Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Stolen Cruiser online

. (page 6 of 12)
Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Stolen Cruiser → online text (page 6 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

systematic search not only were the looked-for articles not found,
but two more pistols, to say nothing of the sheath-knife, were added
to the defensive armoury of the occupants of the cabin.

"Me show you," replied the general, and turning to his compatriot he
spoke a few words in his native tongue. Simultaneously both Japs
pulled up the legs of their trousers, and revealed the weapons with
their muzzles stuck between their feet and their shoes, the chambers
fitting into the hollow just behind their ankles.

"I'm hanged if I saw you put yours there!" exclaimed the sub.

Oki merely shrugged his shoulders. He did not think it necessary to
explain how the trick was done; but like most Japanese, he was an
adept at sleight-of-hand.

"Where are we making for, I wonder?" asked Cardyke.

"If we go on at this rate and in the same direction a week will find
us in West Indian waters, unless I'm very much mistaken," replied
Fielding. "It's a mystery to me why this ship hasn't been headed off
and captured long ago."

"Long ago!" echoed the mid. "Why, it's only a matter of a few days!"

"Yes, yes, I know; but one would naturally think that with modern
scientific instruments at one's command it would be an utter
impossibility to play hide and seek in the North Atlantic."

"Were you navy officer man in 1907?" asked General Oki, who, although
his English was somewhat quaint, could follow ordinary conversation
with comparative ease.

"In that year I was completing my last term at Dartmouth," replied

"Then you have no heard of manoeuvres that year - how one English
fleet sailed in North Sea for over sixty hour, looking for another
English fleet, and no can find?"

"By Jove! I believe I heard something of the kind," replied the sub.
"But you seem to know a lot about our naval matters, sir?"

"My business," replied Oki, calmly.

The British and the Japanese officers were entering into an animated
discussion on the possibilities of wireless in war when they were
interrupted by the crash of a quick-firer, followed by the slowing
down of the cruiser's engines.

There was a rush to the scuttle, but the field of visible horizon was
limited, and nothing could be seen that could give the reason for the
discharge of the gun. The firing from the cruiser and the
slowing-down showed that the _Independencia_ had overhauled another
craft and was not the pursued craft.

"It's another liner being nabbed!" exclaimed Cardyke.



BANG! went another quickfirer, and the accompanying screech denoted
the fact that the pirates had let loose a shell. Another and another,
followed by a couple of detonations and the rending of steel as the
powerful missile burst.

Then the _Independencia_ turned 45 degs. to port, and the object of
her unwelcome attentions came into the view of the prisoners in the

"You're right, Cardyke," exclaimed the sub. "It's a West Indian
liner; I can see by her funnels."

"British," announced the mid., as a waft of air partially cleared the
smoke that was issuing from her steerage, revealing the red ensign
fluttering from her ensign-staff. "They've blown her bridge and
chart-house to smithereens."

"And planked a couple of shells through her quarters," added
Fielding. "I wonder she doesn't make a dash for it, instead of
slowing down."

Did the sub. but know it he might have realised the cause of the
British vessel's apparent lack of enterprise. The ship was the _Duke
of Negropont_, four days out from New Orleans. Lured by the display
of distress signals from the _Independencia_, the liner had altered
helm, and borne down upon the seemingly crippled cruiser. Then a shot
was fired across the liner's bows, while the white ensign fluttered
down from the cruiser's stern, and was replaced by the red flag of

The skipper of the _Duke of Negropont_ had received due warning of
the depredations of the _Independencia_, but since it was reported
that the pirate was seen in the vicinity of the Straits of Gibraltar
he never for one moment associated the vessel flying the white ensign
with the modern buccaneer. But directly the first shell whizzed
across the _Duke of Negropont's_ bows the captain of the liner
ordered full speed ahead, at the same time starboarding his helm.

The next two shots, fired in deadly earnest, completely demolished
the navigating bridge and chart-house, and wiped the skipper and the
chief officer out of existence. The concussion and the sweeping away
of the bridge brought the engine-room telegraph back to "stop," and
the liner, losing way, brought up within a hundred yards of her

Still covered by the _Independencia's_ guns, the prize was boarded by
two boats' crews, and the method of despoiling the liner was almost
identical with that of the two previous captures.

