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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 21
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 21 Post by :mikegiving Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :1328

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 21

As each motor-bomb dropped into the channel, a
dense cloud appeared high in the air, above a roaring,
seething cauldron, hollowed out of the waters and out
of the very bottom of the channel. Into this chasm the
cloud quickly came down, condensed into a vast body of
water, which fell, with the roar of a cyclone, into the
dreadful abyss from which it had been torn, before the
hissing walls of the great hollow had half filled it
with their sweeping surges. The piled-up mass of the
redundant water was still sending its maddened billows
tossing and writhing in every direction toward their
normal level, when another bomb was discharged; another
surging abyss appeared, another roar of wind and water
was heard, and another mountain of furious billows
uplifted itself in a storm of spray and foam, raging
that it had found its place usurped.

Slowly turning, the repeller discharged bomb after
bomb, building up out of the very sea itself a barrier
against its enemies. Under these thundering cataracts,
born in an instant, and coming down all at once in a
plunging storm; into these abysses, with walls of water
and floors of cleft and shivered rocks; through this
wide belt of raging turmoil, thrown into new
frenzy after the discharge of every bomb,--no vessel,
no torpedo, could pass.

The air driven off in every direction by tremendous
and successive concussions came rushing back in
shrieking gales, which tore up the waves into blinding
foam. For miles in every direction the sea swelled and
upheaved into great peaked waves, the repeller rising
upon these almost high enough to look down into the
awful chasms which her bombs were making. A torpedo-
boat caught in one of the returning gales was hurled
forward almost on her beam ends until she was under the
edge of one of the vast masses of descending water.
The flood which, from even the outer limits of this
falling-sea, poured upon and into the unlucky vessel
nearly swamped her, and when she was swept back by the
rushing waves into less stormy waters, her officers and
crew leaped into their boats and deserted her. By rare
good-fortune their boats were kept afloat in the
turbulent sea until they reached the nearest torpedo-
vessel.

Five minutes afterward a small but carefully aimed
motor-bomb struck the nearly swamped vessel, and with
the roar of all her own torpedoes she passed into
nothing.

The British Vice-Admiral had carefully watched the
repeller through his glass, and he noticed that
simultaneously with the appearance of the cloud in the
air produced by the action of the motor-bombs there
were two puffs of black smoke from the repeller. These
were signals to the crabs to notify them that a motor-
gun had been discharged, and thus to provide against
accidents in case a bomb should fail to act. One puff
signified that a bomb had been discharged to the north;
two, that it had gone eastward; and so on. if,
therefore, a crab should see a signal of this kind, and
perceive no signs of the action of a bomb, it would be
careful not to approach the repeller from the quarter
indicated. It is true that in case of the failure of a
bomb to act, another bomb would be dropped upon the
same spot, but the instructions of the War Syndicate
provided that every possible precaution should be taken
against accidents.

Of course the Vice-Admiral did not understand these
signals, nor did he know that they were signals, but he
knew that they accompanied the discharge of a motor-
gun. Once he noticed that there was a short
cessation in the hitherto constant succession of water
avalanches, and during this lull he had seen two puffs
from the repeller, and the destruction, at the same
moment, of the deserted torpedo-boat. It was,
therefore, plain enough to him that if a motor-bomb
could be placed so accurately upon one torpedo-boat,
and with such terrible result, other bombs could quite
as easily be discharged upon the other torpedo-boats
which formed the advanced line of the fleet. When the
barrier of storm and cataract again began to stretch
itself in front of the repeller, he knew that not only
was it impossible for the torpedo-boats to send their
missives through this raging turmoil, but that each of
these vessels was itself in danger of instantaneous
destruction.

Unwilling, therefore, to expose his vessels to
profitless danger, the Vice-Admiral ordered the
torpedo-boats to retire from the front, and the whole
line of them proceeded to a point north of the fleet,
where they lay to.

When this had been done, the repeller ceased the
discharge of bombs; but the sea was still heaving and
tossing after the storm, when a despatch-boat
brought orders from the British Admiralty to the
flagship. Communication between the British fleet and
the shore, and consequently London, had been constant,
and all that had occurred had been quickly made known
to the Admiralty and the Government. The orders now
received by the Vice-Admiral were to the effect that it
was considered judicious to discontinue the conflict
for the day, and that he and his whole fleet should
return to Portsmouth to receive further orders.

