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THE STOLEN CRUISER ***




Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen




THE STOLEN CRUISER




[Illustration: "CRASH! A SHELL STRIKING THE BASE OF THE FUNNEL
REDUCING IT TO ATOMS."
_Frontispiece_.] [_Page_ 261.
]





THE STOLEN
CRUISER



BY

PERCY F. WESTERMAN

AUTHOR OF
"THE SEA MONARCH," "THE FLYING SUBMARINE" ETC.



[Illustration: SANS PEUR ET SANS REPROCHE - logo - L & N]



_ILLUSTRATED BY_
_CHARLES NORMAN & J. DE WALTON_



LONDON
JARROLD & SONS, 10 & 11, WARWICK LANE, E.C.




CONTENTS

CHAP.
I THE "SCRAPPED" CRUISER
II THE INTERRUPTED MATCH
III THE DESTROYER'S QUEST
IV THE OUTRAGE ON THE HIGH SEAS
V OVERHAULED
VI TRAPPED
VII HOLDING THE CONNING-TOWER
VIII THE PERIL OF THE VOICE-TUBE
IX HOLDING UP "L'ÉGALITÉ"
X THE HYDRO-AEROPLANES
XI HOKOSUKA'S SLEIGHT-OF-HAND
XII THE "DUKE OF NEGROPONT"
XIII THE HOSTAGES ARE MADE USE OF
XIV THE FORTUNE OF WAR
XV RAMMING AN ICEBERG
XVI CARDYKE TO THE RESCUE
XVII TOUCH AND GO
XVIII MUTINY AND A RUSE THAT FAILED
XIX CERVILLO DESERTS HIS CREW
XX THE RECAPTURE OF THE "INDEPENDENCIA"
XXI DRAKE MEETS THE YACHT "SERENA"
XXII JUAN CERVILLO KEEPS HIS VOW
XXIII FORESTALLED
XXIV THE COCKED HAT




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

CRASH! A SHELL STRIKING THE BASE OF THE
FUNNEL REDUCED IT TO ATOMS _Frontispiece_

RIGHT AHEAD CAME A HUGE BATTLE-CRUISER

A NOOSE WAS ADROITLY THROWN OVER HIS
SHOULDERS AND JERKED TIGHT

THE SHOT CAUGHT THE DECOY-BEARER JUST
BELOW THE KNEE

BEFORE CERVILLO COULD RECOVER FROM HIS
ASTONISHMENT HE WAS FLOORED BY THE
ATHLETIC SUB

HALF-A-DOZEN SEAMEN, HEADED BY THE RENEGADE
ENGLISHMAN, BURST INTO THE ROOM

THE PIRATES RUSHED FOR THE BOATS

AFTER A QUARTER OF AN HOUR'S SUSPENSE THE
"INDEPENDENCIA" GAINED THE OPEN SEA

HE STRUGGLED DESPERATELY TO THROW HIMSELF
ONCE MORE INTO THE SEA




THE STOLEN CRUISER

CHAPTER I




THE "SCRAPPED" CRUISER


IT was half-past eight on a May morning. The sun was obscured in a
dense haze that the light south-westerly breeze failed to disperse.

Spithead lay enshrouded in the sea-fog, while from the deck of H.M.
torpedo-boat destroyer _Frome_ neither the low-lying land upon which
Portsmouth is built nor the undulating downs of the Isle of Wight
were visible.

"Boyne Buoy on the starboard bow, sir," reported the look-out.

"Thanks be!" ejaculated Lieutenant-Commander Douglas Drake to his
companion, Sub-Lieutenant Paul Fielding. "I shan't be sorry to turn
in."

The _Frome_ had been out for night-firing off the Medmery Bank, but
ill-luck in the guise of a fog accompanied her. For hours she cruised
up and down, waiting for the bank of impenetrable haze to lift, while
her consort, the _Calder_, was standing by ready to take the canvas
target in tow.

It was a nerve-racking job, forging slowly ahead in the fog. In a
heavy sea, provided the weather be sufficiently clear to enable the
officer of the watch to pick up the various lights, the discomfort,
even when battened down, is nothing compared with the blindworm
tactics of keeping steerage way in a shut-in sky of dark grey clammy
vapour.

"By George! It is clearing," exclaimed Fielding. "Surely that is
Southsea Castle ahead."

"You're right. I only hope the admiral won't order us out to-morrow
night."

"By the mark ten!" shouted the leadsman in the monotonous drawl that
seamen affect when engaged in sounding.

"Fairly in the channel, thank goodness. How's that for navigation,
Mr. Cardyke?" asked the lieutenant, turning to a midshipman who stood
beside him on the diminutive bridge.

