THE GREAT WAR SYNDICATE
FRANK R. STOCKTON
Author of "The Lady or the Tiger," "Rudder Grange," "The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine," "What Might Have Been Expected," etc., etc.
THE GREAT WAR SYNDICATE.
In the spring of a certain year, not far from the close of the nineteenth century, when the political relations between the United States and Great Britain became so strained that careful observers on both sides of the Atlantic were forced to the belief that a serious break in these relations might be looked for at any time, the fishing schooner Eliza Drum sailed from a port in Maine for the banks of Newfoundland.
It was in this year that a new system of protection for American fishing vessels had been adopted in Washington. Every fleet of these vessels was accompanied by one or more United States cruisers, which remained on the fishing grounds, not only for the purpose of warning American craft who might approach too near the three-mile limit, but also to overlook the action of the British naval vessels on the coast, and to interfere, at least by protest, with such seizures of American fishing boats as might appear to be unjust. In the opinion of all persons of sober judgment, there was nothing in the condition of affairs at this time so dangerous to the peace of the two countries as the presence of these American cruisers in the fishing waters.
The Eliza Drum was late in her arrival on the fishing grounds, and having, under orders from Washington, reported to the commander of the Lennehaha, the United States vessel in charge at that place, her captain and crew went vigorously to work to make up for lost time. They worked so vigorously, and with eyes so single to the catching of fish, that on the morning of the day after their arrival, they were hauling up cod at a point which, according to the nationality of the calculator, might be two and three-quarters or three and one-quarter miles from the Canadian coast.
In consequence of this inattention to the apparent extent of the marine mile, the Eliza Drum, a little before noon, was overhauled and seized by the British cruiser, Dog Star. A few miles away the Lennehaha had perceived the dangerous position of the Eliza Drum, and had started toward her to warn her to take a less doubtful position. But before she arrived the capture had taken place. When he reached the spot where the Eliza Drum had been fishing, the commander of the Lennehaha made an observation of the distance from the shore, and calculated it to be more than three miles. When he sent an officer in a boat to the Dog Star to state the result of his computations, the captain of the British vessel replied that he was satisfied the distance was less than three miles, and that he was now about to take the Eliza Drum into port.
On receiving this information, the commander of the Lennehaha steamed closer to the Dog Star, and informed her captain, by means of a speaking-trumpet, that if he took the Eliza Drum into a Canadian port, he would first have to sail over his ship. To this the captain of the Dog Star replied that he did not in the least object to sail over the Lennehaha, and proceeded to put a prize crew on board the fishing vessel.
At this juncture the captain of the Eliza Drum ran up a large American flag; in five minutes afterward the captain of the prize crew hauled it down; in less than ten minutes after this the Lennehaha and the Dog Star were blazing at each other with their bow guns. The spark had been struck.
The contest was not a long one. The Dog Star was of much greater tonnage and heavier armament than her antagonist, and early in the afternoon she steamed for St. John's, taking with her as prizes both the Eliza Drum and the Lennehaha.
All that night, at every point in the United States which was reached by telegraph, there burned a smothered fire; and the next morning, when the regular and extra editions of the newspapers were poured out upon the land, the fire burst into a roaring blaze. From lakes to gulf, from ocean to ocean, on mountain and plain, in city and prairie, it roared and blazed. Parties, sections, politics, were all forgotten. Every American formed part of an electric system; the same fire flashed into every soul. No matter what might be thought on the morrow, or in the coming days which might bring better under-standing, this day the unreasoning fire blazed and roared.
With morning newspapers in their hands, men rushed from the breakfast-tables into the streets to meet their fellow-men. What was it that they should do?
Detailed accounts of the affair came rapidly, but there was nothing in them to quiet the national indignation; the American flag had been hauled down by Englishmen, an American naval vessel had been fired into and captured; that was enough! No matter whether the Eliza Drum was within the three-mile limit or not! No matter which vessel fired first! If it were the Lennehaha, the more honour to her; she ought to have done it! From platform, pulpit, stump, and editorial office came one vehement, passionate shout directed toward Washington.
Congress was in session, and in its halls the fire roared louder and blazed higher than on mountain or plain, in city or prairie. No member of the Government, from President to page, ventured to oppose the tempestuous demands of the people. The day for argument upon the exciting question had been a long weary one, and it had gone by in less than a week the great shout of the people was answered by a declaration of war against Great Britain.
When this had been done, those who demanded war breathed easier, but those who must direct the war breathed harder.
It was indeed a time for hard breathing, but the great mass of the people perceived no reason why this should be. Money there was in vast abundance. In every State well-drilled men, by thousands, stood ready for the word to march, and the military experience and knowledge given by a great war was yet strong upon the nation.
To the people at large the plan of the war appeared a very obvious and a very simple one. Canada had given the offence, Canada should be made to pay the penalty. In a very short time, one hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, five hundred thousand men, if necessary, could be made ready for the invasion of Canada. From platform, pulpit, stump, and editorial office came the cry: "On to Canada!"
At the seat of Government, however, the plan of the war did not appear so obvious, so simple. Throwing a great army into Canada was all well enough, and that army would probably do well enough; but the question which produced hard breathing in the executive branch of the Government was the immediate protection of the sea-coast, Atlantic, Gulf, and even Pacific.
In a storm of national indignation war had been declared against a power which at this period of her history had brought up her naval forces to a point double in strength to that of any other country in the world. And this war had been declared by a nation which, comparatively speaking, possessed no naval strength at all.
For some years the United States navy had been steadily improving, but this improvement was not sufficient to make it worthy of reliance at this crisis. As has been said, there was money enough, and every ship-yard in the country could be set to work to build ironclad men-of-war: but it takes a long time to build ships, and England's navy was afloat. It was the British keel that America had to fear.
By means of the continental cables it was known that many of the largest mail vessels of the British transatlantic lines, which had been withdrawn upon the declaration of war, were preparing in British ports to transport troops to Canada. It was not impossible that these great steamers might land an army in Canada before an American army could be organized and marched to that province. It might be that the United States would be forced to defend her borders, instead of invading those of the enemy.
In every fort and navy-yard all was activity; the hammering of iron went on by day and by night; but what was to be done when the great ironclads of England hammered upon our defences? How long would it be before the American flag would be seen no more upon the high seas?
It is not surprising that the Government found its position one of perilous responsibility. A wrathful nation expected of it more than it could perform.
All over the country, however, there were thoughtful men, not connected with the Government, who saw the perilous features of the situation; and day by day these grew less afraid of being considered traitors, and more willing to declare their convictions of the country's danger. Despite the continuance of the national enthusiasm, doubts, perplexities, and fears began to show themselves.
In the States bordering upon Canada a reactionary feeling became evident. Unless the United States navy could prevent England from rapidly pouring into Canada, not only her own troops, but perhaps those of allied nations, these Northern States might become the scene of warfare, and whatever the issue of the contest, their lands might be ravished, their people suffer.
From many quarters urgent demands were now pressed upon the Government. From the interior there were clamours for troops to be massed on the Northern frontier, and from the seaboard cities there came a cry for ships that were worthy to be called men-of-war,—ships to defend the harbours and bays, ships to repel an invasion by sea. Suggestions were innumerable. There was no time to build, it was urged; the Government could call upon friendly nations. But wise men smiled sadly at these suggestions; it was difficult to find a nation desirous of a war with England.
In the midst of the enthusiasms, the fears, and the suggestions, came reports of the capture of American merchantmen by fast British cruisers. These reports made the American people more furious, the American Government more anxious.
Almost from the beginning of this period of national turmoil, a party of gentlemen met daily in one of the large rooms in a hotel in New York. At first there were eleven of these men, all from the great Atlantic cities, but their number increased by arrivals from other parts of the country, until at last they, numbered twenty-three. These gentlemen were all great capitalists, and accustomed to occupying themselves with great enterprises. By day and by night they met together with closed doors, until they had matured the scheme which they had been considering. As soon as this work was done, a committee was sent to Washington, to submit a plan to the Government.
These twenty-three men had formed themselves into a Syndicate, with the object of taking entire charge of the war between the United States and Great Britain.
This proposition was an astounding one, but the Government was obliged to treat it with respectful consideration. The men who offered it were a power in the land,—a power which no government could afford to disregard.
