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oars, some gratings, a large hatch, and a yellow-painted lifebuoy,
bearing the name "_Hekla_, Rotterdam."

"That's the name of one of the tugs, sir," said Fielding. "So the
master of the _Wontwash_ has not been telling a mere fairy tale."

"That's so," assented the lieutenant-commander. "I suppose we ought
to secure that lifebuoy as evidence. Stand by with a boathook there."

Slowly the _Frome_ forged ahead, but with little way on she was
scarcely under control. The lifebuoy was passed ten yards to leeward.

"Be careful of the propellers, sir," cautioned Fielding. "There's a
lot of wreckage about. Shall we pipe away the collapsible?"

Drake assented, but as Cardyke went aft to take charge of the Berthon
one of the starboard propellers became entangled in a length of
floating grass-rope. In a second the fibre was wound round the tail
shafting as hard as a steel band.

"Hang it!" muttered Drake. "That's done it. I wish to goodness I'd
sent away the boat instead of drifting into the middle of this
stuff."

In four minutes the Berthon was slung outboard by means of the
quadrant davits, and her crew rowed towards the derelict lifebuoy.

"Here you are, sir," said the bow-man to Cardyke, as he dexterously
whisked the salvaged object into the boat. "There's some scrawl on
it."

Scored deeply into the canvas were some words written in pencil. The
midshipman examined the writing, but it was beyond him to decipher
its meaning. It was in Dutch, a language that Cardyke was not
familiar with, although it bore a slight resemblance to German.

On returning to the _Frome_ the mid. produced his prize; but his
superior was too intent upon the damage to the propeller to take very
much notice of it. Nor was it till Cardyke pointed out that there was
writing upon the buoy that Drake gave his attention to it.


"Scuttled. Finder please notify V. der Coote,
Rotterdam. - Stalkart, master, tug _Vulkan_."


"We've some good evidence here, by Jove!" exclaimed Drake. "Now comes
the task of running down the miscreants."

"But the propeller?"

"Let it rip. We'll run her on three."

"That ought to give her twenty-three knots at the very least, sir,"
suggested Spanner, who had come up from the engine-room to report.

"Not with the helm slightly over to counteract the unequal drive,"
observed Drake. "She'll do seventeen comfortably, and I doubt whether
the _Impregnable_ in tow will be making more than seven. I'll carry
on, even if there's only one propeller left."

Communicating his find by wireless Drake received instructions to
cruise eastward, in order to effect a junction with two destroyers
sent out from Dover, unless she picked up definite information from
passing vessels that might enable her to follow in the track of the
filibustered battle-cruiser.

"It won't do to fall in with the Dover t.b.d.'s," remarked Fielding.
"They'll know we are crippled, and our chances of gaining kudos will
be knocked on the head."

"I don't mean to if I can avoid it," agreed Drake. "We'll shape a
course S.S.E. for a couple of hours, and then N.N.E. for another two
hours, and so on. We'll still be carrying out instructions, you see,
but it will be a precious long time before we get in touch with the
Dover destroyers."

Fielding and Cardyke smiled. They knew Drake well enough by now to
know that if there were a way of gaining his end he would generally
do it successfully and diplomatically.

"It's my private opinion," continued the lieutenant, "that the
_Impregnable_ is not heading up-Channel at all, but rather towards
the Atlantic. I don't know why, but that's my firm conviction; so the
longer we take before we hear any news the sooner we'll be able to
retrace our course. I only hope that the other destroyers sent from
Portsmouth and Portland won't snap her up."

"So do I, sir," agreed Fielding.

"Sail-ho, on the starboard bow," sung out the look-out man.

"A tramp, judging by the smoke," remarked the sub. after the lapse of
a few minutes.

Soon the vessel was observed to be steaming eastwards, so slowly that
the following wind drove her smoke in a dense, trailing cloud over
her bows.

Directly the _Frome_ was within signalling distance the tramp made
her number.

"SS. _Steephill Castle_ of Hull," announced Fielding, after
consulting the register. "She's light, by George! One blade of her
propeller is quite clear of the water."

"Yes; I shouldn't care to be caught out in dirty weather in a craft
so high in ballast as that," added Drake. "We'll close, and ask her
if she has any information to give."

Drake made known his request by megaphone, and in reply the master of
the tramp shouted from the bridge -

"Cruiser, two masts and three funnels, in tow. Passed her three and a
half hours ago. Thought she had broken down."

"On what course?" asked Drake, eagerly.

