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smile. "They won't risk going so far. They know we have wireless; but
if they thought they could do the trick without witnesses they
wouldn't hesitate to try and sink us."

"They didn't sink the _Yosen Maru_."

"No; that strengthens my opinion that they won't go to extreme
measures. There was none of the cut-throat, walk-the-plank style of
the eighteenth-century pirate about them. No, I don't anticipate much
difficulty but we'll be prepared."

An hour later the _Frome_ was only a mile astern from her chase. The
_Impregnable's_ speed was visibly diminishing.

"They've a cool cheek, by Jove!" ejaculated Fielding. "They've
actually painted another name on her."

"Yes," agreed Drake, who, like his subordinate, was making good use
of his binoculars. "It's _Independencia_. That's Spanish, I believe."

"They're hoisting their colours," continued the sub. "A Brazilian
ensign. Won't do, my hearties. You can't bluff us."

"She's slowed down, sir," exclaimed Cardyke. "Her propellers are
going astern."

"What ship is that?" shouted Drake through a megaphone, as the
_Frome_ slowed down at cable's length on the _Independencia's_
starboard quarter.

"Brazilian cruiser _Independencia_, from Cherbourg for Bahia Blanca,"
was the reply.

"A bit out of your course, old man," muttered Drake. "Stand by, we
are sending a boat."

"For why? We want no communication."

"Then you'll have to want. If you give us any trouble we'll blow you
out of the water," and the lieutenant pointed significantly towards
the foremost torpedo-tube, around which its crew were standing ready
to launch home the deadly weapon.

It was mere bluff on Drake's part. He dared not, as he had said, let
loose a torpedo, and the weapon was only a practice one, its war-head
being stowed away below. But to Drake's satisfaction the captain of
the pirate-cruiser agreed to receive the boat.

"That's good!" ejaculated Drake. "Now, Fielding, off you go. Round up
their gold-braided gentry and lock them up in the chart-room. Take
possession of the bridge, and make them follow in our wake. They are
only milk and water pirates, after all."

"Am I to take away the whaler, sir?" asked Cardyke.

"Very good. But when Mr. Fielding has taken the necessary steps to
secure control over the prize, you will return - you understand?
Good - now look alive, or we'll have someone else's finger in the
pie." And Drake gave a hasty, comprehensive glance astern, heaving a
sigh of relief that the horizon was unobscured. Here was the
_Frome's_ chance, he meant to make good use of it.

The mid. was wearing his dirk - the practically useless emblem of
authority - and in addition he buckled on a holster containing a
Service revolver. Both boats' crews, armed with rifles and
bayonets - for the old British cutlass that worked such doughty deeds
in days gone by is now a thing of the past - tumbled into the little
craft as they lay alongside.

"Give way!" ordered Fielding, and the order was repeated by Cardyke
in the whaler.

With less than a dozen yards separating the two boats the boarders
pulled lustily towards the gigantic cruiser as she lay rising and
falling slightly to the Channel rollers.

There was no accommodation ladder, that article having been unshipped
before the vessel was put up for sale, so Fielding's boat ran
alongside the starboard quarter, where a number of "chocks" afforded
a rough and ready sort of ladder. The bow-man laid hold of a
torpedo-boom bracket with his boathook, and the sub. prepared to
ascend, Cardyke's craft lying just astern.

On the _Independencia's_ deck no one was visible save a quartermaster
who was leaning over the stanchion-rails. Having no man-ropes to
assist him, Fielding's task was an awkward, not to say dangerous,
one. He was half-way up the thirty-odd feet of freeboard, with a
couple of bluejackets at his heels, when a noose rope was adroitly
thrown over his shoulders, and jerked tight. Simultaneously a lariat
descended into the whaler, caught Cardyke round the waist, and before
any of his men could prevent it, the mid. was jerked up into the air.

With a crash two pieces of iron were dropped into the boats, staving
out their garboards.

The pirate cruiser's propellers began to churn the water, and the
_Independencia_ gathered way. The bow-man of each boat endeavoured to
secure a hold, but the drag of the water-logged craft was too great.


[Illustration: A NOOSE WAS ADROITLY THROWN OVER HIS SHOULDERS AND
JERKED TIGHT.
[_Page_ 62.
]


The predicament was an ignominious one. The boats' crews were
swimming around their swamped boats, their officers were prisoners in
the hands of the men they had hoped to capture, and the _Frome_, ere
she could give chase, had to pick up the immersed bluejackets.

