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every side.

Now that the _Independencia_ was leading, it was a question of
flight, not fight. Telegraphing for full speed Cervillo stood upon
the after-bridge and made a disdainful gesture towards the ship
astern, then at twenty-two knots the pirate-cruiser simply walked
away from her antagonist, whose speed, even in her prime, was seven
and a half knots less than that of the _Independencia_.

"Take those men below," ordered the Spanish captain. "It is well I
had them on board. They will be more useful still to us very
shortly."




CHAPTER XIV

THE FORTUNE OF WAR


SEVENTY-TWO hours after the receipt of the misleading intelligence
from the hapless _Duke of Negropont_ the scout _Cerberus_ again put
to sea. This time there was no doubt that the news concerning the
_Independencia_ was genuine. The United States cruiser _Denver_ had
seen, and had stood in pursuit of the pirate. According to the
American captain's report the pirate was heading north, apparently
with the intention of preying upon the liners running between New
York and Montreal, and Liverpool and Southampton.

Once more Lieutenant Douglas Drake's hopes rose high. He felt
confident that to him would fall the honour of effecting the pirate's
capture. He knew full well that more than a score of cruisers, to say
nothing of ocean-going destroyers, were keenly on the alert; but in
spite of this knowledge the presentiment was uppermost in his mind
that the aero-hydroplanes of the _Cerberus_, under his command, would
score the honour of the day.

The lieutenant spent most of his watch on deck in attending to his
four pets. There was no time to test their capabilities in the air,
for the scout could not slacken speed to allow the boat to be hoisted
out. True they could be sent up from the deck, a specially
constructed line of rails being laid down to admit of them so doing.
They could, if necessity arose, return to their parent by alighting
on the poop; but there was always the risk of damage to their
hulls - a catastrophe that would be eliminated if the aero-hydroplanes
came to rest upon the sea. Thus, although Drake had had experience in
craft of a very similar type, he was totally unacquainted with their
peculiarities; but in spite of this handicap he had no fears as to
his ability to make a successful flight, and, what was more, a
successful attack upon the daring pirate.

His plan of operation was somewhat upset by the intelligence received
of the despicable ruse whereby Juan Cervillo had been able to keep
his vessel immune from shell fire. If the same precaution were
adopted on all occasions it seemed pretty obvious that the
aero-hydroplane could not drop explosives upon the cruiser's deck
without doing harm to friend as well as foe.

At one time he thought of dropping bombs containing charges of
noxious gases upon the _Independencia's_ decks, but realising that
the speed of the ship creating a current of air would speedily
disperse the vapours, he decided such a scheme was impracticable. At
another the chances of dropping a charge of dynamite down one of the
huge funnels of the cruiser, and thus putting the boilers out of
action, suggested themselves. Then a capital idea suddenly struck
him. The more he thought of it, the more he felt confident of
success. On unfolding his plan to Captain Dexter of the _Cerberus_
his superior expressed his satisfaction, and promised to let Drake
have a free hand in the enterprise.

At 2 a.m. on the morning of the fourth day out the look-out reported
that there was heavy firing away to the north-west. Instantly the
crew were called to general quarters, all lights were screened, and a
course shaped towards that quarter of the horizon that was
illuminated by flashes resembling distant lightning. All on board the
scout were bewailing the fate that had snatched the laurels from
their grasp, for no other reason could be assigned to the firing
beyond the fact that the _Independencia_ was being engaged by some
other man-of-war. In vain the _Cerberus_ sent out calls with her
wireless on the off-chance of picking up information as to who the
lucky vessel might be; only a chaotic series of electrical waves came
to the wireless room. On and on at full speed the little British
vessel tore. With luck she might come in at the death, and be able to
fire a shot or two in real earnest, when suddenly the glare of the
distant flashes died away.

"Too late, by George!" exclaimed Drake, slamming his binoculars into
their case.

"They've settled her hash, and we're out of it."

For another half-hour the _Cerberus_ carried on. All need for
screened lights was now done away with, and from her masthead her
signalling lamp blinked incessantly, calling up the victorious vessel
in Morse. Still no reply came through the darkness.

"Surely to goodness they haven't sunk each other?" asked one of the
lieutenants.

"Rot!" replied another, vehemently. But at the same time the idea
that such was the case began to grow upon the group of anxious and
despondent officers.

