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The Flying Fish Appears







From: The World Peril Of 1910

A huge, black shape loomed up into the moonlight. As she came nearer
Lennard could see that the vessel carried a big mast forward with a
fighting-top, two funnels a little aft of it, and two other funnels a
few feet forward of the after mast.

Erskine put his glasses up to his eyes and said:

"That's the Dupleix, one of the improved Desaix class. Steams
twenty-four knots. I suppose she's been shepherding those destroyers
that we've just finished with. I hope she hasn't seen what happened. If
she thinks that they've got in all right, we've got her. She has a heavy
fore and aft and broadside gunfire, two 6.4 guns ahead and astern and
amidships, in pairs, and as I suppose they'll be using melinite shells,
we shall get fits unless we take them unawares."

"And what does that mean?" asked Lennard.

"Show you in a minute," answered Erskine, touching three or four of the
buttons on the right-hand side as he spoke.

Another shudder ran through the frame of the Ithuriel and Lennard felt
the deck sink under his feet. If he hadn't had as good a head on him as
he had, he would have said something, for the Ithuriel sank until her
decks were almost awash. She jumped forward again now almost invisible,
and circled round to the south eastward. A big cloud drifted across the
moon and Erskine said:

"Thank God for that! We shall get her now."

Another quarter turn of the wheel brought the Ithuriel's head at
right angles to the French cruiser's broadside. He took the transmitter
of the telephone down from the hooks and said:

"Are you there, Castellan?"

"Yes. What's that big thing ahead there?"

"It's the Dupleix. Ready with your forward guns. I'm going to fire
first, then ram. Stand by, centre first, then starboard and port, and
keep your eye on them. These are Mr Lennard's shells and we want to see
what they'll do. Are you ready?"

"Yes. When you like."

"Half speed, then, and tell Mackenzie to stand by and order full speed
when I give the word. We shall want it in a jump."

"Very good, sir. Is that all?"

"Yes, that's all."

Erskine put the receiver back on the hooks.

"That's it. Now we'll try your shells. If they're what I think they are,
we'll smash that fellow's top works into scrap-iron, and then we'll go
for him."

"I think I see," said Lennard, "that's why you've half submerged her."

"Yes. The Ithuriel is designed to deal with both light and heavy
craft. With the light ones, as you have seen, she just walked over them.
Now, we've got something bigger to tackle, and if everything goes right
that ship will be at the bottom of the sea in five minutes."

"Horrible," replied Lennard, "but I suppose it's necessary."

"Absolutely," said Erskine, taking the receiver down from the hooks. "If
we didn't do it with them, they'd do it with us. That's war."

Lennard made no reply. He was looking hard at the now rapidly
approaching shape of the big French cruiser, and when men are thinking
hard, they don't usually say much.

The Ithuriel completed her quarter-circle and dead head on to the
Dupleix, Erskine said, "Centre gun ready, forward--fire. Port and
starboard concentrate--fire."

There was no report--only a low, hissing sound--and then Lennard saw
three flashes of bluish-green blaze out over the French cruiser.

"Hit her! I think those shells of yours got home," said Erskine between
his clenched teeth. And then he added through the telephone, "Well
aimed, Castellan! They all got there. Load up again--three more shots
and I'm going to ram--quick now, and full speed ahead when you've
fired."

"All ready!" came back over the telephone, "I've told Mackenzie that
you'll want it."

"Good man," replied Erskine. "When I touch the button, you do the rest.
Now--are you ready?"

"Yes."

"Let her have it--then full speed. Ah," Erskine continued, turning to
Lennard, "he's shooting back."

The cruiser burst into a thunderstorm of smoke and flame and shell, but
there was nothing to shoot at. Only three feet of freeboard would have
been visible even in broad daylight. The signal mast had been
telescoped. There was nothing but the deck, the guns and the
conning-tower to be seen. The shells screamed through the air a good ten
feet over her and incidentally wrecked the Marine Hotel on Selsey Bill.

Erskine pressed the top button on the right-hand side three times. The
smokeless, nameless guns spoke again, and again the three flashes of
blue-green flame broke out on the Frenchman's decks.

"Good enough," said Erskine, taking the transmitter down from the hooks
again. "Now, Mr Lennard, just come for'ard and watch."

Lennard crept up beside him and took the glasses.

"Down guns--full speed ahead--going to ram," said Erskine, quietly, into
the telephone.

