Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Under the White Ensign - A Naval Story of the Great War
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under the White Ensign - A Naval Story of the Great War" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: cover art]



Under the White Ensign



           BY PERCY F. WESTERMAN

                     ------

"No boy alive will be able to peruse Mr. Westerman's pages without a
  quickening of his pulses."             --Outlook.

                     ------

The Dispatch-Riders: The Adventures of Two British Motor-cyclists
  with the Belgian Forces.
  "No boy will find a dull page in Mr. Westerman's story." --Bookman.

The Sea-girt Fortress: A Story of Heligoland.
  "Mr. Westerman has provided a story of breathless excitement, and
  boys of all ages will read it with avidity."           --Athenaeum.

Rounding up the Raider: A Naval Story of the Great War.

The Fight for Constantinople: A Tale of the Gallipoli Peninsula.
  "Breathless adventures crowd into this thrilling story.... It teems
  with enthralling episodes and vivid word-pictures."
                                         --British Weekly.
  "The reader sits absolutely spellbound to the end of the story."
                                         --Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

Captured at Tripoli: A Tale of Adventure.
  "We cannot imagine a better gift-book than this to put into the
  hands of the youthful book-lover, either as a prize or present."
                                         --Schoolmaster.

The Quest of the "Golden Hope": A Seventeenth-century Story of
  Adventure.
  "The boy who is not satisfied with this crowded story must be
  peculiarly hard to please."            --Liverpool Courier.

A Lad of Grit: A Story of Restoration Times.
  "The tale is well written, and has a good deal of variety in the
  scenes and persons."                   --Globe.

                     ------

LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.


[Illustration: "TRUE TO THE LONG-ESTABLISHED AND GALLANT CUSTOM OF
THE SEA"]



Under the White Ensign


A Naval Story of the Great War



BY

PERCY F. WESTERMAN

Author of "Rounding Up the Raider"
"The Fight for Constantinople"
&c.



_Illustrated by E. S. Hodgson_



BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY



         Contents

         ------

         CHAP.
      I. LADDIE'S WARNING
     II. HELD UP BY A U-BOAT
    III. THE BOMB IN THE HOLD
     IV. A NIGHT ON THE NEUTRAL GROUND
      V. THE ENCOUNTER WITH A SPY
     VI. THE DUMMY PERISCOPE
    VII. RAMMED
   VIII. "IN THE DITCH"
     IX. A MIDNIGHT EXPEDITION
      X. HOW THE LANDING PARTY FARED
     XI. OSBORNE'S CAPTURE
    XII. THE TURKISH BIPLANE
   XIII. THE "SUNDERBUND'S" LIFE-BOAT
    XIV. SUBMARINED
     XV. CASTAWAYS ON A HOSTILE SHORE
    XVI. 'TWIXT U-BOAT AND ARABS
   XVII. THE WHALER'S VOYAGE
  XVIII. IN THE NICK OF TIME
    XIX. MISUNDERSTANDINGS
     XX. THE DESERT WIRELESS STATION
    XXI. "A PROPER LASH UP"
   XXII. THE FOULED PROPELLERS
  XXIII. DRIVEN TO DESTRUCTION
   XXIV. THE CHASE OF THE FELUCCA
    XXV. AN UNKNOWN ANTAGONIST
   XXVI. REUNITED
  XXVII. A DARING OPERATION
 XXVIII. OSBORNE'S REWARD



  Illustrations

  ------

  "TRUE TO THE LONG-ESTABLISHED AND GLORIOUS
    CUSTOM OF THE SEA" - - - Frontispiece

  "ONE BY ONE FIVE GERMANS STUMBLED UP THE LADDER"

  "THE SUBMARINE WAS NOW IN AN AWKWARD PLIGHT"

  "PROGRESS WAS TEDIOUSLY SLOW"

  "THE GREEKS WENT DOWN LIKE NINEPINS"



UNDER THE WHITE
ENSIGN

   ------


CHAPTER I

Laddie's Warning


"WHAT a rotten night!"

With this well-expressed remark Sub-lieutenant Webb gained the head
of the bridge-ladder of H.M. armed merchant-cruiser _Portchester
Castle_.

Contrasted with the brightness of his comfortable cabin the blackness
of the night seemed impenetrable. The horned moon, already well down
in the western sky, was almost hidden by a rapidly drifting patch of
mottled clouds of sufficient density to obscure its pale rays.
Slapping viciously against the ship's starboard side were the surging
rollers of the Bay of Biscay. With a succession of heavy thuds the
waves broke against the vessel's hull, recoiling in masses of
phosphorescent foam and at the same time sending clouds of spindrift
flying across the lofty bridge. The _Portchester Castle_ was
forty-eight hours out from England, bound for patrol duties in the
Eastern Mediterranean. It was by no means her first trip to that
inland sea. In pre-war days, under a different name, she had been
making regular pleasure trips under the auspices of a touring agency.
It had been said that her skipper could find his way practically
blindfold into any of the better-known Mediterranean ports, so long
had he been on this particular service.

But the outbreak of the Great War had changed all that. Taken over by
the Admiralty, the former liner-yacht had been rapidly and
efficaciously adapted to her new rôle. Her palatial cabin fittings
had been ruthlessly scrapped. The dazzling white enamel had been
hidden under a coat of neutral grey. Her bluff funnels were disguised
with "wash" of the same dingy hue. Light armour protected her vital
parts; quick-firing guns of hard-hitting power were mounted on the
decks that previously had been given over to pleasure-seeking
tourists. In short, the _Portchester Castle_ was now a swift and
formidable unit of the British Navy.

Four years had made a marked difference in the appearance of Tom
Webb, formerly Tenderfoot of the Sea Scouts' yacht _Petrel_. Thanks
to his preliminary training in the rudiments of seamanship and
navigation acquired in the little ketch yacht, Webb had had no
difficulty in being accepted for service in the trawler patrol soon
after the outbreak of hostilities.

It was now that his Sea Scout training bore fruit. Self-reliant, and
willing to undertake the most arduous tasks with the utmost good
humour and alacrity, he quickly gained the goodwill of his superiors.

Two years in the North Sea in the trawler _Zealous_ gave him plenty
of experience and adventure, until the trawler came to an untimely
end in an encounter with some German torpedo-boats, but not before
she had sent one of them to the bottom. The outcome of this little
"scrap", as far as Tom Webb was concerned, was that the ex-Tenderfoot
was given a commission as Acting Sub-lieutenant, R.N.R., and
appointed to the armed merchant-cruiser _Portchester Castle_.

It required a fair effort on Webb's part to carry out one portion of
the Scout's creed and "keep smiling" as he mounted the bridge in this
particular middle watch. Turning out of a comfortable bunk to do duty
in an exposed, spray-swept post was not a matter of choice but of
obligation.

Still dazed by the sudden transition from the electric light 'tween
decks to the intense blackness of the night, Webb could just discern
the figure of the Sub he was about to relieve.

"Mornin', Haynes!"

"Wish you well of it, my festive," was Dick Haynes's rejoinder.
"Nothing to report. Here's the course. You ought to sight the Spanish
coast in an hour or so. Well, so long, and good luck!"

The relieved Sub-lieutenant vanished down the bridge-ladder. Webb,
muffled in his greatcoat, satisfied himself that the quartermasters
were acquainted with the correct compass course, and received the
usual report: "Screened light's burning, sir, and all's well."

This done he took up his position on the lee side of the bridge and,
sheltered by the storm-dodger, gazed fixedly in the direction of the
swelter of black water ahead of the labouring ship.

Slowly the minutes sped. The _Portchester Castle_, steaming at
seventeen knots, rolled and plunged through the long waves without so
much as the distant navigation lights of another vessel to break the
monotony of the night. Yet the utmost vigilance was necessary. The
safety of the ship depended upon the sharp eyes of the two look-out
men on the fo'c'sle, and the alertness of the junior watch-keeper on
the bridge. To the ordinary risk of collision was added another
danger, for hostile submarines had been reported making for the
Mediterranean, and were reasonably expected to take a very similar
course to that followed by the British armed merchant-cruiser.

The "Rules of the Road for Preventing Collision at Sea" reduced the
former danger to a minimum, provided an efficient watch were
maintained; against the mad dogs of the sea--the German submarines,
who never hesitated to torpedo at sight anything afloat regardless of
her nationality--the ship had to take her chances, and trust to
Providence and a quick use of the helm to avoid the deadly torpedo,
should the phosphorescent swell in the wake of the weapon betray its
approach.

A faint click, barely perceptible above the howling of the wind and
the swish of the waves, attracted Webb's attention. The officer of
the watch had switched off the light in the chart-house before
emerging, lest a stray beam should betray the vessel to a lurking
foe.

Presently the door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man appeared,
his outlines just discernible in the faint light; for the moon, now
soon on the point of setting, was momentarily unobscured.

"Hallo, Tom!" he exclaimed. "What do you think of the Bay, eh?"

The speaker was Lieutenant Jack Osborne, R.N.R., for the time being
officer of the watch. He, too, had good reason to be thankful for his
early training as a Sea Scout on the yacht _Petrel_. The outbreak of
war found him at Shanghai--a Third Officer on one of the liners of
the Royal British and Pacific Steamship Company's fleet. Within two
hours of the receipt of the mobilization telegram, Osborne was on
board a vessel bound for Vancouver, _en route_ for home by the
Canadian Pacific. Twelve months' sea service procured him his
promotion as lieutenant, R.N.R., and when the _Portchester Castle_
was commissioned he found that one of his brother officers was his
former Sea Scout chum, Tom Webb.

"An improvement on the North Sea in winter," replied Webb
optimistically. "And it will be a jolly sight warmer when we get to
the Mediterranean."

"You haven't been abroad before?" asked Osborne.

"Strictly speaking--no," replied the Sub. "I've been within sight of
Iceland a few times, and don't want to see it again; but I have never
set foot ashore. You remember---- Hallo! What's that?"

He gave an involuntary start as something gripped his left hand with
a gentle yet firm hold.

Osborne smiled.

"You're a bit jumpy," he said. "Come, this won't do; it's only
Laddie. He's always with me on the bridge, you know."

"Hope he hasn't mistaken my hand for a piece of raw beef-steak,"
remarked Webb, disengaging his hand from the jaws of a large dog.
"I'm not afraid of dogs, you know, Osborne, but for the moment I
wondered what was up."

"Only his way of showing friendliness," explained the Lieutenant.
"I've had him on board ever since he was a pup. He's only fourteen
months old now."

"I haven't seen him before."

"No, I kept him ashore while we were commissioning, and he generally
keeps down below for the first twenty-four hours at sea. He'll be a
pal to you, Webb; almost as much as Cinders. Well, I'll leave him
with you. Stop there, Laddie, there's a good dog. Call me directly
you sight Cape Villano light, Webb. Keep it well on the port bow;
we're off a tricky coast, you know."

Left alone the Sub stooped and patted the silky hair of the
sheep-dog's head. Webb was one of those fellows to whom most dogs
take at sight. This animal was no exception to the general rule.

Laddie was a large bob-tailed sheep-dog standing more than two feet
from the ground--or rather, deck--and powerfully built. Even in the
dim light Webb noticed one peculiarity. The animal's eyes were of a
turquoise-blue colour and gleamed in the dark like those of a cat.

Suddenly the animal bounded to the weather side of the bridge and,
placing his front paws on the guard-rail, gave vent to three deep,
angry barks.

"What's the matter, old boy?" asked Webb, peering in vain to
ascertain the cause of the dog's excitability.

Hearing his pet's warning bark Lieutenant Osborne was on the bridge
in a trice. One glance at Laddie was sufficient.

"Action stations!" he roared in stentorian tones; then, "Hard-a-port,
quartermaster!"

Even as the spokes of the steam steering-gear revolved rapidly under
the helmsman's hands, the guns' crews, who had been fitfully dozing
beside their weapons, manned the quick-firers, while the
search-lights with their carbons sizzling were trained outboard,
ready at the word of command to unscreen and throw their dazzling
rays upon the surface of the waves.

Listing heavily to port as she turned rapidly on her helm, the
_Portchester Castle_ just missed by a few yards an ever-diverging
double track of foam that contrasted vividly with the inky blackness
of the water.

By a few seconds the British vessel had escaped destruction from a
torpedo fired from a lurking hostile submarine.



CHAPTER II

Held Up by a U-Boat


"HARD-A-STARBOARD!" roared Osborne. In the vivid glare of the now
unmasked searchlights he had detected a short spar-like object
projecting a couple of feet or more above the waves. Almost at the
same time three of the _Portchester Castle's_ quick-firers united in
a loud roar, their projectiles knocking up tall clouds of foam in the
vicinity of the supposed periscope ere they ricochetted a mile or so
away.

Dipping in the trough of an enormous roller the slight target was
lost to sight. Whether hit by the shell the young lieutenant could
not determine. In any case he meant to try and ram the skulking foe.

Round swung the armed liner and, steadying on her helm, bore down
upon the spot where the submarine was supposed to be lurking. No
slight jarring shock announced the successful issue of her attempt.

"Missed her, I'm afraid, Mr. Osborne," exclaimed a deep voice.

The Lieutenant turned and found himself confronted by the Captain,
who, aroused from his slumbers, had appeared on the bridge dressed
only in pyjamas, a greatcoat, and carpet slippers.

"And fortunately she missed us, sir," replied Osborne. "The wake of
the torpedo was close under our stern."

"Did anyone sight her?"

"The dog, sir," said the Lieutenant. "He began barking at something.
I immediately hurried up to see what was amiss, and ordered the helm
to be ported."

"Then your wall-eyed pet has done us a good turn," observed Captain
Staggles grimly. He was a keen disciplinarian, and did not altogether
approve of a dog being brought on board. It was only on Osborne's
earnest request that the skipper had relented, and then only on the
condition that the animal must be got rid of should he give trouble.

Osborne had run the risk. To lose his pet would be nothing short of a
calamity, but such was his confidence in Laddie that he had brought
him on board; and now, within a few hours of leaving port, the
sheep-dog had gained distinction.

"Suppose the brute's got second sight," remarked the Captain. "Well,
carry on, Mr. Osborne, and put the ship on her former course. Call
for more speed--the sooner we get away from this particular danger
zone the better, since we can do nothing on a night like this. See
that a wireless is sent reporting the presence and position of the
U-boat."

Having steadied the vessel and dispatched a signalman to the wireless
room, Osborne rejoined Webb, who was methodically examining the
surface of the sea with his night glasses. Already the search-lights
had been switched off and the guns cleaned and secured.

"A close shave," remarked Webb. "I thought she'd bagged us that time.
It was fortunate that Laddie gave us warning."

"Fortunate in a double sense," added Osborne. "The skipper will be
more favourably disposed towards Laddie after this. I've nothing to
say against the Captain (wouldn't if I had, you understand). From
what I know of him he's a jolly smart skipper, but I fancy he doesn't
cotton on to animals."

"He ought to as far as Laddie is concerned, after this," said the
Sub. "It is a perfect mystery to me how the dog spotted the
submarine. I'll swear he did. He was so excited that I thought he was
going to jump over the rail."

Just then a signalman ran up the bridge-ladder and tendered a
writing-pad to the officer of the watch.

"'S.O.S.' call, sir," he explained. "Sparks can't make head or tail
of it, in a manner of speaking. He's jotted it down just as it was
received."

Osborne took the message and retired into the chart-room. At a glance
he discovered that the message was partly in International Code and
partly in Spanish, or a language closely approaching it. An intimate
knowledge of the ports of the Pacific coast of South America had
enabled Osborne to understand a good many words in Spanish. He could
therefore make a fair translation of the appeal for aid.

"It's a message from a Portuguese merchantman--the _Douro_," he
explained to Webb. "She is being pursued by a German submarine. She
gives her position. We're thirty miles to the nor'nor'-east. Inform
Captain Staggles," he added, addressing the signalman.

In a very short space of time the Captain again appeared on the
bridge.

"It will be daybreak before we sight her," he observed when Osborne
had made his report. "You didn't acknowledge the signal, I hope?"

"No, sir."

"That's good. Sorry to keep Senhor Portuguese on tenterhooks, but if
we wirelessed him the strafed Hun might pick up the message. We must
try and catch the U-boat on the hop. Pass the word for the look-out
to keep his eyes well skinned."

The Captain leant over the for'ard guard-rail of the lofty bridge.
Beneath lurked two greatcoated figures sheltering under the lee side
of the deckhouse from the driving spray.

"Bos'n's mate!" shouted Captain Staggles.

"Ay, ay, sir."

"Pipe General Quarters."

The shrill trills of the whistle brought the watch below surging on
deck. Already by some mysterious means the news had spread along the
lower deck. Taking into consideration the fact that the ship had been
but newly commissioned, there was little fault to be found with the
way in which the men responded to the call.

In the engine-room the staff had risen nobly to the Captain's request
to "whack her up". Quickly speed was increased to twenty knots as the
_Portchester Castle_ hastened on her errand of succour to the
harassed Portuguese merchantman.

"I shouldn't be surprised if we are too late," remarked Captain
Staggles. "That wireless will most certainly be picked up by the
Portuguese destroyer flotilla patrolling the Tagus. They'll be on the
spot before us, I fancy."

Lieutenant Osborne did not reply. He had good cause to think
otherwise, but he kept his thoughts to himself. Nevertheless he was
glad when the skipper expressed his intention of "carrying on" in the
direction of the pursued tramp.

With daybreak came the sound of distant intermittent gun-fire. For
five minutes the cannonade was maintained, and then an ominous
silence. In addition the hitherto constant wireless appeals for aid
ceased abruptly.

"They've got her, I'm afraid," remarked Webb to his chum and brother
officer as the twain searched the horizon with their binoculars.

"Not a sign of her," began Osborne.

"Sail ahead, sir," reported the masthead man, who from his point of
vantage could command a far greater distance than the officers on
the bridge.

"Where does she bear?" shouted Osborne.

"Two points on the port bow, sir," was the prompt reply.

In anxious suspense officers and crew waited for the Portuguese
vessel to come within range of vision. Quickly the daylight grew
brighter. A slight mist that hung around in low, ill-defined patches
began to lift. The sea, still high, rendered it difficult to locate a
vessel at any considerable distance from the British auxiliary
cruiser.

Presently Osborne went to the voice-tube communicating with the
engine-room. His observant eye had noticed that the _Portchester
Castle's_ funnels were throwing out considerable volumes of smoke.
Since it was imperative that she should conceal her approach until
the last possible moment, he requested the Engineer-lieutenant to
exercise a little more care in the stokeholds. A minute or two later
the black volumes of smoke gave place to a thin haze of bluish
vapour.

"There she is!" exclaimed Webb. "By Jove, they've bagged her! She's
hove-to."

The tramp, a vessel of about 2000 tons, was lying motionless and
showing almost broadside on to the oncoming _Portchester Castle_. As
yet there was no sign of the pursuing submarine.

By the aid of the binoculars the British officers could just discern
the red and green mercantile ensign of Portugal being slowly lowered
from the vessel's ensign-staff. The _Douro_ had surrendered: would
the _Portchester Castle_ be in time to save her from being sunk, or
merely able to witness her final plunge, and experience the
mortification of finding that the lawless U-boat had submerged into
comparative safety?

For some seconds the silence on board the _Portchester Castle_ was
broken only by the swish of the water against her bows, the muffled
thud of the propeller shaftings, and the clear incisive tones of the
range-finding officer as the distance rapidly and visibly decreased
betwixt the ship and the supposed position of the German submarine.

Presently, upon the rounded crest of a roller appeared the elongated
conning-tower and a portion of the deck of the U-boat. She was
forging gently ahead, and was just drawing clear of the bows of the
_Douro_.

The situation was a delicate one. If the German commander's attention
were wholly centred upon his capture it might be possible that the
submarine would increase her distance sufficiently to enable the
_Portchester Castle_ to send a shell into her without risk to the
Portuguese vessel. If, on the other hand, the approaching succourer
were sighted by the Huns, the submarine would have time to go astern,
close hatches under the lee of the _Douro_, and dive.

Five thousand yards.

A uniformed figure appeared above the poop-rail of the captured
tramp. The officers of the British vessel, keeping him under
observation by means of the powerful glasses, could see him
gesticulating to the submarine. The latter began to lose way before
going astern.

Now or never. A gap of barely fifty yards lay betwixt captor and
prize. At the word of command the gun-layers of the two for'ard
quick-firers bent over their sights. The two reports sounded as one
as the projectiles screeched on their errand of destruction.

One shell hurtled within a few feet of the top of the conning-tower,
sweeping away both periscopes in its career. The other struck the
raised platform in the wake of the conning-tower, exploded, tearing a
jagged hole in the hull plating. Before the smoke had time to clear
away the U-boat had vanished for all time, only a smother of foam and
a series of ever-widening concentric circles of iridescent oil
marking her ocean bed.

Viewed from the deck of the _Portchester Castle_ there could be no
doubt as to the fate of the modern pirate. Simultaneously a deafening
cheer burst from the throats of the British crew. It was a feat to be
proud of, sending a hostile submarine to her last account before the
_Portchester Castle_ was three days out of port.

When within signalling distance of the _Douro_ the latter rehoisted
her colours and made the "NC" signal, "Immediate assistance
required".

"Perhaps the Huns have already begun to scuttle her," remarked Tom
Webb. "Although I can't detect any sign of a list."

"We'll soon find out," replied Osborne. "Pipe away the cutter," he
ordered, in response to a sign from the skipper.

Quickly the falls were manned, the boat's crew, fully armed,
scrambling into the boat as it still swung from the davits.
Sub-lieutenant Webb, being the officer in charge, dropped into the
stern-sheets.

"Lower away."

With a resounding smack the cutter renewed a touching acquaintance
with the water. The falls were disengaged, and, to Webb's encouraging
order, "Give way, lads!" the boat drew clear of the now almost
stationary ship, which was within a couple of cables' lengths of the
_Douro_.

"Wonder what's wrong?" thought Webb, for there were still no signs
that the Portuguese vessel had sustained damage. She was rolling
heavily in the seaway. Her engines being stopped, she had fallen off
in the trough of the sea.

Rounding under her stern the Sub brought the cutter under the lee of
the tramp. The bowman dexterously caught a coil of rope thrown by a
seaman on the _Douro's_ deck. The trouble was how to board without
staving in the cutter's planks against the heaving, rusty sides of
the tramp.

The _Douro_ had not come off unscathed in her flight from the German
submarine. Under her quarter, and about three feet above the
water-line, were a couple of shell-holes. Fortunately the projectiles
had failed to burst, otherwise the tramp would not be still afloat.
The missiles had partly demolished the wheel-house and played havoc
with the bridge, as the shattered woodwork and the debris that
littered the deck bore witness. Two of the crew had been slain and
three wounded, as a result of being unable to lift a hand in
self-defence, yet the Portuguese skipper had held gallantly on his
way until a sliver of steel from one of the shells had penetrated the
main steam-pipe and had rendered the _Douro_ incapable of further
flight.

A Jacob's ladder--a flexible wire arrangement with wooden rungs--had
been lowered from the tramp's side. At one moment its bottommost end
was swaying far from the vessel's water-line; at another it was
pinned hard against her side according to the roll of the ship.
Boarding was a difficult--nay, dangerous--business.

Standing with his feet wide apart on the stern-sheets grating, Webb
awaited his opportunity. Then he became aware that his boot was
touching something soft and endowed with life. To his surprise he
found Laddie crouching under the seat.

Evidently the sheep-dog was under the impression that the boat was
bound for the shore. He had contrived to leap into the cutter as it
was on the point of being lowered, and, although the Sub had not
noticed him, the boat's crew had seen and had winked at the presence
of the canine stowaway.

"All right, my boy," thought Webb as he made a spring for the
swinging ladder. "There you'll have to stop, I fancy. Now you're
properly dished."

But the young officer was mistaken. Laddie waited until the last of
the boarding party had gained the deck of the _Douro_, then,
knowingly biding his time until the tramp had rolled away from the
boat, he made a spring at the ladder and gained the deck.

"Good morning, senhor!" exclaimed the Portuguese skipper in very good
English as he greeted the British boarding officer. "We are grateful
for your assistance. Another five minutes and the _Douro_ no more
would be. I offer my respects to the brave representative of our
ancient ally."

"Thank you, senhor capitan," replied Tom with a bow, for he was
determined not to be outdone in courtesy by the grateful Portuguese
skipper. "Yes, we have sent that submarine to Davy Jones, I fancy.
But I have to convey the compliments of Captain Staggles of His
Majesty's armed merchant-cruiser _Portchester Castle_, and to offer
you any assistance that lies in our power. You have the 'NC' signal
flying, I see."

"Yes," replied the skipper, grinning broadly and shrugging his
shoulders in a manner peculiar to dwellers in southern climes. "The
trouble, senhor, is this: down below in the fore-hold are six
Germans--men sent on board from the submarine to place explosives in
the hold. They are armed, we are not. Can you get them out for us?"



CHAPTER III

The Bomb in the Hold


"WELL, that's a cool request," soliloquized Webb. "The old chap wants
us to act the part of the cat, and hook the monkey's chestnuts out of
the fire. All in a day's work, I suppose."

He glanced at the Portuguese skipper, who was anxiously awaiting the
Sub's reply.

"It seems to me a simple matter," said Tom, "to clap on the hatches
and carry them into the Tagus. We'll have to tow you, I suppose.
There are several of your war-ships off Belem, and I fancy they'll be
only too glad of a chance to collar a few Huns."

The captain of the _Douro_ shook his head.

"Senhor, you do not quite understand. These pirates are armed. We are
not. Moreover they threaten to blow up the ship."

"Very good," decided the Sub. "Unship the hatches. Stand by, men;
take cover until we find out what these rascals intend doing. Laddie,
you imp of mischief, keep to heel."

The dog obeyed, reluctantly. Already he had his suspicions that there
was danger. His instinct prompted him to bound forward and grapple
with the foe.

Deftly the fore hatchway cover was drawn aside. A ray of brilliant
sunshine penetrating the narrow opening played with a pendulum-like
movement into the dark recesses as the vessel rolled from side to
side. The Sub deemed it safe to show himself, since the eyes of the
imprisoned Huns were likely to be dazzled by the sudden glare.

"Now then!" he shouted sternly. "Do you surrender?"

"Nein," was the guttural reply; "we vos stop here. If you attempt to
damage us do, den we der ship sink."

"All right, please yourself," rejoined Webb coolly. "Only remember,
you'll be cooped up under hatches, and I need not remind you that
it's a mighty unpleasant death, and you have only yourselves to blame
for the consequences of your rash decision."

The trapped Huns conversed amongst themselves for some moments.
Apparently their spokesman had been impressed by the Sub's view of
the situation, and was communicating the news to his fellows.

"Don't hurry on our account," continued Webb cheerfully. "The odds
are that we shall get to the Mediterranean before your submarine. But
please do make up your minds."

"You vos our lives spare?" enquired the Hun spokesman anxiously.

"Of course; you will be treated as prisoners of war," replied the
young officer promptly.

"Every von of us?"

"Yes, every man jack of you."

"Goot; den we surrender make."

One by one five Germans stumbled up the ladder, each man raising his
hands high above his head as he appeared above the coaming. Mistrust
was written upon their brutal-looking faces until they found that no
attempt was made to harm them. Then their demeanour became insolently
defiant towards the smiling young officer.

Webb stepped aside and conferred with the Portuguese captain. The
latter nodded his head emphatically.

"Si, senhor; there were _six_," he declared.

The smile vanished from Webb's face.

"Which of you speak English?" he enquired of the five prisoners.

"Me," replied the man who had tendered the surrender. "Before der war
I vos in der English merchantship----"

"Never mind about what you were," said Webb. "The point is: six of
you boarded this vessel. There are only five on deck. How about it?"

"We tell you all about it when in the boat we vos," declared the
spokesman, glancing over the side at the waiting cutter.

"You'll tell me now," corrected the Sub with unmistakable firmness.
"Otherwise I'll have you put in irons."

For a brief instant the Hun hesitated.

"Der six man, Hans, below is," he explained. "He vos stop and light a
bomb. Ach! You vos do nodings. You promise make to all our lives
spare."

The Sub realized that he had been done. It was up to him to do his
best, even at the risk of his life, to prevent the destruction of the
ship. It was obviously unfair to risk the lives of his men in a task
that, but for his precipitate pledge, need never have been
undertaken.

"Keep those fellows on deck under close arrest. The boarding party
will remain here," he exclaimed, addressing the coxswain petty
officer of the cutter. "I'm going below."

Without hesitation Webb descended the ladder into the gloomy depths
of the fore hold. Groping until his feet touched the iron floor, he
waited while his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light. The place was
crowded with cargo, for the most part tiers of barrels. Fore and aft
ran a narrow space, terminating at the transverse steel bulkheads.

A faint hissing sound was borne to his ears. For'ard a splutter of
dim reddish sparks told him that already the time-fuse had been
lighted; but the Hun responsible for the firing of the bomb had not
yet bolted for the deck. Was it possible that he was going to throw
away his life in a useless act of revenge upon the _Douro_? Or was
the time-fuse of sufficient length for him to remain in the hold for
several minutes before making a dash for safety?

In any case the Sub had no time to debate upon the situation. His
chief concern was to save the ship. Unhesitatingly he made his way
towards the hissing fuse.

"Tamped" by means of a bale of cotton, the bomb had been placed
against the curved tapering side of the ship. Only a few inches of
the fuse was visible. It seemed a matter of a few seconds before the
powerful explosive would be detonated.

Placing his boot upon the ignited tape, Webb severed the fuse. As he
knelt there, in order to make certain that the sparks were thoroughly
extinguished, a pair of powerful hands gripped him from behind. The
desperate Hun, hitherto hidden in the after part of the hold, had
thrown himself upon the young officer.

Taken by surprise, although he had been prepared for a frontal
attack, Webb found himself stretched upon his back with a burly
Teuton kneeling on his chest. The Hun's left hand was pressed over
the Sub's mouth, thus effectually preventing him from making a sound,
while with his right the fellow groped for the severed portion of the
fuse, which, released from the pressure of Webb's boot, had again
burst into a splutter of angry sparks.


[Illustration: "ONE BY ONE _FIVE_ GERMANS STUMBLED UP THE LADDER"]


For a seemingly interminable time Webb struggled desperately yet
unavailingly. Slowly yet surely the relentless pressure on his chest
was telling. Multitudes of lights flashed before his eyes; vainly he
gasped for breath, writhing frantically to refill his lungs with air.
Dimly he wondered why his men had not come to his assistance. His
mind was too confused to remember that it was by his express order
that he had forbidden anyone to accompany him upon his hazardous
enterprise.

Suddenly the Hun gave vent to a yell of terror. His grasp relaxed.
Again he yelled, this time the scream trailing off into a muffled,
choking sob. A savage and determined snarl gave the half-dazed Tom an
inkling of the identity of his rescuer. It was Laddie.

Unseen and unheard by the Sub the sheep-dog had followed him down the
ladder. Eager to face the danger, yet fearing to pass his master's
chum, the dog had lurked in the darkness until the German had
launched his treacherous attack. In reality the seemingly long
interval during which Webb was at the mercy of his assailant was but
a few seconds, for with a bound Laddie flew at the Hun's neck.

At the first contact of the animal's teeth in the back of his neck
the Hun had yelled. An instant later Laddie had shifted his grip, and
was savagely worrying the German's throat. Vainly the man strove to
throw off his four-footed enemy. Laddie was not to be denied.

Hearing the sound of the encounter, and guessing rightly that their
young officer was in danger, several of the cutter's crew swarmed
down into the fore hold. They were barely in time to save the German
from death. Even then the dog was reluctant to relax his jaws.

Once more the still fizzling portion of the severed fuse was
extinguished. The prisoner was hauled unceremoniously out of the
hold, while Webb was assisted to the deck, where in the open air he
soon recovered sufficiently to direct operations.

"They're signalling, sir," reported the coxswain, indicating the
_Portchester Castle_, which now lay about a quarter of a mile on the
port beam of the _Douro_. "They want to know what the delay is for."

"Tell them that the vessel's engines are disabled, that an attempt
has been made to destroy her by means of bombs, and that we have six
prisoners. Ask instructions how to proceed."

A signalman perched upon the guard-rail of the _Douro's_ shattered
bridge quickly sent the message. After a brief interval came the
order:

"Cutter to be recalled. Bring off prisoners. Inform commanding
officer of _Douro_ that we propose to take her in tow."

Without resistance the six Huns were bundled into the boat. The Hun
who had attacked Webb in the hold was now quite incapable of so
doing, even had he been inclined. With a bandage applied to his
lacerated throat he crouched in the stern-sheets, anxiously watching
with ill-concealed terror Laddie's fierce-looking blue eyes.

The Portuguese skipper was profuse in his expressions of thanks when
Sub-lieutenant Webb took his departure. For the time being all danger
was at an end. There was every reason to believe that the _Douro_
would in safety make her destination.

"Very good, carry on," was Captain Staggles's stereotyped remark
after Tom had made his report. The Sub saluted and went aft,
wondering dimly what manner of man his new skipper could be, since
his spoken expression of the Sub's conduct was limited to four words.

For the next twelve hours the _Portchester Castle_ towed the crippled
_Douro_. Late in the afternoon the latter was taken over by a couple
of tugs that had been summoned from the Tagus by wireless. Free to
resume her interrupted voyage, the British armed merchantman
acknowledged the dip of the Portuguese ensign, and was soon reeling
off the miles that separated her from Gibraltar.



CHAPTER IV

A Night on the Neutral Ground


"GAME for a jaunt into Spanish territory, old man?" enquired Osborne,
indicating the hilly ground across the blue waters of the bay.
"There's a boat leaving for Algeciras in half an hour."

The _Portchester Castle_ lay off the New Mole at Gibraltar. She had
coaled and had taken in stores. A few minor defects were being made
good, and she was awaiting orders to proceed. Leave had been given to
the starboard watch that afternoon, and, having nothing in the way of
duty to perform, Osborne had made a tempting suggestion to his chum
Tom Webb.

"Rather, I'm on," replied the Sub. "There's leave for officers till
eight bells, I believe."

"Yes, but we'll have to be back well before that time," observed
Osborne. "The gates of the fortress close at sunset, remember."

Tom Webb during the last few days had made good use of his time at
Gib., but, he argued, being ashore on that bold, rocky promontory was
not exactly being abroad. He was still on British territory. Hence
his eagerness to set foot upon foreign soil.

Soon the two chums, in undress uniforms, were picking their way
through the narrow streets of Gibraltar, dodging among the motley
crowd that comprises the populace of the place--Spaniards, Greeks,
Moors, Arabs, and "Rock Scorps", with a liberal leavening of British
seamen, marines, and soldiers.

"That fellow seems to take a lot of interest in us," remarked Webb as
the two officers found themselves on board the little steamer bound
for Algeciras.

