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no longer in the hands of the desperate ruffians. But although the
desire to drop a charge of explosives upon the yacht's deck, and blow
the miscreants to a quick and horrible fate, was well-nigh
irresistible, Drake could not go against his definite orders. He
could only wait, hoping that he might be able to take an active part
in the attack upon the pirate yacht as soon as the _Cerberus_ arrived
upon the scene.

"_Gnat_ coming up, sir," announced one of the men.

Flying at a tremendous speed and at a great height came the
_Mosquito's_ consort, but as soon as she spotted Drake's command she
turned and flew southwards in order to get into visible communication
with the scout. Meanwhile the _Serena_, her funnel emitting dense
columns of flame-tinted smoke, was steaming north-eastwards as hard
as she could pelt.

It was a forlorn business, for within forty or fifty miles of her the
avenging _Cerberus_ was tearing in her direction at at least fifteen
knots more than this yacht; while overhead, like a gigantic hawk, the
_Mosquito_ was turning in ever-varying circles above her, so that
nothing short of a dense fog could save the pirates at this juncture.

Cervillo's luck was out. The atmosphere still remained perfectly
clear; night was a long way off. Within another three hours the
pirates must either fight to the last, or submit themselves
prisoners.

"There's the _Cerberus_, sir," reported the look-out. "Dead astern."

"Good," ejaculated Drake. "Now the fun will commence in earnest. Tell
her that there are no signs of any prisoners, so the sooner she gets
the range the better."

Two hours later the scout came within firing distance. Overhead her
four tenders - for the remaining two aero-hydroplanes had arrived on
the scene - were manoeuvring at a safe altitude in order to observe
the effect of the gunfire.

"There she goes!" shouted Drake, as a bright flash came from the
fo'c'sle of the scout. With a peculiar screech the twelve-pounder
shell tore through the air, passed within fifty yards of the fugitive
yacht, as a stern reminder to heave-to, then, ricochetting three or
four times, finally disappeared half a mile ahead of the pursued
vessel.

Doggedly the _Serena_ held on her course. The primeval instinct to
flee until actually caught still lingered in the minds of the
pirates, but on certain points their opinions were divided. Cervillo,
with several of his men, was resolved to die rather than submit to
capture; while Da Silva and the rest of the pirates, still hoping
against hope, were inclined to give themselves up and trust that
mercy might yet be shown them.

The second shell struck the yacht's fore-mast just below the
cross-trees, and with a rending crash the top hamper came tumbling
down. Held by the steel shrouds the shattered timber trailed over the
side, the drag in the water causing the yacht to slew round.

Thinking that the pirates had given in and were easing down, the
_Cerberus_ withheld her fire. But Cervillo had no intention of
surrendering. Calling half-a-dozen men to his aid he ran forward and
began to hack through the lanyards of the shrouds. Desperately the
men worked till the obstruction was cast off, and the doomed yacht
resumed her flight.

It was not the intention of the _Cerberus_ to sink her prey. Capture
at all costs was the order of the captain. There might be prisoners,
and more than likely rich booty stowed underneath her hatches. Could
the _Serena_ be deprived of the means of propulsion the boats of the
scout would soon settle matters.

Crash! A shell striking the base of the funnel reduced it to atoms,
and, tearing away a portion of the deck and bulwarks, sent a dozen of
the pirates to their last account. Volumes of smoke poured through
the aperture where the funnel casings had been. The yacht reeled
violently, then a cloud of steam rushed upwards from her engine-room.
One of the cylinders had burst, and the engines were completely
disabled.

The _Serena_ swung sound, and floated motionless on the calm sea. As
far as could be seen there was no sign of her sinking. Some of the
men rushed for the boats, only to be driven back by Cervillo and his
officers, who, revolver in hand, did not hesitate to check the rush
by the strongest measures. Finding that escape was impossible, the
pirates were goaded into active resistance, and, with rifles and
pistols, they took refuge behind the shattered bulwarks to await the
approach of the scout's boats.

The _Cerberus_ had lost way, and was lying barely half a mile on the
_Serena's_ starboard quarter. Into her boats swarmed the active
bluejackets, eager to add to the traditions of the Service by
capturing the pirates in the good old-fashioned style.

Secretly regretting that he was not taking an active part in the
boarding of the _Serena_, Drake decided not to miss a close view of
the operations. So the _Mosquito_, her speed reduced until it was
only just sufficient to enable her planes to resist the action of
gravity, descended to a height of about two hundred feet above the
sea, and hovered in circles above the crippled vessel.

