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Chapter 17

  • As we stood there in the hush that followed the last bars of the song, To_ame towards us. Dorothy turned to him, starry eyed, and he looked quickly a_e. I nodded. Tom smiled widely, as he stretched out his hand.
  • " Nobody else in the world I'd as soon would have her, old man," he said, a_e nearly wrung my hand off. Then turning to his sister, " Well, little girl, so you've waked up at last to the real state of things." Dorothy clung to hi_rm.
  • " Tom, dear, I have, and I am very happy, but — " her voice broke. " It ma_nly be for tonight. Jim leaves at once for the fleet. He is going out t_atch the battle, and if the man sends out his waves to sink those ships, I a_fraid he'll sink every other boat anywhere near."
  • " This, my children," said Tom, with a flowing gesture, " is where your ol_ncle Thomas steps in as the benevolent fairy who saves the handsome lover o_he beautiful young princess."
  • Dorothy looked at him, her whole soul in her eyes. " Tom, don't joke. Have yo_ny way by which Jim can go and be safe ? I can't ask him to stay behind fo_e, when he ought to go."
  • " Dorothy," said Tom seriously, " I think Jim can go and be perfectly safe. _hought this whole business out, coming over in the boat. Not being completel_nd totally blind, I foresaw the inevitable occurrence which has inevitabl_ccurred, and I didn't want to lose Jim for my own sake, as well as m_ister's. I've had this on my mind ever since we left Portsmouth. I knew he'_hink he ought to go; so as soon as I reached Folkestone I had a little yach_uilt, a sloop with an auxiliary motor, which hasn't a nail in her. She's al_ood, rubber and canvas, except the engine, and if the engine disappear_here's a set of rubber valves that instantly closes the shaft hole. ' The man
  • ' can come right up alongside, stand up and throw waves at her, and she can'_ink. I had a wire from there to-night that she was done. They've been workin_n her twenty-four hours a day since I started her, and she's a mighty nic_ittle boat. The crew is engaged, and all Jim has to do is take possession."
  • " That ought to save the boat," said Dorothy, shaking her head sadly, " bu_ow can you save Jim from the fate of Dr. Heidenmuller, or of the men on th_attleships who died as he did ?"
  • " You never did have much opinion of my brains, Dorothy," said Tom. " Don'_ou suppose I thought of the effect those waves would have ? You know none o_he other ships in Portsmouth harbor were injured, when the German shi_isappeared. That proves that the man has some way of directing his waves. S_e may not hurt Jim at all. But I didn't take any chances on that. I've had _age of caema built over the cockpit, and everything is arranged so that th_oat can be run without going outside that cage."
  • Dorothy heaved a sigh of relief. She bent forward and kissed Tom in the ful_ace of the assembly.
  • " Tom, you're the finest, best man in the world, except one."
  • " That's it," said Tom with a grin. " Second place for old uncle Thomas now."
  • " But Tom," I said, " I follow the boat construction all right, but fo_eaven's sake what is this caema that I've heard so much about, and what's th_se of the cage ? "
  • " Oh, I forgot you might not understand that," said Tom. " You know, or yo_ught to know, it's in every school physics, that if you put a cage of _onductor like copper around any instrument which is easily affected by an_lectrical discharge, the electrical waves spread out, follow the surface o_he cage, and don't penetrate the interior. The instrument is wholl_naffected. Well, caema is the newest organic conductor. It acts the same wa_ith any radio-active waves. They spread out all over it, and can't ge_hrough. I've had a cage built of it to insulate you and everything els_hat's inside."
  • " Why wouldn't it work around the battleships then ?" I asked.
  • " Because the battleships are made of steel; and if you put a cage like tha_round them, they could hardly move. It only worked on your boat because it'_ood outside."
  • " Tom," I said gravely, " I imagine your forethought and knowledge will sav_y life."
  • " I know it will," said Tom cheerfully. " Now, what time do you leave ? "
  • " In fifty-five minutes, from Charing Cross, on the Channel Express," I said.
  • " We'll go with you to Folkestone," said Tom. " Of course," said Dorothy. _ew minutes at the Savoy, a brief ride down the lighted Strand in the midst o_he noisy crowds, a moment in the rush of the station, and a long ride in th_arkness, in a full compartment, brought us back to Folkestone.
  • All the way down I held Dorothy's hand in my own. All the way down her war_ody was close to mine. Despite all Tom's precautions, something might g_rong, but, if it ended to-night, we had this, and hope persisted that i_ould not end to-night, that, on the other hand, this was the beginning o_any happy years. The crew of three was on board the little yacht, whic_ooked no different in the dark from any other boat, though, as we cam_longside in the skiff, I could just see a cage of some dark substance abov_he cockpit. We entered through a latticed door toward the bow, and Tom fo_alf an hour examined every part of the boat with a lantern, the caema scree_ost vigilantly of all. Dorothy and I sat close together, watching the light_nd their reflection in the water. All about the pier was hurry and movement.
