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him, and was crouching upon the boom.

His intimate knowledge of the ship gave Fielding the place of honour
in making their way for'ard. In Indian file, and as silently as they
possibly could, the four daring spirits followed the sub., crawling
on their hands and knees, expecting every minute to be challenged by
a more vigilant member of the pirate crew.

Unseen and unheard they passed the danger zone in the vicinity of the
barbette, and from thence to the foot of the monkey ladder the deck
was clear. Fielding was within twenty feet of the ladder when a
French seaman came lurching aft.

Without a moment's hesitation the sub. lay down upon the deck,
curling himself up in a natural attitude as if asleep, and his
companions with promptitude followed his example.

As the seaman stumbled past, his right foot came in violent contact
with Cardyke's forehead. The mid., although the blow well-nigh
stunned him, did not utter a sound, and the seaman continued his
erratic course.

Before the fellow had passed the barbette an officer appeared from
behind the foremost funnel casing. Seeing the five men apparently
deep in slumber on the deck he mildly remonstrated. Receiving no
reply he stooped, and touched Cardyke on the shoulder. As he did so
he caught sight of the distinctive "piping" on the mid.'s sleeve, and
as if he had picked up a live coal he jumped backwards, shouting for
assistance.

"Bowl him over," shouted the mid., all necessity for silence being
now out of the question. His strong hands grasped the Spaniard's
ankles, Fielding's heavy fist caught the pirate on the point of his
jaw, and with a gurgled exclamation the astonished man measured his
length on the deck.

In a trice the sub. was running up the ladder to the spar deck, Oki
and Mukyima at his heels, and Cardyke following in the rear. Two
signalmen attempted to bar their path, but went down like ninepins,
and, breathless but unharmed, the adventurers gained the
conning-tower to find that Hokosuka was not with them.

"No fear; him come all right," said Oki, reassuringly.

The words were hardly out of his mouth ere Hokosuka rejoined them,
and silently handed Fielding and the general a revolver apiece. A
third he retained himself. How he gained possession of the weapons
none of his companions knew, nor did the Japanese think fit to
enlighten them on the matter. The main thing was that three of them
were armed with loaded revolvers, each holding six cartridges. There
was no spare ammunition, but Fielding remarked that they ought to be
thankful for small mercies, and trust that there would be no need to
have to expend all the cartridges.

Meanwhile a regular pandemonium had broken out on the pirate cruiser.
Alarmed by the uproar, men poured from below, not knowing whether
they were attacked by a retributive cruiser. In the darkness the
confusion was increased tenfold, and Fielding profited by the chaotic
state of things to put the steering hard to port, steadying the helm
while the _Independencia_ pointed in exactly the opposite direction
to her previous course. The quartermasters at the steering-gear on
the bridge had abandoned their posts at the first alarm, and
consequently the sudden alteration of her course was not corrected As
the cruiser was travelling at a high speed the change of helm gave an
alarming list away from the centre of rotation, and, unaware of what
had caused the "heel," the crew began to shout that the vessel was
capsizing.

"If we had a boat's crew at our backs we could sweep the rascals down
below in a brace of shakes," exclaimed the sub., as he proceeded to
close the slits in the armoured walls. "As we haven't we must make
the best of things. When they've calmed down a bit they'll try and
rout us out. In the interval we must take steps to prepare our
defences."

Hitherto the _Independencia_ had been steaming without navigation
lights, and all lamps 'tween decks were screened, but in order to
reassure his cowardly crew, Cervillo, who had hastily left his cabin,
ordered the lights to be switched on.

Standing on the bridge the pirate captain swore, implored, and
threatened as fast as he could shout. The conviction that the cruiser
was in danger was too firmly rooted in the minds of the seamen to be
removed by a torrent of almost incomprehensible words. Men began to
make a rush for the boats that had been transferred from the pseudo
_Steephill Castle_, two of which hung in the davits on either
quarter. The first boat was stove in against the ship's side, the
second, crowded with men, was so heavy that directly the falls were
manned the laden craft took charge. The ropes slipped from the grasp
of the men who held them, and the boat with its living freight fell
into the sea.

This disaster quieted the panic-stricken crew to a certain extent,
and the officers, with the assistance of a few pistol-shots,
succeeded in driving the mob for'ard. Then it was that the discovery
was made that the _Independencia_ was as far out of her course as she
could possibly be.