So intent were the pirates upon the approach of the boats that the
presence of the aerial craft was entirely forgotten. Drake could see
that Cervillo was pacing the deck in an irresolute fashion. At one
moment he would speak to some of the men and point to their
antagonists, at another he would halt hesitatingly at the top of the
companion.

Nearer and nearer came the British seamen. Now they were within
effective range of the revolvers. One or two of the pirates stood up
ready to fire, but Cervillo restrained them, gave one swift,
comprehensive glance over the side, and dived down the ladder.

In an instant Drake realised the pirate Captain's intention.

"Back oars all!" he shouted to the boarders. "Back for your lives!"
And ordering the planes to be tilted, he placed a safe distance
between the _Mosquito_ and the _Serena_.

He was barely in time. With a roar and a fierce blast of flame the
yacht's magazine exploded. A dense, black cloud of smoke, mingled
with fragments of charred and splintered wood, was hurled high into
the air.

Instinctively Drake thrust over the lever actuating the elevating
planes, and the aerial craft leapt upwards. The next instant the
little vessel was enveloped in an eddying vapour, so opaque that from
where the lieutenant stood the bow was lost to view. For a few
seconds the _Mosquito_ oscillated violently. Fragments of charred
timbers came perilously near the fragile planes. Well-nigh blinded
and choked by the dust-laden fumes that, caught by the swiftly
whirling propeller, were dashed into the lieutenant's face, Drake
lost all idea of what the _Mosquito_ was doing - whether the vessel
was soaring or plunging disabled towards the sea.

Then it was like a train emerging from a tunnel; the blackness began
to give place to subdued light, till with a whirr the aero-hydroplane
cleft the edge of the cloud of smoke, and gained the pure air beyond.

The _Mosquito_ was still ascending, but in her rear, and towering
many feet above her, rose the dense pillar of vapour that formed the
funeral pyre of the ill-fated _Serena_.

Describing a sharp downward curve, the _Mosquito_ descended till she
floated on the surface of the agitated water. Just beyond the fringe
of the smoke were the boats of the _Cerberus_, tossing aimlessly upon
the angry waves, the oars either trailing listlessly over the side,
or else projecting at different angles over the gunwales. Their crew,
although unharmed by the explosion, had literally been beaten to the
bottom of their respective craft, and were still too dazed to realise
what had happened. But of the _Serena_ and her lawless gang no trace
was to be seen, save a few pieces of timber floating on the surface.
Juan Cervillo and his piratical companions had avoided capture, but
no more would the modern buccaneer take toll on the high seas. He had
vowed that he would never be taken alive. Unscrupulous though he was,
this vow he had faithfully performed.




CHAPTER XXIII

FORESTALLED


"STEADY on your helm!" exclaimed Drake. "There's a man in the
water - two, by Jove!"

The _Mosquito_ was moving slowly under the action of her aerial
propeller towards the scene of the catastrophe. The lieutenant
decided to make a search for any possible survivors, then take the
boats of the _Cerberus_ back to their parent. Should there be any
members of the pirate crew still alive they might be able to give
valuable information respecting the fate of Fielding and Cardyke
- and here they were: two scorched and blackened men, clinging in a
half-dazed manner to a fragment of wreckage.

"Steady on your helm," repeated Drake. "Stand by with a boathook,
there. Well done, Jenkins!"


[Illustration: HE STRUGGLED DESPERATELY TO THROW HIMSELF ONCE MORE
INTO THE SEA.
[_Page_ 267
]


Jenkins by a dexterous movement succeeded in lifting one of the
survivors on board - a man almost destitute of clothing, and without
hair left on his head. It was Da Silva.

The Spaniard was just able to realise that he was in the hands of his
foes. He struggled desperately to throw himself once more into the
sea. The effort was too much for his weakened energies, and, uttering
a malediction, he expired in the arms of his rescuer.

The second pirate was one of the ordinary seamen, a massive-framed
Catalonian, who, having an inkling of Cervillo's desperate resolve,
had jumped overboard a few seconds before the explosion took place.
Ere he regained the surface the worst of the disaster was past, but
the concussion temporarily deprived him of his senses. At length,
practically blind and deaf, he struck out feebly until his hands
encountered the piece of floating wreckage. Here he clung till
rescued by the crew of the _Mosquito_.