"Due west, I should think, sir," replied the "old man." "Anything
amiss?"

"We hardly know till we find her," replied the lieutenant, guardedly.

The _Steephill Castle_ dipped her ensign in farewell, and the _Frome_
returned the compliment; then, describing a quarter-circle, the
destroyer headed due west on her quest for the filibustered
_Impregnable_.




CHAPTER IV

THE OUTRAGE ON THE HIGH SEAS


IT will now be necessary to follow up the events relating to the
object of the torpedo-boat destroyer _Frome's_ search.

The scrapped Dreadnought-cruiser Impregnable had been sold by public
auction, the purchaser being Mynheer Van der Coote, shipbreaker, of
Rotterdam. According to the usual terms of sale the purchaser was
bound to complete the breaking-up of the ship within six months. The
machinery could be utilised again, and, in consequence, was in fair
order. Owing to the fact that it would be necessary to employ a large
engine-room and stokehold staff to take the ship across to Holland
under her own steam, Mynheer Van der Coote took the far more
economical course of sending two powerful tugs to Portsmouth to tow
the _Impregnable_ to her last port.

Directly the cruiser gained Spithead the two dockyard tugs cast off
and returned. The last link with Great Britain had been severed; the
purchase money had been paid, and the obsolete craft was now private
property.

Before the Warner Lightship was abeam the fog enveloped the ship, so
that her tugs were quite invisible. Captain Stalkart, the master of
the leading tug, therefore eased down to half speed, reduced the
scope of hawser by one half, and steered a compass course towards the
English Channel. The tugs' syrens kept up a continuous and discordant
bellow - one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts, signifying
that they had a vessel in tow - for the appalling risks of a collision
in a fog were more than doubled by reason of the fact that the
unwieldy craft lumbering astern was almost incapable of being
manoeuvred with any degree of celerity.

At 4.45 the master of the tug heard the characteristic blast of the
reed-horn of the Owers Light vessel, and deeming that the warning
came from a bearing well on his port bow, altered his course a couple
of points to starboard.

Suddenly a black shape, distorted out of its proportion by the watery
atmosphere, loomed up dead ahead. There was no attempt made by the
vessel - for such it was - to give warning of her presence. She was
simply forging ahead with bare steerage way.

Signalling to the rearmost tug to go full speed astern, the master of
the leading tender promptly gave orders for the engines to be
stopped. He dared not go astern, otherwise the momentum of the
_Impregnable_ would cause the giant vessel to overrun her diminutive
escort. As it was the cruiser forged ahead till the tug was swept
alongside.

Just then the mysterious vessel, that had made no attempt to get out
of the way, went astern, and, describing a graceful curve, ran
alongside the _Impregnable_. There was a rending of steel as the
ex-cruiser's torpedonet-booms were shorn from their securing-lashings
by the wall-sided vessel. The next instant fifty men poured upon the
_Impregnable's_ upper deck; hawsers were passed out and the two ships
were soon locked in a close embrace.

Captain Stalkart, knowing that something was amiss, but ignorant of
what had actually occurred, shouted through his megaphone for the
other tug to come alongside. She promptly complied, making fast on
the port side of the _Impregnable_, and slightly astern of the first
tug.

Under the impression that a serious collision had occurred, and
wishing to do his best to save the huge vessel he was towing,
Stalkart gave orders for the powerful centrifugal pumps to be manned,
and the suction-pipes to be led aboard the _Impregnable_; but ere the
hoses could be coupled up a score of men armed with revolvers and
automatic pistols lowered themselves over the cruiser's side, and on
to the two tugs.

The phlegmatic Dutchmen, finding it useless to resist, promptly ran
below, their retreat being hastened by a few pistol-shots fired over
their heads. To do the crews of the tugs personal injury was
evidently not the intention of the assailants.

As for Captain Stalkart, the minute he saw how things were turning
out, he ran into the chart-room and seized a revolver. Fortunately
for his own sake he did not attempt to fire, nor did the aggressors
find him for some considerable time. During that interval he wrote a
hurried message on one of the lifebuoys, and heaved it over the side.

Meanwhile, in addition to the work of pillaging both tugs of
everything that might be of service, the modern buccaneers were
busily engaged in transhipping stores, arms, and ammunition from the
tramp to the _Impregnable_.

