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Title: The World Peril of 1910
Author: George Griffith
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Language: English
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The World Peril of 1910
George Griffith



PROLOGUE

A RACE FOR A WOMAN

IN Clifden, the chief coast town of Connemara, there is a house at the
end of a triangle which the two streets of the town form, the front
windows of which look straight down the beautiful harbour and bay,
whose waters stretch out beyond the islands which are scattered along
the coast and, with the many submerged reefs, make the entrance so
difficult.

In the first-floor double-windowed room of this house, furnished as a
bed-sitting room, there was a man sitting at a writing-table--not an
ordinary writing-table, but one the dimensions of which were more
suited to the needs of an architect or an engineer than to those of a
writer. In the middle of the table was a large drawing-desk, and on it
was pinned a sheet of cartridge paper, which was almost covered with
portions of designs.

In one corner there was what might be the conception of an engine
designed for a destroyer or a submarine. In another corner there was a
sketch of something that looked like a lighthouse, and over against
this the design of what might have been a lantern. The top left-hand
corner of the sheet was merely a blur of curved lines and shadings and
cross-lines, running at a hundred different angles which no one, save
the man who had drawn them, could understand the meaning of.

In the middle of the sheet there was a very carefully-outlined drawing
in hard pencil of a craft which was different from anything that had
ever sailed upon the waters or below them, or, for the matter of that,
above them.

To the right hand there was a rough, but absolutely accurate, copy of
this same craft leaving the water and flying into the air, and just
underneath this a tiny sketch of a flying fish doing the same thing.

The man sitting before the drawing-board was an Irishman. He was one
of those men with the strong, crisp hair, black brows and deep brown
eyes, straight, strong nose almost in a line with his forehead, thin,
nervous lips and pointed jaw, strong at the angles but weak at the
point, which come only from one descent.

Nearly four hundred years before, one of the ships of the great Armada
had been wrecked on Achill Island, about twenty miles from where he
sat. Half a dozen or so of the crew had been saved, and one of these
was a Spanish gentleman, captain of Arquebusiers who, drenched and
bedraggled as he was when the half-wild Irish fishermen got him out of
the water, still looked what he was, a Hidalgo of Spain. He had been
nursed back to health and strength in a miserable mud- and turf-walled
cottage, and, broken in fortune--for he was one of the many gentlemen
of Spain who had risked their all on the fortunes of King Philip and
the Great Armada, and lost--he refused to go back to his own country a
beaten man.

And meanwhile he had fallen in love with the daughter of his nurse,
the wife of the fisherman who had taken him more than half dead out of
the raging Atlantic surf.

No man ever knew who he was, save that he was a gentleman, a Spaniard,
and a Catholic. But when he returned to the perfection of physical and
mental health, and had married the grey-eyed, dark-browed girl, who
had seemed to him during his long hours of sickness the guardian angel
who had brought him back across the line which marks the frontier
between life and death, he developed an extraordinary talent in boat-
building, which was the real origin of the wonderful sea-worthiness of
small craft which to this day brave, almost with impunity, the
terrible seas which, after an unbroken run of almost two thousand
miles, burst upon the rockbound, island-fenced coast of Connemara.

The man at the table was the descendant in the sixth generation of the
unknown Spanish Hidalgo, who nearly four hundred years before had said
in reply to a question as to what his name was:

"Juan de Castillano."

As the generations had passed, the name, as usual, had got modified,
and this man's name was John Castellan.

"I think that will about do for the present," he said, getting up from
the table and throwing his pencil down. "I've got it almost perfect
now;" and then as he bent down again over the table, and looked over
every line of his drawings, "Yes, it's about all there. I wonder what
my Lords of the British Admiralty would give to know what that means.
Well, God save Ireland, they shall some day!"

He unpinned the paper from the board, rolled it up, and put it into
the top drawer of an old oak cabinet, which one would hardly have
expected to find in such a room as that, and locked the drawer with a
key on his key-chain. Then he took his cap from a peg on the door, and
his gun from the corner beside it, and went out.

There are three ways out of Clifden to the west, one to the southward
takes you over the old bridge, which arches the narrow rock-walled
gorge, which gathers up the waters of the river after they have had
their frolic over the rocks above. The other is a continuation of the
main street, and this, as it approaches the harbour, where you may now
see boats built on the pattern which John Castellan's ancestor had
designed, divides into two roads, one leading along the shore of the
bay, and the other, rough, stony, and ill-kept, takes you above the
coast-guard station, and leads to nowhere but the Atlantic Ocean.

Between these two roads lies in what was once a park, but which is now
a wilderness, Clifden Castle. Castle in Irish means country house, and
all over the south and west of Ireland you may find such houses as
this with doors screwed up, windows covered with planks, roofs and
eaves stripped of the lead and slates which once protected them from
the storms which rise up from the Atlantic, and burst in wind and
rain, snow and sleet over Connemara, long ago taken away to sell by
the bankrupt heirs of those who ruined themselves, mortgaged and sold
every acre of ground and every stick and stone they owned to maintain
what they called the dignity of their families at the Vice-Regal Court
in Dublin.

John Castellan took the lower road, looking for duck. The old house
had been the home of his grandfather, but he had never lived in it.
The ruin had come in his father's time, before he had learned to walk.
He looked at it as he passed, and his teeth clenched and his brows
came together in a straight line.

Almost at the same moment that he left his house an Englishman came
out of the Railway Hotel. He also had a gun over his shoulder, and he
took the upper road. These two men, who were to meet for the first
time that day, were destined to decide the fate of the world between
them.

As John Castellan walked past the ruined distillery, which overlooks
the beach on which the fishing boats are drawn up, he saw a couple of
duck flying seaward. He quickened his pace, and walked on until he
turned the bend of the road, at which on the right-hand side a path
leads up to a gate in the old wall, which still guards the ragged
domains of Clifden Castle. A few hundred yards away there is a little
peninsula, on which stands a house built somewhat in bungalow fashion.
The curve of the peninsula turns to the eastward, and makes a tiny bay
of almost crescent shape. In this the pair of duck settled.

John Castellan picked up a stone from the road, and threw it into the
water. As the birds rose his gun went up. His right barrel banged and
the duck fell. The drake flew landward: he fired his left barrel and
missed.

Then came a bang from the upper road, and the drake dropped. The
Englishman had killed it with a wire cartridge in his choked left
barrel.

"I wonder who the devil did that!" said Castellan, as he saw the bird
fall. "It was eighty yards if it was an inch, and that's a good gun
with a good man behind it."

The Englishman left the road to pick up the bird and then went down
the steep, stony hillside towards the shore of the silver-mouthed bay
in the hope of getting another shot farther on, for the birds were now
beginning to come over; and so it came about that he and the Irishman
met within a few yards of each other, one on either side of a low spit
of sand and shingle.

"That was a fine shot you killed the drake with," said the Irishman,
looking at the bird he was carrying by the legs in his left hand.

"A good gun, and a wire cartridge, I fancy, were mainly responsible
for his death," laughed the Englishman. "See you've got the other."

"Yes, and missed yours," said the Irishman.

The other recognised the tone as that of a man to whom failure, even
in the most insignificant matter, was hateful, and he saw a quick
gleam in his eyes which he remembered afterwards under very different
circumstances.

But it so happened that the rivalry between them which was hereafter
to have such momentous consequences was to be manifested there and
then in a fashion much more serious than the hitting or missing of a
brace of wild fowl.

Out on the smooth waters of the bay, about a quarter of a mile from
the spit on which they stood, there were two boats. One was a light
skiff, in which a girl, clad in white jersey and white flannel skirt,
with a white Tam O'Shanter pinned on her head, was sculling leisurely
towards the town. From the swing of her body, the poise of her head
and shoulders, and the smoothness with which her sculls dropped in the
water and left it, it was plain that she was a perfect mistress of the
art; wherefore the two men looked at her, and admired.

The other craft was an ordinary rowing boat, manned by three lads out
for a spree. There was no one steering and the oars were going in and
out of the water with a total disregard of time. The result was that
her course was anything but a straight line. The girl's sculls made no
noise, and the youths were talking and laughing loudly.

Suddenly the boat veered sharply towards the skiff. The Englishman put
his hands to his mouth, and yelled with all the strength of his lungs.

"Look out, you idiots, keep off shore!"

But it was too late. The long, steady strokes were sending the skiff
pretty fast through the smooth water. The boat swerved again, hit the
skiff about midway between the stem and the rowlocks, and the next
moment the sculler was in the water. In the same moment two guns and
two ducks were flung to the ground, two jackets were torn off, two
pairs of shoes kicked away, and two men splashed into the water.
Meanwhile the sculler had dropped quietly out of the sinking skiff,
and after a glance at the two heads, one fair and the other dark,
ploughing towards her, turned on her side and began to swim slowly in
their direction so as to lessen the distance as much as possible.

The boys, horrified at what they had done, made such a frantic effort
to go to the rescue, that one of them caught a very bad crab; so bad
indeed that the consequent roll of the boat sent him headlong into the
water; and so the two others one of whom was his elder brother,
perhaps naturally left the girl to her fate, and devoted their
energies to saving their companion.

Both John Castellan and the Englishman were good swimmers, and the
race was a very close thing. Still, four hundred yards with most of
your clothes on is a task calculated to try the strongest swimmer,
and, although the student had swum almost since he could walk, his
muscles were not quite in such good form as those of the ex-athlete of
Cambridge who, six months before, had won the Thames Swimming Club
Half-mile Handicap from scratch.

Using side stroke and breast-stroke alternately they went at it almost
stroke for stroke about half a dozen yards apart, and until they were
within thirty yards or so of the third swimmer, they were practically
neck and neck, though Castellan had the advantage of what might be
called the inside track. In other words he was a little nearer to the
girl than the Englishman.

When circumstances permitted they looked at each other, but, of
course, neither of them was fool enough to waste his breath in speech.
Still, each clearly understood that the other was going to get the
girl first if he could.

So the tenth yard from the prize was reached, and then the Englishman
shook his head up an inch, filled his lungs, rolled on to his side,
and made a spurt with the reserve of strength which he had kept for
the purpose. Inch by inch he drew ahead obliquely across Castellan's
course and, less than a yard in front of him, he put his right hand
under the girl's right side.

A lovely face, beautiful even though it was splashed all over with wet
strands of dark chestnut hair, turned towards him; a pair of big blue
eyes which shone in spite of the salt water which made them blink,
looked at him; and, after a cough, a very sweet voice with just a
suspicion of Boston accent in it, said:

"Thank you so much! It was real good of you! I can swim, but I don't
think I could have got there with all these things on, and so I reckon
I owe you two gentlemen my life."

Castellan had swum round, and they took her under the arms to give her
a rest. The two boys left in the boat had managed to get an oar out to
their comrade just in time, and then haul him into the boat, which was
now about fifty yards away; so as soon as the girl had got her breath
they swam with her to the boat, and lifted her hands on to the
gunwale.

"If you wouldn't mind, sir, picking up those oars," said the
Englishman, "I will get the young lady into the boat, and then we can
row back."

Castellan gave him another look which said as plainly as words: "Well,
I suppose she's your prize for the present," and swam off for the
oars. With the eager help of the boys, who were now very frightened
and very penitent, the Englishman soon had the girl in the boat; and
so it came about that an adventure which might well have deprived
America of one of her most beautiful and brilliant heiresses, resulted
in nothing more than a ducking for two men and one girl, a wet, but
somehow not altogether unpleasant walk, and a slight chill from which
she had quite recovered the next morning.

The after consequences of that race for the rescue were of course,
quite another matter. Poke then, all unconsciously. But in the days to
come they were fulfilled in such fashion that only one man in all the
world had ever dreamed of, and that was the man who had beaten John
Castellan by a yard in the swimming race for the rescue of that
American girl from drowning.



Chapter II

NORAH'S GOOD-BYE

THE scene had shifted back from the royal city of Potsdam to the
little coast town in Connemara. John Castellan was sitting on a corner
of his big writing-table swinging his legs to and fro, and looking a
little uncomfortable. Leaning against the wall opposite the windows,
with her hands folded behind her back, was a girl of about nineteen,
an almost perfect incarnation of the Irish girl at her best. Tall,
black-haired, black-browed, grey-eyed, perfectly-shaped, and with that
indescribable charm of feature which neither the pen nor the camera
can do justice to--Norah Castellan was facing him, her eyes gleaming
and almost black with anger, and her whole body instinct with intense
vitality.

"And so Ireland hasn't troubles enough of her own, John, that you must
bring new ones upon her, and what for? To realise a dream that was
never anything else but a dream, and to satisfy a revenge that is
three hundred years old! If that theory of yours about reincarnation
is true, you may have been a Spaniard once, but remember that you're
an Irishman now; and you're no good Irishman if you sell yourself to
these foreigners to do a thing like that, and it's your sister that's
telling you."

"And it's your brother, Norah," he replied, his black brows meeting
almost in a straight line across his forehead, "who tells you that
Ireland is going to have her independence; that the shackles of the
Saxon shall be shaken off once and for ever, even if all Europe blazes
up with war in the doing of it. I have the power and I will use it.
Spaniard or Irishman, what does it matter? I hate England and
everything English."

"Hate England, John!" said the girl. "Are you quite sure that it isn't
an Englishman that you hate?"

"Well, and what if I do? I hate all Englishmen, and I'm the first
Irishman who has ever had the power to put his hatred into acts
instead of words--and you, an Irish girl, with six generations of
Irish blood in your veins, you, to talk to me like this. What are you
thinking about, Norah? Is that what you call patriotism?"

"Patriotism!" she echoed, unclasping her hands, and holding her right
hand out towards him. "I'm as Irish as you are, and as Spanish, too,
for the matter of that, for the same blood is to the veins of both of
us. You're a scholar and a genius, and all the rest of it, I grant
you; but haven't you learned history enough to know that Ireland never
was independent, and never could be? What brought the English here
first? Four miserable provinces that called themselves kingdoms, and
all fighting against each other, and the king of one of them stole the
wife of the king of another of them, and that's how the English came.

"I love Ireland as well as you do, John, but Ireland is not worth
setting the world swimming in blood for. You're lighting a match-box
to set the world ablaze with. It isn't Ireland only, remember. There
are Irish all over the world, millions of them, and remember how the
Irish fought in the African War. I don't mean Lynch and his traitors,
but the Dublin boys. Who were the first in and the last out--Irishmen,
but they had the sense to know that they were British first and Irish
afterwards. I tell you, you shall be shot for what you've done, and if
I wasn't the daughter of your father and mother, I'd inform against
you now."

"And if you did, Norah, you would do very little good to the Saxon
cause," replied her brother, pointing with his thumb out of one of the
windows. "You see that yacht in the bay there. Everything is on board
of her. If you went out into the street now, gave me in charge of the
constabulary, to those two men in front of the hotel there, it would
make no difference. There's nothing to be proved, no, not even if my
own sister tried to swear my life and liberty away. It would only be
that the Germans and the Russians, and the Austrians, and the rest of
them would work out my ideas instead of me working them out, and it
might be that they would make a worse use of them. You've half-an-hour
to give me up, if you like."

And then he began to collect the papers that were scattered about the
big drawing-table, sorting them out and folding them up and then
taking other papers and plans from the drawers and packing them into a
little black dispatch box.

"But, John, John," she said, crossing the room, and putting her hand
on his shoulder. "Don't tell me that you're going to plunge the world
in war just for this. Think of what it means--the tens of thousands of
lives that will be lost, the thousands of homes that will be made
desolate, the women who will be crying for their husbands, and the
children for their fathers, the dead men buried in graves that will
never have a name on them, and the wounded, broken men coming back to
their homes that they will never be able to keep up again, not only
here and in England, but all over Europe and perhaps in America as
well! Genius you may be; but what are you that you should bring
calamity like this upon humanity?"

"I'm an Irishman, and I hate England, and that's enough," he replied
sullenly, as he went on packing his papers.

"You hate that Englishman worse than you hate England, John."

"And I wouldn't wonder if you loved that Englishman more than you
loved Ireland, Norah," he replied, with a snarl in his voice.

"And if I did," she said, with blazing eyes and flaming checks, "isn't
England nearer to Ireland than America?"

"Geographically, perhaps, but in sentiment--"

"Sentiment! Yes, when you have finished with this bloody business of
yours that you have begun on, go you through Ireland and England and
Europe, and ask the widows and the fatherless, and the girls who
kissed their lovers 'good-bye,' and never saw them again, what they
think of that sentiment! But it's no use arguing with you now; there's
your German yacht. You're no brother of mine. You've made me sorry
that we had the same father and mother."

As she spoke, she went to the door, opened it and, before he could
reply, slammed it behind her, and went to her room to seek and find a
woman's usual relief from extreme mental tension.

John Castellan went on packing his papers, his face grey, and his
features hard-set. He loved his beautiful sister, but he thought that
he loved his country more. When he had finished he went and knocked at
her door, and said "Norah, I'm going. Won't you say 'good-bye’?”

The door was swung open, and she faced him, her face wet with tears,
her eyes glistening, and her lips twitching.

"Yes, good-bye, John," she said. "Go to your German friends; but, when
all the horrors that you are going to bring upon this country through
their help come to pass, remember you have no sister left in Ireland.
You've sold yourself, and I have no brother who is a traitor. Good-
bye!"

The door swung to and she locked it. John Castellan hesitated for a
moment or two, and then with a slow shake of his head he went away
down the stairs out into the street, and along to the little jetty
where the German yacht's boat was waiting to take him on board.

Norah had thrown herself on her bed in her locked room shedding the
first but not the last tear that John Castellan's decision was
destined to draw from women's eyes.

About half an hour later the encircling hills of the bay echoed the
shriek of a siren. She got up, looked out of the window, and saw the
white shape of the German yacht moving out towards the fringe of
islands which guard the outward bay.

"And there he goes!" she said in a voice that was almost choked with
sobs, "there he goes, my own brother, it may be taking the fate of the
world with him--yes, and on a German ship, too. He that knows every
island and creek and cove and harbour from Cape Wrath to Cape Clear--
he that's got all those inventions in his head, too, and the son of my
own father and mother, sold his country to the foreigner, thinking
those dirty Germans will keep their word with him.

"Not they, John, not they. The saints forgive me for thinking it, but
for Ireland's sake I hope that ship will never reach Germany. If it
does, we'll see the German Eagle floating over Dublin Castle before
you'll be able to haul up the Green Flag. Well, well, there it is;
it's done now, I suppose, and there's no help for it. God forgive you,
John, I don't think man ever will!"

As she said this the white yacht turned the southern point of the
inner bay, and disappeared to the southward. Norah bathed her face,
brushed out her hair, and coiled it up again; then she put on her hat
and jacket, and went out to do a little shopping.

It is perhaps a merciful provision of Providence that in this human
life of ours the course of the greatest events shall be interrupted by
the most trivial necessities of existence. Were it not for that the
inevitable might become the unendurable.

The plain fact was that Norah Castellan had some friends and
acquaintances coming to supper that evening. Her brother had left at a
few hours' notice from his foreign masters, as she called them, and
there would have to be some explanation of his absence, especially as
a friend of his, Arthur Lismore, the owner of the finest salmon
streams for twenty miles round, and a man who was quite hopelessly in
love with herself, was coming to brew the punch after the fashion of
his ancestors, and so, of course, it was necessary that there should
be nothing wanting.

Moreover, she was beginning to feel the want of some hard physical
exercise, and an hour or so in that lovely air of Connemara, which, as
those who know, say, is as soft as silk and as bright as champagne. So
she went out, and as she turned the corner round the head of the
harbour to the left towards the waterfall, almost the first person she
met was Arthur Lismore himself--a brown-faced, chestnut-haired, blue-
eyed, young giant of twenty-eight or so; as goodly a man as God ever
put His own seal upon.

His cap came off, his head bowed with that peculiar grace of deference
which no one has ever yet been able to copy from an Irishman, and he
said in the strong, and yet curiously mellow tone which you only hear
in the west of Ireland:

"Good afternoon, Miss Norah. I've heard that you're to be left alone
for a time, and that we won't see John to-night."

"Yes," she said, her eyes meeting his, "that is true. He went away in
that German yacht that left the bay less than an hour ago."

"A German yacht!" he echoed. "Well now, how stupid of me, I've been
trying to think all the afternoon what that flag was she carried when
she came in."

"The German Imperial Yacht Club," she said, "that was the ensign she
was flying, and John has gone to Germany in her."

"To Germany! John gone to Germany! But what for? Surely now--"

"Yes, to Germany, to help the Emperor to set the world on fire."

"You're not saying that, Miss Norah?"