The plan of the Syndicate was comprehensive, direct, and simple. It offered to assume the entire control and expense of the war, and to effect a satisfactory peace within one year. As a guarantee that this contract would be properly performed, an immense sum of money would be deposited in the Treasury at Washington. Should the Syndicate be unsuccessful, this sum would be forfeited, and it would receive no pay for anything it had done.
The sum to be paid by the Government to the Syndicate, should it bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion, would depend upon the duration of hostilities. That is to say, that as the shorter the duration of the war, the greater would be the benefit to the country, therefore, the larger must be the pay to the Syndicate. According to the proposed contract, the Syndicate would receive, if the war should continue for a year, one-quarter the sum stipulated to be paid if peace should be declared in three months.
If at any time during the conduct of the war by the Syndicate an American seaport should be taken by the enemy, or a British force landed on any point of the seacoast, the contract should be considered at an end, and security and payment forfeited. If any point on the northern boundary of the United States should be taken and occupied by the enemy, one million dollars of the deposited security should be forfeited for every such occupation, but the contract should continue.
It was stipulated that the land and naval forces of the United States should remain under the entire control of the Government, but should be maintained as a defensive force, and not brought into action unless any failure on the part of the Syndicate should render such action necessary.
The state of feeling in governmental circles, and the evidences of alarm and distrust which were becoming apparent in Congress and among the people, exerted an important influence in favour of the Syndicate. The Government caught at its proposition, not as if it were a straw, but as if it were a life-raft. The men who offered to relieve the executive departments of their perilous responsibilities were men of great ability, prominent positions, and vast resources, whose vast enterprises had already made them known all over the globe. Such men were not likely to jeopardize their reputations and fortunes in a case like this, unless they had well-founded reasons for believing that they would be successful. Even the largest amount stipulated to be paid them in case of success would be less than the ordinary estimates for the military and naval operations which had been anticipated; and in case of failure, the amount forfeited would go far to repair the losses which might be sustained by the citizens of the various States.
At all events, should the Syndicate be allowed to take immediate control of the war, there would be time to put the army and navy, especially the latter, in better condition to carry on the contest in case of the failure of the Syndicate. Organization and construction might still go on, and, should it be necessary, the army and navy could step into the contest fresh and well prepared.
All branches of the Government united in accepting the offer of the Syndicate. The contract was signed, and the world waited to see what would happen next.
The influence which for years had been exerted by the interests controlled by the men composing the Syndicate, had its effect in producing a popular confidence in the power of the members of the Syndicate to conduct a war as successfully as they had conducted other gigantic enterprises. Therefore, although predictions of disaster came from many quarters, the American public appeared willing to wait with but moderate impatience for the result of this novel undertaking.
The Government now proceeded to mass troops at important points on the northern frontier; forts were supplied with men and armaments, all coast defences were put in the best possible condition, the navy was stationed at important ports, and work at the shipyards went on. But without reference to all this, the work of the Syndicate immediately began.
This body of men were of various politics and of various pursuits in life. But politics were no more regarded in the work they had undertaken than they would have been in the purchase of land or of railroad iron. No manifestoes of motives and intentions were issued to the public. The Syndicate simply went to work. There could be no doubt that early success would be a direct profit to it, but there could also be no doubt that its success would be a vast benefit and profit, not only to the business enterprises in which these men were severally engaged, but to the business of the whole country. To save the United States from a dragging war, and to save themselves from the effects of it, were the prompting motives for the formation of the Syndicate.
Without hesitation, the Syndicate determined that the war in which it was about to engage should be one of defence by means of offence. Such a war must necessarily be quick and effective; and with all the force of their fortunes, their minds, and their bodies, its members went to work to wage this war quickly and effectively.
All known inventions and improvements in the art of war had been thoroughly considered by the Syndicate, and by the eminent specialists whom it had enlisted in its service. Certain recently perfected engines of war, novel in nature, were the exclusive property of the Syndicate. It was known, or surmised, in certain quarters that the Syndicate had secured possession of important warlike inventions; but what they were and how they acted was a secret carefully guarded and protected.
The first step of the Syndicate was to purchase from the United States Government ten war-vessels. These were of medium size and in good condition, but they were of an old-fashioned type, and it had not been considered expedient to put them in commission. This action caused surprise and disappointment in many quarters. It had been supposed that the Syndicate, through its agents scattered all over the world, would immediately acquire, by purchase or lease, a fleet of fine ironclads culled from various maritime powers. But the Syndicate having no intention of involving, or attempting to involve, other countries in this quarrel, paid no attention to public opinion, and went to work in its own way.
Its vessels, eight of which were on the Atlantic coast and two on the Pacific, were rapidly prepared for the peculiar service in which they were to be engaged. The resources of the Syndicate were great, and in a very short time several of their vessels, already heavily plated with steel, were furnished with an additional outside armour, formed of strips of elastic steel, each reaching from the gunwales nearly to the surface of the water. These strips, about a foot wide, and placed an inch or two apart, were each backed by several powerful air-buffers, so that a ball striking one or more of them would be deprived of much of its momentum. The experiments upon the steel spring and buffers adopted by the Syndicate showed that the force of the heaviest cannonading was almost deadened by the powerful elasticity of this armour.
The armament of each vessel consisted of but one gun, of large calibre, placed on the forward deck, and protected by a bomb-proof covering. Each vessel was manned by a captain and crew from the merchant service, from whom no warlike duties were expected. The fighting operations were in charge of a small body of men, composed of two or three scientific specialists, and some practical gunners and their assistants. A few bomb-proof canopies and a curved steel deck completed the defences of the vessel.
Besides equipping this little navy, the Syndicate set about the construction of certain sea-going vessels of an extraordinary kind. So great were the facilities at its command, and so thorough and complete its methods, that ten or a dozen ship-yards and foundries were set to work simultaneously to build one of these ships. In a marvellously short time the Syndicate possessed several of them ready for action.
These vessels became technically known as "crabs." They were not large, and the only part of them which projected above the water was the middle of an elliptical deck, slightly convex, and heavily mailed with ribs of steel. These vessels were fitted with electric engines of extraordinary power, and were capable of great speed. At their bows, fully protected by the overhanging deck, was the machinery by which their peculiar work was to be accomplished. The Syndicate intended to confine itself to marine operations, and for the present it was contented with these two classes of vessels.
The armament for each of the large vessels, as has been said before, consisted of a single gun of long range, and the ammunition was confined entirely to a new style of projectile, which had never yet been used in warfare. The material and construction of this projectile were known only to three members of the Syndicate, who had invented and perfected it, and it was on account of their possession of this secret that they had been invited to join that body.
This projectile was not, in the ordinary sense of the word, an explosive, and was named by its inventors, "The Instantaneous Motor." It was discharged from an ordinary cannon, but no gunpowder or other explosive compound was used to propel it. The bomb possessed, in itself the necessary power of propulsion, and the gun was used merely to give it the proper direction.
These bombs were cylindrical in form, and pointed at the outer end. They were filled with hundreds of small tubes, each radiating outward from a central line. Those in the middle third of the bomb pointed directly outward, while those in its front portion were inclined forward at a slight angle, and those in the rear portion backward at the same angle. One tube at the end of the bomb, and pointing directly backward, furnished the motive power.
Each of these tubes could exert a force sufficient to move an ordinary train of passenger cars one mile, and this power could be exerted instantaneously, so that the difference in time in the starting of a train at one end of the mile and its arrival at the other would not be appreciable. The difference in concussionary force between a train moving at the rate of a mile in two minutes, or even one minute, and another train which moves a mile in an instant, can easily be imagined.
In these bombs, those tubes which might direct their powers downward or laterally upon the earth were capable of instantaneously propelling every portion of solid ground or rock to a distance of two or three hundred yards, while the particles of objects on the surface of the earth were instantaneously removed to a far greater distance. The tube which propelled the bomb was of a force graduated according to circumstances, and it would carry a bomb to as great a distance as accurate observation for purposes of aim could be made. Its force was brought into action while in the cannon by means of electricity while the same effect was produced in the other tubes by the concussion of the steel head against the object aimed at.
What gave the tubes their power was the jealously guarded secret.
