men walked back towards the Governor’s house with Jack in tow.

“Straubenzee tells me that Troubridge did the right thing. He says we’ll be sitting ducks too without your big guns. But damn it, I’m not retiring with a Court Martial,” said Cradock.

The two men reached the house and joined the other senior officers.

“My compliments on an excellent dinner,” said Cradock, raising his glass, as the party of officers at the Governor’s house downed their brandy. “Do you think I could have a private word, Allerdyce?”

The two men withdrew to one side.

“Could you oblige me with a small plot in your grounds and the loan of a spade?” Cradock asked.

Allerdyce cast a worried eye towards Jack, but Cradock smiled and shook his head. “Just a personal task.”

Alone and in a depressive but determined mood, Cradock carefully removed and wrapped his honours and medals in some of the waxed paper Straubenzee had obtained for him from Good Hope’s magazine. The paper smelled of oil and cordite. Having completed the first parcel, he drew his sword, raised it, lowered it then returned it to its scabbard. He wrapped the sword in the paper with equal care. He then secured both parcels with string.

With Jack at his heel and carrying a spade and his parcels, Cradock strode across the lawn to the tree Allerdyce had indicated. Not a gardener, he nevertheless stripped and reserved the turf, then dug a deep hole in the peaty soil. He placed the parcels in the hole, covered them with the soil and carefully restored the plot with the turf, casting the spare soil around the tree.

His task complete, Cradock looked up to the sky and said a short prayer. “Dear Lord, I have not the courage to face dishonour, but give me the courage to do my duty. God save the King.”

Cradock saluted the grave of an honourable officer, turned and walked smartly back to the Governor’s house. Tomorrow he would set sail for the last time.

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