Meanwhile, the _Independencia_, steaming at twenty knots, was rapidly
leaving the destroyer astern, while Drake could only shake his fist
in impotent rage.




CHAPTER VI

TRAPPED


MIDSHIPMAN CARDYKE was soon hauled upon the quarter-deck of the
pirate cruiser, and, in spite of his struggles, was secured by
half-a-dozen ruffians. His revolver and dirk were taken from him,
then he was lashed to one of the quarter davits, and left in that
ignominious position to reflect upon the circumstances under which he
had been snared.

He knew that his captors had a definite object in securing him to the
davit. He was in full view of the _Frome_, and his late comrades
could easily distinguish him through their binoculars. A hasty glance
over his shoulder revealed the fact that there were several of the
passengers of the _Yosen Maru_, and some of the crew of the Dutch
tugs, in equally exposed positions. It was obviously intended that
they were placed there in order to prevent the British destroyer from
opening fire upon her gigantic antagonist.

In the meantime Fielding was causing his captors a good deal of
trouble. He had contrived to take a turn round a projection on the
ship's side with the line that had caught him; and although his
assailants hauled on the rope till it was on the point of breaking,
they could not succeed in landing their bag. Neither could the sub.
disengage himself from the toils of the running bowline, for his idea
was to slip out of the noose and cast himself into the sea, trusting
to be picked up by his own craft.

As for the two men who had followed him, one had leapt back into the
swamped whaler. The other stuck gamely to his superior, and Fielding,
looking down, recognised the man as Tom Hardy, the coxswain of his
boat.

"Get out of this, Hardy," exclaimed the sub., breathlessly. "Strike
out for it. The _Frome_ will pick you up."

"Orders is orders, sir," replied Hardy. "You said as how I was to
follow you, and here I am. Besides, I'm not much of a hand at
swimming, sir."

"All right!" said Fielding, grimly. "But you'll find yourself in a
bit of a fix."

The sub. appreciated the coxswain's devotion; for Hardy was an
excellent swimmer in spite of his statement to the contrary, and was
willingly surrendering his chance of escaping from the doubtful
hospitality of the pirate crew.

All the while there was an incessant jabbering going on above, the
Dagoes shouting and dancing about on deck, enraged at the
stubbornness of their principal captive.

"Can you get at my revolver, Hardy?" asked the sub., who had been
vainly attempting to free his arms sufficiently to reach the weapon
in his holster.

"I'll try, sir; but what for? They'll plug you, sir, sure as fate."

"We'll put a bullet through this line, and swim for it."

"What about Mr. Cardyke, sir?"

"Cardyke? Has he been caught too? That alters the case. Where is he?"

"Hauled aboard."

"I hope the villains haven't hurt him. Look here, Hardy, I'm going to
make a dash up and over the side. Follow me as smartly as you can.
Good heavens! What have they done to young Cardyke?"

For, happening to look up, Fielding saw the mid. lashed to the davit.
Thinking that the pirates were about to drop the lad, bound as he
was, over the side, the sub. was seized with a sudden and desperate
resolution.

The men on deck had desisted hauling upon the rope. With a smart jerk
Fielding unhitched it from the eyebolt that had proved such a
stumbling block to his captors, then scrambled swiftly and agilely up
the remaining distance of freeboard.

In a trice he was over the stanchions, and before the olive-coloured
mob could realise it, the sub. was in the midst of them, hitting out
with his fists with terrific force. In this he was ably seconded by
the coxswain, and for a few moments it seemed as if the two
Britishers would clear the quarter-deck.

The Dagoes rallied, and, unfortunately for Fielding, although he had
freed his arms from the bowline, the noose had slipped as far as his
ankles. A lithe and muscular Algerine seized the end of the rope, and
Fielding, his legs literally jerked from under him, fell heavily on
the deck.

For another fifteen seconds Hardy stood over the prostrate body of
his officer, holding out like a bersark. Luckily the sub. had not
used his revolver, nor had Hardy drawn his bayonet. The pirates
seemed unwilling to do injury to the officer, but their consideration
was not extended towards the gallant and devoted bluejacket. A
Spaniard, advancing stealthily from behind, dealt the coxswain a
heavy blow across the head with a hand-spike, and Hardy fell to the
deck.

"You no play fool wid me. Me Juan Cervillo, capitan ob dis ship,"
announced the head of the lawless mob, standing in a tragedian's
attitude, with arms folded and chest expanded, before the overpowered
sub. "You jus' behave. No hurt."

