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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 4
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 4 Post by :jrivera Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :3386

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 4

It was on a breezy day, with a cloudy sky, and the
sea moderately smooth, that the little fleet of the
Syndicate lay to off the harbour of one of the
principal Canadian seaports. About five miles away the
headlands on either side of the mouth of the harbour
could be plainly seen. It had been decided that
Repeller No. 1 should begin operations. Accordingly,
that vessel steamed about a mile nearer the harbour,
accompanied by Crab A. The other repeller and crab
remained in their first position, ready to act in case
they should be needed.

The approach of two vessels, evidently men-of-war,
and carrying the American flag, was perceived from the
forts and redoubts at the mouth of the harbour,
and the news quickly spread to the city and to the
vessels in port. Intense excitement ensued on land and
water, among the citizens of the place as well as its
defenders. Every man who had a post of duty was
instantly at it; and in less than half an hour the
British man-of-war Scarabaeus, which had been lying
at anchor a short distance outside the harbour, came
steaming out to meet the enemy. There were other naval
vessels in port, but they required more time to be put
in readiness for action.

As soon as the approach of Scarabaeus was
perceived by Repeller No. 1, a boat bearing a white
flag was lowered from that vessel and was rapidly rowed
toward the British ship. When the latter saw the boat
coming she lay to, and waited its arrival. A note was
delivered to the captain of the Scarabaeus, in which
it was stated that the Syndicate, which had undertaken
on the part of the United States the conduct of the war
between that country and Great Britain, was now
prepared to demand the surrender of this city with its
forts and defences and all vessels within its harbour,
and, as a first step, the immediate surrender of the
vessel to the commander of which this note was delivered.

The overwhelming effrontery of this demand caused
the commander of the Scarabaeus to doubt whether he
had to deal with a raving lunatic or a blustering fool;
but he informed the person in charge of the flag-of-
truce boat, that he would give him fifteen minutes in
which to get back to his vessel, and that he would then
open fire upon that craft.

The men who rowed the little boat were not men-of-
war's men, and were unaccustomed to duties of this
kind. In eight minutes they had reached their vessel,
and were safe on board.

Just seven minutes afterward the first shot came
from the Scarabaeus. It passed over Repeller No. 1,
and that vessel, instead of replying, immediately
steamed nearer her adversary. The Director-in-chief
desired to determine the effect of an active cannonade
upon the new armour, and therefore ordered the vessel
placed in such a position that the Englishman might
have the best opportunity for using it as a target.

The Scarabaeus lost no time in availing herself
of the facilities offered. She was a large and
powerful ship, with a heavy armament; and, soon getting
the range of the Syndicate's vessel, she hurled ball
after ball upon her striped side. Repeller No. 1 made
no reply, but quietly submitted to the terrible
bombardment. Some of the great shot jarred her from
bow to stern, but not one of them broke a steel spring,
nor penetrated the heavy inside plates.

After half an hour of this, work the Director-in-
chief became satisfied that the new armour had well
acquitted itself in the severe trial to which it had
been subjected. Some of the air-buffers had been
disabled, probably on account of faults in their
construction, but these could readily be replaced, and
no further injury had been done the vessel. It was not
necessary, therefore, to continue the experiment any
longer, and besides, there was danger that the
Englishman, perceiving that his antagonist did not
appear to be affected by his fire, would approach
closer and endeavour to ram her. This was to be
avoided, for the Scarabaeus was a much larger vessel
than Repeller No. 1, and able to run into the latter
and sink her by mere preponderance of weight.

It was therefore decided to now test the powers of
the crabs. Signals were made from Repeller No. 1 to
Crab A, which had been lying with the larger vessel between it
and the enemy. These signals were made by jets of
dense black smoke, which were ejected from a small pipe
on the repeller. These slender columns of smoke
preserved their cylindrical forms for some moments, and
were visible at a great distance by day or night, being
illumined in the latter case by electric light. The
length and frequency of these jets were regulated by an
instrument in the Director's room. Thus, by means of
long and short puffs, with the proper use of intervals,
a message could be projected into the air as a
telegraphic instrument would mark it upon paper.

In this manner Crab A was ordered to immediately
proceed to the attack of the Scarabaeus. The almost
submerged vessel steamed rapidly from behind her
consort, and made for the British man-of-war.

When the latter vessel perceived the approach of
this turtle-backed object, squirting little jets of
black smoke as she replied to the orders from the
repeller, there was great amazement on board. The crab
had not been seen before, but as it came rapidly on
there was no time for curiosity or discussion, and
several heavy guns were brought to bear upon it. It
was difficult to hit a rapidly moving flat object
scarcely above the surface of the water; and although
several shot struck the crab, they glanced off
without in the least interfering with its progress.

Crab A soon came so near the Scarabaeus that it
was impossible to depress the guns of the latter so as
to strike her. The great vessel was, therefore, headed
toward its assailant, and under a full head of steam
dashed directly at it to run it down. But the crab
could turn as upon a pivot, and shooting to one side
allowed the surging man-of-war to pass it.

Perceiving instantly that it would be difficult to
strike this nimble and almost submerged adversary, the
commander of the Scarabaeus thought it well to let it
alone for the present, and to bear down with all speed
upon the repeller. But it was easier to hit the crab
than to leave it behind. It was capable of great
speed, and, following the British vessel, it quickly
came up with her.

The course of the Scarabaeus was instantly
changed, and every effort was made to get the vessel
into a position to run down the crab. But this was not
easy for so large a ship, and Crab A seemed to have no
difficulty in keeping close to her stern.

Several machine-guns, especially adopted for
firing at torpedo-boats or any hostile craft which
might be discovered close to a vessel, were now brought
to bear upon the crab, and ball after ball was hurled
at her. Some of these struck, but glanced off without
penetrating her tough armour.

These manoeuvres had not continued long, when the
crew of the crab was ready to bring into action the
peculiar apparatus of that peculiar craft. An enormous
pair of iron forceps, each massive limb of which
measured twelve feet or more in length, was run out in
front of the crab at a depth of six or eight feet
below the surface. These forceps were acted upon by an
electric engine of immense power, by which they could
be shut, opened, projected, withdrawn, or turned and
twisted.

The crab darted forward, and in the next instant
the great teeth of her pincers were fastened with a
tremendous grip upon the rudder and rudder-post of the
Scarabaeus.

Then followed a sudden twist, which sent a thrill
through both vessels; a crash; a backward jerk; the
snapping of a chain; and in a moment the great rudder,
with half of the rudder-post attached, was torn from
the vessel, and as the forceps opened it dropped to
leeward and hung dangling by one chain.

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Again the forceps opened wide; again there was arush; and this time the huge jaws closed upon therapidly revolving screw-propeller. There was atremendous crash, and the small but massive crab turnedover so far that for an instant one of its sides wasplainly visible above the water. The blades of thepropeller were crushed and shivered; those parts of thesteamer's engines connecting with the propeller-shaftwere snapped and rent apart, while the propeller-shaft itself was broken by the violent stoppage. The crab, which had quickly righted, now backed,still holding the crushed propeller in its iron grasp,and as it moved away
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The first step of the Syndicate was to purchasefrom the United States Government ten war-vessels. These were of medium size and in good condition, butthey were of an old-fashioned type, and it had not beenconsidered expedient to put them in commission. Thisaction caused surprise and disappointment in manyquarters. It had been supposed that the Syndicate,through its agents scattered all over the world, wouldimmediately acquire, by purchase or lease, a fleet offine ironclads culled from various maritime powers. But the Syndicate having no intention of involving, orattempting to involve, other countries in this quarrel,paid no attention to public opinion, and
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