"Let him," declared Osborne inconsequently. He had had too long an
acquaintance with foreign ports to trouble about the curious looks
and attentions of the inhabitants. "Which one do you refer to? That
Spaniard with the piebald side-whiskers?"

"No, the johnny leaning against the ventilator," replied the Sub.
"Looks as if he wants a permanent prop, and his hands seem sewn up in
his pockets."

Osborne glanced over his shoulder. Instantly the individual in
question feigned interest in the smoke issuing from the steamer's
funnel, until the effort of craning his neck was too much of a
physical strain, and he again looked curiously at the two naval
officers.

He was a man of about thirty, full-faced and of a sleek and oily
complexion. His dark chestnut hair was closely cropped. He sported a
tuft of side-whiskers on each cheek and a heavy moustache. His
costume consisted of a dirty white shirt, ill-cut trousers, and
straw-plaited shoes round his waist was a gaudily coloured scarf that
might or might not have hidden a knife. On the back of his head he
wore a broad-rimmed straw hat with a band of vivid yellow, into which
was stuck a bunch of peacock's feathers.

"A picturesque-looking villain!" commented Webb.

"A typical Spaniard, that's all," Osborne reassured him. "We'll have
a few dozen of 'em crowding round directly we land, you know. Every
man jack will offer his services as a guide, philosopher, and
friend."

Apparently the fellow thought it worth while to take time by the
forelock, since his interest in the British officers was
reciprocated. Removing his hands from his pockets he came forward,
and giving an elaborate sweep with his hat he tendered a dirty piece
of pasteboard.

"My card, señores!" he exclaimed. "At your service. Show you
everyzing in Algeciras. Blow me tight, I will."

The last sentence, of which he seemed particularly proud, had been
picked up from a British Tommy. The Spaniard considered it to be the
hall-mark of correct English.

Osborne took the proffered card. On it was printed: "Alfonzo y Guzman
Perez, Qualified Guide and Interpreter".

"We don't require a guide," said Osborne.

Señor Perez smiled benignly.

"P'raps ze senores get into ze mischief wizout a Spanish caballero
who through misfortune is obliged to accept ze monies for his
services. You officers are from ze war-ship _Paragon_?"

"No, from the----" began Webb. Then he brought himself up with a
round turn.

"From ze----?" repeated the Spaniard. But Tom was not to be caught
napping a second time.

"Sorry, Señor Perez," interrupted Osborne firmly. "We don't want
you. Nothing doing this trip."

The steamer was now making fast to the little pier. Without paying
further attention to the over-attentive Spaniard the young officers
landed, and, as Osborne had foretold, were surrounded by a mob of
frantically gesticulating natives.

"Not much of a place," declared Webb. "Horribly dirty, in fact. Can't
we get out into the country?"

"We could," replied his chum. "In fact we could give the steamer a
miss on the return journey."

"How?"

"By walking round the Bay and getting back to Gib. by means of the
Neutral Ground. It's a tidy step, but we've heaps of time."

"Good idea!" declared Webb enthusiastically. "Let's get along out of
this."

By degrees the mob of undesirables diminished. The pace set by two
mad Englishmen was far too hot. A few, however, still hung on, their
appeals for alms giving place to abuse at the callousness of the
British officers.

"Wish we had Laddie with us," remarked Webb. "He'd soon make the
crowd take to their heels."

"Couldn't be done," said Osborne. "I thought of it, but there are the
local quarantine restrictions to be taken into consideration. Also,
there'd be a risk of the dog being shot by the Spanish Customs guards
on the Neutral Ground. They're dead nuts on dogs."

"Why?" asked Tom.

"Because dogs are largely used by smugglers to run contraband into
Gib. Of course, I'm sorry, but it can't be helped."

At last the Spaniards dropped behind and the chums were free of any
embarrassing society. They, too, were glad to ease down, for the day
was extremely sultry. There were bunches of delicious grapes to be
had without let or hindrance, and altogether the two chums were
beginning to enjoy themselves.

"How much farther?" enquired Tom at length.

Osborne consulted his watch.

"By Jove, we must look sharp!" he said. "We've a tidy step yet. In
fact, we haven't got as far as Mayorga."

The road, hitherto by no means good, had deteriorated into a rough
track. Progress, too, was impeded by several inlets, which meant
considerable detours inland. Consequently it was late in the
afternoon when, hot and tired, the young officers limped into the
village of Mayorga, some five miles from the "Lines" of Gibraltar.

"I vote we get a carriage of sorts," suggested Osborne. "We'll be
properly dished if we don't. My heel's galled, and it's still some
way to go."

Making the best of his limited knowledge of Spanish, Osborne
contrived to hire, for the sum of five pesetas, a ramshackle
conveyance with solid wooden wheels and drawn by a couple of oxen. It
was the only vehicle available, but the villainous-looking driver
assured his hirers that it was a swift means of transport.

The cart set off in excellent style--"Under forced draught," Osborne
explained--but before it was clear of the village the swaying,
jolting conveyance had settled down to a funeral pace. When Osborne
expostulated, the driver stopped to offer a lengthy explanation of
the dangerous character of the road, promising to make up for the
lost time directly the comparatively level Neutral Ground was
reached.

Anxiously the Lieutenant consulted his watch, glanced at the setting
sun, and mentally measured the distance between him and the frowning
Rock, which appeared much nearer than it actually was.

Suddenly the cart gave an extra heavy lurch. The oxen stumbled;
while, to the accompaniment of a rending crash and the angry oaths of
the driver, the off-side wheel was wrenched from its axle. The next
instant Osborne and Webb found themselves lying in the long rank
grass by the side of the cart-track.

"Excelsior, old bird!" exclaimed the Lieutenant as the twain
recovered their feet. "Look alive, there's no time to be lost!"

Paying the Spaniard his five pesetas, although he had not completed
his part of the contract, the two officers hastened towards their
goal, regardless of the forcible demands of the driver that his late
fares would contribute towards the damage done to the crazy vehicle.

Nearer and nearer came the "Lines", until the Neutral Ground was less
than four hundred yards away. Then, to the chums' consternation, a
gun boomed forth in the still evening air. It was the signal that
until daybreak the gates of Gibraltar were closed so that none should
enter or depart.

"A fine old business!" declared Osborne. "It's no use going on. We'd
stand a chance of being fired upon by the Spanish guards, and a still
greater one of being winged by the British sentries. They were alert
enough in pre-war days, and you can bet your bottom dollar that
they'll be doubly sharp now."

"Suppose the best thing to do is to return to Mayorga and get a bed
at the inn," suggested Webb. "My word, there'll be a row for
overstaying our leave!"

"No Spanish inn for me," said the Lieutenant with conviction.
"Verminous holes, that's what they are. No, we'll camp out, and
imagine it's the good old Scout days."

"Might do worse," agreed Tom with his cheery smile. "So the sooner we
pitch upon a suitable spot the better. It will be dark in another ten
minutes."

The site selected was a sandy hollow fringed with long coarse grass,
and open to the east. In that direction lay the Mediterranean, its
shores being separated from the officers' bivouac by a distance of
about twenty yards. To the south the summit of the towering heights
of the Rock could just be discerned, above the ridge of sand that
enclosed the hollow on three sides.

Thoroughly tired with their exertions, the chums were soon fast
asleep. Then Webb awoke with a start and a stifled exclamation on his
lips. It seemed as if he had slept but a few minutes. In reality six
hours had elapsed.

He could hear voices conferring in undertones--voices unfamiliar, and
speaking in a foreign language.

For some moments Webb lay still. He remembered where he was, and that
it was not at all strange for men to be conversing in an unknown
tongue. What he remarked was the fact that they should choose an
isolated spot in the small hours of the morning to engage upon what
was evidently a secret confabulation.

Cautiously the Sub raised himself on his elbows and peered through
the long grass. In the bright starlight he made a strange discovery.
There were three men: two in the uniform that bore a strong
resemblance to that of the British Navy; the third was none other
than the chums' would-be philosopher and guide, Señor Alfonzo y
Guzman Perez.



CHAPTER V

The Encounter with a Spy


WITH hardly a sound Sub-lieutenant Webb made his way to the side of
his sleeping chum, and roused him effectually and silently by the
simple expedient of grasping him firmly by the hand.

"'Ssh!" cautioned Tom.

Side by side the two officers crawled to a place of vantage from
which the three men could be kept under observation.

"By Jove!" thought Osborne. "Two German officers and our old pal
Alfonzo. Jabbering away in German, too; and I don't understand the
lingo. Now if they were to try Spanish----"

"Ach, friend Georgeos Hymettus!" exclaimed the senior Hun officer in
execrable English. "Your German a disgrace is. You kultur have
neglected. We confused are in your explanations. Therefore, since we
talk not Spanish nor Greek it will be more easy to talk in der
accursed English. You say you no haf der list of ships?"

"No," replied Perez, or, to give him his true name, Hymettus. "It no
safe. Me no trust ze writing. Carry all here," and he tapped his
forehead significantly. "S'pose me caught and nodings found in ze
writing. Zen, nodings doin' as ze Englise say."

Thereupon, with great fidelity the Greek spy named the British
war-ships on the station and their probable destinations. One
exception was the _Portchester Castle_. Either the name had slipped
his memory, or else he was ignorant of her presence in the Bay of
Gibraltar. He then proceeded to detail the names of British and
foreign merchantmen at Gib. and their probable date of departure,
which information the Germans jotted down in a notebook.

An off-shore wind, rustling across the sand-dunes, rendered a
considerable portion of the following conversation inaudible, but the
chums could see that a sum of paper money changed hands.

"U-boat officers!" whispered Webb, taking advantage of the hush of
the grass. "Game to tackle them?"

"Yes, I'm game," replied Osborne, "but it can't be done yet. I'll
explain later. Steady!"

The spy and the Huns were on the point of separating.

"Till Friday," cautioned the senior German officer. "Meanwhile tell
Gonales dat we be off Alminecar on Wednesday, an' dat we vos have
more petrol. Leben Sie wohl, Georgeos. Do not from dis place move
make until twenty minutes."

The Huns moved off diagonally in the direction of the shore. Before
they had gone very far two greatcoated seamen jumped to their feet
and saluted. Osborne, then, was wise in not attempting to tackle the
officers, since there were members of the submarine's boat's crew
within easy hailing distance. Silently the Germans pushed off in a
collapsible canvas boat, and were rowed seaward until they were lost
to sight and hearing of the British officers.

True to his instructions, Georgeos Hymettus remained at the spot
where he had parted with his uniformed confederates. He was
stealthily counting the notes he had received as the price of his
espionage, as if to make sure that he had not been cheated by his
Teutonic paymasters. Rapidly Osborne revolved the situation in his
mind. With the assistance of his chum the capture of the solitary spy
ought to present no special difficulties; but, having laid him by the
heels, the question arose, what could they do with him? The spy was
in Spanish territory, and, if the facts became known, his arrest
constituted a breach of neutrality. Again, between them and the
Neutral Ground were the Spanish Lines, through which it would be
almost a matter of impossibility to conduct the captive without
detection by the Civil Guards. On the other hand it would be a
thankless task to give the Greek over to the Spanish authorities. Not
only would it mean delay, when it was imperative that Osborne and his
chum should return to the ship as soon as practicable, but the
chances were that the Spanish officials would refuse to keep the
fellow under arrest, since he had been merely engaged in conversation
with two subjects of a friendly power. In Spain, especially in the
southern part, the officials are notoriously pro-German, having
succumbed to the wiles and pecuniary charms of the Hun agents.

"I'll risk it," decided the Lieutenant. "Even if we don't succeed in
planting him down in Gib. it will give him a rare fright."

He pointed towards the unsuspecting Greek. Webb nodded. Stealthily
the twain advanced, treading on the soft sand and avoiding contact
with the dry driftwood that abounded in the grass.

Without warning Georgeos Hymettus turned and saw two forms
approaching through the gloom of the starlit night. He took to his
heels, doubtless imagining that he was about to be attacked by some
of the numerous robbers who, under the guise of beggars, infest the
countryside.

Swift of foot though the Greek might be, the two Englishmen were
swifter. Before the fugitive had covered a hundred yards he realized
that escape by means of flight seemed hopeless.

He was almost on the point of stopping and feigning surrender when
Osborne's foot tripped over a projecting stone, sending the
Lieutenant sprawling in the grass. Webb, springing aside to avoid the
prostrate form of his chum, shouted to the spy to give in.

Promptly the Greek held both hands, with the fingers outspread, high
above his head.

"That's sensible," declared Tom, and incautiously he turned to see
how his companion was progressing. Like a flash of lightning the
spy's right hand sought his voluminous sash, and grasping a long,
keen-bladed knife he slashed viciously at the Sub's chest.

Springing backwards Webb avoided what would otherwise have been a
fatal blow. As it was, the sharp steel ripped his coat from lapel to
waist, while so much energy had Georgeos put into the blow that his
arm swung outwards behind him.

The Sub was quick to counter. Throwing himself upon the ground, he
gripped his antagonist by the ankles. With a crash the fellow
measured his length on his back, while Webb, following up the attack,
seized him by the throat.

Over and over the two rolled, Hymettus striking blindly with his
knife, while Tom, shifting one hand, strove to pin the spy's right
arm to his side and render him incapable of dealing further
dangerous, but fortunately ineffectual, blows.

By this time Osborne had regained his feet, and was awaiting an
opportunity of coming to his chum's assistance. It was no easy
matter, for in the starlight it was hard to distinguish betwixt
friend and foe as they writhed and rolled in a close embrace.

The glint of steel prompted Osborne to take the risk. At any chance
moment a thrust might bury the weapon in Webb's body. Both combatants
were obviously becoming exhausted. Their quick breaths sounded like
those of a pair of dogs spent after running a long distance, while,
in addition, the Greek was snarling like a wild beast.

Grasping a favourable moment, Osborne took a flying kick at the knife
as for a brief instant it paused in mid-air. The weapon flew a dozen
yards, the bright blade twirling and scintillating in the dim light
ere it vanished from sight in the soft sand.

With the loss of the weapon the Greek ceased to offer resistance.
Upon that knife he had relied to win clear; it was the mainstay of
his defence.

"What you was do?" he whined in broken English, for he had already
recognized his assailants. "Me harmless Spanish caballero."

"We'll see about that," retorted Osborne. "The question is: are you
coming quietly or are you not?"

"Where?" asked the spy.

"To Gibraltar."

"What for ze reason?"

The Lieutenant thought it best to ignore the question. With Webb's
assistance he set the spy upon his feet, securely bound his arms
behind his back by means of his shawl, and, cutting off a portion of
the latter, effectually gagged the prisoner.

Osborne listened intently. There was nothing to show that the Spanish
Civil Guards had been alarmed by the noise of the struggle.
Everything seemed quiet. There was a fair chance of being able to
pass the captive through the Spanish Lines without detection,
especially as it was now close upon dawn and the sentries apt, in
consequence, to relax their vigilance.

All went well until the two officers and their prisoner were within
fifty yards of one of the guard-houses that mark the termination of
Spanish territory and the commencement of the Neutral Ground. There
were no signs of any of the sentries; and Osborne was beginning to
congratulate himself upon the successful issue of his attempt, when a
cock-hatted, gaudily uniformed man sprung seemingly from the ground.

Levelling his rifle he called upon the British officers to halt,
following up this order by a warning shout to others of his comrades
within the block-house.

"It's all right," declared Osborne in his halting Spanish. "We're
bringing back a deserter."

"Do not be in a hurry," was the exasperating reply. "Have you any
papers bearing the Alcalde's signature for the prisoner's removal?"

The thought flashed across the Lieutenant's mind that it was more
than likely that none of the Spanish guards could read. Education in
Spain, he remembered, is in a very backward state, barely ten per
cent of the population being able to read or write. As president of
the mess on board the _Portchester Castle_ he had in his possession
several receipted bills. The most imposing of these he produced for
the Civil Guard's inspection. At the same time he noticed that others
of the Spaniards were about to remove the gag from the spy's mouth.

"Get them to hang on a minute, old man," he exclaimed, addressing
Webb. Then tendering the document to the inquisitive soldier, he
ostentatiously displayed a handful of coins.

The natural cupidity of the man was unable to resist the bait. "Palm
oil" would have done the trick had not the spy contrived at that
moment to slip the bonds that secured his wrists. With a deft
movement he produced the bundle of English Treasury notes that had
been paid him by the German submarine officers, at the same time
fumbling with the knot that held his gag in position.

Before Webb, whose attention had been centred upon restraining the
rest of the Civil Guards, could prevent it, the spy had freed himself
from the gag, and was protesting in voluble Spanish that he was an
Andalusian who had been kidnapped by English brigands.

Hopelessly outbidden, for the Greek was doling out pound notes in a
most lavish fashion, Osborne realized that he had been beaten at his
own game. The climax came when Georgeos Hymettus scattered a handful
of paper money in the dim light, and while the Spanish troops were
scrambling for the spoil he took to his heels.

Since it was useless to follow, Osborne and Webb watched him till he
vanished in the darkness. Then silently they waited until the morning
gun from the citadel announced that the fortress of Gibraltar was
open until the setting of the sun.

"A pretty pickle!" remarked Osborne. "Nothing done, your undress
uniform ripped to ribbons, the spy gone, and we ourselves have to
face the music for having overstayed our leave. Rotten, I call it!"

"Don't know so much about that'," remarked Webb, the cheery optimist.
"We've discovered something that will be of interest to the
authorities, and, after all, we've had quite an exciting adventure.
Some night, eh, what?"



CHAPTER VI

The Dummy Periscope


CAPTAIN STAGGLES interviewed the two delinquents separately. The
skipper was one of those men who are apt to bluster and browbeat
whenever occasion offered. It was his idea of imparting discipline.
Popularity he scoffed at. He was, in short, one of a fortunately rare
type of officer of the old school, who at the outbreak of the war had
been once more employed on the active list. To his disappointment
Captain Staggles had not received a shore appointment, owing to a
lack of sufficient influence; and after filling various stopgap
billets he had been given the armed merchant-cruiser _Portchester
Castle_, whose complement consisted entirely of Royal Naval Reserve
and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers and men.

Unfortunately Captain Staggles did not possess sufficient sagacity to
realize that there must be a difference between a crew, trained for
years in proper Navy fashion, and a body of men drawn from the
merchant service. In both cases good material was present, but one
had been developed to meet certain requirements, the other had not.

"The point is," thundered Captain Staggles to Jack Osborne; "the
point is, sir, you had to be on duty on board. You were not. You,
instead, try to bamboozle me with some cock-and-bull yarn about a
spy. Now, what have you got to say?"

"I take it, sir, that you insinuate I'm not speaking the truth," said
Osborne quietly, controlling his indignation with a strong effort.
"And that without giving me an opportunity of proving my statement."

"I take it, sir," mimicked the skipper, "that you don't realize that
you've overstayed your leave?"

"Unfortunately, no, sir," replied Osborne. "It was my fault entirely
that Mr. Webb was in the same predicament."

"Very well," exclaimed Captain Staggles, raising his voice to a
regular roar. "Now, don't do it again. Clear out, sir."

"But concerning the spy, sir?" began the Lieutenant.

"Don't want to hear any more about it," bellowed the skipper. "Thank
your lucky stars you've got off so lightly. Leave my cabin, sir."

Osborne saluted and withdrew. On the half-deck he encountered Webb,
who was awaiting his turn "on the carpet".

"Reprimanded," announced Osborne laconically. "The captain won't
listen to my explanation. Better luck, old man."

But Sub-lieutenant Webb fared no better. His attempt to throw a light
upon the night's work met with an equally curt reception.

"I believe the skipper's been drinking," said Webb to his chum after
his interview.

"Since you mention it, I agree," said Osborne gravely. "I've known it
for some time, but I didn't like to give my chief away. We've struck
hard lines in the matter of a skipper, Tom. You see, our temporal
future lies entirely in his hands. If he sends in an unfavourable
report upon our conduct and abilities, we're done as far as the
Service is concerned. There is no appeal. However, we must carry on
and do our duty."

Osborne had previously said that Captain Staggles was a keen officer.
He had been; but retirement had blunted his zest and rusted his
abilities. Still rankling under the mistaken idea of injustice at
having been refused a shore appointment, the skipper had lost
interest in his work. He was content to rely mainly upon the
stereotyped order "Carry on", and a non-committal "Very good" when
addressing his subordinate officers. His formerly active brain,
fuddled by intemperance, was no longer capable of controlling the
destinies of a ship's company. Had he been permitted to remain in
command the result might have been fatal to the efficiency of the
ship. Fortunately it was otherwise.

By some means the story of the adventure of Osborne and his chum
reached the ears of the Senior Naval Officer on the Station. He
immediately applied for a report from Captain Staggles, and the
latter had to admit that he knew nothing of the details of the
occurrence. The result was that Osborne and Webb were sent for, and,
under severe cross-examination, had to reveal the facts of their
interview with their commanding officer, and how the latter had
refused to hear the report concerning the spy.

Two hours later Captain Staggles was ordered to undergo a medical
examination and, found unfit for duty, was sent to hospital; the
Lieutenant-commander of the _Portchester Castle_ was given temporary
command pending a fresh appointment from the Admiralty.

Jimmy M'Bride, Captain Staggles's successor, was a man of totally
different character and disposition. There was a humorous side to his
nature that the former skipper lacked. He knew his job thoroughly,
regarding the men under him as something different from mere
machines. He expected a high standard--and got it; not by aggressive
methods, but by example. He was always ready to consider a grievance,
but woe betide the incautious man who attempted to impose upon him.

Already precious time had been lost, but M'Bride delayed no longer in
acting upon the information that Osborne and Webb had gained from the
Greek spy. Since the _Portchester Castle_ had not figured in the list
of ships supplied to the kapitan of the German submarine, the armed
merchant-cruiser was detailed to take the place of a large tramp, the
s.s. _Two-Step_, which was under orders for Marseilles.

Just before sundown the _Portchester Castle_ was, roughly, twenty
miles east of Gibraltar. It was a calm, glorious evening. Not a
ripple disturbed the placid surface of the Mediterranean, save the
long, ever-diverging swell in the wake of the slowly moving vessel,
for in the rôle of merchant-man the _Portchester Castle_ was
steaming at a bare fifteen knots. Three miles away and broad on the
starboard beam was the tramp, flying the red ensign. Already by means
of the International Code she had "made her number". Her course was
approximately parallel to that of the _Portchester Castle_, although
her speed was less by a good five knots.

"Spot anything?" enquired Osborne of his chum, as Webb kept his
binoculars focused at something almost midway and ahead of the two
vessels.

"Yes," replied the Sub. "A periscope, or I'm a greenhorn. Here you
are, Osborne, right in line with the foremast shrouds."

"By Jove, you're right!" assented the Lieutenant. "I can see it
distinctly. Now who is she going for--the _Two-Step_ or us?"

"The _Two-Step_, I fancy," replied Webb. "It looks to me as if the
U-boat's periscope is trained in that direction."

Quickly the guns were manned. A warning signal, "'Ware submarine on
your port bow", was sent to the tramp. The suppressed excitement grew
as the _Portchester Castle_ drew nearer to her as yet unsuspecting
foe.

M'Bride was on the bridge at the time. Deliberately he delayed the
order to open fire. The gun-layer could, he knew, easily knock away
that pole-like object, but that was not enough. The U-boat, even when
deprived of her "eyes", could dive and seek shelter until the danger
had passed. Not until the submarine showed herself above the surface
could a "knock-out" blow be delivered, unless the _Portchester
Castle_ could approach and ram her antagonist before the latter had
time to submerge to a sufficient depth.

"Look!" exclaimed Osborne. "She's actually going to attempt to ram.
Well, of all the cool cheek!"

The Lieutenant was correct in his assertion, for the plucky tramp,
starboarding helm, was bearing down upon the vertical spar that
denoted the presence of the otherwise hidden danger.

This manoeuvre interested Webb hardly at all. His attention was
centred upon the periscope. For some time he had been keeping it
under observation through his marine glasses. There was something
fishy about it. He had seen partly submerged periscopes before, and
they had never behaved in that erratic fashion.

This one was stationary as regards direction. No feather-like spray
denoted its passage through the water. It certainly was not forging
ahead. It was, however, rolling erratically, its centre of
semi-rotation being but a few inches beneath the surface. The
periscope of a submarine, if it were inclining in a vertical plane at
all, would have a very different movement, protruding as it was from
the comparatively huge hull of the vessel.

"It's a dummy periscope," he announced.

"Sure of it, Mr. Webb?" asked Captain M'Bride.

"Positive, sir."

The skipper of the _Portchester Castle_ did not hesitate. A warning
blast from the armed merchant-cruiser's syren was followed by the
peremptory signal, "Go astern instantly", while the white ensign
hoisted aft imparted the necessary authority to the _Two-Step_.

An exchange of signals followed, with the result that the tramp
forged ahead once more, and, altering her course slightly, passed
quite a couple of cables' lengths from the sinister spar that bobbed
lazily above the sea.

"And there are half a dozen destroyers leaving Gib. to-day," remarked
Captain M'Bride. "If they had sighted this decoy one of them would
have gone at it like a bull at a gate. We must risk it, I suppose.
Away first cutter's and whaler's crews!"

The _Portchester Castle_ had to slow down to enable the boats to be
lowered. This in itself was a risky operation, since it was quite
possible that a real hostile submarine might be lurking in the
vicinity, awaiting the opportunity to discharge a torpedo at the
almost stationary target afforded by the armed merchantman.
Nevertheless the risk had to be undertaken. It fell within the scope
of the duties of the Royal Navy in its gigantic task of rendering the
maritime highways as safe as possible for the sea-borne commerce of
Britain, her Allies, and of neutral nations.

Tom Webb was in charge of the cutter, his brother Sub-lieutenant,
Dicky Haynes, having command of the whaler. The moment the two boats
cast off, the _Portchester Castle_ pelted off at full speed,
maintaining an erratic course to minimize possible danger until the
two Sub-lieutenants had carried out their hazardous investigations.

Each boat had two hundred yards of grass rope trailing astern, the
other ends being made fast to the bight of a flexible steel wire,
which, by means of a couple of buoys, was permitted to sink to a
depth of one fathom beneath the surface. Steadily the boats
approached the dummy periscope, the cutter passing it to port and the
whaler to starboard at a distance of twenty yards.

Presently Webb glanced astern. The towed buoys were now quite close
to the upright spar.

"Give way for all you're worth, lads!" he ordered, while Haynes
shouted a similar encouragement to the whaler's crew.

The strain on the grass rope increased. Then with a terrific roar a
column of water shot two hundred feet into the air from the spot
where the dummy periscope had been.

"We're much too knowing birds to be caught by that sort of chaff,"
remarked a member of the cutter's crew. The man was right. Had any
passing vessel rammed the tempting-looking periscope she would have
found herself bumping over a couple of mines that, with fiendish
ingenuity, the Huns had lashed to the decoy in the hope that an
inquisitive foe would be sent to the bottom. The trick was an old
one, but it added to the complication of perils which the British
seamen have to face hourly in the frequently underrated task of
preserving the millions of inhabitants of the United Kingdom from the
horrors of famine.



CHAPTER VII

Rammed


THE echoes of the explosion had scarce died away when the
_Portchester Castle_ turned and steamed back to pick up her two
boats. She was still about two miles off, and nearly three times that
distance from the receding _Two-Step_.

The crews of the cutter and the whaler were busily engaged in coiling
away the undamaged grass ropes. The connecting span had, of course,
been blown to bits by the detonation. Both boats had to be baled out,
for a quantity of water hurled skywards by the exploded mines had
fallen into the little craft. Webb's command was flooded to a depth
of a couple of inches over the bottom boards, while the whaler had
considerably more water in her.

"Look astern, sir!" exclaimed the coxswain of the cutter.

The Sub glanced across his shoulder. The sea in the vicinity had now
almost regained its mirror-like aspect, but in the direction
indicated by the petty officer its surface was rippled by a tell-tale
swell, as if some large object were moving slowly at a considerable
depth.

"Stand by, lads!" ordered Webb. "Oars!"

The blades had barely touched the water when, at a distance of less
than five yards from the cutter, appeared the twin periscopes of a
submarine--this time the genuine article.

The U-boat, for such she was, had been lurking in the vicinity of the
decoy. Her kapitan had seen the approach of the _Portchester Castle_
and the tramp, and feeling confident that the booby periscope would
be noticed, had remained to watch the effect of the Englanders'
curiosity.

On hearing the explosion he wrongly concluded that the experiment had
not been a successful one, as far as the inquisitive vessel was
concerned; and after a brief interval he ordered the U-boat to the
surface, with the intention of gloating over the sinking of yet
another strafed English ship.

"Back port--pull starboard!" ordered Webb.

Almost in her own length the cutter swung round until she lay
broadside on to the appearing periscopes, which were still forging
ahead and momentarily showing higher and higher above the surface.

Drawing his revolver the Sub took steady aim at almost point-blank
range. It was practically impossible to miss. The mirrors on the top
of the periscope were shattered. The next instant, the foremost metal
pipe of the now blinded submarine was grinding against the cutter's
gunwale.

"Cutter ahoy!" shouted Haynes.


[Illustration: "THE SUBMARINE WAS NOW IN AN AWKWARD PLIGHT"]


The whaler was now a hundred yards off, and the cutter lay between
her and the still submerged U-boat. Haynes had heard the double
report of the revolver shots, and was at a loss to account for
Webb's seemingly inexplicable act.

"Come alongside as hard as you can!" shouted Webb; then addressing
the bowman of the cutter he ordered: "A couple of hitches with your
painter, man."

The bowman acted promptly. In a few seconds the cutter had swung
round and was being urged at a steady rate through the water with her
painter made fast to the foremost of the damaged periscopes.

Haynes, too, had now grasped the situation. The whaler, urged at the
greatest speed by the rowers, was quickly on the spot. Her painter
was then secured to the aftermost periscope.

The two Subs were now keenly on the alert for further developments.
The point to consider was whether the U-boat would attempt to
continue to ascend, or make a frantic effort to submerge completely.
In the former case both boats would have to be trimmed by the head to
counteract the lifting power of the invisible submarine; in the
latter case all hands, with the exception of the bowman, would have
to crowd aft in order to impart the greatest buoyancy to the for'ard
portion of the boats.

The submarine was now in an awkward plight. In spite of the fact that
her displacement was something in the neighbourhood of six hundred
tons she had little reserve of buoyancy, represented by the weight of
water in her ballast tanks. Against this she was hampered by the two
boats, the cutter weighing a little over a ton without her crew and
gear, and the whaler supplying a dead weight of nearly half that of
her consort.

The U-boat dare not rise. To do so, even if she were capable of the
fact with the two "millstones" literally hanging round her neck, she
would be running an unknown risk, since she was unaware of the nature
of the obstruction. Nor could she dive with safety. Before she could
admit sufficient water ballast to make her heavy enough to swamp the
two boats, the strain would wrench the periscopes from the
submarine's hull. In spite of the intricate valves, the wrench
imparted to her mechanism would make it an impossibility to prevent
quantities of water entering the interior, and send the U-boat down
for good and all.

"We've got her, old man!" explained Haynes joyously.

"And she's got us, too," replied Webb. "Sort of marine game of beggar
my neighbour."

Haynes was certainly right, and so was his brother officer. Until the
_Portchester Castle_ arrived to render assistance the struggle looked
like being a dead heat, unless----

Yes, Webb knew that there was an "unless"--a mighty unpleasant one.
There was a possibility that the U-boat's skipper would not
surrender. Rather he would explode the war-heads of the torpedoes
still within the hull, and send the submarine to instant destruction,
at the same time involving the annihilation of the two boats and
their crews.

At all costs Webb determined to "stand fast", but it was with mingled
feelings of elation and apprehension that he regarded the shadowy
outlines of his "capture", as the enormous hull showed dimly at
twelve feet beneath the surface. Air bubbles broke upon the slightly
agitated waves as the U-boat strove either to "sound" or break away
and rise awash. At intervals her twin screws churned the water,
sometimes going ahead and sometimes astern, with the result that the
cutter and the whaler crashed gunwale to gunwale half a dozen times
in twice as many minutes. Only the skilful and strenuous endeavours
of their crews prevented the strongly-built sides from collapsing
like shattered egg-shells.

All this while the _Portchester Castle_ was bearing down upon the
boats. Captain M'Bride knew that something unusual was taking place.
The erratic movements of the two craft told him that, but he was at a
loss to understand the reason.

"Cutter ahoy!" came a hail through a megaphone from the armed
merchantman's bridge.

"What are you foul of?"

One of the boat's crew, producing two handflags, dexterously balanced
himself upon one of the thwarts.

"Hooked a submarine, sir," he reported.

"How does she lie?" was the skipper's next question.

"Bows away from you, sir; her stern's swinging on to your port bow."

This knowledge was of importance, for, although the U-boat was blind,
it was just possible that her crew might discharge a torpedo on the
off chance of the missile getting home.

"Stand by to cast off roundly," came the next order from the
_Portchester Castle_. "I'm going to ram her aft."

"Now for it," thought Tom Webb. "If we're not in the ditch within the
next fifty seconds I'll be very much mistaken."

The Sub had barely expressed himself thus, when with a quivering jerk
the U-boat shot above the surface, exposing the whole of the after
part of the conning-tower, although the fore part was still beneath
the surface. She was so down by the head that the blades of her stern
hydroplanes were visible. Realizing that it was touch-and-go, the
German skipper had released the emergency metal keel with which these
craft are equipped.

Owing to their short painters, the cutter and the whaler were swung
in close alongside the rounded hull, their bows hoisted clear of the
water by the terrific strain upon their bow ropes.

Several of their crews had been flung upon the bottom boards and
stern-sheets, while streams of water from the U-boat's deck
threatened to swamp the frail craft alongside.

Instantly the after hatch of the submarine was flung open, and,
headed by a stout, fair-haired _leutnant_, the German crew armed with
revolvers began to pour through the narrow opening on to the U-boat's
decks.

There was no indication on their part of a wish to surrender. It was
evidently going to be a hand-to-hand scrap 'twixt British and
Germans.

The submarine's officer had taken in part of the situation at a
glance. Shouting to a couple of hands to cut the painters, he led the
rest of the men in a headlong rush towards the two boats, the Huns
opening a hot but erratic fire from their small-arms. Unfortunately
for him the _leutnant_ had not noticed in his haste the _Portchester
Castle's_ approach, until a warning shout from one of the Germans
revealed the immediate danger.

The attack stopped immediately. Throwing down their revolvers the
Huns raised their hands above their heads, shouting "Mercy, kamerad!"
at the fullest pitch of their lungs, some directing their appeal
towards the British seamen in the boats, others towards the vengeful
merchant-cruiser.

"Cast off!" shouted Webb. "Back, men, for all you're worth."

Deftly the bowman of the cutter severed the painter. With a flop the
boat's bows slid down the bulging sides of the submarine, and, backed
by the vigorous efforts of half a dozen rowers, drew away from the
doomed pirate.