Fielding did not reply. He was humiliated. One thing he regretted in
particular was that in his headlong rush his iron knuckles had not
come in contact with Cervillo's sleek, oily features.

At a word from the pirate captain the sub. was carried up to the
after-bridge, and ignominiously secured to a semaphore post. Here he
was left to enjoy his surroundings as best he might, and reflect upon
his undignified position.

Meanwhile some of the crew were holding a consultation as to what was
to be done with the still unconscious Hardy. Some advocated dropping
him overboard, others, judging the British bluejacket by the low
standard set up by the renegade petty officer who acted as
quartermaster, were of the opinion that if the coxswain recovered
from the crack over the head he might become a useful member of the
crew. So Hardy was lifted and unceremoniously carried for'ard.

With anxious gaze Cardyke watched the rapidly receding destroyer. He
could see her manoeuvring slowly through the water, her two remaining
boats being engaged in the work of picking up the swimmers. Drake was
paying dearly for his disinclination for co-operation: two officers
and the coxswain missing, two boats and the men's rifles hopelessly
lost, and his reputation very much at stake.

"I wish the _Frome_ would blow this vessel out of the water," thought
the mid., but instantly it occurred to him to wonder what would
happen to Fielding and the rest of the captives if the destroyer did
open fire. Beyond doing damage to the unarmoured portion of the
pirate ship, the _Frome's_ comparatively light ordnance would make
little or no impression upon her gigantic antagonist.

"She's following us, by Jove!" exclaimed the mid. "I wish I had a
pair of binoculars, and was able to use them. I wonder what Drake is
going to do?"

Yes, the _Frome_ was tearing along, yet gaining slowly, for the
stokers of the _Independencia_ were toiling their hardest, pumping
crude petroleum into the complex array of burners. Columns of black
smoke, tinged with flame, shot from the tall funnels of the cruiser.
Every possible inch that could be got out of her was made use of. Her
neglected engines were beginning to run more smoothly. She might hold
her own, or might even shake off the pursuing destroyer.

The midshipman could not help noticing the lack of discipline amongst
the motley crew. Seamen, with a couple of revolvers stuck in their
belts, and cigars in their mouths, would stroll aimlessly along the
quarter-deck, give a glance at the British destroyer, and curtly
question their officers as to the position of affairs. Some of the
latter were not above accepting cigars and cigarettes from the men.
The officers were decked out in gaudy uniforms, while the men wore
coarse canvas jumpers and trousers. Some wore canvas shoes, others
rope-soled boots, but the majority went bare-footed. The only person
who seemed to be able to exercise any real authority was Juan
Cervillo.

Nearer and nearer drew the _Frome_ till she was but a couple of miles
astern, steering a course well on the _Independencia's_ port quarter,
and studiously avoiding her wake. The destroyer did not court further
trouble by running over a grass hawser or other obstruction purposely
thrown over by the chased ship.

Cardyke felt much easier in his mind when he saw that the _Frome_ was
gaining. He had such a supreme faith in his comrades that he felt
certain that rescue was merely the question of a few hours at the
very outside. Of what was to be done to effect this desirable
business he had no idea; but it would be managed all right. Before
sunset he would be having dinner in the destroyer's wardroom.

Presently Cervillo climbed up to the after-bridge, and, taking his
stand close to where Fielding was secured, watched the destroyer
through a telescope. After a lengthy examination he called to one of
his officers, who in turn gave voluminous directions to a party of
seamen. In a leisurely manner they began to bring up ammunition for
some of the quick-firers mounted amidships on the starboard side of
the ship.

Cardyke could see that the muzzles were depressed and trained
slightly abaft the beam; but unless the cruiser ported her helm it
would be a matter of impossibility to fire upon her pursuer.

Bang! A sharp report, followed by a shrill screech of the projectile,
announced that the _Frome_ had opened fire with one of her foremost
guns. The missile struck the water at less than two hundred yards to
starboard, threw up a column of water thirty feet in the air, and
ricochetted thrice ere it dipped for the last time.

It was purposely aimed wide of the chase, but it showed that the
destroyer meant business.

Unswervingly the _Independencia_ kept her course; the _Frome_ settled
down to the same rate, and kept her station at less than eight
hundred yards on the cruiser's quarter. Four more shots came from the
British destroyer, then she ceased firing, holding doggedly on to the
chase. The prominent positions occupied by the pirates' hostages
rendered shell fire upon the _Independencia_ out of the question, and
Juan Cervillo knew that for the time being he held the whip hand.