In vain Drake cruised over the fatal scene in search of more
survivors. There were none. "Easy ahead," he ordered, and the little
craft headed towards the boats, whose crews, now recovering from the
effects of the terrible detonation, were proceeding to pull back to
the _Cerberus_.

"Any casualties?" asked Drake, anxiously.

"None, thank Heaven," replied Lieutenant Thompson, who was in charge
of the expedition. "All pretty well shaken up though, by Jove!"

"Stand by for a tow," continued Drake, and a minute later the boats
were sedately following the _Mosquito_.

"One survivor, sir," replied Drake as he came alongside the scout.
"He's pretty bad; but we can question him later. He's only fit for
the sick-bay at present."

"That rascal Cervillo has saved us a nasty job," remarked the
captain. "But what's become of the _Impregnable_, I wonder?"

"We'll find out later, sir," replied Drake, confidently. "This rascal
will be glad to save his hide."

The _Mosquito_ was soon hoisted on board. Signals of recall were sent
to the other aero-hydroplanes, and within half-an-hour the little
craft were snugly housed on the deck of their parent ship. For the
present there was nothing to be done; everything depended upon the
information that might be forthcoming from the rescued pirate. Until
this was obtained the captain of the _Cerberus_ refrained from
announcing by wireless the destruction of Cervillo and his rascally
companions, otherwise there might be an unwelcome order to rejoin the
commodore, or else return to port.

At length the pirate recovered sufficiently to be questioned. For
some time he stubbornly refused to speak, until it was pointed out to
him that it would be a decided point in his favour at the trial that
was bound to ensue should he give all the information in his power.
Then it was that he related the circumstances of the abandoning of
the pirate-cruiser with the greater portion of the crew and the
hostages still on board.

The Spaniard was quite unable to give the position of the cruiser
when the _Serena_ steamed away. All he could give was the number of
days that had elapsed and the yacht's rate of speed.

Promptly the _Cerberus_ headed northwards on the look-out for the
stolen cruiser, and Drake obtained his commanding officer's
permission to take out the four aero-hydroplanes for reconnoitring
purposes at day break on the following morning.

"I've had permission, Thompson!" he exclaimed, gleefully. "I feel
confident that I'll pick up Fielding and young Cardyke before another
twelve hours are up. If I don't capture the old _Impregnable_ I'll
eat my - - "

"Steady, old man," remonstrated Thompson. "Remember you're already
pledged to eat one. Don't forget the cricket match."

Long before the bos'un's mate's whistle piped "Clear lower deck" the
four aerial craft were spreading fanwise in a northerly direction in
search of the elusive _Impregnable_; but although a wide "field" was
kept under the closest observation, and constant messages were
exchanged between the _Mosquito_ and her consorts, the operations
were futile. Shortly after midday the aero-hydroplanes were recalled
in order to recharge accumulators and replenish petrol tanks, and
also to give the wearied though enthusiastic men a well-earned rest.

But Drake and slumber were not good messmates when work was to be
done. Something kept on prompting him to persevere with his quest;
the self-confidence that was so characteristic of his personality
urged him on - to him was to be the honour of solving the mystery of
the missing cruiser.

In answer to Drake's earnest representations the captain of the
_Cerberus_ consented to another flight with the aero-hydroplanes that
evening, on the understanding that volunteers only should be taken to
comprise the crews of the aerial scouts.

"I can rely upon enough men to make one crew at least, sir," replied
Drake; but to his astonishment and immense satisfaction not only did
every member of the complements of the four aero-hydroplanes signify
their willingness to forgo their "stand-easy," but every seaman on
board qualified as airmen literally clamoured to take part in the
search.

Just before three bells in the second dog-watch (7.30 p.m.) the
_Mosquito_ was hoisted out; the _Gnat_, _Tse-tse_, and _Flea_
followed in quick succession, and, rising gracefully from the
surface, glided on their renewed quest.

Anxiously Drake scanned the horizon. Nothing except a waste of grey
water, flicked here and there by white foam, was to be seen. The sun,
low in the heavens, shone from a cloudless sky. There was every
indication of a spell of fine but cold weather.

Five miles on the _Mosquito's_ port hand the _Gnat_ was flying
steadily at an immense height, the other two aerial craft being a
considerable distance on the _Mosquito's_ starboard quarter. If
anything, Drake's craft was well in advance of the rest of the little
flotilla. With monotonous regularity the wireless reported "Nothing
in sight" till the sun was on the point of setting.

"There she is, by Jove!" exclaimed Drake suddenly, pointing to a mere
dot on the horizon.