Suddenly a rocket soared skywards, barely a mile on the scout's brow.

"Acknowledge," ordered the captain, shortly; and from the _Cerberus_
an answering rocket was sent up.

Then the searchlights were flashed in the direction of the signal,
and to everyone's surprise two huge cruisers, both well-nigh battered
out of recognition, were discovered lying less than half-a-mile
apart. Masts, funnels, boats, most of the unarmoured
superstructure - all had been swept away, while the heavily protected
sides of both craft showed ominous dents and cavities where
armour-piercing shells had found a billet.

"Great Scott!" muttered the gunnery lieutenant. "Which one is the
_Impregnable_ that was?"

"Neither," replied Drake, grimly. "There's been a horrible mistake
without a doubt. Goodness knows what ships these are, or to what
nation they belong; but it is obvious that each has mistaken the
other for the pirate."

"What ship is that?" shouted Captain Dexter through a megaphone, as
the _Cerberus_ eased down, and glided a cable's length to lee'ard of
one of the erstwhile combatants.

"His Majesty's ship _Trincomalee_," was the reply. "Stand by till
daylight; we're badly hulled. Can you send a boat?"

Ten minutes later a pale-faced lieutenant, with his hair and eyebrows
singed, his clothing rent and reeking with powder, came over the side
of the _Cerberus_. His story confirmed Drake's surmise. The
_Trincomalee_, steaming with lights screened, had fallen in with an
unknown vessel which was also running without navigation lights.
Before the British vessel could hail, a shot was fired into her at
less than four hundred yards range. The _Trincomalee_ instantly
replied with all the quick-firers she could bring to bear upon her
antagonist. Then the 6 in. and 9 in. guns joined in the deafening
roar, and for forty minutes the two vessels were hotly engaged, till
a searchlight directed from the only projector that had escaped
destruction revealed the hideous truth. The _Trincomalee_ had engaged
and had nearly annihilated a French cruiser, the _Tréhouart_, of
19,000 tons. Orders were immediately given to cease fire; but it was
quite five minutes ere the Frenchmen ceased to pound away with her
undamaged ordnance at her unresisting antagonist.

The _Cerberus_ stood by till daylight revealed the shattered ships.
Both were leaking badly, but the inrush of water was being kept under
by means of the ships' pumps. Their respective captains exchanged
visits and expressed mutual regrets at the unfortunate occurrence;
then slowly, under their own steam, both vessels headed towards the
Nova Scotian coast, the _Cerberus_ escorting them in case immediate
assistance was required. Sixteen hours later the two badly mauled
vessels crept into Halifax Harbour, and the _Cerberus_ was free to
resume her quest.

Did she but know it, the _Independencia_ crossed her wake, unseen and
unsuspected, at the time she was steaming at full speed to ascertain
the cause of the firing. The pirate cruiser had run the gauntlet of
the chain of cruisers and, with an open sea before her, was tearing
at her utmost speed towards the desolate Arctic Ocean.

This incident naturally increased the attention already devoted to
the quest of the modern buccaneer, and gave occasion for much
discussion. On the one side experts and armchair critics boldly
asserted that this regrettable incident was owing simply and solely
to the blundering way in which the operations were conducted, and
that had more caution been exercised there would have been no
desperate encounter between vessels of friendly nations, and the
accompanying loss of life; while on the other hand there were people
who maintained that it was but the fortune of war, and mistakes of
that sort were bound to occur. To harass naval captains with
regulations that would tend to curb the natural ardour of their crews
would be opposed to the best traditions of the service. Even in the
House a member blandly suggested that it should be submitted to an
international conference that hostile ships should hail each other
before opening fire, and quoted instances from frigate actions during
the Napoleonic wars. But he did not suggest a way whereby a destroyer
on a dark night that was about to loose a torpedo at an enemy's ship
a mile away, or a submarine stealing beneath the waves with a like
purpose, could carry out the order.

It was also found that the use of wireless was not an unmitigated
blessing, for what with deliberately false reports sent by tramp
steamers - paid by Juan Cervillo for the purpose - the panic-stricken
messages from some nervous skipper, and the practical jokes of not a
few amateur operators, the search for the _Independencia_ was
hindered more than furthered, till the cruisers patrolling the
liners' route had good cause to heartily malign the name of wireless
telegraphy.