By dint of threats and a few lusty strokes with the flat of his sword
Cervillo compelled the quartermasters to return to their posts, only
to discover that as fast as they put the helm up some mysterious
agency promptly put it hard down.

Presently the excited officer who had been capsized by Fielding in
the rush for the conning-tower was able to make a coherent
explanation of what had occurred. Cervillo, fuming with rage, sent a
couple of men down to the cabins where the prisoners had been
confined. The Dutchmen were safely under lock and key, but the
British officers and the three Japanese had escaped.

While the search was in progress a Greek sailor took it into his head
to have a look in the conning-tower. The result was somewhat
surprising as far as he was concerned; for directly his features
appeared in the narrow entrance Hokosuka's lithe fingers clutched him
by the throat. Unable to utter a sound the Greek was choked into
insensibility, relieved of his knife and pistol, and gently dropped
between an empty signal-locker and the stanchion rails. The respite
thus gained was small, but the five occupants of the armoured box
made good use of it. The electric circuits communicating with the
different parts of the ship - most of which had been restored to a
fairly efficient state - were ruthlessly crippled, only the
engine-room telegraph and the steam steering-gear left intact. These
Fielding resolved to destroy at the last moment.

The daring five were not left long undisturbed. Two petty officers,
one of whom carried a hand-lantern, discovered the insensible Greek
seaman.

Uttering a shout that brought others running to the spot, the two men
advanced cautiously towards the conning-tower. The one with the
lantern found himself flying backwards from the effect of a
well-delivered blow from Cardyke's fist. The second, whipping out a
revolver, fired twice in quick succession, the bullets flattening
themselves against the massive steel plates just above the mid.'s
head.

"That's done it," muttered Fielding. Then aloud he exclaimed, "Don't
fire a shot till I give the word. Keep close."

A hail of bullets rattled against the outside of the conning-tower,
followed by an intermittent patter as the leaden hail beat against
the formidable walls.

Receiving no reply, and not knowing that the defenders possessed
firearms, three or four men made a deliberate rush towards the gap
that gave access to the "brain of the ship." The foremost man
Fielding brought down with a bullet through his thigh. The others
fell in a heap over their comrade's prostrate body, lying still in
deadly fear till they mustered sufficient courage to crawl back to
their friends. Again the firing broke out, but without effect.

After a while one of the attackers placed his cap on the end of the
capstan bar, and, bearing it well in front of him, crept softly up to
the entrance, another man, armed with a keen knife lashed, to the end
of a pole, standing ready with his crude yet formidable weapon to
slash at any of the occupants who might be enticed to make a cut at
the decoy.

In the semi-gloom, for outside a few lanterns had been brought up and
placed in position where they might be of service to the attackers,
the defenders caught sight of a white object carefully advancing
inside the entrance of the conning-tower. It was the seaman's cap.

Unguardedly Cardyke was on the point of dealing the intruder a heavy
blow with a brass bar, which he had detached from some mechanism,
when Oki, with characteristic shrewdness, noticed that the forward
motion of the object was jerky and undecided. The Japanese general's
hand clutched the midshipman's wrist, warning him to be on his guard.
Closer and closer came the decoy, till almost the whole of the cap
was in view.

Suddenly falling flat upon the floor Oki extended his right arm and
fired. The shot, aimed slightly upwards, caught the decoy-bearer just
below the knee, and brought him to the deck, while his companion,
letting his weapon clatter from his nerveless grasp, ran shrieking
from the spot.

Realising that they had a hard nut to crack the pirates hesitated to
close, but an intermittent fire was kept up, with the idea of
preventing any of the defenders from leaving their well-nigh
impregnable fortress.

This state of affairs continued till dawn. Then there was a lull in
the firing, and Juan Cervillo's voice was heard demanding instant
surrender, otherwise a dynamite fuse would be thrown into the
conning-tower and blow its defenders to atoms.


[Illustration: THE SHOT CAUGHT THE DECOY BEARER JUST BELOW THE KNEE.
[_Page_ 92.
]




CHAPTER VIII

THE PERIL OF THE VOICE-TUBE


FIELDING glanced significantly at his comrades. He was a young man,
brave and resolute, and full of life; but the prospect of being
mangled in a steel tomb was enough to quail the stoutest heart.
Cardyke was deadly pale. He, too, was willing to face ordinary
dangers, but the threatened mode of extermination was too horrible to
contemplate. Hokosuka and Mukyima, who were ignorant of the nature of
the threat, turned and asked General Oki to explain the pirate
leader's words. The Japanese officer did so, but whether the three
Asiatics felt uneasy or otherwise their stolid features betrayed no
sign of their emotions.

