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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 19
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 19 Post by :nospecs Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :965

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 19

As soon as the British ships came in sight, the
four crabs cast off from Repeller No. 11. Then with
the other two they prepared for action, moving
considerably in advance of the repeller, which now
steamed forward very slowly. The wind was strong from
the north-west, and the sea high, the shining tops of
the crabs frequently disappearing under the waves.

The British fleet came steadily on, headed by the
great Llangaron. This vessel was very much in
advance of the others, for knowing that when she was
really in action and the great cylinder which formed
her stern-guard was lowered into the water her speed
would be much retarded, she had put on all steam, and
being the swiftest war-ship of her class, she had
distanced all her consorts. It was highly important
that she should begin the fight, and engage the
attention of as many crabs as possible, while
certain of the other ships attacked the repeller with
their rams. Although it was now generally believed
that motor-bombs from a repeller might destroy a man-
of-war, it was also considered probable that the
accurate calculations which appeared to be necessary to
precision of aim could not be made when the object of
the aim was in rapid motion.

But whether or not one or more motor-bombs did
strike the mark, or whether or not one or more vessels
were blown into fine particles, there were a dozen
ironclads in that fleet, each of whose commanders and
officers were determined to run into that repeller and
crush her, if so be they held together long enough to
reach her.

The commanders of the torpedo-boats had orders to
direct their swift messengers of destruction first
against the crabs, for these vessels were far in
advance of the repeller, and coming on with a rapidity
which showed that they were determined upon mischief.
If a torpedo, shot from a torpedo-boat, and speeding
swiftly by its own powers beneath the waves, should
strike the submerged hull of a crab, there would be one
crab the less in the English Channel.

As has been said, the Llangaron came rushing on,
distancing everything, even the torpedo-boats. If,
before she was obliged to lower her cylinder, she could
get near enough to the almost stationary repeller to
take part in the attack on her, she would then be
content to slacken speed and let the crabs nibble
awhile at her stern.

Two of the latest constructed and largest crabs, Q
and R, headed at full speed to meet the Llangaron,
who, as she came on, opened the ball by sending a
"rattler" in the shape of a five-hundred-pound shot
into the ribs of the repeller, then at least four miles
distant, and immediately after began firing her
dynamite guns, which were of limited range at the roofs
of the advancing crabs.

There were some on board the repeller who, at the
moment the great shot struck her, with a ringing and
clangour of steel springs, such as never was heard
before, wished that in her former state of existence
she had been some other vessel than the Tallapoosa.

But every spring sprang back to its place as the
great mass of iron glanced off into the sea. The
dynamite bombs flew over the tops of the crabs,
whose rapid motions and slightly exposed surfaces gave
little chance for accurate aim, and in a short time
they were too close to the Llangaron for this class
of gun to be used upon them.

As the crabs came nearer, the Llangaron lowered
the great steel cylinder which hung across her stern,
until it lay almost entirely under water, and abaft of
her rudder and propeller-blades. She now moved slowly
through the water, and her men greeted the advancing
crabs with yells of defiance, and a shower of shot from
machine guns.

The character of the new defence which had been
fitted to the Llangaron was known to the Syndicate,
and the directors of the two new crabs understood the
heavy piece of work which lay before them. But their
plans of action had been well considered, and they made
straight for the stern of the British ship.

It was, of course, impossible to endeavour to grasp
that great cylinder with its rounded ends; their
forceps would slip from any portion of its smooth
surface on which they should endeavour to lay hold, and
no such attempt was made. Keeping near the
cylinder, one at each end of it, the two moved slowly
after the Llangaron, apparently discouraged.

In a short time, however, it was perceived by those
on board the ship that a change had taken place in the
appearance of the crabs; the visible portion of their
backs was growing larger and larger; they were rising
in the water. Their mailed roofs became visible from
end to end, and the crowd of observers looking down
from the ship were amazed to see what large vessels
they were.

Higher and higher the crabs arose, their powerful
air-pumps working at their greatest capacity, until
their ponderous pincers became visible above the water.
Then into the minds of the officers of the Llangaron
flashed the true object of this uprising, which to the
crew had seemed an intention on the part of the sea-
devils to clamber on board.