No human effort on the part of Captain M'Bride could now avert the
work of destruction that the _Portchester Castle_ had already
attempted. It was impossible to check the momentum of thousands of
tons of metal, moving at fifteen knots through the water; nor could a
change of helm be effected in time to allow the ship to glide
harmlessly astern. Hulling the U-boat's side at a distance of about
fifty feet from her stern, the _Portchester Castle's_ sharp bows cut
completely through the doomed craft. The after part sank like a
stone; the major portion rolling over until the top of the
conning-tower dipped beneath the surface, floated for nearly thirty
seconds, emitting air, oil, and petrol, and disappeared from view.

This much Tom Webb saw; then in front of his field of vision appeared
the towering hull of the armed merchantman as she tore past. Caught
between the vortex caused by the sunken U-boat and the sharp-crested
wave from her destroyer's bow, the cutter was completely overset, and
in the midst of a smother of foam the Sub found himself swimming for
dear life.



CHAPTER VIII

"In the Ditch"


IT was one of the rare occasions when Tom Webb could not carry out
the Scout's maxim, "Keep smiling"--at least outwardly. On being slung
out of the boat he had been temporarily winded by the edge of the
gunwale buffeting his ribs. He had sunk to a considerable depth, and
just before he regained the surface he had been compelled to swallow
a mouthful--not of honest sea water, but of some vile liquid of which
petrol and oil formed component parts. Fortunately the coating of oil
on the surface was not thick, otherwise his chance of reappearing
would have been very remote.

"Here you are, sir; clap hold of this," exclaimed a deep voice close
to his ear, and a large grating was thrust into his grasp.

Rubbing the water from his eyes with his disengaged hand, Webb saw
that his benefactor was the coxswain of the cutter. Half a dozen or
more men were swimming about, some supporting their less-gifted
comrades who were unable to swim.

Owing to the presence of oil the turmoil of broken water had already
subsided. Ten yards away the cutter was floating lazily upon the long
swell, keel uppermost and with five or six men holding on, or else
somewhat foolishly attempting to clamber upon her upturned bilges.
Still farther away was the whaler, waterlogged and with only her bow
and stern-posts showing above the surface. Quite half a mile off, and
still carrying way in spite of having reversed her engines, was the
cause of the disaster to the boats.

"Stick it, men," exclaimed Webb encouragingly. "They'll soon pick us
up."

At which information, unnecessary since the _Portchester Castle's_
intention was obvious, the men gave a cheer. Most of them had been
"in the ditch" before, and in far more hazardous conditions. This
immersion in a warm sea and on a calm day was of the nature of an
aquatic picnic, while with the prospect of a speedy rescue none of
the men thought it worth while to sacrifice his boots.

The Sub found himself counting the heads of the survivors. Thank God!
the number tallied with that of the complete boat's crew. In fact, he
was not sure but that there seemed to be more.

"Any casualties?" he enquired of the coxswain, who was lazily
swimming close to his young officer.

"Bill Evans, sir; stopped a bullet. Right shoulder, sir. They've got
him in tow alongside the cutter. Nothing more."

The coxswain did not think it necessary to inform Webb that he
himself had a little memento of the brief scrap with the U-boat's
crew, in the shape of a wound just above the left knee. In the water
it was hardly noticeable.

The whaler's people, too, seemed to be in the best of spirits. They
had closed in around the waterlogged craft, each man gripping the
partly submerged gunwale and lustily singing one of the latest
ditties, just to emphasize the fact that they were very far from
being down-hearted. With them were five or six survivors of the
U-boat. Enmity had disappeared, the whaler's men treating their
companions in misfortune with the utmost good humour.

Presently Webb felt a hand clutch at his shoulder.

"Here, come off it!" exclaimed the coxswain.

"If you do want a leg-up, don't put your dirty paws on our officer."

The Sub turned his head. Behind him was a German seaman, obviously
distressed and in difficulties. He had been holding on to an oar, but
the buoyancy of the wood was insufficient to keep his head above the
surface.

"Can you swim?" asked Webb.

"Nein," spluttered the Hun. "Me vos no swim----"

"Then hang on to this," continued the Sub, pushing the broad end of
the grating within reach of the German. The fellow seized it without
a word of thanks.

"Most amiable-looking blighter," commented Webb, regarding the heavy,
sullen features of the submariner. "Wonder if you were one of the
crowd that jeered at the crew of that torpedoed Italian liner the
other day? Shouldn't be at all surprised, but I suppose I must not
ask awkward questions. Hallo, what's wrong now?"

A yell of rage attracted the young officer's attention. One of the
Germans, either rendered temporarily insane by the fate of the
U-boat, or else filled to overflowing with the gospel of "Gott strafe
England", had made a sudden and furious attack upon one of the
whaler's crew, who a minute or so previously had generously made room
for the half-drowned Hun.

The latter, having regained his breath, had drawn a knife and had
made several ineffectual attempts to sheathe the blade in the British
seaman's body.

Jack Tar was quite equal to the occasion, although interrupted in the
midst of "spinning a yarn" with his chum. Evading a sweep with the
knife he gripped the German's arm, and drawing up his legs threw them
over the shoulders of his assailant. Then, literally sitting on the
Hun, he held him under water until he had swallowed a quart of
petrol-tainted fluid and was reduced to a state of insensibility.
This done, he allowed his assailant's head to appear above the
surface, and supported him until the arrival of the _Portchester
Castle's_ boats.

"Why didn't you 'out' him while you were about it, mate?" enquired
the man's "raggie".

"No bloomin' fear," was the reply of the magnanimous bluejacket.
Then, anxious to excuse himself, he added: "Drownin's too good for
that brute. Well, I was a-tellin' you about that there bloke wot
sneaked Bill's plug o' bacca. You see it wur like this----"

And as if the incident of the murderous Hun had never occurred, the
sailor resumed his yarn.

Five minutes later the saturated but undaunted crews of the capsized
boats were safe and sound on board. Nine members of the U-boat's
complement were sent below after having been provided with dry
clothing by their good-natured foes. The cutter and the whaler were
recovered and hoisted inboard, having sustained very little damage.
Then, having made their report and been complimented on their work,
Webb and Haynes went below to change their soaked uniforms. The
_Portchester Castle_, this part of her mission successfully
accomplished, put about and retraced her course to Gibraltar.

Here the prisoners were to be sent ashore until an opportunity
occurred to put them on board a vessel bound for England, there to
swell the total of ever-increasing numbers of Hun pirates living in a
state of comparative ease in a hostile country, while thousands of
Britons, who had fought cleanly for King and Country, were
languishing, half-starved and in rags, in the hideous prison-camps of
Germany.

"Hallo, there's a fellow who evidently wants to pow-wow with you,
Tom," said Osborne, as the two officers stood at the head of the
gangway, watching the U-boat's survivors being marched ashore.

The German whom Osborne had indicated had stepped forward and was
signing vigorously to Webb. Then, to the Sub's surprise, the man
produced a small packet and held it out.

"Tanks!" he exclaimed. "For you--many tanks."

Then it was that Webb recognized the man whose life he had been
instrumental in saving. The Hun had some sense of gratitude after
all, he reflected, as he took the proffered packet.

But before Webb could examine its contents a loud yell distracted his
attention from the Hun's gift. The last of the prisoners to leave the
ship was the fellow who had attempted to knife one of the whaler's
crew. With a show of bravado and out of sheer cruelty, he had
deliberately kicked Laddie in the ribs as he passed towards the
gangway.

The Hun had one of the shocks of his life. He had underestimated the
spirit of an Old English sheep-dog.

Although the kick was a heavy one, Laddie never uttered a sound. Like
an arrow from a bow the dog flew straight at the leg that was wearing
the offending boot.

Laddie bit hard--so hard that Osborne afterwards declared that he
could hear the dog's teeth grinding upon the aggressor's shin-bone.
Yelling frantically with pain and terror the German strove to shake
off the animal, but, retaining a vice-like hold, Laddie hung on, and
finally threw the fellow on deck. As for his comrades, they ran
panic-stricken down the brow and across the Mole in spite of the
efforts of the guards to keep them under control. Nor did the British
bluejackets attempt to interfere. There was no knowing what the angry
animal might or might not do, and since the Hun brought the
punishment upon himself there was no great anxiety on the part of the
crew to intervene.

"That's enough, I think, Mr. Osborne," said Captain M'Bride quietly.

The Lieutenant had his doubts as to whether his pet would, in his
fury, listen to his master's voice.

"Come here, Laddie," he ordered sternly.

The dog obeyed instantly, and releasing his grip trotted over to
Osborne's feet. Not possessing the luxury of a tail, Laddie wagged
the whole of his hind quarters as much as to say: "Now, who says a
dog cannot do his bit for his country?"

Limping painfully the brutal German was assisted down the gangway. He
had had his lesson.

"What did that Hun give you?" asked Osborne some minutes later.

"I'd forgotten all about it," said Webb, producing the packet from
his pocket. "Laddie's little dust-up put all thought of it out of my
head. It is from a fellow to whom I gave a hand when we were 'in the
ditch'. He didn't seem particularly grateful then, but I suppose he
was a bit done up. Hallo, what's this?"

He held up an Iron Cross.



CHAPTER IX

A Midnight Expedition


"HEIGH-HO! So we are up against Johnny Turk at last," exclaimed Jack
Osborne. "And a jolly clean fighter too. A foeman one can admire."

"And treat with all proper respect," added Sub-lieutenant Haynes. "I
remember how in the earlier part of the war people at home used to
sneer at the lying Turkish _communiqués_, but, by Jove, they were
mighty close on the bull's-eye."

"Of course I haven't had any experience of Turkish ways," remarked
Webb, "but I know something of the dirty tricks of the Huns in the
North Sea and elsewhere. I used to be under the impression that the
Turks were an effete, lying nation, only permitted to retain a small
slice of Europe by the mutual consent of the Great Powers. See how
the Bulgarians and Serbs made them run only a few years ago. And now
they're putting up one of the toughest fights that ever figured in
history."

A fortnight had elapsed since the _Portchester Castle_ had left Gib.
for the second time. She was now cruising on outer patrol duty in the
AEgean Sea, her station being on the eastern or Asiatic shore of that
island-studded expanse of water.

"I suppose the Germans stiffen the Turks a bit," said Osborne. "For
one thing, the presence of Hun U-boats in these waters has hampered
our movements. I wonder what sort of a job ours will be to-night?"

The "job" to which the Lieutenant referred was the destruction of a
hitherto carefully concealed petrol depot on the shores of Asia
Minor, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Smyrna. It was from a Greek
member of a Turkish coasting vessel, captured a few hours previously,
that the information had been obtained of the precise position of the
depot; and, in spite of the fact that it is almost impossible to
trust a Greek, Captain M'Bride determined to put the information to
the test. For one thing he held the informer as a hostage, much to
the latter's undisguised alarm.

The discovery and destruction of these secret lairs of German
_unterseebooten_ in the Mediterranean was proceeding systematically,
yet there remained a lot of work in that direction. Once the hostile
submarines were deprived of the means of replenishing their stores of
fuel, the menace to the merchant shipping of the Allies in these
waters would cease to exist, and once more the Suez Canal could be
fully utilized as an artery of commerce. Hitherto the depredations of
modern pirates had succeeded in diverting a considerable portion of
Far East shipping round the Cape of Good Hope, thus increasing the
cost of freightage and the length of a voyage.

A messenger pattered along the deck and, approaching the three
officers, smartly saluted.

"Cap'n's compliments, sir," he said, addressing Lieutenant Osborne.
"He wants to see commanding officers of boats in his cabin."

"Now to business," exclaimed Osborne gleefully as, accompanied by
Webb and Haynes, he made his way aft. They found Captain M'Bride
leaning over the table, his head supported by his hands, and his
elbows planted upon a large-scale map.

"Good evening, gentlemen!" was his cheery greeting. "We may as well
go into final details of this little business. You, Mr. Osborne, will
be in charge of the boats. I am sending the steam cutter, the pulling
cutter, and the whaler. Now, here is your objective--Akhissareli.
According to this chart, there are four fathoms to within fifty yards
of the shore so long as you give that ledge of rocks a wide berth.
There is a sandy bottom, so you ought to have no difficulty in
getting ashore. My experience is that one usually finds soft mud in
the inlets in these parts, but this gives emphatic information to the
contrary. We'll take the ship in to within ten miles of the shore.
The steam cutter can then tow the other boats to save the men a long
and arduous pull. Use your discretion, Mr. Osborne, when to cast off
the tow, but for goodness' sake don't let the Turks have an inkling
of your approach. See that the leading stoker does not let even a
solitary spark escape through the funnels. By the Greek's account
there'll be a guard of fifteen men, so everything depends upon a
complete surprise. I'll leave you to make your own arrangements, but
at six bells I'll close with the shore and keep a bright look-out for
your signals, so as to pick you up without delay. The Admiral is
sending a couple of destroyers to keep an eye on the _Portchester
Castle_, so we ought to be fairly safe from submarine attack. Now,
Mr. Osborne, suppose you discuss your plans with your two
subordinates, and if I have any criticism to make I'll do so."

As a matter of fact the skipper listened in silence while Osborne
discussed the operations with the two sub-lieutenants. He had a high
opinion of the young officer's sound judgment, and, listening, had no
cause to alter his opinion.

"By the by," remarked Captain M'Bride when the council of war was
about to break up, "I suppose you'll see that that pet of yours is
left behind? Not that I have any complaint to make against him. He's
turned up trumps more than once; but I think it advisable to mention
the matter."

"Of course, sir," replied Osborne. "Laddie was hanging round the
cook's galley, so he won't know that we're going."

But Osborne was mistaken. The dog instinctively knew that something
was about to transpire. Possibly when the leading stoker of the steam
cutter, who was one of the animal's special pets, proceeded to raise
steam, Laddie spotted a chance of a run ashore.

So while in the darkness--for night had fallen--the landing party
mustered for inspection, the dog slipped quietly up the ladder to the
cutter on the booms, and concealed himself under one of the seats in
the cabin.

By the feeble glimmer of a hand lantern borne by one of the
quartermasters, Lieutenant Osborne made a critical inspection of the
men's arms and equipment. Then, the landing party having been
reported all correct, they were briefly addressed by the Captain,
who, having explained the nature of the operations, bade them good
luck and a safe return.

The men having embarked, the steam cutter took the two boats in tow
and steered solely on a compass course shaped in the direction of the
invisible Akhissareli. An hour later, for progress was slow, the loom
of the land became visible, while shortly afterwards the rugged
outlines of the mountains could be discerned silhouetted against the
starlit sky.

"Stop her," ordered Osborne.

Still carrying way the two pulling boats ran close alongside, while
their crews silently dropped the heavy ash oars into the muffled
rowlocks. For the time being the steamboat was to "stand by", ready
to proceed to the assistance of her consorts, should aid be
necessary. It was upon the cutter and the whaler that the brunt of
the operations was to fall.

Armed with a pair of powerful night-glasses Osborne took up his post
on the cabin top and swept the distant shore. Everything appeared to
be quiet. Not a sound was to be heard save the distant roar of the
surf on a ledge of rocks well to windward of the inlet. Not a light
was visible on shore. The place seemed as deserted as the polar
regions.

"Sir," whispered a petty officer; "here's this dog of yours."

"How came he on board?" asked Osborne sternly.

"Dunno, sir; he's just come out of the cabin."

Osborne realized that he was on the horns of a dilemma. Unwittingly
he had disobeyed an indirect order from his skipper, since he was
responsible for the dog. Should Laddie bark or make a sound the
success of the enterprise would be jeopardized. Briefly, the
situation was this: everything depended upon the animal's behaviour.
In one scale of the balance were the lives and liberties of, perhaps,
fifty men; in the other the life of a dog.

Quickly the Lieutenant decided how to act.

"Now, Laddie," he said earnestly, "lie down and don't make a sound
until I give you permission. Be a good dog."

Then addressing one of the steamboat's crew he continued: "Get a
marline-spike from the tool-chest, Walters; that's right. Now listen.
I want you to stand by Laddie. Keep one hand in his collar. At the
first sign he makes of barking, hit him as hard as you can over the
head. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man. He was a trustworthy and thoroughly
steady-nerved bluejacket, who would not be likely to become "jumpy".
Laddie's life, then, was safe in his charge, provided Osborne's pet
obeyed his master's instructions.

The Lieutenant resumed his watch. By this time both pulling boats
were out of sight, swallowed up in the intense darkness. At intervals
he glanced at the luminous dial of his watch. The minutes seemed to
drag with a persistency hitherto unknown. Surely the two boats were
by this time close to their objective?

Suddenly a flash of reddish light stabbed the darkness, then a galaxy
of others--a regular blaze of rifle fires. As the report of the first
shot reached the Lieutenant's ears, Osborne leant over the edge of
the cabin top.

"You can put that marline-spike down, Walters," he said quietly.
Then, leaping into the stern-sheets and snatching up the voice-tube,
he gave the order "Full speed ahead".

Even as the steamboat gathered way, half a dozen search-lights were
unmasked ashore. Two of the giant beams swung seawards, the rest
being directed upon the enclosed water of the creek. At the same time
the rattle of musketry was augmented by the deeper bark of
quick-firers and the ominous tap-tap-tap of machine-guns.

Instinctively Osborne realized that, far from being a surprise, the
landing expedition had been properly ambushed. Treachery had been at
work. The Greek who, fortunately, was still detained on board the
_Portchester Castle_ had deliberately misled the British. Instead of
the operations being directed against a secret petrol depot, the
boats found themselves up against a powerful and well-organized
system of shore batteries and a strong force of troops to oppose
their landing.

Clearly Osborne knew his duty. At all costs the steamboat must dash
in and rescue her consorts or perish in the attempt.

Suddenly one of the seaward-directed searchlights swung rapidly past
the steam cutter and, hesitating, played fairly upon the hull of a
large torpedo-boat that was making at full speed in the direction of
Akhissareli.

For a brief instant Osborne hesitated. He knew that British
destroyers were in the vicinity, and possibly this was one tearing to
the assistance of the _Portchester Castle's_ boats. He dare not make
a private signal lest the shore batteries should spot the steamboat's
presence. On the other hand, there were two factors that tended to
upset the friendly destroyer theory. The Turks ashore had made no
attempt to fire upon the approaching craft; her outlines, as shown up
by the search-lights, were unfamiliar. As she drew nearer, Osborne
knew conclusively that it was a Turkish torpedo-boat, no doubt
attempting to run the gauntlet of the Allied fleets.

"Let her have it," shouted Osborne, at the same time ordering the
helm to be ported ten degrees, in order to bring the steamboat on a
slightly converging course with that of the Ottoman torpedo craft,
which, by reason of superior speed, was rapidly overtaking the
British boat.

The gun-layer of the quick-firer obeyed instantly. With a lurid
flash, accompanied by an ear-splitting detonation, the first shell
sped on its errand of destruction. Well and truly laid was the gun,
for the projectile, striking the lightly armoured conning-tower of
the torpedo-boat, literally pulverized it. Five seconds later a
second shell, hitting the Turkish craft just abaft the second funnel,
played havoc in the engine-room. Columns of steam, gleaming like
tarnished silver in the glare of the search-light, poured through the
shattered deck, as, listing heavily, the torpedo-boat circled to
starboard. Feebly she replied to the steamboat's fire. Momentarily
she lost way, for the lucky shot had crippled her engines; while the
survivors of her crew on deck, imagining that she was about to
founder, or else panic-stricken by the destruction wrought by the
shell, threw themselves overboard and began to swim for the shore.

That particular piece of work accomplished--the action had lasted
less than a minute--Osborne again steadied the steam cutter on her
course to the rescue of the trapped landing party.



CHAPTER X

How the Landing Party Fared


IT will now be necessary to set back the hands of the clock, and
follow the adventures of Sub-lieutenants Webb and Haynes from the
time when the cutter and the whaler parted company with the
steamboat.

Tom Webb, being now the senior officer, led the way, steering a
compass course, and having to make due allowances for the southerly
current from the distant Dardanelles. Only the ripple of the water
from the boat's bows, the laboured breathing of the oarsmen, and the
creak of the stretchers broke the silence of the night. The muffled
oars were admirably handled, not a plash being audible as the blades
rose cleanly from the phosphorescent water. The superb pulling of
those Royal Naval Reserve men would have evoked praise from the most
critical naval officer.

Gradually the shore loomed up nearer and nearer. Progress was slow
but sure, for Webb had taken the precaution to reserve the rowers'
strength for the final lap. On the port hand the land rose abruptly.
To starboard a ledge of jagged rocks stretched seaward; while dead
ahead lay a comparatively broad expanse of land-locked water, its
extent rendered baffling by the deep reflection cast by the high
ground upon the placid surface.

Keeping midway between the entrance points Webb steered straight in.
The petrol depot was supposed to be on the port-hand side, on gently
shelving ground hidden from seaward by a line of low cliffs.

Webb would not have been surprised if, on rounding the entrance,
there were signs of activity on shore. A couple of submarines,
perhaps, anchored in the seclusion of the creek, and in the act of
taking in quantities of fuel. But all was quiet. Not a sound came
from the shadowy land; not a light was visible.

The cutter was in the act of turning to port, when from the high
ground at the entrance to the creek a rifle-shot rang out, and a
bullet whizzed within fifty feet of the boat's bows. There was no
mistaking the shot. It was not a chance bullet, but a purposely-made
signal.

"Give way, lads!" exclaimed the Sub, all necessity for silence now at
an end. Haynes, too, gave the word for his men to pull their hardest,
and now, almost neck and neck, the two boats literally tore through
the water, greeted by a veritable fusillade from the heights on the
left and from the shelving ground ahead.

A stifled cry of pain told Webb that one of the boat's crew had
stopped a piece of nickel; but, setting his teeth grimly, the wounded
man, despite a bullet wound completely through the left arm, stuck
gamely to his oar.

"By Jove!" muttered the young officer as the blinding glare of the
first of the unmasked search-lights played fairly upon his eyes,
"we're trapped."

Then other rays darted across the surface of the creek, transforming
the darkness of the night into a state of brilliance almost
approaching that of daylight. A seven-pounder shell, hurtling
overhead, exploded a hundred yards astern of the whaler, while, all
around the two boats, the water was churned into a series of
miniature waterspouts by a hail of bullets.

The British craft did not come off unscathed. Splinters from the ash
oars and from the gunwales flew in all directions. Already writhing
figures were huddled upon the cutter's bottom-boards, while stifled
groans from the whaler told the unpleasant fact that some of her crew
had been hit.

"Pull starboard, back port!" ordered Webb. With the opening fire of
the Turkish light guns he knew that it would be worse than useless to
attempt to carry out the operations. It would only be needlessly
sacrificing the lives of the men without the faintest chance of
success. All that could be done was to withdraw from the veritable
death-trap, if such a course were possible.

The Turks were now using machine-guns, but luckily their aim was bad,
for the scythe-like hail of bullets passed harmlessly over the boats.
Had the weapons been depressed a mere fraction of an inch, the
British would have been wiped out to a man.

Quickly the whaler followed the cutter's example, turning and making
for the open sea.

By this time the roar of the hostile fire was deafening. Had the
search-lights not been running, the flashes of the guns and of the
continuous musketry were sufficient to turn the hitherto pitch
darkness into a lurid glare. Showing up clearly against the high
ground on the opposite side of the creek, the boats presented an easy
target. By all the laws and theories of modern warfare they should
have been blown clear out of the water; instead, they seemed to be
shielded by a special providence.

As the boats withdrew and the range of the hostile fire increased,
the Turks began to aim with better results. The coxswain of Webb's
boat, shot through the head, was lying across the backboard of the
stern-sheets. The bowman, hit by a flying fragment of shell, had
dropped inertly over the thwart. Others of the crew had sustained
more or less serious wounds, until only six men were left to use the
oars.

Nor did the whaler fare better. Four dead men lay upon the
bottom-boards, seven badly wounded were striving to make light of
their terrible injuries. Even when face to face with death the
gallant British seamen "stuck it", with grim smiles on their faces
and light-hearted jests on their lips. Several of the oars had been
splintered; there were half a dozen bullet holes through the planks
'twixt wind and water, to say nothing of numerous perforations in the
top-strakes of the gunwales. Yet the whaler still kept afloat, thanks
to the determination and resource of her crew, who stuffed strips
torn from their scarves into the shot holes and plied balers
vigorously, despite the galling fire to which they were unable to
reply.

In vain Webb looked for the steam cutter; but while scanning the
entrance to the creek he saw something that called for instant
action--something that in a measure accounted for the fact that the
boats had not been destroyed. The Turkish quick-firers and most of
the small arms were directing a fairly concentrated storm of shot and
shell across the entrance, thus creating an almost impassable
barrage. Clearly the Sub saw the object of these tactics: the enemy
were trying to force the two boats into surrendering, rather than
blow them out of the water.

Webb found himself asking the question "For why?" He could give no
satisfactory reply. He was in a very tight corner; but he had been in
similar predicaments before, and his resource and courage had brought
him through. Why not now?

"By Jove!" he muttered; "if we can get in close to the shore those
cliffs will shelter us. They don't seem to have posted any troops
there, and certainly there are no quick-firers."

Acting promptly he altered helm. The rowers, finding their boat
heading towards the shore, regarded their young officer with evident
concern, until they saw the cool resolute look upon the Sub's face.
Then they knew that he had something in view that might extricate
them from the deadly trap.

The whaler, too, followed suit, and, before the Turks realized the
fact, both boats were sheltered from the hostile fire.

The Sub now steered the cutter parallel with the line of low cliffs
and at a distance of about three boats' lengths from their base. At
intervals the two craft had to edge outwards in order to avoid the
jagged reefs that jutted out from the precipitous cliffs; yet
progressing slowly, for the men at the oars were either wounded or
well-nigh exhausted, the cutter, followed by the whaler, crept
towards the open sea. And still no sign of the steamboat that was
supposed to be standing by to cover their movements.

Suddenly Webb spotted something ahead that filled him with vague
apprehension. He stood upright in order to verify his suspicions.
There was no mistake: stretched right across the narrowest part of
the entrance was a formidable barrier composed of wire hawsers
supported on floating iron-spiked balks of timber.

The obstruction had not been there when the boats entered the
land-locked estuary. It was a device planned under the supervision of
German officers, and was simple in its design and operation. The
balks had been bunched together close on shore. From the outermost
one a flexible steel hawser crossed the entrance and was secured to a
powerful capstan on the opposite bank. With no strain upon it the
hawser lay on the bottom of the creek, and the navigable channel was
clear. Directly the cutter and the whaler had passed over the hawser
a strain was taken on it, with the result that the balks of timber
were hauled into position, forming a "boom" too strong to be severed
by the "way" of a rowing boat, too buoyant to be pushed under water
to allow a craft to pass above, and with too great a strain on the
connecting hawser to permit a boat to force her way underneath. It
was like being in a bottle with the neck tightly corked.

"What do you make of it?" shouted Tom to the Sub in charge of the
whaler.

"A tough job," replied Haynes. "D'you think that there's a live wire
attached to that contraption?"

"I'll soon find out, old son," rejoined Webb. There was no time to be
lost, for the Turks, realizing that the boats were temporarily
sheltered, would almost certainly rush a couple of machine-guns to
the summit of the cliff. At close range, for the boats were now
within twenty yards of the shore, the British landing party would be
at the mercy of the enemy.

Snatching up an india-rubber mat that lay in the stern-sheets Webb
made his way for'ard, over the thwarts and the pack of wounded men.
Then, clambering on the nearest balk of timber, he threw the
insulated material over one of the wires and forced it against the
next cable. Nothing resulted. That pair, at all events, did not
convey any powerful and death-dealing current of electricity.

"A couple of hands for'ard," ordered the Sub. "Bring a hammer and
chisel from the boat's bag and start cutting through this wire gear."

Volunteers were quickly forthcoming--two seamen who had been but
slightly wounded. While they were tackling the task, knee-deep in
water owing to the timber sinking under their weight, Webb tested the
remaining wire ropes. To his intense satisfaction they were
comparatively harmless; but the fact remained that there were six
2-inch flexible wires to be cut through before the boats could gain
the open sea.

Desperately the two seamen attacked the stubborn wire with cold
chisel and hammer. It was a slow business, for the steel was
extremely tough, while the lack of anything in the nature of an anvil
caused much of the force of the hammer to be wasted.

"One nearly through, sir," reported the seaman with the chisel. His
hands were streaming with blood, owing to lacerations made by the
severed strands, each of which was as tough and as sharp as a
sailmaker's needle. "Wish we had a hacksaw," he added.

"No good wishing for something we haven't got," said Webb. "We'll do
it all in good time. Let me give you a spell."

But before the Sub could make his way along the partly submerged
timber Haynes exclaimed:

"Stand by; here they come!"

Webb listened intently. He could distinguish the thud of many feet,
and the high-pitched sort of cheer that Turkish infantry frequently
give vent to when advancing at the double.

"Back with you!" he ordered, addressing the two seamen on the balk.
"Stand to your arms, men!"

The Sub had made up his mind. It must be a fight to the death. There
could be no surrender. Yet it was a forlorn hope. At the utmost, only
a dozen rifles would be able to reply to the renewed attack.

Another and totally different sound wafted across the sea, at first
so faintly that Webb was afraid to trust the evidence of his own
senses. The sound increased in volume. Now it was unmistakable--the
chug-chug of the steam cutter's engines.

Snatching up a Very's pistol and inserting a cartridge, Webb fired
into the air. The green light from the signal-cartridge threw a
sickly glare upon the scene, hitherto shrouded in intense darkness;
for, although the greater portion of the creek was one blaze of
search-lights, the darkness under the cliffs was almost impenetrable.

Well it was that Webb had fired the signal, for the steamboat was
heading for the centre of the creek. Instantly the boat altered helm
and tore down upon the two trapped craft. She was charging at full
speed against the formidable boom. "Steamboat ahoy!" shouted Webb at
the full force of his lungs. "Slow down; there's an obstruction ahead
of you."

The warning was unheeded. Either Osborne had failed to hear his
chum's voice, or else he had made up his mind to charge the boom, in
the hope that the steamboat's sharp bow would shear through the
danger.

The outermost wire of the boom parted like packthread under the
terrific impact of ten tons of deadweight, travelling at fifteen
knots. By good luck the boat had struck the boom immediately between
two of the balks of timber, otherwise her planks would have been
ripped like paper by the formidable steel spikes.

The second wire sagged but held. A whole section of the boom swayed,
the side nearest the cutter slipping under the water, while the other
side reared five or six feet in the air, narrowly missing the bows of
the whaler in its descent.

For quite twenty yards the steamboat was forced astern by the rebound
of the hawser; then, just as she was forging ahead once more, Osborne
ordered the engines to be stopped. Very docilely the boat ran
alongside the insurmountable barrier.

"All aboard here--all hands!" ordered Osborne, addressing the
survivors of the cutter and the whaler.

The bow gun of the steamboat was spitting venomously at parties of
Turks who had now appeared upon the top of the cliffs. Distinctly
silhouetted against the glow of the search-lights they made an
excellent target, while the boats, lying close alongside the steeply
rising ground, were practically invisible, save for the flashes of
the steamboat's gun.

Assisted by their slightly wounded comrades, the disabled seamen were
helped along the swaying timber and received on board the steam
cutter. Webb and Haynes were the last to leave. The latter had come
off lightly, having sustained nothing more than a graze across the
forehead.

"Bear a hand, old man!" exclaimed Webb, after a vain attempt to
scramble upon the boat's side.

"Hit?" enquired Haynes laconically.

"Don't know. Fancy I must be," replied the Sub dully.

Had not Haynes grasped his comrade by the shoulders Webb would have
dropped inertly from the balk of timber into the sea. Everything was
turning a dazzling white before his eyes. His nerveless hands were
holding on to the top-strake of the cutter, yet he was unconscious of
the fact.

"Buck up!" exclaimed Haynes encouragingly. "Now, up she comes!"

With a determined effort the Sub of the whaler heaved his chum upon
the cutter's waterways.

"Where are you hit, old man?" he asked, but the question was
unanswered. Sub-lieutenant Tom Webb was unconscious.



CHAPTER XI

Osborne's Capture


WITH assistance Dicky Haynes contrived to carry his brother Sub to
the diminutive cabin, where three badly wounded men had already been
placed in comparative shelter. More for his chum, Dicky Haynes was
unable to do for the present. His duty required him to be on deck to
assist the already hard-worked Osborne.

The bow gun was still firing. Not that any of the enemy were visible,
but merely to let them know that sections of the cliffs in the
vicinity of the steamboat were decidedly "unhealthy". The Turkish
infantry had suffered fairly heavily when they appeared above the
crest, and the renewed fire from the steam cutter was sufficient to
keep them at a discreet distance.

"Easy astern!" ordered the Lieutenant. "One of you nip below and see
if she's strained."

A seaman disappeared down the hatchway of the fore-cabin, quickly
reappearing with the disconcerting news that there was water on the
floorboards.

"A couple of hands to try and locate the leak," continued Osborne.
Then grasping the flexible voice-tube he gave the leading stoker
instructions to couple up the steam bilge-pump.

Having drawn clear of the boom, and left the pulling cutter and the
whaler to their fate, the steamboat forged ahead, and put a safe
distance betwixt her and the trap that had all but proved fatal to
the unfortunate landing party.

The result of running ahead was to increase the rush of water through
the holed plank, which, located close to the bulkhead at the fore-end
of the stokehold, was awkward to get at. Moreover, a hole in a
diagonal-planked craft is specially difficult to repair, even in a
temporary fashion. In spite of the action of the powerful pumps the
water was gaining, although the transverse bulkhead kept the
engine-room from being flooded. Yet the danger of the boat foundering
had to be faced.

With fire-tinged smoke pouring from her funnels the cutter continued
her retreat. As long as she kept on a certain bearing, she was masked
by the cliffs from the search-light and the direct fire of the
Turkish quick-firers yet Osborne knew that by so doing he was running
a risk of piling the little craft upon one of the numerous ledges of
rock that jutted out from the shore.

"Vessel dead ahead, sir," reported the look-out man.

A couple of hundred yards away and right athwart the steamboat's
course was a long, low-lying craft, apparently hove-to. She showed no
lights, nor had she attempted to hail the approaching British boat.
To pass her to starboard meant almost certain disaster upon the
rocks; to alter helm to pass her to port would result in the
steamboat entering the field of the search-lights, and consequently
make her an easy target for the hostile guns.

"Stand by, there!" exclaimed Osborne. "Let her have it directly I
give the word. Steady on your helm, coxswain. Keep her at that."

For a few seconds Lieutenant Osborne kept his glasses focused on the
mysterious craft. Was she a Turkish patrol-boat intent upon cutting
off the steam cutter's retreat, or one of the British motor craft
sent to assist the landing party?

