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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 20
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 20 Post by :theforce Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :1544

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 20

Once only did the crabs give the torpedo-boats a
chance. A mile or two north of the scene of action, a
large cruiser was making her way rapidly toward the
repeller, which was still lying almost motionless, four
miles to the westward. As it was highly probable that
this vessel carried dynamite guns, Crab Q, which was
the fastest of her class, was signalled to go after
her. She had scarcely begun her course across the open
space of sea before a torpedo-boat was in pursuit.
Fast as was the latter, the crab was faster, and quite
as easily managed. She was in a position of great
danger, and her only safety lay in keeping herself on a
line between the torpedo-boat and the gun-boat,
and to shorten as quickly as possible the distance
between herself and that vessel.

If the torpedo-boat shot to one side in order to
get the crab out of line, the crab, its back sometimes
hidden by the tossing waves, sped also to the same
side. When the torpedo-boat could aim a gun at the
crab and not at the gun-boat, a deadly torpedo flew
into the sea; but a tossing sea and a shifting target
were unfavourable to the gunner's aim. It was not
long, however, before the crab had run the chase which
might so readily have been fatal to it, and was so near
the gun-boat that no more torpedoes could be fired at
it.

Of course the officers and crew of the gun-boat had
watched with most anxious interest the chase of the
crab. The vessel was one which had been fitted out for
service with dynamite guns, of which she carried some
of very long range for this class of artillery, and she
had been ordered to get astern of the repeller and to
do her best to put a few dynamite bombs on board of
her.

The dynamite gun-boat therefore had kept ahead at
full speed, determined to carry out her instructions if
she should be allowed to do so; but her speed was not
as great as that of a crab, and when the torpedo-
boat had given up the chase, and the dreaded crab was
drawing swiftly near, the captain thought it time for
bravery to give place to prudence. With the large
amount of explosive material of the most tremendous and
terrific character which he had on board, it would be
the insanity of courage for him to allow his
comparatively small vessel to be racked, shaken, and
partially shivered by the powerful jaws of the on-
coming foe. As he could neither fly nor fight, he
hauled down his flag in token of surrender, the first
instance of the kind which had occurred in this war.

When the director of Crab Q, through his lookout-
glass, beheld this action on the part of the gun-boat,
he was a little perplexed as to what he should next do.
To accept the surrender of the British vessel, and to
assume control of her, it was necessary to communicate
with her. The communications of the crabs were made
entirely by black-smoke signals, and these the captain
of the gun-boat could not understand. The heavy
hatches in the mailed roof which could be put in use
when the crab was cruising, could not be opened when
she was at her fighting depth, and in a tossing sea.

A means was soon devised of communicating with the
gun-boat. A speaking-tube was run up through one of
the air-pipes of the crab, which pipe was then elevated
some distance above the surface. Through this the
director hailed the other vessel, and as the air-pipe
was near the stern of the crab, and therefore at a
distance from the only visible portion of the turtle-
back roof, his voice seemed to come out of the depths
of the ocean.

The surrender was accepted, and the captain of the
gun-boat was ordered to stop his engines and prepare to
be towed. When this order had been given, the crab
moved round to the bow of the gun-boat, and grasping
the cut-water with its forceps, reversed its engines
and began to back rapidly toward the British fleet,
taking with it the captured vessel as a protection
against torpedoes while in transit.

The crab slowed up not far from one of the foremost
of the British ships, and coming round to the quarter
of the gun-boat, the astonished captain of that vessel
was informed, through the speaking-tube, that if
he would give his parole to keep out of this fight, he
would be allowed to proceed to his anchorage in
Portsmouth harbour. The parole was given, and the
dynamite gun-boat, after reporting to the flag-ship,
steamed away to Portsmouth.

The situation now became one which was unparalleled
in the history of naval warfare. On the side of the
British, seven war-ships were disabled and drifting
slowly to the south-east. For half an hour no advance
had been made by the British fleet, for whenever one of
the large vessels had steamed ahead, such vessel had
become the victim of a crab, and the Vice-Admiral
commanding the fleet had signalled not to advance until
farther orders.

The crabs were also lying-to, each to the windward
of, and not far from, one of the British ships. They
had ceased to make any attacks, and were resting
quietly under protection of the enemy. This, with the
fact that the repeller still lay four miles away,
without any apparent intention of taking part in the
battle, gave the situation its peculiar character.

The British Vice-Admiral did not intend to remain
in this quiescent condition. It was, of course,
useless to order forth his ironclads, simply to
see them disabled and set adrift. There was another
arm of the service which evidently could be used with
better effect upon this peculiar foe than could the
great battle-ships.

But before doing anything else, he must provide for
the safety of those of his vessels which had been
rendered helpless by the crabs, and some of which were
now drifting dangerously near to each other.
Despatches had been sent to Portsmouth for tugs, but it
would not do to wait until these arrived, and a
sufficient number of ironclads were detailed to tow
their injured consorts into port.

When this order had been given, the Vice-Admiral
immediately prepared to renew the fight, and this time
his efforts were to be directed entirely against the
repeller. It would be useless to devote any further
attention to the crabs, especially in their present
positions. But if the chief vessel of the Syndicate's
fleet, with its spring armour and its terrible
earthquake bombs, could be destroyed, it was quite
possible that those sea-parasites, the crabs, could
also be disposed of.

Every torpedo-boat was now ordered to the front,
and in a long line, almost abreast of each other,
these swift vessels--the light-infantry of the sea--
advanced upon the solitary and distant foe. If one
torpedo could but reach her hull, the Vice-Admiral, in
spite of seven disabled ironclads and a captured gun-
boat, might yet gaze proudly at his floating flag, even
if his own ship should be drifting broadside to the
sea.

The line of torpedo-boats, slightly curving inward,
had advanced about a mile, when Repeller No. 11 awoke
from her seeming sleep, and began to act. The two
great guns at her bow were trained upward, so that a
bomb discharged from them would fall into the sea a
mile and a half ahead. Slowly turning her bow from
side to side, so that the guns would cover a range of
nearly half a circle, the instantaneous motor-bombs of
the repeller were discharged, one every half minute.

One of the most appalling characteristics of the
motor-bombs was the silence which accompanied their
discharge and action. No noise was heard, except the
flash of sound occasioned by the removal of the
particles of the object aimed at, and the subsequent
roar of wind or fall of water.
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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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