  • Three tugs, bearing correspondents, passed us as we lay at anchor, and half _ozen despatch boats and cutters. Tom came up to us at last.
  • " Jim, if you keep the door of the cage fastened, nothing can happen to you."
  • " Don't be foolhardy, though, for my sake," said Dorothy.
  • " Come, Dorothy, we must go. It's time for Jim to start," said Tom gently, an_ strained Dorothy to my heart and felt her wet cheek against mine.
  • " I'll be back safely, dear love," I whispered, as I helped her into th_aiting boat.
  • Tom wrung my hand as he left. " Jim, I'd go with you, but I think I ought t_tay with Dorothy."
  • " I know you ought," I replied, and they cast off.
  • As we started off into the blackness, Dorothy's clear " Till we meet again, dear," were the last words that reached me.
  • Our London office had been able to obtain pretty definite information a_egards the whereabouts of the fleet, and our little boat was a marvel o_wiftness. So it was with no great surprise that, as the morning dawned, I sa_ar ahead of me, off the port bow, the rear ships of the squadron going slowl_head, and shortly after came in sight of the whole fleet. My binocular_howed the greatest spectacle I had ever beheld. From East and West, fro_orth and South had come the hurrying ships to guard the coasts of the grea_sland empire from attack. I counted forty mighty ships as I gazed. In regula_ormation they went onward, slowly, disdainfully, proudly. Somewhere to th_orth, beyond that gray line which bordered my view on every side, anothe_leet was coming. At best, it was to be the greatest trial of naval strengt_he world had ever seen. All other naval battles would sink into obscurit_efore this, in which were met the utmost resources of Germany and England. A_orst, it would be a series of dumb, helpless disasters, as the fleet, stricken by an unseen, unknown foe, would perish. Near me were two of th_oats bearing men from the papers. The men on them jeered as they saw our dar_age, and passed uncomplimentary remarks on the appearance of my boat. I kep_ilence, watching the line of sky and sea. Out on the farthest point, at las_ saw a dot, then half a dozen more, then more, and I counted up to thirty.
  • Over on my right a great splash of water rose, and a dull reverberatio_ounded. Germany had fired the first shot. The flagship of the English admira_as nearest me, on the extreme left of the line. As I watched, I saw the grea_hip turn slightly, and I knew by the sound that they had fired in return.
  • Sight availed nothing in telling whence came the shot, for the newes_mokeless powder left no trace. The ship swung back on her course, the grea_lag of the Empire hanging at her stern, scarce lifted by the breeze. I coul_ee figures, through my powerful glasses, hurrying about the decks, and thre_r four officers on the bridge peering through their glasses at the enemy. _ad focussed wholly on the British flagship, and watched intently for her nex_ove. Suddenly my lenses grew blank, and I was staring at sea and sky. Th_ray waves, rising and falling, filled the field. The battleship ha_isappeared. I dropped my glasses in utter amaze. I found myself once mor_epeating the words of Joslinn concerning the Alaska. " Vanished like _ursting soap-bubble." I looked to right and left. I raised my glasses. Of al_hat company of men, of all those implements of war and of destruction, no_ne thing remained. Yes, there was a dark spot on a lifting wave. Eagerly _rained my lenses on it. Now it came up on a higher wave. A gleam of color. I_as like cloth. Again it rose. It was the flag of England. Alone it ha_urvived.
  • " The man " was at work. Where would he strike next? The rest of the flee_ent on, as if no blow had come. Not by a sign did they show what had com_pon them. I glanced at my wire screen, and at my crew who stood in a huddle_roup. The correspondents, in the boats nearby, were standing with whit_aces, peering ahead. I turned my glasses on the German fleet. The leadin_hip was coming forward, under full steam. A shot struck just to my right, an_ realized that peril might come from other sources than from the man who wa_rying, no, who was stopping all war. But it was all in the game of life. M_art in the game just then was to be at that very place, and I thrust back th_hought of parting with Dorothy that, despite myself, arose.
  • Through my glasses, I gazed fixedly at the German ship as she came on. Then, as before, came the utter blankness, the gray sky and the waves rising an_alling. One English ship and one German. Where would he strike next? As _sked the question, another English ship disappeared more swiftly than a clou_f light smoke scattered by the wind. I found myself counting aloud. In _tate of utter unconsciousness as to anything else, I gazed fixedly to se_hich would go next. " Four," I counted, as a German cruiser off on the righ_ent down. " Five ! six! " They were going at the rate of one every two o_hree minutes now. " ' The man ' must be in one spot, and he has the rang_ow," I said to myself, as two more ships disappeared. Those ships tha_emained were firing rapidly. Now and again a shot would hit, and a cloud o_teel fly out from a turret, or a big hole appear in a side. Their brother_ere dying an awful death, the sister ships of the fleet were disappearin_efore their eyes, but the men who directed those gray bull dogs of war kep_n. In a perfect frenzy of excitement, I cheered aloud. " Oh plucky, plucky !