Suddenly the Lieutenant gave a chuckle of delight.

"It's our old friend the Turkish torpedo-boat," he remarked to
Haynes. "We gave her what-ho! on our way to pick you up. Her crew
jumped overboard and swam for it."

One thing still puzzled him. The torpedo-boat, when abandoned by her
panic-stricken crew, was a couple of miles farther to the south-west.
Now, although apparently without way, she had almost grounded on the
north-eastern shore of the extensive bay.

"Can't be the current," mused Osborne. "That sets southerly from the
Dardanelles. Perhaps it's a counter-current, though."

The latter theory was correct. A strong run of water, deflected from
the opposite side of the bay, had set the derelict in a totally
different direction from the one Osborne had imagined.

"We'll have her, old man," he exclaimed to Haynes. "It will be
something to make up for the rotten business. Stand by, bowmen. Out
fenders!"

With hardly the faintest bump, for there was no sea on, the steam
cutter was brought alongside the abandoned Turkish craft. Although
badly damaged about the upper works and hulled several times above
the water-line, the latter was still "as tight as a bottle". A couple
of hands were placed on board to take the helm, and the cutter,
lashed alongside fore and aft, began to gather way. Gradually speed
worked up to five knots, as the little captor and her comparatively
large prize drew away from the dangerous shore.

Osborne realized that he was not yet "out of the wood". Ahead was a
stretch of brilliantly illuminated water, where the search-lights,
playing above and over the cliffs, were able to throw direct rays
upon the sea. Yet, as the steamboat and her prize entered the light,
the Turks refrained from reopening fire. They had spotted the
captured torpedo-boat; the steam cutter lashed alongside was hidden
from their view by the greater bulk of her capture. They recognized
the former as a unit of the Ottoman Navy. She was known to be
attempting a run from the Dardanelles to Smyrna; and yet there could
only be one reason why she should be proceeding in a westerly
direction.

When at length the Turks realized that the torpedo-boat was a prize,
they brought every available gun to bear upon her. For several
minutes the water all around was churned into columns of foam.
Several fragments of shell struck the prize. The steamboat, snugly
sheltered under her lee, escaped without further damage. Foiled in
their endeavour, the enemy reluctantly ceased fire.

As soon as they were out of range the boat's crew were able to devote
themselves to their wounded comrades. For the first time that night a
lamp was lighted in the after-cabin.

Tom Webb had recovered consciousness when, having left Haynes in
charge, Lieutenant Osborne went below to see how his brother officer
and close companion fared.

The Sub's injuries consisted of a painful, though not dangerous,
flesh wound in the muscles of the right leg--a nasty laceration
caused by one of the sharp spikes of the boom. Webb, in his desperate
work, had not noticed the wound until he had attempted to climb over
the side of the steamboat. In addition he had a contused wound on the
top of his head, although he had no idea of how or when the injury
was received.

"I always was noted for my thick skull, Osborne," he remarked, with a
rather sorry endeavour to follow out the Scout's maxim of "Keep
smiling". "But I'm sorry for what has happened."

"It wasn't your fault, or anyone's, as far as I can make out," said
the Lieutenant. "We were had properly. These things are bound to
occur in war-time. It's lucky it's no worse."

"Rather humiliating, though," continued Webb. "Getting in a proper
rat-trap without the chance of firing a shot."

"We fired many a round, only you know nothing about it," announced
Osborne. "We were quite hotly engaged----"

"What's that noise I hear?" interrupted the injured officer, as a
grinding, rasping sound penetrated into the cabin.

"Oh, that? Nothing much," replied Osborne modestly. "We've a prize
lashed alongside--a Turkish torpedo-boat. She got in our way after
the boats had cast off, and we winged her. Later on we fell in with
her again, and finding her abandoned but seaworthy, we took
possession of her. So you see, Tom, it hasn't been altogether a
fruitless expedition. We've lost the pulling cutter and the whaler,
and collared a torpedo-boat in exchange."

"Good business!" exclaimed Webb. "I'd like to cheer, Osborne, only my
throat's burning; and I can't grin my appreciation; the bump on my
head has stretched my cheeks so tightly that if I did I really
believe I'd crack the skin. You know----"

"Destroyer bearing down on the starboard bow, sir," reported Haynes
in his best professional manner.

Osborne hurried from the cabin. Feeble though the lamplight was, it
was sufficient to dazzle his eyes and render him incapable of seeing
anything distinctly.

"Bring a signalling lamp with you," he ordered, at the same time
making a leap for the torpedo-boat's deck.

Out of the darkness flashed the destroyer's search-light full upon
the prize. It was a nerve-racking ordeal, for the oncoming craft,
recognizing the torpedo-boat as a Turkish vessel, would perhaps start
blazing away without further ado.

Promptly the steamboat's signalman made her private number. The
destroyer acknowledged, and the danger was at an end. Circling and
easing down, the British war-ship approached within hailing distance.

"_Portchester Castle's_ steamboat and prize, eh?" shouted her
Lieutenant-commander. "You're lucky to have collared their
torpedo-boat. We've been on the look-out for her the last week. Can
we render any assistance?"

Osborne considered. It was still a long way back to the _Portchester
Castle_. Already the wind was rising, and the sea, hitherto calm,
promised to become at least choppy before very long.

"Will you relieve us of our prize?" he asked.

"Certainly," was the reply. "We'll tow her into Lemnos."

Admirably manoeuvred, the destroyer came close enough to enable a
line to be thrown to the prize's fore-deck. To the line was attached
a stout wire hawser, the end of which was made fast to the
torpedo-boat's for'ard bollard. Half a dozen sailors from the
destroyer boarded and took possession of the capture, while Osborne
and his men returned to the steamboat. The lashings securing the
latter alongside the prize were then cast off, and in less than ten
minutes the destroyer and her tow were swallowed up in the darkness.

"That's a load off my mind," soliloquized Osborne, as speed was
increased to fifteen knots. By this time the leak had been
temporarily plugged, the water that had made its way into the
fore-cabin had been ejected, and there was every chance of the
steamboat making a quick run back to her parent ship.

"Where be the dawg, sir?" enquired one of the steamboat's crew. "I
can't see 'im nowheres aboard."

"Laddie!" exclaimed the Lieutenant. "Where are you? Come here, old
boy."

There was no response. In ordinary circumstances Laddie would be
within a paw's length of his master. Even though the animal might be
sulking after the Lieutenant's admonition (and the dog was not given
to sulking), the mere utterance of his name would bring him bounding
to his master in an ecstasy of delight.

"Anyone seen Laddie recently?" sang out the Lieutenant, addressing
the men up for'ard.

"I saw him a-followin' you when you got aboard that tawpeda-boat,
sir," declared a young able-seaman. "He were close on your heels when
you jumped, sir."

"Have a look down below," continued Osborne anxiously.

A search of the fore-cabin produced no desired result. In the
diminutive engine-room, the leading stoker examined every nook and
cranny of the compartment housing that box of tricks of intricate
machinery. Reluctantly Osborne came to the conclusion that his pet
was missing. The able-seaman, questioned further, was firm in his
belief that he had seen Laddie following his master, but he could not
say whether the animal actually boarded the prize. Nor could any of
the other men express a definite opinion on that point.

It was just possible that the dog might have missed his footing, and
have fallen between the steamboat and her capture. Failing being
crushed between the two craft he might have fallen into the sea, and,
unnoticed in the bustle, had been lost in the darkness.

Two hours later the steamboat--the sole survivor of the three boats
that had left the ship--ran alongside the _Portchester Castle_.

"By Jove, Osborne!" exclaimed Captain M'Bride, who in his anxiety had
remained all night on deck. "What has happened?"

"They were properly on the alert, sir," replied the Lieutenant. "We
were trapped, and were unable to accomplish our mission. However, we
fell in with a Turkish torpedo-boat, engaged her, and compelled the
crew to abandon ship. On the return run we again fell in with the
torpedo-boat, took possession, and towed her until relieved by one of
our destroyers."

"That evens things up a bit," remarked the skipper. "And the cutter
and the whaler?"

"Had to be abandoned, sir. They found themselves on the wrong side of
a boom."

"And our casualties?"

"Mr. Webb wounded, Mr. Haynes wounded slightly. Five men killed and
nine wounded, and----"

"And----?" repeated Captain M'Bride.

"Laddie missing, sir," continued Osborne.



CHAPTER XII

The Turkish Biplane


A WEEK passed. Although the _Portchester Castle_ was far from being
inactive, the result of almost continuous patrol work amongst the
islands of the AEgean Sea produced nothing in the nature of the
capture or destruction of a hostile craft. There had been numerous
false alarms; suspicious vessels had been chased, overhauled and
boarded, only to find that their papers were in thorough order and
their cargoes of a non-contraband nature; wild-goose expeditions had
been carried out in search of imaginary petrol depots--all of which
were most disappointing. The only redeeming feature of the business
was that the presence of a strong fleet of patrolling craft tended to
curtail the enemy's activities. The mere knowledge that the
approaches to the Dardanelles were closely watched, acted as a
deterrent both to the Turkish torpedo craft and the German submarines
that had been sent hither, in a vain attempt to drive the Allied
fleets from the open water of the Mediterranean and to stifle the
merchant shipping of that inland sea.

Before the expiration of those seven days Sub-lieutenant Tom Webb was
reported fit for duty. Thanks to clean living and a robust
constitution, he made rapid progress under the skilful care of the
ship's doctor. His regret for Osborne's loss was almost equal to that
of Laddie's master.

The latter was badly hit by the catastrophe. Although he gave little
outward sign of his grief, he felt the loss of his pet acutely.

"He may turn up again, old man," said Webb consolingly. "Just as
likely as not he was left on board the torpedo-boat. If so, the
destroyer's people will look after him until we get in touch with
her."

"I wish I could share your opinion, Tom," replied Osborne. "But I
can't see how that could possibly happen. Laddie wouldn't remain on
board when I left. No, I'm afraid he's gone for good; and it's the
horrible uncertainty of his fate that makes matters worse."

Captain M'Bride, too, was profuse in his sympathy.

"Of course, Osborne," he remarked, "I can't very well send out a
general wireless asking if one of our destroyers has picked up a dog.
I'd possibly get rapped over the knuckles by the Admiral for my
pains. But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll write a private letter to
a chum of mine at Lemnos--he's the skipper of the _Tarbox_--and ask
him to institute enquiries. I'm rather inclined to favour Mr. Webb's
theory, you know."

"Thanks, sir," replied Osborne. "It would be----"

"Aeroplane on our port quarter, sir," shouted one of the look-out
men.

The three officers hastened to the bridge, where the officer of the
watch had already brought his telescope to bear upon the approaching
air-craft.

"A Johnny Turk, sir," reported the watchkeeper. "There are crescents
on her planes."

A bugle blared "Action Stations". The two anti-aircraft guns were
manned, while the quick-firers were trained to their extreme
elevation in the hope that the oncoming aerial foe would still be a
sufficient distance from the ship to enable the weapons to be brought
to bear upon the swiftly-moving target.

Already it was too late for the ordinary quick-firers to be of
service. The "anti's" alone had to be employed to fire at the Turkish
aeroplane. Should the latter elect to rise to a great altitude the
comparatively feeble weapons would be of little use. On the other
hand, the higher the aeroplane rose the greater difficulty there
would be of hitting a moving target like the _Portchester Castle_.

The two guns spoke almost simultaneously. By the aid of the
"tracers", thin wisps of smoke from the soaring projectiles, it was
quite easy to follow the flight of the shrapnel shells. Both burst
seemingly close to the enemy air-craft. The observers in the armed
merchant-cruiser could see the delicate smoke-wreaths from the
detonating projectile being riven by the rush of air from the
swiftly-moving machine. For a few seconds the aeroplane appeared to
falter; then steadying herself, continued her flight undamaged.

Ten seconds later a bomb crashed into the sea, exploding with a
terrific detonation within fifty yards of the _Portchester Castle's_
starboard quarter. It was near enough to send a shower of spray
completely over the ship's poop, while fragments of metal rattled
against her steel sides.

Again a shrapnel shell burst overhead, but so far from the target
that Osborne involuntarily exclaimed, "Rotten shot"; but, the instant
after, "anti No. 2" succeeded in making the aeroplane side-slip for
nearly a hundred feet before it recovered and circled in order to
regain a favourable position for dropping more explosives.

Instinctively Tom Webb edged nearer the chart-house, but only for a
moment. Captain M'Bride and Lieutenant Osborne were standing rigid
and apparently unconscious of the danger. Their example, coupled with
the fact that if the bomb did hit the bridge there would not be
sufficient fragments of the chart-house to fill a pint measure,
steadied the Sub's nerves. Many a time he had been in danger of being
blown sky-high by mine or torpedo. He had grown used to such perils;
but the unprecedented possibility of being pulverized by an enemy
that could be seen had been responsible for his unpremeditated effort
to gain a useless shelter.

Meanwhile the _Portchester Castle_, having been given the fullest use
of the helm, was swinging to port. As she did so, the second bomb
fell where her bows would have been had she held on her course.

"That was a near one, Osborne," remarked Captain M'Bride calmly, as
he wiped the spray from his eyes, for the cascade of foam had fallen
inboard, some of it flying over the elevated bridge. "This chap is a
sticker for business. See, he's making another circle."

At that moment a man rushed up from below, and, leaping over the
stanchion-rails, disappeared beneath the waves. Osborne and Webb
hastened to the end of the bridge, but the suicide never appeared
again.

It was the Greek, who had been detained on board pending his trial
for treachery in connection with the thwarted attempt upon the
non-existent petrol depot of Akhissareli. According to custom, all
prisoners are released from cells when the vessel goes into action;
and, profiting by this circumstance, the Greek, terrified by the
crash of the guns and the explosion of the bombs, had escaped
execution by order of a court-martial by choosing a voluntary death.

"He's cheated the hangman," remarked Osborne. "But what's the next
move?"

The officers' attention was again directed towards the hostile
air-craft. The biplane had swung round, in order to make yet another
attempt to bomb the war-ship.

The Turkish airman was not lacking in daring. Reckless of the
_Portchester Castle's_ anti-aircraft guns, he volplaned from a height
of three thousand feet until he had descended to less than two
hundred and fifty feet from his target.

In so doing he unconsciously swung to leeward, and got within the
maximum elevation of the 4.7-inchers. One of the gun-layers saw his
chance and took it. With a shrill screech the projectile sped from
the inclined muzzle of the powerful weapon. It was a splendid shot,
but hardly good enough, for, without exploding, the shell passed
completely through the right-hand planes.

Again the biplane lurched heavily, and side-slipped to within a
hundred feet of the sea. Then, with superb skill, the airman righted
the damaged machine. He had had enough. It was now his endeavour to
save himself by flight if possible.

"Cease fire!" ordered Captain M'Bride in stentorian tones. "She's
done for."

Lower and lower sank the crippled aeroplane, despite the efforts of
the pilot to keep her clear of the surface of the water. With a
strange spiral-like motion the biplane carried on for nearly a mile,
then with a tremendous splash struck the water, reared her tail
twenty feet in the air, and promptly disappeared from sight.

"There he is, sir; there's the pilot!" shouted a score of voices, as
the head and shoulders of the airman were to be discerned bobbing up
and down on the waves.

"And he's still alive," added Webb, still keeping his telescope
bearing upon the scene of the biplane's dive.

"Away sea-boat!" ordered the skipper, at the same time telegraphing
for "Half-speed astern".

There was a rush to man the boat. The jack-tars, who a few moments
previously were in danger of being blown to atoms, were now eager to
show their appreciation of a brave foe by doing their level best to
save his life. Although Johnny Turk had, on several occasions, made
things pretty hot for the Allies, the British seamen and soldiers,
unanimously regarding him as a clean fighter and far superior in
chivalry to the Hun, were quick to recognize his good qualities.

Before way was off the ship the sea-boat, commanded by Dicky Haynes,
had been disengaged from the falls, and was pulling strongly in the
direction of the airman, who, although unable to swim, was being
supported by an inflated air life-belt.

Speedily the Turk was lifted into the boat. For a few moments he felt
a trifle uncertain of the manner of his reception, but he was quickly
put at his ease by the young Sub, who, finding that the airman spoke
French, was able to maintain a simple conversation.

"You are a prisoner of war, sir," said Captain M'Bride, through
Haynes's interpretation, when the airman was brought on board the
_Portchester Castle_. "We are quite agreeable to letting you have
plenty of liberty, providing you give us your parole. You will be
well treated, and, subject to certain restrictions, allowed freedom
of movement. If, on the other hand, you are discovered engaging upon
any action likely to prejudice the safety of the ship, then the
penalty will be death."

The airman, who announced himself as Afir-al-Bahr, Flight-lieutenant
of the Ottoman Navy, showed unmistakable signs of sincere gratitude
for his rescue and generous treatment. He swore by Mohammed and his
father's beard--the most binding oath that a Mussulman can take--to
abide faithfully by the terms under which his parole was granted.

Later on in the day he became quite communicative. He admitted that
his heart was not in his work. He was one of the educated class of
Turks who realized, perhaps too late, that Germany had selfish
ulterior motives in her profuse expressions of friendship for her
near Eastern ally. He was sensible of the friendliness of Great
Britain towards the Ottoman Empire in times past, and regretted the
turn of events that had compelled the Porte to throw in its lot with
the Hun.

"But since we are enemies," he added, "we must fight bravely until
Allah wills that Ottoman and Englishman shall again sheathe the
sword."

"Quite a decent sort," declared Webb to his chum Osborne later in the
afternoon. "Did you notice how tactfully he evaded a chance question
on the part of the skipper? He couldn't have given a direct answer
without betraying some of the Turkish war plans. By Jove! what a
contrast to those Hun officers we had on board the old _Zealous_.
Comparisons may be odious, but a German is a jolly sight more
odious."

"Seen this, you fellows?" asked the junior watch-keeper, holding out
a slip of paper. "Something doing this trip, I fancy."

It was a decoded wireless message, brief and to the point.

"Mail-boat _Sunderbund_ reported torpedoed, latitude 34° 15' 20" N.,
long. 22° 4' 16" E. Passengers and crew taken to boats, supposed
making for Alexandria. _Portchester Castle_ to proceed and
investigate to eastward of position; _Restormel_ to westward.
Immediate."



CHAPTER XIII

The "Sunderbund's" Life-boat


THE latitude and longitude given showed that the attack upon the
mail-boat had occurred close to the Tripolitan coast off the province
of Barca, a desolate country on the western frontier of Egypt. At the
time of receiving the message the _Portchester Castle_ was twenty
miles S.E. of Cape Sidero, in the island of Crete, and roughly 250
miles from the scene of the disaster.

Immediately upon receipt of the wireless the armed merchant-cruiser
set off at full speed to carry out instructions. A message from the
_Restormel_ announced the fact that that vessel was eighty miles to
the westward.

"Glass tumbling down as if someone had knocked a hole in the bulb,"
remarked Osborne. "We're in for a spell of very dirty weather before
very long. The _Sunderbund's_ boats won't stand much chance in the
heavy seas one meets with in the Eastern Mediterranean, and heaven
help them if they are cast ashore. They've an even chance of death by
starvation--that is, if they survive the landing through the
breakers--or captivity in the hands of the Senussi."

"I thought that those fellows had been knocked out long ago,"
remarked Haynes.

"Yes, as far as the Sollum district is concerned," replied the
Lieutenant. "But, unfortunately, numbers of these undesirables have
made their way westward into the fringe of the Tripolitan desert.
They have, apparently, lost their Turkish officers, and are acting as
banditti. From all accounts they are well armed with modern rifles,
although their field-guns and machine-guns were captured several
months ago."

The barometer had given a certain warning of bad weather, and before
many hours had elapsed it was blowing hard from the east'ard. The sun
set in a ragged bank of indigo-coloured clouds. The wind whistled
shrilly through the armed merchant-cruiser's rigging, and the
spindrift began to fly in heavy masses over the weather bow.

Morning brought no improvement in the weather. In fact it looked
worse, for the waves were so heavy that the _Portchester Castle_ had
lost a quantity of deck gear, while two of the boats had been "stove
in" at the davits, owing to the gripes being carried away under the
hammer-like blows of the green seas.

"Not much chance for the _Sunderbund's_ boats," said Haynes. "They
couldn't possibly make headway against this tumble. They'd be swamped
to a dead cert."

"Unless they rigged up sea-anchors and rode to them," added Webb.
"These waves are not so steep as those we get in the North Sea, and
luckily the wind is not blowing dead on shore. It's my belief that
the _Restormel_, being farther to lee'ard, will stand a better chance
than we shall of picking up the boats."

By this time the _Portchester Castle_ had altered helm and was
steering eastward, right into the eye of the wind. Broad on the
starboard beam could be faintly discerned the low, sandy cliffs of
the African shore, fringed by a wide belt of milk-white foam. North,
west, and east the horizon was unbroken. Sea and sky met in an
ill-defined blurr. Not another sail was in sight, nor had the
_Portchester Castle_ passed any wreckage, although her course had
taken her over the spot where the ill-fated liner had been reported
to have sunk.

Wireless messages constantly passed between the _Portchester Castle_
and the _Restormel_, each vessel keeping her consort posted as to her
position; but neither was able to announce the gratifying news that
the object of their quest had been achieved. About eight bells (8
a.m.) the officer of the watch reported what appeared to be a boat,
well on the starboard bow. A course was immediately shaped to
approach the supposed craft, while the _Portchester Castle's_
officers kept it well under observation with their glasses.

"I don't think it is a boat," suggested Haynes. "Looks to me like
surf breaking over a rock."

He wiped the moisture from the lens of his telescope and looked
again.

"It's only broken water," he said with conviction.

"I believe it is a boat--a white-painted one," said Webb.

"Sure?" enquired Haynes, unwilling to own that his surmise was at
fault.

"Yes; she's lifting to the waves. I can see people in her."

"By Jove, yes," agreed Osborne. "And they are unpleasantly close to
the broken water. They don't seem to be making headway."

"We're in as close as we dare go, I fancy, Mr. Osborne," remarked
Captain M'Bride. "We cannot hazard the ship by going inside the
ten-fathom line. Fire a couple of rockets, and see if they will be
able to pull out to us."

Quickly the order was carried out. The two detonating rockets
exploded with loud reports, and, in spite of the fury of the wind,
the people in the boat heard the signal. Hitherto their attention
seemed to have been directed towards the inhospitable shore, and they
had not noticed the _Portchester Castle's_ approach. The latter
slowed down, steaming at half-speed into the wind at a distance of a
couple of miles from one of the _Sunderbund's_ life-boats, for such
she was.

"They'll never do it," declared Captain M'Bride. "They're only
pulling four oars and look quite done up. We'll have to call for
volunteers, Mr. Osborne, to take the steamboat in and give them a tow
back to the ship."

"Very good, sir," replied the Lieutenant. "I'll go."

"No, not you, Mr. Osborne," said the skipper. "You'll be more useful
on board. It will be a ticklish job lowering the steamboat."

"May I, sir?" asked Webb eagerly.

Captain M'Bride assented. He had great confidence in the
Sub-lieutenant's capability, coolness, and sound judgment, and
already Webb had acquired a considerable amount of practice in
handling the steam cutter.

There was no lack of volunteers to man the boat, and the Sub had no
difficulty in picking out those men who were accustomed to the
cutter. Steam was quickly raised, and in a very short time the heavy
craft was ready to be hoisted out.

The _Portchester Castle's_ helm was then starboarded, bringing the
vessel broadside on to wind and sea, and thus affording a floating
breakwater for the rescuing boat. Even then the vessel rolled so
heavily, and the waves even to leeward were so vicious, that the
operation of casting off from the ship's side would be fraught with
danger.

"We'll try the effect of a little oil," declared the skipper. "Pass
the word for a cask of heavy stuff to be started. Look lively there."

The effect of the oil was little short of marvellous. Far to leeward
the tumultuous seas subsided as if by magic, leaving a calm,
fan-shaped belt of iridescent water bounded by a terrific turmoil of
broken water.

Clad in oilskins, sou'wester, and rubber boots, Webb took his place
by the side of the coxswain. For'ard everything had been battened
down, while in the stern-sheets were a couple of coils of rope and a
strongly-stropped empty water breaker.

"Easy ahead," ordered the Sub. Although every moment was precious, he
was too good a seaman to attempt to drive his boat at full speed
through the turmoil of foaming seas immediately beyond the belt of
oil-quelled water. To have done so would have resulted in a severe
strain upon the engines owing to the racing of the propeller as the
boat's stern lifted clear of the waves, and quite possibly the cutter
would have found herself in a far more dangerous predicament than the
life-boat to whose assistance she was proceeding.

Soon the steamboat was in the thick of it. Solid waves swept her as
far aft as the cabin top; clouds of vapour, caused by the cold water
coming in sudden contact with the hot funnel-casing, enveloped the
Sub and the coxswain in a blinding, scurrying pall of moisture. Only
by holding on like grim death were the two able to save themselves
from being thrown overboard by the erratic, almost vertical jerk of
the boat's stern. At rapid intervals the helm had to be smartly
ported in order to enable the steamboat to meet the hissing crested
waves, which, had they hit the craft on her broadside, might easily
have capsized her, or at least flooded her cockpit flush with the
coamings.

Nobly the cutter struggled onwards. Every foot gained was the result
of sheer hard work--a contest of the product of a mechanical age with
the forces of nature. Gradually the distance between her and the
_Portchester Castle_ increased; she was making slow but sure headway
against wind and waves.

"See anything of the boat?" asked Webb, bellowing into the coxswain's
ear in order to make himself understood in the racket of pounding
machinery and the roar of the elements.

"Not a sign, sir," replied the man. "Maybe she's in the trough of the
sea when we're on top of a wave, and t'other way about. Anyways,
we'll pick her up if she's still afloat."

For full half an hour the strenuous struggle continued, then the
steamboat entered a comparatively calm belt of water. The respite was
but temporary, for two hundred yards ahead began the broken water as
the waves began to thunder on the flat shore.

"There she is, sir," shouted the coxswain, as the glistening white
bows of the _Sunderbund's_ life-boat were for a brief instant visible
on the summit of a wave. "And lumme," he added under his breath,
"they're about done in, I fancy. At all events it'll take some
getting out of that jumble of surf."

The man was quite right in his surmise. The liner's boat was
gradually and steadily losing ground. Despite the desperate and
heroic efforts of her rowers--they had double- and treble-banked the
oars that still remained serviceable--the physical strain was
beginning to tell.

"Where she can keep afloat we can go," decided the Sub. "So here
goes."

The steamboat approached cautiously, easing down as each successive
comber swept towards her. Already there was a foot of water in the
engine-room, while, in spite of the most skilful handling, the
propeller was racing madly as the boat dipped her nose and threw her
stern clear of the waves.

It was, indeed, almost miraculous that the _Sunderbund's_ life-boat
had so far weathered the storm. As it was, green seas were breaking
over her, necessitating prompt, vigorous, and constant baling on the
part of her passengers and crew. Many of the former, too, were down
with sea-sickness of the worst form, and only lay inertly on the
bottom-boards, too ill to take further interest in the proceedings.

At length the steamboat approached sufficiently near to enable the
breaker and grass rope to be veered to the sorely pressed life-boat.
Directly the towing-hawser was made fast the former forged ahead; but
hardly had she taken the strain when the means of communication
parted like packthread, one portion narrowly missing being caught by
the propeller. Had it done so the steamboat would have been helpless
in the trough of the sea.

It was now an even more difficult matter to take the boat in tow
again, for the breaker and grass rope had been taken on the
_Sunderbund's_ boat. Meanwhile both craft had drifted farther to
leeward, and closer to the worst of the broken water. Clearly Webb
had to act now or the opportunity would be gone for ever.

Frequently buried in green seas, from which she shook herself clear
like an enormous dog, the steam cutter staggered to windward of the
boat and, turning, approached within casting distance.

Dexterously communication was re-established, and once more the
steamboat began to take the strain of the towing-hawser. At one
instant stretched as taut as a steel bar, at another dipping limply
in the sea, the stout rope stood the strain, and gradually the
life-boat began to gather way. If progress was slow on the outward
run, the journey back to the ship was even more so. Yet the
_Portchester Castle_ was unable to approach another cable's length
without an almost certain risk of grounding.

"The old ship's chucking overboard some more oil, sir," reported the
coxswain. "Maybe we'll get some benefit, although I'll allow it'll
drift too far to wind'ard."

"It's spreading," shouted Webb in reply. "That will do the trick."

Twenty minutes later the steamboat ran alongside her parent. The
hawser was transferred to the latter's steam-capstan, and the cutter
was deftly hoisted inboard.

Now came the more difficult task of transhipping the rescued men from
the life-boat to the _Portchester Castle_. Without means of hoisting
the heavy boat bodily out of the water, the armed merchant-cruiser's
crew had to haul each survivor separately by means of bowlines and
bos'n's chairs, for most of the passengers had collapsed from
exposure.

There were two exceptions, however: one a tall, fair-haired man in
the khaki uniform of a Major of artillery. In spite of the fact that
his left arm was in a sling, he experienced no difficulty in making
the ascent, and came over the side with a decided smile on his face.

Sub-lieutenant Webb looked at him intently; then, to confirm his
surmise, he glanced at the officer's companion--a slightly shorter
and broad-shouldered man of about forty. His face was bronzed, his
hair, crisp in spite of the drenching spray, was tinged with grey at
the temples. His attire consisted of a pair of navy-blue trousers and
a shirt. It afterwards transpired that he had given his monkey-jacket
to one of the lady passengers, or Webb would have recognized him as a
Lieutenant-commander of the Royal Naval Reserve.

"By Jove, Billy!" drawled the naval man. "Thought you and I, old
bird, would have had to swim for it--eh what? How's that groggy wrist
of yours now?"

Tom Webb hesitated no longer. He stepped up to the pair of rescued
officers and held out his hand.

"Thanks, many thanks," exclaimed the coatless one. "You're the Sub in
charge of the steamboat? Smart bit of work, 'pon my word."

"Glad to have the opportunity of repaying a good turn, Mr. Dacres,"
said Webb.

"Good turn?" repeated Dacres, knitting his brows. "Good turn. I don't
follow you. I haven't met you before, have I?"

"Yes, and so has Mr. Fane."

Mr. Fane was equally at a loss.

"Give it up," he declared. "All the same----"

"Dash it all, I've tumbled to it," interrupted Dacres. "You were that
curly-headed Sea Scout I met at Haslar Creek three or four years ago.
I believe you were the means of enabling me to get a yacht off my
hands."

"And incidentally the means of getting me my commission," added the
ex-Tenderfoot. "And Osborne is on board too. There he is: officer of
the watch. If it hadn't been for the experience we gained on board
the old _Petrel_, I don't suppose we would have been here."

"Then the little yacht did some practical good work after all. I told
you so, Billy," said Dacres, addressing his companion. "Yes, thanks
very much," he added, in response to the Sub's invitation. "The loan
of a dry kit and a good meal would be very acceptable. It's
nearly----"

"Submarine on the starboard bow, sir!" roared the mast-head man, his
words unmistakably clear in spite of the howling of the wind.

The _Portchester Castle_ began to turn in obedience to a quick
movement of the helm. Hoarse orders were shouted from the bridge and
taken up by the bos'n's mates in other parts of the ship. But the
warning came too late. The armed merchant-cruiser reeled as with a
terrific explosion a torpedo "got home" just abaft her engine-room.



CHAPTER XIV

Submarined


OF what happened during the next few minutes Sub-lieutenant Tom Webb
had but a hazy confused idea. The reverberations of the tremendous
detonation were straining his ear-drums almost to bursting-point.
Wreaths of pungent smoke, caught by the vicious blasts that eddied
over the deck, obliterated everything from his vision and made him
gasp for breath like a drowning man. His brain seemed benumbed by the
concussion, his legs were on the point of giving way until he almost
unconsciously grasped a guard-rail within arm's length.

Gradually he began to realize that disaster had overtaken the ship.
He was aware of men rushing hither and thither, some shouting, others
almost as dazed as himself. The _Portchester Castle_ was listing
heavily to starboard. Mingled with the tumult on deck, the howling of
the wind, the hiss of escaping steam, and the slap of the vicious
seas, came the unmistakable sound of volumes of water rushing in
through the enormous rent in the ship's bottom, caused by the
explosion of the torpedo.

"By Jove, Billy!" exclaimed Dacres in his customary drawl; "we've
pulled off a double event. Torpedoed twice within twenty-four hours,
eh, what?"

Before Fane could reply a bugle-call rang out sharply. It was the
"Still". Instantly the turmoil of humanity ceased. As steady as if at
a ceremonial inspection the men stood at attention until "Collision
Quarters" brought the ship's company into a state of disciplined
activity.

The _Portchester Castle_ was doomed. All on board realized the fact.
In spite of the terrific seas a German submarine had "stood by" the
_Sunderbund's_ life-boat, keeping submerged at a distance sufficient
to prevent any of the liner's survivors "spotting" the pole-like
periscopes as they appeared at intervals above the waves.

The Hun skipper of the U-boat had caught the wireless appeal from the
stricken _Sunderbund_. He knew that aid would be speedily
forthcoming, and setting aside all dictates of humanity, he had lain
_perdu_ for the opportunity of yet a further display of
"frightfulness".

He was not mistaken in his conjecture. He had witnessed from afar the
rescue of the _Sunderbund's_ life-boat, and awaiting his chance had
approached within torpedo range while the attention of the
_Portchester Castle's_ crew was directed towards the hoisting in of
the steamboat and the reception of the survivors of his previous
victim. And now the armed merchant-cruiser, with a rent twenty feet
in length, was settling down. Her strained water-tight bulkheads were
unable to withstand the enormous pressure. It was merely a matter of
minutes before the _Portchester Castle_ would make her final plunge.

Captain M'Bride, though cool and collected, realized the gravity of
the situation. Apart from the danger of lowering boats in that angry
sea, the great list of the ship rendered practically impossible the
use of the boats on the port side.

There was one chance: that of making for the inhospitable African
shore in the hope that the ship would ground. In that case her crew
could remain on board until rescue was forthcoming; or, in the event
of the vessel breaking up, there would be a chance of taking to the
boats and effecting a landing under the lee of the stranded hull.

By this time Webb had recovered his normal state of mind, and was
directing the provisioning and arming of some of the boats. Osborne
was on the fo'c'sle, superintending the clearing away of the anchors,
so that on approaching the shore the stricken vessel could be thrown
broadside on to the waves. Haynes and other officers were engaged in
assisting the men to make rafts and getting provisions and water from
the store-rooms.

Every member of the ship's company had donned a life-belt; the
survivors of the _Sunderbund_, who had only just discarded their
life-saving gear, had to put their belts on once more. Theirs was a
hard case, since they were almost exhausted with the privations they
had previously undergone; yet they made a brave show of spirit that
is typical of the Briton in a tight corner.