"I am," she said, more gravely than he had ever heard her speak. "Mr
Lismore, it's a sick and sorry girl I am this afternoon. You were the
first Irishman on the top of Waggon Hill, and you'll understand what I
mean. If you have nothing better to do, perhaps you'll walk down to
the Fall with me, and I'll tell you."

"I could have nothing better to do, Norah, and it's yourself that
knows that as well as I do," he replied.

"I only wish the road was longer. And it's yourself that's sick and
sorry, is it? If it wasn't John, I'd like to get the reason out of any
other man. That's Irish, but it's true."

He turned, and they walked down the steeply sloping street for several
minutes in silence.



Chapter III

SEEN UNDER THE MOON

IT was a few minutes after four bells on a grey morning in November
1909 that Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, in command of his
Majesty's Fishery Cruiser, the Cormorant, got up on to the navigating
bridge, and, as usual, took a general squint about him, and buttoned
the top button of his oil-skin coat.

The Cormorant was just a few yards inside the three-mile limit off
Flamborough Head, and, officially, she was looking for trespassers,
who either did not fly the British flag, or flew it fraudulently.
There were plenty of foreign poachers on the rich fishing grounds to
the north and east away to the Dogger, and there were also plenty of
floating grog shops from Bremen and Hamburg, and Rotterdam and
Flushing, and a good many other places, loaded up to their decks with
liquor, whose mission was not only to sell their poison at about four
hundred per cent. profit to the British fishers on the Dogger, but
also to persuade them, at a price, to smuggle more of the said poison
into the British Islands to be made into Scotch and Irish whisky,
brandy, Hollands, gin, rum, and even green and yellow Chartreuse, or
any other alcoholic potion which simply wanted the help of the chemist
to transform potato and beet spirit into anything that would taste
like what it was called.

"Beast of a morning, Castellan," he said to his first officer, whom he
was relieving, "dirty sea, dirty sky, and not a thing to be seen. You
don't have worse weather than this even off Connemara, do you?"

"No," said Castellan, "and I've seen better; but look you, there's the
sky clearing to the east; yes, and there's Venus, herald of the sun:
and faith, she's bright, too, like a little moon, now isn't she? I
suppose it'll be a bit too early for Norah to be looking at her, won't
it?"

"Don't talk rot, man," replied the Lieutenant-Commander. "I hope your
sister hasn't finished her beauty sleep by this time."

The clouds parted still wider, making a great gap of blue-grey sky to
the eastward, as the westward bank drifted downward. The moon sent a
sudden flood of white light over their heads, which silvered the edges
of the clouds, and then turned the leaden waters into silver as it had
done to the grey of the cloud.

"She'd wake fast enough if she had a nightmare or a morning mare, or
something of that sort, and could see a thing like that," exclaimed
Castellan, gripping the Lieutenant-Commander by the shoulder with his
right hand, and pointing to the east with his left. "Look, man, look!
By all the Holy Powers, what is it? See there! Thanks for the blessed
moonlight that has shown it to us, for I'm thinking it doesn't mean
any good to old England or Ireland."

Erskine was an Englishman, and a naval officer at that, and therefore
his reply consisted of only a few words hardly fitted for publication.
The last words were, "What is it?"

"What is it?" said Castellan with a stamp of his feet on the bridge,
"what is it? Now wouldn't I like to know just as well as you would,
and don't you think the Lords of the British Admiralty would like to
know a lot better? But there's one thing I think I can tell you, it's
one of those new inventions that the British Admiralty never buy, and
let go to other countries, and what's more, as you've seen with your
eyes, as I have with mine, it came out of the water on the edge of
that moonlit piece, it flew across it, it sighted us, I suppose, it
found it had made a mistake, and it went down again. Now what do you
make of that?"

"Combination of submarine and airship it looks like," said Erskine,
seriously, "and if that doesn't belong to us, it's going to be fairly
dangerous. Good Lord! a thing like that might do anything with a
fleet, and whatever Power owns it may just as well have a hundred as
one. Look here, Castellan, I'm going straight into Scarborough. This
is a lot more important than the Dogger Fleet. There's the Seagull at
Hull. She can relieve us, and Franklin can take this old coffee-
grinder round. You and I are going to London as soon as we can get
there. Take the latitude, longitude, and exact time, and also the
evidence of the watch if any one of them saw it."

"You think it's as serious as that?"

"Certainly. It's one of two things. Either that thing belongs to us or
it belongs to a possible enemy. The Fleet, even to a humble fishery
cruiser, means the eyes and ears of the British Empire. If that
belongs to the Admiralty, well and good; we shall get censured for
leaving the ship; that's the risk we take. If it doesn't, the Naval
Board may possibly have the civility to thank us for telling them
about it; but in either case we are going to do our duty. Send
Franklin up to the bridge, make the course for Scarborough, get the
evidence of any of the watch who saw what we have seen, and I'll go
and make the report. Then you can countersign it, and the men can make
theirs. I think that's the best we can do."

"I think so, sir," said the Lieutenant, saluting.

The Lieutenant-Commander walked from port to starboard and starboard
to port thinking pretty hard until the navigating lieutenant came to
take charge of the bridge. Of submarines he knew a good deal. He knew
that the British navy possessed the very best type of this craft which
navigated the under-waters. He had also, of course, read the aerial
experiments which had been made by inventors of what the newspapers
called airships, and which he, with his hard naval common-sense,
called gasbags with motor engines slung under them. He knew the deadly
possibilities of the submarine; the flying gasbag he looked upon as
gas and not much more. The real flying machine he had considered up
till a few moments ago as a dream of the future; but a combination of
submarine and flying ship such as he and Castellan, if they had not
both been drunk or dreaming, had seen a few moments ago, was quite
another matter. The possibilities of a thing like that were absolutely
limitless, limitless for good or evil, and if it did belong to a
possible enemy of Britain, there was only one conclusion to be arrived
at--the Isle Inviolate would be inviolate no more.

Lieutenant Franklin came on to the bridge and saluted; he returned the
salute, gave the orders for changing the course, and went down to his
cabin, muttering:

"Good Lord, if that's only so. Why, half a dozen things like that
could fight a fleet, then go on gaily to tackle the forts. I wonder
whether my Lords of the Naval Council will see me to-morrow, and
believe me if they do see me."

By great good luck it happened that the Commander of the North-eastern
District had come up from Hull to Scarborough for a few days' holiday.
When he saw the Cormorant steam into the bay, he very naturally wanted
to know what was the matter, and so he went down to the pier-head, and
met the Cormorant's cutter. As Erskine came up the steps he recognised
him and saluted.

"Good-morning, sir."

"Good-morning, Erskine. What's the matter? You're a little off your
ground, aren't you? Of course, there must be a reason for it. Anything
serious?" replied the District Commander, as he held out his hand.
"Ah, good morning, Castellan. So you've both come ashore. Well, now,
what is it?"

Erskine took a rapid glance round at the promenaders who were coming
down to have a look at the cruiser, and said in a low tone:

"Yes, sir. I am afraid it is rather serious; but it is hardly the sort
of thing one could discuss here. In fact, I was taking the
responsibility of going straight to London with Castellan, to present
a report which we have drawn up to the Board of Admiralty."

The District Commander's iron-grey eyebrows lifted for the fraction of
a minute, and he said:

"H'm. Well, Erskine, I know you're not the sort of man to do that sort
of thing without pretty good reason. Come up to the hotel, both of
you, and let us go into it."

"Thank you, sir," replied Erskine. "It is really quite fortunate that
we met you here, because I think when you've seen the report you will
feel justified in giving us formal leave instead of French leave."

"I hope so," he replied, somewhat grimly, for a rule of the Service
had been broken all to pieces, and his own sense of discipline was
sorely outraged by the knowledge that two responsible officers had
left their ship with the intention of going to London without leave.

But when he had locked the door of his sitting-room at the hotel, and
heard the amazing story which Erskine and Castellan had to tell, and
had read their report, and the evidence of the men who had also seen
the strange apparition which had leapt from the sea into the air, and
then returned to the waters, he put in a few moments of silent
thinking, and then he looked up, and said gravely:

"Well, gentlemen, I know that British naval officers and British
seamen don't see things that are not there, as the Russians did a few
years ago on the Dogger Bank. I am of course bound to believe you, and
I think they will do the same in London. You have taken a very
irregular course; but a man who is not prepared to do that at a pinch
seldom does anything else. I have seen and heard enough to convince me
for the present; and so I shall have great pleasure, in fact I shall
only be doing my duty, in giving you both leave for a week.

"I will order the Seagull up from Hull, she's about ready, and I think
I can put an Acting-Commander on board the Cormorant for the present.
Now, you will just have time for an early lunch with me, and catch the
1.17, which will get you to town at 5.15, and you will probably find
somebody at the Admiralty then, because I know they're working
overtime. Anyhow, if you don't find Sir John Fisher there, I should go
straight to his house, if I were you; and even if you don't see him,
you'll be able to get an early appointment for to-morrow."

"That was a pretty good slice of luck meeting the noble Crocker,
wasn't it?" said Castellan, as the train began to move out of the
station, about three hours later. They had reserved a compartment in
the corridor express, and were able to talk State secrets at their
ease.

"We're inside the law now, at any rate."

"Law or no law, it was good enough to risk a court-martial for," said
Erskine, biting off the end of a cigar. "There's no doubt about the
existence of the thing, and if it doesn't belong to us, which is a
fact that only my Lords of the Naval Council can know, it simply
means, as you must see for yourself, that the invasion of England,
which has been a naval and military impossibility for the last seven
hundred years or so, will not only become possible but comparatively
easy. There's nothing upon the waters or under them that could stand
against a thing like that."

"Oh, you're right enough there," said Castellan, speaking with his
soft West of Ireland brogue. "There's no doubt of that, and it's the
very devil. A dozen of those things would play havoc with a whole
fleet, and when the fleet's gone, or even badly hurt, what's to stop
our good friends over yonder landing two or three million men just
anywhere they choose, and doing pretty well what they like afterwards?
By the Saints, that would be a horrible thing. We've nothing on land
that could stand against them, though, of course, the boys would stand
till they fell down; but fall they would."

"Yes," said Erskine, seriously. "It wouldn't exactly be a walk over
for them, but I'm afraid there couldn't be very much doubt at the end,
if the fleet once went."

"I'm afraid not," replied Castellan, "and we can only hope that our
Lords of the Council will be of the same opinion, or, better still,
that the infernal thing we saw belongs to us."

"I hope so," said Erskine, gravely. "If it doesn't--well, I wouldn't
give half-a-crown for the biggest battleship in the British Navy."



Chapter IV

THE SHADOW OF THE TERROR

BY a curious coincidence which, as events proved, was to have some
serious consequences, almost at the same moment that Commander Erskine
began to write his report on the strange vision which he and his
Lieutenant had seen, Gilbert Lennard came out of the Observatory which
Mr. Ratliffe Parmenter had built on the south of the Whernside Hills in
Yorkshire.

Mr. Ratliffe Parmenter had two ambitions in life, one of which he had
fulfilled. This was to pile millions upon millions by any possible
means. As he used to say to his associates in his poorer days, "You've
got to get there somehow, so get there "--and he had "got there." It
is not necessary for the purpose of the present narrative to say how
he did it. He had done it, and that is why he bought the Hill of
Whernside and about a thousand acres around it and built an
Observatory on the top with which, to use his own words, he meant to
lick Creation by seeing further into Creation than anyone else had
done, and that is just what his great reflector had enabled his
astronomer to do.

When he had locked the door, Lennard looked up to the eastward where
the morning star hung flashing like a huge diamond in splendid
solitude against the brightening background of the sky. His face was
the face of a man who had seen something that he would not like to
describe to any other man. His features were hard set, and there were
lines in his face which time might have drawn twenty or thirty years
later. His lips made a straight line, and his eyes, although he had
hardly slept three hours a night for as many nights, had a look in
them that was not to be accounted for by ordinary insomnia.

His work was over for the night, and, if he chose, he could go down to
the house three-quarters of a mile away and sleep for the rest of the
day, or, at any rate, until lunch time; and yet he looked another long
look at the morning star, thrust his hands down into his trousers
pockets and turned up a side path that led through the heather, and
spent the rest of the morning walking and thinking--walking slowly,
and thinking very quickly.

When he came in to breakfast at nine the next morning after he had had
a shave and a bath, Mr. Parmenter said to him:

"Look here, young man, I'm old enough to be your father, and so you'll
excuse me putting it that way; if you're going along like this I
reckon I'll have to shut that Observatory down for the time being and
take you on a trip to the States to see how they're getting on with
their telescopes in the Alleghanies and the Rockies, and maybe down
South too in Peru, to that Harvard Observatory above Arequipa on the
Misti, as a sort of holiday. I asked you to come here to work, not to
wear yourself out. As I've told you before, we've got plenty of men in
the States who can sign their cheques for millions of dollars and
can't eat a dinner, to say nothing of a breakfast, and you're too
young for that.

"What's the matter? More trouble about that new comet of yours. You've
been up all night looking at it, haven't you? Of course it's all right
that you got hold of it before anybody else, but all the same I don't
want you to be worrying yourself for nothing and get laid up before
the time comes to take the glory of the discovery."

While he was speaking the door of the breakfast-room opened and
Auriole came in. She looked with a just perceptible admiration at the
man who, as it seemed to her, was beginning to show a slight stoop in
the broad shoulders and a little falling forward of the head which she
had first seen driving through the water to her rescue in the Bay of
Connemara. Her eyelids lifted a shade as she looked at him, and she
said with a half smile:

"Good morning, Mr. Lennard; I am afraid you've been sacrificing
yourself a little bit too much to science. You don't seem to have had
a sleep for the last two or three nights. You've been blinding your
eyes over those tangles of figures and equations, parallaxes and cube
roots and that sort of thing. I know something about them because I
had some struggles with them myself at Vassar."

"That's about it, Auriole," said her father. "Just what I've been
saying; and I hope our friend is not going on with this kind of
business too long. Now, really, Mr. Lennard, you know you must not, and
that's all there is to it."

"Oh, no, I don't think you need be frightened of anything of that
sort," said Lennard, who had considerably brightened up as Auriole
entered the room; "perhaps I may have been going a little too long
without sleep; but, you see, a man who has the great luck to discover
a new comet is something like one of the old navigators who discovered
new islands and continents. Of course you remember the story of
Columbus. When he thought he was going to find what is now the country
which has had the honour--"

"I know you're going to say something nice, Mr. Lennard," interrupted
Auriole, "but breakfast is ready; here it comes. If you take my advice
you will have your coffee and something to eat and tell us the rest of
it while you're getting something that will do you good. What do you
think, Poppa?"

"Hard sense, Auriole, hard sense. Your mother used to talk just like
that, and I reckon you've got it from her. Well now, here's the food,
let's begin. I've got a hunger on me that I'd have wanted five dollars
to stop at the time when I couldn't buy a breakfast."

They sat down, Miss Auriole at the head of the table and her father
and Lennard facing each other, and for the next few minutes there was
a semi-silence which was very well employed in the commencement of one
of the most important functions of the human day.

When Mr. Parmenter had got through his first cup of coffee, his two
poached eggs on toast, and was beginning on the fish, he looked across
the table and said:

"Well now, Mr. Lennard, I guess you're feeling a bit better, as I do,
and so, maybe, you can tell us something new about comets."

"I certainly am feeling better," said Lennard with a glance at
Auriole, "but, you see, I've got into a state of mind which is not
unlike the physical state of the Red Indian who starves for a few days
and then takes his meals, I mean the arrears of meals, all at once.
When I have had a good long sleep, as I am going to have until to-
night, I might--in fact, I hope I shall be able to tell you something
definite about the question of the comet."

"What--the question?" echoed Mr. Parmenter. "About the comet? I didn't
understand that there was any question. You have discovered it,
haven't you?"

"I have made a certain discovery, Mr. Parmenter," said Lennard, with a
gravity which made Auriole raise her eyelids quickly, "but whether I
have found a comet so far unknown to astronomy or not, is quite
another matter. Thanks to that splendid instrument of yours, I have
found a something in a part of the heavens where no comet, not even a
star, has even been seen yet, and, speaking in all seriousness, I may
say that this discovery contradicts all calculations as to the orbits
and velocities of any known comet. That is what I have been thinking
about all night."

"What?" said Auriole, looking up again. "Really something quite
unknown?"

"Unknown except to the three people sitting at this table, unless
another miracle has happened--I mean such a one as happened in the
case of the discovery of Neptune which, as of course you know, Adams
at Cambridge and Le Verrier at Paris--"

"Yes, yes," said Auriole, "two men who didn't know each other; both
looked for something that couldn't be seen, and found it. If you've
done anything like that, Mr. Lennard, I reckon Poppa will have good
cause to be proud of his reflector--"

"And of the man behind it," added her father. "A telescope's like a
gun; no use without a good man behind it. Well, if that's so, Mr.
Lennard, this discovery of yours ought to shake the world up a bit."

"From what I have seen so far," replied Lennard, "I have not the
slightest doubt that it will."

"And when may I see this wonderful discovery of yours, Mr. Lennard,"
said Auriole, "this something which is going to be so important, this
something that no one else's eyes have seen except yours. Really, you
know, you've made me quite longing to get a sight of this stranger
from the outer wilderness of space."

"If the night is clear enough, I may hope to be able to introduce you
to the new celestial visitor about a quarter-past eleven to-night, or
to be quite accurate eleven hours, sixteen minutes and thirty-nine
seconds p.m."

"I think that's good enough, Auriole," said her father. "If the
heavens are only kind enough, we'll go up to the observatory and, as
Mr. Lennard says, see something that no one else has ever seen."

"And then," laughed Auriole, "I suppose you will have achieved the
second ambition of your life. You have already piled up a bigger heap
of dollars than anybody else in the world, and by midnight you will
have seen farther into Creation than anybody else. But you will let me
have the first look, won't you?"

"Why, certainly," he replied. "As soon as Mr. Lennard has got the
telescope fixed, you go first, and I reckon that won't take very
long."

"No," replied Lennard, "I've worked out the position for to-night, and
it's only a matter of winding up the clockwork and setting the
telescope. And now," he continued, rising, "if you will allow me, I
will say--well, I was going to say good-night, but of course it's good
morning--I'm going to bed."

"Will you come down to lunch, or shall I have some sent up to you?"
said Auriole.

"No, thanks. I don't think there will be any need to trouble you about
that. When I once get to sleep, I hope I shall forget all things
earthly, and heavenly too for the matter of that, until about six
o'clock, and if you will have me called then, I will be ready for
dinner."

"Certainly," replied Auriole, "and I hope you will sleep as well as
you deserve to do, after all these nights of watching."

He did sleep. He slept the sleep of a man physically and mentally
tired, in spite of the load of unspeakable anxiety which was weighing
upon his mind. For during his last night's work, he had learnt what no
other man in the world knew. He had learnt that, unless a miracle
happened, or some almost superhuman feat of ingenuity and daring was
accomplished, that day thirteen months hence would see the
annihilation of every living thing on earth, and the planet Terra
converted into a dark and lifeless orb, a wilderness drifting through
space, the blackened and desolated sepulchre of the countless millions
of living beings which now inhabited it.



Chapter V

A GLIMPSE OF THE MOON

AFTER dinner Lennard excused himself, saying that he wanted to make a
few more calculations; and then he got outside and lit his pipe, and
walked up the winding path towards the observatory.

"What am I to do?" he said between his teeth. "It's a ghastly position
for a man to be placed in. Fancy--just a poor, ordinary, human being
like myself having the power of losing or saving the world in his
hands! And then, of course, there's a woman in the question--the
Eternal Feminine--even in such a colossal problem as this!

"It's mean, and I know it; but, after all, I saved her life--though,
if I hadn't reached her first, that other chap might have got her. I
love her and he loves her; there's no doubt about that, and Papa
Parmenter wants to marry her to a coronet. There's one thing certain,
Castellan shall not have her, and I love her a lot too much to see her
made My Lady This, or the Marchioness of So-and-so, just because she's
beautiful and has millions, and the other fellow, whoever he may be,
may have a coronet that probably wants re-gilding; and yet, after all,
it's only the same old story in a rather more serious form--a woman
against the world. I suppose Papa Parmenter would show me the door to-
morrow morning if I, a poor explorer of the realm of Space, dared to
tell him that I want to marry his daughter.