It was soon evident that they had laid their plans carefully
beforehand, and that the capture of the _Impregnable_ was not an act
on the spur of the moment. From the hold of the steamer twenty-five
seven-pounder quick-firers with their mountings were soon hauled up,
and placed in position on the captured cruiser. Tons of oil were
pumped into her double bottoms; water and provisions were stowed away
in the usual tanks and store-rooms.

Down in the _Impregnable's_ engine-room men - experienced
mechanics - were overhauling the machinery. Only a few weeks before
the cruiser had been in commission with a nucleus crew, and, as is
usually the case, her engines had lacked proper attention, but in
less than a couple of hours the filibusters had succeeded in firing
the oil-fuel burners and raising steam.

This done the Dutchmen were ordered to come up from below, and were
placed in one of the store-rooms of the after-flats of the cruiser.
The _Vulkan_ had been scuttled and was sinking fast, but ere she
dropped beneath the waves her master, the taciturn Stalkart, rushed
from the chart-room, where he had been concealed, on to the bridge.
Volubly cursing and shaking his fist at the rascally crowd who had
sunk his ship, the captain remained bravely at his post, scorning the
gestures that indicated that he should save himself.

The _Vulkan's_ bows rose high in the air as her stern slipped beneath
the surging cauldron of foam. In another instant the loyal skipper
would have gone to his doom, when a lariat whizzed through the air.
The noose tightened round Stalkart's portly waist, and, amid a round
of jeers and ironical laughter, the Dutchman was hauled ignominiously
but effectively on board the _Impregnable_.

The second tug suffered a similar fate; but just then a lifting of
the fog revealed the presence of the ss. _Wontwash_.

For a few moments all was confusion, the crowd of men on the
_Impregnable's_ deck running below to hide themselves from the
inquisitive gaze of the undesirable steamer. The Dutchmen, thinking
that assistance was at hand, began to clamour for aid, till quieted
by the silent threat of a revolver being pointed at them.

Seizing a megaphone the leader of the pirates - for that they were to
all intents and purposes - sprang upon the fore-bridge.

"You vill clear out of dis!" he shouted. "No vant 'elp; go 'way."

The _Wontwash's_ skipper was completely taken aback. Naturally he was
at first under the impression that the tramp alongside the
_Impregnable_ was engaged in salvage work, and did not want outside
interference that might lead to reduction of the salvage court's
award; but when he saw that the steamer alongside bore no name, and
that the men were far in excess of the number of an ordinary crew,
and, in addition, armed, he decided that discretion was the better
part of valour, and promptly did as he had been peremptorily told - he
sheered off.

Directly the _Wontwash_ was lost to view in the still thick haze men
were lowered over the taffrail of the vessel that had effected the
seizure of the battle-cruiser, and the words "_Steephill Castle_,
Hull," were prominently painted on her stern. Ere this was completed
the final stages of transferring the stores were finished, and the
_Impregnable's_ propellers began to revolve slowly.

The vessels then parted company, the pseudo _Steephill Castle_
proceeding up Channel, while the _Impregnable_, steaming at a steady
fifteen knots, headed due south.

Forty miles from the Sussex shore she eased down. The word
_Impregnable_ was erased from her stern and _Independencia_
substituted. Her crew were mustered aft, divided into port and
starboard watches, and told off to their respective quarters. The men
were literally the scum of the Mediterranean ports - Greeks, Italians,
Spaniards, Algerines, and Egyptians, with a renegade Englishman
(formerly a naval petty officer) as bo'sun. The officers were mostly
Spaniards, the captain being a native of Barcelona, and a member of a
formidable Anarchist society.

All hands knew that theirs was a desperate and unlawful
enterprise - piracy. The stake was a high one, the inducements great.
In a few days all hands would either be wealthy or doomed to an
ignominious end.

Juan Cervillo, the leader of the rascally crew, was a Spaniard of
good family He had served as an officer in the Spanish Navy; but,
imbued with revolutionary sentiments, he became mixed up in an
anti-monarchist plot. Exposed, he was arrested, brought to trial; and
sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.

Before he had done twelve months of his sentence he contrived, with
the assistance of his revolutionary associates, to effect his escape
from the prison-fortress of Saragossa. For some months he lay hidden
in Barcelona, when his daring, undoubted courage, and vehement
denunciations of all authority, gained him a prominent position
amongst the anarchist community of that city.

As a delegate he attended the secret revolutionary conferences in
Paris, and London, and the Mediterranean seaports; and in the course
of his wanderings contrived to gather together a band of seafaring
rascals in whom the piratical instincts of their forefathers lay
dormant.

