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America Fallen!/Chapter 11




In response to the call of the Mayor, the Committee representing the financial institutions of the City met in his office promptly at 9 A.M. on April 2d. A member was proposing that a wireless message be dispatched to the German Admiral, requesting an early answer to the Committee's proposal of the day before, when the boom of a heavy explosion shook the building, and the Mayor, looking up through the southwest window, quietly remarked, "Gentlemen, the answer has come!" The Committee turned and saw in the fair white northern face of the beautiful Woolworth Tower a yawning cavity—and, filling the air below, a mass of falling débris!

The crisis had come, swift and appalling; and with a steady nerve and a quick-thinking brain each man of that Committee set himself to meet it. There was much to do, and it must be done quickly. First, as to that cash payment of half a billion in gold. Was there that much gold in the city? The question was quickly answered. In the sub-treasury was one hundred and twenty million dollars; in the banks and other depositories, four hundred and fifty million dollars, more or less. Yes, the cash payment could be made—that very day, if demanded. And, as for the other four-and-a-half billions,—well, New York, even with that financial burden to carry, was better than a New York thrown down by bombardment and ravaged by a universal conflagration.

And so, while the cannon thundered and the fleeing citizens surged past the City Hall, seeking a way of escape by Subway, Elevated, or Bridge, those men seated in the private office of the Mayor worked out a plan for the salvation of the city.

At 10 A.M. a wireless message was sent to the fleet anouncing the capitulation of the city and the start of the Mayor, the Comptroller, and Committee to confer with the Admiral on board the Koenig.

Guarded by a cordon of police, who with difficulty had fought their way to the City Hall, the Mayor and Committee were escorted to the foot of Spruce Street on the East River, where they boarded the patrol boat of the Police Department and steamed out to the Upper Bay.

The roar of the bombardment had ceased, and save for a few shell holes in the taller buildings, there was nothing to indicate that, for one fell hour, Hell had vented its fury upon their noble city.

Arrived at the gangway of the Koenig, the Mayor and his Committee were received by the executive officer with every mark of distinction, and escorted to the Admiral's quarters.

He was tall, blond, blue-eyed, affable, and supremely ceremonious. Moreover, he spoke most excellent English.

"He was sensible," he said, "of the great honor conferred upon the German Navy, upon the flagship, and upon himself, by the presence on board of the Mayor of the great commercial metropolis of the Western Hemisphere, attended by so many representatives of its leading financial houses.

"He could have wished that this meeting had taken place under less distressing circumstances; but—well—war is war, and upon him, as one under authority, had fallen the unhappy duty of bringing their city to terms by force of arms."

Picking up a document from his table he said: "The conditions on which I am instructed to cease all further naval attack on New York are as follows:

"I. The payment by the City of New York of an indemnity of five billion dollars.

"II. The payment of the first installment to be made in the form of five hundred million dollars in gold, the same to be delivered within twenty-four hours of the signing of this agreement.

"III. The surrender of the Custom House, New York, and its occupation by German forces until the payment of the balance of the indemnity has been completed.

"IV. The surrender of the Chelsea steamship piers for the use of the German troopships.

"V. The surrender of all armories in New York and Brooklyn for the use of the troops of the German Expeditionary Force.

"It is my wish, Mr. Mayor, that, for the present, at least, you continue to exercise full civil control of New York, under the rules of military occupation of my government."

After very brief conference the articles of capitulation were duly signed, and shortly thereafter the Police Department launch cast off from the gangway of the Koenig and headed for Manhattan.

Silent and preoccupied, the group of men on her upper deck gazed wistfully upon the stately buildings of lower Manhattan, which lifted their shell-scarred summits far into the blue of that sunlit April day.

"Well," said one of the party, "such are the caprices of Fortune."

"Nay, sir," sharply retorted the Mayor, "say rather that such are the fruits of folly and criminal neglect!"

· · · · · · ·

That afternoon, closed and heavily guarded motor vans began to make their way from the banks of New York City to a German transport at Pier No. 1, the Battery; and before noon of the day following five hundred million dollars, or about 1,000 tons, in gold, had been put aboard, and the vessel, under heavy naval escort, had sailed for a German port.