"And yet how miserable and trivial all these wretched distinctions of
wealth and position look now; or would look if the world only knew and
believed what I could tell it--and that reminds me--shall I tell her,
or them? Of course, I must before long; simply because in a month or
so those American fellows will be on it, and they won't have any
scruples when it comes to a matter of scare head-lines. Yes, I think
it may as well be to-night as any other time. Still, it's a pretty
awful thing for a humble individual like myself to say, especially to
a girl one happens to be very much in love with--nothing less than the
death-sentence of Humanity. Ah, well, she's got to hear it some time
and from some one, and why shouldn't she hear it now and from me?"

When he got back to the house, there was a carriage at the door, and
Mr. Parmenter was just coming down the avenue, followed by a man with a
small portmanteau in his hand.

"Sorry, Mr. Lennard," he said, holding out his hand, "I've just had a
wire about a company tangle in London that I've got to go and shake
out at once, so I'll have to see what you have to show me later on.
Still, that needn't trouble anyone. It looks as if it were going to be
a splendid night for star-gazing, and I don't want Auriole
disappointed, so she can go up to the observatory with you at the
proper time and see what there is to be seen. See you later, I have
only just about time to get the connection for London."

Lennard was not altogether sorry that this accident had happened.
Naturally, the prospect of an hour or so with Auriole alone in his
temple of Science was very pleasant, and moreover, he felt that, as
the momentous tidings had to be told, he would prefer to tell them to
her first. And so it came about.

A little after half-past eleven that night Miss Auriole was looking
wonderingly into the eye-piece of the great Reflector, watching a tiny
little patch of mist, somewhat brighter towards one end than the
other; like a little wisp of white smoke rising from a very faint
spark that was apparently floating across an unfathomable sea of
darkness.

She seemed to see this through black darkness, and behind it a swarm
of stars of all sizes and colours. They appeared very much more
wonderful and glorious and important than the little spray of white
smoke, because she hadn't yet the faintest conception of its true
import to her and every other human being on earth: but she was very
soon to know now.

While she was watching it in breathless silence, in which the clicking
of the mechanism which kept the great telescope moving so as to
exactly counteract the motion of the machinery of the Universe,
sounded like the blows of a sledge-hammer on an anvil, Gilbert Lennard
stood beside her, wondering if he should begin to tell her, and what
he should say.

At last she turned away from the eye-piece, and looked at him with
something like a scared expression in her eyes, and said:

"It's very wonderful, isn't it, that one should be able to see all
that just by looking into a little bit of a hole in a telescope? And
you tell me that all those great big bright stars around your comet
are so far away--that if you look at them just with your own eyes you
don't even see them--and there they look almost as if you could put
out your hand and touch them. It's just a little bit awful, too!" she
added, with a little shiver.

"Yes," he said, speaking slowly and even more gravely that she thought
the subject warranted, "yes, it is both wonderful and, in a way,
awful. Do you know that some of those stars you have seen in there are
so far away that the light which you see them by may have left them
when Solomon was king in Jerusalem? They may be quite dead and dark
now, or reduced into fire-mist by collision with some other star. And
then, perhaps, there are others behind them again so far away that
their light has not even reached us yet, and may never do while there
are human eyes on earth to see it."

"Yes, I know," she said, smiling. "You don't forget that I have been
to college--and light travels about a hundred and eighty-six thousand
miles a second, doesn't it? But come, Mr. Lennard, aren't you what they
call stretching the probabilities a little when you say that the light
of some of them will never get here, as far as we're concerned? I
always thought we had a few million years of life to look forward to
before this old world of ours gets worn out."

"There are other ends possible for this world besides wearing out,
Miss Parmenter," he answered, this time almost solemnly. "Other worlds
have, as I say, been reduced to fire-mist. Some have been shattered to
tiny fragments to make asteroids and meteorites--stars and worlds, in
comparison with which this bit of a planet of ours is nothing more
than a speck of sand, a mere atom of matter drifting over the
wilderness of immensity. In fact, such a trifle is it in the organism
of the Universe, that if some celestial body collided with it--say a
comet with a sufficiently solid nucleus--and the heat developed by the
impact turned it into a mass of blazing gas; an astronomer on Neptune,
one of our own planets, wouldn't even notice the accident, unless he
happened to be watching the earth through a powerful telescope at the
time."

"And is such an accident, as you call it, possible, Mr. Lennard?" she
asked, jumping womanlike, by a sort of unconscious intuition, to the
very point to which he was so clumsily trying to lead up.

"I thought you spoke rather queerly about this comet of yours at
breakfast this morning. I hope there isn't any chance of its getting
on to the same track as this terrestrial locomotive of ours. That
would be just awful, wouldn't it? Why, what's the matter? You are
going to be ill, I know. You had better get down to the house, and go
to bed. It's want of sleep, isn't it? You'll be driving yourself mad
that way."

A sudden and terrible change had come over him while she was speaking.
It was only for the moment, and yet to him it was an eternity. It
might, as she said, have been the want of sleep, for insomnia plays
strange tricks sometimes with the strongest of intellects.

More probably, it might have been the horror of his secret working on
the great love that he had for this girl who was sitting there alone
with him in the silence of that dim room and in the midst of the
glories and the mysteries of the Universe.

His eyes had grown fixed and staring, and looked sightlessly at her,
and his face shone ghastly pale in the dim light of the solitary
shaded lamp. Certainly, one of those mysterious crises which are among
the unsolved secrets of psychology had come upon him like some swift
access of delirium.

He no longer saw her sitting there by the telescope, calm, gracious,
and beautiful. He saw her as, by his pitiless calculations, he must do
that day thirteen months to come--with her soft grey eyes, starting,
horror-driven from their orbits, staring blank and wide and hideous at
the overwhelming hell that would be falling down from heaven upon the
devoted earth. He saw her fresh young face withered and horror-lined
and old, and the bright brown hair grown grey with the years that
would pass in those few final moments. He saw the sweet red lips which
had tempted him so often to wild thoughts parched and black, wide open
and gasping vainly for the breath of life in a hot, burnt-out
atmosphere.

Then he saw--no, it was only a glimpse; and with that the strange
trance-vision ended. What must have come after that would in all
certainty have driven him mad there and then, before his work had even
begun; but at that moment, swiftly severing the darkness that was
falling over his soul, there came to him an idea, bright, luminous,
and lovely as an inspiration from Heaven itself, and with it came back
the calm sanity of the sternly-disciplined intellect, prepared to
contemplate, not only the destruction of the world he lived in, but
even the loss of the woman he loved--the only human being who could
make the world beautiful or even tolerable for him.

The vision was blotted out from the sight of his soul; the darkness
cleared away from his eyes, and he saw her again as she still was. It
had all passed in a few moments and yet in them he had been down into
hell--and he had come back to earth, and into her presence.

Almost by the time she had uttered her last word, he had regained
command of his voice, and he began clearly and quietly to answer the
question which was still echoing through the chambers of his brain.

"It was only a little passing faintness, thank you; and something else
which you will understand when I have done, if you have patience to
hear me to the end," he said, looking straight at her for a moment,
and then beginning to walk slowly up and down the room past her chair.

"I am going to surprise you, perhaps to frighten you, and very
probably to offend you deeply," he began again in a quiet, dry sort of
tone, which somehow impressed her against all her convictions that he
didn't much care whether or not he did any or all of these things: but
there was something else in his tone and manner which held her to her
seat, silent and attentive, although she was conscious of a distinct
desire to get up and run away.

"Your guess about the comet, or whatever it may prove to be, is quite
correct. I don't think it is a new one. From what I have seen of it so
far, I have every reason to believe that it is Gambert's comet, which
was discovered in 1826, and became visible to the naked eye in the
autumn of 1833. It then crossed the orbit of the earth one month after
the earth had passed the point of intersection. After that, some force
divided it, and in '46 and '52 it reappeared as twin comets constantly
separating; Now it would seem that the two masses have come together
again: and as they are both larger in bulk and greater in density it
would appear that, somewhere in the distant fields of Space, they have
united with some other and denser body. The result is, that what is
practically a new comet, with a much denser nucleus than any so far
seen, is approaching our system. Unless a miracle happens, or there is
a practically impossible error in my calculations, it will cross the
orbit of the earth thirteen months from to-day, at the moment that the
earth itself arrives at the point of intersection."

So far Auriole had listened to the stiff scientific phraseology with
more interest than alarm; but now she took advantage of a little
pause, and said:

"And the consequences, Mr. Lennard? I mean the consequences to us as
living beings. You may as well tell me everything now that you've gone
so far."

"I am going to," he said, stopping for a moment in his walk, "and I am
going to tell you something more than that. Granted that what I have
said happens, one of two things must follow. If the nucleus of the
comet is solid enough to pass through our atmosphere without being
dissipated, it will strike the surface with so much force that both it
and the earth will probably be transformed into fiery vapour by the
conversion of the motion of the two bodies into heat. If not, its
contact with the oxygen of the earth's atmosphere will produce an
aerial conflagration which, if it does not roast alive every living
thing on earth, will convert the oxygen, by combustion, into an
irrespirable and poisonous gas, and so kill us by a slower, but no
less fatal, process."

"Horrible!" she said, shivering this time. "You speak like a judge
pronouncing sentence of death on the whole human race! I suppose there
is no possibility of reprieve? Well, go on!"

"Yes," he said, "there is something else. Those are the scientific
facts, as far as they go. I am going to tell you the chances now--and
something more. There is just one chance--one possible way of averting
universal ruin from the earth, and substituting for it nothing more
serious than an unparalleled display of celestial fireworks. All that
will be necessary is perfect calculation and illimitable expenditure
of money."

"Well," she said, "can't you do the calculations, Mr. Lennard, and
hasn't Dad got millions enough? How could he spend them better than in
saving the human race from being burnt alive? There isn't anything
else, is there?"

"There was something else," he said, stopping in front of her again.
She had risen to her feet as she said the last words, and the two
stood facing each other in the dim light, while the mechanism of the
telescope kept on clicking away in its heedless, mechanical fashion.

"Yes, there was something else, and I may as well tell you after all;
for, even if you never see or speak to me again, it won't stop the
work being done now. I could have kept this discovery to myself till
it would have been too late to do anything: for no other telescope
without my help would even find the comet for four months to come, and
even now there is hardly a day to be lost if the work is to be done in
time. And then--well, I suppose I must have gone mad for the time
being, for I thought you will hardly believe me, I suppose--that I
could make you the price of the world's safety.

"From that, you will see how much I have loved you, however mad I may
have been. Losing you, I would have lost the world with you. If my
love lives, I thought, the world shall live: if not, if you die, the
world shall die. But just now, when you thought I was taken ill, I had
a sort of vision, and I saw you,--yes, you, Auriole as, if my one
chance fails, you must infallibly be this night thirteen months hence.
I didn't see any of the other millions who would be choking and
gasping for breath and writhing in the torture of the universal fire--
I only saw you and my own baseness in thinking, even for a moment,
that such a bargain would be possible.

"And then," he went on, more slowly, and with a different ring in his
voice, "there are the other men."

"Which other men?" she asked, looking up at him with a flush on her
cheeks and a gleam in her eyes.

"To be quite frank, and in such a situation as this, I don't see that
anything but complete candour is of any use," he replied slowly. "I
need hardly tell you that they are John Castellan and the Marquis of
Westerham. Castellan, I know, has loved you just as I have done, from
the moment we had the good luck to pick you out of the bay at Clifden.
Lord Westerham also wants you, so do I. That, put plainly, brutally,
if you like, is the situation. Of your own feelings, of course, I do
not pretend to have the remotest idea; but I confess that when this
knowledge came to me, the first thought that crossed my mind was the
thought of you as another man's wife--and then came the vision of the
world in flames. At first I chose the world in flames. I see that I
was wrong. That is all."

She had not interrupted even by a gesture, but as she listened, a
thousand signs and trifles which alone had meant nothing to her, now
seemed to come together and make one clear and definite revelation.
This strong, reserved, silent man had all the time loved her so
desperately that he was going mad about her--so mad that, as he had
said, he had even dreamed of weighing the possession of her single,
insignificant self against the safety of the whole world, with all its
innumerable millions of people--mostly as good in their way as she
was.

Well it might be that the love of such a man was a thing worth to
weigh even against a coronet not in her eyes, for there was no
question of that now, but in her father's. But that was a matter for
future consideration. She drew herself up a little stiffly, and said,
in just such a tone as she might have used if what he had just been
saying had had no personal interest for her--had, in fact, been about
some other girl:

"I think it's about time to be going down to the house, Mr. Lennard,
isn't it? I am quite sure a night's rest won't do you any harm. No,
I'm not offended, and I don't think I'm even frightened yet. It
somehow seems too big and too awful a thing to be only frightened at--
too much like the Day of Judgment, you know. I am glad you've told
me--yes, everything--and I'm glad that what you call your madness is
over. You will be able to do your work in saving the world all the
better. Only don't tell Dad anything except--well--just the scientific
and necessary part of it. You know, saving a world is a very much
greater matter than winning a woman--at least it is in one particular
woman's eyes--and I've learnt somewhere in mathematics something about
the greater including the less. And now, don't you think we had better
be going down into the house? It's getting quite late."



Chapter VI

THE NOTE OF WAR

THE Official Gazette, published November the 25th, 1909, contained the
following announcement:--

"Naval Promotions. Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, of H.M.
Fishery Cruiser Cormorant, to be Captain of H.M. Cruiser Ithuriel.
Lieutenant Denis Castellan, also of the Cormorant, to be First
Lieutenant of the Ithuriel."

On the evening of the same day, Mr. Chamberlain, the Prime Minister,
rose amidst the tense silence of a crowded House to make another
announcement, which was not altogether unconnected with the notice in
the Gazette.

"Sir," he said in a low, but vibrant and penetrating voice, which many
years before had helped to make his fame as an orator, "it is my
painful duty to inform this honourable House that a state of war
exists between His Majesty and a Confederation of European countries,
including Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Holland and Belgium."

He paused for a moment, and looked round at the hundreds of faces,
most of them pale and fixed, that were turned toward the front
Treasury Bench. Since Mr. Balfour, now Lord Whittinghame, and Leader of
the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, had made his memorable
speech on the 12th of October 1899, informing the House of Commons and
the world that the Ultimatum of the South African Republic had been
rejected, and that the struggle for the mastery of South Africa was
inevitable, no such momentous announcement had been made in the House
of Commons.

Mr. Chamberlain referred to that bygone crisis in the following terms:

"It will be within the memory of many Members of this House that,
almost exactly ten years ago to-day, the British Empire was challenged
to fight for the supremacy of South Africa. That challenge was
accepted not because there was any desire on the part of the
Government or the people of this country to destroy the self-
government of what were then the South African Republic and the Orange
Free State, but because the Government of her late Majesty, Queen
Victoria, knew that the fate of an empire, however great, depends upon
its supremacy throughout its dominions.

"To lose one of these, however small and apparently insignificant, is
to take a stone out of an arch with the result of inevitable collapse
of the whole structure. It is not necessary for me, sir, to make any
further allusion to that struggle, save than to say that the policy of
Her Majesty's Ministers has been completely justified by the
consequences which have followed from it.

"The Transvaal and Orange River Colonies have taken their place among
the other self-governing Colonies of the Empire. They are prosperous,
contented and loyal, and they will not be the last, I think, to come
to the help of the Mother Country in such a crisis as this. But, sir,
I do not think that I should be fulfilling the duties of the
responsible position which I have the honour to occupy if I did not
remind this House, and through this House the citizens of the British
Empire, that the present crisis is infinitely more serious than that
with which we were faced in 1899. Then we were waging a war in another
hemisphere, six thousand miles away. Our unconquered, and, as I hope
it will prove, unconquerable Navy, kept the peace of the world, and
policed the ocean highways along which it was necessary for our ships
to travel. It is true that there were menaces and threats heard in
many quarters, but they never passed beyond the region of insult and
calumny.

"Our possible enemies then, our actual enemies now, were in those days
willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike. To-day, they have lost
their fear in the confidence of combination. To-day the war cloud is
not six thousand miles away in the southern hemisphere; it is here, in
Europe, and a strip of water, twenty-one miles broad, separates us
from the enemy, which, even as I am speaking, may already be knocking
at our gates. Even now, the thunder of the guns may be echoing along
the shores of the English Channel.

"This, sir, is a war in which I might venture to say the most ardent
member of the Peace Society would not hesitate to engage. For it
involves the most sacred duty of humanity, the defence of our country,
and our homes.

"We remember, sir, the words which Francis Drake wrote, and which have
remained true from his day until now: 'The frontiers of an island
country are the coasts of its possible enemies.' We remember also that
when the great Napoleon had massed nearly half a million men on the
heights above Boulogne, and more than a thousand pontoons were waiting
to carry that force to the Kentish shore, there was only one old
English frigate cruising up and down the Straits of Dover.

"Sir, there is on the heights of Boulogne a monument, built to
commemorate the assembly of the Grand Army, and collectors of coins
still cherish those productions of the Paris Mint, which bear the
legend, 'Napoleon, Emperor, London, 1804.' But, sir, the statue of
Napoleon which stands on the summit of that monument faces not
westward but eastward. The Grand Army could have crossed that narrow
strip of water. It could, no doubt, have made a landing on British
soil, but Napoleon, possibly the greatest military genius the world
has ever seen, anticipated Field-Marshal von Moltke, who said that he
had found eight ways of getting into England, but he had not found one
of getting out again, unless it were possible to pump the North Sea
dry, and march the men over. In other words, sir, the British Navy was
then, as now, paramount on seas; the oceans were our territories, and
the coasts of Europe our frontiers.

"Again, sir, we must not forget that those were the days of sails, and
that these are the days of steam. What was then a matter of days is
now only a matter of hours. It is two hundred and forty-two years
since the sound of hostile guns was heard in the city of London.
Tomorrow morning their thunder may awaken us.

"It has been said, sir, that Great Britain plays the game of Diplomacy
with her cards face upwards on the table. That, in a sense, is true,
and His Majesty's Government propose to play the same game now. The
demands which have been presented by the Federation of European
Powers, at the head of which stands the German Emperor--demands which,
it is hardly necessary for me to say, were instantly rejected--are
these: That Gibraltar shall be given back to Spain; that Malta shall
be dismantled, and cease to be a British naval base; that the British
occupation of Egypt and the Soudan shall cease, and that the Suez
Canal and the Trans-Continental Railway from Cairo to the Cape shall
be handed over to the control of an International Board, upon which
the British Empire will be graciously allowed one representative.

"It is further demanded that Singapore, the Gate of the East, shall be
placed under the control of the same International Board, and that the
fortifications of Hong Kong shall be demolished. That, sir, would
amount to the surrender of the British Empire, an empire which can
only exist as long as the ocean paths between its various portions are
kept inviolate.

"Those proposals, sir, in plain English are threats, and His Majesty's
Government has returned the only possible answer to them, and that
answer is war--war, let us remember, which may within a few weeks, or
even days, be brought to our own doors. Whatever our enemies may have
said of us it is still true that Britain stands for peace, security,
and prosperity. We have used the force of arms to conquer the forces
of barbarism and semi-civilisation, but the most hostile of our
critics may be safely challenged to point to any country or province
upon which we have imposed the Pax Britannica, which is not now the
better for it. It is no idle boast, sir, to say that all the world
over, the rule of His Majesty means the rule of peace and prosperity.
There are only two causes in which a nation or an empire may justly go
to war. One, is to make peace where strife was before, and the other
is to defend that which has been won, and made secure by patient toil
and endeavour, no less than by blood and suffering. It is that which
the challenge of Europe calls upon us now to defend. Our answer to the
leagued nations is this: What we have fought for and worked for and
won is ours. Take it from us if you can.

"And, sir, I believe that I can say with perfect confidence, that what
His Majesty's Government has done His Majesty's subjects will enforce
to a man, and, if necessary, countersign the declaration of war in
their own blood.

"Let us remember, too, those weighty words of warning which the
Laureate of the Empire wrote nearly twenty years ago, of this Imperial
inheritance of ours:"

  "'It is not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep.

  Men, not gods, devised it, men, not gods, must keep.

  Men not children, servants, or kinsfolk called from afar.

  But each man born in the island broke to the matter of war.

  So ye shall bide, sure-guarded, when the restless lightnings wake.

  In the boom of the blotting war-cloud, and the pallid nations quake.

  So, at the haggard trumpets, instant your soul shall leap.

  Forthright, accoutred, accepting--alert from the wails of sleep.

  So at the threat ye shall summon--so at the need ye shall send

  Men, not children, or servants, tempered and taught to the end.'"

"Sir, it has been said that poets are prophets. The hour of the
fulfilment of that prophecy has now come, and I shall be much mistaken
in my estimate of the temper of my countrymen and fellow-subjects of
His Majesty here in Britain, and in the greater Britains over sea, if,
granted the possibility of an armed invasion of the Motherland, every
man, soldier or civilian, who is able to use a rifle, will not, if
necessary, use it in the defence of his country and his home."