It wanted but a leader, bold, determined, and unscrupulous, to bind
them together into a formidable band - and that leader was forthcoming
in Juan Cervillo.

A daring raid upon one of the leading banks in Rome, and an equally
successful coup in the commercial quarter of Marseilles, provided
Juan Cervillo with ample funds. He could have retired into some
remote South American town, and lived a life of luxury; but the
desire for adventure and the lust for gold were too great.

With the money at his disposal he proposed to buy a swift cruiser,
prey upon the world's sea-borne commerce, and recoup his outlay
tenfold.

Then it was that the possibility of securing a discarded British
warship occurred to him. Careful and guarded inquiries revealed the
information that the _Impregnable_ was leaving Portsmouth for
Holland. He resolved to intercept her - and succeeded.

The next few days were to be spent in wholesale depredations; then,
as soon as the high seas became too unsafe to continue his nefarious
exploits, he meant to convey his booty to some out-of-the-way port,
and, temporarily satisfied with his war upon civilisation, he would
lie low till a favourable opportunity again occurred.

Thus, while the _Frome_, lured on a false scent, was running
westward, the _Independencia_ ex-_Impregnable_ was steaming
southward, ready like a beast of prey to pounce down upon the first
unsuspecting merchant ship that came across Cervillo's course.




CHAPTER V

OVERHAULED


"I BELIEVE we're on a fool's errand," remarked Fielding to the
midshipman.

They were on the bridge; Drake had turned in. It was now two bells of
the middle watch (1 a.m.), and the _Frome_ was still heading westward
as fast as her motors could impart power to the three undamaged
propellers. Beyond the rhythmical purr of the engines, the "swish" of
the water as the destroyer's knife-like bow cleft the waves, and the
mournful slatting of the signal halliards against the mast, hardly a
sound was audible.

"Why, sir?" asked Cardyke, lowering his night-glasses, and stepping
behind the shelter of the "storm-dodgers."

"Why - because I think we are. We ought to have overhauled our quarry
hours ago - certainly before sunset. With lights out, they might
easily alter course, and let us run by them like a blind man past a
notice to trespassers. What's more, we're right out of the beaten
track. All up-Channel traffic will be heading for St. Catherine's
light, and we're well to the south'ard of the Start by now.

"It's a cool bit of work, snapping up a ship almost in sight of
Portsmouth, and in the English Channel, too," remarked Cardyke.

"Yes, and it's the audacity of it all that gives the beggars a chance
of success. But what can be the object of a tramp lumbering along
with a disabled cruiser in tow? She'll be spotted at sunrise, mark my
words; but I'm afraid the _Frome_ won't have a look in. Well?"

The monosyllable was addressed to a seaman who had scaled the
bridge-ladder.

"Message, sir; wireless," replied the man, laconically.

"H'm!" grumbled Fielding, taking the slip of paper. "The admiral
wants to know our position, I suppose. That will mean a recall, and a
wigging for not carrying out orders. I wish we'd crippled the
wireless for a few hours. Take this, Cardyke, and see what it's all
about."

The midshipman took the paper, and entered the little chart-room. The
next instant he was by the sub.'s side.

"She's at it again," he exclaimed. "Here's an urgent call for
assistance from ss. _Yosen Maru_, lat. 50-2-14 N., long. 3-45-9 W.,
steaming NNE.1/4E. Requires urgent assistance. Pursued and fired upon
by large unknown vessel. How's that?"

"Forty miles off, and a general call will bring a dozen vessels to
her assistance," replied Fielding, gloomily. "Cut below and inform
Drake."

Cardyke bounded down the steep ladder, and made his way to the
wardroom. The lieutenant was awake in a moment.

"We've been tricked," he exclaimed. "But we'll be in time yet. Pass
the word for Mr. Black."

Drake was soon on the bridge, and the _Frome's_ course was altered
towards the position given by the _Yosen Maru_. As soon as Black, the
gunner, came on deck, orders were given to clear for action.

The wireless operator repeatedly called up the vessel in distress,
which was known to be a Japanese liner bound for London. But beyond
the first call for aid no message came from the threatened vessel.
The ominous silence told its own tale.

With the spray flying in cascades right over the fore-bridge, for the
wind was now dead ahead, the _Frome_ thrashed her way through the
darkness. An hour and a half passed, then -

"Rocket, throwing blue and red stars, sir," announced one of the men
stationed on the bridge.

"Whither away?"

"Dead ahead, sir. There's another."