Day after day passed, and though columns in the daily papers were
devoted to the all-important topic, the pirate-cruiser seemed to have
mysteriously disappeared off the face of the waters.




CHAPTER XV

RAMMING AN ICEBERG


UNSEEN, the _Independencia_ crossed athwart the great Atlantic
highway without incident. No liner, or even a tramp, fell into her
clutches, and for forty-eight hours after witnessing from afar the
encounter betwixt the British and French cruisers, she pursued her
way without let or hindrance, with ne'er a vessel to chase or to be
chased by.

At length she approached the southern limit of Arctic ice, where the
cold current from off the west coast of Greenland, bringing down with
it the mighty output of inexhaustible glaciers, meets the warmer
waters of the Atlantic. Here it was that the pirate-cruiser ran into
a belt of fog, so dense that from the fore-bridge the fo'c'sle
appeared to terminate at the foremost turret, while the temperature
was so low that the moisture-laden atmosphere froze and hung from all
parts of the masts and deck like gigantic stalactites.

Speed was reduced to seven and a half knots, and for the time being
the keenest look-out was kept by the unacclimatised seamen. But, as
Fielding had surmised, the numbing cold made their energies dormant,
and before many hours had passed the majority of the pirates were
perfectly indifferent to the dangers that threatened them.

As far as the chart showed, the _Independencia_ was in open water,
and well out of the track of steamers plying between Canada and Great
Britain, and as the hours slowly passed without anything untoward
happening, Cervillo, anxious to get clear of the fog-bank, ordered
speed to be increased to twelve knots. The sooner he drew clear of
the blinding atmosphere of frozen mist the better it would be.

Not one of the look-outs noticed a large "growler," or mass of almost
submerged ice, which the cruiser passed at a distance of less than
fifty feet to starboard; not one of them heard the breaking of the
vessel's "wash" upon the fringe of the ice-field. Blindly unconscious
to their danger the pirates drove ahead with the primary object of
getting out of the fog as soon as possible.

Suddenly one of the look-out men stationed right in the bows gave
vent to a shriek of horror, rather than a shout of warning. Looming
distortedly through the fog, its summit lost in the murk, was a huge
iceberg, already on the point of capsizing. Vicious little waves,
caused by the rocking of the mass of unstable ice, lapped the visible
base of the floating mountain. A practised seaman would have known by
the agitation of the hitherto calm water and by the sudden drop in
the temperature that an iceberg was nigh, and would have taken
precautions accordingly; but the warning passed unheeded, and the
_Independencia_ crashed bows on upon the rampart of ice.

The impact threw nearly everyone on board. For a few seconds all were
quiet, stunned by the calamity; then pandemonium broke loose.
Yelling, shouting, and crying, the pirates rushed for the boats,
their officers leading the way. There was no one to give orders to
the engine-room, and the propellers were still driving ahead, pushing
the shattered bows of the cruiser deeper into the fissure caused by
the impact in the side of the berg. Those of the engineers and
stokers who had been not rendered insensible by the concussion
deserted their post, rushed on deck, and, heedless of the sudden
change from the heated engine-room and stokeholds to the freezing,
fog-laden air, joined their comrades in their mad skelter for the
boats.

Even in their frenzy the pirates were cowed by the angry waters that
were visible to their limited range of vision. Between the sides of
the cruiser and the gulf of ice into which she had thrown herself was
a vast cauldron of surging foam mingled with masses of ice that had
slipped from the dizzy heights above. No boat could live in such a
sea; it would either be swamped or crushed betwixt the heavy lumps of
ice that, rising and falling, outrivalled the dreaded Scylla and
Charybdis a thousand-fold.


[Illustration: THE PIRATES RUSHED FOR THE BOATS.
[_Page_172.
]


The shock of the collision threw Fielding and his companions
violently against the fore-bulkhead of their cabin; but, beyond a few
bruises, no one sustained any injury.

The sub. realised what was amiss as soon as any of them.

"They've run her full tilt into an iceberg," he exclaimed.

The gravity of the situation required immediate action, for the
confused shouts on deck mingled with the crushing of the ice and the
turmoil of the agitated waters naturally led the prisoners to
conclude that the cruiser was doomed.

"We're like rats in a trap," exclaimed Fielding. "Now what's to be
done?"