Presently the starboard engine gave out. The stokehold was flooded
and the fires damped. Within a few minutes the port engines followed
suit, and although still carrying way the _Portchester Castle_
gradually slowed down. Her head fell off, and she wallowed in the
trough of the breakers.

By this time her rail on the starboard side was only a few feet above
water. She was deep down by the stern, her bows being correspondingly
high. The very lifelessness of the ship, in spite of the enormous
waves, showed that the end was not far off.

"Lower away!" shouted the skipper through a megaphone.

Smartly, but without undue haste or confusion, the boats in the
davits on the starboard side were lowered. The first to disengage
from the falls was the second cutter. Barely had she cast off when a
terrific sea caught and completely capsized her. Half a dozen of her
crew succeeded in catching hold of life-lines thrown by their
comrades on board the ship, and were hauled on board again. Some were
trapped underneath the upturned boat, others, supported by the
life-belts, were swept shorewards through the chaos of surf and foam.

The remaining boats on the starboard side got away without accident;
then, owing possibly to the amount of water that had poured into the
ship's engine-rooms and holds, the _Portchester Castle_ swung back on
an even keel.

Captain M'Bride saw his chance--and took it.

"Let go both anchors!" he shouted.

With a rattle and a roar the steel cables rushed through the
hawse-pipes, and presently, the vessel's drive to leeward being
checked, she swung round, with her bows pointing diagonally for the
shore.

Now was the opportunity to man and lower the boats on the port side.
Osborne, his work on deck accomplished, took charge of one, Webb of
another; and with only the loss of a couple of oars which were
smashed against the ship's side the frail craft took the water.

"Look out, she's going!" exclaimed a score of voices.

Which was a fact. The end had come suddenly. With a decided movement
the ship's bows slid under water; her stern reared perhaps twenty
feet clear of the waves. Webb could see those of the crew who had not
time to take to the boats struggling waist-deep in the surging water
ere they were swept clear of the foundering vessel. On the bridge
stood the gallant skipper, true to the long-established and glorious
custom of the sea. Until the last man had left the ship his place was
on the bridge.

He made no effort to save himself. Gripping the guard-rail he stood
erect, his attention directed towards those of his ship's company who
had hesitated to trust themselves to swim ashore.

"Pull to leeward, men," ordered Webb. "We may even yet pick up our
skipper."

Even as he spoke the _Portchester Castle_ ceased to sink. She had
grounded in about eight or nine fathoms of water, leaving her bridge
and a portion of the spar-deck still showing above the waves.

Those still on board were quick to recognize the change of fortune.
Some made their way to the bridge, others clambered into the
lee-rigging, until the shrouds were black with humanity.

All the boats were turning back. Those from the starboard side were
sufficiently loaded to endanger their safety should more men crowd
into them; but those lowered from the port side had not been able to
take their full complement before the vessel sank. On the latter,
then, fell the task of rescuing the skipper and the remaining men,
while the other boats contented themselves with picking up a few
survivors who had been carried clear when the _Portchester Castle's_
decks had been swept by the breakers.

By dint of hard pulling, in spite of the shelter afforded by the lee
of the stranded ship, Osborne contrived to get his boat within a few
yards of the bridge. At one moment the projecting platform was
towering twenty feet or more above the boat, at the next the latter's
gunwales were almost level with it. All the while there was the
pressing danger of the boat's bows being jammed against the underside
of the bridge, or of her bottom subsiding, with disastrous results,
upon the iron-work projecting from the submerged sides of the ship.

In Webb's case the task was simpler, though by no means free from
danger. Watching his opportunity he ran close alongside the resilient
main-shrouds, and succeeded in taking on board every man who had
found a temporary refuge in that part of the rigging. He was now able
to ride to leeward of the wreck by means of a long scope of cable,
thus conserving the energies of the rowers until the hazardous dash
through the surf to the shore.

The Sub could not help admiring the skill with which his chum Osborne
went about his work, keeping the boat within a few feet of the bridge
as the former rose on the waves. One by one the men leapt into the
rescuing craft until only the skipper remained.

Then raising his hand in a last salute to the ship's white ensign,
which was still visible between the crests of the waves, Captain
M'Bride jumped agilely into the stern-sheets of the boat.



CHAPTER XV

Castaways on a Hostile Shore


A ROUSING cheer from the other boats greeted Captain M'Bride when it
was seen that he was for the time being safe. It was a spontaneous
tribute to the skipper's popularity. Even when faced with the
possibility of being hurled lifeless upon the surf-swept shore, the
ship's company "let themselves go".

There was a smile of confidence on Captain M'Bride's weather-beaten
face as he acknowledged the compliment. He, too, had good cause to be
pleased with the people under his command. He realized that, with men
of that dogged pluck and cheerfulness in the face of danger, the
traditions of the White Ensign would be maintained come what might.

And now began the nerve-racking ordeal of attempting a landing
through the surf. Rowing steadily the boats approached the fringe of
broken water, then each turned her bows from shore and backed.
Whenever a breaker more dangerous than the rest bore down, the rowers
pulled ahead until the foaming mass of water had swept past.

"We're getting on," thought Webb. "Only a couple of cables' lengths
more, and all right up to now."

He dare not give more than a rapid glance shorewards, but it was
enough to give him an inkling of what the reception would be; for on
the crest of the low sandy cliffs were a dozen Arabs mounted on
camels. The riders were crouching on the animals' backs, and holding
their white burnouses close to their faces to shield them from the
spray-laden wind. All were armed with rifles.

When the Sub turned his head and looked again the Arabs had vanished.
Instead of remaining to aid the castaways, they had apparently ridden
off to bring others of their tribe to plunder, murder, or carry into
captivity any survivors who had the misfortune to fall into their
hands.

Others in the boat saw the new danger. Had the presence of the
Senussi been noticed earlier, the flotilla could have returned to the
wreck and brought up under her lee, in the hope of rescue by the
_Restormel_ or other patrolling craft. It was now too late, for it
was impossible to row against the wind and waves. The only hope was
to effect a landing, hold the fierce Arabs at bay, and trust to the
_Restormel_ putting in an appearance when the weather moderated.
Unfortunately, when the _Portchester Castle_ was torpedoed the shock
had thrown the wireless completely out of gear, and communication
with her consort was out of the question. A wireless had been sent
out an hour previous to the disaster; whether the _Restormel_ had
come to the conclusion that the _Portchester Castle_ was on her way
to Port Said, or whether she would guess by the absence of signals
that the latter had met with a grave mishap, was merely a matter for
conjecture.

But Tom Webb had other things at present to occupy his attention, for
with an irresistible rush a mass of green sea poured completely over
the boat, capsizing her and throwing her crew into the water.

The Sub was one of the few who were thrown clear. Some, trapped
underneath the upturned craft, were unable to dive under the
gunwales, owing to the buoyancy of their life-saving gear, until they
had wrenched off their belts. Two were stunned by their heads coming
into violent contact with the woodwork.

Caught by a crested breaker, Webb found himself being urged
shorewards at a terrific speed. Presently his feet touched the sand.
In vain he started to make his way to land. Gripped by the undertow
he was dragged back until the succeeding breaker overtook him,
hurling him forwards like a stone from a catapult. Again the wave
receded. Prone upon the soft, yielding sand, the Sub endeavoured to
obtain a hold by digging his hands into the treacherous shore till
the receding mass of water drew him backwards to be again pounded by
the next mountain of water. Boats' gear, hurled shorewards by the
waves, was thrown all around him. Several times he was struck by
heavy objects. Not only was he in danger of being drowned; there was
also a likelihood that he might be battered into a state of
insensibility by the flotsam.

For how long this state of affairs continued Webb had not the
faintest idea. Nor did he know how his companions were faring, except
that farther along the shore some saturated figures were staggering
up the beach. He was fast losing count of time and place. Torpor was
beginning to seize him in its remorseless, oblivion-giving grasp.

Suddenly his hands came in contact with the broken blade of an oar.
The instinct of self-preservation was yet strong enough to enable him
to take the remote chance that remained. Waiting until the next wave
was beginning to run back, the Sub planted the slightly cambered
piece of wood deeply in the sand. The broad surface held, despite the
terrific backward drag of the undertow.

Directly the suction ceased, Webb staggered to his feet and began to
make his way to safety; but before he had gone five yards he was
flung headlong by the succeeding breaker, and the blade of the oar
was wrenched from his grasp.

Before the backwash gripped him the Sub felt a hand grasp his wrist.
He was just conscious of seeing Dacres with a line round his waist
standing thigh-deep in the water, and hearing his cheering words of
encouragement. Then everything became a blank.

When Sub-lieutenant Webb came to himself he found that he was lying
under the lee of the sand-hills. A broad-leaved prickly bush afforded
shelter from the sun, the rays of which were beating fiercely down
upon the almost barren ground. His head had been roughly bandaged,
and was supported by a rolled coat.

He was not alone. A dozen men, all in varying stages of recovery from
a state of insensibility, were lying on the ground. At some distance,
others were busily engaged in emptying boxes of stores that had been
washed ashore and--ominous sight--were filling them with sand.
Others were hacking at the prickly scrub and erecting a form of
fortification known as a zariba. Apparently an attack by the Senussi
was expected.

There was Osborne in coat and shirt, and with a strip of calico
wrapped round his head to protect it from the sun, toiling as
arduously as the seamen; Dacres and Fane, the latter with his arm
still in a sling, were dragging heavy gear up from the shore. A short
distance away was Captain M'Bride, inspecting the few rifles which
had come ashore in the boats; with him was Dicky Haynes. Most of the
remaining officers were safe, but there were some whom Webb would
never again meet on this earth.

Taking into consideration the violence of the storm, the _Portchester
Castle's_ people had come off lightly. Of her complement of 215, four
officers and thirty-two men were missing. With three exceptions, the
passengers and crew rescued from the _Sunderbund's_ life-boat were
safe, while the Turkish airman, Afir-al-Bahr, had come ashore without
injury.

Of the boats, only one was in a serviceable condition. The others had
been smashed up on the beach by the surf before sufficient hands were
available to haul them above the reach of the waves. Most of the gear
had been saved, including twenty-four rifles, a couple of cases of
ammunition, seven barrels of biscuits, some salt beef, and half a
dozen barricoes of water.

Although the waves were still running high, the storm had nearly
blown itself out. The shore was littered with debris. Several seamen
were busily engaged in collecting everything that might prove to be
of value from the wreckage.

At some distance from the shore was the wreck of the _Portchester
Castle_, with waves breaking against those portions that showed above
water. One of her funnels had vanished; the other was still manfully
resisting the onslaught of the heavy breakers. Both her masts
remained, while from the ensign staff that showed four or five feet
above the waves the white ensign still fluttered in the strong
breeze.

Osborne waved a cheery greeting to his chum as Webb regained his
feet. The Lieutenant was too busy to "knock off" and yarn with him.
Every moment was precious if the place were to be put into a state of
defence before the threatened attack.

A short, round-faced man, whose headgear consisted of a white
cap-cover, came bustling along the top of the dunes. It was Donovon,
the ship's surgeon.

"Faith," he exclaimed, catching sight of Webb, "and what might you be
doing out in the sun? Get back to bed this minute." And he indicated
the scanty shade of the thorn bush.

"I'm all right, Doctor," protested the Sub; "I am really."

"So you think," rejoined Dr. Donovon. "If you're knocking yourself
up, that is your affair; only I'd let you know that I've my hands
pretty full without asking for more patients."

He hurried off to attend to other cases, leaving the Sub to speculate
on the surgeon's warning. "All right" hardly described Webb's present
state. He felt considerably battered about, and had a dull headache;
but, he reflected, it wasn't playing the game to lie down when he
felt capable of doing something to assist the general work.

"Mr. Webb!" called out Captain M'Bride, seeing the Sub approach.

Webb hurried up to the captain and saluted.

"Better? That's good," said the skipper. "Look here, muster a party
and start digging a trench on the left of that wall of thorn bushes.
Bring it at a sharp angle to the shore. Three feet deep will be
enough, if you pile the displaced sand on the outside edge of the
trench."

The young officer soon found half a dozen men who had figured on his
watch bill. These, provided with the broken blades of oars, which
formed excellent spades for throwing out soft sand, set strenuously
to work despite the heat of the day.

"Strikes me there's somethink precious hard, sir," remarked an
able-seaman after the party had been at work for twenty minutes.
"Rock or somethink."

"Sandstone, possibly," replied the Sub. "No matter, you're nearly
down to the required depth." The man plied his wooden spade
vigorously in order to lay bare the supposed rock. Suddenly he gave
an exclamation of astonishment.

"Blow me!" he exclaimed, "a bloomin' petrol tin."

With a strenuous heave he wrenched the can from its hiding-place. As
he did so the sides of two adjacent tins were revealed.

"We've found what I believe to be a secret petrol store, sir,"
reported Webb to his skipper.

"Eh, what?" exclaimed Captain M'Bride, hurrying towards the partly
excavated trench. "By Jove, Mr. Webb, it looks like it! Start one of
those metal caps and see if the can really contains petrol."

The cap was removed. Webb poured a small quantity of the liquid into
the palm of his hand. The spirit evaporated with remarkable
quickness.

"Petrol right enough, sir," he announced.

"And there are dozens of cans here, sir," declared one of the men.
"Sort of garidge for the Sahara General Omnibus Company, I'll allow."

"Wot's a garidge, Bill?" enquired his pal. "You means a gayrage,
don't ye?"

The skipper, who had overheard the conversation between the two
seamen, smiled grimly.

"Carry on, Mr. Webb," he said, "and dig up the lot. We've stumbled
upon a German petrol depot--that's my belief--and before long we'll
have an _unterseeboot_ putting in an appearance."

"What shall I do with them, sir?" enquired Tom.

"Oh! reserve a couple," was the reply. "They'll come in handy for
flares. Empty the others on the sand."

"One moment, Captain M'Bride," interposed Major Pane, who, noticing
the excitement, had strolled up to satisfy his curiosity. "It's a
pity to waste good stuff."

"Better to do that than allow it to fall into the hands of the
enemy," remarked Captain M'Bride. "But what suggestion have you to
make, Major?"

"Put a row of them about a hundred yards in front of the zariba,"
continued Fane. "In the event of the Senussi attempting to rush our
defences we can set fire to the stuff."

"I fail to see how, Major," objected Captain M'Bride, "unless someone
applies a light to it; and the effect is, to a certain extent, lost
if we have to do that before the Arabs are actually over the line of
tins. Remember we have no time-fuses."

"You have some good marksmen, I presume?" asked Major Fane.

"Some first-class shots."

"Then we could lash up this metal matchbox to one of the tins, and
ignite the contents by means of a rifle-bullet."

"It might be feasible," remarked the skipper.

"I think I know of a better plan, sir," said Webb. "We have the
Very's pistol and signal-cartridges. I saw them lying over yonder. At
the critical time a few bullets could be shot at one of the tins,
and, when the petrol runs out, it could be fired by a signal-bullet
from the pistol."

"Ah, that's more like it, Mr. Webb!" said the skipper warmly. "Now
set to work and get your men to place the tins in position. Heap sand
on the outward face so that they are rendered as inconspicuous as
possible. Meanwhile, Major, I think I will get you to pass an opinion
upon our defences on the right flank."

The Sub had barely completed his task of constructing what was
expected to form an efficient "fire barrage" when one of the seamen
patrolling the shore gave the warning cry of "Submarine coming in,
sir."

Almost simultaneously a rifle cracked from somewhere about five
hundred yards inland. A Senussi sniper had approached between the
sand-dunes, while, at a distance of a mile or so, was a large armed
party of mounted nomads from the desert.

Sub-lieutenant Webb gave vent to a low whistle.

"A hot corner this time," he said to himself. "We're properly between
two fires."



CHAPTER XVI

'Twixt U-Boat and Arabs


HAD the discovery of the petrol store been made a few hours earlier,
steps would have been taken to cope with the peril from the sea that
menaced the castaways. The defences that had been hurriedly thrown up
had been constructed against attack from the landward side; the
possibility of being shelled from a German submarine had not
previously been taken into account.

Hastily the British seamen set to work to strengthen the parados of
the trenches, in order to convert it into an earthwork sufficiently
strong to resist the comparatively light shells fired from the
hostile submarine.

Bullets from the Senussi now began to sing over the heads of the
defenders. Well it was that the Arabs were very indifferent shots at
long range, otherwise they would have taken a heavy toll of the
seamen who were obliged to present a fair target as they toiled in
the open.

The German submarine, which had been approaching rapidly, had now
eased down. She was running on the surface, showing her conning-tower
and the whole length of her deck. She displayed no colours, but her
two quick-firing guns had been hoisted from below, and were manned
ready for opening fire.

"I feel pretty certain," said Captain M'Bride to Osborne as the
officers kept the hostile craft under observation, "that that
submarine is the one which bagged us--and the _Sunderbund_ as well.
She's been lying off-shore waiting for the weather to moderate in
order to replenish her fuel, and now she finds her depot in our
possession. It was a rotten blunder on her part, sinking the old
_Portchester Castle_ so close to her temporary base."

"If it hadn't been for the firing, perhaps she would have come right
in, sir," remarked Osborne. "Now she has her suspicions."

"The wreck of the ship would in itself give her warning," said the
skipper. "Besides, if she did approach we could do little or nothing.
It's just as likely that there's an understanding between the Arabs
and the Huns. However, we must take things as we find them, and not
look for trouble before it comes."

Accompanied by Lieutenant Osborne, the Captain made a tour of the
trench, where every man who possessed a rifle was kneeling in front
of a loophole, ready at the word of command to pour a destructive
volley into the approaching Arabs. At the left flank stood Webb, with
the Very's pistol in his hand, awaiting the time to fire the petrol.

"Picturesque sight, Mr. Webb," remarked the Captain composedly, but
at the same time his keen eye was trying to detect any sign of
"jumpiness" in the young Sub. But there was none; beyond a slightly
heightened colour, Webb was as cool as if he had been on the
quarter-deck of the _Portchester Castle_.

Captain M'Bride had aptly described the scene that lay before them.
The Senussi were approaching in all the barbaric splendour of their
race. Some were on camels, others astride small wiry horses. With
loose rein they would dash forward perhaps a hundred yards, wheel,
and, firing their rifles somewhere in the direction of the foe, would
tear back for fifty yards, repeating the manoeuvre and uttering
shrill yells of defiance. On their flanks in the rear were crowds of
men on foot, for the most part armed with long broad-bladed spears,
two-edged straight swords, and circular hide shields.

Outnumbering the British by ten to one, the Senussi looked, and were,
formidable. Had every man of the _Portchester Castle_ possessed a
rifle the odds would have been considerably lowered. With a Maxim the
defenders could have regarded the onset as a foregone conclusion in
their favour.

It was to be a tough and desperate struggle. Every man realized
that--a fight to the death, for a worse fate awaited them should they
fall alive into the hands of the savage foe. At all costs the Senussi
must be kept on the far side of the sorry breastwork of sand and the
hedge of thorns, otherwise sheer weight of numbers would decide the
day.

And as if the situation were not serious enough, a U-boat was
threatening to shell their puny defences.

"Don't throw away a single shot, men," cautioned the Captain.
"Reserve your fire till I give the word."

"She's opening the ball, sir," exclaimed Osborne, as a shell from the
U-boat hurtled through the air and exploded away on the right flank,
sending up a huge cloud of smoke and sand.

"Wonder what damage that's done?" remarked Captain M'Bride.

"I'll see, sir, if you wish," said the Lieutenant.

"Do, by all means, Mr. Osborne," was the rejoinder. "I'll make my way
to the centre and await you there."

Before Osborne returned, two more shells had been fired by the
submarine. Whatever damage they might have caused, they also did
good, for the bursting projectiles had the effect of cooling the
ardour of the approaching Arabs. Absolutely fearless as far as
bullets are concerned, they have a wholesome respect for
high-explosive shells which would, in their opinion, render a True
Believer a sorry spectacle when he came to present himself at the
gates of the Mohammedan paradise.

"No casualties, sir," reported Osborne. "The first shell fell short;
the others pitched thirty yards over. One has blown a big gap in our
zariba, unfortunately."

"Strafe her!" exclaimed Captain M'Bride. "She'll be improving on that
before long, I'm afraid."

Even as he spoke there came a loud rumble from seawards--a long
drawn-out report, totally unlike the crisp bark of the German
submarine's quick-firers. Where the modern pirate had been was merely
a dense cloud of greyish smoke.

"She's properly strafed, sir," declared the Lieutenant delightedly,
grasping what he absent-mindedly took to be his uniform cap, with the
result that on removing his calico headgear he brought a handful of
his own hair with it.

"Internal explosion," suggested the skipper. "Well, we've something
to be thankful for. Half our difficulties wiped out in one fell
swoop."

Slowly the smoke dispersed, for there was now practically no wind.
The sea, momentarily agitated by the explosion, had resumed its
oil-like aspect. Not a vestige of wreckage was visible to mark the
grave of yet another of the inglorious pirates. It was indeed a just
retribution. The U-boat, in common with other German war-ships, had
been in the habit of discharging her torpedoes without previously
setting the sinking mechanism according to the recognized rules of
war. Therefore, in the event of a torpedo missing its mark, it would,
at the end of its run, float, and thus become a sort of derelict
mine, instead of sinking to the bottom as these weapons are supposed
to do.

When the submarine attacked the _Portchester Castle_ she had let
loose two torpedoes, one of which hit the mark. The other, passing
under the vessel's stern, came to a standstill a couple of miles off.
By sheer chance the U-boat, while in the act of shelling the shore,
had bumped upon the warhead of the missile she had discharged several
hours previously, with the result that she was practically blown to
pieces with all her officers and crew.

Three hearty cheers from the sun-baked British seamen greeted the
strafing of the craft that was directly responsible for their present
precarious position. Then, having given relief to their pent-up
feelings, the sturdy sailors directed their attention once more to
the danger that threatened them from the landward side.

The Senussi, not knowing what had occurred, and still showing
considerable reluctance to enter the region where the German shells
had fallen, were "marking time". The camel-men had withdrawn behind a
range of sand-hills, but the glint of spear-heads denoted pretty
conclusively that the foe had not decided upon a discreet retirement.

Several times an intrepid sailor stood upon the breastwork, with the
intention of drawing the enemy's fire; but even this tempting bait
did not succeed. The Senussi were evidently going to tire the
defenders by a period of nerve-racking inactivity.

"It's this rotten waiting for something to turn up that makes you
jumpy," declared Webb to Osborne, as during the prolonged lull the
Lieutenant made his way along the trench to see how his chum fared.
"I don't mind so much when these beggars start a rush, but it's the
suspense of expecting them."

"Like our troops on the Somme," rejoined Osborne. "It's the five
minutes' wait before the whistle goes for the men to go over the top
of the parapet, that is such a strain. Once they're off they don't
seem to notice their surroundings. But I've rather bad news, old man.
I've just reported to the skipper that one of those shells has played
Old Harry with the water barricoes. Only three left--and you can
guess what thirst is in this sun-baked spot."

"How long will that last?" asked the Sub.

"Ten days with the utmost economy," said the Lieutenant gravely.

"I say, Osborne----" began Webb.

"Well?"

"Isn't it a good thing, after all, that poor old Laddie isn't with
us? What a horrible time he would have without anything to drink!"

"He would have had half my share whatever happened," declared Osborne
resolutely. "But, unfortunately, there is no necessity for that. I
wish there were."

Webb made no further remark upon the subject. He knew that Osborne
was still awfully cut up about the loss of his pet, and now, rather
clumsily, he had touched upon the matter of the dog's death.

"We do look a pretty pair," he remarked, setting out on a fresh tack.
"Our fond parents wouldn't recognize us if they could see us now."

"They would be very pleased to," was his chum's rejoinder; "or rather,
we should both be most delighted to see them at home. I've had enough
of African sands to last a lifetime. And these flies!"

A petty officer, mopping the perspiration from his face, wriggled
past his comrades in the narrow trench, and approached the Lieutenant
and his chum.

"Cap'n's compliments, sir," he said as he saluted. "He'd like to have
a word with Mr. Webb."

Webb found Captain M'Bride consulting with the gunner and the bos'n.
Seeing Webb hesitate, he signed to him to approach.

"I've a little job on hand, Mr. Webb," he said. "After due
consideration I've decided that you are the best officer I can spare
for the business. We're short of water. Up to the present there is no
sign of the _Restormel_ putting in an appearance to search for us.
The niggers are evidently going to protract their assault and subject
us to a state of siege. So since help is not forthcoming, we must
fetch it. In short, I want you to take the whaler and make a dash for
Crete. Mr. Cox" (indicating the bos'n) "has examined the boat, and
finds that she's seaworthy. A few slight repairs will have to be
made, but they won't take long. The distance is roughly 180 miles,
but perhaps you'll fall in with a vessel before that."

"Hope it won't be a U-boat, sir," remarked the Sub.

"You're game? I need not remind you that it is a risky voyage for an
open boat."

"I'm quite willing, sir," said Webb resolutely.

"As I thought," added the skipper. "Well, good luck! The weather
looks promising, and ten to one you'll get a fair slant of wind
directly you're a few miles from shore."

Delighted at the prospect of being afloat once more, yet reluctant to
have to leave his comrades in dire peril, Webb hastened to make
preparations for his hazardous voyage in the open whaler. He realized
the risk--he also realized the tremendous responsibility, for if he
failed in the enterprise the rest of the survivors of the
_Portchester Castle_ were doomed.



CHAPTER XVII

The Whaler's Voyage


HAVING selected his crew--a matter of personal difficulty--since no
man cared to volunteer to exchange a post of peril for a duty only
slightly less hazardous--Sub-lieutenant Webb proceeded to prepare the
boat for her voyage.

The whaler was one of the Service type, twenty-seven feet in length.
She had two masts, slightly raking aft, and carried "dipping lug"
fore and mainsails--a powerful rig, but one that requires smart and
careful handling when going about in a strong breeze.

The bos'n--the carpenter warrant officer having been lost in the
struggle for the shore--had instructed the carpenter's crew to nail
several pieces of planking across the bows, covering the rough deck
with canvas from some spare sails. Empty barricoes, of which a number
had been cast upon the beach, were lashed to the thwarts, thus
affording considerable buoyancy in the event of the boat being
capsized. These were the only alterations made in preparing the
whaler for her run across to the distant island of Crete.

The number of hands selected for the voyage was the very minimum
required to work the boat. More would unduly weaken the little
garrison ashore; the victualling problem had also to be taken into
account.

"I can only let you have a gallon of water, sir," decided the bos'n,
"and dry biscuit and salt beef enough for two days. Sure 'tis short
rations, but you know, sir, how things go. There are half a dozen
lemons, too, sir; some were washed up before they had been in the
water very long, so I don't suppose they're brackish. A fine thing to
quench the thirst, Mr. Webb."

Having bade his comrades a hearty adieu, the Sub ordered the whaler
to be pushed off. Three cheers were given for the voyagers, the
compliment being returned in right good earnest by the boat's crew.

"Give way, lads," ordered Webb. "Long easy strokes. We'll soon pick
up a breeze."

Steadily the shore receded. Ahead the placid water was ruffled by a
dark-blue line that betokened a smart breeze. Sitting bolt upright
and holding the yoke-lines, the Sub could not help at frequent
intervals turning his head and looking back at the inhospitable sandy
shore. So fierce was the sun that the radiating heat made the barren
dunes appear to quiver, distorting objects ashore. Everything there
seemed quiet. No rifle-shots pulsated on the still air. Beyond a few
seamen, patrolling the beach to look out for further jetsam, there
were no signs of life. The torrid heat had thrown its languorous
spell upon Britons and Senussi alike.

"It's hot enough here, in all conscience," thought Tom. "It must be
like a slow oven ashore." For an hour the men toiled at the oars, the
sweat pouring from their brick-red faces; yet uncomplainingly they
maintained their long swinging strokes, as if they were pulling
across a harbour rather than setting out for a 180-mile voyage.

"Here's the breeze, lads," exclaimed Webb as a faint zephyr fanned
his face. "Well on the starboard quarter, too. Stand by to make
sail."

Thankfully the jaded men boated oars. Willing hands stepped the two
masts, and quickly the powerful dipping lugs were bellying to the
quartering breeze. The water gurgled pleasantly under the whaler's
forefoot, while a long white wake was a silent testimony to the
boat's speed through the blue water.

"Five to six knots now, sir, I'll allow," replied the coxswain in
reply to his officer's query. "She's footing it fine."

"That's what I estimate," agreed the Sub. "If it holds, another
thirty hours ought to bring us within sight of land."

"Not much doubt about it holding, sir," declared the man, glancing to
windward. "Unless I'm much mistaken there'll be a power o' wind afore
nightfall--more'n we'll want," he added under his breath.

"Cover up that hard tack there," ordered the Sub, as the first spray
flew over the gunwale and threatened to soak the scanty supply of
biscuits. "A pull on your fore-sheet there. That's better; now she
feels it."

The whaler was moving now, cutting through the rising waves like a
race-horse. Every stitch of canvas was drawing, while feathers of
spray dashed over the weather bow. But, in spite of these encouraging
conditions, the wind was backing slowly yet steadily. By sunset it
was broad on the starboard beam.

As darkness set in Webb relieved the coxswain at the tiller. Few
words were spoken between them, for the Sub's attention was mainly
directed to windward, ready to cope with any sudden increase of wind.
Either seated or lying on the bottom-boards, the men were engaged in
the time-honoured custom of "chewing the rag" before "turning in" on
their hard couch. Scraps of conversation caught the Sub's ears. He
smiled grimly, for the boat's crew were not discussing the chances of
the hazardous voyage, or the plight of their comrades they had left
behind: an animated discussion was in progress as to which team won
the English Cup in a certain year of that remote period previous to
the outbreak of the greatest war the world has yet seen.

At eight bells the "watch below" turned in, their outlines just
discernible in the starlight as, in unpicturesque attitudes, each
sleeper adapted himself as comfortably to his individual tastes as
hard and unyielding bottom-boards permitted. Their comrades, told off
for the night watches, crouched under the lee of the gunwale,
sheltering from the keen wind, for with the setting of the sun the
temperature had fallen considerably. Clad only in sub-tropical
uniforms and being unprovided with greatcoats, the men felt acutely
the contrast between the heat of the day and the chilliness of the
night. When at length the order came to reef sails, they obeyed
smartly and cheerfully. The very act of doing something was as balm
to their cold and cramped limbs.

Webb had been wise to reef in time. The wind was now for'ard of the
beam and increasing in violence. Directly water showed a tendency to
come over the lee gunwale he had given the order to shorten sail.

He was very anxious--not on account of the rising wind and sea, but
because it was now only just possible to keep the whaler on her
course.

"If the wind backs another point it will head us," he remarked to the
coxswain.

"'Fraid it will, sir," was the imperturbable reply. "I'd as lief up
helm and run for Malta as make board after board and not gain more'n
a few yards to wind'ard."

The Sub had to admit the force of the petty officer's remarks. The
whaler, being unprovided with a drop keel, would make a very
indifferent performance to windward. There were no tidal currents to
help her--the Mediterranean being tideless--and what "drift" there
was would be against her, since the currents in this part of the vast
inland sea are set up solely by the force of the prevailing wind. In
these circumstances it might take a week or more to reach Crete, and
by that time the comrades they had left behind would be conquered by
famine, even if they succeeded in holding in check the savage foes
who menaced them.

Yet there was another chance. The whaler would soon be in the regular
steamer track between Port Said and the Western Mediterranean
seaports. In normal times the probability of aid from passing vessels
would be great; but now, owing to the U-boat menace, things were very
different.

A moaning sound pierced the darkness of the night. In an instant Webb
grasped the situation. A squall was sweeping down.

"Check sheets!" he shouted, at the same time putting the helm down
ever so slightly, so as not to get the boat "in irons".

The squall hit the boat hard. Green seas poured over her bows,
effectually awaking the sleepers. So fierce was the strength of the
wind that the Sub was compelled to order the canvas to be
close-reefed.

By dint of strenuous baling the whaler was kept afloat; yet she was
sagging to leeward like an empty cask. Worse, the wind was now
absolutely dead ahead, and more than enough for the meagre amount of
sail that was still set.

"Think she'll stick it?" shouted Webb to the coxswain.

"No, I don't, sir," replied that worthy bluntly. "Better ride to our
gear while there's time."

The petty officer's advice was sound. To attempt to carry on was a
suicidal policy. As quickly as possible the oars and yard were lashed
together, the foresail being still bent to its spar. To these a scope
of grass rope was attached, and the whole of the gear thrown
overboard, the kedge having been previously bent to the lower part of
the canvas to ensure it floating "up and down".

To this rough-and-ready sea-anchor the whaler rode in comparative
safety, for, although the seas were breaking all around, there was a
complete absence of crested, dangerous waves in the wake of the
floating gear, fifty yards ahead of the boat.

"So well, so good," thought Webb. "But, unfortunately, though we may
have saved our own skins, the fact remains that we are not helping
Captain M'Bride and our comrades ashore."

"She's riding handsomely, sir," remarked the coxswain. "And we've
plenty of sea-room. Short and sharp this has been in coming up, and
maybe 'twill be short and sharp when it does pipe down."

Slowly the minutes sped. The inactivity, combined with a prolonged
lack of sleep, was beginning to tell upon the young officer. Once or
twice he found his head involuntarily dropping on his chest.

"All right, sir," said the coxswain, who had "spotted" his superior
officer's movements. "Just you have forty winks. Nothin' doin'; and
I'll pass the word if there is."

It seemed less than a few minutes when Webb was roused by the petty
officer touching him on the shoulder.

"Vessel o' sorts bearin' down, sir."

There was no time to be lost if help was to be forthcoming in that
direction. Already the black outlines of a large ship were looming
through the night mirk.

The whaler was without means of signalling. Webb found himself
wishing that he had brought the Very's pistol with him, until he
reflected that it might perform an even greater service in the
defence of the zariba. There were no rockets in the boat; neither
flashing lamp nor flare. Not even matches, for the very scanty stock
had been used up in a fruitless attempt to light the binnacle lamp,
which had been found lying in the bottom of the boat when she had
come ashore half-filled with water. Nor was there a rifle on board.
Every available weapon was required by the men facing the Senussi.

"Stand by to give a hail, men," cautioned the Sub. "When I give the
word, then all together. Luckily she'll pass to leeward of us."

At Webb's order the night echoed to the stentorian tones of the
whaler's crew. It must have been impossible for the officer of the
watch not to have heard the combined efforts of the strong-lunged
men.

"She's not slowing down, sir," said one of the men, after a pause.

"Give her time," replied the Sub, hoping against hope that the vessel
would respond to the appeal for aid.

But no; instead of reversing engines she ported helm, and at full
speed was soon lost to sight in the darkness.

"Rale haythens, sure they be!" muttered an Irishman indignantly.