The method of aiming was as novel as the bomb itself. In this process nothing depended on the eyesight of the gunner; the personal equation was entirely eliminated. The gun was so mounted that its direction was accurately indicated by graduated scales; there was an instrument which was acted upon by the dip, rise, or roll of the vessel, and which showed at any moment the position of the gun with reference to the plane of the sea-surface.
Before the discharge of the cannon an observation was taken by one of the scientific men, which accurately determined the distance to the object to be aimed at, and reference to a carefully prepared mathematical table showed to what points on the graduated scales the gun should be adjusted, and the instant that the that the muzzle of the cannon was in the position that it was when the observation was taken, a button was touched and the bomb was instantaneously placed on the spot aimed at. The exactness with which the propelling force of the bomb could be determined was an important factor in this method of aiming.
As soon as three of the spring-armoured vessels and five "crabs" were completed, the Syndicate felt itself ready to begin operations. It was indeed time. The seas had been covered with American and British merchantmen hastening homeward, or to friendly ports, before the actual commencement of hostilities. But all had not been fortunate enough to reach safety within the limits of time allowed, and several American merchantmen had been already captured by fast British cruisers.
The members of the Syndicate well understood that if a war was to be carried on as they desired, they must strike the first real blow. Comparatively speaking, a very short time had elapsed since the declaration of war, and the opportunity to take the initiative was still open.
It was in order to take this initiative that, in the early hours of a July morning, two of the Syndicate's armoured vessels, each accompanied by a crab, steamed out of a New England port, and headed for the point on the Canadian coast where it had been decided to open the campaign.
The vessels of the Syndicate had no individual names. The spring-armoured ships were termed "repellers," and were numbered, and the crabs were known by the letters of the alphabet. Each repeller was in charge of a Director of Naval Operations; and the whole naval force of the Syndicate was under the command of a Director-in-chief. On this momentous occasion this officer was on board of Repeller No. 1, and commanded the little fleet.
The repellers had never been vessels of great speed, and their present armour of steel strips, the lower portion of which was frequently under water, considerably retarded their progress; but each of them was taken in tow by one of the swift and powerful crabs, and with this assistance they made very good time, reaching their destination on the morning of the second day.
It was on a breezy day, with a cloudy sky, and the sea moderately smooth, that the little fleet of the Syndicate lay to off the harbour of one of the principal Canadian seaports. About five miles away the headlands on either side of the mouth of the harbour could be plainly seen. It had been decided that Repeller No. 1 should begin operations. Accordingly, that vessel steamed about a mile nearer the harbour, accompanied by Crab A. The other repeller and crab remained in their first position, ready to act in case they should be needed.
The approach of two vessels, evidently men-of-war, and carrying the American flag, was perceived from the forts and redoubts at the mouth of the harbour, and the news quickly spread to the city and to the vessels in port. Intense excitement ensued on land and water, among the citizens of the place as well as its defenders. Every man who had a post of duty was instantly at it; and in less than half an hour the British man-of-war Scarabaeus, which had been lying at anchor a short distance outside the harbour, came steaming out to meet the enemy. There were other naval vessels in port, but they required more time to be put in readiness for action.
As soon as the approach of Scarabaeus was perceived by Repeller No. 1, a boat bearing a white flag was lowered from that vessel and was rapidly rowed toward the British ship. When the latter saw the boat coming she lay to, and waited its arrival. A note was delivered to the captain of the Scarabaeus, in which it was stated that the Syndicate, which had undertaken on the part of the United States the conduct of the war between that country and Great Britain, was now prepared to demand the surrender of this city with its forts and defences and all vessels within its harbour, and, as a first step, the immediate surrender of the vessel to the commander of which this note was delivered.
The overwhelming effrontery of this demand caused the commander of the Scarabaeus to doubt whether he had to deal with a raving lunatic or a blustering fool; but he informed the person in charge of the flag-of-truce boat, that he would give him fifteen minutes in which to get back to his vessel, and that he would then open fire upon that craft.
The men who rowed the little boat were not men-of-war's men, and were unaccustomed to duties of this kind. In eight minutes they had reached their vessel, and were safe on board.
Just seven minutes afterward the first shot came from the Scarabaeus. It passed over Repeller No. 1, and that vessel, instead of replying, immediately steamed nearer her adversary. The Director-in-chief desired to determine the effect of an active cannonade upon the new armour, and therefore ordered the vessel placed in such a position that the Englishman might have the best opportunity for using it as a target.
The Scarabaeus lost no time in availing herself of the facilities offered. She was a large and powerful ship, with a heavy armament; and, soon getting the range of the Syndicate's vessel, she hurled ball after ball upon her striped side. Repeller No. 1 made no reply, but quietly submitted to the terrible bombardment. Some of the great shot jarred her from bow to stern, but not one of them broke a steel spring, nor penetrated the heavy inside plates.
After half an hour of this, work the Director-in-chief became satisfied that the new armour had well acquitted itself in the severe trial to which it had been subjected. Some of the air-buffers had been disabled, probably on account of faults in their construction, but these could readily be replaced, and no further injury had been done the vessel. It was not necessary, therefore, to continue the experiment any longer, and besides, there was danger that the Englishman, perceiving that his antagonist did not appear to be affected by his fire, would approach closer and endeavour to ram her. This was to be avoided, for the Scarabaeus was a much larger vessel than Repeller No. 1, and able to run into the latter and sink her by mere preponderance of weight.
It was therefore decided to now test the powers of the crabs. Signals were made from Repeller No. 1 to Crab A, which had been lying with the larger vessel between it and the enemy. These signals were made by jets of dense black smoke, which were ejected from a small pipe on the repeller. These slender columns of smoke preserved their cylindrical forms for some moments, and were visible at a great distance by day or night, being illumined in the latter case by electric light. The length and frequency of these jets were regulated by an instrument in the Director's room. Thus, by means of long and short puffs, with the proper use of intervals, a message could be projected into the air as a telegraphic instrument would mark it upon paper.
In this manner Crab A was ordered to immediately proceed to the attack of the Scarabaeus. The almost submerged vessel steamed rapidly from behind her consort, and made for the British man-of-war.
When the latter vessel perceived the approach of this turtle-backed object, squirting little jets of black smoke as she replied to the orders from the repeller, there was great amazement on board. The crab had not been seen before, but as it came rapidly on there was no time for curiosity or discussion, and several heavy guns were brought to bear upon it. It was difficult to hit a rapidly moving flat object scarcely above the surface of the water; and although several shot struck the crab, they glanced off without in the least interfering with its progress.
Crab A soon came so near the Scarabaeus that it was impossible to depress the guns of the latter so as to strike her. The great vessel was, therefore, headed toward its assailant, and under a full head of steam dashed directly at it to run it down. But the crab could turn as upon a pivot, and shooting to one side allowed the surging man-of-war to pass it.
Perceiving instantly that it would be difficult to strike this nimble and almost submerged adversary, the commander of the Scarabaeus thought it well to let it alone for the present, and to bear down with all speed upon the repeller. But it was easier to hit the crab than to leave it behind. It was capable of great speed, and, following the British vessel, it quickly came up with her.
The course of the Scarabaeus was instantly changed, and every effort was made to get the vessel into a position to run down the crab. But this was not easy for so large a ship, and Crab A seemed to have no difficulty in keeping close to her stern.
Several machine-guns, especially adopted for firing at torpedo-boats or any hostile craft which might be discovered close to a vessel, were now brought to bear upon the crab, and ball after ball was hurled at her. Some of these struck, but glanced off without penetrating her tough armour.
These manoeuvres had not continued long, when the crew of the crab was ready to bring into action the peculiar apparatus of that peculiar craft. An enormous pair of iron forceps, each massive limb of which measured twelve feet or more in length, was run out in front of the crab at a depth of six or eight feet below the surface. These forceps were acted upon by an electric engine of immense power, by which they could be shut, opened, projected, withdrawn, or turned and twisted.
The crab darted forward, and in the next instant the great teeth of her pincers were fastened with a tremendous grip upon the rudder and rudder-post of the Scarabaeus.
Then followed a sudden twist, which sent a thrill through both vessels; a crash; a backward jerk; the snapping of a chain; and in a moment the great rudder, with half of the rudder-post attached, was torn from the vessel, and as the forceps opened it dropped to leeward and hung dangling by one chain.