The Prime Minister sat down amid absolute silence. The tremendous
possibilities which he had summed up in his brief speech seemed to
have stunned his hearers for the time being. Some members said
afterwards that they could hear their own watches ticking. Then Mr
John Redmond, the Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, rose and
said, in a slow, and deliberate voice, which contrasted strikingly
with his usual style of oratory:

"Sir, this is not a time for what has been with a certain amount of
double-meaning described as Parliamentary speeches. Still less is it a
time for party or for racial differences. The silence in which this
House has received the speech of the Prime Minister is the most
eloquent tribute that could be paid to the solemnity of his
utterances. But, sir, I have a reason for calling attention to one
omission in that speech, an omission which may have been made
purposely. The last time that a foeman's foot trod British soil was
not eight hundred years ago. It was in December 1796 that French
soldiers and sailors landed on the shores of Bantry Bay. Sir, the
Ireland of those days was discontented, and, if you please to call it
so, disloyal. There are those who say she is so now, but, sir,
whatever our domestic difficulties and quarrels may be, and however
much I and the party which I have the honour to lead may differ from
the home policy of the Right Honourable gentleman who has made this
momentous pronouncement, it shall not be said that any of those
difficulties or differences will be taken advantage of by any man who
is worth the name of Irishman.

"As the Prime Minister has told us, the thunder of the enemy's guns
may even now be echoing along our southern coasts. We have, I hope,
learnt a little wisdom on both sides of the Irish Sea during the last
twenty years, and this time, sir, I think I can promise that, while
the guns are talking, there shall be no sound of dispute on party
matters in this House as far as we are concerned. From this moment,
the Irish Nationalist Party, as such, ceases to exist, at any rate
until the war's over.

"In 1796, the French fleet carrying the invading force was scattered
over the seas by one of the worst storms that ever was known on the
west coast of Ireland. As Queen Elizabeth's medal said of the Spanish
Armada, 'God blew, and they were scattered.' With God's help, sir, we
will scatter these new enemies who threaten us with invasion and
conquest. Henceforth, there must be no more Englishmen, Irishmen,
Scotchmen, or Welshmen. We are just subjects of the King, and
inhabitants of the British Islands; and the man who does not believe
that, and act upon his belief, should get out of these islands as soon
as he can, for he isn't fit to live in them.

"I remember, sir, a car-driver in Galway, who was taking an English
tourist--and he was a politician as well--around the country about
that half-ruined city. The English tourist was inquiring into the
troubles of Ireland, and he asked him what was the greatest affliction
that Ireland suffered from, and when he answered him he described just
the sort of Irishman who won't be wanted in Ireland now. He said,
'It's the absentee landlords, your honour. This unfortunate country is
absolutely swarming with them.'"

It was an anti-climax such as only an Irishman could have achieved.
The tension which had held every nerve of every member on the stretch
while the Prime Minister was speaking was broken. The Irish members,
almost to a man, jumped to their feet, as Mr. Redmond picked up his
hat, waved it round his head, and said, in a tone which rang clear and
true through the crowded Chamber:

"God save the King!"

And then for the first time in its history, the House of Commons rose
and sang the National Anthem.

There was no division that night. The Prime Minister formally put the
motion for the voting of such credit as might be necessary to meet the
expenses of the war, and when the Speaker put the question, Ay or Nay,
every member stood up bareheaded, and a deep-voiced, thunderous "Ay"
told the leagued nations of Europe that Britain had accepted their
challenge.



Chapter VII

CAUGHT!

THE events of that memorable night formed a most emphatic
contradiction to the prophecy in Macaulay's "Armada"

  "Such night in England ne'er had been, nor e'er again shall be."

The speeches in the House of Commons and in the House of Peers were
being printed even as they were spoken; hundreds of printing-presses
were grinding out millions of copies of newspapers. Thousands of
newsboys were running along the pavements, or with great bags of new
editions slung on their shoulders tearing through the traffic on
bicycles; but all the speeches in the two Houses of Parliament, all
the reports and hurriedly-written leaders in the papers just
represented to the popular mind one word, and that word was war.

It was true that for over a hundred years no year had passed in which
the British Empire had not been engaged in a war of some kind, but
they were wars waged somewhere in the outlands of the earth. To the
stop-at-home man in the street they were rather more matters of
latitude and longitude than battle, murder, and sudden death. The
South African War, and even the terrible struggle between Russia and
Japan, were already memories drifting out of sight in the rush of the
headlong current of twentieth-century life.

But this was quite another matter; here was war--not war that was
being waged thousands of miles away in another hemisphere or on
another side of the globe--but war within twenty-one miles of English
land--within two or three hours, as it were, of every Englishman's
front door.

This went home to every man who had a home, or who possessed anything
worth living for. It was not now a case of sending soldiers, militia
and yeomanry away in transports, and cheering them as they went. Not
now, as Kipling too truly had said of the fight for South Africa:

  "When your strong men cheered in their millions, while your
striplings went to the war."

Now it was the turn of the strong men; the turn of every man who had
the strength and courage to fight in defence of all that was nearest
and dearest to him.

As yet there was no excitement. At every theatre and every music-hall
in London and the great provincial cities and towns, the performances
were stopped as soon as the news was received by telegraph. The
managers read the news from the stage, the orchestras played the first
bar of the National Anthem, the audiences rose to their feet, and all
over the British Islands millions of voices sang "God save the King,"
and then, obeying some impulse, which seemed to have inspired the
whole land, burst into the triumphant psalm of "Rule Britannia."

And when the theatres and music-halls closed, men and women went on
their way home quietly discussing the tremendous tidings which had
been officially announced. There was no attempt at demonstration,
there was very little cheering. It was too serious a matter for that.
The men and women of Britain were thinking, not about what they should
say, but about what they should do. There was no time for shouting,
for to-morrow, perhaps even to-night, the guns would be talking--"The
drumming guns which have no doubts."

The House rose at half-past eleven, and at ten minutes to twelve
Lieutenant Denis Castellan, came into the smoking-room of the Keppel's
Head Hotel, Portsmouth, with a copy of the last edition of the
Southern Evening News in his hand, and said to Captain Erskine:

"It's all right, my boy. It's war, and you've got the Ithuriel. Your
own ship, too. Designer, creator, captain; and I'm your First Luff."

"I think that's about good enough for a bottle of the best,
Castellan," said Erskine, in the quiet tone in which the officer of
the finest Service in the world always speaks. "Touch the button, will
you?"

As Denis Castellan put his finger on the button of the electric bell,
a man got up from an armchair on the opposite side of the room, and
said, as he came towards the table at which Erskine was sitting:

"You will pardon me, I hope, if I introduce myself without the usual
formalities. My name is Gilbert Lennard."

"Then, I take it, you're the man who swam that race with my brother
John, in Clifden Bay, when Miss Parmenter was thrown out of her skiff.
But he's no brother of mine now. He's sold himself to the Germans,
and," he continued, suddenly lowering his voice almost to a whisper,
"come up to my room, we'll have the bottle there, and Mr. Lennard will
join us. Yes, waiter, you can take it up to No. 24, we can't talk
here," he went on in a louder tone. "There's a German spy in the room,
and by the piper that was supposed to play before Moses, if he's here
when I come back, I'll throw him out."

Everyone in the smoking-room looked up. Castellan walked out, looking
at a fair-haired, clean-shaven little man, sitting at a table in the
right-hand corner of the room from the door. He also looked up, and
glanced vacantly about the room; then as the three went out, he took a
sip of the whisky-and-soda beside him, and looked back on to the paper
that he was reading.

"Who's that chap?" asked Erskine, as they went upstairs.

"I'll tell you when we're a bit more to ourselves," replied Castellan;
and when they had got into his sitting-room, and the waiter had
brought the wine, he locked the door, and said:

"That is Staff-Captain Count Karl von Eckstein, of the German Imperial
Navy, and also of His Majesty, the Kaiser's, Secret Service. He knows
a little more than we do about every dockyard and fort on the South
Coast, to say nothing of the ships. That's his district, and thanks to
the most obliging kindness of the British authorities he has made very
good use of it."

"But, surely," exclaimed Lennard, "now that there is a state of war,
such a man as that could be arrested."

"Faith," said Denis Castellan, as he filled the glasses. "Law or no
law, he will be arrested to-night if he stops here long enough for me
to lay hands upon him. Now then, what's the news, Mr. Lennard? I'm told
that you've just come back from the United States, what's the opinion
of things over there?"

Such news that Lennard had was, of course, even more terrible than the
news of war and invasion, which was now thrilling through England like
an electric shock, and he kept it to himself, thinking quite rightly
that the people of England had quite enough to occupy their attention
for the immediate present, and so he replied as he raised the glass
which Denis had filled for him:

"I am afraid that I have no news except this: that from all I have
heard in the States, if it does come to death-grips, the States will
be with us. But you see, of course, that I have only just got back,
and this thing has been sprung on us so suddenly. In fact, it was only
this morning that we got an aerogram from the Lizard as we came up
Channel to say that war was almost a certainty, and advising us to get
into Southampton as soon as we could."

"Well," said Erskine, taking up his glass, "that's all right, as far
as it goes. I've always believed that it's all rot saying that blood
isn't thicker than water. It is. Of course, relations quarrel more
than other people do, but it's only over domestic matters. Let an
outsider start a row, and he very soon sees what happens, and that's
what I believe our friends on the other side of the Channel are going
to find out if it comes to extremities. Well, Mr. Lennard, I am very
pleased that you have introduced yourself to us to-night. Of course,
we have both known you publicly, and therefore we have all the more
pleasure in knowing you privately."

"Thanks," replied Lennard, putting his hand into the inside pocket of
his coat and taking out an envelope. "But to be quite candid with you,
although of course I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, I did
not introduce myself to you and Mr. Castellan only for personal
reasons. I have devoted some attention to the higher chemistry as well
as the higher mathematics and astronomy, and I have also had the
pleasure of going through the designs of the cruiser which you have
invented, and which you are now to command. I have been greatly
interested in them, and for that reason I think that this may interest
you. I brought it here in the hope of meeting you, as I knew that your
ship was lying here."

Erskine opened the envelope, and took out a sheet of notepaper, on
which were written just a few chemical formulae and about forty words.

Castellan, who was watching him keenly, for the first time since they
had sailed together through stress and storm under the White Ensign,
saw him start. The pupils of his eyes suddenly dilated; his eyelids
and eyebrows went up for an instant and came down again, and the rigid
calm of the British Naval Officer came back. He put the letter into
his hip pocket, buttoned it up, and said, very quietly:

"Thank you, Mr. Lennard. You have done me a very great personal
service, and your country a greater one still. I shall, of course,
make use of this. I am afraid if you had sent it to the Ordnance
Department you wouldn't have heard anything about it for the next
three months or more; perhaps not till the war was over."

"And that is just why I brought it to you," laughed Lennard. "Well,
here's good luck to you and the Ithuriel, and all honour, and God save
the King!"

"God save the King!" repeated Erskine and Castellan, with that note of
seriousness in their tone which you can hear in the voice of no man
who has not fought, or is not going to fight; in short, to put his
words into action.

They emptied their glasses, and as they put them down on the table
again there came a knock at the door, sharp, almost imperative.

"Come in," said Erskine.

The head waiter threw the door open, and a Naval messenger walked in,
saluted, handed Erskine an official envelope, and said:

"Immediately, sir. The steam pinnace is down at the end of the Railway
Quay."

Erskine tore open the envelope and read the brief order that it
contained, and said:

"Very good. We shall be on board in ten minutes."

The messenger, who was a very useful-looking specimen of the handy
man, saluted and left the room. Castellan ran out after him, and they
went downstairs together. At the door of the hotel the messenger put
two fingers into his mouth, and gave three soft whistles, not unlike
the sounds of a boatswain's pipe. In two minutes a dozen bluejackets
had appeared from nowhere, and just as a matter of formality were
asked to have a drink at the bar. Meanwhile Denis Castellan had gone
into the smoking-room, where he found the sandy-haired, blue-eyed man
still sitting at his table in the corner, smoking his cigar, and
looking over the paper. He touched him on the shoulder and whispered,
in perfectly idiomatic German:

"I thought you were a cleverer man than that, Count. Didn't I give you
a warning? God's thunder, man. You ought to have been miles away by
this time; haven't you a motor that would take you to Southampton in
an hour, and put you on the last of the German liners that's leaving?
You know it will be a shooting or a hanging matter if you're caught
here. Come on now. My name's Castellan, and that should be good enough
for you. Come on, now, and I'll see you safe."

The name of Castellan was already well known to every German
confidential agent, though it was not known that John Castellan had a
brother who was a Lieutenant in the British Navy.

Captain Count Karl von Eckstein got up, and took his hat down from the
pegs, pulled on his gloves, and said deliberately:

"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Castellan, for your warning, which
I ought to have taken at first, but I hope there is still time. I will
go and telephone for my motor at once."

"Yes, come along and do it," said Castellan, catching him by the arm.
"You haven't much time to lose, I can tell you."

They went out of the smoking-room, turned to the left, and went into
the hall. Then Castellan snatched his hand away from Eckstein's arm,
took him by the shoulders, and pitched him forward into the middle of
the semicircle of bluejackets, who were waiting for him, saying:

"That's your man, boys. Take him down to the pinnace, and put him on
board. I'll take the consequences, and I think the owners will, too,
when they know the facts."

Von Eckstein tried to shout, but a hand about half the size of a
shoulder of mutton came down hard over his mouth and nose. Other
hands, with grips like vices, picked him off his feet, and out he
went, half stifled, along the yard, and up to the Railway Pier.

"Rather summary proceedings, weren't they, Castellan?"

Denis drew himself up, formally saluted his superior officer, and
said, with a curious mixture of fun and seriousness in his voice:

"That man's the most dangerous German spy in the South of England,
sir, and all's fair in war and the other thing. We've got him. In half
an hour he'd have been aboard a fast yacht he's got here in the
harbour, and across to Dieppe, with a portmanteau full of plans and
photographs of our forts that would be worth millions in men and money
to the people we've got to fight. I can't say it here, but you know
why I know."

Captain Erskine nodded, and did his best to conceal an unofficial
smile.

"That's right, Castellan," he said. "I'll take your word for it. Get
that chap on board, lads, as quick as you can. We'll follow at once."

Ship's Corporal Sandy M'Grath, the huge Scotsman, whose great fist had
stifled Count von Eckstein's attempt to cry out, touched his cap and
said: "Awa' wi' him, boys," and out they went at a run. Then Erskine
turned to Lennard, and said:

"We can do all this that you've given me on board the Ithuriel. It
isn't quite regular, but in consideration of this, if you like to take
a cruise, and see your own work done, I'll take the responsibility of
inviting you, only mind, there will probably be some fighting."

Even as he spoke two deep dull bangs shook the atmosphere and the
windows of the hotel shivered in their frames.

"I'll come," said Lennard. "They seem to have begun already."

"Begorra they have," said Denis Castellan, making a dash to the door.
"Come on. If that's so, there'll be blood for supper to-night, and the
sooner we're aboard the better."

The next moment the three were outside, and sprinting for the end of
the Railway Pier for all they were worth.



Chapter VIII

FIRST BLOOD

WHEN they got to the end of the Railway Pier where the pinnace was
lying panting and puffing, a Flag-Lieutenant touched his cap to
Erskine, took him by the arm and led him aside. He took an envelope
out of his pocket and said, in a low tone:

"Here are your instructions, Erskine. They've jumped on us a bit more
quickly than we thought they would, but the Commander-in-Chief trusts
to you and your ship to do the needful. The position is this: one
division of the Russian, German and Dutch fleets is making a combined
attack on Hull and Newcastle. Two other divisions are going for the
mouth of the Thames, and the North Sea Squadron is going to look after
them. The French North Sea Squadron is making a rush on Dover, and
will get very considerably pounded in the process. Two French fleets
from Cherbourg and Brest are coming up Channel, and each of them has a
screen of torpedo boats and destroyers. The Southern Fleet Reserve is
concentrated here and at Portland. The Channel Fleet is outside, and
we hope to get it in their rear, so that we'll have them between the
ships and the forts. If we do, they'll have just about as hot a time
of it as anybody wants.

"As far as we've been able to learn, the French are going to try
Togo's tactics at Port Arthur, and rush Portsmouth with the small
craft. You'll find that it's your business to look after them. Sink,
smash and generally destroy. Go for everything you see. There isn't a
craft of ours within twenty miles outside. Good-bye, and good luck to
you!"

"Good-bye!" said Erskine, as they shook hands, "and if we don't come
back, give my love to the Lords of the Admiralty and thank them for
giving me the chance with the Ithuriel. Bye-bye!"

Their hands gripped again and the captain of the Ithuriel ran down the
steps like a boy going to a picnic.

The pinnace gave a little squeak from its siren and sped away down the
harbour between the two forts, in which the gunners were standing by
the new fourteen-inch wire-wound guns, whose long chases were
prevented from drooping after continuous discharge by an ingenious
application of the principle of the cantilever bridge, invented by the
creator of the Ithuriel. In the breech-chamber of each of them was a
thousand-pound shell, carrying a bursting charge of five hundred
pounds of an explosive which was an improvement on blasting gelatine,
and the guns were capable of throwing these to a distance of twelve
miles with precision. They were the most formidable weapons either
ashore or afloat.

Just outside the harbour the pinnace swung round to the westward and
in a few minutes stopped alongside the Ithuriel.

As far as Lennard could see she was neither cruiser nor destroyer nor
submarine, but a sort of compound of all three. She did not appear to
be a steamer because she had no funnels. She was not exactly a
submarine because she had a signal-mast forward and carried five long,
ugly-looking guns, three ahead and two astern, of a type that he had
never seen before. Forward of the mast there was a conning-tower of
oval shape, with the lesser curves fore and aft. The breech-ends of
the guns were covered by a long hood of steel, apparently of great
thickness, and that was all.

As soon as they got on board Erskine said to Lennard:

"Come into the conning-tower with me. I believe we can make use of
this invention of yours at once. I've got a pretty well-fitted
laboratory down below and we might have a try. But you must excuse me
a moment, I will just run through this."

He opened the envelope containing his instructions, put them down on
the little desk in front of him and then read a note that was enclosed
with them.

"By Jove," he said, "they're pretty quick up at headquarters. You'll
have to excuse me a minute or two, Mr. Lennard. Just stand on that
side, will you, please? Close up, we haven't too much room here. Good-
bye for the present."

In front of the desk and above the little steering-wheel there was a
mahogany board studded with two sets of ivory buttons, disposed in two
lines of six each. He touched one of these, and Lennard saw him
disappear through the floor of the conning-tower. Within a few moments
the portion of the floor upon which he had stood returned to its
place, and Lennard said to himself:

"If the rest of her works like that, she ought to be a lovely study in
engineering."

While Captain Erskine is communicating his instructions to his second
in command, and arranging the details of the coming fight, there will
be time to give a brief description of the craft on board of which
Lennard so unexpectedly found himself, and which an invention of his
own was destined to make even more formidable than it was.

To put it as briefly as possible, the Ithuriel was a combination of
destroyer, cruiser, submarine and ram, and she had cost Erskine three
years of hard work to think out. She was three hundred feet long,
fifty feet broad, and thirty feet from her upper keel to her deck.
This was of course an abnormal depth for a vessel of her length, but
then the Ithuriel was quite an abnormal warship. One-third of her
depth consisted of a sinking-chamber, protected by twelve-inch armour,
and this chamber could be filled in a few minutes with four thousand
tons of water. This is of course the same thing as saying she had two
waterlines. The normal cruising line gave her a freeboard of ten feet.
Above the sinking-tanks her vitals were protected by ten-inch armour.
In short, as regards armour, she was an entire reversal of the
ordinary type of warship, and she had the advantage of being
impervious to torpedo attack. Loaded torpedoes had been fired at her
and had burst like eggs against a wall, with no more effect than to
make her heel over a few degrees to the other side. Submarines had
attacked her and got their noses badly bruised in the process. It was,
indeed, admitted by the experts of the Admiralty that under water she
was impregnable.

Her propelling power consisted of four sets of engines, all well below
the waterline. Three of these drove three propellers astern: the
fourth drove a suction screw which revolved just underneath the ram.
This was a mass of steel weighing fifty tons and curved upwards like
the inverted beak of an eagle. Erskine had taken this idea from the
Russian ice-breakers which had been designed by the Russian Admiral
Makaroff and built at Elswick. The screw was protected by a steel
grating of which the forward protecting girder completed the curve of
the stem. Aft there was a similar ram, weighing thirty tons and a like
protection to the after-screws.