But the tenacious dogging of his vessel by the British destroyer was
a serious business. Unless pursuit could be shaken off, the _Frome_,
by the aid of the wireless, would bring a cordon round the modern
buccaneer long before she had done anything like the damage she
wished to do. Already, no doubt, other warships were steaming under
forced draught to settle accounts with the filibustered
battle-cruiser. The _Frome_ must be put out of the running.

It was now half-an-hour after sunset. The horizon was quite
uninterrupted, grey sea met grey sky in an unbroken line, and the
outlook promised dirty weather on the morrow.

Having satisfied himself that no other vessel was in sight, Cervillo
descended from the after-bridge and entered the conning-tower. An
order to the quartermaster made that worthy put the steam
steering-gear hard over, and as the _Independencia_ swung round at
right angles to her former course, one of the quick-firers let fly a
plugged shell.

Cervillo's idea was merely to cripple the destroyer by sending a
non-explosive shell through her engine-room. He was very chary of
going to extreme measures, not that he was averse to committing
murder, but he had a wholesome respect for the British Navy. The
partial disablement of the _Frome_ would give him another start in
his piratical career. But unfortunately Cervillo's action had far
more disastrous effect than he had anticipated.

The missile sheared its way through the thin steel plating of the
destroyer like an arrow fired through a sheet of brown paper. It
struck one of the cylinders of the motors, fracturing it into fifty
pieces. The petrol caught fire, and, leaping in a cascade of flame,
ignited the main tanks in the double bottom.

The motors stopped spasmodically. The engineer-lieutenant and his
staff had barely time to rush through the small manhole and gain the
deck ere the 'midships section of the ill-fated _Frome_ was a mass of
flames. With the utmost discipline the crew lowered the remaining
boats, and, deeply laden, they pushed off, leaving Drake, the gunner,
and about a score of the crew clustered for'ard. Luckily the
destroyer kept head to wind, which, in a manner, preserved those on
the fo'c'sle from being slowly roasted to death.

Horror-stricken, Cardyke watched the enactment of the tragedy. By the
glare of the burning petrol, that shot skywards to a height of over
one hundred feet, he could see the boats, deeply laden, lying on
their oars, and the knot of brave men gathered around their rash but
intrepid commander.

Suddenly there was an explosion as the sea burst through the heated
plating. The pillar of flame died out, stifled in the cloud of smoke
and steam, but the burning petrol floating on the water, spread in
all directions, spurts of fire rising and falling intermittently till
darkness and the increased distance hid the awful scene from the
midshipman's view.




CHAPTER VII

HOLDING THE CONNING-TOWER


JUAN CERVILLO was completely taken aback at the result of the one
shot. It had put him absolutely beyond the pale. Piracy without
bloodshed was serious enough in all conscience, but to have gone to
this extent meant that capture would, without doubt, end in
ignominious death at the hands of the executioner. Not that he would
allow himself to be captured if it could possibly be avoided. He had
been so far successful. Could he but carry out his plans for the next
few days there was a probability that the _Independencia_ might be
able to slip away from her pursuers, and land his crew with their
ill-gotten booty in some unfrequented place, where they might make
their way in individual parties to one of the lawless South American
republics.

All need for keeping the hostages on deck was for the time being at
an end. The Dutchmen were marched off down below, in a secure place
of confinement on the orlop-deck, while Fielding and Cardyke found
themselves in a cabin on the half-deck in company with General Oki,
Mr. Hokosuka, and a Japanese scientist named Mukyima, The cabin was
wretchedly furnished, having been the quarters of a former
watch-keeper while the ship was awaiting sale. There was a cracked
looking-glass, iron wash-basin and stand, a folding-table fixed to
the bulkhead, and a few camp-chairs.

The three Japanese were already in the cabin when Fielding and the
mid. were unceremoniously thrust in and the door locked behind them.
The former rose and saluted the new arrivals courteously, but by no
expression did they depart from the characteristic imperturbability
of the Asiatic.

"Good evening, gentlemen!" exclaimed Fielding, thinking this manner
of salutation was the best way to ascertain whether the Japanese
hostages spoke English.

"Good evening," replied General Oki. "We are sorry we cannot exchange
our honourable salutations in an atmosphere more auspicious."