"Get out," replied Cardyke promptly, "We can blow off the lock."

Seizing his revolver the mid. made his way to the door, when Oki laid
a detaining hand upon his shoulder.

"No sink yet," said he. "P'r'aps pirates abandon ship. Then we take
her. Wait; we can so easy get out when we want."

"Yes, Cardyke, it's folly to go on deck with a terrified mob like
that," agreed the sub. "The five of us couldn't do much. I'll tell
you what I will do." And levelling his revolver, Fielding sent a shot
through the stout partition separating the cabin from the one in
which the hostages of _L'Égalité_ were kept, taking good care to fire
high enough not to harm the inmates. Amidst the deafening roar and
confusion without, the sharp crack of the pistol passed unnoticed.

"Ahoy!" shouted Fielding through the hole. "We're prisoners on board
this vessel like yourselves. We're English. I believe there is a
citizen of the United States here?"

"Three, sonny," replied a man, with a typical Yankee twang. "I was
lashed up beside you, I guess, when the skipper of this hooker threw
dust into the eyes of the Yew Hess Hess _Denver_."

"Not alongside of me," replied the sub. "You were next to my brother
officer, Mr. Cardyke. But that's neither here nor there. We're going
to burst open the doors of the cabins. We've half-a-dozen firearms.
How many men are there with you?"

"Nine," replied the American. "And a durned sight more in the next
one."

"We ought to be able to make a show on deck. Those fellows are off
their heads already. It won't take much to get the upper hand of
them."

"Bully for you," replied the other. "Guess we'll do our whack."

"Stand by, then," said Fielding, warningly.

Before he could cross the limited space of the cabin there was a
deafening crash, like the simultaneous discharge of a battleship's 14
in. guns. The _Independencia_ rolled till Fielding and his companions
found themselves lying wedged in between the angle formed by the
sloping floor and the longitudinal bulkhead. There they lay, pinned
down by the scanty furniture that had been thrown bodily across the
room. Cardyke's fingers closed involuntarily upon the revolver he was
holding, and the heavy weapon went off, sending a bullet against the
steel deck beam, while the blast singed Hokosuka's hair. All the
while the vessel remained in this position there was a sickening
grinding noise, caused by the huge fabric sliding over the ice. Then
came another tremendous crash. The cruiser, hurled thirty feet above
the water by the capsizing berg, had toppled over the ledge. Down she
plunged, like a toy boat dropped from a height into a pool of water.
Then, dipping obliquely, she plunged beneath the agitated sea till
the waves reached the base of her after-funnel.

"Great heavens - she's going!" gasped Cardyke.

For some minutes it seemed as if the vessel were making her last
plunge. On all sides arose shouts and cries of terror, as the
imprisoned men, struggling in the semi-gloom, sought to regain their
footing. Then, like a sorely stricken whale the _Independencia's_
submerged upper works rose above the surface, water and fragments of
ice pouring over her decks. There she lay, wallowing heavily in the
trough of a furious sea. Her still revolving propellers made her
gather way, but her course carried her clear of the berg she had
previously rammed, and, unguided, she tore once more through the fog.

Her escape from total destruction was indeed providential. When she
rammed the mountainous mass of ice the berg was on the point of
toppling over. The engines driving ahead kept her from slipping
backwards off the long, shelving ledge that projected three hundred
yards from the base of the visible part of the berg. The impact
hastened the toppling process until the submerged ledge touched the
cruiser's keel. The retention was only temporary; the vessel, till
her water-line was several feet above the sea, acted as a gigantic
lever, till the shelf of ice, already weakened by the fracture, broke
off, causing the _Independencia_ to slide, and then plunge back into
the sea. Released of the retarding mass, the main portion of the berg
toppled over, fortunately away from the ship, otherwise the huge
vessel would have been literally buried beneath a mountain of
steel-like ice.

Directly the _Independencia_ regained an even keel Fielding and his
companions struggled to their feet.

"She's afloat," gasped the sub. "Come along, there's no time to lose.
We'll rush the rascals while they're off their heads."

Crash! - went the young officer's revolver. The lock was shattered,
and the door flew open. Fielding and his companions gained the
passage betwixt the cabin on the half-deck. The place was deserted.
Even the sentries on the prisoners' quarters had left their posts.