"That's the _Yosen Maru_, sure enough," exclaimed Drake. "We'll be in
time, after all."

The grey dawn was paling in the eastern sky as the _Frome_ eased down
within a cable's length of the huge Japanese liner, and a couple of
the destroyer's boats were promptly lowered and manned, Fielding
being in charge of one, and Cardyke of the other.

It was soon evident that the _Yosen Maru_ was helpless and drifting
broadside on to the fairly stiff breeze. Her rudder had been shot
away, and a gaping hole under her counter, a few feet above the
waterline, showed that a shot had been fired with disastrous result.
Her accommodation ladder had been lowered, and no attempt had been
made to haul it up again, so towards this means of entry the
destroyer's boats gave way.

Fielding was the first to board, and at the head of the ladder was
met by a group of calm, imperturbable Oriental officers.

"We have been boarded by pirates, sir," announced one of the
Japanese, in excellent English. "A large cruiser intercepted us and
ordered us to heave-to. We asked the reason, and in reply a shot was
fired across our bows, and another shattered our rudder. Under the
circumstances we could do nothing more than ease down. We were
boarded by a boat's crew, and the villain in charge demanded to see
our papers, pointing revolvers at the passengers and crew to keep
them intimidated. Our purser was compelled to hand over the whole of
the bullion in the strong-room, to the value of three hundred
thousand yen, some of our stores and provisions were stolen, and ten
of our first-class passengers, including General Oki, who is on a
mission to the British Court, and Mr. Hokosuka, the eminent financier
of Nagasaki, were taken out of the ship. Finally having done
considerable damage in our engine-room by means of a charge of
dynamite, the rascals returned to their ship, and steamed off."

"Was the pirate ship alone?" asked Fielding. "And did she clear off
under her own steam?"

"Certainly," replied the Japanese officer. "She headed S.S.W., going
about twenty knots, as far as I could judge."

"I told you we'd been fooled," exclaimed the sub. to Cardyke. "The
_Impregnable_ was not towed away - she managed to raise steam, and
apparently did very well. I'd like to have a few moments with the
skipper of the _Steephill Castle_. The lying rogue is more than
likely in league with these up-to-date pirates."

"Well, gentlemen," continued Fielding, turning to the officers of the
_Yosen Maru_, "we had better be off, and try to overhaul the pirate
vessel. We can do very little by way of assistance to your ship, I
fear."

"Quite true," replied the spokesman. "The weather is moderate, and we
have plenty of sea-room. Before they put our wireless out of gear we
heard that the British cruiser _Dionysius_ was coming to our aid, as
well as the Red Star liner _Scandinavia_."

"Then you'll be well looked after," said the sub. And saluting the
Japanese officers, he descended the accommodation ladder.

"Those rascals are not wanting in cool cheek, - holding the passengers
as hostages, I suppose," commented Drake, when Fielding had made his
report. "Well, I suppose we must call up Portsmouth, and inform the
admiral of what has occurred. But there's nothing to prevent us
overhauling the _Impregnable_. At all events I'll have a shot at it."

This was Drake's chief fault: he was overanxious to make an
individual score. The glory of capturing the _Impregnable_ was to be
the _Frome's_, if possible. The idea of co-operation with the other
British destroyers was distasteful to him. "Alone I did it" was to be
his motto, the "I" including the officers and crew of the little
craft under his command.

As fast as her three undamaged propellers could drive her the _Frome_
tore in the direction the pirate cruiser was supposed to have taken.
Eagerly glasses were brought to bear upon the horizon, in the hope of
discerning a cloud of smoke - the oil-laden vapour from the
_Impregnable's_ liquid fuel.

At eight bells Fielding and Cardyke turned in for a well-earned rest
but their sleep was soon to be rudely disturbed. Just before noon the
slumbering officers were aroused by a messenger with the news that
the _Impregnable_ had been sighted.

"No mistake this time, I hope, sir?" asked the sub., as he swung
himself up the bridge-ladder three steps at a time.

"That's the old _Impregnable_," asserted the lieutenant-commander,
confidently. "The question is how the dickens are we to do the trick?
We can't very well use the quick-firers, or we may bowl over some of
the Japanese hostages. For the same reason we dare not let loose a
torpedo."

"We can hail her, sir, and demand her surrender. If she refuses we
must hang on, call up the other destroyers to our assistance, and
take forcible possession of her."

"Do you think they'll open fire, sir?" asked Cardyke, eagerly.

"Hardly likely, you young fire-eater," replied Drake, with a grim


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