Again the forceps opened wide; again there was a rush; and this time the huge jaws closed upon the rapidly revolving screw-propeller. There was a tremendous crash, and the small but massive crab turned over so far that for an instant one of its sides was plainly visible above the water. The blades of the propeller were crushed and shivered; those parts of the steamer's engines connecting with the propeller-shaft were snapped and rent apart, while the propeller-shaft itself was broken by the violent stoppage.
The crab, which had quickly righted, now backed, still holding the crushed propeller in its iron grasp, and as it moved away from the Scarabaeus, it extracted about forty feet of its propeller-shaft; then, opening its massive jaws, it allowed the useless mass of iron to drop to the bottom of the sea.
Every man on board the Scarabaeus was wild with amazement and excitement. Few could comprehend what had happened, but this very quickly became evident. So far as motive power was concerned, the Scarabaeus was totally, disabled. She could not direct her course, for her rudder was gone, her propeller was gone, her engines were useless, and she could do no more than float as wind or tide might move her. Moreover, there was a jagged hole in her stern where the shaft had been, and through this the water was pouring into the vessel. As a man-of-war the Scarabaeus was worthless.
Orders now came fast from Repeller No. 1, which had moved nearer to the scene of conflict. It was to be supposed that the disabled ship was properly furnished with bulk-heads, so that the water would penetrate no farther than the stern compartment, and that, therefore, she was in no danger of sinking. Crab A was ordered to make fast to the bow of the Scarabaeus, and tow her toward two men-of-war who were rapidly approaching from the harbour.
This proceeding astonished the commander and officers of the Scarabaeus almost as much as the extraordinary attack which had been made upon their ship. They had expected a demand to surrender and haul down their flag; but the Director-in-chief on board Repeller No. 1 was of the opinion that with her propeller extracted it mattered little what flag she flew. His work with the Scarabaeus was over; for it had been ordered by the Syndicate that its vessels should not encumber themselves with prizes.
Towed by the powerful crab, which apparently had no fear that its disabled adversary might fire upon it, the Scarabaeus moved toward the harbour, and when it had come within a quarter of a mile of the foremost British vessel, Crab A cast off and steamed back to Repeller No. 1.
The other English vessels soon came up, and each lay to and sent a boat to the Scarabaeus. After half an hour's consultation, in which the amazement of those on board the damaged vessel was communicated to the officers and crews of her two consorts, it was determined that the smaller of these should tow the disabled ship into port, while the other one, in company with a man-of-war just coming out of the harbour, should make an attack upon Repeller No. 1.
It had been plainly proved that ordinary shot and shell had no effect upon this craft; but it had not been proved that she could withstand the rams of powerful ironclads. If this vessel, that apparently carried no guns, or, at least, had used none, could be crushed, capsized, sunk, or in any way put out of the fight, it was probable that the dangerous submerged nautical machine would not care to remain in these waters. If it remained it must be destroyed by torpedoes.
Signals were exchanged between the two English vessels, and in a very short time they were steaming toward the repeller. It was a dangerous thing for two vessels of their size to come close enough together for both to ram an enemy at the same time, but it was determined to take the risks and do this, if possible; for the destruction of the repeller was obviously the first duty in hand.
As the two men-of-war rapidly approached Repeller No. 1, they kept up a steady fire upon her; for if in this way they could damage her, the easier would be their task. With a firm reliance upon the efficacy of the steel-spring armour, the Director-in-chief felt no fear of the enemy's shot and shell; but he was not at all willing that his vessel should be rammed, for the consequences would probably be disastrous. Accordingly he did not wait for the approach of the two vessels, but steering seaward, he signalled for the other crab.
When Crab B made its appearance, puffing its little black jets of smoke, as it answered the signals of the Director-in-chief, the commanders of the two British vessels were surprised. They had imagined that there was only one of these strange and terrible enemies, and had supposed that she would be afraid to make her peculiar attack upon one of them, because while doing so she would expose herself to the danger of being run down by the other. But the presence of two of these almost submerged engines of destruction entirely changed the situation.
But the commanders of the British ships were brave men. They had started to run down the strangely armoured American craft, and run her down they would, if they could. They put on more steam, and went ahead at greater speed. In such a furious onslaught the crabs might not dare to attack them.
But they did not understand the nature nor the powers of these enemies. In less than twenty minutes Crab A had laid hold of one of the men-of-war, and Crab B of the other. The rudders of both were shattered and torn away; and while the blades of one propeller were crushed to pieces, the other, with nearly half its shaft, was drawn out and dropped into the ocean. Helplessly the two men-of-war rose and fell upon the waves.
In obedience to orders from the repeller, each crab took hold of one of the disabled vessels, and towed it near the mouth of the harbour, where it was left.
The city was now in a state of feverish excitement, which was intensified by the fact that a majority of the people did not understand what had happened, while those to whom this had been made plain could not comprehend why such a thing should have been allowed to happen. Three of Her Majesty's ships of war, equipped and ready for action, had sailed out of the harbour, and an apparently insignificant enemy, without firing a gun, had put them into such a condition that they were utterly unfit for service, and must be towed into a dry dock. How could the Government, the municipality, the army, or the navy explain this?
The anxiety, the excitement, the nervous desire to know what had happened, and what might be expected next, spread that evening to every part of the Dominion reached by telegraph.
The military authorities in charge of the defences of the city were as much disturbed and amazed by what had happened as any civilian could possibly be, but they had no fears for the safety of the place, for the enemy's vessels could not possibly enter, nor even approach, the harbour. The fortifications on the heights mounted guns much heavier than those on the men-of-war, and shots from these fired from an elevation might sink even those "underwater devils." But, more than on the forts, they relied upon their admirable system of torpedoes and submarine batteries. With these in position and ready for action, as they now were, it was impossible for an enemy's vessel, floating on the water or under it, to enter the harbour without certain destruction.
Bulletins to this effect were posted in the city, and somewhat allayed the popular anxiety, although many people, who were fearful of what might happen next, left by the evening trains for the interior. That night the news of this extraordinary affair was cabled to Europe, and thence back to the United States, and all over the world. In many quarters the account was disbelieved, and in no quarter was it thoroughly understood, for it must be borne in mind that the methods of operation employed by the crabs were not evident to those on board the disabled vessels. But everywhere there was the greatest desire to know what would be done next.
It was the general opinion that the two armoured vessels were merely tenders to the submerged machines which had done the mischief. Having fired no guns, nor taken any active part in the combat, there was every reason to believe that they were intended merely as bomb-proof store-ships for their formidable consorts. As these submerged vessels could not attack a town, nor reduce fortifications, but could exercise their power only against vessels afloat, it was plain enough to see that the object of the American Syndicate was to blockade the port. That they would be able to maintain the blockade when the full power of the British navy should be brought to bear upon them was generally doubted, though it was conceded in the most wrathful circles that, until the situation should be altered, it would be unwise to risk valuable war vessels in encounters with the diabolical sea-monsters now lying off the port.
In the New York office of the Syndicate there was great satisfaction. The news received was incorrect and imperfect, but it was evident that, so far, everything had gone well.
About nine o'clock the next morning, Repeller No. 1, with her consort half a mile astern, and preceded by the two crabs, one on either bow, approached to within two miles of the harbour mouth. The crabs, a quarter of a mile ahead of the repeller, moved slowly; for between them they bore an immense net, three or four hundred feet long, and thirty feet deep, composed of jointed steel rods. Along the upper edge of this net was a series of air-floats, which were so graduated that they were sunk by the weight of the net a few feet below the surface of the water, from which position they held the net suspended vertically.
This net, which was intended to protect the repeller against the approach of submarine torpedoes, which might be directed from the shore, was anchored at each end, two very small buoys indicating its position. The crabs then falling astern, Repeller No. 1 lay to, with the sunken net between her and the shore, and prepared to project the first instantaneous motor-bomb ever used in warfare.
The great gun in the bow of the vessel was loaded with one of the largest and most powerful motor-bombs, and the spot to be aimed at was selected. This was a point in the water just inside of the mouth of the harbour, and nearly a mile from the land on either side. The distance of this point from the vessel being calculated, the cannon was adjusted at the angle called for by the scale of distances and levels, and the instrument indicating rise, fall, and direction was then put in connection with it.