There was, however, one departure. The second officer of the
_Independencia_, a Spaniard who spoke English fairly well, gave
orders for the _Duke of Negropont's_ wireless operators to be brought
before him. The senior, a man of twenty-three years of age,
resolutely refused to transmit the message his captor dictated. Twice
Gonzales, the second officer, ordered him, using threats of instant
death should he refuse.

"No tricks," exclaimed Gonzales, menacingly. "I understand what you
telegraph, so do as I say."

Then it was that the owners of the _Duke of Negropont_ received the
message: -

"_Independencia_ in collision with unknown
vessel, 4.45 a.m. Lat. 40-22-10 N., Long.
22-9-16 W. Both sank; no survivors."

Directly this decoy message was sent, the wireless gear was
destroyed, and the pirates proceeded to loot the ship. But they had
reckoned without the British engineers and firemen, and some of the
junior officers and deck-hands who had taken refuge below.

Ignoring the indicator pointing to stop, the chief engineer restarted
the engines to full speed ahead, and simultaneously a swarm of men,
armed with cross-bars, shovels, and rakes, and led by their officers
with revolvers in their hands, rushed on deck. Taken by surprise, and
alarmed by the hitherto apparently motionless vessel gathering way,
the two boatloads of pirates were borne back. Men fell on both sides,
but British valour prevailed, and in less than five minutes the
survivors of the boarding-party were swimming for their lives in the
wake of the _Duke of Negropont_.

Through the scuttle Fielding and his companions watched with mingled
feelings the boarding and subsequent repulse of the pirates, and as
the liner forged ahead the two British officers gave vent to a cheer.
But their exultation was nipped in the bud, for Juan Cervillo, wild
with fury, ordered the quick-firers to hull the _Duke of Negropont_
between wind and water.

Three shots were sufficient. With an ever-growing list to port the
liner sank lower and lower by the stern, her speed grew less and
less, till a column of steam issuing amidships showed that the water
had entered her engine-room.

Suddenly Cervillo's attention was directed towards a large vessel
nearly hull down on the horizon. The look-out aloft reported that it
was a four-funnelled craft, with white hull and yellow
superstructure. Then the Spaniard realised that he was in a tight
corner, for the oncoming vessel was a United States cruiser.

Without waiting to pick up the survivors of the boarding party, he
ordered the _Independencia_ to be driven at full speed ahead, and was
soon in full flight in a southerly direction.

The cruiser flying the stars and stripes was the _West Virginia_,
whose captain had been warned to keep a look-out for a possible
encounter with the pirate cruiser _Independencia_, of a supposed
speed of twenty-two knots, but in reality doing a bare twenty.
Pelting along as hard as her 23,000 horse-power engines could drive
her, she was just in time to rescue the survivors of the _Duke of
Negropont's_ passengers and crew who had taken to the boats. Ten men
of the pirate cruiser were also picked up.

The delay in performing the work of rescue saved the _Independencia_
from capture, and although the _West Virginia_ hung on doggedly in
pursuit, and sent off wireless calls for assistance, daylight found
the American cruiser alone in a waste of waters, with never so much
as a trail of oil from the fugitive ship to indicate her position.

It was a near shave for Juan Cervillo. Not for one instant did he
expect to fall in with a cruiser so far from the shores of Florida,
and had it not been for a seaman giving a casual glance round, the
_West Virginia_ might have approached within range of her 8 in. guns
before being discovered. The last venture had failed disastrously.
The prize had slipped through his fingers without so much as one
ounce of bullion being taken from her. Forty of his men were lost - a
serious item - although, as their comrades remarked with callous
indifference, there were fewer left to share the booty. Worst of all
the United States cruiser would proclaim it far and wide that the
pirate ship was on the fringe of West India waters.

The management of the _Independencia_ was practically in Juan
Cervillo's hands. It was he who decided what was to be done, and in
which direction the course was to be. He rarely consulted with his
subordinates as to the plan of action. In this case he acted
independently. He resolved to steer eastward for twelve hours, then
head northward to the Arctic Circle, where he would be comparatively
secure till the vigilant watch was relaxed. If he could cross the
steamship tracks betwixt the Old and New Worlds without being
discovered, well and good. If tackled by a man-of-war he must
exercise trickery in order to escape. If he should fall in with a
liner he would capture her, taking good care that she left no trace
behind her.