  • " I cried, as the squadrons, closing their thinned ranks, bore down on eac_ther. Twenty had gone from eighty-two, destroyed by this wonder-worker. Te_f the rest were in sore straits. Shots were falling on every side of me, but, in the mad excitement of the moment, I heeded them no more than if they ha_een paper pellets. Then the death-dealing machine seemed suddenly t_ccelerate its action. " Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight,"
  • I counted slowly. The fleets never changed a point of their course. Not by _un was the fire slackened, save in the few ships disabled by the enemy. Th_ortieth ship had disappeared for ten minutes. Then, as by a commo_nderstanding, the fire of each side slackened for a moment as the ships, closing up their ranks, maneuvered for new positions. In the lessening din, _ould hear the chug-chug of the little motor of our boat. That sound alway_arried me back to the night when Dorothy and I sought the man who saw th_laska go down. The dark Jersey shore, the little launch, and Dorothy besid_e suddenly rose before my eyes, and I was there, and not in the midst of thi_wful carnage. But it was only for a moment. The pause in the work o_estruction ended almost as it began. One after another, twenty-two ships mor_ent down, and the antagonists, who had started with eighty-two of th_roudest ships that any empire ever sent forth, were reduced to a shattere_emnant of twenty. Then suddenly they gave way. Flesh and blood could stand n_ore. Slowly, but proudly as ever, and with no haste of flight, the German_rew off to the north, the English to the south. As they parted, another shi_nd yet another disappeared. I groaned in impotent agony. " Spare them, spar_he rest !" I cried wildly. " Can't you see they have given up the fight."
  • Remorseless in his purpose, the man went on. Again and again, with measure_lows, he struck the retreating fleet. One by one, their existence ended, an_he now sunlit ripples of the Channel rose and fell, where a moment before ha_ailed these massive hulks.
  • I veiled my eyes at the close, but opened them as I felt a touch on m_houlder. " Are we to be killed too, sir ? " said my skipper, with twitchin_ips and corded brow, where the cold sweat stood in great drops. " Can we g_ow, sir ? "
  • I nodded numbly, and we started. The only boats in sight were two boats of th_ewspapers, that had lain in apathy near us. As they saw us start, thei_kippers started, too. The correspondents on their decks sat in stricke_ttitudes. Not one was writing. They crouched, huddled together, like me_ying from cold. The three boats ran towards shore, side by side. With fixe_aze I followed the one on the right. Suddenly, she also disappeared, and _ell into a wild rage. " You fool, you fool," I cried, shaking my fists. "
  • Don't you know a non-combatant ? "
  • The men on the boat to the left rose in an agony of alarm, shoute_ncoherently, waved handkerchiefs. My fury suddenly became extinct, and _atched them apathetically. It would be their turn next, or ours. I had los_ll faith in Tom's protective schemes. One thing ran back and forth in m_rain. " If I had only married Dorothy before I came, she could have wor_lack. Now, as it was, would she or wouldn't she ? " That was the only thin_hich distressed me. They say a man awaiting instant death thinks over all hi_ast life. I didn't, I only worried as to whether Dorothy would or would no_ear black.
  • I looked up wearily. The sea was blank. The other boat had gone. " So you wen_irst," I said, calmly enough now. " I've always wondered what the next worl_as like. Now, I'm going to know.
  • Ceaselessly went the chug, chug of the engine. Back and forth into the shuttl_f my thought went the Jersey coast, and the problem of whether or not Doroth_ould wear black.
  • The noise ceased in an instant, and I wondered at it dully. The crew sa_eavily in the stern, the skipper holding the wheel. I could see his brown, knotted hands white with the anguished grip with which he clasped its rim. W_ay in the long swell of the Channel in utter silence. Of all those thousands, we were left alone, rising and falling on the billows, absolutely withou_nergy and without the slightest desire to act. The motor stopped, we coul_oist the main sail from the cage, but we thought of no such thing. Fo_inutes, which seemed like hours, we lay there while I gazed indifferently a_he water. A hoarse cry from the skipper aroused me.
  • " Lookee there ! " he shouted. I turned at the command and started. Scarce _undred yards away was the conning tower of a submarine above the waves. It_op was open and a man's head, the face masked with huge goggles, faced us. A_ gazed with open mouth, the head disappeared, the top closed, and the connin_ower sunk beneath the waves. I had seen " the man."
  • The sight somehow galvanized me into energy. Now I had seen that th_ntagonist was a human being, and not a superhuman power, I would fight for m_ife. I ordered the sail raised through the cage, taking great care not t_isturb it, and we started slowly back to Folkestone. Hours later, as we cam_p towards the harbor, I saw a yacht approaching. On the bridge were thre_igures. There was the flutter of a white dress beside the man at the wheel.
  • As they came nearer, I saw it was the yacht I had chartered for our hunt i_he Channel. The man and the girl on the bridge were Tom and Dorothy. As the_ame alongside, Tom called.
  • " What happened ? "
  • I raised my head. " We four are all that are left," I said sadly.