Now the Director-in-chief stepped forward to the button, by pressing which the power of the motor was developed. The chief of the scientific corps then showed him the exact point upon the scale which would be indicated when the gun was in its proper position, and the piece was then moved upon its bearings so as to approximate as nearly as possible this direction.
The bow of the vessel now rose upon the swell of the sea, and the instant that the index upon the scale reached the desired point, the Director-in-chief touched the button.
There was no report, no smoke, no visible sign that the motor had left the cannon; but at that instant there appeared, to those who were on the lookout, from a fort about a mile away, a vast aperture in the waters of the bay, which was variously described as from one hundred yards to five hundred yards in diameter. At that same instant, in the neighbouring headlands and islands far up the shores of the bay, and in every street and building of the city, there was felt a sharp shock, as if the underlying rocks had been struck by a gigantic trip-hammer.
At the same instant the sky above the spot where the motor had descended was darkened by a wide-spreading cloud. This was formed of that portion of the water of the bay which had been instantaneously raised to the height of about a thousand feet. The sudden appearance of this cloud was even more terrible than the yawning chasm in the waters of the bay or the startling shock; but it did not remain long in view. It had no sooner reached its highest elevation than it began to descend. There was a strong sea-breeze blowing, and in its descent this vast mass of water was impelled toward the land.
It came down, not as rain, but as the waters of a vast cataract, as though a mountain lake, by an earthquake shock, had been precipitated in a body upon a valley. Only one edge of it reached the land, and here the seething flood tore away earth, trees, and rocks, leaving behind it great chasms and gullies as it descended to the sea.
The bay itself, into which the vast body of the water fell, became a scene of surging madness. The towering walls of water which had stood up all around the suddenly created aperture hurled themselves back into the abyss, and down into the great chasm at the bottom of the bay, which had been made when the motor sent its shock along the great rock beds. Down upon, and into, this roaring, boiling tumult fell the tremendous cataract from above, and the harbour became one wild expanse of leaping maddened waves, hissing their whirling spray high into the air.
During these few terrific moments other things happened which passed unnoticed in the general consternation. All along the shores of the bay and in front of the city the waters seemed to be sucked away, slowly returning as the sea forced them to their level, and at many points up and down the harbour there were submarine detonations and upheavals of the water.
These were caused by the explosion, by concussion, of every torpedo and submarine battery in the harbour; and it was with this object in view that the instantaneous motor-bomb had been shot into the mouth of the bay.
The effects of the discharge of the motor-bomb astonished and even startled those on board the repellers and the crabs. At the instant of touching the button a hydraulic shock was felt on Repeller No. 1. This was supposed to be occasioned the discharge of the motor, but it was also felt on the other vessels. It was the same shock that had been felt on shore, but less in degree. A few moments after there was a great heaving swell of the sea, which tossed and rolled the four vessels, and lifted the steel protecting net so high that for an instant parts of it showed themselves above the surface like glistening sea-ghosts.
Experiments with motor-bombs had been made in unsettled mountainous districts, but this was the first one which had ever exerted its power under water.
On shore, in the forts, and in the city no one for an instant supposed that the terrific phenomenon which had just occurred was in any way due to the vessels of the Syndicate. The repellers were in plain view, and it was evident that neither of them had fired a gun. Besides, the firing of cannon did not produce such effects. It was the general opinion that there had been an earthquake shock, accompanied by a cloud-burst and extraordinary convulsions of the sea. Such a combination of elementary disturbances had never been known in these parts; and a great many persons were much more frightened than if they had understood what had really happened.
In about half an hour after the discharge of the motor-bomb, when the sea had resumed its usual quiet, a boat carrying a white flag left Repeller No. 1, rowed directly over the submerged net, and made for the harbour. When the approach of this flag-of-truce was perceived from the fort nearest the mouth of the harbour, it occasioned much surmise. Had the earthquake brought these Syndicate knaves to their senses? Or were they about to make further absurd and outrageous demands? Some irate officers were of the opinion that enemies like these should be considered no better than pirates, and that their flag-of-truce should be fired upon. But the commandant of the fort paid no attention to such counsels, and sent a detachment with a white flag down to the beach to meet the approaching boat and learn its errand.
The men in the boat had nothing to do but to deliver a letter from the Director-in-chief to the commandant of the fort, and then row back again. No answer was required.
When the commandant read the brief note, he made no remark. In fact, he could think of no appropriate remark to make. The missive simply informed him that at ten o'clock and eighteen minutes A. M., of that day, the first bomb from the marine forces of the Syndicate had been discharged into the waters of the harbour. At, or about, two o'clock P.M., the second bomb would be discharged at Fort Pilcher. That was all.
What this extraordinary message meant could not be imagined by any officer of the garrison. If the people on board the ships were taking advantage of the earthquake, and supposed that they could induce British soldiers to believe that it had been caused by one of their bombs, then were they idiots indeed. They would fire their second shot at Fort Pilcher! This was impossible, for they had not yet fired their first shot. These Syndicate people were evidently very tricky, and the defenders of the port must therefore be very cautious.
Fort Pilcher was a very large and unfinished fortification, on a bluff on the opposite side of the harbour. Work had been discontinued on it as soon as the Syndicate's vessels had appeared off the port, for it was not desired to expose the builders and workmen to a possible bombardment. The place was now, therefore, almost deserted; but after the receipt of the Syndicate's message, the commandant feared that the enemy might throw an ordinary shell into the unfinished works, and he sent a boat across the bay to order away any workmen or others who might be lingering about the place.
A little after two o'clock P.M., an instantaneous motor-bomb was discharged from Repeller No. 1 into Fort Pilcher. It was set to act five seconds after impact with the object aimed at. It struck in a central portion of the unfinished fort, and having described a high curve in the air, descended not only with its own motive power, but with the force of gravitation, and penetrated deep into the earth.
Five seconds later a vast brown cloud appeared on the Fort Pilcher promontory. This cloud was nearly spherical in form, with an apparent diameter of about a thousand yards. At the same instant a shock similar to that accompanying the first motor-bomb was felt in the city and surrounding country; but this was not so severe as the other, for the second bomb did not exert its force upon the underlying rocks of the region as the first one had done.
The great brown cloud quickly began to lose its spherical form, part of it descending heavily to the earth, and part floating away in vast dust-clouds borne inland by the breeze, settling downward as they moved, and depositing on land, water, ships, houses, domes, and trees an almost impalpable powder.
When the cloud had cleared away there were no fortifications, and the bluff on which they had stood had disappeared. Part of this bluff had floated away on the wind, and part of it lay piled in great heaps of sand on the spot where its rocks were to have upheld a fort.
The effect of the motor-bomb was fully observed with glasses from the various fortifications of the port, and from many points of the city and harbour; and those familiar with the effects of explosives were not long in making up their minds what had happened. They felt sure that a mine had been sprung beneath Fort Pilcher; and they were now equally confident that in the morning a torpedo of novel and terrible power had been exploded in the harbour. They now disbelieved in the earthquake, and treated with contempt the pretence that shots had been fired from the Syndicate's vessel. This was merely a trick of the enemy. It was not even likely that the mine or the torpedo had been operated from the ship. These were, in all probability, under the control of confederates on shore, and had been exploded at times agreed upon beforehand. All this was perfectly plain to the military authorities.
But the people of the city derived no comfort from the announcement of these conclusions. For all that anybody knew the whole city might be undermined, and at any moment might ascend in a cloud of minute particles. They felt that they were in a region of hidden traitors and bombs, and in consequence of this belief thousands of citizens left their homes.
That afternoon a truce-boat again went out from Repeller No. 1, and rowed to the fort, where a letter to the commandant was delivered. This, like the other, demanded no answer, and the boat returned. Later in the afternoon the two repellers, accompanied by the crabs, and leaving the steel net still anchored in its place, retired a few miles seaward, where they prepared to lay to for the night.
The letter brought by the truce-boat was read by the commandant, surrounded by his officers. It stated that in twenty-four hours from time of writing it, which would be at or about four o'clock on the next afternoon, a bomb would be thrown into the garrisoned fort, under the command of the officer addressed. As this would result in the entire destruction of the fortification, the commandant was earnestly counselled to evacuate the fort before the hour specified.