The driving power was derived from a combination of petrol and
pulverised smokeless coal, treated with liquid oxygen, which made
combustion practically perfect. There were no boilers or furnaces, only
combustion chambers, and this fact made the carrying of the great
weight of armour under the waterline possible. The speed of the
Ithuriel was forty-five knots ahead when all four screws were driving
and pulling, and thirty knots astern when they were reversed. Her
total capacity was five thousand two hundred tons.

Behind the three forward guns was a dome-shaped conning-tower of nine-
inch steel, hardened like the rest of the armour by an improvement on
the Harvey process. Above the conning-tower were two searchlight
projectors, both capable of throwing a clear ray to a distance of four
miles and controlled from within the conning-tower.

"Well, I am afraid I have kept you waiting, Mr. Lennard," said Erskine,
as the platform brought him up again into the conning-tower, in much
shorter time than was necessary to make this needful description of
what was probably the most formidable craft in the British Navy.
"We're off now. I've fitted up half a dozen shells with that
diabolical invention of yours. If we run across a battleship or a
cruiser, we'll try them. I think our friends the enemy will find them
somewhat of a paralyser, and there's nothing like beginning pretty
strong."

"Nothing like hitting them hard at first, and I hope that those things
of mine will be what I think they are, and unless all my theories are
quite wrong, I fancy you'll find them all right."

"They would be the first theories of yours that have gone wrong, Mr.
Lennard," replied Erskine, "but anyhow, we shall soon see. I have put
three of your shells in the forward guns. We'll try them there first,
and if they're all right we'll use the other three. I've got the after
guns loaded with my own shell, so if we come across anything big, we
shall be able to try them against each other. At present, my
instructions are to deal with the lighter craft only: destroyers and
that sort of thing, you know."

"But don't you fire on them?" said Lennard. "What would happen if they
got a torpedo under you?"

"Well," said Erskine, "as a matter of fact I don't think destroyers
are worth shooting at. Our guns are meant for bigger game. But it's no
good trying to explain things now. You'll see, pretty soon, and you'll
learn more in half an hour than I could tell you in four hours."

They were clear of the harbour by this time and running out at about
ten knots between the two old North and South Spithead forts on the
top of each of which one of the new fourteen-inch thousand-pounders
had been mounted on disappearing carriages.

"Now," he continued, "if we're going to find them anywhere, we shall
find them here, or hereabouts. My orders are to smash everything that
I can get at."

"Fairly comprehensive," said Lennard.

"Yes, Lennard, and it's an order that I'm going to fill. We may as
well quicken up a bit now. You understand, Castellan is looking after
the guns, and his sub. Mackenzie is communicating orders to my Chief
Engineer, who looks after the speed."

"And the speed?" asked Lennard.

"I'll leave you to judge that when we get to business," said Erskine,
putting his forefinger on one of the buttons on the left-hand side of
the board as he spoke.

The next moment Lennard felt the rubber-covered floor of the conning-
tower jump under his feet. All the coast lights were extinguished but
there was a half-moon and he saw the outlines of the shore slip away
faster behind them. The eastern heights of the Isle of Wight loomed up
like a cloud and dropped away astern.

"Pretty fast, that," he said.

"Only twenty-five knots," replied Erskine, as he gave the steering-
wheel a very gentle movement and swung the Ithuriel's head round to
the eastward. "If these chaps are going to make a rush in the way Togo
did at Port Arthur, they've got to do it between Selsey Bill and
Nettlestone Point. If they're mad enough to try the other way between
Round Tower Point and Hurst Castle, they'll get blown out of the water
in very small pieces, so we needn't worry about them there. Our
business is to keep them out of this side. Ah, look now, there are two
or three of them there. See, ahead of the port bow. We'll tackle these
gentlemen first."

Lennard looked out through the narrow semicircular window of six-inch
crystal glass running across the front of the conning-tower, which was
almost as strong as steel, and saw three little dark, moving spots on
the half-moonlit water, about two miles ahead, stealing up in line
abreast.

"Those chaps are trying to get in between the Spithead forts," said
Erskine. "They're slowed down to almost nothing, waiting for the
clouds to come over the moon, and then they'll make a dash for it. At
least, they think they will. I don't."

As he spoke he gave another turn to the steering-wheel and touched
another button. The Ithuriel leapt forward again and swung about three
points to the eastward. In three minutes she was off Black Point, and
this movement brought her into a straight line with the three
destroyers. He gave the steering-wheel another half turn and her head
swung round in a short quarter circle. He put his finger on to the
bottom button on the right-hand side of the signal board and said to
Lennard:

"Hold tight now, she's going."

Lennard held tight, for he felt the floor jump harder under him this
time.

In the dim light he saw the nearest of the destroyers, as it seemed to
him, rush towards them sideways. Erskine touched another button. A
shudder ran through the fabric of the Ithuriel and her bow rose above
five feet from the water. A couple of minutes later it hit the
destroyer amidships, rolled her over, broke her in two like a log of
wood, amidst a roar of crackling guns and a scream of escaping steam,
went over her and headed for the next one.

Lennard clenched his teeth and said nothing. He was thinking too hard
to say anything just then.

The second destroyer opened fire with her twelve- and six-pounders and
dropped a couple of torpedoes as the Ithuriel rushed at her. The
Ithuriel was now travelling at forty knots an hour. The torpedoes at
thirty. The combined speed was therefore nearly a hundred statute
miles an hour. Erskine saw the two white shapes drop into the water,
their courses converging towards him. A half turn of the wheel to port
swung the Ithuriel out and just cleared them. It was a fairly narrow
shave, for one of them grated along her side, but the Ithuriel had no
angles. The actual result was that one of the torpedoes deflected from
its course, hit the other one and both exploded. A mountain of foam-
crowned water rose up and the commander of the French destroyer
congratulated himself on the annihilation of at least one of the
English warships, but the next moment the grey-blue, almost invisible
shape of the Ithuriel leapt up out of the semi-darkness, and her long
pointed ram struck amidships, cut him down to the waterline, and
almost before the two halves of his vessel had sunk the same fate had
befallen the third destroyer.

"Well, what do you think of that?" said Erskine, as he touched a
couple more buttons and the Ithuriel swung round to the eastward
again.

"Well," said Lennard, slowly, "of course it's war, and those fellows
were coming in to do all the damage they could. But it is just a bit
terrible, for all that. It's just seven minutes since you rammed the
first boat: you haven't fired a shot and there are three big
destroyers and I suppose three hundred and fifty men at the bottom of
the sea. Pretty awful, you know."

"My dear sir," replied Erskine, without looking round, "all war is
awful and entirely horrible, and naval war is of course the most
horrible of all. There is no chance for the defeated: my orders do not
even allow me to pick up a man from one of those vessels. On the other
hand, one must remember that if one of those destroyers had got in,
they could have let go half a dozen torpedoes apiece among the ships
of the Fleet Reserve, and perhaps half a dozen ships and five or six
thousand men might have been at the bottom of the Solent by this time,
and those torpedoes wouldn't have had any sentiment in them. Hallo,
there's another!"

A long, black shape surmounted by a signal-mast and four funnels slid
up and out of the darkness into a patch of moonlight lying on the
water. Erskine gave a quarter turn to the wheel and touched the two
buttons again. The Ithuriel swung round and ran down on her prey. The
two fifteen- and the six twelve-pounder guns ahead and astern and on
the broadside of the destroyer crackled out and a hail of shells came
whistling across the water. A few of them struck the Ithuriel, glanced
off and exploded.

"There," said Erskine, "they've knocked some of our nice new paint
off. Now they're going to pay for it."

"Couldn't you give them a shot back?" said Lennard. "Not worth it, my
dear sir," said Erskine. "We keep our guns for bigger game. We haven't
an angle that a shell would hit. You might just as well fire boiled
peas at a hippopotamus as those little things at us. Of course a big
shell square amidships would hurt us, but then she's so handy that I
think I could stop it hitting her straight."

While he was speaking the Ithuriel got up to full speed again. Lennard
shut his eyes. He felt a slight shock, and then a dull grinding. A
crash of guns and a roar of escaping steam, and when he looked out
again, the destroyer had disappeared. The next moment a blinding glare
of light streamed across the water from the direction of Selsey.

"A big cruiser, or battleship," said Erskine. "French or German. Now
we'll see what those shells of yours are made of."



Chapter IX

THE "FLYING FISH" APPEARS

A HUGE, black shape loomed up into the moonlight. As she came nearer,
Lennard could see that the vessel carried a big mast forward with a
fighting-top, two funnels a little aft of it, and two other funnels a
few feet forward of the after mast.

Erskine put his glasses up to his eyes and said:

"That's the Dupleix, one of the improved Desaix class. Steams twenty-
four knots. I suppose she's been shepherding those destroyers that
we've just finished with. I hope she hasn't seen what happened. If she
thinks that they've got in all right, we've got her. She has a heavy
fore and aft and broadside gunfire, two 6.4 guns ahead and astern and
amidships, in pairs, and as I suppose they'll be using melinite
shells, we shall get fits unless we take them unawares."

"And what does that mean?" asked Lennard.

"Show you in a minute," answered Erskine, touching three or four of
the buttons on the right-hand side as he spoke.

Another shudder ran through the frame of the Ithuriel and Lennard felt
the deck sink under his feet. If he hadn't had as good a head on him
as he had, he would have said something, for the Ithuriel sank until
her decks were almost awash. She jumped forward again now almost
invisible, and circled round to the south eastward. A big cloud
drifted across the moon and Erskine said:

"Thank God for that! We shall get her now."

Another quarter turn of the wheel brought the Ithuriel's head at right
angles to the French cruiser's broadside. He took the transmitter of
the telephone down from the hooks and said:

"Are you there, Castellan?"

"Yes. What's that big thing ahead there?"

"It's the Dupleix. Ready with your forward guns. I'm going to fire
first, then ram. Stand by, centre first, then starboard and port, and
keep your eye on them. These are Mr. Lennard's shells and we want to
see what they'll do. Are you ready?"

"Yes. When you like."

"Half speed, then, and tell Mackenzie to stand by and order full speed
when I give the word. We shall want it in a jump."

"Very good, sir. Is that all?"

"Yes, that's all."

Erskine put the receiver back on the hooks.

"That's it. Now we'll try your shells. If they're what I think they
are, we'll smash that fellow's top works into scrap-iron, and then
we'll go for him."

"I think I see," said Lennard, "that's why you've half submerged her."

"Yes. The Ithuriel is designed to deal with both light and heavy
craft. With the light ones, as you have seen, she just walked over
them. Now, we've got something bigger to tackle, and if everything
goes right that ship will be at the bottom of the sea in five
minutes."

"Horrible," replied Lennard, "but I suppose it's necessary."

"Absolutely," said Erskine, taking the receiver down from the hooks.
"If we didn't do it with them, they'd do it with us. That's war."

Lennard made no reply. He was looking hard at the now rapidly
approaching shape of the big French cruiser, and when men are thinking
hard, they don't usually say much.

The Ithuriel completed her quarter-circle and dead head on to the
Dupleix, Erskine said, "Centre gun ready, forward-fire. Port and
starboard concentrate fire."

There was no report--only a low, hissing sound--and then Lennard saw
three flashes of bluish-green blaze out over the French cruiser.

"Hit her! I think those shells of yours got home," said Erskine
between his clenched teeth. And then he added through the telephone,
"Well aimed, Castellan! They all got there. Load up again--three more
shots and I'm going to ram--quick now, and full speed ahead when
you've fired."

"All ready!" came back over the telephone, "I've told Mackenzie that
you'll want it."

"Good man," replied Erskine. "When I touch the button, you do the
rest. Now--are you ready?"

"Yes."

"Let her have it--then full speed. Ah," Erskine continued, turning to
Lennard, "he's shooting back."

The cruiser burst into a thunderstorm of smoke and flame and shell,
but there was nothing to shoot at. Only three feet of freeboard would
have been visible even in broad daylight. The signal-mast had been
telescoped. There was nothing but the deck, the guns and the conning-
tower to be seen. The shells screamed through the air a good ten feet
over her and incidentally wrecked the Marine Hotel on Selsey Bill.

Erskine pressed the top button on the right-hand side three times. The
smokeless, flameless guns spoke again, and again the three flashes of
blue-green flame broke out on the Frenchman's decks.

"Good enough," said Erskine, taking the transmitter down from the
hooks again. "Now, Mr. Lennard, just come for'ard and watch."

Lennard crept up beside him and took the glasses.

"Down guns--full speed ahead--going to ram," said Erskine, quietly,
into the telephone.

To his utter astonishment, Lennard saw the three big guns sink down
under the deck and the steel hoods move forward and cover the
emplacements. The floor of the conning-tower jumped under his feet
again and the huge shape of the French cruiser seemed to rush towards
him. There was a roar of artillery, a thunder of 6.4 guns, a crash of
bursting shells, a shudder and a shock, and the fifty-ton ram of the
Ithuriel hit her forward of the conning-tower and went through the
two-inch armour belt as a knife would go through a piece of paper. The
big cruiser stopped as an animal on land does, struck by a bullet in
its vitals, or a whale when the lance is driven home. Half her
officers and men were lying about the decks asphyxiated by Lennard's
shells. The after barbette swung round, and at the same moment, or
perhaps half a minute before, Erskine touched two other buttons in
rapid succession. The Dupleix lurched down on the starboard side, the
two big guns went off and hit the water. Erskine touched another
button, and the Ithuriel ran back from her victim. A minute later the
French cruiser heeled over and sank.

"Good God, how did you do that?" said Lennard, looking round at him
with eyes rather more wide open than usual.

"That's the effect of the suction screw," replied Erskine. "I got the
idea from the Russian ice-breaker, the Yermack. The old idea was just
main strength and stupidity, charge the ice and break through if you
could. The better idea was to suck the water away from under the ice
and go over it--that's what we've done. I rammed that chap, pulled the
water away from under him, and, of course, he's gone down."

He gave the wheel a quarter-turn to starboard, tools down the
transmitter and said: "Full speed again--in two minutes, three quarters
and then half."

"But surely," exclaimed Lennard, "you can do something to help those
poor fellows. Are you going to leave them all to drown?"

"I have no orders, except to sink and destroy," replied Erskine
between his teeth. "You must remember that this is a war of one
country against a continent, and of one fleet against four. Ah,
there's another! A third-class cruiser--I think I know her, she's the
old Leger--they must have thought they had an easy job of it if they
sent her here. Low freeboard, not worth shooting at. We'll go over
her. No armour--what idiots they are to put a thing like that into the
fighting line!"

He took the transmitter down and said:

"Stand by there, Castellan! Get your pumps to work, and I shall want
full speed ahead--I'm going to run that old croak down--hurry up."

He put the transmitter back on the hooks and presently Lennard saw the
bows of the Ithuriel rise quickly out of the water. The doomed vessel
in front of them was a long, low-lying French torpedo-catcher, with
one big funnel between two signal-masts, hopelessly out of date, and
evidently intended only to go in and take her share of the spoils.
Erskine switched off the searchlight, called for full speed ahead and
then with clenched teeth and set eyes, he sent the Ithuriel flying at
her victim.

Within five minutes it was all over. The fifty-ton ram rose over the
Leger's side, crushed it down into the water, ground its way through
her, cut her in half and went on.

"That ship ought to have been on the scrap-heap ten years ago," said
Erskine as he signalled for half-speed and swung the Ithuriel round to
the westward.

"She's got a scrap-heap all to herself now, I suppose," said Lennard,
with a bit of a check in his voice. "I've no doubt, as you say, this
sort of thing may be necessary, but my personal opinion of it is that
it's damnable."

"Exactly my opinion too," said Erskine, "but it has to be done."

The next instant, Lennard heard a sound such as he had never heard
before. It was a smothered rumble which seemed to come out of the
depths, then there came a shock which flung him off his feet, and shot
him against the opposite wall of the conning-tower. The Ithuriel
heeled over to port, a huge volume of water rose on her starboard side
and burst into a torrent over her decks, then she righted.

Erskine, holding on hard to the iron table to which the signalling
board was bolted, saved himself from a fall.

"I hope you're not hurt, Mr. Lennard," said he, looking round, "that
was a submarine. Let a torpedo go at us, I suppose, and didn't know
they were hitting twelve-inch armour."

"It's all right," said Lennard, picking himself up. "Only a bruise or
two; nothing broken. It seems to me that this new naval warfare of
yours is going to get a bit exciting."

"Yes," said Erskine, "I think it is. Halloa, Great Caesar! That must
be that infernal invention of Castellan's brother's; the thing he sold
to the Germans--the sweep!"

As he spoke a grey shape leapt up out of the water and began to circle
over the Ithuriel. He snatched the transmitter from the hooks, and
said, in quick, clear tones

"Castellan--sink--quick, quick as you can."

The pumps of the Ithuriel worked furiously the next moment. Lennard
held his breath as he saw the waves rise up over the decks.

"Full speed ahead again, and dive," said Erskine into the transmitter.
"Hold tight, Lennard."

The floor of the conning-tower took an angle of about sixty degrees,
and Lennard gripped the holdfasts, of which there were two on each
wall of the tower. He heard a rush of overwhelming waters--then came
darkness. The Ithuriel rushed forward at her highest speed. Then
something hit the sea, and a quick succession of shocks sent a shudder
through the vessel.

"I thought so," said Erskine. "That's John Castellan's combined
air-ship and submarine right enough, and that was an aerial torpedo. If
it had hit us when we were above water, we should have been where
those French chaps are now. You're quite right, this sort of naval
warfare is getting rather exciting."



Chapter X

FIRST BLOWS FROM THE AIR

THE Flying Fish, the prototype of the extraordinary craft which played
such a terrible part in the invasion of England, was a magnified
reproduction, with improvements which suggested themselves during
construction, of the model whose performances had so astonished the
Kaiser at Potsdam. She was shaped exactly like her namesake of the
deep, upon which, indeed, her inventor had modelled her. She was one
hundred and fifty feet long and twenty feet broad by twenty-five feet
deep in her widest part, which, as she was fish-shaped, was
considerably forward of her centre.

She was built of a newly-discovered compound, something like papier-
maché, as hard and rigid as steel, with only about one-tenth the
weight. Her engines were of the simplest description in spite of the
fact that they developed enormous power. They consisted merely of
cylinders into which, by an automatic mechanism, two drops of liquid
were brought every second. These liquids when joined produced a gas of
enormously expansive power, more than a hundred times that of steam,
which actuated the pistons. There were sixteen of these cylinders, and
the pistons all connected with a small engine invented by Castellan,
which he called an accelerator. By means of this device he could
regulate the speed of the propellers which drove the vessel under
water and in the air from sixty up to two thousand revolutions a
minute.

The Flying Fish was driven by nine propellers, three of these, four-
bladed and six feet diameter, revolved a little forward amidships on
either side under what might be called the fins. These fins collapsed
close against the sides of the vessel when underwater and expanded to
a spread of twenty feet when she took the air. They worked on a pivot
and could be inclined either way from the horizontal to an angle of
thirty degrees. Midway between the end of these and the stern was a
smaller pair with one driving screw. The eighth screw was an ordinary
propeller at the stern, but the outside portion of the shaft worked on
a ball and socket joint so that it could be used for both steering and
driving purposes. It was in fact the tail of the Flying Fish. Steering
in the air was effected by means of a vertical fin placed right aft.

She was submerged as the Ithuriel was, by pumping water into the lower
part of her hull. When these chambers were empty she floated like a
cork. The difference between swimming and flying was merely the
difference between the revolutions of the screws and the inclination
of the fins. A thousand raised her from the water: twelve hundred gave
her twenty-five or thirty miles an hour through the air: fifteen
hundred gave her fifty, and two thousand gave her eighty to a hundred,
according to the state of the atmosphere.

Her armament consisted of four torpedo tubes which swung at any angle
from the horizontal to the vertical and so were capable of use both
under water and in the air. They discharged a small, insignificant-
looking torpedo containing twenty pounds of an explosive, discovered
almost accidentally by Castellan and known only to himself, the German
Emperor, the Chancellor, and the Commander-in-Chief. It was this which
he had used in tiny quantities in the experiment at Potsdam. Its
action was so terrific that it did not rend or crack metal or stone
which it struck. It overcame the chemical forces by which the
substance was held together and reduced them to gas and powder.

And now, after this somewhat formal but necessary description of the
most destructive fighting-machine ever created we can proceed with the
story.

