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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 18
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 18 Post by :lilyg Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :1882

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 18

It was now generally admitted that one of the
Syndicate's crabs could disable a man-of-war, that one
of the Syndicate's repellers could withstand the
heaviest artillery fire, and that one of the
Syndicate's motor-bombs could destroy a vessel or a
fort. But these things had been proved in isolated
combats, where the new methods of attack and defence
had had almost undisturbed opportunity for
exhibiting their efficiency. But what could a repeller
and half a dozen crabs do against the combined force of
the Royal Navy,--a navy which had in the last few years
regained its supremacy among the nations, and which had
made Great Britain once more the first maritime power
in the world?

The crabs might disable some men-of-war, the
repeller might make her calculations and discharge her
bomb at a ship or a fort, but what would the main body
of the navy be doing meanwhile? Overwhelming,
crushing, and sinking to the bottom crabs, repeller,
motor guns, and everything that belonged to them.

In England there was a feeling of strong resentment
that such a little fleet should be allowed to sail with
such intent into British waters. This resentment
extended itself, not only to the impudent Syndicate,
but toward the Government; and the opposition party
gained daily in strength. The opposition papers had
been loud and reckless in their denunciations of the
slowness and inadequacy of the naval preparations, and
loaded the Government with the entire responsibility,
not only of the damage which had already been done
to the forts, the ships, and the prestige of Great
Britain, but also for the threatened danger of a sudden
descent of the Syndicate's fleet upon some unprotected
point upon the coast. This fleet should never have
been allowed to approach within a thousand miles of
England. It should have been sunk in mid-ocean, if its
sinking had involved the loss of a dozen men-of-war.

In America a very strong feeling of dissatisfaction
showed itself. From the first, the Syndicate contract
had not been popular; but the quick, effective, and
business-like action of that body of men, and the
marked success up to this time of their inventions and
their operations, had caused a great reaction in their
favour. They had, so far, successfully defended the
American coast, and when they had increased the number
of their vessels, they would have been relied upon to
continue that defence. Even if a British armada had
set out to cross the Atlantic, its movements must have
been slow and cumbrous, and the swift and sudden
strokes with which the Syndicate waged war could have
been given by night and by day over thousands of miles
of ocean.

Whether or not these strokes would have been quick
enough or hard enough to turn back an armada might be a
question; but there could be no question of the
suicidal policy of sending seven ships and two cannon
to conquer England. It seemed as if the success of the
Syndicate had so puffed up its members with pride and
confidence in their powers that they had come to
believe that they had only to show themselves to
conquer, whatever might be the conditions of the
contest.

The destruction of the Syndicate's fleet would now
be a heavy blow to the United States. It would produce
an utter want of confidence in the councils and
judgments of the Syndicate, which could not be
counteracted by the strongest faith in the efficiency
of their engines of war; and it was feared it might
become necessary, even at this critical juncture, to
annul the contract with the Syndicate, and to depend
upon the American navy for the defence of the American
coast.

Even among the men on board the Syndicate's fleet
there were signs of doubt and apprehensions of evil.
It had all been very well so far, but fighting one ship
at a time was a very different thing from steaming
into the midst of a hundred ships. On board the
repeller there was now an additional reason for fears
and misgivings. The unlucky character of the vessel
when it had been the Tallapoosa was known, and not a
few of the men imagined that it must now be time for
some new disaster to this ill-starred craft, and if her
evil genius had desired fresh disaster for her, it was
certainly sending her into a good place to look for it.

But the Syndicate neither doubted nor hesitated nor
paid any attention to the doubts and condemnations
which they heard from every quarter. Four days after
the news of the destruction of the Craglevin had been
telegraphed from Canada to London, the Syndicate's
fleet entered the English Channel. Owing to the power
and speed of the crabs, Repeller No. 11 had made a
passage of the Atlantic which in her old naval career
would have been considered miraculous.

Craft of various kinds were now passed, but none of
them carried the British flag. In the expectation of
the arrival of the enemy, British merchantmen and
fishing vessels had been advised to keep in the
background until the British navy had concluded
its business with the vessels of the American Syndicate.