"We're glad you speak English," said the sub. "We do not understand
Japanese - I have never been in the Far East."

"I am the only one of three who can speak the tongue of our
illustrious allies and instructors in naval science and warfare,"
continued the Japanese general. "Mr. Hokosuka here does, it is a
veracity, speak few English words. Mr. Mukyima, to the sorrow of his
ancestors, has taken no stride to overpower your tongue."

"We are all in a bit of a hole," remarked the sub., gravely. "Our
destroyer, the _Frome_, boarded the _Yosen Maru_ a few hours ago and
learnt of your predicament. Unfortunately in attempting to capture
this pirate vessel, and incidentally to effect your rescue, we fell
into the hands of these rascals."

"My sympathies with your deplorable misfortune," remarked Oki.

"An' me, too," added Hokosuka.

"Thanks," replied Fielding, briefly; then after a pause he continued,
"What are these rascals going to do with us, I wonder?"

"Pirate hold us to ransom for sum of one million yen," said the
Japanese, as calmly as an Englishman would announce how much an ounce
he paid for his tobacco. "I pay not - Hokosuka he pay not - Mukyima he
pay not."

"I suppose this rascal Cervillo will try and squeeze a tidy sum out
of our relations on our account," said the sub., turning to Cardyke.
"He'll be very much mistaken concerning me, for I doubt whether my
people could raise ten thousand, and even then I feel sure they
wouldn't on principle."

"Same here," agreed the mid. "But the question is: Are we to stick
here without making an effort to break ship?"

"What do you suggest?" asked Fielding, with a slight tinge of
asperity. "Swim a few hundred miles to the nearest land?"

"No; but if we could manage to get out of this dog-hole we might
seize a part of the ship and hold our own."

"Till starved out, eh? And for what purpose?"

"It seems to me that if we could reach the chart-room, or the
conning-tower, we could properly play the dickens with the villains."

"H'm!" ejaculated Fielding, who was beginning to realise that action
was preferable to a prolonged confinement in a wretchedly furnished
cabin. "The conning-tower? But how? And if we did how could we hold
it? We've no weapons."

"We might manage to squeeze through that scuttle," suggested Cardyke,
warming up to his point.

Fielding gave a dubious glance at the Japanese. General Oki was
getting on in years, Mukyima was a big fellow - one of the
Samurai - and both might experience difficulty in effecting their
escape.

"No fear; we can do," exclaimed Oki, "Hokosuka, he take pistols from
men without knowing it." And turning to his companions the Japanese
general explained that plans were being formed to make a stand
against the piratical crew.

Fielding opened the scuttle. Although broad of shoulder he could, by
holding one arm above his head, and the other against his side, pass
the widest part of his massive form through the circular aperture.
Mukyima then tried, and by a wonderful contraction of his muscular
body, squeezed his shoulders through without any apparent difficulty.

"The scuttle is only four feet below the upper deck," said Fielding.
"I'll go first; there's the boat-boom lashed just beneath us. We can
stand on that, use the rise of the scupper as a foothold, and raise
ourselves up over the side. If all is quiet we can creep cautiously
for'ard. If not we must wait till we are all ready to make a rush,
then run for the conning-tower as fast as we know how."

Oki expressed himself satisfied with the arrangements, and shortly
after midnight Fielding was assisted through the narrow opening.
Cardyke and Hokosuka gripped his ankles, and for a short space of
time he hung head downwards till his hands came in contact with the
boom.

"All right - let go," he whispered, as the _Independencia_ listed to
port, and as agile as a cat he landed on the rounded spar. Ere the
vessel heeled in the other direction the sub. had secured a firm hold
upon the rim of the scuttle, his feet planted upon the boom. Then
cautiously he climbed till his head was just above the level of the
deck.

It was almost pitch dark. A screened light was burning in the
chart-room, and the glow of a dozen cigarettes showed that some of
the crew whose watch on deck it was, were taking things as agreeably
as they possibly could, shielding from the keen wind behind the
starboard 'midship barbette.

"All clear," he said, in a low voice. "You are the youngest and most
active, Cardyke. Hang on till the last, and I will give you a
leg-up."

With an agility that was remarkable for his years the veteran Oki
made his way through the exaggerated needle's-eye, and was soon lying
flat on the edge of the deck. Mukyima and Hokosuka followed, and were
soon snugly ensconced by the side of their compatriots. Fielding then
lowered himself to assist the midshipman, but Cardyke had forestalled


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