There were twenty Flying Fishes attached to the Allied Forces, all of
them under the command of German engineers, with the exception of the
original Flying Fish. Two of these were attached to the three
squadrons which were attacking Hull, Newcastle and Dover: three had
been detailed for the attack on Portsmouth: two more to Plymouth, two
to Bristol and Liverpool respectively, on which combined cruiser and
torpedo attacks were to be made, and two supported by a small swift
cruiser and torpedo flotilla for an assault on Cardiff, in order if
possible to terrorise that city into submission and so obtain what may
be called the life-blood of a modern navy. The rest, in case of
accidents to any of these, were reserved for the final attack on
London.

When the Ithuriel disappeared and his torpedo struck a piece of
floating wreckage and exploded with a terrific shock, John Castellan,
standing in the conning-tower directing the movements of the Flying
Fish, naturally concluded that he had destroyed a British submarine
scout. He knew of the existence, but nothing of the real powers of the
Ithuriel. The only foreigner who knew that was Captain Count Karl von
Eckstein, and he was locked safely in a cabin on board her.

He had been searching the under waters between Nettlestone Point and
Hayling Island for hours on the look-out for British submarines and
torpedo scouts, and had found nothing, therefore he was ignorant of
the destruction which the Ithuriel had already wrought, and as, of
course, he had heard no firing under the water, he believed that the
three destroyers supported by the Dupleix and Leger had succeeded in
slipping through the entrance to Spithead.

He knew that a second flotilla of six destroyers with three swift
second-class cruisers were following in to complete the work, which by
this time should have begun, and that after them came the main French
squadron, consisting of six first-class battleships with a screen of
ten first and five second-class cruisers, the work of which would be
to maintain a blockade against any relieving force, after the
submarines-and destroyers had sunk and crippled the ships of the Fleet
Reserve and cut the connections of the contact mines.

He knew also that the See Adler, which was Flying Fish II, was waiting
about the Needles to attack Hurst Castle and the forts on the Isle of
Wight side, preparatory to a rush of two battleships and three
cruisers through the narrows, while another was lurking under Hayling
Island ready to take the air and rain destruction on the forts of
Portsmouth before the fight became general.

What thoroughly surprised him, however, was the absolute silence and
inaction of the British. True, two shots had been fired, but, whether
from fort or warship, and with what intent, he hadn't the remotest
notion. The hour arranged upon for the general assault was fast
approaching. The British must be aware that an attack would be made,
and yet there was not so much as a second-class torpedo boat to be
seen outside Spithead. This puzzled him, so he decided to go and
investigate for himself. He took up a speaking-tube and said to his
Lieutenant, M'Carthy--one of too many renegade Irishmen who in the
terrible times that were to come joined their country's enemies as
Lynch and his traitors had done in the Boer War:

"I don't quite make it out, M'Carthy. We'll go down and get under--
it's about time the fun began--and I haven't heard a shot fired or
seen an English ship except that submarine we smashed. My orders are
for twelve o'clock, and I'm going to obey them."

There was one more device on board the Flying Fish which should be
described in order that her wonderful manoeuvring under water may be
understood. Just in front of the steering-wheel in the conning-tower
was a square glass box measuring a foot in the side, and in the centre
of this, attached to top and bottom by slender films of asbestos, was
a needle ten inches long, so hung that it could turn and dip in any
direction. The forward half of this needle was made of highly
magnetised steel, and the other of aluminium which exactly
counterbalanced it. The glass case was completely insulated and
therefore the extremely sensitive needle was unaffected by any of the
steel parts used in the construction of the vessel. But let any other
vessel, save of course a wooden ship, come within a thousand yards,
the needle began to tremble and sway, and the nearer the Flying Fish
approached it, the steadier it became and the more directly it pointed
towards the object. If the vessel was on the surface, it of course
pointed upward: if it was a submarine, it pointed either level or
downwards with unerring precision. This needle was, in fact, the eyes
of the Flying Fish when she was underwater.

Castellan swung her head round to the north-west and dropped gently on
to the water about midway between Selsey Bill and the Isle of Wight.
Then the Flying Fish folded her wings and sank to a depth of twenty
feet. Then, at a speed of ten knots, she worked her way in a zigzag
course back and forth across the narrowing waters, up the channel
towards Portsmouth.

To his surprise, the needle remained steady, showing that there was
neither submarine nor torpedo boat near. This meant, as far as he
could see, that the main approach to the greatest naval fortress in
England had been left unguarded, a fact so extraordinary as to be
exceedingly suspicious. His water-ray apparatus, a recent development
of the X-rays which enabled him to see underwater for a distance of
fifty yards, had detected no contact mines, and yet Spithead ought to
be enstrewn with them, just as it ought to have been swarming with
submarines and destroyers. There must be some deep meaning to such
apparently incomprehensible neglect, but what was it?

If his brother Denis had not happened to recognise Captain Count Karl
von Eckstein and haled him so unceremoniously on board the Ithuriel,
and if his portmanteau full of papers had been got on board a French
warship, instead of being left for the inspection of the British
Admiralty, that reason would have been made very plain to him.

Completely mystified, and fearing that either he was going into some
trap or that some unforeseen disaster had happened, he swung round,
ran out past the forts and rose into the air again. When he had
reached the height of about a thousand feet, three rockets rose into
the air and burst into three showers of stars, one red, one white, and
the other blue. It was the Tricolour in the air, and the signal from
the French Admiral to commence the attack. Castellan's orders were to
cripple or sink the battleships of the Reserve Fleet which was moored
in two divisions in Spithead and the Solent.

The Spithead Division lay in column of line abreast between Gilkicker
Point and Ryde Pier. It consisted of the Formidable, Irresistible,
Implacable, Majestic and Magnificent, and the cruisers Hogue, Sutlej,
Ariadne, Argonaut, Diadem and Hawke. The western Division consisted of
the battleships Prince George, Victoria, Jupiter, Mars and Hannibal,
and the cruisers Amphitrite, Spartiate, Andromeda, Europa, Niobe,
Blenheim and Blake.

It had of course been perfectly easy for Castellan to mark the
position of the two squadrons from the air, and he knew that though
they were comparatively old vessels they were quite powerful enough,
with the assistance of the shore batteries, to hold even Admiral
Durenne's splendid fleet until the Channel Fleet, which for the time
being seemed to have vanished from the face of the waters, came up and
took the French in the rear.

In such a case, the finest fleet of France would be like a nut in a
vice, and that was the reason for the remorseless orders which had
been given to him, orders which he was prepared to carry out to the
letter, in spite of the appalling loss of life which they entailed;
for, as the Flying Fish sank down into the water, he thought of that
swimming race in Clifden Bay and of the girl whose marriage with
himself, willing or unwilling, was to be one of the terms of peace
when the British Navy lay shattered round her shores, and the millions
of the Leagued Nations had trampled the land forces of Britain into
submission.

Just as she touched the water a brilliant flash of pink flame leapt up
from the eastern fort on the Hillsea Lines, followed by a sharp crash
which shook the atmosphere. A thin ray of light fell from the clouds,
then came a quick succession of flashes moving in the direction of the
great fort on Portsdown, until two rose in quick succession from
Portsdown itself, and almost at the same moment another from Hurst
Castle, and yet another from the direction of Fort Victoria.

"God bless my soul, what's that?" exclaimed the Commander-in-Chief,
Admiral Sir Compton Domville, who had just completed his final
inspection of the defences of Portsmouth Harbour, and was standing on
the roof of Southsea Castle, taking a general look round before going
back to headquarters. "Here, Markham," he said, turning to the
Commander of the Fort, "just telephone up to Portsdown at once and ask
them what they're up to."

An orderly instantly dived below to the telephone room. The Fort
Commander took Sir Compton aside and said in a low voice:

"I am afraid, sir, that the forts are being attacked from the air."

"What's that?" replied Sir Compton, with a start. "Do you mean that
infernal thing that Erskine and Castellan and the watch of the
Cormorant saw in the North Sea?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply. "There is no reason why the enemy should
not possess a whole fleet of these craft by this time, and naturally
they would act in concert with the attack of the French Fleet. I've
heard rumours of a terrible new explosive they've got, too, which
shatters steel into splinters and poisons everyone within a dozen
yards of it. If that's true and they're dropping it on the forts,
they'll probably smash the guns as well. For heaven's sake, sir, let
me beg of you to go back at once to headquarters! It will probably be
our turn next. You will be safe there, for they're not likely to waste
their shells on Government buildings."

"Well, I suppose I shall be of more use there," growled Sir Compton.

At this moment the orderly returned, looking rather scared. He saluted
and said:

"If you please, sir, they've tried Portsdown and all the Hillsea forts
and can't get an answer."

"Good heavens!" said the Commander-in-Chief, "that looks almost as if
you were right, Markham. Signal to Squadron A to up-anchor at once and
telephone to Squadron B to do the same. Telephone Gilkicker to turn
all searchlights on. Now I must be off and have a talk with General
Hamilton."

He ran down to his pinnace and went away full speed for the harbour,
but before he reached the pier another flash burst out from the
direction of Fort Gilkicker, followed by a terrific roar. To those
standing on the top of Southsea Castle the fort seemed turned into a
volcano, spouting flame and clouds of smoke, in the midst of which
they could see for an instant whirling shapes, most of which would
probably be the remains of the gallant defenders, hurled into eternity
before they had a chance of firing a shot at the invaders. The huge
guns roared for the first and last time in the war, and the great
projectiles plunged aimlessly among the ships of the squadron,
carrying wreck and ruin along the line.

"Our turn now, I suppose," said the Fort Commander, quietly, as he
looked up and by a chance gleam of moonlight through the breaking
clouds saw a dim grey, winged shape drift across the harbour entrance.

They were the last words he ever spoke, for the next moment the roof
crumbled under his feet, and his body was scattered in fragments
through the air, and in that moment Portsmouth had ceased to be a
fortified stronghold.



Chapter XI

THE TRAGEDY OF THE TWO SQUADRONS

IT takes a good deal to shake the nerves of British naval officer or
seaman, but those on board the ships of the Spithead Squadron would
have been something more than human if they could have viewed the
appalling happenings of the last few terrible minutes with their
accustomed coolness. They were ready to fight anything on the face of
the waters or under them, but an enemy in the air who could rain down
shells, a couple of which were sufficient to destroy the most powerful
forts in the world, and who could not be hit back, was another matter.
It was a bitter truth, but there was no denying it. The events of the
last ten years had clearly proved that a day must come when the flying
machine would be used as an engine of war, and now that day had come
and the fighting flying machine was in the hands of the enemy.

The anchors were torn from the ground, signals were flashed from the
flagship, the Prince George, and within four minutes the squadron was
under way to the south-eastward. After what had happened the Admiral in
command promptly and rightly decided that to keep his ships cramped up
in the narrow waters was only to court further disaster. His place was
now the open sea, and a general fleet action offered the only means of
preventing an occupation of almost defenceless Portsmouth, and the
landing of hostile troops in the very heart of England's southern
defences.

Fifteen first-class torpedo boats and ten destroyers ran out from the
Hampshire and Isle of Wight coasts, ran through the ships, and spread
themselves out in a wide curve ahead, and at the same time twenty
submarines crept out from the harbour and set to work laying contact
mines in the appointed fields across the harbour mouth and from shore
to shore behind the Spithead forts.

But the squadron had not steamed a mile beyond the forts before a
series of frightful disasters overtook them. First, a huge column of
water rose under the stern of the Jupiter. The great ship stopped and
shuddered like a stricken animal, and began to settle down stern
first. Instantly the Mars and Victorious which were on either side of
her slowed down, their boats splashed into the water and set to work
to rescue those who managed to get clear of the sinking ship.

But even while this was being done, the Banshee, the Flying Fish which
had destroyed the forts, had taken up her position a thousand feet
above the doomed squadron. A shell dropped upon the deck of the
Spartiate, almost amidships. The pink flash blazed out between her two
midship funnels. They crumpled up as if they had been made of brown
paper. The six-inch armoured casemates on either side seemed to
crumble away. The four-inch steel deck gaped and split as though it
had been made of matchboard. Then the Banshee dropped to within five
hundred feet and let go another shell almost in the same place. A
terrific explosion burst out in the very vitals of the stricken ship,
and the great cruiser seemed to split asunder. A vast volume of
mingled smoke and flame and steam rose up, and when it rolled away,
the Spartiate had almost vanished.

But that was the last act of destruction that the Banshee was destined
to accomplish. That moment the moon sailed out into a patch of clear
sky. Every eye in the squadron was turned upward. There was the
airship plainly visible. Her captain instantly saw his danger and
quickened up his engines, but it was too late. He was followed by a
hurricane of shells from the three-pound quick-firers in the upper
tops of the battleships. Then came an explosion in mid-air which
seemed to shake the very firmament itself. She had fifty or sixty of
the terrible shells which had wrought so much havoc on board, and as a
dozen shells pierced her hull and burst, they too exploded with the
shock. A vast blaze of pink flame shone out.

"Talk about going to glory in a blue flame," said Seaman Gunner
Tompkins, who had aimed one of the guns in the fore-top of the
Hannibal, and of course, like everybody else, piously believed that
his was one of the shells that got there. "That chap's gone to t'other
place in a red 'un. War's war, but I don't hold with that sort of
fighting; it doesn't give a man a chance. Torpedoes is bad enough,
Gawd knows--"

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a shock and a shudder ran
through the mighty fabric of the battleship. The water rose in a foam-
clad mountain under her starboard quarter. She heeled over to port,
and then rolled back to starboard and began to settle.

"Torpedoed, by George! What did I tell you?" gasped Gunner Tompkins.
The next moment a lurch of the ship hurled him and his mates far out
into the water.

Even as his ship went down, Captain Barclay managed to signal to the
other ships, "Don't wait--get out." And when her shattered hull rested
on the bottom, the gallant signal was still flying from the upper
yard.

It was obvious that the one chance of escaping their terrible unseen
foe was to obey the signal. By this time crowds of small craft of
every description had come off from both shores to the rescue of those
who had gone down with the ships, so the Admiral did what was the most
practical thing to do under the circumstances--he dropped his own
boats, each with a crew, and ordered the Victorious and Mars to do the
same, and then gave the signal for full speed ahead. The great engines
panted and throbbed, and the squadron moved forward with ever-
increasing speed, the cruisers and destroyers, according to signal,
running ahead of the battleships; but before full speed was reached,
the Mars was struck under the stern, stopped, shuddered, and went down
with a mighty lurch.

This last misfortune convinced the Admiral that the destruction of his
battleships could not be the work of any ordinary submarine, for at
the time the Mars was struck she was steaming fifteen knots and the
underwater speed of the best submarine was only twelve, saving only
the Ithuriel, and she did not use torpedoes. The two remaining
battleships had now reached seventeen knots, which was their best
speed. The cruisers and their consorts were already disappearing round
Foreland.

There was some hope that they might escape the assaults of the
mysterious and invisible enemy now that the airship had been
destroyed, but unless the submarine had exhausted her torpedoes, or
some accident had happened to her, there was very little for the
Prince George and the Victorious, and so it turned out. Castellan's
strict orders had been to confine his attentions to the battleships,
and he obeyed his pitiless instructions to the letter. First the
Victorious and then the flagship, smitten by an unseen and
irresistible bolt in their weakest parts, succumbed to the great
gaping wounds torn in the thin under-plating, reeled once or twice to
and fro like leviathans struggling for life, and went down. And so for
the time being, at least, ended the awful work of the Flying Fish.

Leaving the cruisers and smaller craft to continue their dash for the
open Channel, we must now look westward.

When Vice-Admiral Codrington, who was flying his flag on the
Irresistible, saw the flashes along the Hillsea ridge and Portsdown
height and heard the roar of the explosions, he at once up-anchor and
got his squadron under way. Then came the appallingly swift
destruction of Hurst Castle and Fort Victoria. Like all good sailors,
he was a man of instant decision. His orders were to guard the
entrance to the Solent, and the destruction of the forts made it
impossible for him to do this inside. How that destruction had been
wrought, he had of course no idea, beyond a guess that the destroying
agent must have come from the air, since it could not have come from
sea or land without provoking a very vigorous reply from the forts.
Instead of that they had simply blown up without firing a shot.

He therefore decided to steam out through the narrow channel between
Hurst Castle and the Isle of Wight as quickly as possible.

It was a risky thing to do at night and at full speed, for the Channel
and the entrance to it was strewn with contact mines, but one of the
principal businesses of the British Navy is to take risks where
necessary, so he put his own ship at the head of the long line, and
with a mine chart in front of him went ahead at eighteen knots.

When Captain Adolph Frenkel, who was in command of the See Adler, saw
the column of warships twining and wriggling its way out through the
Channel, each ship handled with consummate skill and keeping its
position exactly, he could not repress an admiring "Ach!" Still it was
not his business to admire, but destroy.

He rose to a thousand feet, swung round to the north-eastward until the
whole line had passed beneath him, and then quickened up and dropped
to seven hundred feet, swung round again and crept up over the Hogue,
which was bringing up the rear. When he was just over her fore part,
he let go a shell, which dropped between the conning-tower and the
forward barbette.

The navigating bridge vanished; the twelve-inch armoured conning-tower
cracked like an eggshell; the barbette collapsed like the crust of a
loaf, and the big 9.2 gun lurched backwards and lay with its muzzle
staring helplessly at the clouds. The deck crumpled up as though it
had been burnt parchment, and the ammunition for the 9.2 and the
forward six-inch guns which had been placed ready for action exploded,
blowing the whole of the upper forepart of the vessel into scrap-iron.

But an even worse disaster than this was to befall the great twelve-
thousand-ton cruiser. Her steering gear was, of course, shattered.
Uncontrolled and uncontrollable, she swung swiftly round to starboard,
struck a mine, and inside three minutes she was lying on the mud.

Almost at the moment of the first explosion, the beams of twenty
searchlights leapt up into the air, and in the midst of the broad
white glare hundreds of keen angry eyes saw a winged shape darting up
into the air, heading southward as though it would cross the Isle of
Wight over Yarmouth. Almost simultaneously, every gun from the tops of
the battleships spoke, and a storm of shells rent the air.

But Captain Frenkel had already seen his mistake. The See Adler's
wings were inclined at an angle of twenty degrees, her propellers were
revolving at their utmost velocity, and at a speed of nearly a hundred
miles an hour, she took the Isle of Wight in a leap. She slowed down
rapidly over Freshwater Bay. Captain Frenkel took a careful
observation of the position and course of the squadron, dropped into
the water, folded his wings and crept round the Needles with his
conning-tower just awash, and lay in wait for his prey about two miles
off the Needles.

The huge black hull of the Irresistible was only a couple of hundred
yards away. He instantly sank and turned on his water-ray. As the
flagship passed within forty yards he let go his first torpedo. It hit
her sternpost, smashed her rudder and propellers, and tore a great
hole in her run. The steel monster stopped, shuddered, and slid
sternward with her mighty ram high in the air into the depths of the
smooth grey sea.

There is no need to repeat the ghastly story which has already been
told--the story of the swift and pitiless destruction of these
miracles of human skill, huge in size and mighty in armament and
manned by the bravest men on land or sea, by a foe puny in size but of
awful potentiality. It was a fight, if fight it could be called,
between the visible and the invisible, and it could only have one end.
Battleship after battleship received her death-wound, and went down
without being able to fire a shot in defence, until the Magnificent,
smitten in the side under her boilers, blew up and sank amidst a cloud
of steam and foam, and the Western Squadron had met the fate of the
Eastern.

While this tragedy was being enacted, the cruisers scattered in all
directions and headed for the open at their highest speed. It was a
bitter necessity, and it was bitterly felt by every man and boy on
board them; but the captains knew that to stop and attempt the rescue
of even some of their comrades meant losing the ships which it was
their duty at all costs to preserve, and so they took the only
possible chance to escape from this terrible unseen foe which struck
out of the silence and the darkness with such awful effect.

But despite the tremendous disaster which had befallen the Reserve
Fleet, the work of death and destruction was by no means all on one
side. When he sank the Leger, Erskine had done a great deal more
damage to the enemy than he knew, for she had been sent not for
fighting purposes, but as a dépôt ship for the Flying Fishes, from
which they could renew their torpedoes and the gas cylinders which
furnished their driving power. Being a light craft, she was to take up
an agreed position off Bracklesham Bay three miles to the north-west
of Selsey Bill, the loneliest and shallowest part of the coast, with
all lights out, ready to supply all that was wanted or to make any
repairs that might be necessary. Her sinking, therefore, deprived John
Castellan's craft of their base.