Having laid his plans Cervillo retired to his cabin, and touched a
bell. In response to the summons a petty officer appeared.

"Take a guard with you, and bring the English officer here," he
ordered. "See that he is properly secured, and that the fellow does
not have the least chance to do mischief."

Five minutes later Fielding, with his hands securely fastened behind
his back, was led into the Spaniard's presence. For a few moments
neither man spoke, but stood looking at each other as if to detect a
weak spot in their respective armour.

"Señor officer," began Cervillo, languidly resting himself and
lighting a cigar, "the time is for explanation. I hold you prisoner
- you and the other I took from the captured ships. If men-of-war
come, then I place you on deck so they no can fire - see? Good! Now I
tell you fair, we go north to sea of ice. P'r'aps we fall in with
English or American warship. If not, den no necessity for you to
stop - unless you 'gree to pay ransom."

"Precious little ransom you'll get out of me, you rogue!" interrupted
the sub.

"Precious little?" repeated Cervillo, arching his eyebrows. "We see
soon. No can keep without pay; no pay, den we put you and your
comrades ashore. Cold, señor; no food - all ice and snow - die
miserably. That I swear."

"Carry on, then," remarked Fielding, coolly.

"What you mean - carry on?" demanded Cervillo.

"Do your worst, you white-livered sweep. There's a hangman's rope
waiting for you, sure enough. Already you're a doomed man.

"_Quien sabe?_" said the Spaniard. "But be assured, señor, you will
not be there to see the spectacle. I say no more. Tink over my words,
and if you no write promise to pay thirty hundred English pounds - an'
your companions, they, too, will pay - then I will do what they call
maroon - eh?"

The interview was at an end. The guard closed around the young
sub-lieutenant, and walking as firmly as he could - for Fielding was
somewhat hampered by the muzzle of a revolver being jammed into his
boot - he passed disdainfully out of Cervillo's cabin.

The Spaniard meant to keep his word this time. Although he realised
that an order on a British banker might in all probability be
difficult to convert into ready money, there was a chance that his
agents might be able to realise on the draft. Should the order be
forthcoming, Cervillo would be willing to spare the lives of his
hostages, although, once in the almost deserted Arctic, they would be
of no use as deterrents to gun-fire. On the other hand Cervillo knew
that he had already been guilty, not merely of piracy, but of murder
on the high seas, and one or two more crimes would make very little
difference. He would either bend or break the Englishman's stubborn

But there were more important matters for the pirate captain's
attention. Within the next forty-eight hours the _Independencia_
would be in the thick of the liner-track across the Atlantic. Without
doubt a chain of cruisers would by this time be stationed at
comparatively close intervals between Cape Clear and Cape Race. The
risks of detection were great; but should the gauntlet be run in
safety the wily Spaniard would have plenty of opportunity of devising
a means whereby he could save himself and the rich booty at the
expense of his rascally crew.



ON returning to his prison cabin, Fielding communicated the details
of his interview with the pirate captain to his companions. One and
all agreed that the outlook, unless a warship intervened, looked
gloomy, but the news was borne with surprising fortitude.

"I suppose he's bound for the east coast of Greenland," said the sub.
"There are hundreds of creeks and inlets where a vessel of this size
could lay without fear of discovery; and, beyond a few whalers, there
are not many ships in those waters."

"What is the object in going to the Arctic?" asked Cardyke.

"To lie low, and also to economise the oil-fuel," replied Fielding.
"To keep the sea means a heavy consumption of stores, and those taken
from _L'Égalité_ won't last much more than a month. That's one reason
why we are to be marooned. Thirty or forty hostages who won't pay for
their keep are bound to make a hole in the commissariat."

"So he means to set us ashore and let us starve to death, or perish
with cold?"

"Seems like it; but I'll have a few words to say to the greasy Dago,"
replied the sub., tapping the revolver with the heel of his right
foot. "It's a pity we haven't more cartridges."

"We could hold the cabin for a good while," remarked the mid.,

"And get starved out in forty-eight hours. Won't do, Cardyke. If
things come to the worst, we must sally out, try and release the
other unfortunate beings who have fallen into Cervillo's clutches,
and sell our lives as dearly as possible. What say you, general?"

"I tink we might capture ship," replied Oki. "Clear dis end, take
pistols from arms-rack, and turn this part into castle."