Webb took the acute disappointment philosophically. These were times
when unprecedented horrors encompassed the mariner--cold-blooded
murder in the darkness of the night by cowardly lurking U-boats.
Cases had been known of German vessels of war luring their victims to
destruction by false signals of distress, and it was more than likely
that the officer of the watch of the unknown ship, hearing the hail,
had come to the conclusion that it was a decoy cry from a hostile
submarine, and had altered her course in order to avoid a torpedo.

With the first streaks of dawn the wind moderated, although dead
ahead. The seas, still high, no longer maintained their vicious,
crested aspect. It was now safe to rehoist sail, and, accordingly,
the sea-anchor was brought on board and the masts restepped.

The Sub had already made up his mind to steer westward. With luck he
might reach Malta, or at least fall in with some of the numerous
war-ships that make Valetta their base.

As luck would have it, the "traveller", or iron ring that runs up and
down the mast and to which is attached the yard, was jerked upwards
during the operation of making sail. Slackening the halyard made no
difference. The elusive ring remained at a tantalizing distance of
two or three inches above the tallest man's outstretched hand, and
there was no boat-hook to bring it down.

Webb was about to order the mast to be unstepped, when one of the men
swarmed up the swaying pole and recovered the "traveller". As he did
so he happened to glance to windward.

"A sail!" he shouted. "Coming bows on."

For a few minutes all on board the whaler were in a state of
suspense. The vessel was approaching rapidly, but to a great extent
was obscured by the cloud of black smoke that was carried ahead by
the following wind.

"Hurrah, lads!" exclaimed the coxswain. "She's a destroyer."

Soon there was no doubt on the matter. She was a large four-funnelled
torpedo-boat destroyer with a red, white, and green ensign at each
masthead, indicating her to be a unit of the Italian Navy. The one
fly in the ointment was the disconcerting sight of the bow
twelve-pounder gun manned and trained upon the whaler.



CHAPTER XVIII

In the Nick of Time


"STEADY, lads! Aim low. Don't throw a single shot away."

Calmly and resolutely Captain M'Bride's voice travelled along the
whole length of the trench. Every man possessing a rifle gripped the
weapon resolutely, while the rest of the defenders, armed with
whatever means of defence came to hand, braced themselves for the
coming desperate struggle.

It was close on sunset. Not a breath of wind tempered the still
stifling heat. The gale of wind that had beset the whaler had not yet
reached the sun-baked sand-dunes where the _Portchester Castle's_
survivors still held grimly to their scanty defences.

After a series of feints extending over the greater part of the day,
the Senussi were at last about to make a determined onslaught. The
camel-men had dismounted and sent their docile animals out of harm's
way, but the horsemen had massed in a long curved line of foot. There
was some semblance of military order in the array, taught no doubt by
their former Turkish instructors, for on each flank, and on rising
ground, riflemen were posted so as to pour a converging force upon
the British, while the horsemen, supported by hundreds of dismounted
Arabs armed with sword and spear, charged the extreme left of the
defences.

This was a masterly stroke that Captain M'Bride had not anticipated,
for here the trench ran in a diagonal direction to the sea, and if
carried would expose the rear of the centre to a flanking and
enfilading fire. But what the attackers did not know was the
existence of a novel form of _fougasse_--the row of petrol tins.

Clearly the foremost of the assailants were visible in the slanting
rays of the setting sun. Behind them followed a cloud of sand, thrown
up by the horses' hoofs, through which could be discerned the
indistinct forms of a howling mob of fanatical warriors armed with
cold steel. In the forefront rode a tall bearded fellow with green
jibbah and turban. With his right hand he brandished a long, straight
two-edged sword, while in his left he bore a green banner with a
scarlet crescent.

"They are not fighting under Turkish colours," remarked Captain
M'Bride to Dacres, who stood by his side. "A sort of Holy War banner,
I take it."

Evidently Afir-al-Bahr was of the same opinion, and, finding that he
had not to fight against a force under the Turkish Crescent, he
picked up a huge axe that had come ashore in one of the ship's boats.

"What's that fellow doing?" enquired the skipper hurriedly.

Dacres, whose service in Egypt had made him fairly proficient with
the language of the Eastern Mediterranean States, spoke a few words
to the Turkish airman.

"I think it's all right, Captain M'Bride," explained Dacres. "The man
has no intention of breaking his parole. He knows quite well that if
he should fall alive into the hands of the Senussi their treatment
would be much worse than ours. He told me that some time ago a party
of these meek and mild gentlemen mutinied, and murdered their Ottoman
officers."

"Then let him carry on," decided the skipper. He gave a quick glance
in the direction of the oncoming foe. The foremost were now within
two hundred yards.

"Volley firing by sections--ready!"

A well-timed volley burst from the British trench. The high-velocity
bullets, fired at point-blank range, wrought havoc in the crowded
ranks of the Senussi. Saddles were emptied by the dozen, and before
the stricken riders had time to fall to the ground the second section
poured in a murderous fire.

Yet undaunted the Senussi pressed on, the standard-bearer, apparently
unhurt, still brandishing his gleaming weapon. Then, slowly yet
surely, he began to lean forward until he lay across the horse's
neck. The banner dropped from his nerveless grasp just as a bullet,
striking the animal on its white blaze, brought man and steed to the
ground.

In an instant another Arab had snatched up the green flag, and, with
redoubled shouts, the dense and now disorganized mob came thundering
across the level stretch of ground in front of the zariba.

It was now Osborne's time to take up the work with which the absent
Webb had charged him. Already one of the bright-red petrol cans had
been holed by a couple of accurately placed shots, and the highly
volatile fluid was escaping and soaking into the hot sand. The
Lieutenant could even detect the pungent fumes of the evaporating
spirit. Raising the short, smooth-bored pistol, Osborne pressed the
trigger. The missile--a red rocket--burst against the perforated tin,
just as the foremost of the assailants were leaping over the mound
that partly concealed the line of tins.

The next instant flames shot twenty feet or more into the air--a fire
so intense that the heat could be distinctly felt by the defenders of
the trench, while the zariba quivered in the current of air set up by
the sudden rise of temperature.

Five seconds later the adjacent tin exploded, and then another and
another, until the tongues of fire darted a good fifty feet skywards.

That part of the attack was checked and beaten back. The fire barrage
was impassable; but on the enemy's left their impetuous rush brought
them right up to the zariba.

Dauntlessly the Arabs sought to tear away the prickly barrier. Rifles
cracked, but the number of small arms at the disposal of the British
was insufficient to annihilate--it could only diminish--the great
superiority of the enemy's forces.

Several of the seamen, armed with knives and marline-spikes lashed to
the end of oars and poles, rendered yeoman service by the use of
these improvised pikes. Others, having provided themselves with a
supply of large stones, hurled them across the intervening barrier at
the nearmost of their assailants.

Nor was Afir-al-Bahr to be denied. With his axe he fought
desperately, dealing smashing blows whenever a fanatical Arab
succeeded in getting within reach.

For some moments the situation was extremely critical. The improvised
pikes were no match for the long broad-bladed, razor-edged spears,
and the advantage of fighting behind the zariba was fast disappearing
as the fearless and desperate Senussi persevered in the work of
tearing away the wall of thorns.

Against these tremendous odds the handful of the _Portchester
Castle's_ crew fought magnificently, making the best use of their
ungainly weapons. British courage and dogged pluck were there. The
men meant to hold their position at all costs, but already the
numbers were being thinned by the relentless pressure of the Arab
assault.

At this critical juncture Captain M'Bride, realizing that the British
left was in no immediate danger--for the contents of the whole line
of exploded petrol cans were blazing furiously--rushed up every
available rifleman. In a few moments the attack, that had had every
appearance of being successful, broke down. The Arabs melted away,
the survivors retreating in disorder, leaving fifty or more of their
number huddled in front of the partly demolished zariba, and others
at varying distances from the defences.

"We've been and gone and done it now," commented Major Fane.

"How's that?" queried Dacres, as he held out his left wrist for his
chum to apply a bandage to a deep but clean gash caused by the
partly-parried thrust of a spear.

"We've fired all the petrol except the two tins we held in reserve.
We have none available to repeat the dose."

"I fancy they've had quite enough, eh, what?" rejoined Dacres.
"Thanks, old man, it feels absolutely all right. A trifle on the
tight side, perhaps, but for an amateur, Billy, you know how to
doctor a fellow. Hallo, Osborne; how goes it? My word, that petrol
flare shook 'em up a bit; but we needn't have used the lot. I was
just saying----"

"It is indeed unfortunate," interposed Captain M'Bride. "We certainly
ought not to have used the whole quantity. I had no idea that it
would make such a furnace. Nearly lifted my eyebrows off, by Jove!"

"It's my opinion that the Arabs won't come up for a second dose,"
remarked Dacres.

"If they do they'll exercise more caution," said the skipper. "We
must be prepared for a night attack. I've told off a party to pick up
the rifles, ammunition, and spears of the Senussi left on the field.
Mr. Osborne, will you see that the zariba is repaired?"

The Lieutenant saluted, and hurried away to carry out the Captain's
order. Already twenty additional Mauser rifles had been brought in,
and about four hundred rounds of ammunition. These were served out to
the seamen, the recipients being specially cautioned to keep the
captured ammunition apart from the British Service cartridges, so
that no confusion would arise in the event of a possible attack
during the hours of darkness.

Osborne had not allowed the lessons of the grim conflict to pass
without gaining useful hints. At his suggestion the zariba was
increased in thickness, the height remaining the same, while the
ground for a width of twenty yards in front was liberally "salted"
with sharp-pointed thorns that were buried "business end uppermost"
in the sand, leaving a couple of inches projecting as a trap for
unwary and unshod feet.

Since there was not another _fougasse_ to fire, the Lieutenant loaded
the Very's pistol and lashed it to the stump of a bush about a
hundred yards from the trenches. To the trigger he tied a thin piece
of cord, obtained by unreeving the strands of a length of rope, and
secured the other end to a picket driven deeply into the sand. In the
event of any of the Senussi creeping up to the defences at night,
contact with the cord would instantly give the alarm.

By dint of hard work, these preparations were completed before the
short twilight gave place to intense darkness. It was now blowing
hard from the nor'east, and, in spite of the fact that only a narrow
strip of ground lay between the rear of the trenches and the sea, the
defences were exposed to irritating clouds of fine sand that
penetrated almost everything--even the intricate breech-mechanism of
the magazine rifles.

"I wonder how the whaler is faring?" was the question that rose to
the lips of almost every member of the shipwrecked crew, not once but
many times. With the rising breeze the men realized that the boat had
a dead beat to wind'ard, and that, even if she could still carry
canvas, her progress towards the distant goal would be very, very
slow.

The night was cold, for the sand radiated its heat with remarkable
rapidity, while the on-shore wind was bitterly keen. Without adequate
clothing the men suffered acutely, their condition accentuated by the
quick contrast with the scorching rays of the sun during the day.
Those not detailed for sentry work huddled together in the trenches,
the wounded being provided with awnings fashioned from the boats'
sails stretched between pairs of oars. Slowly the hours passed, for,
although not a single watch belonging to the castaways had survived
the prolonged immersion in salt water, a fairly accurate count of
time could be kept by means of the position of certain well-known
stars.

At about midnight the sky was overcast, and even this means of
calculating time was at an end. In utter silence the sentries
maintained a vigilant look-out, while their comrades either dozed
fitfully or lay awake, shivering with cold, and on thorns of
expectancy for the night attack.

Suddenly the tense stillness of the night was broken by a sharp
report, followed by the appearance of a vivid light two hundred feet
or more in the air. The Very pistol had been discharged.

Instantly the defenders sprang to their feet. Those having rifles
manned the loopholes, opened the "cut-offs" of the magazines, and
prepared to pour a withering fire into the expected mass of Senussi.

But nothing in the nature of a wild chorus of war-cries pierced the
darkness. In the distance could be heard sounds of commotion amongst
the Arabs, who had encamped at about two or three miles from the
scene of the previous encounter. In front of the zariba all was
quiet.

"Did you see anything, Wilson?" asked Osborne of one of the sentries.

"Nothing, sir," was the reply. "And when that rocket went off it was
as clear as day, in fact my eyes are still dazzled by the light."

"Perhaps it was a sniper or a scout," suggested Dacres, who at the
first alarm had hurried to his post.

"If so, I fancy he's made himself scarce," added Osborne.

"By the by, Osborne," remarked Major Fane, "did you set that cord up
fairly tight when you fixed it to the trigger?"

"As taut as I dared," replied the Lieutenant. "It wanted only a
four-pound pull to set off the cartridge."

"Then I fancy I can explain," continued the Major. "You didn't make
any allowance for the contraction of the cord with the dew."

Osborne bit his lip. He was too straightforward to offer excuses. He
knew perfectly well the effect of damp upon rope, and at this
critical time he had omitted to make practical use of his knowledge.
The false alarm had turned out every man when they badly needed sleep
and rest.

The Very's pistol was reloaded and the trigger-line slacked off. Once
more the men not on sentry sought to gain some hours of slumber in
their uncomfortable surroundings.

The rest of the night passed without further incident, the enemy
making no further attempt to molest the camp. With the dawn the
defenders were roused. A small quantity of water, half a biscuit, and
a morsel of salt beef were served out, and on this scanty ration each
man had to exist for the next six hours.

"Where's that Turkish fellow?" enquired Osborne. "He hasn't put in an
appearance for his food."

No one had seen him, for owing to his religious scruples the Ottoman
aviator had constructed his shelter at a little distance to the rear
of the trench.

"I seed 'im makin' for his caboodle just after that there set-to last
night, sir," volunteered one of the seamen. "Shall I rout 'im out?"

"No, I'll go," said Dacres. "I can speak his lingo." And crossing the
intervening stretch of sand he reached the artificial hollow that the
Turk had dug out.

Afir-al-Bahr was lying on his side; his "prayer-carpet", which devout
Mohammedans carry with them in all circumstances, was spread at his
feet. To all appearance the Turk was sleeping peacefully--but it was
the sleep of death. During the attack on the zariba he had received a
mortal wound; yet, with a remarkable reticence, he had crawled away
to die in solitude.

They buried him hastily in the hollow he had constructed. No volleys
were fired over his grave--cartridges were too precious for that; no
"Last Post" rent the air, since no bugle was available. Yet the
homage of the _Portchester Castle's_ ship's company to a brave and
gallant enemy--a man who had done his level best to blow the ship to
pieces, and had afterwards fought side by side with his country's
foes--was none the less sincere.

Hardly had the last rites been accomplished when signs of renewed
activity were visible amongst the Senussi. During the night their
numbers had been augmented by other bands of desert nomads, until the
present strength more than exceeded the force that had delivered the
previous attack with such disastrous results.

Yet the Arabs appeared to be in no immediate hurry. Evidently they
guessed that the defenders were scantily supplied with food and
water. They could afford to wait until the British, faint with
hunger, and weakening under the effect of the enervating, torrid
atmosphere, would be unable to offer any strenuous resistance.

"I almost wish they'd make a move, by Jove, I do!" remarked Dacres.
"Suppose I oughtn't to say it though, since the longer they wait the
more chance we have of rescue; but it's slow work hanging on to a
mound of sand and expecting those fellows to make a rush."

"Looks as though your half-expressed wish will be gratified, old
man," replied Major Fane, as a swarm of white-robed men edged along
to the right of the defenders' position, taking considerable care to
keep good cover. "See their move? They're making for the beach. If
they get behind us, there'll be the deuce to pay!"

The tactics of the Senussi necessitated a rearrangement of the
defenders. At Captain M'Bride's order, those of the riflemen who had
been armed with rifles taken from the dead Arabs were detached from
the centre and moved to a flanking position, so as to command the
approach along the shore. Those seamen who had brought their own
rifles were still retained in front of the zariba, so as to check any
frontal attack.

Meanwhile Osborne, assisted by two volunteers, boldly left the
shelter of the trenches and began to dig up the scorched and
blistered petrol tins. These they set up in a conspicuous place a few
yards in front of the original line, coolly completing the task in
spite of an erratic fire from the Arab sharpshooters.

"What's the move?" enquired Dacres when the Lieutenant returned
safely to shelter.

"It may work; it's a little ruse," replied Osborne. "They'll see
the tins easily enough. I've put the best side of them facing
outwards. If they think that we'll be able to repeat the
curtain-of-fire business, they'll think twice before making a frontal
attack. It's quite bad enough to be taken in the rear of both flanks,
without a direct rush."

"There's the green banner again," exclaimed Fane. "That looks like
business."

"Steady, my lads," shouted the heroic skipper. "Let 'em have it."

The rattle of musketry sounded along the shore. The result surpassed
all expectation, for, to the defenders' surprise, scores of Senussi
toppled over on the sand, some writhing, although for the most part
those who fell lay still. The rush ended abruptly, the rest of the
Arabs turning and running at full speed for the shelter of the dunes.

"That's knocked the stuffing out of them," declared Captain M'Bride.
"Now, lads, there's another haul of equipment."

A dozen or more of the seamen who did not possess rifles made their
way through the zariba, and approached the fallen foe with the
intention of despoiling them of their arms. While engaged in this
task, quite fifty of the fallen Senussi sprang to their feet, and
fell upon the tricked men. The ruse was disastrous as far as the
defenders were concerned, for those remaining in the trenches dare
not fire for fear of hitting their comrades. Before a rescue-party
could approach, the over-eager despoilers, hopelessly outnumbered,
were cut down to a man, while the cunning Arabs, pursued by a fierce
fire from the vengeful defenders, succeeded in regaining the main
body with severe losses.

The handful of the _Portchester Castle's_ crew who had fallen in this
daring ruse could ill be spared. Although they had fought and died
gamely, and had accounted for more of the enemy than their own
numbers, the relative loss went against the beleaguered force. They
had gained experience at a high price.

Another grave discovery was brought home to the sorely pressed men.
Their ammunition was running short. Magazine rifle-fire is apt to
make heavy inroads upon the stock of cartridges, and, although the
men had exercised considerable restraint and had hardly thrown away a
single shot; the fact remained that the supply had dwindled down to
less than a couple of hundred.

"And the worst of it is," confided Major Fane, "we have those four
women--passengers from the _Sunderbund_--in our hands. They are as
plucky as one could wish; by Jove, they are! If the worst comes to
the worst----"

"Yes, Major," added Captain M'Bride quietly. "I understand. We must
never let them fall alive into the hands of these brutes."

Throughout the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon the
Senussi continued their wearing-down tactics, making numerous feints,
either singly or simultaneously at different points; yet no definite
attack matured. All the while a long-range fire was directed upon the
defences, and although the enemy wasted prodigious quantities of
ammunition the net result was two men severely, and four slightly
wounded.

"Now they mean business, I fancy," said Major Fane, as a tremendous
hubbub, in which the beating of drums figured largely, came from the
enemy position. "These fellows seem to fancy the hours before
sunset."

A vast semicircle of dark-featured Arabs, their strength now
exceeding three thousand, told pretty plainly that the defences were
to be rushed from all available directions. This time, save for a few
exceptions, all the attackers were on foot, although in the centre
rode another green-turbaned Amir, bearing the emerald-hued banner
that was to bring victory to the Faithful.

Even as the survivors of the _Portchester Castle_ stood ready for the
order to open fire, the air was torn by the shrill screech of a heavy
projectile, quickly followed by another and another. With a
succession of terrific crashes, twelve-pounder shells burst fairly
amidst the dense serried ranks of the Senussi. It was more than
fanatical courage could stand. They broke and fled, leaving the green
banner torn to shreds in the grasp of the lifeless Amir.

Too utterly done up even to cheer, the rescued garrison gazed
seawards. Less than two miles from shore, and pelting onwards at a
good twenty-five knots, was a British destroyer. It was rescue in the
very nick of time.



CHAPTER XIX

Misunderstandings


WE left Sub-lieutenant Tom Webb and the whaler's crew in the act of
being rescued by a destroyer flying the Italian ensign. The vessel
was the _Bersagliere_, a 28-knot boat armed with four
twelve-pounders.

It was not sheer luck that brought it to the rescue of the Sub and
his companions. The liner that had passed them in the night was not
so callous as they had supposed. Although she dared not stop to
investigate the cause of the shouting, fearing the presence of a
hostile submarine, she had sent out a wireless message in the
International Code, reporting on the circumstance, giving the
approximate position, and suggesting the possibility of a U-boat.

The call was picked up by several patrolling war-ships, amongst them
the _Bersagliere_. The latter being nearest to the position
indicated, set off at full speed, and cleared for action in the event
of meeting with a U-boat which had resorted to the device of using a
decoy.

The Italian destroyer's people were unremitting in their attentions
to what they supposed to be the sole survivors of a British naval
craft. Not one of either officers or crew could understand English,
nor could Webb and his men speak a word of Italian, and the Sub's
endeavour to indicate by means of signs that the rest of the
survivors were cast ashore on the Tripolitan coast, and were in dire
peril from the Senussi, was fruitless.

The commanding officer of the _Bersagliere_ did his best, but,
unfortunately, with somewhat disconcerting results. He wirelessed in
International Code the news that he had on board the sole survivors
of the British war-ship _Portchester Castle_. The message was picked
up and decoded by several vessels, and also the naval receiving
station at Malta, and within a very short time of the rescue of the
whaler's crew the inaccurate news was transmitted to the Admiralty.

Webb and his comrades were, of course, ignorant of this stage of the
proceedings. They knew, however, that they were being taken in a
nor'westerly direction by the destroyer--farther and farther away
from the scene of the unequal conflict ashore. Instead of bringing
aid to the hard-pressed Captain M'Bride and his handful of undaunted
men, they were being spirited away to an unknown
destination--possibly Castellamare or some other distant Italian
naval port.

"'Spose these Eytalians thinks as 'ow they are doin' their level
best," remarked one man to his "raggie". "Strikes me we're being
bloomin' well kidnapped. Look 'ere, Ginger; you can 'andle a pencil.
Just you draw a sort o' sketch of our chaps ashore, an' put a few
niggers in. That might do the trick."

Ginger pondered. The trouble was to get pencil and paper. The rest
was simple, for he had a strong reputation amongst his lower-deck
mates as an artist.

The difficulty was overcome by boldly commandeering a pad and pencil
from the _Bersagliere's_ signalman, somewhat to the surprise of the
good-natured Italian; then, surrounded by interested spectators of
both the Allied navies, Ginger proceeded with his task.

"'Ere we are," he explained. "Them's the sand-dunes; 'ere's the
skipper, Number One, an' Lootenant Osborne. This is the zayreber;
them's the enemy. That orter do the trick, didn't it, mates?"

"'Spose so," admitted one of the whaler's men rather dubiously. "A
little smoke chucked in would improve the picture, I'll allow."

The artist reluctantly admitted the force of the criticism, and
proceeded to depict far more vapour than modern engagements with
smokeless powder justified. Then, stepping up to one of the
_Bersagliere's_ officers, he tendered his handiwork.

The Italian took the drawing and examined it intently and
sympathetically. He was obviously puzzled for some minutes. Then a
smile lit up his olivine features, and he spoke a few words to one of
his men.

"Guess he's off to explain to the skipper of this packet," declared
Ginger's pal. "I knowed that 'ud do the trick."

But instead of making his way to the bridge the Italian seaman went
below. The British tars regarded each other with feelings akin to
consternation, nor was their surprise any the less when the man
reappeared with a dish containing a "plum duff" liberally provided
with currants.

The artistic idol of the _Portchester Castle's_ ship's company was
shattered.

"Arter all," decided the coxswain, "'tain't to be wondered at,
Ginger. Those sand-dunes of yourn do look like the outlines of a
'spotted Dick', smoke an' all; but I guess the owner wouldn't be
pleased to find he'd been mistaken for a bloomin' currant."

Almost immediately afterwards attention was directed in another
direction, for a vessel was sighted on the starboard bow. In a few
moments, for both craft were moving rapidly, the stranger was found
to be the British destroyer _Paradox_.

An exchange of signals followed. The _Paradox_ had been one of the
vessels that had received the _Bersagliere's_ wireless message, and
it was with the intention of taking over the survivors of the
_Portchester Castle_ that she had made towards the Italian destroyer.

Once more Sub-lieutenant Webb trod the decks of a craft flying the
white ensign; while the two destroyers, dipping their flags by way of
a courteous international salute, proceeded on different courses the
_Bersagliere_ "holding on", while to her commander's astonishment he
saw the British craft circle to port, and steam off at full speed in
a south-easterly direction, instead of returning to her base at Suda
Bay.

Webb had lost no time in explaining to the Lieutenant of the
_Paradox_ that Captain M'Bride and a considerable number of men were
at bay on the Tripolitan coast; while to his surprise the Sub learnt
of the inaccurate wireless message from the _Bersagliere_ reporting
the whaler's crew as sole survivors of the ill-fated _Portchester
Castle_.

"We'll be in time yet, I think," remarked the commanding officer of
the _Paradox_. "You reckoned to fetch Crete in an open boat and yet
be able to summon assistance. We've saved you at least twenty-four
hours. Yes, I'll see that a wireless correcting the previous
inaccurate report is sent off; but I think I'll wait till we've seen
this business through."

Upon approaching the coast Webb could distinctly hear the rattle of
musketry. That was a good sign. It told him that Captain M'Bride and
his men were still holding out.

At twenty-five knots the _Paradox_ was soon within range of her
twelve-pounders. In the slanting rays of the setting sun the dense
masses of the Senussi could be distinctly made out. It was a target
that could not well be missed.

Six rounds were sufficient. The Lieutenant-commander, standing on the
destroyer's bridge, thrust his binoculars into their case with an
emphatic snap.

"Good enough!" he exclaimed. "Cease fire--out boats!"

Bringing the _Paradox_ to a standstill close to the almost submerged
wreck of the _Portchester Castle_, and keeping between the latter and
the shore--a precaution necessary should hostile submarines be in the
vicinity--her skipper lost no time in taking off the survivors of the
torpedoed armed merchant-cruiser. Yet before the evacuation of the
zariba was accomplished night had fallen.

"I thought you would not fail us, Mr. Webb," was Captain M'Bride's
greeting as he came over the side. "You've been very quick over the
business. How did you fare when the wind piped up?"

"Sheer good luck, sir," replied the Sub modestly. "We were picked up
by an Italian destroyer and afterwards transferred to the _Paradox_."

The skipper of the _Portchester Castle_ kept his young officer
engaged in conversation for some time, during which Webb's eyes were
periodically turned in the direction of the returning boats. Yes,
thank God! there was Osborne, apparently safe and sound; Dacres too,
and Major Fane; most of the ship's officers whom Webb had left behind
when he made his dash in the whaler.

At length his Captain dismissed him, and went below to enjoy the
hospitality of the diminutive ward-room. Webb made his way across to
where Osborne was standing.

"Hallo, old bird--back again, you see!" was the Lieutenant's
greeting, informal, but none the less hearty.

"Where's Haynes?" enquired Webb, after returning his chum's
salutation. "I've been looking out for him, but all the boats have
returned."

"You're a bright lad not to spot your chums," rejoined Osborne. "He
was one of the first to be brought off. He got it badly almost at the
last lap--a gunshot wound in the side. Donovon's got him in hand now.
'Fraid Haynes' career in the Service is a closed book."

"Sorry to hear that," said the Sub. "I only hope you're wrong,
Osborne."

"Wouldn't be the first time," admitted the Lieutenant. "I made a fine
mess of things ashore just now." And he told his chum the episode of
the Very pistol.

"Do you know where we are bound for?" he continued.

"Port Said--so I heard the Navigating Lieutenant of the _Paradox_
say," replied Webb. "I was hoping that it was Malta; still, one
mustn't complain after what we've been through. Not that we'll find
Egypt particularly exciting just for the present. From all accounts
there's precious little doing."

But Sub-lieutenant Webb was mistaken in his surmise. Before very long
he was to find that the Land of the Pharaohs was anything but a place
for an uneventful existence.



CHAPTER XX

The Desert Wireless Station


"DONKEY, sah? Good donkey, sah? Me good dragoman. Talk Englis' like
Englisman, sah. Me good----"

"Oh, chuck it, do!" exclaimed Osborne. "No can do; savee?"

It was on the outskirts of Alexandria. Osborne and Webb, already
"bored stiff" with the doubtful charms of the sun-baked Egyptian
seaport, were longing to be afloat once more. Up to the present their
wishes in that direction had not been gratified. In common with the
rest of the surviving officers and crew of the lost _Portchester
Castle_, they were resting, first at Port Said and then at
Alexandria, pending Admiralty instructions and appointment to another
ship.

Early on this particular afternoon the two chums had gone for a walk
beyond the limits of the town. It was a glorious chance to tramp on a
broiling hot day, in a place where almost everyone rides, and then
only when it is necessary to be out and about. It was the time of
siesta, or midday rest, but the superabundant energies of the two
young officers were not to be denied. Both carried revolvers--a
precaution rendered necessary by the existing conditions of the
Egyptian frontiers.

Barely had they drawn clear of the squalid native quarter when they
were assailed by the demonstrative attention of a swarm of 'Gippy
donkey-boys, whose natural cupidity overcame their curiosity at the
sight of two Englishmen braving the scorching heat of the sun.

By dint of very forcible language, backed by a pretence of forcible
methods, Osborne had succeeded in freeing himself and his companion
from the undesired attentions of the mob, with one exception. The
latter, a tall, sparely built fellah, hung on like a leech.

"Tomb of Ctesos, sah," he vociferated. "Not far. Far to walk, but not
far for donkey, sah. Twen'-fivee piastres" (up went the fingers of
his right hand five times to emphasize the point) "all de way. Dirty
cheap, sah."

Osborne hesitated and was lost.

"Tomb of Ctesos?" he repeated. "H'm, I've heard of it. Sort of ruined
pyramid, I believe, Tom. Well, it's something definite to do. How
about it?"

"I'm on," replied Webb. "Figuratively, of course. When it comes to
the back of a donkey it may be a different matter."

"The brutes look quiet enough," resumed Osborne, eyeing the three
sorry-looking donkeys, who were continually flicking their ears in a
vain attempt to rid themselves of the tormenting attentions of a
swarm of flies. "All right," he added, addressing the donkey-boy.
"Twenty-five piastres, mind!"

The 'Gippy extended a grimy, sunburned hand. "On de nail," he
exclaimed, making use of one of many English idioms that he had
picked up in the course of his dealings with tourists in pre-war
days, and with British and Australian troops since the outbreak of
hostilities.

The officers smiled. The words, coming from the lips of a
dark-skinned Egyptian, tickled them. The fellow's eyes looked so
pathetic and trustful that Osborne obligingly paid for the hire of
the animals.

Evidently the guide was not going to exert himself by walking.
Throwing himself upon the back of the third donkey he urged the
brutes into a steady trot, yelling the while in a jargon of English
and Arabic, and belabouring the animals with a stick.

"Avast there!" said Osborne authoritatively. "Stop it! Not so much of
the stick business. They'll go just as well without."

The "boy"--he was a man of between twenty-five and thirty--obeyed,
but only for a time. Ere long he began to thrash the animals again.

"For the second time, stop it!" thundered the Lieutenant.

The donkey-driver muttered something under his breath. A momentary
scowl flashed across his olivine features. If looks could kill,
Osborne would have been stretched lifeless in the desert.

On and on the donkeys went, sometimes trotting, at others plodding
stolidly through the sand; for already the cotton-fields had been
left behind, and nothing but the desert could now be seen, bounded on
the right hand by the intricate swamps of Lake Mareotis. Before they
had gone five miles, both the officers discovered, to their great
discomfort, that their mounts possessed very aggressive backbones,
the pain from the sharp edges of which the meagre native saddle did
little to mitigate.

"How much farther?" enquired Webb.

"Not far," was the 'Gippy's non-committal reply.

"Hanged if I don't think the rascal is taking us past the place,"
declared Osborne, indicating a solidly constructed building on the
left, at a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.

The donkey-boy saw the gesture.

"No, sah, no," he expostulated earnestly. "Him no good. Nothing dere;
empty. Tomb of Ctesos, sah, him be right dere."

"Dash the tomb of Ctesos!" declared Osborne. "It's not good enough.
Look here, Ali Babi; we've chucked the idea. We'll have a look at
this place instead. We may find shelter from the sun, and get back in
the cool of the evening."

The suggestion did not at all meet with the native's approval.
Obviously he had strong reasons against falling in with the proposal.

"Evidently our dusky dragoman considers this to be a breach of
contract," observed Webb.

"Can't imagine why," rejoined Osborne. "If what he says is correct
with reference to the direction of this precious tomb, we're saving
his animals a considerable distance. He who pays the piper calls the
tune, you know; so let's be firm."

Accordingly, the two officers turned the donkeys in the direction of
the ruined building that Osborne had indicated. With ill-concealed
sullenness the Egyptian slowed down, riding at twenty paces in the
rear of the chums.

Suddenly he gave vent to a shrill cry. Instantly the animals that
Osborne and Webb were bestriding came to a dead standstill; then,
keeping their forefeet planted firmly in the ground, they lashed out
furiously with their hind legs.

In vain Webb attempted to keep his saddle. Describing an inelegant
curve he alighted on his head in the sand. Fortunately the softness
of the ground deadened the impact; but, feeling considerably shaken,
he regained his feet to find Osborne sitting regarding him ruefully.
As for the donkeys, they were skeltering off more quickly than they
had done before in the course of that afternoon, while the 'Gippy,
still astride his mount, jeered at his employers until he was out of
ear-shot.

"The fellow's got his own back," admitted Osborne, laughing at his
own discomfiture. "And we paid him beforehand, worse luck! No matter!
we'll carry on now we're about it, and inspect this ruined show. If
we start at four o'clock we ought to be back before sunset, and it
won't be so oppressively hot to pad the hoof."

"We're taking a long time to cover this half-mile," remarked Webb,
when after a steady tramp the ruins seemed no nearer. "Suppose it
isn't a mirage, what?"

"Hope not," replied Osborne. Then he had to admit that the real
distance had been diminished by the vagaries of the atmosphere.
Although the tomb, or whatever it might be, was a real object, it had
seemed to be less than three-quarters of a mile away when Osborne
first noticed it. Actually it was four times that distance.

At last they approached the elusive building. It consisted of a
rectangular central edifice with a few smaller buildings attached.
The roof was originally a dome, but the greater portion had fallen
in. Fronting the main portion was a row of weather-worn pillars of
red sandstone, ground smooth by the action of the sand-storms of
centuries. In places the portico still remained, but was evidently in
a very insecure state.

"Hallo!" exclaimed Webb, who with true scouting instinct had been
examining the ground. "Look here; someone has been here recently.
We're just converging upon the track of a couple of men and a led
camel."

"Yes," agreed Osborne, "and Europeans, too; or at any rate not
barefooted felaheen or sandalled Arabs. Well, I suppose they have a
perfect right to come here, as much as we have--perhaps more if they
have fixed up their abode in this desirable suburban residence."