In issuing these commands the British Government
was actuated simply by motives of humanity and common
sense. The British fleet was thoroughly prepared for
ordinary naval warfare, but an enemy had inaugurated
another kind of naval warfare, for which it was not
prepared. It was, therefore, decided to withdraw the
ships until they should be prepared for the new kind of
warfare. To allow ironclad after ironclad to be
disabled and set adrift, to subject every ship in the
fleet to the danger of instantaneous destruction, and
all this without the possibility of inflicting injury
upon the enemy, would not be bravery; it would be stupidity.
It was surely possible to devise a means
for destroying the seven hostile ships now in British
waters. Until action for this end could be taken, it
was the part of wisdom for the British navy to confine
itself to the protection of British ports.

When the fleet began to move toward the Isle of
Wight, the six crabs, which had been lying quietly
among and under the protection of their enemies,
withdrew southward, and, making a slight circuit,
joined the repeller.

Each of the disabled ironclads was now in tow of a
sister vessel, or of tugs, except the Llangaron.
This great ship had been disabled so early in the
contest, and her broadside had presented such a vast
surface to the north-west wind, that she had drifted
much farther to the south than any other vessel.
Consequently, before the arrival of the tugs which had
been sent for to tow her into harbour, the Llangaron
was well on her way across the channel. A foggy night
came on, and the next morning she was ashore on the
coast of France, with a mile of water between her and
dry land. Fast-rooted in a great sand-bank, she lay
week after week, with the storms that came in from
the Atlantic, and the storms that came in from the
German Ocean, beating upon her tall side of solid iron,
with no more effect than if it had been a precipice of
rock. Against waves and winds she formed a massive
breakwater, with a wide stretch of smooth sea between
her and the land. There she lay, proof against all the
artillery of Europe, and all the artillery of the sea
and the storm, until a fleet of small vessels had taken
from her her ponderous armament, her coal and stores,
and she had been lightened enough to float upon a high
tide, and to follow three tugs to Portsmouth.

When night came on, Repeller No. 11 and the crabs
dropped down with the tide, and lay to some miles west
of the scene of battle. The fog shut them in fairly
well, but, fearful that torpedoes might be sent out
against them, they showed no lights. There was little
danger, of collision with passing merchantmen, for the
English Channel, at present, was deserted by this class
of vessels.

The next morning the repeller, preceded by two
crabs, bearing between them a submerged net similar to
that used at the Canadian port, appeared off the
eastern end of the Isle of Wight. The anchors of the
net were dropped, and behind it the repeller took her
place, and shortly afterward she sent a flag-of-truce
boat to Portsmouth harbour. This boat carried a note
from the American War Syndicate to the British Government.

In this note it was stated that it was now the
intention of the Syndicate to utterly destroy, by means
of the instantaneous motor, a fortified post upon the
British coast. As this would be done solely for the
purpose of demonstrating the irresistible destructive
power of the motor-bombs, it was immaterial to the
Syndicate what fortified post should be destroyed,
provided it should answer the requirements of the
proposed demonstration. Consequently the British
Government was offered the opportunity of naming the
fortified place which should be destroyed. If said
Government should decline to do this, or delay the
selection for twenty-four hours, the Syndicate would
itself decide upon the place to be operated upon.

Every one in every branch of the British
Government, and, in fact, nearly every thinking person
in the British islands, had been racking his
brains, or her brains, that night, over the astounding
situation; and the note of the Syndicate only added to
the perturbation of the Government. There was a strong
feeling in official circles that the insolent little enemy
must be crushed, if the whole British navy should have
to rush upon it, and all sink together in a common grave.

But there were cooler and more prudent brains at
the head of affairs; and these had already decided that
the contest between the old engines of war and the new
ones was entirely one-sided. The instincts of good
government dictated to them that they should be
extremely wary and circumspect during the further
continuance of this unexampled war. Therefore, when
the note of the Syndicate was considered, it was agreed
that the time had come when good statesmanship and wise
diplomacy would be more valuable to the nation than
torpedoes, armoured ships, or heavy guns.
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There was not the slightest doubt that the countrywould disagree with the Government, but on the latterlay the responsibility of the country's safety. There was nothing, in the opinion of the ablestnaval officers, to prevent the Syndicate's fleet fromcoming up the Thames. Instantaneous motor-bombs couldsweep away all forts and citadels, and explode anddestroy all torpedo defences, and London might lieunder the guns of the repeller. In consequence of this view of the state ofaffairs, an answer was sent to the Syndicate's note,asking that further time be given for the considerationof the situation, and suggesting that an exhibition ofthe
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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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