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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 15 Post by :paule Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :1142

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 15

The Syndicate, which had been kept informed of all
the details of this affair, had already perceived the
necessity of relieving Crab K, and another crab, well
provisioned and fitted out, was already on the way to
take its place. This was Crab C, possessing powerful
engines, but in point of roof armour the weakest of its
class. It could be better spared than any other crab
to tow the Adamant, and as the British ship had
not, and probably could not, put out another suspended
cannon, it was considered quite suitable for the
service required.

But when Crab C came within half a mile of the
Adamant it stopped. It was evident that on board the
British ship a steady lookout had been maintained for
the approach of fresh crabs, for several enormous shell
and shot from heavy guns, which had been trained upward
at a high angle, now fell into the sea a short distance
from the crab.

Crab C would not have feared these heavy shot had
they been fired from an ordinary elevation; and
although no other vessel in the Syndicate's service
would have hesitated to run the terrible gauntlet, this
one, by reason of errors in construction, being less
able than any other crab to resist the fall from a
great height of ponderous shot and shell, thought it
prudent not to venture into this rain of iron; and,
moving rapidly beyond the line of danger, it attempted
to approach the Adamant from another quarter. If it
could get within the circle of falling shot it would be
safe. But this it could not do. On all sides of the
Adamant guns had been trained to drop shot and
shells at a distance of half a mile from the ship.

Around and around the mighty ironclad steamed Crab
C; but wherever she went her presence was betrayed to
the fine glasses on board the Adamant by the bit of
her shining back and the ripple about it; and ever
between her and the ship came down that hail of iron in
masses of a quarter ton, half ton, or nearly a whole
ton. Crab C could not venture under these, and all day
she accompanied the Adamant on her voyage south,
dashing to this side and that, and looking for the
chance that did not come, for all day the cannon of the
battle-ship roared at her wherever she might be.

The inmates of Crab K were now very restive and
uneasy, for they were on short rations, both of food
and water. They would have been glad enough to cast
loose from the Adamant, and leave the spiteful ship
to roll to her heart's content, broadside to the sea.
They did not fear to run their vessel, with its thick
roofplates protected by spring armour, through the
heaviest cannonade.

But signals from the repeller commanded them to
stay by the Adamant as long as they could hold
out, and they were obliged to content themselves with a
hope that when night fell the other crab would be able
to get in under the stern of the Adamant, and make
the desired exchange.

But to the great discomfiture of the Syndicate's
forces, darkness had scarcely come on before four
enormous electric lights blazed high up on the single
lofty mast of the Adamant, lighting up the ocean for
a mile on every side of the ship. It was of no more
use for Crab C to try to get in now than in broad
daylight; and all night the great guns roared, and the
little crab manoeuvred.

The next morning a heavy fog fell upon the sea, and
the battle-ship and Crab C were completely shut out of
sight of each other. Now the cannon of the Adamant
were silent, for the only result of firing would be to
indicate to the crab the location of the British ship.
The smoke-signals of the towing crab could not be seen
through the fog by her consorts, and she seemed to be
incapable of making signals by sound. Therefore the
commander of the Adamant thought it likely that until
the fog rose the crab could not find his ship.

What that other crab intended to do could be, of
course, on board the Adamant, only a surmise; but it
was believed that she would bring with her a torpedo to
be exploded under the British ship. That one crab
should tow her away from possible aid until another
should bring a torpedo to fasten to her stern-post
seemed a reasonable explanation of the action of the
Syndicate's vessels.

The officers of the Adamant little understood the
resources and intentions of their opponents. Every
vessel of the Syndicate carried a magnetic indicator,
which was designed to prevent collisions with iron
vessels. This little instrument was placed at night
and during fogs at the bow of the vessel, and a
delicate arm of steel, which ordinarily pointed upward
at a considerable angle, fell into a horizontal
position when any large body of iron approached within
a quarter of a mile, and, so falling, rang a small
bell. Its point then turned toward the mass of iron.

Soon after the fog came on, one of these
indicators, properly protected from the attraction of
the metal about it, was put into position on Crab C.
Before very long it indicated the proximity of the
Adamant; and, guided by its steel point, the
Crab moved quietly to the ironclad, attached itself to
its stern-post, and allowed the happy crew of Crab K to
depart coastward.

When the fog rose the glasses of the Adamant
showed the approach of no crab, but it was observed, in
looking over the stern, that the beggarly devil-fish
which had the ship in tow appeared to have made some
change in its back.

In the afternoon of that day a truce boat was sent
from the repeller to the Adamant. It was allowed to
come alongside; but when the British captain found that
the Syndicate merely renewed its demand for his
surrender, he waxed fiercely angry, and sent the boat
back with the word that no further message need be sent
to him unless it should be one complying with the
conditions he had offered.

The Syndicate now gave up the task of inducing the
captain of the Adamant to surrender. Crab C was
commanded to continue towing the great ship southward,
and to keep her well away from the coast, in order to
avoid danger to seaport towns and coasting vessels,
while the repeller steamed away.

Week after week the Adamant moved southward,
roaring away with her great guns whenever an American
sail came within possible range, and surrounding
herself with a circle of bursting bombs to let any crab
know what it might expect if it attempted to come near.
Blazing and thundering, stern foremost, but stoutly,
she rode the waves, ready to show the world that she
was an impregnable British battle-ship, from which no
enemy could snatch the royal colours which floated high
above her.
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It was during the first week of the involuntarycruise of the Adamant that the Syndicate finished itspreparations for what it hoped would be the decisivemovement of its campaign. To do this a repeller andsix crabs, all with extraordinary powers, had beenfitted out with great care, and also with greatrapidity, for the British Government was working nightand day to get its fleet of ironclads in readiness fora descent upon the American coast. Many of the Britishvessels were already well prepared for ordinary navalwarfare; but to resist crabs additional defences werenecessary. It was known that the Adamant had beencaptured, and
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The great ironclad battle-ship, with her loftysides plated with nearly two feet of solid steel, withher six great guns, each weighing more than a hundredtons, with her armament of other guns, machine cannon,and almost every appliance of naval warfare, with asmall army of officers and men on board, was left incharge of Crab K, of which only a few square yards ofarmoured roof could be seen above the water. Thislittle vessel now proceeded to tow southward her vastprize, uninjured, except that her rudder and propeller-blades were broken and useless. Although the engines of the crab were of enormouspower,
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