"Ripping, sir," replied the lad. "I suppose we'll be able to play on
Friday?"

"I hope so," rejoined Drake. "We must bear a hand in licking the
Sixth Division if it's humanly possible."

Lieutenant Douglas Drake was well under thirty years of age. Although
"frightfully keen" on his duties, and a stickler for naval etiquette,
he was at times almost boyish in manner. His chief fault - if fault it
might be termed - was excessive self-confidence. That quality was
undoubtedly an asset in the old lay-alongside-and-board-'em days; but
in modern naval tactics, based upon hard and fast scientific lines, a
blind reliance upon one's personal qualifications is apt to lead a
man into trouble. There are occasions, of course, when
self-confidence has its advantages. But woe-betide the unfortunate
individual who, through blind "cocksureness," jeopardised his command
and failed to achieve his object.

Drake had influence behind him, and with influence behind him a
hare-brained young officer might do certain things with impunity that
would soon bring him under the ban of official displeasure had he not
someone of importance to back him. On the other hand, influence tends
to make a man unpopular with his brother officers. Drake realised
this, and acted accordingly; but although he succeeded to a certain
extent in winning the regard of his comrades, he was often the victim
of a harmless practical joke whenever the opportunity arose.

Sub-Lieutenant Paul Fielding was, on the other hand, a cautious man.
He had need to be, since he had nothing in the shape of influence at
his back. He was a strict disciplinarian, somewhat inclined to be
off-handish at times, yet a true comrade and a loyal supporter of his
superior officer. Fired by Drake's enthusiasm he began to acquire the
belief that when an opportunity did occur the little _Frome_ would
acquit herself in a style worthy of the best traditions of the
Service - and the time was at hand when his capacity was to be tried
to the uttermost.

Arnold Cardyke, the midshipman "lent" to the destroyer, was a
dark-featured, athletic-looking youth of sixteen. He was slightly
above middle height, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, and was as
hard as the proverbial nail. He was the son of an admiral, who
himself was one of a long line of naval officers - for Cardykes were
to be found in the Royal Navy in a continuous, and often multifold,
line from the reign of King William III.

The young midshipman was doubly anxious for the _Frome_ to be
detained in harbour in order to effect the long outstanding
periodical refit. One reason was that he wanted to go on leave to
meet his brother, who was "paying off" after a two years' commission
on the Pacific Station; the other was that he was exceedingly keen on
cricket, and, with the reputation of being one of the best bats in
the First Dartmouth Team, he was regarded as a pillar of strength in
the forthcoming match between the officers of the Fifth and Sixth
Torpedo-boat Destroyer Flotillas.

Of course, had there been any special duty to perform on board the
_Frome_ Cardyke would have cheerfully foregone both of the
anticipated pleasures but, with the exception of the night-firing
practice - which could be performed any time during the forthcoming
six weeks - there was nothing likely to occur.

Arnold Cardyke was very proud of the honour of being "lent" to the
_Frome_, which was one of the very latest "New River" class. She was
120 ft. over all, with a turtle-back deck fore and aft, a strikingly
fine entry, and a pointed, cutaway stern. Funnels she had none, being
propelled by the most up-to-date Diesel motors. At the after end of
the fore turtle-deck was the gun platform, mounting two
eleven-pounder automatic weapons, so arranged that they could command
an arc of 210 degs. of the horizon, and could be trained to fire
skywards up to within 10 degs. of a vertical line.

Underneath this platform, with the observation holes barely six
inches above the back of the curved deck, was the conning-tower.
Above was the "navigating bridge," which could be removed if going
into action. Here was the slight shelter, called by courtesy the
chart-room, and two powerful searchlights.

Immediately abaft the bridge was a light telescopic mast for
signalling purposes. Wireless "aerials" - always the bugbear of naval
officers while overhead gear was in vogue - had been consigned to the
limbo of the past, and receivers in the wireless room "picked up" the
messages with unerring fidelity.

Abreast the mast were two seven-pounder automatic guns, protected
from Maxim fire by light steel shields forming a complete turret.
Abaft the mast, and twenty feet from the guns, were the two 21 in.
torpedo tubes, taking an improved Whitehead with an effective range
of five miles. From this point was a clear run of deck-space - save
for the ventilating cowls and hatchways, that could be respectively
unshipped or battened down should occasion arise - to the aft
torpedo-tubes.

On the poop turtle-back was the supplementary conning-tower, and
another eleven-pounder gun.