"We'll have a shot at it, at all events," exclaimed Fielding,
enthusiastically. "If only we had more ammunition, I'd tackle the job

"Better wait till we're within the Arctic circle," observed Cardyke.


"Those Spaniards and Italians, to say nothing of the Algerines and
the blacks, won't be able to stand the cold as well as we can.
They'll be torpid."

"Something in that," agreed Fielding. "But at present it's hot enough
for my liking. I vote we turn in."

Shortly after midnight Cardyke awoke to find the two Japs up and
about. Hokosuka was kneeling in front of the door with one ear close
against the lock, while Oki was standing with a lighted lamp in his
hand. Seeing the mid. stir, Oki placed a finger on his lips to enjoin
silence and pointed towards Fielding's bunk, indicating that the sub.
was to be aroused.

One touch of Cardyke's hand was enough. Fielding opened his eyes, and
without uttering a sound, sprang to his feet.

"Mukyima outside!" explained the general.

The two British officers listened. There was a faint scraping in the
lock, like a rat gnawing wood. Then Hokosuka whispered a few words,
and his compatriot instantly placed the lantern behind a curtain. In
the semi-gloom Cardyke saw the door open, a lithe figure glided in,
and the door closed gently after him. Then Oki uncovered the lamp,
and Mukyima stood revealed to the occupants of the cabin.

The Jap wore nothing but a loin-cloth. From head to foot he was
covered with a mixture of oil and soot. In his hands he carried a
rifle and two revolvers, while across his shoulder hung a canvas bag
filled with cartridges.

The three Japanese conversed in low toner, then Oki turned to his
English friends.

"Mukyima has come back not to stop," he explained. "Give sentry-man
outside the long sleep, leave cartridges and guns, then go back. Him
also lock door again, then no can tell pirates that door was opened."

Fielding and Cardyke nodded approval at Oki's words. Mukyima had
contrived to slip away from his prison on the orlop-deck, and, laying
hold of the arms and ammunition, made his way aft. On the half-deck
all was quiet; the sentry over the cabin door where the prisoners
were confined was dozing at his post. The Jap gripped the sentry by
the throat, and choked him into insensibility in less than fifteen
seconds. This done, he scratched in a peculiar manner on the cabin
bulkhead, and Hokosuka, recognising the signal, replied. The lock of
the cabin door was picked, and Mukyima rejoined his companions.

It was not his intention to remain. His absence from the orlop-deck
would soon be discovered, and the pirates would naturally search the
cabin occupied by the Jap's compatriots. So, in less than five
minutes from his arrival Mukyima left, the wards of the locks were
shot back again, and nothing remained to give rise to suspicion on
the part of the pirates with the exception of the body of the
luckless sentry. This discovery caused some consternation, but
finding the cabin door apparently intact the pirates concluded that
their comrade had died from natural causes.

Nevertheless, although Hokosuka sat up all the following night there
was no indication of his fellow-countryman's presence without.
Mukyima did make a second attempt, but finding two sentries on the
half-deck, realised that discretion was the better part of valour,
and returned to his place of detention on the orlop-deck.

Fielding and his companions had good cause to be satisfied with the
progress made. They had acquired more than enough firearms for each
man and a good store of ammunition. Prudence compelled them to
refrain from relieving the petty officer who was periodically lowered
to inspect the iron bar over the scuttle of another weapon; but, if
the worst came to the worst, the courage and resolution of a few
well-armed men might achieve wonders against the ill-disciplined mob
of international scoundrels who manned the _Independencia_.

At daybreak on the morning of the third day following the capture of
the _Duke of Negropont_ a body of armed men burst into the cabin, and
unceremoniously hauled the live prisoners from their berths.
Fortunately the hostages made a point of sleeping in their
clothes - even their boots - and in consequence their revolvers were
safe from observation. The rifles and spare ammunition had been
cleverly concealed in a blank recess behind one of the lowermost
bunks, and nothing short of another systematic search would result in
the discovery of these precious articles. Without a word of
explanation Fielding and his companions were marched out and taken up
the half-deck accommodation ladder. Expecting that Juan Cervillo had
taken it into his head to either coerce the hostages to accept his
terms or else to carry out his threat earlier than he had decided to
do, Fielding made a sign to his comrades to be on the alert. Should
the Spaniard give the word to murder his prisoners, the five were to
stoop, draw their revolvers, and open a sudden and unexpected fire
upon their captors, Cervillo being especially marked down as a