"There's the camel," said the Sub, indicating the humped animal
which, hobbled in characteristic Arab fashion, was standing in the
shade of a partly shattered wall. "No signs of the owners. We'll have
to be careful, old man. We don't want to intrude upon these fellows
if they are engaged in their devotions. If they are Mohammedans they
are bound to be pretty sensitive as far as the presence of
unbelievers is concerned."

For the last hundred yards the two chums maintained silence. Their
footfalls made no sound on the soft sand. At the lofty entrance they
paused. The dense shadows, in contrast to the powerful slanting rays
of the sun, made it impossible to see what was within the place until
their eyes grew accustomed to the violent transition from the glare
to a deep gloom.

Suddenly Webb grasped his companion's arm.

"Hist!" he whispered.

His trained ear had caught the faint cackle of a wireless apparatus.

For some moments the chums stood motionless. The sounds came from an
apartment either built in the thick walls or else in a raised
outbuilding. Presently the message ended, and the two men began to
engage in conversation, speaking in Arabic--a language of which both
Webb and Osborne knew but a few words, acquired during their brief
stay in Port Said and Alexandria.

Both officers drew their revolvers. Clearly this was a time for
action. The ruins were not a Government telegraphic post. Since the
Western Egyptian Frontier campaign that ended in the defeat of the
somewhat formidable Senussi rising, a quantity of wireless gear,
known to have been smuggled ashore with other warlike stores for the
use of the enemy, had been unaccounted for. So thorough had been the
methods adopted by the Turks and their German taskmasters, that even
the nomad Arabs of the Tripolitan hinterland had been instructed in
the use of the most modern form of telegraphy.

When sufficiently accustomed to the gloom, Osborne advanced
cautiously, Webb following at his heels. Guided by the sounds of
conversation they crossed the floor, where the dust of years lay
ankle-deep, until they came to a flight of stone steps, flanked on
either side by gigantic stone images representing two grotesque
Egyptian divinities, seated with their hands resting on their knees
and their orbless eyes staring blankly. So smooth were the carvings
that they might have been chiselled yesterday, instead of several
centuries before the Christian era.

Up the flight of stairs the two officers crept. The illicit
operators, still engaged in an animated conversation, were unaware of
their presence until with a bound Osborne entered a small room on a
level with the roof of the portico, and covered them with his
revolver.

Even as he did so he recognized one of the men as Georgeos Hymettus,
the Greek spy, who in the disguise of Alfonzo y Guzman Perez had
furnished the U-boat officers with information concerning the
movements of shipping at Gibraltar, and who had so nearly been laid
by the heels by Osborne and Webb during their adventurous trip to
Algeciras.

"The world is small, my festive Hymettus," observed Osborne suavely.
"Now, kindly put your hands up and give no trouble."



CHAPTER XXI

"A Proper Lash Up"


FINDING himself covered by Webb's pistol, the Greek's companion
promptly extended both arms above his head as a token of surrender.

The fellow was attired in characteristic Bedouin dress. His face was
of a deep olivine, his features being partly concealed by a heavy
black beard and by the front of his burnous. In the folds of his
voluminous sash were thrust an automatic pistol, and a couple of
knives of Arab manufacture protected by sheaths of undressed leather.

"Take charge of that gentleman's armoury, old man," said Osborne. "It
seems most discourteous to deprive such a meek and mild old buffer of
his playthings, but needs must!"

Webb complied, dexterously removing the knives; but, just as he was
taking possession of the pistol, the latter slipped from his grasp
and clattered on the stone floor. With a deafening report one of the
cartridges exploded.

In a trice the wily Hymettus saw his chance and took it. With a swift
sideward movement he interposed the body of the Arab between himself
and the muzzle of Osborne's revolver; then turning, he dashed for a
narrow doorway with the Lieutenant in pursuit.

"About turn; off you go!" ordered Webb, unconsciously addressing his
prisoner in English. "No hanky-panky tricks, mind, or I'll shoot!"

He pointed to the opening through which the Greek and Osborne had
vanished. The Arab obeyed, still keeping his hands above his head.

The doorway opened upon the flat roof of the portico. Without was an
expanse of stone slabs, roughly fifty feet by ten. In front and on
one side a parapet of about thirty inches in height afforded
protection from a sheer drop of thirty feet to the ground. On the
remaining side no such wall existed, owing to the partial collapse of
the masonry. Where the portico had fallen, the face of the building
was pitted with holes, caused by the wrenching away of the dovetailed
stones. Each aperture formed a convenient foothold, and from this
hazardous path to safety Hymettus ran. Could he but make his
precarious way along the sheer face of the wall, comparative safety
awaited him, for beyond was a place where one man could defy a
hundred unless his assailants were provided with ladders.

But at the brink of the riven masonry the Greek paused irresolute.
The sheer drop had more terrors than the weapon of his pursuer.
Before he could finally make up his mind, Osborne, laying aside his
revolver, gripped him by the neck and laid him on his back.

Hymettus made no attempt at resistance, but the Lieutenant, mindful
of the previous encounter on Spanish territory, was taking no further
chances. With a sailor's deftness he bound the spy's arms behind his
back, and secured his ankles with a length of leather belt that
enabled the prisoner to make a stride of a bare eighteen inches.

"That's all serene," remarked Osborne with a tone of relief, as he
regained his feet and took possession of his revolver once more.
"Now, old man, we've a good ten miles to tramp, with two villainous
rascals for company."

"How about the camel?" enquired Webb.

"I haven't overlooked the fact," rejoined the Lieutenant. "It's not
much use to us as a mode of conveyance. After our meteor-like flight
from the backs of those donkeys, I don't fancy an aerial perch on a
ship of the desert. Humanitarian reasons won't permit us to leave the
beast to die of starvation in this sand-blown spot. We'll make the
Greek ride, and that white-livered Arab will conduct the brute. If
they attempt to sheer off--well, that's where our revolvers will come
in handy."

"And the wireless gear?" asked the Sub.

"Let it stop as evidence. The Royal Engineers will see to that
to-morrow. Now, best foot for'ard: it's a long, long way to
Alexandria."

To his unbounded relief Osborne convoyed the prisoners into the open.
He was unfeignedly glad to get clear of the frowning walls of the
ruined building, with its labyrinth of side passages and weird nooks
and crannies.

"Now then, don't lag," said Webb sharply, addressing the Arab, who
seemed loath to keep up with his fellow-prisoner.

The man shot a curious glance at his captor and stood stock-still.

"No, you don't," continued Webb, giving the prisoner a sturdy shove.
"We mean business, my bearded friend. Thank goodness I have a pistol
in my hand and you haven't. I wouldn't trust you with a halfpenny."

Thus urged, the Arab resumed his pace, until they came to the spot
where the camel was hobbled.

"I suppose the Greek hasn't any weapons concealed about him?"
enquired Webb.

"Trust me for that," was the Lieutenant's reply. "I passed my hands
over his carcass right enough. Now then, Ben Hazi Notion, or whatever
your tally happens to be, bear a hand and hoist this rascal up."

The Arab spoke a few words to the camel. The animal immediately
crouched on the ground.

"I say, this condemned nigger understands English," declared Osborne.
"He knew exactly what I said. Now, how far is it to Alexandria?" he
asked, addressing the Bedouin.

But the latter's face wore a mask of imperturbability. When the
question was repeated, he rolled his eyes and raised his hands with a
gesture of utter incomprehensibility.

"He must have guessed what I meant," commented Osborne as he signed
to the Arab to make the camel regain its feet.

Progress was tediously slow. The camel would not be hurried, while
the two Englishmen found that the sand was growing more and more
fatiguing to their feet as mile after mile was covered in the still
hot sunshine.

The Arab trudged stolidly, holding the gaily coloured head-rope of
the ship of the desert. At intervals the Greek would give furtive
glances around the horizon, as if he expected help to be forthcoming
from some quarter of the trackless desert.

By the time the weary officers reached the outskirts of the
cotton-fields the sun was low in the west, and the lengthening
shadows betokened the fact that soon it would be night. A few of the
felaheen peasants, still toiling, paused in their work to contemplate
the unusual spectacle of a couple of Englishmen trudging at the tail
end of a camel, while a Greek--there were many such in Alexandria
--rode, seemingly in indolent ease, upon the animal's back.

Ahead, silhouetted against the sky, could be discerned the lofty
lighthouse of Ras - el - Tin, dominating the slender minarets, and
the masts of the shipping in the harbour. Just then the still air was
rent by the shrill blast of a bugle. The sound was taken up in other
parts of the town, while, as if to emphasize the contrast,'twixt East
and West, the voices of the muezzins calling the Faithful to prayer
could be faintly distinguished amidst the warlike notes of the
bugles.


[Illustration: "PROGRESS WAS TEDIOUSLY SLOW"]


"I won't be sorry to have a jolly good meal and a rest," remarked
Osborne. "We'll have to be sharp if we are to get in before sunset.
With two slippery customers like these, our work will be cut out to
prevent them giving us the slip."

"It's only that Greek rascal that worries me," said Webb. "The other
fellow doesn't seem to have the courage of a worm, the sagacity of a
bat, or the energy of a snail. Hallo, here's a squad of 'Gippy
troops!"

Marching at the quick step affected by the native African troops, the
white-clad soldiers drew near, all but the leading files enveloped in
clouds of dust. At their head were two British officers in white
tropical uniforms, and wearing the scarlet tarboosh of the Egyptian
Government service.

Seeing the two naval men approach with their bound prisoners, the
officer in command ordered the troops to halt.

"Hallo, what game has he been up to?" enquired the Major, indicating
the secured Hymettus. "Trying to rob you, and caught a Tartar, eh?"

Briefly Osborne explained the situation, adding that he would be
greatly obliged if the prisoners could be handed over to the custody
of the military until the Lieutenant could report the facts to the
Senior Naval Officer.

"Certainly," was the reply. "I'll furnish a subaltern's guard. Mr.
Fordyce!"

"Sir!" replied an alert, bronzed Second-lieutenant.

"These two men are to be marched back under escort. See that they are
placed in the guard-room. You will be responsible for their safe
custody."

At an order from a tall, smiling-faced, native sergeant, who appeared
to take a delight in having a rascally Greek in his charge, Georgeos
Hymettus descended from his lofty perch. Surrounded by men with fixed
bayonets he was hurried off to a distance of fifty yards, while other
soldiers took up their position around the Arab prisoner.

The latter, now that his companion in misfortune was out of ear-shot,
addressed a few rapid sentences in Arabic to the British Major. Then,
to Osborne's and Webb's astonishment, the officer drew them aside, at
the same time halting the escort and signing to the Arab to follow.

"The courage of a worm, the sagacity of a bat, the energy of a snail,
by Jove! Gentlemen, I begin to feel particularly cheap."

Osborne stood stock-still, dumb with amazement. Webb, hardly able to
realize the situation, looked at the speaker with ill-disguised
astonishment. The utter surprise of being reminded of his own words,
by a man who appeared to be a genuine Bedouin, literally took the
wind out of his sails.

"Thanks for a very pleasant afternoon!" continued the disguised
prisoner. "It is indeed most unfortunate that your misplaced zeal
prompted you to raid friend Georgeos's secret wireless station. I've
been on his track for weeks. I may as well introduce myself as Major
Ferriter, of the Intelligence Staff. If necessary, my friend Major
Scott here will guarantee my _bona fides_."

"For weeks?" echoed Osborne. "Then why didn't you nab the spy before?
He must have been doing tons of mischief."

"Not so much as you have done by chipping in," replied Major
Ferriter. "Unwittingly, of course, but none the less unfortunate. I
assume that what I tell you will be treated in strict confidence. For
nearly two months the authorities have been aware of the Greek spy's
activities. He was shadowed from Barcelona to Athens, and thence to
Port Said. I was instructed to keep in touch with him, and as luck
would have it I succeeded. In this disguise I completely hoodwinked
him; lived with him; assisted him at his work of espionage--only I
took care to transmit the messages sent by wireless from the German
U-boats to the Eastern Mediterranean myself. It paid the Government
handsomely to let the fellow pursue his activities. It enabled us to
account for nearly a dozen hostile submarines, and now you've put the
hat on it all."

"Couldn't you arrange to escape with the spy?" enquired Osborne,
almost panic-stricken at the result of his unintentional blunder.

"Might," replied Major Ferriter. "Only Hymettus might smell a rat and
slip away to some more congenial atmosphere. I must think it over.
Now, Scott, I think you had better hand me over to the tender mercies
of your men. I must keep up the disguise a little longer, but for
goodness' sake, old man, see that I am smuggled out as soon as it is
safe to do so. After weeks of existence upon dates, pilau, and goats'
milk, I pine for the flesh-pots of civilization."

Osborne and his chum waited until the supposed Bedouin prisoner was
marched off under escort; then, bidding the infantry Major farewell,
they set off in the gathering darkness, to their quarters.

For some minutes they spoke not a word; but when at length the
Lieutenant broke the silence, his remark was brief, forcible, and to
the point:

"My word, old bird; what a proper lash up!"



CHAPTER XXII

The Fouled Propellers


FOR the next few days the chums heard nothing more of the spy and his
disguised tracker, nor did they deem it wise to make enquiries. It
was not until the end of the week that news circulated rapidly
through the native quarter to the effect that a Greek and an Arab,
arrested by order of the Kafir authorities, had broken out of their
place of detention. Europeans "not in the know" heard the same story.
Vaguely they wondered how such an escape could be effected, in the
face of the strict measures taken for the safe custody of malefactors
and criminals. And when Osborne and Webb were told of the incident
they glanced at each other in a way that denoted that they were not
at all surprised.

"We'll hear more about Georgeos Hymettus," declared Webb.

One morning orders were received for the surviving members of the
ill-fated _Portchester Castle's_ ship's company to hold themselves in
readiness for embarkation on the transport _Sinai_, which was about
to sail for Malta.

Dacres and Major Fane had already bidden farewell to their former
companions in peril. They had left a few days after the _Paradox_
arrived at Port Said--the former for England, the Major, with his
leave cancelled at his own request, to resume duty with a Soudanese
battalion somewhere in the vicinity of Khartoum.

"Looks like getting into harness again," remarked the Sub on hearing
the news. "Well, I, for one, am not sorry. Things are a bit slow out
here, in spite of our little encounter with the spy. And I'm afraid
we didn't shine over that."

"A common failing with fellows who take on the amateur-detective
business," commented Osborne, who was never reticent in owning up to
the errors for which he was responsible. "However, that's over and
done with," he added cheerfully. "A little bird whispered to me that
we're to be sent to the Grecian Archipelago. From all accounts
there's going to be trouble with the so-called Royalist section of
the Greek nation. The rotten way in which these fellows are carrying
on is enough to make any self-respecting Greek of ancient history
literally squirm in his grave. There's only one thing, in my opinion,
that prevents Tino's army from marching northwards from Athens, and
taking the Allied forces at Salonika in the rear."

"And what's that?" enquired Webb.

"The Navy--the British and French fleets," replied the Lieutenant.
"With Athens and Corinth under the guns of the fleet, and a stern
reminder that 'He who is not for us is against us', the
double-dealing Tino will have to tread warily."

Early on the following day the depleted ship's company of the
_Portchester Castle_ boarded the vessel that was to take them to
Malta. Under her quarter-deck awnings Osborne and Webb were pacing up
and down, looking, without any qualms of regret, at the sun-baked
town and port of Alexandria.

At that moment a small coasting steamer, flying the Greek mercantile
ensign, fussily slipped from the quay-side and steamed seawards.

"She's bound for Crete with stores for the Venezelists," remarked
Osborne. "I saw her departure mentioned in yesterday's orders."

The Lieutenant was right, up to a certain point. Had he known exactly
the nature of the vessel's cargo, he might have evinced far greater
interest in her; for, stowed away in the dark and ill-ventilated
fore-hold, was the spy Hymettus.

On his escape from prison--a feat rendered comparatively easy by the
connivance of the authorities--he decided that the wireless business
was far too risky--at least for the present. He had also developed a
sense of distrust against his supposed Arab accomplice,
notwithstanding the active aid given him by the latter in shaking off
the bonds of captivity. He had, therefore, succeeded in giving Major
Ferriter the slip, and, by his intimate knowledge of the native
quarter of Alexandria, had been able to secrete himself until
arrangements were made for him to stow himself away on board the
Greek tramp.

The _Sinai's_ run from Alexandria to Valetta was brief and
uneventful. There was not even a false alarm of the appearance of a
U-boat's periscopes. For the present, at least, German submarines had
been effectually "warned off" the Egyptian coast; yet, as there was
likely to be a fresh outburst on the part of these modern pirates,
the authorities were strenuous in their efforts to anticipate the
next display of maritime frightfulness.

"By Jove, what luck!" ejaculated Osborne soon after the _Sinai_ had
moored to a buoy in the Grand Harbour. "I've got a command, Webb, my
boy. They've given me 0916."

"Good luck, old man!" replied Webb heartily; then with a tinge of
regret: "I suppose it means that we won't see much of each other in
future."

"Wrong again, my festive," said Osborne. "You've been appointed to
the same packet."

"That's good," declared the Sub. "Any idea what she's like?"

"Yes; a Yankee-built, sixty-footer motor-patrol boat. You know the
type well enough: V-sectioned with flush deck, and a small
chart-house and steering platform for'ard. She's a flier, from all
accounts. Goes twenty-six knots with her three eight-cylindered
160-horse-power motors. She carries two officers and a crew of six."

"Sounds promising," remarked Webb. "Wonder where our cruising ground
will be?"

"In and around the Archipelago," replied the Lieutenant. "Part of our
duties is, I believe, to dance attendance upon the sea-plane carrier,
_Fleetwing_. She's a stranger to me, but I dare say we'll both make
her acquaintance before very long. Well, buck up, and get ashore.
Here's a tender coming alongside. We've quite enough to do before
Monday."

With the commissioning of 0916, Osborne for the first time assumed
full responsibility as the skipper of a command. Used, since his
entry into the Merchant Service, to the huge bulk of a steamer, he
might have found the quick, lively motion of the sixty-footer
decidedly awkward, had it not been for his previous experiences on
board an eight-ton yacht. Nevertheless the handling of a twenty-six
knotter, especially in a crowded harbour, required considerable skill
combined with a steady nerve.

"It's the first few hours that count," confided the Lieutenant to his
subordinate and chum Webb, as the patrol-boat prepared to cast off
for a preliminary run into the open water of the Mediterranean. "I
remember a chief officer in the Royal British and Pacific--a fellow
with forty years' experience. His Company gave him command of one of
their tugs--a sort of comfortable home billet to fill in the rest of
his time. Hang it if he didn't run full tilt into a caisson the very
first trip, battered the face of the caisson like an old tin can, and
buckled the bows of the tug till they resembled a concertina! That
little bust-up cost the Company a cool ten thousand pounds."

Fully equipped with stores, provisions, and munitions, and carrying
six hundred gallons of petrol, No. 0916 stole cautiously towards the
mouth of the harbour. Not until St. Elmo Point was broad on the port
quarter did Osborne give the order for full speed ahead.

With a jerk the powerfully engined craft leapt forward. It gave Webb
the sensation of being on a lift that had been started too suddenly.
With the spray flying in silvery cascades on either side of her
knife-like bow, the patrol-boat cut through the water at a dizzy
speed, yet docile to the touch of the helmsman's hand.

Suddenly a nerve-racking jar shook the frail craft. Her starboard
propeller was still running normally, tending to thrust her head to
port, while the port propeller, having struck some wreckage, had been
"brought up", stopping the motor almost dead.

"Fouled something, by Jove!" ejaculated Osborne. "Be sharp there,
Wilkins. See if there's anything round the blades. Hope to goodness
they're not 'stripped'."

"No fear of that, sir," replied the man addressed. "The blades have
held, or the motor would have started to race. I see it, sir," he
added, as he leant over the broad transome and peered into the limpid
water. "It's a length of rotten grass rope round the boss as tight as
a chunk of metal."

The Lieutenant also surveyed the cause of the mishap. Round and round
the port propeller, and "laid" as evenly as rope round a drum, was a
length of two-inch grass line. About twenty feet of this still
trailed astern, terminating in a piece of painted wood.

"Some boat's old mooring broken adrift," commented Osborne. "Horrible
nuisance, to say the least of it."

"We can run back with the starboard engine, and get the dockyard
divers to clear it," observed Webb. "Fortunately we're not so very
far off."

"Beastly ignominious," objected the Lieutenant. "Crawling home like a
lame duck on one's trial trip. It seems to me that if we go easy
astern, both engines, the reverse action will unwind the rope."

"But----" began Webb.

"I'll try it, at all events," decided Osborne, without waiting to
hear his chum's objection. "Easy astern!"

With the motors well throttled down and the two clutches slipped in
as easily as possible, No. 0916 gathered sternway; but, before the
propeller had made fifty revolutions, the starboard engine was
stopped by a steady yet irresistible strain. Ten seconds later the
port propeller, momentarily freed from the rope, fouled the
obstruction and wound it round the shaft in the opposite direction.

Osborne had omitted to take into account the trailing length of rope,
and now the patrol-boat was helpless, drifting at the mercy of the
winds.

Attempts to turn the heavy fly-wheels round by hand proved
unavailing, so firmly were the propeller shafts held in the vice-like
grip.

"I'll strip and dive in, sir," volunteered the intrepid Wilkins.
"Maybe I'll be able to tease the ends clear."

"No, I think not, Wilkins," replied the youthful skipper, giving a
glance at the fairly lifting waves. "You'll get your head stove in if
you attempt to try conclusions with her quarter. It's humiliating,
but we'll have to send out a wireless for assistance."

The patrol-boat was now drifting broadside on towards the shore, the
nearest points of which were distant about a mile and a half. Between
these, a deep bay that contracted with comparative regularity could
be discerned. To the nor'west the greater part of the island of Gozo
opened clear of the smaller island of Comino.

A cast with the lead gave fifteen fathoms. For the present there was
no need to anchor. With safety the disabled craft could approach
until the depth shoaled to five fathoms.

"No immediate danger so long as the ground tackle holds," declared
Osborne. "There's a fair amount of wind, and a decent sea, but
they'll send out a vessel to tow us back in less than an hour, I
fancy."

Webb, too, thanked his lucky stars that the weather conditions were
moderate. He found himself picturing a huge unwieldy vessel, with her
gaping seams held together with ropes, drifting helplessly towards
that self-same shore, notwithstanding the ineffectual drag of four
anchors cast from the stern. For No. 0916 was off the mouth of St.
Paul's Bay, the reputed scene of the Apostle's shipwreck upon the
"island which is called Melita".

Webb's reveries were interrupted by the sight of a huge grey shape
coming into view round a projecting cliff. The shape gradually
resolved itself into a large transport, outward bound for the Near
East, and making for Valetta _en route_.

"Pretty rotten pickle!" ejaculated Osborne savagely. "Here we are as
helpless as a log, and in full view of those fellows."

"I don't suppose they'll notice us," said Webb. "We're lying close
in. I say," he added, laying down his position-finder, "we're
drifting pretty rapidly; isn't it about time we dropped the hook?"

"Yes," assented the Lieutenant. "We'll anchor at once. All clear
for'ard?"

"All clear, sir."

With a plash the mass of metal disappeared beneath the waves, taking
with it nearly forty fathoms of chain before Osborne gave the order
to check the cable. No. 0916, no longer drifting broadside to wind
and waves, rode jerkily at the end of the length of chain.

By this time the transport was in full view at a distance of
one-and-a-half sea miles, and was slowing down in order to prevent
damage to the shore by her bow wave.

"Periscopes on the port bow, sir!" shouted one of the patrol-boat's
crew, indicating with his outstretched arm a couple of objects that
looked like a pair of short sticks, at a distance of less than a
hundred yards.

Osborne realized the situation in the twinkling of an eye. The
U-boat, for such she undoubtedly was, had been lying in wait for
passing vessels worthy of her attention. It was a piece of the
greatest audacity on her part to attempt to operate within a mile of
the island of Malta; but, hearing nothing of the nature of a
propeller churning the water in her immediate vicinity, she had come
to the conclusion that it was safe to display the tips of her
periscopes. And now, within easy torpedo range, was a large vessel
packed with troops and munitions.

Osborne gave the word to open fire. In spite of the "lively"
platform, the gun-layer of the for'ard quick-firer was equal to the
occasion. In a trice a gleaming cylinder disappeared into the open
breech-block of the gun. The metallic clang, denoting that the
breech-block had been closed, had hardly sounded when the weapon
barked.

The eyes of all on the patrol-boat were fixed on the target--the two
pole-like periscopes that were now almost in line as the submerged
boat swung round so as to bring her torpedo-tubes to bear upon her
intended victim.

A column of water thrown fifty feet in the air hid the gun-layer's
objective from them. A cloud of smoke denoted, however, that the
shell had struck something offering more resistance than water,
while, in addition, there was no ricochet.

What happened to the U-boat was never known. Whether she sank like a
stone, or was able to crawl blindly for some sheltering lair,
remained a secret; but the transport passed on her way unmolested.

Three hours later, No. 0916 was safely berthed in Valetta harbour.
Here the fouled rope was removed and slight defects made good.

"After all," remarked 'Webb, "perhaps it was a jolly good thing that
we did get into that little jamboree. It was a fairly exciting trial
trip, eh, what?"



CHAPTER XXIII

Driven to Destruction


THREE days later, No. 0916, in company with three other patrol-boats
of similar type, left Malta for Grecian waters. They were not alone,
for acting as a parent ship was the sea-plane carrier _Fleetwing_.

Osborne would not have recognized in the _Fleetwing_ one of his old
vessels of the Royal British and Pacific Company. In pre-war days she
had been employed as an intermediate steamer between Vancouver and
Yokohama, calling at Honolulu each way. In those days she was known
as the _Flightaway_, and was painted black, with white deck-houses;
she sported two funnels and two masts, the former being colour-washed
in a vivid yellow hue.

In her new rôle the renamed vessel was completely disguised. A
uniform garb of "battleship grey" covered her from truck to
water-line. Her foremast had disappeared, while, from her bows to
well abaft the position of her funnels, a long, gradually sloping
platform had been built for the purpose of enabling the sea-planes to
ascend while the vessel was under way. Then, since the foremost
funnel interfered with the "clear run" of the launching platform, it
had been removed, and a pair of smaller ones erected in its place, so
that the _Fleetwing_ now had three funnels set on a triangular
base--two well abreast, the third and original one being on the
centre line.

As if these drastic conversions were not enough, the ship had been
(to use a nautical expression) "gutted" aft, and a huge tank built
in. The top of this was flush with the upper deck, while its base was
far below the water-line. In this receptacle were stowed four large
"kite" balloons, while adjacent was the necessary gear for inflating
and repairing their unwieldy yet necessary fabrics.

Practically the whole of the remaining portions of the main deck was
a vast repairing workshop. High-class machines of all sorts and
descriptions filled every available space, while a veritable forest
of belting gave a stranger the impression that he was in some large
factory ashore, rather than on board a converted liner. There were
also carpenters', plumbers', shipwrights' and painters' shops--in
short, every necessary for the care and maintenance of those delicate
yet supremely important adjuncts to a modern navy--the sea-planes.

Had it been considered desirable, the patrol-boats could have been
slung on board the parent ship; but, as the weather was fine and the
sea comparatively smooth, No. 0916 and her consorts were to proceed
under their own power in order to give their crews an opportunity of
manoeuvring in company.

Somewhere to the south'ard of Cape Matapan, the _Fleetwing_ received
wireless information that a large German submarine had been
particularly active in these waters, and, while expressing the
advisability of extreme vigilance, the authorities ordered that steps
should be taken to capture or destroy the enemy.

Towards the position in which the U-boat was last reported seen, the
patrol-boats sped, keeping a far-flung formation extending over a
front of three miles. A mile astern came the _Fleetwing_, while
overhead flew a couple of sea-planes of the most recent type.

They were tri-planes with a huge wing-spread of over two hundred
feet, the planes being in adjustable sections to ensure compact
storage and rapid assemblage. Power was supplemented by means of six
200-horse-power motors, coupled in twin units and driving three
15-feet propellers. While taxi-ing on the surface a water-propeller
was provided, giving the sea-plane a speed of fifteen knots; while
when in flight her speed could be altered at will, ranging from a
minimum of 40 to the terrific rate of 180 miles per hour.

Each of the sea-planes carried a crew of ten men, and was armed with
a 3-inch non-recoil quick-firer; while as a specialized means of
offence against submarines she carried a torpedo-tube discharging a
3-inch projectile.

The torpedo was fired by the ignition of a small charge of petrol
gas, and could be aimed with considerable accuracy. At the head of
the weapon was a small fan, the use of which was to prevent premature
explosion of the charge on impact with the surface of the water. The
depth at which the torpedo exploded could be regulated by adjusting
the fan to a certain position on its threaded axis.

The sea-planes had been up for less than ten minutes when a wireless
was received reporting the position of the quarry. The U-boat was
"sounding" at a depth of twelve fathoms--too deep for the aerial
torpedoes to reach with accuracy. Her grey hull could be discerned by
the airmen with tolerable ease as she lay upon the sandy bottom.

It was now the _Fleetwing's_ task to get the submarine to bestir
herself. The German captain would be too wily to attempt to rise to
the surface with the churning of four high-speed propellers sounding
over his head. So the patrol-boats eased down while the sea-plane
carrier forged ahead, thrashing the water with her twin screws, the
sea-planes describing vast circles over the spot where the U-boat
lay.

Presently another message was received that the submarine was moving.
She was about to take stock of the apparently solitary vessel. If she
did rise to the surface the patrol-boats could almost with certainty
destroy her, either by gun-fire or by ram. On the other hand, if she
exposed the tips of her periscopes only, such tactics would not be
likely to result in definite destruction.

Breathlessly Osborne and Webb awaited developments, ready at the
first warning to urge No. 0916 at full speed towards the enemy.

Still the sea-planes circled. It was the only means of keeping in
touch with their prey, for the former were travelling through the air
at fifty miles an hour, compared with the latter's maximum submerged
speed of fifteen knots. Trained downwards, and only a few degrees
from the perpendicular, were the grey-painted torpedo-tubes of each
tri-plane.

Presently the upward movement of the U-boat ceased. Her periscopes
rippled the surface. Something glistening shot from the sea-plane
nearest overhead. Like a silvery dart the object plunged seawards,
struck the water with hardly a splash, and disappeared.

Almost simultaneously a column of foam was hurled skywards, to the
accompaniment of a muffled detonation.

"Missed!" was the laconic wireless message from the air-craft that
had discharged the missile. "She's heading nor'east."

Two more aerial torpedoes were fired, with no better result than to
send the U-boat scurrying off at a depth of ten fathoms. It was now
the patrol-boats' turn to take up the pursuit.

Directed by the aerial pilots the four swift craft converged. Then
began a sort of marine waltz, the lively vessels dodging to and fro,
circling and crossing each other's bows in a most daring fashion
--all with the idea of confusing the fugitive U-boat.

In this they succeeded. With their nerves shaken by the narrow escape
from the explosions of the torpedoes, and in the knowledge that they
were hunted by an unknown number of the dreaded patrol-boats, the
Huns were literally in a panic. Their sole idea was to keep at a safe
depth and steal away from their pursuers, trusting that the latter
would be unable to discern their presence by the "surface wake" and
the trail of air-bubbles.

But the U-boat had reckoned without the sea-planes. Remorselessly,
the wireless reports from the observers kept the patrol-boats in
close touch with their prey. Ceaselessly, the churning of the small
yet powerful propellers betokened the grim fact that for once the
modern pirate could not shake off pursuit.

Suddenly a huge air-bubble rose to the surface, agitating the water
in ever-widening circles. No. 0916, fairly in the thick of the
maelstrom, was swept from fo'c'sle to taffrail. Then, almost as
quickly as it had risen, the sea calmed down under the influence of a
rapidly-spreading patch of iridescent oil.

"How about it?" wirelessed No. 0916.

"Get out of the light and we'll see," was the sea-plane's laconic
reply. Then a minute later: "She's properly strafed."

In her blind dash for safety the U-boat had crashed, bows on, against
a rock that rose abruptly for ninety feet to within nine fathoms of
the surface. In spite of her strong construction the steel bows
collapsed like an egg-shell. An inrush of water under terrific
pressure followed, and yet another of the Kaiser's boasted submarines
had ceased to exist, save as a waterlogged wreck upon the bed of the
Mediterranean.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Chase of the Felucca


"STRANGE sail bearing N.N.E. seven miles: No. 0916 will proceed and
investigate." This was the reading of a signal hoisted on the
_Fleetwing_ within four hours of the destruction of the submarine.

The sea-plane carrier and her convoy had now entered the southern
limits of the AEgean Sea. Broad on the port quarter could be
discerned the rugged outlines of the Grecian peninsula, while ahead
were the distant Cyclades, a veritable jumble of small islands, most
of which are well-known names in ancient history, when Greece was
Greece--a resolute and hardy nation compared with which the modern
Greek nation is as clay in relation to steel.

It was now towards Milos, the nearmost of these islands, that a small
felucca-rigged craft was making. Had she held on her former course,
which was N.N.W., she might not have aroused the suspicions of the
_Fleetwing's_ officer of the watch; but on sighting the lofty hull of
the sea-plane carrier the felucca had promptly hauled to the wind.
That in itself was a strange manoeuvre, since the wind was in a
quarter that enabled her to have a leading breeze on her former
course.

"Let her rip!" ordered Osborne, addressing the motor
engineer-artificer. "We want to get this job over before dark, if
possible. I suppose," he added in an aside to his chum, "it's only
another wild-goose chase."

"We're generally lucky," rejoined Webb the optimist. "However, I
shouldn't think that yonder craft is likely to cause trouble. My
word, isn't she footing it!"

The last sentence referred to the patrol-boat, which was now cleaving
the tranquil waters at a knot above the contract speed. Her powerful
motors had been running sufficiently to enable them to be "tuned up"
to perfection. She was overhauling the felucca hand over fist.

Upon seeing the unwanted motor craft approach, the sailing vessel,
knowing that escape by flight was out of the question, fell off on
her former course, at the same time hoisting her colours. By the aid
of their binoculars Osborne and Webb made the simultaneous discovery
that the felucca was a Greek--or at any rate that was the nationality
she wished to assume for the present.

"By Jove, they're heaving something overboard!" declared the Sub. "I
distinctly saw splashes under her counter. Wonder if they are mines?"

"I'm sorry for those fellows if that is the case," said Osborne
grimly. "At any rate, if we don't follow in her wake we're safe
enough. Other questions dealing with the matter will be tackled
later."

Apparently the crew of the felucca were particularly anxious for the
objects they had thrown overboard to sink; for, finding that a couple
of almost waterlogged bales were floating astern, one of the men
leapt overboard and slashed furiously at them with a knife. Then, his
task accomplished, finding that he could not overtake the sailing
craft, he struck out for the distant shore.