Ordinarily the commandant of the fort was of a calm and unexcitable temperament. During the astounding events of that day and the day before he had kept his head cool; his judgment, if not correct, was the result of sober and earnest consideration. But now he lost his temper. The unparalleled effrontery and impertinence of this demand of the American Syndicate was too much for his self-possession. He stormed in anger.
Here was the culmination of the knavish trickery of these conscienceless pirates who had attacked the port. A torpedo had been exploded in the harbour, an unfinished fort had been mined and blown up, and all this had been done to frighten him—a British soldier—in command of a strong fort well garrisoned and fully supplied with all the munitions of war. In the fear that his fort would be destroyed by a mystical bomb, he was expected to march to a place of safety with all his forces. If this should be done it would not be long before these crafty fellows would occupy the fort, and with its great guns turned inland, would hold the city at their mercy. There could be no greater insult to a soldier than to suppose that he could be gulled by a trick like this.
No thought of actual danger entered the mind of the commandant. It had been easy enough to sink a great torpedo in the harbour, and the unguarded bluffs of Fort Pilcher offered every opportunity to the scoundrels who may have worked at their mines through the nights of several months. But a mine under the fort which he commanded was an impossibility; its guarded outposts prevented any such method of attack. At a bomb, or a dozen, or a hundred of the Syndicate's bombs he snapped his fingers. He could throw bombs as well.
Nothing would please him better than that those ark-like ships in the offing should come near enough for an artillery fight. A few tons of solid shot and shell dropped on top of them might be a very conclusive answer to their impudent demands.
The letter from the Syndicate, together with his own convictions on the subject, were communicated by the commandant to the military authorities of the port, and to the War Office of the Dominion. The news of what had happened that day had already been cabled across the Atlantic back to the United States, and all over the world; and the profound impression created by it was intensified when it became known what the Syndicate proposed to do the next day. Orders and advices from the British Admiralty and War Office sped across the ocean, and that night few of the leaders in government circles in England or Canada closed their eyes.
The opinions of the commandant of the fort were received with but little favour by the military and naval authorities. Great preparations were already ordered to repel and crush this most audacious attack upon the port, but in the mean time it was highly desirable that the utmost caution and prudence should be observed. Three men-of-war had already been disabled by the novel and destructive machines of the enemy, and it had been ordered that for the present no more vessels of the British navy be allowed to approach the crabs of the Syndicate.
Whether it was a mine or a bomb which had been used in the destruction of the unfinished works of Fort Pilcher, it would be impossible to determine until an official survey had been made of the ruins; but, in any event, it would be wise and humane not to expose the garrison of the fort on the south side of the harbour to the danger which had overtaken the works on the opposite shore. If, contrary to the opinion of the commandant, the garrisoned fort were really mined, the following day would probably prove the fact. Until this point should be determined it would be highly judicious to temporarily evacuate the fort. This could not be followed by occupation of the works by the enemy, for all approaches, either by troops in boats or by bodies of confederates by land, could be fully covered by the inland redoubts and fortifications.
When the orders for evacuation reached the commandant of the fort, he protested hotly, and urged that his protest be considered. It was not until the command had been reiterated both from London and Ottawa, that he accepted the situation, and with bowed head prepared to leave his post. All night preparations for evacuation went on, and during the next morning the garrison left the fort, and established itself far enough away to preclude danger from the explosion of a mine, but near enough to be available in case of necessity.
During this morning there arrived in the offing another Syndicate vessel. This had started from a northern part of the United States, before the repellers and the crabs, and it had been engaged in laying a private submarine cable, which should put the office of the Syndicate in New York in direct communication with its naval forces engaged with the enemy. Telegraphic connection between the cable boat and Repeller No. 1 having been established, the Syndicate soon received from its Director-in-chief full and comprehensive accounts of what had been done and what it was proposed to do. Great was the satisfaction among the members of the Syndicate when these direct and official reports came in. Up to this time they had been obliged to depend upon very unsatisfactory intelligence communicated from Europe, which had been supplemented by wild statements and rumours smuggled across the Canadian border.
To counteract the effect of these, a full report was immediately made by the Syndicate to the Government of the United States, and a bulletin distinctly describing what had happened was issued to the people of the country. These reports, which received a world-wide circulation in the newspapers, created a popular elation in the United States, and gave rise to serious apprehensions and concern in many other countries. But under both elation and concern there was a certain doubtfulness. So far the Syndicate had been successful; but its style of warfare was decidedly experimental, and its forces, in numerical strength at least, were weak. What would happen when the great naval power of Great Britain should be brought to bear upon the Syndicate, was a question whose probable answer was likely to cause apprehension and concern in the United States, and elation in many other countries.
The commencement of active hostilities had been precipitated by this Syndicate. In England preparations were making by day an by night to send upon the coast-lines of the United States a fleet which, in numbers and power, would be greater than that of any naval expedition in the history of the world. It is no wonder that many people of sober judgment in America looked upon the affair of the crabs and the repellers as but an incident in the beginning of a great and disastrous war.
On the morning of the destruction of Fort Pilcher, the Syndicate's vessels moved toward the port, and the steel net was taken up by the two crabs, and moved nearer the mouth of the harbour, at a point from which the fort, now in process of evacuation, was in full view. When this had been done, Repeller No. 2 took up her position at a moderate distance behind the net, and the other vessels stationed themselves near by.
The protection of the net was considered necessary, for although there could be no reasonable doubt that all the torpedoes in the harbour and river had been exploded, others might be sent out against the Syndicate's vessels; and a torpedo under a crab or a repeller was the enemy most feared by the Syndicate.
About three o'clock the signals between the repellers became very frequent, and soon afterwards a truce-boat went out from Repeller No. 1. This was rowed with great rapidity, but it was obliged to go much farther up the harbour than on previous occasions, in order to deliver its message to an officer of the garrison.
This was to the effect that the evacuation of the fort had been observed from the Syndicate's vessels, and although it had been apparently complete, one of the scientific corps, with a powerful glass, had discovered a man in one of the outer redoubts, whose presence there was probably unknown to the officers of the garrison. It was, therefore, earnestly urged that this man be instantly removed; and in order that this might be done, the discharge of the motor-bomb would be postponed half an hour.
The officer received this message, and was disposed to look upon it as a new trick; but as no time was to be lost, he sent a corporal's guard to the fort, and there discovered an Irish sergeant by the name of Kilsey, who had sworn an oath that if every other man in the fort ran away like a lot of addle-pated sheep, he would not run with them; he would stand to his post to the last, and when the couple of ships outside had got through bombarding the stout walls of the fort, the world would see that there was at least one British soldier who was not afraid of a bomb, be it little or big. Therefore he had managed to elude observation, and to remain behind.
The sergeant was so hot-headed in his determination to stand by the fort, that it required violence to remove him; and it was not until twenty minutes past four that the Syndicate observers perceived that he had been taken to the hill behind which the garrison was encamped.
As it had been decided that Repeller No. 2 should discharge the next instantaneous motor-bomb, there was an anxious desire on the part of the operators on that vessel that in this, their first experience, they might do their duty as well as their comrades on board the other repeller had done theirs. The most accurate observations, the most careful calculations, were made and re-made, the point to be aimed at being about the centre of the fort.
The motor-bomb had been in the cannon for nearly an hour, and everything had long been ready, when at precisely thirty minutes past four o'clock the signal to discharge came from the Director-in-chief; and in four seconds afterwards the index on the scale indicated that the gun was in the proper position, and the button was touched.
The motor-bomb was set to act the instant it should touch any portion of the fort, and the effect was different from that of the other bombs. There was a quick, hard shock, but it was all in the air. Thousands of panes of glass in the city and in houses for miles around were cracked or broken, birds fell dead or stunned upon the ground, and people on elevations at considerable distances felt as if they had received a blow; but there was no trembling of the ground.
As to the fort, it had entirely disappeared, its particles having been instantaneously removed to a great distance in every direction, falling over such a vast expanse of land and water that their descent was unobservable.
In the place where the fortress had stood there was a wide tract of bare earth, which looked as if it had been scraped into a staring dead level of gravel and clay. The instantaneous motor-bomb had been arranged to act almost horizontally.