After the Dupleix had gone down, the Ithuriel rose again, and Erskine
said to Lennard:

"There must be more of them outside, they wouldn't be such fools as to
rush Portsmouth with three destroyers and a couple of cruisers. We'd
better go on and reconnoitre."

The Ithuriel ran out south-eastward at twenty knots in a series of
broad curves, and she was just beginning to make the fourth of these
when six black shapes crowned with wreaths of smoke loomed up out of
the semidarkness.

"Thought so--destroyers," said Erskine. "Yes, and look there, behind
them--cruiser supports, three of them--these are for the second rush.
Coming up pretty fast, too; they'll be there in half an hour. We shall
have something to say about that. Hold on, Lennard."

"Same tactics, I suppose," said Lennard.

"Yes," replied Erskine, taking down the receiver. "Are you there,
Castellan? All right. We've six more destroyers to get rid of. Full
speed ahead, as soon as you like--guns all ready, I suppose? Good--go
ahead." The Ithuriel was now about two miles to the westward and about
a mile in front of the line of destroyers, which just gave her room to
get up full speed. As she gathered way, Lennard saw the nose of the
great ram rise slowly out of the water. The destroyer's guns crackled,
but it is not easy to hit a low-lying object moving at fifty miles an
hour, end on, when you are yourself moving nearly twenty-five. Just
the same thing happened as before. The point of the ram passed over
the destroyer's bows, crumpled them up and crushed them down, and the
Ithuriel rushed on over the sinking wreck, swerved a quarter turn, and
bore down on her next victim. It was over in ten minutes. The Ithuriel
rushed hither and thither among the destroyers like some leviathan of
the deep. A crash, a swift grinding scrape, and a mass of crumpled
steel was dropping to the bottom of the Channel.

While the attack on the destroyers was taking place, the cruisers were
only half a mile away. Their captains had found themselves in
curiously difficult positions. The destroyers were so close together,
and the movements of this strange monster which was running them down
so rapidly, that if they opened fire they were more likely to hit
their own vessels than it, but when the last had gone down, every
available gun spoke, and a hurricane of shells, large and small,
ploughed up the sea where the Ithuriel had been. After the first
volley, the captains looked at their officers and the officers looked
at the captains, and said things which strained the capabilities of
the French language to the utmost. The monster had vanished.

The fact was that Erskine had foreseen that storm of shell, and the
pumps had been working hard while the ramming was going on. The result
was that the Ithuriel sank almost as soon as her last victim, and in
thirty seconds there was nothing to shoot at.

"I shall ram those chaps from underneath," he said. "They've too many
guns for a shooting match."

He reduced the speed to thirty knots, rose for a moment till the
conning-tower was just above the water, took his bearings, sank,
called for full speed, and in four minutes the ram crashed into the
Alger's stern, carried away her sternpost and rudder, and smashed her
propellers. The Ithuriel passed on as if she had hit a log of wood and
knocked it aside. A slight turn of the steering-wheel, and within four
minutes the ram was buried in the vitals of the Suchet. Then the
Ithuriel reversed engines, the fore screw sucked the water away, and
the cruiser slid off the ram as she might have done off a rock. As she
went down, the Ithuriel rose to the surface. The third cruiser, the
Davout, was half a mile away. She had changed her course and was
evidently making frantic efforts to get back to sea.

"Going to warn the fleet, are you, my friend?" said Erskine, between
his teeth. "Not if I know it!"

He asked for full speed again and the terror-stricken Frenchmen saw
the monster, just visible on the surface of the water, flying towards
them in the midst of a cloud of spray. A sheep might as well have
tried to escape from a tiger. Many of the crew flung themselves
overboard in the madness of despair. There was a shock and a grinding
crash, and the ram bored its way twenty feet into the unarmoured
quarter. Then the Ithuriel's screws dragged her free, and the Davout
followed her sisters to the bottom of the Channel.



Chapter XII

HOW LONDON TOOK THE NEWS

THE awaking of England on the morning of the twenty-sixth of November
was like the awaking of a man from a nightmare. Everyone who slept had
gone to sleep with one word humming in his brain--war--and war at
home, that was the terrible thought which robbed so many millions of
eyes of sleep. But even those who slept did not do so for long.

At a quarter to one a sub-editor ran into the room of the chief News
Editor of the Daily Telegraph, without even the ceremony of a knock.

"What on earth's the matter, Johnson?" exclaimed the editor. "Seen a
ghost?"

"Worse than that, sir. Read this!" said the sub-editor, in a shaking
voice, throwing the slip down on the desk.

"My God, what's this?" said the editor, as he ran his eye along the
slip. "'Portsmouth bombarded from the air. Hillsea, Portsmouth,
Gilkicker and Southsea Castle destroyed. Practically defenceless.
Fleet Reserve Squadrons sailing.'"

The words were hardly out of his mouth before another man came running
in with a slip. "'Jupiter and Hannibal torpedoed by submarine.
Spartiate blown up by aerial torpedo.'" Then there came a gap, as
though the men at the other end had heard of more news, then
followed--"'Mars, Prince George, Victorious, all torpedoed. Cruisers
escaped to sea. No news of Ithuriel, no torpedo attack up to
present.'"

"Oh, that's awful," gasped the editor, and then the professional
instinct reasserted itself, for he continued, handing the slip back:
"Rush out an edition straight away, Johnson. Anything, if it's only a
half-sheet--get it on the streets as quick as you can--there'll be
plenty of people about still. If anything else comes bring it up."

In less than a quarter of an hour a crowd of newsboys were fighting in
the passage for copies of the single sheet which contained the
momentous news, just as it had come over the wire. The Daily Telegraph
was just five minutes ahead, but within half an hour every London
paper, morning and evening, and all the great provincial journals had
rushed out their midnight specials, and from end to end of England and
Scotland, and away to South Wales, and over the narrow seas to Dublin
and Cork, the shrill screams of the newsboys, and the hoarse, raucous
howls of the newsmen were spreading the terrible tidings over the
land. What the beacon fires were in the days of the Armada, these
humble heralds of Fate were in the twentieth century.

"War begun--Portsmouth destroyed--Fleet sunk."

The six terrible words were not quite exact, of course, but they were
near enough to the truth to sound like the voice of Fate in the ears
of the millions whose fathers and fathers' fathers back through six
generations had never had their midnight rest so rudely broken.

Lights gleamed out of darkened windows, and front doors were flung
open in street after street, as the war-cry echoed down it. Any coin
that came first to hand, from a penny to a sovereign, was eagerly
offered for the single hurriedly-printed sheets, but the business
instincts of the newsboys rose superior to the crisis, and nothing
less than a shilling was accepted. Streams of men and boys on bicycles
with great bags of specials slung on their backs went tearing away,
head down and pedals whirling, north, south, east and west into the
suburbs. Newsagents flung their shops open, and in a few minutes were
besieged by eager, anxious crowds, fighting for the first copies.
There was no more sleep for man or woman in London that night, though
the children slept on in happy unconsciousness of what the morrow was
to bring forth.

What happened in London was happening almost simultaneously all over
the kingdom. For more than a hundred years the British people had
worked and played and slept in serene security, first behind its
wooden walls, and then behind the mighty iron ramparts of its
invincible Fleets, and now, like a thunderbolt from a summer sky, came
the paralysing tidings that the first line of defence had been pierced
by a single blow, and the greatest sea stronghold of England rendered
defenceless and all this between sunset and midnight of a November
day.

Was it any wonder that men looked blankly into each other's eyes, and
asked themselves and each other how such an unheard-of catastrophe had
come about, and what was going to happen next? The first and universal
feeling was one of amazement, which amounted almost to mental
paralysis, and then came a sickening sense of insecurity. For two
generations the Fleet had been trusted implicitly, and invasion had
been looked upon merely as the fad of alarmists, and the theme of
sensational story-writers. No intelligent person really trusted the
army, although its ranks, such as they were, were filled with as
gallant soldiers as ever carried a rifle, but it had been afflicted
ever since men could remember with the bane and blight of politics and
social influence. It had never been really a serious profession, and
its upper ranks had been little better than the playground of the sons
of the wealthy and well-born.

Politician after politician on both sides had tried his hand at scheme
after scheme to improve the army. What one had done, the next had
undone, and the permanent War Office Officials had given more
attention to buttons and braids and caps than to business-like
organisations of fighting efficiency. The administration was, as it
always had been, a chaos of muddle. The higher ranks were rotten with
inefficiency, and the lower, aggravated and bewildered by change after
change, had come to look upon soldiering as a sort of game, the rules
of which were being constantly altered.

The Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers had been constantly
snubbed and worried by the authorities of Pall Mall. Private citizens,
willing to give time and money in order to learn the use of the rifle,
even if they could not join the Yeomanry or Volunteers, had been just
ignored. The War Office could see no use for a million able-bodied men
who had learned to shoot straight, besides they were only "damned
civilians," whose proper place was in their offices and shops. What
right had they with rifles? If they wanted exercise, let them go and
play golf, or cricket, or football. What had they to do with the
defence of their country and their homes?

But that million of irregular sharpshooters were badly wanted now.
They could have turned every hedgerow into a trench and cover against
the foe which would soon be marching over the fields and orchards and
hop-gardens of southern England. They would have known every yard of
the ground and the turn of every path and road, and while the regular
army was doing its work they could have prevented many a turning
movement of the superior forces, shot down the horses of convoys and
ammunition trains, and made themselves generally objectionable to the
enemy.

Now the men were there, full of fight and enthusiasm, but they had
neither ammunition nor rifles, and if they had had them, ninety per
cent. would not have known how to use them. Wherefore, those who were
responsible for the land defences of the country found themselves with
less than three hundred thousand trained and half-trained men of all
arms, to face invading forces which would certainly not number less
than a million, every man of which had served his apprenticeship to
the grim trade of war, commanded by officers who had taken that same
trade seriously, studied it as a science, thinking it of considerably
more importance than golf or cricket or football.

It had been said that the British Nation would never tolerate
conscription, which might or might not have been true; but now, when
the next hour or so might hear the foreign drums thrumming and the
foreign bugles blaring, conscription looked a very different thing.
There wasn't a loyal man in the kingdom who didn't bitterly regret
that he had not been taken in the prime of his young manhood, and
taught how to defend the hearth and home which were his, and the wife
and children which were so dear to him.

But it was too late now. Neither soldiers nor sharpshooters are made
in a few hours or days, and within a week the first battles that had
been fought on English ground for nearly eight hundred years would
have been lost and won, and nine-tenths of the male population of
England would be looking on in helpless fury.

There had been plenty of theorists, who had said that the British
Islands needed no army of home defence, simply because if she once
lost command of the sea it would not be necessary for an enemy to
invade her, since a blockade of her ports would starve her into
submission in a month--which, thanks to the decay of agriculture and
the depopulation of the country districts, was true enough. But it was
not all the truth. Those who preached these theories left out one very
important factor, and that was human nature.

For over a century the Continental nations had envied and hated
Britain, the land-grabber; Britain who had founded nations while they
had failed to make colonies; Britain, who had made the Seven Seas her
territories, and the coasts of other lands her frontiers. Surely the
leaders of the leagued nations would have been more or less than human
had they resisted, even if their people had allowed them to do it, the
temptation of trampling these proud Islanders into the mud and mire of
their own fields and highways, and dictating terms of peace in the
ancient halls of Windsor.

These were the bitter thoughts which were rankling in the breast of
every loyal British man during the remainder of that night of horrible
suspense. Many still had reason to remember the ghastly blunders and
the muddling which had cost so many gallant lives and so many millions
of treasure during the Boer War, when it took three hundred thousand
British troops to reduce eighty thousand undrilled farmers to
submission. What if the same blundering and muddling happened now? And
it was just as likely now as then.

Men ground their teeth, and looked at their strong, useless hands, and
cursed theorist and politician alike. Anal meanwhile the Cabinet was
sitting, deliberating, as best it might, over the tidings of disaster.
The House of Commons, after voting full powers to the Cabinet and the
Council of Defence, had been united at last by the common and
immediate danger, and members of all parties were hurrying away to
their constituencies to do what they could to help in organising the
defence of their homeland.

There was one fact which stood out before all others, as clearly as an
electric light among a lot of candles, and, now that it was too late,
no one recognised it with more bitter conviction than those who had
made it the consistent policy of both Conservative and Liberal
Governments, and of the Executive Departments, to discourage invention
outside the charmed circle of the Services, and to drive the civilian
inventor abroad.

Again and again, designs of practical airships--not gas-bags which
could only be dragged slowly against a moderate wind, but flying
machines which conquered the wind and used it as a bird does--had been
submitted to the War Office during the last six or seven years, and
had been pooh-poohed or pigeon-holed by some sapient permanent
official--and now the penalty of stupidity and neglect had to be paid.

The complete descriptions of the tragedy that had been and was being
enacted at Portsmouth that were constantly arriving in Downing Street
left no possibility of doubt that the forts had been destroyed and the
Spartiate blown up by torpedoes from the air--from which fact it was
necessary to draw the terrible inference that the enemy had possessed
themselves of the command of the air.

What was the command of the sea worth after that? What was the
fighting value of the mightiest battleship that floated when pitted
against a practically unassailable enemy, which had nothing to do but
drop torpedoes, loaded with high explosives, on her decks and down her
funnels until her very vitals were torn to pieces, her ammunition
exploded, and her crew stunned by concussion or suffocated by
poisonous gas?

It was horrible, but it was true. Inside an hour the strongest
fortifications in England had been destroyed, and ten first-class
battleships and a cruiser had been sent to the bottom of the sea, and
so at last her ancient sceptre was falling from the hand of the Sea
Queen, and her long inviolate domain was threatened by the armed
legions of those whose forefathers she had vanquished on many a
stricken field by land and sea.

"Well, gentlemen," said the Prime Minister to the other members of the
Cabinet Council, who were sitting round that historic oval table in
the Council Chamber in Downing Street, "we may as well confess that
this is a great deal more serious than we expected it to be, and that
is to my mind all the better reason why we should strain every nerve
to hold intact the splendid heritage which our fathers have left to
us--"

Boom! A shudder ran through the atmosphere as he spoke the last words,
and the double windows in Downing Street shook with the vibration. The
members of the Cabinet started in their seats and looked at each
other.

Was this the fulfilment of the half prophecy which the Prime Minister
had spoken so slowly and so clearly in the silent, crowded House of
Commons?

Almost at the same moment the electric bell at the outer of the double
doors rang. The doors were opened, and a messenger came in with a
telegram which he handed to the Prime Minister, and then retired. He
opened the envelope, and for nearly five minutes of intense suspense
he mentally translated the familiar cypher, and then he said, as he
handed the telegram to the Secretary for War:

"Gentlemen, I deeply regret to say that the possible prospect which I
outlined in the House to-night has become an accomplished fact. Two
hundred and forty-three years ago London heard the sound of hostile
guns. We have heard them to-night. This telegram is from Sheerness,
and it tells, I most deeply regret to say, the same story, or
something like it, as the messages from Portsmouth. A Russo-German-
French fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, assisted by four
air-ships and an unknown number of submarines, has defeated the
Southern portion of the North Sea Squadron, and is now proceeding in
two divisions, one up the Medway towards Chatham, and the other up the
Thames towards Tilbury. Garrison Fort is now being bombarded from the
Sea and the air, and will probably be in ruins within an hour."



Chapter XIII

A CRIME AND A MISTAKE

WHEN the destruction of the forts and the sinking of the battleships
at Portsmouth had been accomplished, John Castellan made about the
greatest mistake in his life, a mistake which had very serious
consequences for those to whom he had sold himself and his terrible
invention.

He and his brother Denis formed a very curious contrast, which is
nevertheless not uncommon in Irish families. The British Army and Navy
can boast no finer soldiers or sailors, and the Empire no more devoted
servants than those who claim Ireland as the land of their birth, and
Denis Castellan was one of these. As the reader may have guessed
already, he and Erskine had only been on the Cormorant because it was
the policy of the Naval Council to keep two of the ablest men in the
service out of sight for a while. Denis, who had a remarkable gift of
tongues, was really one of the most skilful naval attachés in service,
and what he didn't know about the naval affairs of Europe was hardly
worth learning. Erskine had been recognised by the Naval Council
which, under Sir John Fisher, had raised the British Navy to a pitch
of efficiency that was the envy of every nation in the world, except
Japan, as an engineer and inventor of quite extraordinary ability, and
while the Ithuriel was building, they had given him the command of the
Cormorant, chiefly because there was hardly anything to do, and
therefore he had ample leisure to do his thinking.

On the other hand John Castellan was an unhappily brilliant example of
that type of Keltic intellect which is incapable of believing the
world-wide truism that the day of small states is passed. He had two
articles of political faith. One was an unshakable belief in the
possibility of Irish independence, and the other, which naturally
followed from the first, was implacable hatred of the Saxon oppressor
whose power and wealth had saved Ireland from invasion for centuries.
He was utterly unable to grasp the Imperial idea, while his brother
was as enthusiastic an Imperialist as ever sailed the seas.

Had it not been for this blind hatred, the disaster which had befallen
the Reserve Fleet would have been repeated at sea on a much vaster
scale; but he allowed his passions to overcome his judgment, and so
saved the Channel Fleet. There lay beneath him defenceless the
greatest naval port of England, with its docks and dockyards, its
barracks and arsenals, its garrisons of soldiers and sailors, and its
crowds of workmen. The temptation was too strong for him, and he
yielded to it.

When the Prince George had gone down he rose into the air, and ran
over the Isle of Wight, signalling to the See Adler. The signals were
answered, and the two airships met about two miles south-west of the
Needles, and Castellan informed Captain Frenkel of his intention to
destroy Portsmouth and Gosport. The German demurred strongly. He had
no personal hatred to satisfy, and he suggested that it would be much
better to go out to sea and discover the whereabouts of the Channel
Fleet; but Castellan was Commander-in-Chief of the Aerial Squadrons of
the Allies, and so his word was law, and within the next two hours one
of the greatest crimes in the history of civilised warfare was
committed.

The two airships circled slowly over Gosport and Portsmouth, dropping
their torpedoes wherever a worthy mark presented itself. The first one
discharged from the Flying Fish fell on the deck of the old Victory.
The deck burst up, as though all the powder she had carried at
Trafalgar had exploded beneath it, and the next moment she broke out
in inextinguishable flames. The old Resolution met the same fate from
the See Adler, and then the pitiless hail of destruction fell on the
docks and jetties. In a few minutes the harbour was ringed with flame.
Portsmouth Station, built almost entirely of wood, blazed up like
matchwood; then came the turn of the dockyards at Portsea, which were
soon ablaze from end to end.

Then the two airships spread their wings like destroying angels over
Portsmouth town. Half a dozen torpedoes wrecked the Town Hall and set
the ruins on fire. This was the work of the See Adler. The Flying Fish
devoted her attention to the naval and military barracks, the Naval
College and the Gunnery School on Whale Island. As soon as these were
reduced to burning ruins, the two airships scattered their torpedoes
indiscriminately over churches, shops and houses, and in the streets
crowded by terrified mobs of soldiers, sailors and civilians.

The effect of the torpedoes in the streets was too appalling for
description. Everyone within ten or a dozen yards of the focus of the
explosion was literally blown to atoms, and for fifty yards round
every living creature dropped dead, killed either by the force of the
concussion or the poisonous gases which were liberated by the
explosion. Hundreds fell thus without the mark of a wound, and when
some of their bodies were examined afterwards, it was found that their
hearts were split open as cleanly as though they had been divided with
a razor, just as are the hearts of fishes which have been killed with
dynamite.

John Castellan and his lieutenant, M'Carthy, for the time being
gloried in the work of destruction. Captain Frenkel was a soldier and
a gentleman, and he saw nothing in it save wanton killing of
defenceless people and a wicked waste of ammunition; but the terrible
War Lord of Germany had given Castellan supreme command, and to
disobey meant degradation, and possibly death, and so the See Adler
perforce took her share in the tragedy.

In a couple of hours Portsmouth, Gosport and Portsea had ceased to be
towns. They were only areas of flaming ruins; but at last the
ammunition gave out, and Castellan was compelled to signal the See
Adler to shape her course for Bracklesham Bay in order to replenish
the magazines. They reached the bay, and descended at the spot where
the Leger ought to have been at anchor. She was not there, for the
sufficient reason that the Ithuriel's ram had sent her to the bottom
of the Channel.

For half an hour the Flying Fish and the See Adler hunted over the
narrow waters, but neither was the Leger nor any other craft to be
seen between the Selsey coast and the Isle of Wight. When they came
together again in Bracklesham Bay, John Castellan's rage against the
hated Saxon had very considerably cooled. Evidently something serious
had happened, and something that he knew nothing about, and now that
the excitement of destruction had died away, he remembered more than
one thing which he ought to have thought of before.