Quite five minutes passed. The occupants of the conning-tower did not
reply to Cervillo's demand, and the pirate captain began to show
signs of impatience.

"Again I say - you vill surrender?"

"No," replied the sub., resolutely. His confidence was beginning to
return. Perhaps after all the Spaniard might be only bluffing.
Cervillo, although he would not scruple to use the most deadly
measures at his command to carry out his ends, quite realised that
his hostages were worth more to him alive than dead. He meant to make
them his tools to achieve his purpose.

Finding threats were of no avail, he altered his tone and adopted a
conciliatory attitude, but to all his advances the men at bay turned
a deaf ear - they ignored him absolutely.

Presently Fielding and Cardyke were somewhat astonished to hear an
English voice exclaim, "Don't shoot, sir. I've got to say a few words
with you."

In reply Fielding opened one of the lids to the observation-holes in
the conning-tower, and saw a broad-shouldered, black-browed man with
a close torpedo beard that characterises the British tar who neglects
to shave. The fellow looked sheepish and thoroughly ashamed of his
position.

"Who are you?" demanded the sub.

"I was a petty officer in the navy, sir."

"Then you ought to be downright ashamed of yourself."

"I ain't here to talk about myself," replied the man, sullenly. "The
cap'n wants me to explain, in a manner o' speakin', 'ow the land
lies. We're out to make a bit, an' up to now we ain't done so badly.
'Respect life' is our motto, an' you are doin' your level best to
capsize us. So come out an' lay down your arms. You'll be treated
decently so long as things go all shipshape. An' when the cruise is
over, and we're paid off, you'll be set ashore safe an' sound."

"You realise that your presence in the conning-tower somewhat upsets
your arrangements?"

"Not exactly," replied the man, with a cunning leer. "But, you see,
it isn't 'conducive to efficiency,' as our 'first luff' aboard the
old _Belleisle_ told me 'cause I wore the second 'L' on my
cap-ribbon over my left eye, instead of over my nose. But that ain't
'ere or there; so make the best of a bad job and don't give no
trouble."

"I'll give you trouble, my man, if ever I get you on board a King's
ship," replied the sub., with asperity. "Tell that scoundrel of a
pirate that if he wants the conning-tower he'll have to turn us
out - and he'll have a fine old job."

With that Fielding reclosed the shutter and a tense silence fell upon
both parties, broken only by the hiss of the foam as the
battle-cruiser pounded against a head sea.

Cervillo was furious. He knew that every moment was precious. By the
aid of wireless not only were vengeful cruisers hastening in his
track, but the transatlantic liners, from whom he hoped to take a
heavy toll, would be warned, and take precautions accordingly.

A quarter of an hour elapsed, then Juan Cervillo's voice was heard.

"Señor Englishman!" he exclaimed.

Fielding did not trouble to reply.

"For your own sake, señor, put your eye this way."

Out of sheer curiosity the sub. raised the metal flap and looked out,
then a muttered ejaculation brought Cardyke to one of the slits in
the wall of the conning-tower.

Guarded by two armed seamen was Tom Hardy the coxswain. He was
securely bound hand and foot, but so weak did he seem from the
effects of the blow he had received that this precaution seemed
unnecessary. Cervillo, stepping a few paces in front of the crowd of
pirates, pointed to his prisoner in a manner that was diabolical in
the extreme.

"Now, Englishmen, you vill come out an' surrendah, or we put your man
ober de side - say, walk ze plank. Yes, señor, I mean as I say. Juan
Cervillo has spoken. One minute I give to decide, or - - " And the
villain pointed meaningly over the side.

"Think he'll do it?" asked Cardyke, anxiously. "Couldn't we prevent
him?"

"There is only one way, as far as I can see. To submit is out of the
question. We can stay here till they starve us out, but by that time
I hope a cruiser will overhaul this floating nest of rascals."

"What is the plan?" asked the mid.

Fielding hurriedly unfolded his scheme, and Oki explained it to his
companions. The Japanese nodded significantly. There was no time to
lose, for the minute was nearly up, and Fielding was practically
certain that Cervillo would keep his word. The life of a lower-deck
man was not worth considering as far as he was concerned.