Few persons, except those who from a distance had been watching the fort with glasses, understood what had happened; but every one in the city and surrounding country was conscious that something had happened of a most startling kind, and that it was over in the same instant in which they had perceived it. Everywhere there was the noise of falling window-glass. There were those who asserted that for an instant they had heard in the distance a grinding crash; and there were others who were quite sure that they had noticed what might be called a flash of darkness, as if something had, with almost unappreciable quickness, passed between them and the sun.
When the officers of the garrison mounted the hill before them and surveyed the place where their fort had been, there was not one of them who had sufficient command of himself to write a report of what had happened. They gazed at the bare, staring flatness of the shorn bluff, and they looked at each other. This was not war. It was something supernatural, awful! They were not frightened; they were oppressed and appalled. But the military discipline of their minds soon exerted its force, and a brief account of the terrific event was transmitted to the authorities, and Sergeant Kilsey was sentenced to a month in the guard-house.
No one approached the vicinity of the bluff where the fort had stood, for danger might not be over; but every possible point of observation within a safe distance was soon crowded with anxious and terrified observers. A feeling of awe was noticeable everywhere. If people could have had a tangible idea of what had occurred, it would have been different. If the sea had raged, if a vast body of water had been thrown into the air, if a dense cloud had been suddenly ejected from the surface of the earth, they might have formed some opinion about it. But the instantaneous disappearance of a great fortification with a little more appreciable accompaniment than the sudden tap, as of a little hammer, upon thousands of window-panes, was something which their intellects could not grasp. It was not to be expected that the ordinary mind could appreciate the difference between the action of an instantaneous motor when imbedded in rocks and earth, and its effect, when opposed by nothing but stone walls, upon or near the surface of the earth.
Early the next morning, the little fleet of the Syndicate prepared to carry out its further orders. The waters of the lower bay were now entirely deserted, craft of every description having taken refuge in the upper part of the harbour near and above the city. Therefore, as soon as it was light enough to make observations, Repeller No. 1 did not hesitate to discharge a motor-bomb into the harbour, a mile or more above where the first one had fallen. This was done in order to explode any torpedoes which might have been put into position since the discharge of the first bomb.
There were very few people in the city and suburbs who were at that hour out of doors where they could see the great cloud of water arise toward the sky, and behold it descend like a mighty cataract upon the harbour and adjacent shores; but the quick, sharp shock which ran under the town made people spring from their beds; and although nothing was then to be seen, nearly everybody felt sure that the Syndicate's forces had begun their day's work by exploding another mine.
A lighthouse, the occupants of which had been ordered to leave when the fort was evacuated, as they might be in danger in case of a bombardment, was so shaken by the explosion of this motor-bomb that it fell in ruins on the rocks upon which it had stood.
The two crabs now took the steel net from its moorings and carried it up the harbour. This was rather difficult on account of the islands, rocks, and sand-bars; but the leading crab had on board a pilot acquainted with those waters. With the net hanging between them, the two submerged vessels, one carefully following the other, reached a point about two miles below the city, where the net was anchored across the harbour. It did not reach from shore to shore, but in the course of the morning two other nets, designed for shallower waters, were brought from the repellers and anchored at each end of the main net, thus forming a line of complete protection against submarine torpedoes which might be sent down from the upper harbour.
Repeller No. 1 now steamed into the harbour, accompanied by Crab A, and anchored about a quarter of a mile seaward of the net. The other repeller, with her attendant crab, cruised about the mouth of the harbour, watching a smaller entrance to the port as well as the larger one, and thus maintaining an effective blockade. This was not a difficult duty, for since the news of the extraordinary performances of the crabs had been spread abroad, no merchant vessel, large or small, cared to approach that port; and strict orders had been issued by the British Admiralty that no vessel of the navy should, until further instructed, engage in combat with the peculiar craft of the Syndicate. Until a plan of action had been determined upon, it was very desirable that English cruisers should not be exposed to useless injury and danger.
This being the state of affairs, a message was sent from the office of the Syndicate across the border to the Dominion Government, which stated that the seaport city which had been attacked by the forces of the Syndicate now lay under the guns of its vessels, and in case of any overt act of war by Great Britain or Canada alone, such as the entrance of an armed force from British territory into the United States, or a capture of or attack upon an American vessel, naval or commercial, by a British man-of-war, or an attack upon an American port by British vessels, the city would be bombarded and destroyed.
This message, which was, of course, instantly transmitted to London, placed the British Government in the apparent position of being held by the throat by the American War Syndicate. But if the British Government, or the people of England or Canada, recognized this position at all, it was merely as a temporary condition. In a short time the most powerful men-of-war of the Royal Navy, as well as a fleet of transports carrying troops, would reach the coasts of North America, and then the condition of affairs would rapidly be changed. It was absurd to suppose that a few medium-sized vessels, however heavily armoured, or a few new-fangled submarine machines, however destructive they might be, could withstand an armada of the largest and finest armoured vessels in the world. A ship or two might be disabled, although this was unlikely, now that the new method of attack was understood; but it would soon be the ports of the United States, on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, which would lie under the guns of an enemy.
But it was not in the power of their navy that the British Government and the people of England and Canada placed their greatest trust, but in the incapacity of their petty foe to support its ridiculous assumptions. The claim that the city lay under the guns of the American Syndicate was considered ridiculous, for few people believed that these vessels had any guns. Certainly, there had been no evidence that any shots had been fired from them. In the opinion of reasonable people the destruction of the forts and the explosions in the harbour had been caused by mines—mines of a new and terrifying power—which were the work of traitors and confederates. The destruction of the lighthouse had strengthened this belief, for its fall was similar to that which would have been occasioned by a great explosion under its foundation.
But however terrifying and appalling had been the results of the explosion of these mines, it was not thought probable that there were any more of them. The explosions had taken place at exposed points distant from the city, and the most careful investigation failed to discover any present signs of mining operations.
This theory of mines worked by confederates was received throughout the civilized world, and was universally condemned. Even in the United States the feeling was so strong against this apparent alliance between the Syndicate and British traitors, that there was reason to believe that a popular pressure would be brought to bear upon the Government sufficient to force it to break its contract with the Syndicate, and to carry on the war with the National army and navy. The crab was considered an admirable addition to the strength of the navy, but a mine under a fort, laid and fired by perfidious confederates, was considered unworthy an enlightened people.
The members of the Syndicate now found themselves in an embarrassing and dangerous position—a position in which they were placed by the universal incredulity regarding the instantaneous motor; and unless they could make the world believe that they really used such a motor-bomb, the war could not be prosecuted on the plan projected.
It was easy enough to convince the enemy of the terrible destruction the Syndicate was able to effect; but to make that enemy and the world understand that this was done by bombs, which could be used in one place as well as another, was difficult indeed. They had attempted to prove this by announcing that at a certain time a bomb should be projected into a certain fort. Precisely at the specified time the fort had been destroyed, but nobody believed that a bomb had been fired.
Every opinion, official or popular, concerning what it had done and what might be expected of it, was promptly forwarded to the Syndicate by its agents, and it was thus enabled to see very plainly indeed that the effect it had desired to produce had not been produced. Unless the enemy could be made to understand that any fort or ships within ten miles of one of the Syndicate's cannon could be instantaneously dissipated in the shape of fine dust, this war could not be carried on upon the principles adopted, and therefore might as well pass out of the hands of the Syndicate.
Day by day and night by night the state of affairs was anxiously considered at the office of the Syndicate in New York. A new and important undertaking was determined upon, and on the success of this the hopes of the Syndicate now depended.
During the rapid and vigorous preparations which the Syndicate were now making for their new venture, several events of interest occurred.
Two of the largest Atlantic mail steamers, carrying infantry and artillery troops, and conveyed by two swift and powerful men-of-war, arrived off the coast of Canada, considerably to the north of the blockaded city. The departure and probable time of arrival of these vessels had been telegraphed to the Syndicate, through one of the continental cables, and a repeller with two crabs had been for some days waiting for them. The English vessels had taken a high northern course, hoping they might enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence without subjecting themselves to injury from the enemy's crabs, it not being considered probable that there were enough of these vessels to patrol the entire coast. But although the crabs were few in number, the Syndicate was able to place them where they would be of most use; and when the English vessels arrived off the northern entrance to the gulf, they found their enemies there.