"All out" the _Frome_ could do forty-three knots. With her, speed was
the primary consideration. To minimise windage every object that it
was possible to construct in that fashion was wedge-shaped - even the
shafting of the ventilators, while with her after turtle-back deck
the destroyer could go astern at twenty-one knots without fear of
being swept by the waves. She carried a complement of ninety men, of
whom only fifteen were "engine-room ratings."

Gradually the fog lifted, till the outlines of Southsea Beach could
be followed almost as far as the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour; and
now, with her speed increased to a modest ten knots, the destroyer
slipped up the fairway against the surging ebb tide.

Just as the _Frome_ was within a quarter of a mile from the Round
Tower, where the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour is barely 250 yds.
wide, a burst of sunshine dispersed the last vestige of the fog
within the sheltered waters, though at Spithead the haze was as thick
as ever.


[Illustration: RIGHT AHEAD CAME A HUGE BATTLE CRUISER.
[_Page_ 17.
]


"That's awkward, sir," remarked Fielding. Lieutenant Drake did not
reply, but motioning the quartermaster to put the helm over to port,
and telegraphing to the engine-room for fifteen knots, nodded
significantly to his subordinate.

It was indeed awkward. Flying from the yard-arm of the naval station
of Fort Blockhouse was the signal burgee letter S - a triangular blue
and yellow flag - denoting that submarines were either entering or
leaving Haslar Lake. From the Semaphore Tower, and from the foremast
heads of all the ships in harbour, the Pilot Jack was flying, showing
that one of H.M. ships was under way, and a glance astern showed that
the second-class cruiser _Vindictive_ was entering.

Right ahead came a huge battle-cruiser, with a Government tug lashed
on either side, and a gaudily painted tug panting ahead with an
enormous hawser, and a sister tender puffing decorously astern of the
leviathan.

"That's a bungled bit of work," commented Drake. "She can't go back
with this tide under her; and the _Vindictive_ following us up, too.
Pass the word for a warning signal to be sent to the cruiser, Mr.
Cardyke. These fellows must be as mad as March hares."

The increased speed just saved the _Frome_ from being in a very tight
corner, for, hugging the eastern side of the entrance, she gained the
broad expanse of the harbour just as the towed vessel came abeam.

Still Drake had to keep his full attention on his course; but the
sub. and midshipman could devote themselves to the melancholy
spectacle - for the _Impregnable_ was on her way to the marine
knacker's yard. Her days as an effective unit were judged to be over,
and, sold out of the Service, she was on her way to a Dutch port to
be broken up.

The _Impregnable_ was one of the earlier "Dreadnought cruisers," and
in her time held the palm for speed. She was of eighteen thousand
tons displacement, and had attained a speed of twenty-six knots. Her
armament consisted of eight 12 in. guns - one pair for'ard, another
pair aft, and the others _en échelon_ amidships - as well as a
secondary battery of twenty-five 4 in. quick-firers. She had two
tripod masts and three huge funnels.

Very different the vessel looked from when, a few months previously,
she had taken her place in the fleet at Spithead as an effective unit
of the British Navy. Her topmasts were "housed," her boats and
secondary armament removed, and her regulation coat of grey paint was
streaked with rust and dirt. In her barbettes the 12 in. guns still
grinned menacingly, but their teeth were drawn, their breech-blocks
having been removed previous to sale.

"Seems like parting with an old friend," remarked the sub to Cardyke,
for Fielding had served a commission on board of her. "To my mind,
it's a mistake scrapping the older vessels so promptly. It's not my
business to say so, of course; but still, that's my opinion."

"She'd do her little bit even yet," observed Cardyke. "She never has
fired a shot in anger yet, has she?"

"No," replied the sub. "And she never will. We've seen the last of
the old _Impregnable_, Cardyke."

But Sub-Lieutenant Paul Fielding was, for once, at least, hopelessly
out of his bearings.




CHAPTER II

THE INTERRUPTED MATCH


THE _Frome_ came alongside the Fountain Lake Jetty, and her commander
repaired to the commander-in-chief's office to make his report as to
why the night gunnery exercises had not been carried out. To the
relief of everyone on board the destroyer it was decided that the
night-firing was to be postponed until after the little craft's
refit, and in the interval the _Frome_ was to lie alongside the jetty
until her consort, the _Blackadder_, came out of No. 3 Dock.

"That's good!" ejaculated Fielding, as the officers went to dinner in
the diminutive, cosy wardroom. "We'll have time to put in a few
hours' practice at the nets. Have you seen the list of our team yet,
Cardyke?"

"Thompson's sending out the names tomorrow. I know that we are in the
team; Simpson gave me the cue," replied the midshipman. "The
practice-nets will be available at ten o'clock to-morrow morning. I
suppose we may go, sir?"