"Stand clear of the door!" shouted Fielding to the occupants of the
next cabin. And, having given them time to carry out his request, the
sub. sent a shot through the lock.

While Cardyke was serving out the spare revolvers and ammunition to
the released hostages of _L'Égalité_, Fielding liberated the
occupants of the adjoining cabin - the remainder of the prisoners
taken from the French liner and the _Yosen Maru_. A fourth cabin was
found to contain the officers of the Dutch tugs that had been
scuttled when the _Impregnable_ was seized. Abaft of that, and
separating it from the captain's quarters, was another cabin, which,
though containing no prisoners, was found to be used as a small-arms
store. In five minutes the little band of adventurers were armed and
ready for the desperate venture.

'Tween decks the fog was so thick, that from one end of the passage
the armoured bulkhead of the foremost end was invisible. Fielding
knew that the only means of communicating with the quarter-deck was
by the foremost and steerage ladders. The transverse bulkhead, one of
several extending from the upper deck to the double bottoms, was
unprovided with doors, so that, for instance, it was impossible to go
from the bow to the stern of the ship 'tween decks without having to
ascend to the upper deck. During her commission as a unit of the
British Navy the cruiser had been provided with lifts to save the
inconvenience of having to pass up and down so many ladders; but
these lifts were out of order, and had not been repaired by her
unlawful owners.

Marshalling his forces into some semblance of order, Fielding led
them to the foot of the foremost ladder. The hatchway was closed and
securely battened down. Twenty men would have been powerless to burst
open the massive steel covering. The after ladder was similarly
secured. The surprise attack was a failure.

"Now what's to be done?" asked the midshipman.

Fielding did not reply. He was busy racking his brains over the new
conditions of the problem he had to tackle.

"Sit tight, sonny," replied the American. "I've been in a few tough
sets-to in my time; but take the word of Hiram B. Rutter - that's
me - that you can't beat sitting tight."

"That's it," assented Fielding. "We must sit tight. Luckily we're in
comfortable quarters; the captain's cabin, as well as those of the
other officers, are at our disposal, and I think we have access to
the after bread-room, so we won't exactly starve. But they're calming
down, I fancy. They'll be a bit surprised when they find we are in
possession of the after part of the ship. Look here, Mr. Rutter,
would you mind taking these men with you, and keeping your eyes on
the after ladder? I'll watch this one pretty carefully. Directly they
open the hatches wide fire a volley and rush on deck. Be sharp;
they're coming!"




CHAPTER XVI

CARDYKE TO THE RESCUE


THE collision with the iceberg had, as Fielding anticipated,
completely unnerved the Dago crew. Even Juan Cervillo realised that
there were great difficulties and perils in his path that were as
formidable as the retributive warships he had hitherto escaped. As
the _Independencia_ steamed off on her aimless course the Spanish
captain contrived to induce some of the engineers to go below and
shut off steam, and, gradually losing way, the cruiser came to a
standstill. Cervillo would wait till the fog lifted rather than risk
another collision. It might be for days, but there were enough
provisions and water to last for nearly a month.

As soon as the vessel had slowed down an examination of the damage
caused by the collision was made. The principal injury was to the
bows, where the massive steel plating had been fractured and buckled
for a distance of twenty feet from the stem. The whole of the
fore-peak was flooded; but the inrush of water was prevented from
making its way aft by the water-tight bulkheads. Even the foremost of
these was strained to such an extent that the doors let in a
considerable quantity of water. As the cruiser slipped off the berg
the torrent of ice-laden sea that broke over her decks literally
swept everything removable as far as the base of the after tripod
mast, while of the boats taken from the _Steephill Castle_ only three
remained. The aftermost funnel, struck by a huge fragment of ice, had
been carried away, leaving a jagged ridge of steel projecting five or
six feet above the casings. This accounted for the loss of ten of the
crew; another thirty or forty had been swept away when the
_Independencia_ had dipped beneath the waves, while several more were
severely injured by the first concussion and the subsequent violent
motion of the stricken craft.

No wonder, then, that Juan Cervillo was almost at his wits' end. He
realised that he had made a mistake in seeking refuge in northern
waters. The irresistible craving to increase the amount of his booty,
instead of retiring to a South American port with the proceeds of his
successful captures, had caused his present plight. In a partially


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