However strong might be the incredulity of the enemy regarding the powers of a repeller to bombard a city, the Syndicate felt sure there would be no present invasion of the United States from Canada; but it wished to convince the British Government that troops and munitions of war could not be safely transported across the Atlantic. On the other hand, the Syndicate very much objected to undertaking the imprisonment and sustenance of a large body of soldiers. Orders were therefore given to the officer in charge of the repeller not to molest the two transports, but to remove the rudders and extract the screws of the two war-vessels, leaving them to be towed into port by the troop-ships.
This duty was performed by the crabs, while the British vessels, both rams, were preparing to make a united and vigorous onset on the repeller, and the two men-of-war were left hopelessly tossing on the waves. One of the transports, a very fast steamer, had already entered the straits, and could not be signalled; but the other one returned and took both the war-ships in tow, proceeding very slowly until, after entering the gulf, she was relieved by tugboats.
Another event of a somewhat different character was the occasion of much excited feeling and comment, particularly in the United States. The descent and attack by British vessels on an Atlantic port was a matter of popular expectation. The Syndicate had repellers and crabs at the most important points; but, in the minds of naval officers and a large portion of the people, little dependence for defence was to be placed upon these. As to the ability of the War Syndicate to prevent invasion or attack by means of its threats to bombard the blockaded Canadian port, very few believed in it. Even if the Syndicate could do any more damage in that quarter, which was improbable, what was to prevent the British navy from playing the same game, and entering an American seaport, threaten to bombard the place if the Syndicate did not immediately run all their queer vessels high and dry on some convenient beach?
A feeling of indignation against the Syndicate had existed in the navy from the time that the war contract had been made, and this feeling increased daily. That the officers and men of the United States navy should be penned up in harbours, ports, and sounds, while British ships and the hulking mine-springers and rudder-pinchers of the Syndicate were allowed to roam the ocean at will, was a very hard thing for brave sailors to bear. Sometimes the resentment against this state of affairs rose almost to revolt.
The great naval preparations of England were not yet complete, but single British men-of-war were now frequently seen off the Atlantic coast of the United States. No American vessels had been captured by these since the message of the Syndicate to the Dominion of Canada and the British Government. But one good reason for this was the fact that it was very difficult now to find upon the Atlantic ocean a vessel sailing under the American flag. As far as possible these had taken refuge in their own ports or in those of neutral countries.
At the mouth of Delaware Bay, behind the great Breakwater, was now collected a number of coastwise sailing-vessels and steamers of various classes and sizes; and for the protection of these maritime refugees, two vessels of the United States navy were stationed at this point. These were the Lenox and Stockbridge, two of the finest cruisers in the service, and commanded by two of the most restless and bravest officers of the American navy.
The appearance, early on a summer morning, of a large British cruiser off the mouth of the harbour, filled those two commanders with uncontrollable belligerency. That in time of war a vessel of the enemy should be allowed, undisturbed, to sail up and down before an American harbour, while an American vessel filled with brave American sailors lay inside like a cowed dog, was a thought which goaded the soul of each of these commanders. There was a certain rivalry between the two ships; and, considering the insult offered by the flaunting red cross in the offing, and the humiliating restrictions imposed by the Naval Department, each commander thought only of his own ship, and not at all of the other.
It was almost at the same time that the commanders of the two ships separately came to the conclusion that the proper way to protect the fleet behind the Breakwater was for his vessel to boldly steam out to sea and attack the British cruiser. If this vessel carried a long-range gun, what was to hinder her from suddenly running in closer and sending a few shells into the midst of the defenceless merchantmen? In fact, to go out and fight her was the only way to protect the lives and property in the harbour.
It was true that one of those beastly repellers was sneaking about off the cape, accompanied, probably, by an underwater tongs-boat. But as neither of these had done anything, or seemed likely to do anything, the British cruiser should be attacked without loss of time.
When the commander of the Lenox came to this decision, his ship was well abreast of Cape Henlopen, and he therefore proceeded directly out to sea. There was a little fear in his mind that the English cruiser, which was now bearing to the south-east, might sail off and get away from him. The Stockbridge was detained by the arrival of a despatch boat from the shore with a message from the Naval Department. But as this message related only to the measurements of a certain deck gun, her commander intended, as soon as an answer could be sent off, to sail out and give battle to the British vessel.
Every soul on board the Lenox was now filled with fiery ardour. The ship was already in good fighting trim, but every possible preparation was made for a contest which should show their country and the world what American sailors were made of.
The Lenox had not proceeded more than a mile out to sea, when she perceived Repeller No. 6 coming toward her from seaward, and in a direction which indicated that it intended to run across her course. The Lenox, however, went straight on, and in a short time the two vessels were quite near each other. Upon the deck of the repeller now appeared the director in charge, who, with a speaking-trumpet, hailed the Lenox and requested her to lay to, as he had something to communicate. The commander of the Lenox, through his trumpet, answered that he wanted no communications, and advised the other vessel to keep out of his way.
The Lenox now put on a greater head of steam, and as she was in any case a much faster vessel than the repeller, she rapidly increased the distance between herself and the Syndicate's vessel, so that in a few moments hailing was impossible. Quick signals now shot up in jets of black smoke from the repeller, and in a very short time afterward the speed of the Lenox slackened so much that the repeller was able to come up with her.
When the two vessels were abreast of each other, and at a safe hailing distance apart, another signal went up from the repeller, and then both vessels almost ceased to move through the water, although the engines of the Lenox were working at high speed, with her propeller-blades stirring up a whirlpool at her stern.
For a minute or two the officers of the Lenox could not comprehend what had happened. It was first supposed that by mistake the engines had been slackened, but almost at the same moment that it was found that this was not the case, the discovery was made that the crab accompanying the repeller had laid hold of the stern-post of the Lenox, and with all the strength of her powerful engines was holding her back.
Now burst forth in the Lenox a storm of frenzied rage, such as was never seen perhaps upon any vessel since vessels were first built. From the commander to the stokers every heart was filled with fury at the insult which was put upon them. The commander roared through his trumpet that if that infernal sea-beetle were not immediately loosed from his ship he would first sink her and then the repeller.
To these remarks the director of the Syndicate's vessels paid no attention, but proceeded to state as briefly and forcibly as possible that the Lenox had been detained in order that he might have an opportunity of speaking with her commander, and of informing him that his action in coming out of the harbour for the purpose of attacking a British vessel was in direct violation of the contract between the United States and the Syndicate having charge of the war, and that such action could not be allowed.
The commander of the Lenox paid no more attention to these words than the Syndicate's director had given to those he had spoken, but immediately commenced a violent attack upon the crab. It was impossible to bring any of the large guns to bear upon her, for she was almost under the stern of the Lenox; but every means of offence which infuriated ingenuity could suggest was used against it. Machine guns were trained to fire almost perpendicularly, and shot after shot was poured upon that portion of its glistening back which appeared above the water.
But as these projectiles seemed to have no effect upon the solid back of Crab H, two great anvils were hoisted at the end of the spanker-boom, and dropped, one after the other, upon it. The shocks were tremendous, but the internal construction of the crabs provided, by means of upright beams, against injury from attacks of this kind, and the great masses of iron slid off into the sea without doing any damage.
Finding it impossible to make any impression upon the mailed monster at his stern, the commander of the Lenox hailed the director of the repeller, and swore to him through his trumpet that if he did not immediately order the Lenox to be set free, her heaviest guns should be brought to bear upon his floating counting-house, and that it should be sunk, if it took all day to do it.
It would have been a grim satisfaction to the commander of the Lenox to sink Repeller No. 6, for he knew the vessel when she had belonged to the United States navy. Before she had been bought by the Syndicate, and fitted out with spring armour, he had made two long cruises in her, and he bitterly hated her, from her keel up.
The director of the repeller agreed to release the Lenox the instant her commander would consent to return to port. No answer was made to this proposition, but a dynamite gun on the Lenox was brought to bear upon the Syndicate's vessel. Desiring to avoid any complications which might ensue from actions of this sort, the repeller steamed ahead, while the director signalled Crab H to move the stern of the Lenox to the windward, which, being quickly done, the gun of the latter bore upon the distant coast.