To his utter astonishment, Lennard saw the three big guns sink down
under the deck and the steel hoods move forward and cover the
emplacements. The floor of the conning-tower jumped under his feet again
and the huge shape of the French cruiser seemed to rush towards him.
There was a roar of artillery, a thunder of 6.4 guns, a crash of
bursting shells, a shudder and a shock, and the fifty-ton ram of the
Ithuriel hit her forward of the conning-tower and went through the
two-inch armour belt as a knife would go through a piece of paper. The
big cruiser stopped as an animal on land does, struck by a bullet in its
vitals, or a whale when the lance is driven home. Half her officers and
men were lying about the decks asphyxiated by Lennard's shells. The
after barbette swung round, and at the same moment, or perhaps half a
minute before, Erskine touched two other buttons in rapid succession.
The Dupleix lurched down on the starboard side, the two big guns went
off and hit the water. Erskine touched another button, and the
Ithuriel ran back from her victim. A minute later the French cruiser
heeled over and sank.

"Good God, how did you do that?" said Lennard, looking round at him with
eyes rather more wide open than usual.

"That's the effect of the suction screw," replied Erskine. "I got the
idea from the Russian ice-breaker, the Yermack. The old idea was just
main strength and stupidity, charge the ice and break through if you
could. The better idea was to suck the water away from under the ice and
go over it--that's what we've done. I rammed that chap, pulled the water
away from under him, and, of course, he's gone down."

He gave the wheel a quarter-turn to starboard, took down the transmitter
and said: "Full speed again--in two minutes, three quarters and then
half."

"But surely," exclaimed Lennard, "you can do something to help those
poor fellows. Are you going to leave them all to drown?"

"I have no orders, except to sink and destroy," replied Erskine between
his teeth. "You must remember that this is a war of one country against
a continent, and of one fleet against four. Ah, there's another! A
third-class cruiser--I think I know her, she's the old Leger--they
must have thought they had an easy job of it if they sent her here. Low
free board, not worth shooting at. We'll go over her. No armour--what
idiots they are to put a thing like that into the fighting line!"

He took the transmitter down and said:

"Stand by there, Castellan! Get your pumps to work, and I shall want
full speed ahead--I'm going to run that old croak down--hurry up."

He put the transmitter back on the hooks and presently Lennard saw the
bows of the Ithuriel rise quickly out of the water. The doomed vessel
in front of them was a long, low-lying French torpedo-catcher, with one
big funnel between two signal-masts, hopelessly out of date, and
evidently intended only to go in and take her share of the spoils.
Erskine switched off the searchlight, called for full speed ahead and
then with clenched teeth and set eyes, he sent the Ithuriel flying at
her victim.

Within five minutes it was all over. The fifty-ton ram rose over the
Leger's side, crushed it down into the water, ground its way through
her, cut her in half and went on.

"That ship ought to have been on the scrap-heap ten years ago," said
Erskine as he signalled for half-speed and swung the Ithuriel round to
the westward.

"She's got a scrap-heap all to herself now, I suppose," said Lennard,
with a bit of a check in his voice. "I've no doubt, as you say, this
sort of thing may be necessary, but my personal opinion of it is that
it's damnable."

"Exactly my opinion too," said Erskine, "but it has to be done."

The next instant, Lennard heard a sound such as he had never heard
before. It was a smothered rumble which seemed to come out of the
depths, then there came a shock which flung him off his feet, and shot
him against the opposite wall of the conning-tower. The Ithuriel
heeled over to port, a huge volume of water rose on her starboard side
and burst into a torrent over her decks, then she righted.

Erskine, holding on hard to the iron table to which the signalling board
was bolted, saved himself from a fall.

"I hope you're not hurt, Mr Lennard," said he, looking round, "that was
a submarine. Let a torpedo go at us, I suppose, and didn't know they
were hitting twelve-inch armour."

"It's all right," said Lennard, picking himself up. "Only a bruise or
two; nothing broken. It seems to me that this new naval warfare of yours
is going to get a bit exciting."

"Yes," said Erskine, "I think it is. Halloa, Great Caesar! That must be
that infernal invention of Castellan's brother's; the thing he sold to
the Germans--the sweep!"

As he spoke a grey shape leapt up out of the water and began to circle
over the Ithuriel. He snatched the transmitter from the hooks, and
said, in quick, clear tones:

"Castellan--sink--quick, quick as you can."

The pumps of the Ithuriel worked furiously the next moment. Lennard
held his breath as he saw the waves rise up over the decks.

"Full speed ahead again, and dive," said Erskine into the transmitter.
"Hold tight, Lennard."

The floor of the conning-tower took an angle of about sixty degrees, and
Lennard gripped the holdfasts, of which there were two on each wall of
the tower. He heard a rush of overwhelming waters--then came darkness.
The Ithuriel rushed forward at her highest speed. Then something hit
the sea, and a quick succession of shocks sent a shudder through the
vessel.

"I thought so," said Erskine. "That's John Castellan's combined airship
and submarine right enough, and that was an aerial torpedo. If it had
hit us when we were above water, we should have been where those French
chaps are now. You're quite right, this sort of naval warfare is getting
rather exciting."





Next: First Blows From The Air

Previous: First Blood



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