"Of course," assented Drake, good-naturedly. "The gunner will be in
charge up to eight bells."

The four officers - for the engineer-lieutenant formed one of the
party - fell to discussing everyday topics. "Shop" was rigidly tabooed
in the _Frome's_ wardroom unless absolutely necessary for Service
reasons.

The following day, Thursday, passed almost without incident. Fielding
and Cardyke put in a good morning's work at the practice-nets in the
United Services ground; while Drake went ashore in the afternoon for
a motor-drive.

Friday dawned bright and clear, with every prospect of a blazing hot
day. Shortly after breakfast a newsboy brought off the daily papers
to the ship, and for the next half-hour the officers "stood easy."

"By Jove! They think that something's happened to the old
_Impregnable_," exclaimed Paul Fielding. "She ought to have turned up
at the mouth of the Scheldt yesterday morning, and nothing has been
seen or heard of her."

"Delayed by fog possibly," remarked the lieutenant-commander. "Still,
it's no affair of the Admiralty's since the ship is sold."

"The paper hints at something mysterious."

"Naturally. There's been a dearth of news for the last month or more,
and this is a good opportunity of arousing public interest. She'll
turn up all right, with two tugs looking after her. Well, what's
this?"

Drake turned to receive a message from a signalman.

"I say, you fellows," he exclaimed. "The _Frome_ will be well
represented in the Fifth Division Team. Thompson's sent a signal from
the depot-ship asking me to play. They must be fearfully hard up for
players, because I am awfully out of practice."

"Of course you'll play?" asked Fielding, eagerly, for Drake had a
reputation as a hard slogger at no very distant date.

"I'll do my best, rest assured," replied Drake, modestly, as he
deliberately folded his newspaper, and placed it in the rack. "But
business first and pleasure afterwards - it's time for divisions."

The morning passed only too quickly, for there was much to be done in
the way of routine, and at 2 p.m. Drake, Fielding, and Cardyke, all
in mufti, went ashore. A taxi quickly bore them to the officers'
Recreation Ground, where most of the rival teams had already
gathered.

Matches between the officers of the various ships and torpedo
destroyer divisions were a favourite amusement in the Portsmouth
command, the game usually being followed by an informal dinner, the
losing side having to pay all expenses.

Confident in the batting capabilities of the Fifth Division team,
Drake expressed his willingness to eat his hat should they fail to
win.

"Eating his hat" was the lieutenant's favourite figure of speech;
but, somewhat to his surprise, Lieutenant Player, the skipper of the
Sixth Division team, promptly made a note of his rival's promise in
his pocketbook, amid the laughter of his companions.

Possibly this action unsettled Drake, for, instead of coming up to
his average, he was clean bowled before the end of the first over.
The wickets fell in quick succession, and in spite of the determined
stand of young Cardyke, the Fifth closed with a miserable
forty-three. As for the Sixth, they soon piled on runs till the
scoring-board stood at 108.

"Now then, Drake," exclaimed Player, boisterously. "Where's your
hat?"

Drake began to glare at his tormentor; then, realising the absurdity
of "getting his rag out": "See what I'll do to-night," he replied. "A
Drake always keeps his word."

Just at that moment a marine orderly, mounted on a bicycle, rode at a
high speed over the turf, threw himself out of the saddle abreast of
the pavilion, and, with a salute, handed Drake an envelope.

Without a word the lieutenant-commander opened the buff covering,
read the contents, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

At length Drake dismissed the messenger, thrust the missive into his
pocket, and strolled casually out of the pavilion. The news was
important, but it was almost as important that none of his companions
save his subordinates should know its import.

Outside the pavilion Drake beckoned to Fielding, and the two strolled
a few yards away from the others.

"Looks like business, sir," commented Fielding, as he read the
momentous news. "I thought there was something fishy when the papers
hinted at it this morning."

"It's a rattling good chance, Fielding, my boy - a rattling good
chance. If we don't score I'll eat my - - "

But recollecting that he had already promised to masticate more than
he wished for, Drake checked himself in time.

"Mr. Cardyke," he exclaimed, as the midshipman passed on his way to
the pavilion. "Not a word to the others, mind. A message has just
come from the commander-in-chief ordering us to put to sea with the
utmost promptitude on particular service."

"Anything startling, sir?"

"Only that news has been received that the _Impregnable_ has been
seized on the high seas. How, when, or where we have to find out. Our
instructions are to investigate, and take action if necessary."

"I hope, sir, there will be plenty of 'if necessary' about it."

"So do I," agreed Drake, grimly. "We've the chance of a lifetime - and
I mean to make the most of it."




