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Seen Under The Moon







From: The World Peril Of 1910

It was a few minutes after four bells on a grey morning in November 1909
that Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, in command of his Majesty's
Fishery Cruiser, the Cormorant, got up on to the navigating bridge,
and, as usual, took a general squint about him, and buttoned the top
button of his oil-skin coat.

The Cormorant was just a few yards inside the three-mile limit on
Flamborough Head, and, officially, she was looking for trespassers, who
either did not fly the British flag, or flew it fraudulently. There were
plenty of foreign poachers on the rich fishing grounds to the north and
east away to the Dogger, and there were also plenty of floating grog
shops from Bremen and Hamburg, and Rotterdam and Flushing, and a good
many other places, loaded up to their decks with liquor, whose mission
was not only to sell their poison at about four hundred per cent. profit
to the British fishers on the Dogger, but also to persuade them, at a
price, to smuggle more of the said poison into the British Islands to be
made into Scotch and Irish whisky, brandy, Hollands, gin, rum, and even
green and yellow Chartreuse, or any other alcoholic potion which simply
wanted the help of the chemist to transform potato and beet spirit into
anything that would taste like what it was called.

"Beast of a morning, Castellan," he said to his first officer, whom he
was relieving, "dirty sea, dirty sky, and not a thing to be seen. You
don't have worse weather than this even off Connemara, do you?"

"No," said Castellan, "and I've seen better; but look you, there's the
sky clearing to the east; yes, and there's Venus, herald of the sun:
and faith, she's bright, too, like a little moon, now isn't she? I
suppose it'll be a bit too early for Norah to be looking at her, won't
it?"

"Don't talk rot, man," replied the Lieutenant-Commander. "I hope your
sister hasn't finished her beauty sleep by this time."

The clouds parted still wider, making a great gap of blue-grey sky to
the eastward, as the westward bank drifted downward. The moon sent a
sudden flood of white light over their heads, which silvered the edges
of the clouds, and then turned the leaden waters into silver as it had
done to the grey of the cloud.

"She'd wake fast enough if she had a nightmare or a morning mare, or
something of that sort, and could see a thing like that," exclaimed
Castellan, gripping the Lieutenant-Commander by the shoulder with his
right hand, and pointing to the east with his left. "Look, man, look! By
all the Holy Powers, what is it? See there! Thanks for the blessed
moonlight that has shown it to us, for I'm thinking it doesn't mean any
good to old England or Ireland."

Erskine was an Englishman, and a naval officer at that, and therefore
his reply consisted of only a few words hardly fitted for publication.
The last words were, "What is it?"

"What is it?" said Castellan with a stamp of his feet on the bridge,
"what is it? Now wouldn't I like to know just as well as you would, and
don't you think the Lords of the British Admiralty would like to know a
lot better? But there's one thing I think I can tell you, it's one of
those new inventions that the British Admiralty never buy, and let go to
other countries, and what's more, as you've seen with your eyes, as I
have with mine, it came out of the water on the edge of that moon-lit
piece, it flew across it, it sighted us, I suppose, it found it had made
a mistake, and it went down again. Now what do you make of that?"

"Combination of submarine and airship it looks like," said Erskine,
seriously, "and if that doesn't belong to us, it's going to be fairly
dangerous. Good Lord! a thing like that might do anything with a fleet,
and whatever Power owns it may just as well have a hundred as one. Look
here, Castellan, I'm going straight into Scarborough. This is a lot more
important than the Dogger Fleet. There's the Seagull at Hull. She can
relieve us, and Franklin can take this old coffee-grinder round. You and
I are going to London as soon as we can get there. Take the latitude,
longitude, and exact time, and also the evidence of the watch if any one
of them saw it."

"You think it's as serious as that?"

"Certainly. It's one of two things. Either that thing belongs to us or
it belongs to a possible enemy. The Fleet, even to a humble fishery
cruiser, means the eyes and ears of the British Empire. If that belongs
to the Admiralty, well and good; we shall get censured for leaving the
ship; that's the risk we take. If it doesn't, the Naval Board may
possibly have the civility to thank us for telling them about it; but in
either case we are going to do our duty. Send Franklin up to the bridge,
make the course for Scarborough, get the evidence of any of the watch
who saw what we have seen, and I'll go and make the report. Then you can
countersign it, and the men can make theirs. I think that's the best we
can do."

"I think so, sir," said the Lieutenant, saluting.

The Lieutenant-Commander walked from port to starboard and starboard to
port thinking pretty hard until the navigating lieutenant came to take
charge of the bridge. Of submarines he knew a good deal. He knew that
the British navy possessed the very best type of this craft which
navigated the under-waters. He had also, of course, read the aerial
experiments which had been made by inventors of what the newspapers
called airships, and which he, with his hard naval common-sense, called
gas-bags with motor engines slung under them. He knew the deadly
possibilities of the submarine; the flying gas-bag he looked upon as gas
and not much more. The real flying machine he had considered up till a
few moments ago as a dream of the future; but a combination of submarine
and flying ship such as he and Castellan, if they had not both been
drunk or dreaming, had seen a few moments ago, was quite another matter.
The possibilities of a thing like that were absolutely limitless,
limitless for good or evil, and if it did belong to a possible enemy of
Britain, there was only one conclusion to be arrived at--The Isle
Inviolate would be inviolate no more.