As has been said before, the British Admiralty had
adopted a new method of defence for the rudders and
screw-propellers of naval vessels against the attacks
of submerged craft. The work of constructing the new
appliances had been pushed forward as fast as possible,
but so far only one of these had been finished and
attached to a man-of-war.

The Llangaron was a recently built ironclad of
the same size and class as the Adamant; and to her
had been attached the new stern-defence. This was an
immense steel cylinder, entirely closed, and rounded at
the ends. It was about ten feet in diameter, and
strongly braced inside. It was suspended by chains from
two davits which projected over the stern of the
vessel. When sailing this cylinder was hoisted up to
the davits, but when the ship was prepared for action
it was lowered until it lay, nearly submerged, abaft of
the rudder. In this position its ends projected about
fifteen feet on either side of the propeller-blades.

It was believed that this cylinder would
effectually prevent a crab from getting near enough to
the propeller or the rudder to do any damage. It
could not be torn away as the stern-jacket had been,
for the rounded and smooth sides and ends of the
massive cylinder would offer no hold to the forceps of
the crabs; and, approaching from any quarter, it would
be impossible for these forceps to reach rudder or
screw.

The Syndicate's little fleet arrived in British
waters late in the day, and early the next morning it
appeared about twenty miles to the south of the Isle of
Wight, and headed to the north-east, as if it were
making for Portsmouth. The course of these vessels
greatly surprised the English Government and naval
authorities. It was expected that an attack would
probably be made upon some comparatively unprotected
spot on the British seaboard, and therefore on the west
coast of Ireland and in St. George's Channel
preparations of the most formidable character had been
made to defend British ports against Repeller No. 11
and her attendant crabs. Particularly was this the
case in Bristol Channel, where a large number of
ironclads were stationed, and which was to have been
the destination of the Llangaron if the Syndicate's
vessels had delayed their coming long enough to allow
her to get around there. That this little fleet
should have sailed straight for England's great naval
stronghold was something that the British Admiralty
could not understand. The fact was not appreciated
that it was the object of the Syndicate to measure its
strength with the greatest strength of the enemy.
Anything less than this would not avail its purpose.

Notwithstanding that so many vessels had been sent
to different parts of the coast, there was still in
Portsmouth harbour a large number of war vessels of
various classes, all in commission and ready for
action. The greater part of these had received orders
to cruise that day in the channel. Consequently, it
was still early in the morning when, around the eastern
end of the Isle of Wight, there appeared a British fleet
composed of fifteen of the finest ironclads, with several
gunboats and cruisers, and a number of torpedo-boats.

It was a noble sight, for besides the warships
there was another fleet hanging upon the outskirts of
the first, and composed of craft, large and small, and
from both sides of the channel, filled with those who
were anxious to witness from afar the sea-fight which
was to take place under such novel conditions. Many of
these observers were reporters and special
correspondents for great newspapers. On some of the
vessels which came up from the French coast were men
with marine glasses of extraordinary power, whose
business it was to send an early and accurate report of
the affair to the office of the War Syndicate in New York.
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As soon as the British ships came in sight, thefour crabs cast off from Repeller No. 11. Then withthe other two they prepared for action, movingconsiderably in advance of the repeller, which nowsteamed forward very slowly. The wind was strong fromthe north-west, and the sea high, the shining tops ofthe crabs frequently disappearing under the waves. The British fleet came steadily on, headed by thegreat Llangaron. This vessel was very much inadvance of the others, for knowing that when she wasreally in action and the great cylinder which formedher stern-guard was lowered into the water her
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In a very short time a message came to him fromRepeller No. 11, which stated that in two hours hisship would be destroyed by instantaneous motor-bombs. Every opportunity, however, would be given for thetransfer to the mail steamer of all the officers andmen on board the Craglevin, together with such oftheir possessions as they could take with them in thattime. When this had been done the transport would beallowed to proceed on her way. To this demand nothing but acquiescence waspossible. Whether or not there was such a thing as aninstantaneous motor-bomb the Craglevin's officers didnot know;
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