"Think he'll do it?" enquired Webb. "It's a fearful long way."

"Yes, I do," replied Osborne. "These Levanters are splendid swimmers,
and the sea is particularly warm. He's good for ten miles, I should
say. However, on second thoughts, I think we'll pick him up, and then
devote our attentions to the felucca."

The swimmer, finding that the patrol-boat had altered helm and was
heading in his direction, took in the situation most philosophically.
Treading water he awaited the approach of his captors, and, grasping
a rope thrown to him, swarmed on board with the greatest agility.

"Me think you German ship," he explained nonchalantly.

As he stood dripping on the deck his face was towards the setting
sun. On the other hand, the two officers who were confronting him
were standing back to the dazzling light.

"Oh, indeed!" rejoined Osborne, signing to two of the crew to stand
by. "German ship? No, you won't get me to swallow that yarn, Georgeos
Hymettus."

At the sound of his name the Greek started violently, and made an
attempt to throw himself overboard. In this he nearly succeeded. For,
as he had divested himself of his clothing as far as the waist in
order to swim the better, his wet skin afforded little hold. After a
brief yet furious struggle he was secured and taken below.

By this time the felucca was less than two cables' lengths ahead. Her
crew must have observed the struggle on the patrol-boat's deck.
Without waiting to be hailed, they promptly lowered the huge lateen
sails and awaited their captor's approach.

"Now what's all this running-away business about?" enquired the
Lieutenant, addressing a gaudily dressed Greek who was evidently the
skipper. "Where are your papers? Where's your passenger list? I find
you had a passenger," he added significantly.

The master disappeared into a small deck-house abaft the mainmast.
Webb, revolver in hand, followed.

Meanwhile the two dozen ruffianly-looking fellows who formed the
felucca's crew--she carried an unusually large complement--had gone
for'ard, and were standing in a group around the primitive windlass.
Amidships were Osborne and two of the patrol-boat's crew. Two more
were standing on No. 0916's deck, fending her off with boat-hooks.
The remaining members of the crew were down below in the motor-room.

Suddenly the muffled report of a revolver shot rang out, and a moment
later Webb reappeared, holding the still smoking revolver, and with
his left hand clasped firmly against his mouth. He was gasping
heavily, while his eyes were twitching with pain. By his movements
his chum saw that he was incapable of seeing.

"This way, Tom!" shouted Osborne. He could not go to the aid of his
chum, for, with the report of the pistol shot, the rest of the crew
of the felucca made a concerted rush upon the handful of British.
Flourishing their knives and uttering wild yells, in the hope of
striking terror into the breasts of their numerically inferior
antagonists, they came tearing aft, headed by a tall,
broad-shouldered man brandishing an automatic pistol.

Osborne and his men stood their ground. But for the fact that Webb
had been temporarily rendered incapable, they would have retired to
the deck of the patrol-boat, sheered off, and made good use of their
quick-firers. Until the Sub's rescue was assured, his comrades had to
make good their front.

An excellent shot from Osborne's revolver brought the mate of the
felucca sprawling on his face. Three others of the crew were stopped
by the British fire, but even then the rush was maintained, two of
the Greeks making in the direction of the hapless Sub, who was
groping towards his comrades.

With a bound Osborne gained Webb's side, grasping his shoulder with
his left hand. At the same time he dropped one of the Sub's two
assailants, while the other, making no further attempt to close,
hurled his knife with deadly precision at the Lieutenant.

Stepping adroitly aside, Osborne missed the glittering blade by a
hair's-breadth. The missile, sinking a couple of inches into the
hardwood tiller, quivered like a twanged harp-string. Simultaneously
Webb's revolver dropped from his grasp.

To retreat, leaving the weapon for the use of the enemy, was to court
disaster. Since Osborne could not stoop to recover it without running
grave risks of being taken unawares, he kicked the revolver
overboard, and, still holding Webb's shoulder, dragged the
unresisting Sub to the side.

Here the two seamen were still holding their own, though hardly
pressed. One, bleeding from a clean cut in the left shoulder, had
already accounted for three of his assailants. His revolver being
empty, he had snatched at a knife that was sticking in the bulwarks.
His companion, using his weapon with deadly skill and precision, had
disabled four before the hammer clicked ineffectually upon the empty
chamber.

Grasped by the coxswain of the patrol-boat, Webb was hauled
unceremoniously on board his own craft. Now remained the task of the
rest of the boarding-party, to regain the deck of No. 0916 without
giving the felucca's men a chance of rushing them during the
retrograde movement.

At this critical juncture the bowman of the patrol-boat created a
diversion. Taking a turn with the bight of a rope in order to hold
the two vessels, the seaman sprang to the felucca's deck, brandishing
the gun-metal-tipped boat-hook. Under the formidable blows dealt by
the hefty bluejacket, the Greeks went down like ninepins. Knives were
as nought when opposed to the powerfully wielded pole of ash. Heads
were cracked like egg-shells, arms snapped like match-sticks, and
shin-bones broken like glass under the shower of blows. Even in his
work of self-defence Osborne could not help admiring the
business-like work of his stalwart coxswain.

The struggle was over. Osborne, well-nigh breathless with his
exertions, was compelled to lean against the wall of the deck-house.
Those of the seamen who had come out of the ordeal practically
unscathed, busied themselves by collecting the knives of the
vanquished crew of the felucca, and securing the treacherous Greeks
who had not been reduced to a state of unconsciousness or
helplessness. One by one the prisoners were passed below into the
recesses of the felucca's hold, the hatches were clapped on, and the
British white ensign hoisted in place of the mercantile flag of a
treacherous and effete nation.

By this time darkness was on the point of setting in. The short
period of twilight was giving place to intense darkness, for there
was no moon and the stars were obscured by opaque clouds. The
_Fleetwing_ and the rest of the patrol-boats were already lost to
sight.

Having recovered his breath, the Lieutenant went on board No. 0916.
He found Webb lying on deck, his head supported by a bundle of
sailcloth, and one of the bluejackets bathing his face with
sea-water.

"How goes it, old man?" enquired Osborne.

"Better now," replied 'Webb, striving somewhat ineffectually to force
a smile. "That brute suddenly threw something in my face--ammonia, I
fancy. Just had time to fire my revolver, and then I found myself
gasping for breath. Felt as if my throat was gripped by pincers, and
my eyes were completely bunged up. Yes, thanks, I can see, but it's
still mighty painful. How's the Greek skipper?"

"Dead as a bloomin' door-nail, sir," volunteered the seaman who was
assiduously attending to the injured Sub. "You plugged him properly,
sir. Served the swine right, I'll allow."

"S'pose so," admitted Webb. "I wonder what it was that those fellows
hove overboard?"

"I wonder," rejoined Osborne. "We may find out yet, especially as we
have our old pal Georgeos Hymettus laid by the heels. Well, old man,
excuse me; I've a lot to attend to."

And Osborne spoke without exaggeration. Here he was, with some of his
scanty crew disabled, with a prize on his hands, and out of touch
with his parent ship, while in addition it was black night with a
dangerous and badly charted shore under his lee. It was "up to him"
to extricate his command from the difficulties that beset her, and
with characteristic grit and determination Osborne set about his
task.



CHAPTER XXV

An Unknown Antagonist


LIEUTENANT OSBORNE'S first step was to take the captured felucca in
tow. Leaving one man on board to attend to the helm, he steered the
patrol-boat ahead, with a hawser made fast to the bitts of the prize.
A wireless message was then sent to the _Fleetwing_ announcing the
successful issue of the enterprise, and requesting further
instructions. After a brief interval the sea-plane carrier replied:

"Under urgent orders for Salonika. Take prize into Mudros and report
to Senior Naval Officer."

"Hallo, something in the wind," soliloquized Osborne. "Urgent orders
for Salonika. That looks like business. Meanwhile we're entirely on
our own, and confronted with the task of navigating the felucca into
Mudros. Well, I suppose there are worse jobs knocking around."

Yet the order involved work of no mean skill. Osborne was a stranger
to the waters in the vicinity of the Cyclades. Once clear of that
dangerous locality he was in well-known "ground", but there was the
always present danger of a hostile submarine. In ordinary conditions
the swift patrol-boat was more than a match for the U-boat, but,
hampered by her tow, No. 0916's superiority in speed and manoeuvring
was eliminated.


[Illustration: "THE GREEKS WENT DOWN LIKE NINEPINS"]


A glance at a chart, or even at a map of the AEgean Sea, will give
some idea of the intricate navigation that called for Osborne's skill
and courage. Dozens of islands lay athwart the direct course, reefs
abounded, while intricate currents traversed this part of the
tideless sea in directions that were hardly ever constant. A change
of wind might divert the current eight or ten degrees without having
any appreciable effect upon its velocity, while, in addition, the
islands were badly lighted, especially during this critical epoch in
the history of modern Greece.

Throughout the night Osborne remained on deck, standing in the low
wheel-house beside the helmsman. Fortunately the sea was calm and the
glass high, while there was little or no shipping about, which was as
well, since No. 0916 and her tow were without navigation lights.

When day broke, the Lieutenant snatched a few minutes' well-earned
rest, awaking to find Sub-lieutenant Webb touching him gently on the
shoulder.

"Yes, fit as ninepence," replied the Sub in answer to Osborne's
enquiry. "But that's not the reason why I roused you. There's a
strange-looking packet coming up astern. She's overhauling us pretty
rapidly."

Osborne leapt from his bunk, buckled on his belt, and rammed his cap
on his head the rite of "dressing" when on active service.

"Is she showing her colours?" he asked.

"Nothing," replied Webb. "We signalled her, but she took no notice."

Upon gaining the deck the Lieutenant found that the overtaking vessel
was a steamer of about five hundred tons. She looked like a yacht
with her schooner bows, raking masts, and white topsides. He
estimated her speed at about fourteen knots, and since she was
following almost in the wake of No. 0916 and her tow, it seemed
fairly evident that she was desirous of making a closer acquaintance
with the patrol-boat.

The unanswered signal, "What ship is that?" still fluttered from the
yard-arm of the patrol-boat's diminutive mast, and since the wind was
blowing steadily abeam there could be no doubt of the ability of the
stranger to read the flags.

That in itself was suspicious; yet what hostile nation was there that
would dare to send a vessel, other than a submarine, into waters
firmly held by the Allied fleet? And of the countries bordering the
Mediterranean Sea the only one strictly neutral was Spain. It was
very unlikely that a Spanish yacht would be cruising in these waters,
and especially so for her to stand in pursuit of a British armed
craft.

Osborne glanced at the felucca. The helmsman had just been relieved,
No. 0916 slowing down to enable the change of crew to be effected.

"All right there, Smith?" he hailed.

"All correct, sir," was the reply. "The lubbers under hatches are as
quiet as mice."

"Very good," continued the Lieutenant. "I may have to cast you
adrift. If so, can you manage to set sail on the foremast and steer
to the west'ard? We'll wireless for assistance and pick you up."

"Ay, ay, sir," was the imperturbable response.

The possibility of being adrift, single-handed, with a crew of
cut-throats in the hold, never troubled the bluejacket in the
slightest. He was a firm believer in the creed, "Duty is duty".

The patrol-boat was already cleared for action, but until Osborne was
certain of the intentions of the approaching vessel he refrained from
casting off the hawser. It was as well to mislead the stranger
concerning the speed of No. 0916.

Without warning, the pursuing craft opened fire with a couple of
light guns that were hitherto concealed behind hinged plating in the
bows. Yet, contrary to all the international rules of war, she still
made no attempt to display her colours.

The projectiles flew wide, one ricochetting a hundred yards on the
patrol-boat's starboard quarter, the other churning up a column of
spray a cable's length ahead; but there was now no doubt as to the
unknown vessel's intentions.

With the report of the guns a succession of shrieks emanated from the
patrol-boat's forepeak. The spy, Hymettus, almost frantic with
terror, was clamouring to be released.

"You're all right, my festive bird," chuckled Osborne as he gave the
signal for the hawser to be cast off. "A little of that won't hurt
you. I'll warrant you didn't study other people's feelings when you
helped the Huns to torpedo our merchant craft."

With her wireless sending out messages for aid, No. 0916, relieved of
her tow, shot ahead at full speed. Had Osborne wished, he could have
sought safety in flight; but such was not his intention. He meant to
keep in touch with the mysterious armed vessel, and, should her
shooting prove inferior, engage her at maximum range.

"She's using seven-pounders," declared Webb. "And jolly rotten
shooting! Sort of can't-hit-a-haystack-at-ten-yards, eh, what?"

Osborne nodded. All the same, he kept the patrol-boat on a zigzag
course in order to avoid running unnecessary risks. A chance shot,
scoring a direct hit, would simply pulverize the lightly built hull
of the patrol-boat.

"By Jove!" ejaculated Webb. "What are those fellows doing? They've
abandoned the pursuit."

The stranger was starboarding her helm. Still firing erratically, she
was standing in pursuit of the felucca. The latter, with her enormous
fore-yard hoisted half-way (in spite of the assistance of tackles,
Smith was unable to raise it another inch), was driving before the
steady breeze on a course almost at right angles to that of the
patrol-boat. Obviously the armed yacht, or whatever she was, had some
important reason for bearing down upon the insignificant felucca.

"Wireless from _Scragger_ and _Grunter_, sir," reported the operator.
"Both destroyers coming up at full speed."

"That's good," remarked Osborne, addressing his chum. "We'll nab her
right enough. But," he added, after a brief survey of the situation,
"why shouldn't we have a cut in? We'll risk it, by Jove we will!"

Round swung No. 0916, listing to an alarming angle under the abrupt
change of helm. Then, steadying, she tore off at full speed straight
for her unknown assailant.

Osborne had scored a decided advantage, for, approaching the
mysterious craft well on her quarter, his boat was immune from
hostile fire. The enemy vessel had quick-firers mounted for'ard only,
and could not be brought to bear abaft the beam. Unless she altered
helm she was powerless to reply to the hail of small yet highly
powerful shells from the patrol-boat.

It was turning the tables with a vengeance. A well-aimed projectile
demolished the enemy's bridge and chart-house. Another started a fire
for'ard--probably where the ammunition for the fo'c'sle guns was
placed on deck, for a series of explosions followed in quick
succession. Two shells, getting home 'twixt wind and water, gave the
stranger her _coup de grâce_, for listing heavily to port she at
length turned completely over. For a few minutes the whole of her
keel was exposed; then, with a muffled roar as the boilers exploded,
the hull slid beneath the waves.

In vain No. 0916 searched for survivors. There were none, so swift
had been the destruction of the unknown craft. A few lifebuoys were
recovered, but these gave no clue as to her identity.

"Destroyers bearing down, sir," reported one of the bluejackets,
while Osborne was directing the operation of taking the felucca in
tow once more. Pelting along at thirty-three knots, the _Scragger_
and _Grunter_ were quickly upon the scene.

"'What the dickens do you mean by wirelessing us?" enquired the
genial Lieutenant-commander of the _Scragger_ with feigned
indignation. "You've done the job yourself, and pretty neatly, I
should imagine."

"You might have been jolly useful," replied Osborne modestly. "It was
just luck, you see."

"Well, what was the vessel? Do you know her name and nationality?"

"There was nothing to show what she was," replied the skipper of No.
0916.

"Then I suppose it will remain a mystery," added the
Lieutenant-commander of the _Scragger_. "There are some queer cusses
of craft knocking around in these waters. Well, we'll take your prize
in tow, and you'll be able to keep in company, hands down. 'The
Phantom Buccaneer; or, Blown to Bits by a Pigmy!' Some sort of a
title for a novel, eh?"



CHAPTER XXVI

Reunited


"THAT'S all very well," confided Webb, when the destroyer had taken
charge of the captured felucca; "but I fancy we'll find out all about
our mystery craft. She seemed mighty keen on recapturing our prize.
Having, as she thought, driven us off, she paid us no further
attention until we pitched into her. It is just possible that her
object was to rescue our friend Georgeos Hymettus."

Upon No. 0916's arrival at Mudros, the skilful and dangerous spy was
conveyed ashore under a strong guard. Placed upon his trial he made a
full and abject confession of his misdeeds. Totally lacking in honour
and _esprit de corps_, he unhesitatingly denounced his accomplices.
As an intermediary between the German Government and the Greek king
he had caused immense harm to the Allies, apart from the damage done
with his assistance by the U-boats in Mediterranean waters. On his
escape from Alexandria, Hymettus had undertaken a secret mission on
behalf of the so-called Royalist faction of Greece. This was with the
idea of dealing a counter-stroke against the Venezelists, who held
most of the islands in the Archipelago. Should he fail to accomplish
the principal object, he was to furnish a list of names of Greeks
favourably inclined to the Allies. This document was found on him
when he was rescued from the sea. For safety's sake he had hidden it
in a fold of his skirt, for he was in the old national Greek dress
when on board the felucca, and unaccountably he had forgotten to
destroy the paper during the period of captivity in the patrol-boat's
forepeak.

During the court martial it also transpired that the vessel which had
attacked Osborne's command and had attempted the recapture of the
felucca was the _Pyrgos_, a steam yacht belonging to a strong
adherent to the Germanized royal family of Greece. It was not with
the sole desire of rescuing Hymettus that the daring attempt was
made. The spy would have been ruthlessly abandoned by his employers
but for the fact that he bore incriminating documents. Hence the
mysterious tactics of the _Pyrgos_ that had led to her destruction,
and to the failure to regain the written evidence of Tino's
treachery.

The confession of Georgeos Hymettus did not save his miserable life.
Condemned to be shot, the sentence was confirmed and duly carried
out--not with the idea of vengeance, but as a deterrent to other
cosmopolitan rogues who infest the shores of the Levant.

Two days later, Osborne and Webb were making their way from their
temporary shore quarters to the harbour, where they suddenly ran up
against Captain M'Bride.

"Well met, Osborne!" exclaimed the genial skipper. "We only arrived
last night, and I was on my way to look you up. About that dog of
yours. No, don't get excited. What a fellow you are! I have a letter
from my chum on the _Tarbox_, but nothin' doin'. I hear you've been
given a command. Well, hearty congratulations!"

"Yes, a patrol-boat," replied the Lieutenant. "She's quite a decent
little craft." He was too bashful to refer to his achievement. "We're
laid up for repairs. Strained the connecting-rods while we were
towing some old hooker. But about Laddie, sir?"

M'Bride gripped Osborne's arm and turned him in the direction of the
harbour.

"Come along," he said. "Let's see what we can do by making enquiries
of the destroyer flotilla. They've only just arrived from Salonika.
And you too, Mr. Webb. I believe you are almost as keen about the
animal as Osborne."

Under the lee of the stranded hull of an immense dummy battleship,
that was finishing a life of strenuous activity in the utilitarian
yet humble capacity of a breakwater, lay seven long, lean destroyers.
They had just completed a stretch of duty off the Grecian coast, and,
relieved by their "opposite numbers", were about to re-bunker,
replenish stores and provisions, and give their crews a well-earned
spell of rest.

Alongside the little stone jetty lay Captain M'Bride's gig. Into this
the three officers stepped. The men "gave way", and the boat sped
towards the nearmost destroyer.

"If that's not your dog it's his double, Osborne," remarked Captain
M'Bride, pointing to a large animal that was sedately pacing the
diminutive quarter-deck of the destroyer, at the heels of a couple of
officers.

"Laddie!" shouted Osborne, oblivious of the fact that he was a
subordinate officer in the presence of his former skipper.

"Hold on!" protested Captain M'Bride laughingly. "Do wait till we get
alongside. He'll be overboard if we don't."

The warning came too late. Osborne had made no mistake in recognizing
his long-lost pet, although he had erred in calling to him.

In a trice Laddie cleared the rail, plunged into the water, and swam
vigorously towards the gig.

Steering wide of the swimming animal, Captain M'Bride brought the
boat alongside the destroyer, and, literally racing up her short
accommodation-ladder, gained the shelter of the quarter-deck.

"Now haul the brute into the boat," he exclaimed. "If he soaks you to
the skin, that's your funeral, Osborne, not mine."

The possibility of being drenched never deterred Osborne. Grasping
the dog by the scruff of the neck, he hove him over the side into the
gig; and the next moment the interested onlookers could hardly
distinguish the Lieutenant from the dog, so violently excited were
both.

"Your dog, I presume?" explained the destroyer's
Lieutenant-commander. "Well, take the brute; he's been a regular
nuisance to us for the last two months. Of course, I only say this
because I don't mean it, Mr. Osborne. If it were of any use I'd offer
you a tenner on the spot."

It was quite evident from Laddie's appearance that he had been well
cared for. His coat, in spite of the wetting, was in excellent
condition. He had, in fact, been "adopted" by the ship's company,
and, although their regret at his departure was undoubted, officers
and men realized that Osborne had the higher claim.

"He was discovered trapped in a coal bunker of the captured
torpedo-boat," explained the Lieutenant-commander. "Goodness only
knows what he was doing there! We thought he was a Turkish dog, so we
didn't trouble to report the circumstance. We just adopted him. It
was only this morning that Captain M'Bride happened to mention the
matter; and, when we told him, he was off on shore like a young
hurricane."

"I'm awfully grateful," began Osborne.

"Yes, yes, and we are very, very modest. We don't like being
overwhelmed with thanks, my dear fellow. Well, s'long! If you have a
chance, bring Laddie on board while we're here. By the by, we called
him Mustapha, and we rather wondered why he didn't cotton to it."

"Shows your rotten ignorance, Sefton," said Captain M'Bride in mock
reproof. "A fellow who tries to give a Turkish name to a respectable,
thoroughbred English sheep-dog deserves to be cashiered. Come along,
Osborne; you hardly look dignified in those saturated togs."

"Come and have lunch with us, sir," said Osborne as the gig returned
to the quay. "We've fairly snug shore quarters, and I think there's
something going."

Captain M'Bride consented, and the three officers set off towards the
low, rambling stone building in which Osborne and Webb had taken up
their temporary abode.

Their way lay along a narrow and somewhat crowded street of the
native quarter. In places the three officers had to make their way in
single file, Captain M'Bride leading, Webb coming next, and Osborne
bringing up the rear, with Laddie sticking closely to his heels.

Suddenly Webb was jostled violently, his head coming in contact with
his former skipper's back. Turning, he found Osborne still staggering
from the effect of a blow, while Laddie was at the throat of a
ruffianly Greek whose outstretched hand was grasping a glittering
knife.



CHAPTER XXVII

A Daring Operation


IT all happened in such a brief space, and so unexpectedly, that
Captain M'Bride and Webb had but a hazy notion of what had taken
place.

A crowd had gathered quickly, but by the time Laddie was pulled off
the prostrate Greek the would-be assassin was dead.

"Narrow squeak, by Jove!" remarked Captain M'Bride. "The beggar tried
to knife you, Osborne. Hallo, what's happened to the dog?"

"What's happened to the dog?" repeated Osborne in a voice that hardly
sounded like his own. "Laddie, boy, what has the brute done to you?"

"He's broken his jaw," declared Webb.

"Yes, a double fracture," added a young officer in the uniform of the
Veterinary Corps. "You ought to have him shot, sir, and put him out
of his misery."

Poor Laddie seemed the least concerned of any of the group. His jaw
had dropped, and he presented a rather pathetic figure, with his
wide-open eyes fixed upon his master.

Osborne leant heavily upon his chum's shoulder. "Tom," he whispered.
"Don't have him shot if it can be possibly avoided. I--I----"

Then, with a stifled groan, he collapsed insensible at the feet of
the astonished and horrified Sub-lieutenant.

A stretcher was quickly upon the scene, and, attended by a couple of
surgeons, Osborne was removed to the Naval Sick Quarters. Examination
revealed the presence of a deep knife-thrust that had narrowly missed
the left lung.

"It's a case of revenge, without doubt," declared the senior medical
officer to Captain M'Bride. "Mr. Osborne was the principal witness
against the spy Hymettus, and one of the Greek's relatives or
associates has tried the vendetta touch. Dangerous? Yes; it's no use
mincing matters. Even if complications do not ensue--and these Greeks
are not at all particular as to the antiseptic condition of their
knives--Osborne will have a hard struggle for his life. One thing his
appearance tells me: that he is a clean-living fellow, and that's
greatly in his favour. By all means look in this evening, and I'll
tell you how he is progressing."

Throughout the rest of the day Osborne lay unconscious. Towards night
he began to speak, wildly and disjointedly. The nurse on duty noticed
that in the midst of his incoherence he seemed to be imploring
someone to save Laddie from being shot.

"That's his pet dog," said the principal medical officer when the
sister reported the circumstance. "I've heard all about it from
Captain M'Bride. He seemed devotedly attached to the animal, and, I
believe, if the dog has to be destroyed, it seems likely that Mr.
Osborne's chances will be greatly diminished. It's certainly
remarkable, but the fact remains. If, when he recovers consciousness,
he can be convinced that the dog is alive, half the battle will be
won."

That night the Lieutenant was in the throes of fever, battling,
although unconscious, with the grim Angel of Death.

  * * * * * *

Sub-lieutenant Webb sat in the verandah of his quarters, nervously
handling his heavy Service revolver. Not once, but many times, he had
borne himself manfully in tight corners. He had been cheek by jowl
with death without flinching. But now he was confronted with a
problem that taxed his resolution almost to the uttermost.

With Osborne's words ringing in his ears he sat and fumbled
irresolutely with the loaded weapon. Such a lot depended upon the
next few moments, when a veterinary officer would arrive and give his
verdict upon Laddie. If the dog's case were considered hopeless, Webb
would be the executioner of his chum's pet. Osborne, he knew, would
wish it. And yet, if anything could be done----

A shadow fell athwart the verandah.

Webb looked up enquiringly. A young fellow in military uniform stood
without.

"Hallo!" remarked the stranger with a slight drawl. "I say, put that
pistol away, you won't need it. You don't seem to remember me?"

"I can't," replied Webb.

"I was in that little affair when your chum was stabbed," continued
the army officer. "It was I who suggested the dog should be shot--but
I've changed my opinion. You and I, Mr. Webb, are going to save that
animal--and we start at once."

"You think he's a chance?" enquired Tom hopefully.

"It's a pure experiment on my part," continued the veterinary
officer. "I have hopes that it will succeed. It depends largely upon
the dog. Compound fracture of an animal's jaw is considered 'na poo'.
You see it takes eighteen days for the bones to set, and in that time
the brute's starved to death. How long are you here?"

"About a month, I expect, Mr.----?"

"Dixon, my name. A month? Plenty of time on your hands? Good. Same
here. We're having quite a slack after a most unholy rush. Hope it'll
last. If not, you'll have to continue the treatment single-handed."

"I say, it's awfully good of you," began Webb.

"Not at all," expostulated Dixon. "I saw how concerned Osborne was. A
fellow who can conceal his own injuries in his anxiety for his pet is
a pal worth having. He's some grit, has Osborne. Where's the dog?"

"In there," replied the Sub, indicating his private room.

The two men entered. Laddie was lying on a folded blanket, with his
injured jaw supported by his paw.

"He does not seem in much pain," remarked Webb.

"No, it's too early. The nervous system of a dumb animal is somewhat
different to ours. When mortification sets in--but we mustn't give
that a chance," said Dixon. "I've had a dental training, you know,
and that's why I think I'll be able to fix it up all right. The first
job is to take an impression. Steady his head, will you?"

Gently but firmly Dixon pressed a lump of soft wax against the inside
of Laddie's jaw. The dog submitted without protest. Instinctively he
realized that what was being done was for his good.

"Ripping fine impression!" declared the operator, regarding the wax
model with professional satisfaction. "That'll do for the present.
I'll nip off to the work-room and make a plate."

Before long, Dixon returned with a vulcanite plate that exactly
fitted the inside of the patient's jaw. Then the under side of the
dog's mouth was encased in plaster of Paris, the whole being secured
with india-rubber straps.

"That'll do," remarked the veterinary officer. "Feed him with
beef-tea and arrowroot. I'll be round early to-morrow."

The grave report concerning Osborne which reached Webb that night
urged the Sub to even greater efforts. He would willingly give up his
rest in order to save Laddie, knowing that Osborne's life depended
largely upon the success of the daring experiment.

Next morning Dixon looked grave. "H'm!" he remarked. "That plate's
cracked. Part of the dog's jaw has dropped an eighth of an inch."

"Is it a failure?" asked Webb anxiously.

"Never say die till you're dead," said the other. "Failure? Not if I
know it. I'll make something that won't crack."

He was as good as his word, for within an hour he was back with a
second plate, made, this time, out of hard dental alloy.

Once more Laddie's jaw was set, and from that time things went well.
Other vets., hearing of the weird operation, came to visit the canine
patient, and all expressed their opinion that Dixon would win through
with his case.

Unremittingly Webb attended to his part of the contract, keeping
Laddie well supplied with nourishing liquids. One morning--it was the
seventh day of Osborne's illness--Captain M'Bride came to Webb's
quarters.

"I've just seen the principal medical officer," he announced, hardly
able to conceal the state of his mind. "Osborne recovered
consciousness at four this morning. His first enquiry was whether
Laddie were alive; and, of course, he could be truthfully informed
that he was, and that the animal was well on the road to recovery.
Osborne is, I believe, now out of danger. We'll be able to see him in
another ten days, I hope, and bring Laddie restored to health as
tangible evidence. And, by the by, here's something of a personal
nature that will interest you--a copy of a part of to-day's Orders."

"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Webb, the wind completely shaken out of his
sails. "What's that for?"

"Bravery and discretion under circumstances of great peril," replied
Captain M'Bride. "You've won it fairly, Webb. I congratulate you."

For Webb, Sub-lieutenant no longer, had been specially promoted to
Lieutenant and awarded the D.S.O. for services in connection with the
rescue of the crew of the mined _Portchester Castle_.

"And Osborne--and Haynes?" asked Webb. "They did quite as much as I."

Captain M'Bride shrugged his shoulders.

"I cannot offer any opinion," he replied. "All I know is that they
were mentioned in my dispatch. Perhaps recognition in their case will
come later."

On the seventeenth day following Laddie's operation, the plate and
the plaster of Paris were removed. To everyone's satisfaction the
operation was perfectly successful.

"Good old boy!" exclaimed Webb. "Now we'll take you to your master."

Osborne was reported to be fit to receive visitors that afternoon. A
regular crowd of officers expressed their intention of paying
congratulatory calls, but at the suggestion of the surgeon the number
was limited to three--Captain M'Bride, and the two men who had been
chiefly instrumental in Laddie's recovery, Webb and Dixon.

"I think, in view of previous experience, it would be as well to walk
in the centre of the street," said Captain M'Bride, as the trio made
their way along the lane where Osborne had been treacherously struck
down.

"Rather, sir!" agreed Webb; then--"Oh, dash it all! Now what's going
to happen?"

For a large native cur, emerging from a squalid hovel, had suddenly
hurled himself upon the unsuspecting Laddie, and in an instant both
dogs were engaged in a terrific combat.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Osborne's Reward


THE three officers stood aghast. They could do little or nothing to
separate the struggling, heaving forms of the canine combatants. In
ordinary circumstances Laddie would have been more than a match for
the mongrel, but with a recently healed injury the sheep-dog was
considerably handicapped.

"He'll break that jaw again!" exclaimed Dixon, alarmed at the
prospect of three weeks' work being thrown away.

Webb said not a word. Anxiously he watched the struggle, his thoughts
dwelling upon the effect the impending calamity would have on his
wounded chum. Captain M'Bride at length made an effort to separate
the antagonists, but wisely desisted.

In less than a minute the fight was over and Laddie was the victor.
The mongrel, making for the most vulnerable part of his opponent--for
the thick under-coat of the sheep-dog forms an almost complete
protection--had seized him by the ear. With a quick wrench Laddie
shook himself clear, and gripped the cur by the neck. Then, like a
terrier shaking a rat, the sheep-dog banged his foe's head thrice
upon the hard ground. The aggressor had had more than enough.

Anxiously Dixon knelt down, and examined the jaw of the
dust-smothered and foam-flecked Laddie. Then he gave a whoop of
satisfaction.

"Sound as a bell!" he exclaimed. "My word! Some successful operation
that--eh, what?"

"We must give the brute a drink of water and a good brush down," said
Captain M'Bride. "By Jove! he's a tough customer. We can't take him
in that horrible state to see his master."

Adjournment for Laddie's refreshment and toilet followed. This done,
the "deputation", as Captain M'Bride insisted upon calling it,
proceeded on its delayed visit.

It had been the captain's intention to keep Laddie in the background
until Osborne had been given an opportunity of greeting his chum, and
had been introduced to the army officer who had been instrumental in
saving the dog's life. It was M'Bride's idea of "breaking news
gently". But Laddie, not having been consulted in the matter, thought
fit to do otherwise.

His instinct told him that his master was in the buildings. With a
run he bounded into Osborne's room, and in an ecstasy of delight
rubbed his head against the Lieutenant's hand.

"I don't know how to thank you enough," said Osborne, when Dixon had
been introduced and his part in the saving of Laddie's life related.

"No need," replied Dixon protestingly. "Quite an interesting
operation. Mere professional motives. Difficult case--rather out of
the ordinary, don't you know--so I tackled it, and it came off all
right."

"He's too modest, Osborne," declared Webb. "Some day, when he's not
here, I'll tell you what he did and the trouble he took."

"If you do," said Dixon with mock severity, "I'll let Osborne know
what _you_ were doing when first I called at your quarters."

"Hallo, what's this?" enquired the wounded Lieutenant, noticing the
additional gold ring on the sleeve of Webb's uniform. "Congrats.,
Tom; the heartiest!"

"And he has the D.S.O.," added Captain M'Bride.

"Goodness only knows what for!" said Webb. "I did no more than the
rest of us, and yet---- You ought to have had the distinction, old
man."

Osborne smiled.

"It's reward for having done your duty, old chap," he said. "I, too,
have mine--I have Laddie back again."

"Can you stand the receipt of serious news, Osborne?" asked Captain
M'Bride gravely.

Webb and Dixon looked at the skipper with ill-disguised astonishment.
The idea of breaking bad news to a sick man seemed, to say the least
of it, rather out of place.

"I'm afraid that, when this war's over," continued Captain M'Bride,
"you'll never go back to the old British and Pacific Company."

"Has the company smashed?" asked Osborne with evident concern.

"Smashed? Not it," replied the skipper. "Who ever heard of a shipping
concern going smash in these days of high freightage? No, Osborne,
it's not that. In recognition of your services the Admiralty have
transferred you from the R.N.R. to the Royal Navy--a signal honour."

"And that means," added Osborne, "that not for the period of the war
only, but after, I'll still be under the White Ensign."

"Ay," exclaimed Webb. "Under the White Ensign--you lucky bounder!"



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
_At the Villafield Press, Glasgow, Scotland_





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under the White Ensign - A Naval Story of the Great War" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home