Lieutenant Franklin came on to the bridge and saluted; he returned the
salute, gave the orders for changing the course, and went down to his
cabin, muttering:

"Good Lord, if that's only so. Why, half a dozen things like that could
fight a fleet, then go on gaily to tackle the forts. I wonder whether my
Lords of the Naval Council will see me to-morrow, and believe me if they
do see me."

By great good luck it happened that the Commander of the North-eastern
District had come up from Hull to Scarborough for a few days' holiday.
When he saw the Cormorant steam into the bay, he very naturally wanted
to know what was the matter, and so he went down to the pier-head, and
met the Cormorant's cutter. As Erskine came up the steps he recognised
him and saluted.

"Good-morning, sir."

"Good-morning, Erskine. What's the matter? You're a little off your
ground, aren't you? Of course, there must be a reason for it. Anything
serious?" replied the District Commander, as he held out his hand. "Ah,
good morning, Castellan. So you've both come ashore. Well, now, what is
it?"

Erskine took a rapid glance round at the promenaders who were coming
down to have a look at the cruiser, and said in a low tone:

"Yes, sir. I am afraid it is rather serious; but it is hardly the sort
of thing one could discuss here. In fact, I was taking the
responsibility of going straight to London with Castellan, to present a
report which we have drawn up to the Board of Admiralty."

The District Commander's iron-grey eyebrows lifted for the fraction of a
minute, and he said:

"H'm. Well, Erskine, I know you're not the sort of man to do that sort
of thing without pretty good reason. Come up to the hotel, both of you,
and let us go into it."

"Thank you, sir," replied Erskine. "It is really quite fortunate that we
met you here, because I think when you've seen the report you will feel
justified in giving us formal leave instead of French leave."

"I hope so," he replied, somewhat grimly, for a rule of the Service had
been broken all to pieces, and his own sense of discipline was sorely
outraged by the knowledge that two responsible officers had left their
ship with the intention of going to London without leave.

But when he had locked the door of his sitting-room at the hotel, and
heard the amazing story which Erskine and Castellan had to tell, and had
read their report, and the evidence of the men who had also seen the
strange apparition which had leapt from the sea into the air, and then
returned to the waters, he put in a few moments of silent thinking, and
then he looked up, and said gravely:

"Well, gentlemen, I know that British naval officers and British seamen
don't see things that are not there, as the Russians did a few years ago
on the Dogger Bank. I am of course bound to believe you, and I think
they will do the same in London. You have taken a very irregular course;
but a man who is not prepared to do that at a pinch seldom does anything
else. I have seen and heard enough to convince me for the present; and
so I shall have great pleasure, in fact I shall only be doing my duty,
in giving you both leave for a week.

"I will order the Seagull up from Hull, she's about ready, and I think
I can put an Acting-Commander on board the Cormorant for the present.
Now, you will just have time for an early lunch with me, and catch the
1.17, which will get you to town at 5.15, and you will probably find
somebody at the Admiralty then, because I know they're working overtime.
Anyhow, if you don't find Sir John Fisher there, I should go straight to
his house, if I were you; and even if you don't see him, you'll be able
to get an early appointment for to-morrow."

"That was a pretty good slice of luck meeting the noble Crocker, wasn't
it?" said Castellan, as the train began to move out of the station,
about three hours later. They had reserved a compartment in the corridor
express, and were able to talk State secrets at their ease.

"We're inside the law now, at any rate."

"Law or no law, it was good enough to risk a court-martial for," said
Erskine, biting off the end of a cigar. "There's no doubt about the
existence of the thing, and if it doesn't belong to us, which is a fact
that only my Lords of the Naval Council can know, it simply means, as
you must see for yourself, that the invasion of England, which has been
a naval and military impossibility for the last seven hundred years or
so, will not only become possible but comparatively easy. There's
nothing upon the waters or under them that could stand against a thing
like that."

"Oh, you're right enough there," said Castellan, speaking with his soft
West of Ireland brogue. "There's no doubt of that, and it's the very
devil. A dozen of those things would play havoc with a whole fleet, and
when the fleet's gone, or even badly hurt, what's to stop our good
friends over yonder landing two or three million men just anywhere they
choose, and doing pretty well what they like afterwards? By the Saints,
that would be a horrible thing. We've nothing on land that could stand
against them, though, of course, the boys would stand till they fell
down; but fall they would."

"Yes," said Erskine, seriously. "It wouldn't exactly be a walk over for
them, but I'm afraid there couldn't be very much doubt at the end, if
the fleet once went."

"I'm afraid not," replied Castellan, "and we can only hope that our
Lords of the Council will be of the same opinion, or, better still,
that the infernal thing we saw belongs to us."

"I hope so," said Erskine, gravely. "If it doesn't--well, I wouldn't
give half-a-crown for the biggest battleship in the British Navy."





Next: The Shadow Of The Terror

Previous: Norah's Good-bye



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