CHAPTER III

THE DESTROYER'S QUEST


WITHIN a quarter of an hour of the termination of the match Fielding
and Cardyke were on board the destroyer, Drake having gone post-haste
to the commander-in-chief to receive definite instructions as to the
course of action.

Already the water police were busily engaged in hunting up the
absentees of the crew. Those who were gone away from the port on
leave could not conveniently be recalled, and other men were drafted
in to fill up the complement. Stores were being hastily dumped on
board, the usual "red tape" formalities having perforce to be
dispensed with. Fresh water was being supplied to the tanks by one
set of hoses, while another pipe was in use filling up the double
bottom petrol tanks with liquid fuel. Fortunately, owing to the fact
that the night-firing had not taken place, the magazines were filled
with quick-firing ammunition, and the delay occasioned by having to
"ship powder" at one of the buoys in harbour was obviated. It was
primarily on this account that the _Frome_ was selected for the
purpose of investigating the mystery enshrouding the _Impregnable_.

"I wonder if there will be a scrap?" asked the mid. "It's about time
we had something exciting. What do you suppose is the matter?"

"Goodness only knows. You heard what Drake said," replied Fielding,
as he struggled into his uniform with more haste than he usually
displayed, for the sub. had the reputation of being a careful,
deliberate man in the matter of dress, and gold lace won't stand
rough usage.

"He said 'seized on the high seas,'" continued Cardyke. "By whom?"

"County Court officials, probably. Don't take it for granted that
there's anything serious, Cardyke. We may be sent on a fool's errand.
Ah! Here's Drake coming aboard!"

"A rummy affair, by George!" exclaimed the lieutenant-commander as he
entered the wardroom, and threw a bundle of papers on the table. "The
news came from the ss. _Wontwash_, an American tramp that put into
Dover this morning. Her master reports that he was somewhere between
the Owers and the Royal Sovereign lightships, the weather being
thick. A temporary lifting showed him the _Impregnable_ lying a
quarter of a mile or so on his port bow, with a large cargo vessel,
name and nationality unknown, lashed alongside with a considerable
list to port. Two hundred yards astern of the _Impregnable_ was a tug
with red and yellow bands on her funnel - that's one of the Dutchmen,
you'll remember. The tug was sinking by the head, apparently
deserted. There was no mention of the second tug.

"Captain Emory, the master of the _Wontwash_, thinking that a
collision had occurred, hailed to know whether he could be of any
assistance, but to his surprise he was peremptorily ordered, in
broken English, to sheer off.

"He complied slowly, he says, and before the fog shut out the
_Impregnable_ and the vessel alongside her he saw what he believed to
be a number of small quick-firers being hoisted out of the latter
into the cruiser, whose decks were swarming with men.

"Being without wireless Emory could not communicate with the shore
until he came within signalling distance of the Royal Sovereign
light. The lightship forwarded the report by wireless, and, allowing
for errors in transmission, the story seems remarkably mysterious.

"The Admiralty is in a bit of a hole. Nominally the _Impregnable_,
sold to a Dutch private firm, is beyond their control. The Dutch
Government has been communicated with, and they are sending a
destroyer to make inquiries. But since, by virtue of the conditions
of sale, the cruiser is to be broken up, and not to be used as a
vessel, we still hold a certain amount of authority over her, and my
orders are to see that the terms of sale are complied with. Now,
gentlemen, you know as much as I do about the business. We must find
the _Impregnable_, take possession of her - by force, if
necessary - and bring her back to port pending Admiralty
investigation. All ready, Mr. Spanner?" he added, addressing the
engineer-lieutenant.

"All ready, sir," repeated Spanner. "The whole of the petrol-tanks
are filled."

The officers went on deck. Men were busily engaged in easing off the
steel hawsers by which the destroyer was secured to the jetty. The
signal for "permission to part company" was fluttering from her mast.
head. Aft the awnings had been unrigged, and were being handed down
for stowage below.

Presently a hoist of signal flags was run up to the yard-arm of the
semaphore tower.

"Permission, sir," reported the signalman of the destroyer,
laconically.

The engine-room telegraph bell clanged, the water churned under the
destroyer's stern as her propellers began to revolve. The last
"spring" that held her to the shore was cast off, and the _Frome_
started on her mission of investigation.

Three hours later she was off Beachy Head, but, although keeping in
touch with Portsmouth Dockyard by means of wireless, and
communicating with every vessel that passed up and down that busy
highway - the English Channel - the _Impregnable_ seemed to have
vanished, leaving no trace behind her.

"Wreckage, sir," reported the look-out.

Heading towards the spot, and ordering the propellers to be stopped,
Drake got his glasses to bear upon the spot. There were a number of


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