"You're right, sir," replied the chief petty officer. "Leastways 'tis
a lump of a ship, and we don't look to see big craft in these parts."
Ordering the rest of the flotilla to concentrate and follow the
_Mosquito_, Drake headed "all out" towards the distant vessel, and
before another quarter of an hour had passed he was able to announce
that it was the _Impregnable_, and that she was steaming slowly stern
foremost, evidently badly damaged.

In obedience to signals the three aero-hydroplanes followed the
movements of their leader, and came to rest on the surface of the
sea. Bearings were taken of the position of the oncoming cruiser, and
the four amphibians lay close till darkness set in.

Under ordinary circumstances Drake ought to have immediately reported
the discovery of the _Impregnable_ to his commanding officer, and
wait till the _Cerberus_ came up to take possession of the
pirate-cruiser. But Drake had confidence in his ability to achieve
his object. Each of the aero-hydroplanes carried ten men. Allowing
two to remain on board there were thirty-two available for the task
of capturing the much-sought-after prize. Drake realised that the
business would be a comparatively simple matter, since only a small
percentage of the original crew of the cruiser remained, and that
they were without officers and greatly demoralised by the hardships
and perils they had undergone.

As soon as darkness set in, the four vessels, with their air-planes
securely folded alongside, formed up in line-ahead, and stole
cautiously towards the oncoming ship. To Drake's surprise, the
_Impregnable_ was showing steaming-lights, a circumstance quite
contrary to the procedure hitherto followed by the modern buccaneer.

Turning hard-a-port the flotilla eased down, and waited for the giant
cruiser to pass.

"Looks like a bloomin' ghost, sir," remarked Jenkins to his superior.
"Not doin' more'n six knots at the very outside, and as quiet as a
corpse."

"We'll liven her up in due course," replied Drake. "Now, lads, no
cheering or unnecessary noise. No shot to be fired till I give the
word. Then a good old British cheer, and drive the rascals down
below. Easy ahead, there!"

Without a sound, save the muffled pulsations of the motors and the
rhythmical swish of the waves against the vessel's knife-like sterns,
the four craft followed the huge cruiser, like a shoal of threshers
after a whale. Not a light was visible on the _Impregnable_, not a
sound of a human voice came from her decks. It was like a mountain of
floating steel ploughing its way aimlessly through the waste of
night-enshrouded sea.

Satisfied that there was no watch kept in the foremost part of the
vessel, Drake ordered speed to be increased till the _Mosquito_ lay
alongside the cruiser's port bow, with the _Tse-tse_ just astern. The
_Flea_ and the _Gnat_ made fast to the _Impregnable's_ starboard bow.
There was just enough of the _Tse-tse's_ and the _Gnat's_ after ends
projecting beyond the cruiser's stem to establish communication
between the different aero-hydroplanes, while the cruiser's
"overhang" for'ard prevented any possibility of their being seen from
the _Impregnable's_ fo'c'sle.

Drake gave the signal, and, revolver ready for instant use, led the
way, clambering agilely up the steep steel sides by means of one of
the torpedo-net booms. Unseen and unheard he gained the deck,
followed by the rest of the boarders, till the thirty-two men formed
up silently under the lee of the foremost barbette.

Going aft to reconnoitre Drake discovered a light on the
after-bridge, for, since the cruiser was going stern foremost, she
was being navigated from that position instead of from the
fore-bridge.

A hasty examination of the fo'c'sle revealed two men stationed over
the hatchway. These were sternly summoned to surrender, but not
complying with sufficient alacrity to satisfy Drake, they were
promptly thrown to the deck, gagged and secured.

This done, the lieutenant led his men aft. Twenty were detailed to
secure the hatchways and companions; the rest, headed by Drake
himself, made a sudden rush for the after-bridge.

There was now no need for silence. With a lusty cheer the British
bluejackets tore up the steep ladder. The commotion brought two or
three muffled figures from the shelter of the wheel-house.

"Surrender in the King's name!" shouted Drake.

"I beg your pardon, sir?" replied Cardyke's well-known voice.




CHAPTER XXIV

THE COCKED HAT


TO say that Lieutenant Douglas Drake was flabbergasted would not do
justice to the state of his mind. In the very hour of his triumph,
when the credit of recapturing the stolen cruiser seemed absolutely
assured, the fruits of victory were snatched from his grasp by a
midshipman. It was humiliating, but Drake was a true sportsman, and,
stifling his feelings of disappointment, was genuinely hearty in his
congratulations to his junior.