But as soon as the captives reached the upper deck they could see at
once the reason for their removal. Less than two miles away, and
slightly on the starboard bow, was a United States cruiser. Although
considerably smaller than the _Independencia_, she was by no means
daunted by the appearance of her gigantic antagonist. This was to a
certain extent to be accounted for by the fact that it was now a
matter of general knowledge that the eight 12 in. guns that formed
the pirate-cruiser's principal armament were perfectly useless as
weapons; but, being heavily armoured, the _Independencia_ had a great
advantage over the American vessel, which was of the type known as
"protected," or, in other words, having armour over only the most
vital parts.

Already the cool, business-like determination of the American
cruiser, which Fielding recognised as the almost obsolete _Denver_,
had begun to tell upon the "jumpy" assortment of cosmopolitans who
formed the crew of the pirate vessel. Most of the _Independencia's_
quick-firers were manned, but many of the officers and men were
running aimlessly hither and thither; some dived below to avoid, if
possible, the bursting shells that might at any moment hurtle from
the _Denver_, others besought Juan Cervillo to put the ship about,
and seek safety in flight.

But the Spanish captain had set his mind on going northward. He was
not wholly without courage, and the presence of an insignificant
cruiser would not deter him from his course. The hostages would be
exposed on deck. Should the accursed Americans open fire they would
blow their compatriots and representatives of Great Britain, France,
Holland, and Japan to atoms.

There was no attempt made to clear the _Independencia's_ decks for
action. Her fo'c'sle stanchion rails were lined with human beings,
each prisoner being secured by the simple device of a cord passing
through the links of a chain and the ends fastened to the prisoners
thumbs. A few of the hostages, Fielding and Cardyke amongst the
number, resisted, but were soon overpowered; while so dubious was
Cervillo as to whether this means of securing the Japanese was quite
efficient, that he ordered Oki and Hokosuka to be additionally
pinioned by means of handcuffs. Luckily no attempt was made to bind
the prisoners' legs, otherwise the concealed revolvers might have
been discovered.

Cardyke made good use of the occasion by confiding to his nearest
companion in misfortune - an American iron merchant and colonel of
Kentucky militia - the news of their probable fate should Cervillo
succeed in reaching the Arctic Ocean, and the steps that he and his
companions had decided upon at the critical moment. The American
stoutly asserted his determination to take advantage of any
opportunity of joining forces with the British and Japanese captives
in a desperate bid for life and freedom.

Nearer and nearer steamed the _Independencia_ at a steady ten knots.
The hostages, torn by hopes and fears, could do nothing but keep
their attention on the American cruiser, alternately hoping that the
_Denver_ would not open fire, or that she would take drastic steps to
effect the capture of the modern buccaneer.

On board the _Denver_ all was ready for opening fire. Five of her ten
5 in. guns were trained upon the oncoming pirate, while her
six-pounders, working smoothly and easily on the mountings, turned
their muzzles to and fro, up and down, as if looking for a vital spot
where a shell might burst without injury to the luckless hostages;
for by the aid of their glasses the officers of the United States
cruiser could easily determine the nature of the callous artifice
that Juan Cervillo had adopted.

It was an anxious, nerve-racking time; the men at the pirate vessel's
quick-firers kept every available gun trained upon one particular
place in the side of the _Denver_, ready at the order to deliver a
simultaneous volley that would in all probability deal the protected
cruiser a mortal blow. In return the American cruiser's 5 in. guns
would be able to deal a devastating blow at comparatively short
range, but she hesitated to begin the conflict owing to the hostages
upon the pirate's deck.

Nearer and nearer; now the _Independencia_ was crossing the
_Denver's_ bows, barely three hundred yards separating the two
vessels. Slowly the guns of both vessels were trained as their
relative positions altered, till the pirate-cruiser was almost stern
on to the baffled American. Hard-a-starboard went the _Denver's_ helm
as she swung round in pursuit of her enemy. Even should she be unable
to have her by gun-fire she could at least hang on doggedly in
pursuit, calling for assistance till the pirate was hemmed in on

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Stolen Cruiser → online text (page 6 of 12)