Revolver in hand, General Oki and Mukyima took their places at the
slits nearest the entrance to the conning-tower. The sub. uttered the
sharp subdued word "Now!" The next instant Fielding, Cardyke, and
Hokosuka darted from their place of shelter.

Before Cervillo could recover from his astonishment he was floored by
a well-directed blow from the athletic sub., who, stooping, grasped
the half-stunned pirate by the shoulders. Simultaneously the mid.
caught hold of Cervillo's legs. Nor was the Japanese idle. With a
bound he reached the spot where Tom Hardy was standing between the
two armed men. One fell by a sharp blow in the throat; the other,
thrown completely over Hokosuka's shoulders, landed in the midst of a
crowd of his comrades, scattering them right and left.


[Illustration: BEFORE CERVILLO COULD RECOVER FROM HIS ASTONISHMENT HE
WAS FLOORED BY THE ATHLETIC SUB.
[_Page_ 98.
]


Taken aback, the pirates were either too dumbfounded to use their
pistols or else were afraid of hitting their leader. One or two
attempted a rush, but half-a-dozen shots from the conning-tower
checked all attempts at rescue.

Within fifteen seconds from the time the sub. uttered the word "Now!"
the three daring men were safe within the conning-tower once more,
with Tom Hardy and the pirate captain to add to the number of the
steel citadel.

"Now we can have a little understanding with Señor Juan Cervillo,"
exclaimed Fielding as he proceeded to secure the rascally Spaniard
with the bonds that had been removed from the coxswain's limbs. "I
don't fancy he'll be quite so keen about chucking lumps of dynamite
into the conning-tower."

Without, the pandemonium was redoubled. The British officers and
their Japanese comrades paid scant attention to the noise. They had
scored heavily up to the present, and they realised the fact.

"I begin to feel fairly peckish," remarked Cardyke, at length.

"So we all do, I fancy, except perhaps this rascal. We've given him
twelve hours' start in the fasting competition, but I bet he'll be
mighty hungry before we're done with him," said the sub., grimly.
"How about you, Hardy; did they feed you at all?"

"At first, sir," replied the coxswain. "Then because I wouldn't join
up with them they tried to starve me into submission. If it hadn't
been for this crack across my figurehead I'd have taken on the whole
mess with my fists and wiped the deck with the lot of them."

"I believe you would, Hardy," remarked Cardyke, admiringly, for the
coxswain held the belt in the Inter-Port Boxing Competition. "Are you
very hungry?"

"Only once afore like it in my life, as far as I can remember. That
was when I was in Haslar Hospital. Low diet the 'poultice-slappers'
called it. Couldn't have been much lower. An' the bloke in the next
cot to me was being fed with chicken, an' 'ad port wine to drink."

"We'll have to be chewing our belts soon," remarked the sub. "But I
don't know abort you fellows - I feel mighty tired."

It was now about two bells - 9 a.m. Beyond a party of men who had been
left to watch the conning-tower, the rest of the pirates had taken
themselves off to their various duties or recreations - mostly the
latter. The _Independencia_ was still heading S.S.W. according to the
compass in the conning-tower. It was not one of the standard
compasses belonging to the ship - these had been removed prior to
sale - but had been brought on board from the pseudo _Steephill
Castle_. Since the cruiser had not been swung to adjust compasses it
was obvious that the course might be points out, since the deviation
was unknown.

"We'll set watches, and the rest of us can have a snooze," continued
Fielding. "We'll toss for it. I believe the rascals left a few coins
in my pocket, although they bagged my purse and my gold watch. Here
goes."

The coin spun in the air. The mid., Oki, and Hokosuka found that
theirs was the first "watch below," while Fielding and Mukyima had to
keep the first two hours' watch. Owing to his condition Tom Hardy was
not called upon for this duty.

Utterly worn out, Cardyke and the two Japanese threw themselves on
the hard floor, and were soon sound asleep. The sub. and the general,
too fatigued even to talk, stood with their backs against the steel
wall, and their faces towards the entrance to the circular metal
compartment.

The day was hot, and in spite of the ship's speed through the water,
the air within the conning-tower was exceedingly sultry. Once or
twice Fielding found himself nodding, only to be aroused by the
vigilant Oki.

An hour went by. Even the Japanese watcher was becoming drowsy.
Fielding's head fell forward. This time Oki did not rouse his
companion; and even when the sub. slid inertly to the ground the
Japanese had not the energy to realise that anything was amiss. He
saw, as in a vision, the Englishman drop - then utter oblivion.