"Where's Fielding?" he asked, as soon as Cardyke had briefly
explained the situation.

"Down below. He's had a nasty time of it, sir; but he's doing
wonderfully well."

"I'll go and see him. By the bye, we knocked over a couple of fellows
just now. Who were they?"

"A couple of watchmen from the tug _Hekla_," replied the mid. "It's
rough luck on them. I stationed them to keep an eye on the prisoners.
They can't speak English, so they're wondering what has happened?"

"I'll see that they are released," replied Drake. "Now I'll go below
and pay Fielding a visit. I mustn't stop long, or the _Cerberus_ will
be getting anxious. We'll report you by wireless, and stand by till
daybreak, if you wish."

"Aren't you taking command, sir?" asked Cardyke.

"Taking command? Why, no, my boy; you've done excellently up to the
present. This is your business, and you rightly deserve the credit. I
envy you, Cardyke; 'pon my word I do."

"Better take command, sir," replied the midshipman, wearily. "I've
only had three hours' sleep the last forty-eight hours, and there's
only enough fuel to last a day and a half. If it weren't for you
turning up we'd soon have been in an awkward fix."

"All right, then, Mr. Cardyke," assented Drake. "I'll relieve you at
your request. Mr. Domer," he continued, addressing the senior, "will
you please take sufficient hands to man the boats, and return to the
_Cerberus_? I am keeping the rest of the men on board the
_Impregnable_. I will hand you a written report for Captain Dexter
before we part company."

* * * * *

When Cardyke turned out after a solid sixteen hours' sleep he found
that the _Impregnable_, once more under the White Ensign, was in tow
of the _Cerberus_, en route for Halifax. The trials and tribulations
of Juan Cervillo's hostages were over. Already the momentous news of
the fate of the notorious pirate and the recapture of the terror of
the Atlantic had been flashed abroad, and once again peaceful
merchantmen might pursue their way without an ever-present fear of
capture by a daring and unscrupulous modern buccaneer.

* * * * *

Two months later the long-postponed dinner given by the Fifth
Division to their successful rivals of the Sixth took place at a
popular Portsmouth hotel.

Lieutenant Player was amongst the first to arrive.

"Well, you fellows," he exclaimed, as he laid a cocked-hat case on a
chair. "Drake's not turned up yet?"

"No," replied Cosham, of the Kestrel. "Going on with the business,
Player? It's rubbing it in a bit thick, isn't it?"

"I don't know about that," replied Player. "This has nothing to do
with Drake's disappointment. If it had I for one would not take a
rise out of him."

"He's taking it very well," remarked Cosham. "Blessed if I can quite
understand it - and a fellow with influence behind him, too."

"He deserves promotion in any case, influence or no influence,"'
added Peel. "Fielding's promoted - lucky beggar - and has been
specially commended for gallantry. Young Cardyke is made sub., and
Drake gets nothing. I really don't think we ought to - - "

"Good evening!" exclaimed Thompson, putting his head inside the door.
"Heard the news? Of course you haven't."

"Fire away!" replied the group of officers.

"Drake's away on leave. Coming in by motor for this little function.
He told me to open any wires, and forward any letters that might be
sent to him. Acting under instructions I opened a telegram, and what
do you think it was?"

"Can't say," replied Player. "Has he scratched for to-night?"

"No. A wire from young Tregarthen - he's at the Admiralty, you know.
The secretary told him that Drake is appointed commander, and
receives the D.S.O."

"Good luck to him!"

"Now you can carry on with your little joke, Player," said Thompson.

"I will. But, I say, Drake will see his promotion in the evening
paper. Can't we prevent him, and spring it as a surprise?"

"You'll have to look pretty sharp. Let the others know, and give them
the tip. Here's Fielding."

Lieutenant Fielding, who had practically recovered from his wound,
came up at this moment, followed by his shipmate, Sub-Lieutenant
Cardyke. Both were cordially greeted, for this was the first
opportunity the majority of the officers present had to welcome their
comrades on their return to England.

"I am glad to hear the news about Drake - I thought he was being
treated a bit shabbily. If it hadn't been for him we shouldn't have
had a leg-up," said Fielding, when Thompson informed him of his
chief's promotion.

"Stand by, here's Drake," exclaimed someone.

Drake was low-spirited. The iron of disappointment had eaten into his
soul. But with praiseworthy self-restraint he concealed his feelings.


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