If the cylinder were left in its present position
the crab might seize the chains by which it was
suspended, while if it were raised it would cease to be
a defence. Notwithstanding this latter contingency,
the order was quickly given to raise the cylinder; but
before the hoisting engine had been set in motion,
Crab Q thrust forward her forceps over the top of the
cylinder and held it down. Another thrust, and the
iron jaws had grasped one of the two ponderous chains
by which the cylinder was suspended.
The other end of the cylinder began to rise, but at
this moment Crab R, apparently by a single effort,
lifted herself a foot higher out of the sea; her
pincers flashed forward, and the other chain was
grasped.

The two crabs were now placed in the most
extraordinary position. The overhang of their roofs
prevented an attack on their hulls by the Llangaron,
but their unmailed hulls were so greatly exposed that a
few shot from another ship could easily have destroyed
them. But as any ship firing at them would be very
likely to hit the Llangaron, their directors felt
safe on this point.

Three of the foremost ironclads, less than two
miles away, were heading directly for them, and their
rams might be used with but little danger to the
Llangaron; but, on the other hand, three swift crabs
were heading directly for these ironclads.

It was impossible for Crabs Q and R to operate
in the usual way. Their massive forceps, lying flat
against the top of the cylinder, could not be twisted.
The enormous chains they held could not be severed by
the greatest pressure, and if both crabs backed at once
they would probably do no more than tow the Llangaron
stern foremost. There was, moreover, no time to waste
in experiments, for other rams would be coming on, and
there were not crabs enough to attend to them all.

No time was wasted. Q signalled to R, and R back
again, and instantly the two crabs, each still grasping
a chain of the cylinder, began to sink. On board the
Llangaron an order was shouted to let out the
cylinder chains; but as these chains had only been made
long enough to allow the top of the cylinder to hang at
or a little below the surface of the water, a foot or
two of length was all that could be gained.

The davits from which the cylinder hung were thick
and strong, and the iron windlasses to which the chains
were attached were large and ponderous; but these were
not strong enough to withstand the weight of two crabs
with steel-armoured roofs, enormous engines, and iron
hull. In less than a minute one davit snapped
like a pipe-stem under the tremendous strain, and
immediately afterward the windlass to which the chain
was attached was torn from its bolts, and went crashing
overboard, tearing away a portion of the stern-rail in
its descent.

Crab Q instantly released the chain it had held,
and in a moment the great cylinder hung almost
perpendicularly from one chain. But only for a moment.
The nippers of Crab R still firmly held the chain, and
the tremendous leverage exerted by the falling of one
end of the cylinder wrenched it from the rigidly held
end of its chain, and, in a flash, the enormous stern-
guard of the Llangaron sunk, end foremost, to the
bottom of the channel.

In ten minutes afterward, the Llangaron,
rudderless, and with the blades of her propellers
shivered and crushed, was slowly turning her starboard
to the wind and the sea, and beginning to roll like a
log of eight thousand tons.

Besides the Llangaron, three ironclads were now
drifting broadside to the sea. But there was no time
to succour disabled vessels, for the rest of the fleet
was coming on, and there was great work for the
crabs.

Against these enemies, swift of motion and sudden
in action, the torpedo-boats found it almost impossible
to operate, for the British ships and the crabs were so
rapidly nearing each other that a torpedo sent out
against an enemy was more than likely to run against
the hull of a friend. Each crab sped at the top of its
speed for a ship, not only to attack, but also to
protect itself.
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Once only did the crabs give the torpedo-boats achance. A mile or two north of the scene of action, alarge cruiser was making her way rapidly toward therepeller, which was still lying almost motionless, fourmiles to the westward. As it was highly probable thatthis vessel carried dynamite guns, Crab Q, which wasthe fastest of her class, was signalled to go afterher. She had scarcely begun her course across the openspace of sea before a torpedo-boat was in pursuit. Fast as was the latter, the crab was faster, and quiteas easily managed. She was in a position of
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It was now generally admitted that one of theSyndicate's crabs could disable a man-of-war, that oneof the Syndicate's repellers could withstand theheaviest artillery fire, and that one of theSyndicate's motor-bombs could destroy a vessel or afort. But these things had been proved in isolatedcombats the new methods of attack and defencehad had almost undisturbed opportunity forexhibiting their efficiency. But what could a repellerand half a dozen crabs do against the combined force ofthe Royal Navy,--a navy which had in the last few yearsregained its supremacy among the nations, and which hadmade Great Britain once more the first maritime
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