A quarter of an hour later a squad of men entered the conning-tower
without opposition. Six of the occupants were secured, and, like
logs, were unceremoniously bundled into the open air, whilst Cervillo
was carried upon the forebridge, where he soon recovered from his
stupor. The dauntless six, able to hold their own in fair fight, had
fallen victims to the insidious methods of their assailants. For
fumes of chloroform had been forced through one of the voice-tubes
that led into the conning-tower, and it had rendered the brave
defenders absolutely helpless.




CHAPTER IX

HOLDING UP "L'ÉGALITÉ"


ARNOLD CARDYKE was the first to recover from the effect of the
noxious vapour. He had been sleeping nearest to the entrance to the
conning-tower, and had thus more air than his companions. For some
moments he lay wondering where he was. He tried to call out, but no
sound came from his parched lips. Then, between him and the reddish
light that seemed to encircle him, came a huge dark object that
presently resolved itself into the shape of a man - one of the pirate
officers. Good heavens! The partial truth swept across his mind.
Desperately he struggled to rise and arouse his comrades, but
realising that he was bound and weak, he rolled helplessly across the
body of Hokosuka.

The weight of the mid.'s frame expelled a quantity of the chloroform
fumes from the Japanese's chest, and with a grunt Hokosuka opened his
eyes. In his effort to dislodge Cardyke the Asiatic prodded Fielding
on the back, and the sub., already well on the road to consciousness,
also began to realise his position.

"What's wrong, Cardyke?" he asked. "Why, I - - " Then the truth was
revealed in all its unpleasantness. He and his comrades were once
more in the power of Juan Cervillo and his piratical crew.

"We've made a mess of it, sir," said Cardyke, who contrived to raise
himself into a sitting posture.

"And all my fault," groaned the sub. "I fell asleep at my post. I
ought to be - - "

"We were drugged, or something like that," interrupted the mid. "I
can't see that any blame can be attached to you. What's done cannot
be helped, although it may be undone, in spite of the proverb."

Fielding sat up, and found that his ankles and wrists were secured by
leather straps. His head seemed to spin round like a top for a few
moments, but gradually the sensation of nausea left him. It did not
take him long to discover that the _Independencia_ had altered her
course. By the position of the sun the sub. concluded that the
direction in which she was heading was approximately N.W. by N. As
far as he could command the horizon there were no other ships in
sight - only a vast expanse of Atlantic rollers.

"Here comes that scoundrel," exclaimed Cardyke, and turning his head
Fielding saw Juan Cervillo approaching.

The Spaniard, who never could boast of good looks, had his appearance
somewhat disfigured from the result of the blow he had received in
the sortie from the conning-tower, while his greasy features were
sallow from the effects of the chloroform which he had inhaled.

With a supercilious grin Juan Cervillo stood in front of his
prostrate captives, gloating over their plight. He could, he
imagined, subject them to indignity with impunity now, but he had yet
to learn caution.

Mukyima was stealthily regarding the Spaniard out of the corners of
his narrow eyes. Slowly the lithe body and limbs of the Japanese
contracted. Then like a stone from a catapult, Mukyima, bound as he
was, hurled himself upon his foe.

Juan Cervillo saw the human thunderbolt flying towards him just in
the nick of time. He gave a hurried leap aside, caught his foot in a
ring-bolt, and subsided in a most undignified manner upon a
particularly aggressive fairlead. As for the Japanese, he had taken
the precaution of tucking his head well forward. His shoulders came
in contact with a canvas "storm-dodger," and, rebounding, he, too,
flopped on the deck.

Juan Cervillo did not wait for a second spring from the wiry Jap, but
regaining his feet rushed away shouting for assistance. Half-a-dozen
of the strongest of the pirate crew had a tough struggle ere they
overpowered Mukyima; but they did it at length, lashing the Asiatic
to a capstan-bar so that he was as helpless as a log.

"Me teach you!" hissed the pirate captain. "You dogs! - when I done,
den ober de side I put you!"

Turning to his men he gave a lengthy order. Mukyima was borne away
for'ard, the other captives, including the coxswain, were
unceremoniously bundled below, and placed in the same cabin from
which they had before escaped.

It did not take the sub. and his comrades long to free themselves of
the straps that bound them. Fielding's first act, in recovering the
use of his limbs, was to hasten to the scuttle. The pirates had taken


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