The two rushes of the torpedo boats, supported by the swift cruisers,
had not taken place. Not a hostile vessel had entered either Spithead
or the Solent, and the British cruisers, which he had been ordered to
spare, had got away untouched. It was perfectly evident that some
disaster had befallen the expedition, and that the Leger had been
involved in it. In spite of the terrible destruction that the Flying
Fish, the See Adler and the Banshee had wrought on sea and land, it
was plain that the first part of the invader's programme had been
brought to nothing by some unknown agency.

He was, of course, aware of the general plan of attack. He had
destroyed the battleships of the Fleet Reserve. While he was doing
that the destroyers should have been busy among the cruisers, and then
the main force, under Admiral Durenne, would follow, and take
possession of Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. A
detachment of cruisers and destroyers was then to be despatched to
Littlehampton, and land a sufficient force to seize and hold the
railway at Ford and Arundel, so that the coast line of the L.B.S.C.R.,
as well as the main line to Horsham and London, should be at the
command of the invaders.

Littlehampton was also particularly valuable on account of its tidal
river and harbour, which would give shelter and protection to a couple
of hundred torpedo boats and destroyers, and its wharves from which
transports could easily coal. It is hardly worth while to add that it
had been left entirely undefended. It had been proposed to mount a
couple of 9.2 guns on the old fort on the west side of the river
mouth, with half a dozen twelve-pound quick-firers at the Coast-Guard
station on the east side to repel torpedo attack, but the War Office
had laughed at the idea of an enemy getting within gunshot of the
inviolate English shore, and so one of the most vulnerable points on
the south coast had been left undefended.

What would Castellan have given now for the torpedoes which the two
ships had wasted in the wanton destruction of Portsmouth, and the
murder of its helpless citizens. The main French Fleet by this time
could not be very far off. Behind it, somewhere, was the British
Channel Fleet, the most powerful sea force that had ever ridden the
subject waves, and here he was without a torpedo on either of his
ships, and no supplies nearer than Kiel. The Leger had carried two
thousand torpedoes and five hundred cylinders of the gases which
supplied the motive power. She was gone, and for all offensive
purposes the Flying Fish and See Adler were as harmless as a couple of
balloons.

When it was too late, John Castellan remembered in the bitterness of
his soul that the torpedoes which had destroyed Portsmouth would have
been sufficient to have wrecked the Channel Fleet, and now there was
nothing for it but to leave Admiral Durenne to fight his own battle
against the most powerful fleet in the world, and to use what was left
of the motive power to get back to Kiel, and replenish their
magazines.

Horrible as had been the fate which had fallen on the great arsenal of
southern England, it had not been sacrificed in vain, and very sick at
heart was John Castellan when he gave the order for the two vessels,
which a few hours ago had been such terrible engines of destruction,
to rise into the air and wing their harmless flight towards Kiel.

When the Flying Fish and the See Adler took the air, and shipped their
course eastward, the position of the opposing fleets was somewhat as
follows: The cruisers of the A Squadron, Amphitrite, Andromeda,
Europa, Niobe, Blenheim and Blake, with fifteen first-class torpedo
boats and ten destroyers, had got out to sea from Spithead unharmed.
All these cruisers were good for twenty knots, the torpedo boats for
twenty-five, and the destroyers for thirty. The Sutlej, Ariadne,
Argonaut and Diadem had got clear away from the Solent, with ten
first-class torpedo boats and five destroyers. They met about four
miles south-east of St. Catherine's Point. Commodore Hoskins of the
Diadem was the senior officer in command, and so he signalled for
Captain Pennell, of the Andromeda, to come on board, and talk matters
over with him, but before the conversation was half-way through, a
black shape, with four funnels crowned with smoke and flame, came
tearing up from the westward, made the private signal, and ran
alongside the Diadem.

The news that her commander brought was this--Admiral Lord Beresford
had succeeded in eluding the notice of the French Channel Fleet, and
was on his way up the south-west with the intention of getting behind
Admiral Durenne's fleet, and crushing it between his own force to
seaward and the batteries and Reserve Fleet on the landward side. The
Commander of the destroyer was, of course, quite ignorant of the
disaster which had befallen the battleships of the Reserve Fleet and
Portsmouth, and when the captain of the cruiser told him the tidings,
though he received the news with the almost fatalistic sang froid of
the British naval officer, turned a shade or two paler under the
bronze of his skin.

"That is terrible news, sir," he said, "and it will probably alter the
Admiral's plans considerably. I must be off as soon as possible, and
let him know: meanwhile, of course, you will use your own judgment."

"Yes," replied the Commodore, "but I think you had better take one of
our destroyers, say the Greyhound, back with you. She's got her
bunkers full, and she can manage thirty-two knots in a sea like this."

At this moment the sentry knocked at the door of the Commodore's room.

"Come in," said Commodore Hoskins. The door opened, a sentry came in
and saluted, and said:

"The Ithuriel's alongside, sir, and Captain Erskine will be glad to
speak to you."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Commodore, "the very thing. I wonder what that
young devil has been up to. Send him in at once, sentry."

The sentry retired, and presently Erskine entered the room, saluted,
and said:

"I've come to report, sir, I have sunk everything that tried to get in
through Spithead. First division of three destroyers, the old Leger,
the Dupleix cruiser, six destroyers of the second division, and three
cruisers, the Alger Suchet and Davout. They're all at the bottom."

The Commodore stared for a moment or two at the man who so quietly
described the terrific destruction that he had wrought with a single
ship, and then he said:

"Well, Erskine, we expected a good deal from that infernal craft of
yours, but this is rather more than we could have hoped for. You've
done splendidly. Now, what's your best speed?"

"Forty-five knots, sir."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Commander of the Greyhound. "You don't say
so."

"Oh, yes," said Erskine with a smile. "You ought to have seen us walk
over those destroyers. I hit them at full speed, and they crumpled up
like paper boats."

By this time the Commodore had sat down, and was writing his report as
fast as he could get his pencil over the paper. It was a short, terse,
but quite comprehensive account of the happenings of the last three
hours, and a clear statement of the strength and position of the
torpedo and cruiser squadron under his command. When he had finished,
he put the paper into an envelope, and said to the Commander of the
Greyhound:

"I am afraid you are no good here, Hawkins. I shall have to give the
message to Captain Erskine, he'll be there and back before you're
there. Just give him the bearings of the Fleet and he'll be off at
once. There you are, Erskine, give that to the Admiral, and bring me
instructions back as soon as you can. You've just time for a whisky-
and-soda, and then you must be off."

Erskine took the letter, and they drank their whisky-and-soda. Then
they went on deck. The Ithuriel was lying outside the Greyhound, half
submerged--that is to say, with three feet of freeboard showing.
Commander Hawkins looked at her with envious eyes. It is an article of
faith with all good commanders of destroyers that their own craft is
the fastest and most efficient of her class. At a pinch he could get
thirty-two knots out of the Greyhound, and here was this quiet,
determined-looking young man, who had created a vessel of his own, and
had reached the rank of captain by sheer genius over the heads of men
ten years older than himself, talking calmly of forty-five knots, and
of the sinking of destroyers and cruisers, as though it was a mere
matter of cracking egg shells. Wherefore there was wrath in his soul
when he went on board and gave the order to cast loose. Erskine went
with him. They shook hands on the deck of the Greyhound, and Erskine
went aboard of the Ithuriel, saying:

"Well, Hawkins, I expect I shall meet you coming back."

"I'm damned if I believe in your forty-five knots," replied Captain
Hawkins, shortly.

"Cast off, and come with me then," laughed Erskine, "you soon will."

Inside three minutes the two craft were clear of the Diadem. Erskine
gave the Greyhound right of way until they had cleared the squadron.
The sea was smooth, and there was scarcely any wind, for it had been a
wonderfully fine November. The Greyhound got on her thirty-two knots
as soon as there was no danger of hitting anything.

"That chap thinks he can race us," said Erskine to Lennard, as he got
into the conning-tower, "and I'm just going to make him the maddest
man in the British Navy. He's doing thirty-two--we're doing twenty-
five. Now that we're clear I'll wake him up." He took down the
receiver and said:

"Pump her out, Castellan, and give her full speed as soon as you can."

The Ithuriel rose in the water, and began to shudder from stem to
stern with the vibrations of the engines, as they gradually worked up
to their highest capacity. Commander Hawkins saw something coming up
astern, half hidden by a cloud of spray and foam. It went past him as
though he had been standing still instead of steaming at thirty-two
knots. A few moments more and it was lost in the darkness.



Chapter XIV

THE EVE OF BATTLE

IN twenty minutes the Ithuriel ran alongside the Britain, which was
one of the five most formidable battleships in existence. For five
years past a new policy had been pursued with regard to the navy. The
flagships, which of course contained the controlling brains of the
fleets, were the most powerful afloat. By the time war broke out five
of them had been launched and armed, and the Britain was the newest
and most powerful of them.

Her displacement was twenty-two thousand tons, and her speed twenty-
four knots. She was armoured from end to end with twelve-inch plates
against which ordinary projectiles smashed as harmlessly as egg 
shells. Twelve fourteen-inch thousand-pounder guns composed her
primary battery; her secondary consisted of ten 9.2 guns, and her
tertiary of twelve-pounder Maxim-Nordenfeldts in the fighting tops.

It was the first time that Erskine had seen one of these giants of the
ocean, and when they got alongside he said to Denis Castellan:

"There's a fighting machine for you, Denis. Great Scott what wouldn't
I give to see her at work in the middle of a lot of Frenchmen and
Germans, as the Revenge was among the Spaniards in Grenville's time.
Just look at those guns."

"Yes," replied Castellan, "she's a splendid ship, and those guns look
as though they could talk French to the Frenchies and German to the
Dutchmen and plain English to the lot in a way that wouldn't want much
translating. And what's more, they have the right men behind them, and
the best gun in the world isn't much good without that."

At this moment they heard a shrill voice from the forecastle of the
nearest destroyer.

"Hulloa there, what's the matter?" came from the deck of the Britain.

"Four French destroyers coming up pretty fast from the south'ard, sir.
Seem to be making for the flagship," was the reply.

"That's a job for us," said Erskine, who was standing on the narrow
deck of the Ithuriel, waiting to go on board the Britain. "Commander,
will you be good enough to deliver this to the Admiral? I must be off
and settle those fellows before they do any mischief."

The commander of the destroyer took the letter, Erskine dived below, a
steel plate slid over the opening to the companion-way, and when he
got into the conning-tower he ordered full speed.

Four long black shapes were stealing slowly towards the British
centre, and no one knew better than he did that a single torpedo well
under waterline would send Admiral Beresford's floating fortress to
the bottom inside ten minutes, and that was the last thing he wanted
to see.

A quartermaster ran down the ladder and caught the letter from the
commander just as the Ithuriel moved off.

"Tell the Admiral, with Captain Erskine's compliments, that he'll be
back in a few minutes, when he's settled those fellows."

The quartermaster took the letter, and by the time he got to the top
of the ladder, the Ithuriel was flying through a cloud of foam and
spray towards the first of the destroyers. He heard a rattle of guns,
and then the destroyer vanished. The Ithuriel swung round, hit the
next one in the bows, ground her under the water, turned almost at
right angles, smashed the stern of the third one into scrap iron, hit
the fourth one abreast of the conning-tower, crushed her down and
rolled her over, and then slowed down and ran back to the flagship at
twenty knots.

"Well!" said Quartermaster Maginniss, who for the last few minutes had
been held spellbound at the top of the ladder, in spite of the claims
of discipline, "of all the sea-devils of crafts that I've ever heard
of, I should say that was the worst. Four destroyers gone in five
minutes, and here he is coming back before I've delivered the letter.
If we only have a good square fight now, I'll be sorry for the
Frenchies."

The next moment he stiffened up and saluted. "A letter for you,
Admiral, left by Captain Erskine before he went away to destroy those
destroyers."

"And you've been watching the destruction instead of delivering the
letter," laughed Lord Beresford, as he took it from him. "Well, I'll
let you off this time. When Captain Erskine comes alongside, ask him
to see me in my room at once."

The Ithuriel ran alongside even as he was speaking. The gangway was
manned, and when he reached the deck, Admiral Beresford held out his
hand, and said with a laugh:

"Well, Captain Erskine, I understood that you were bringing me a
message from Commodore Hoskins, but you seem to have had better game
to fly for."

"My fault, sir," said Erskine, "but I hope you won't court-martial me
for it. You see, there were four French destroyers creeping round, and
mine was the only ship that could tackle them, so I thought I'd better
go and do it before they did any mischief. Anyhow, they're all at the
bottom now."

"I don't think I should have much case if I court-martialled you for
that, Captain Erskine," laughed the Admiral, "especially after what
you've done already, according to Commodore Hoskins' note. That must
be a perfect devil of a craft of yours. Can you sink anything with
her?"

"Anything, sir," replied Erskine. "This is the most powerful fighting
ship in the world, but I could put you at the bottom of the Channel in
ten minutes."

"The Lord save us! It's a good job you're on our side."

"And it's a very great pity," said Erskine, "that the airships are not
with us too. I had a very narrow squeak in Spithead about three hours
ago from one of their aerial torpedoes. It struck part of a destroyer
that I'd just sunk, and although it was nearly fifty yards away, it
shook me up considerably."

"Have you any idea of the whereabouts and formation of the French
Fleet? I must confess that I haven't. These infernal airships have
upset all the plans for catching Durenne between the Channel Fleet and
the Reserve, backed up by the Portsmouth guns, so that we could jump
out and catch him between the fleet and the forts. Now I suppose it
will have to be a Fleet action at sea."

"If you care to leave your ship for an hour, sir," replied Erskine, "I
will take you round the French Fleet and you shall see everything for
yourself. We may have to knock a few holes in something, if it gets in
our way, but I think I can guarantee that you shall be back on the
Britain by the time you want to begin the action."

"Absolutely irregular," said Lord Beresford, stroking his chin, and
trying to look serious, while his eyes were dancing with anticipation.
"An admiral to leave his flagship on the eve of an engagement! Well,
never mind, Courtney's a very good fellow, and knows just as much
about the ship as I do, and he's got all sailing orders. I'll come.
He's on the bridge now, I'll go and tell him."

The Admiral ran up on to the bridge, gave Captain Courtney Commodore
Hoskins' letter, added a few directions, one of which was to keep on a
full head of steam on all the ships, and look out for signals, and
five minutes later he had been introduced to Lennard, and was standing
beside him in the conning-tower of the Ithuriel listening to Erskine,
as he said into the telephone receiver:

"Sink her to three feet, Castellan, and then ahead full speed."

The pumps worked furiously for a few minutes, and the Ithuriel sank
until only three feet of her bulk appeared above the water. Then the
Admiral felt the floor of the conning-tower shudder and tremble under
his feet. He looked out of the side porthole on the starboard bow, and
saw his own fleet dropping away into the distance and the darkness of
the November night. The water ahead curled up into two huge swathes,
which broke into foam and spray, which lashed hissing along the almost
submerged decks.

"You have a pretty turn of speed on her, I must say, Captain Erskine,"
said the Admiral, after he had taken a long squint through the
semicircular window. "I'm sorry we haven't got a score of craft like
this."

"And we should have had, your lordship," replied Erskine, "if the
Council had only taken the opinion that you gave after you saw the
plans."

"I'd have a hundred like her," laughed the Admiral, "only you see
there's the Treasury, and behind that the most noble House of Commons,
elected mostly by the least educated and most short-sighted people in
the nation, who scarcely know a torpedo from a common shell, and we
should never have got them. We had hard enough work to get this one as
an experiment."

"I quite agree with you, sir," said Erskine, "and I think Lennard will
too. There has never been an instance in history in which democracy
did not spell degeneration. It's a pity, but I suppose it's
inevitable. As far as my reading has taken me, it seems to be the dry-
rot of nations. Halloa, what's that? Torpedo gunboat, I think! Ah,
there's the moon. Now, sir, if you'll just come and stand to the right
here, for'ard of the wheel, I'll put the Ithuriel through her paces,
and show you what she can do."

A long grey shape, with two masts and three funnels between them,
loomed up out of the darkness into a bright patch of moonlight.
Erskine took the receiver from the hooks and said:

"Stand by there, Castellan. Forward guns fire when I give the word--
then I shall ram."

The Admiral saw the three strangely shaped guns rise from the deck,
their muzzles converging on the gunboat. He expected a report, but
none came; only a gentle hiss, scarcely audible in the conning-tower.
Then three brilliant flashes of flame burst out just under the
Frenchman's top-works. Erskine, with one hand on the steering-wheel,
and the other holding the receiver, said:

"Well aimed--now full speed. I'm going over him."

"Over him!" echoed the Admiral. "Don't you ram under the waterline?"

"If it's the case of a big ship, sir," replied Erskine, "we sink and
hit him where it hurts most, but it isn't worth while with these small
craft. You will see what I mean in a minute."

As he spoke a shudder ran through the Ithuriel. The deck began to
quiver under the Admiral's feet; the ram rose six feet out of the
water. The shape of the gunboat seemed to rush towards them; the ram
hit it squarely amidships; then came a shock, a grinding scrape,
screams of fear from the terrified sailors, a final crunch, and the
gunboat was sinking fifty yards astern.

"That's awful," said the Admiral, with a perceptible shake in his
voice. "What speed did you hit her at?"

"Forty-five knots," replied Erskine, giving a quarter turn to the
wheel, and almost immediately bringing a long line of battleships,
armoured cruisers, protected cruisers and destroyers into view.

The French Channel Fleet was composed of the most powerful ships in
the navy of the Republic. The two portions from Brest and Cherbourg
had now united their forces. The French authorities had at last
learned the supreme value of homogeneity. The centre was composed of
six ships of the Republique class, all identical in size, armour and
armament, as well as speed. They were the Republique, Patrie flagship,
Justice, Democratie, Liberte and Verite. They were all of fifteen
thousand tons and eighteen knots. To these was added the Suffren, also
of eighteen knots, but only twelve thousand seven hundred tons: she
had come from Brest with a flotilla of torpedo boats.

There were six armoured cruisers, Jules Ferry, Leon Gambetta, Victor
Hugo, Jeanne d'Arc, Aube and Marseillaise. These were all heavily
armed and armoured vessels, all of them capable of manoeuvring at a
speed of over twenty knots. A dozen smaller protected and unprotected
cruisers hung on each flank, and a score of destroyers and torpedo
boats lurked in between the big ships.

The Ithuriel ran quietly along the curving line of battleships and
cruisers, turned and came back again without exciting the slightest
suspicion.

Erskine would have dearly loved to sink a battleship or one or two
cruisers, just to show his lordship how it was done, but the Admiral
forbade this, as he wanted to get the Frenchmen, who still thought
they were going to easy victory, entangled in the shallows of the
narrow waters, and therefore with the exception of rolling over and
sinking three submarines which happened to get in the way, no damage
was done.

The British Channel Fleet, even not counting the assistance of the
terrible Ithuriel, was the most powerful squadron that had ever put to
sea under a single command. The main line of battle consisted of the
flagship Britain, and seven ships of the King Edward class, King
Edward the Seventh, Dominion, Commonwealth, Hindustan, New Zealand,
Canada and Newfoundland; all over sixteen thousand tons, and of
nineteen knots speed. With the exception of the giant flagships, of
which there were five in existence--the Britain, England, Ireland,
Scotland and Wales--and two nineteen-thousand ton monsters which had
just been completed for Japan, these were the fastest and most
heavily-armed battleships afloat.

The second line was composed of the armoured cruisers, Duke of
Edinburgh, Black Prince, Henry the Fourth, Warwick, Edward the Third,
Cromwell, all of over thirteen thousand tons, and twenty-two knots
speed; the Drake, King Alfred, Leviathan and Good Hope, of over
fourteen thousand tons and twenty-four knots speed; and the
reconstructed Powerful, and Terrible, of fourteen thousand tons and
twenty-two knots. There was, of course, the usual swarm of destroyers
and torpedo boats; and in addition must be counted the ten cruisers,
ten destroyers, and fifteen torpedo boats, which had escaped from
Spithead and the Solent. These had already formed a junction with the
left wing of the British force.

For nearly two hours the two great fleets slowly approached each other
almost at a right angle. As the grey dawn of the November morning
began to steal over the calm blue-grey water, they came in plain sight
of each other, and at once the signal flew from the foreyard of the
Britain, "Prepare for action--battleships will cross front column of
line ahead--cruisers will engage cruisers individually at discretion
of Commanders--destroyers will do their worst."



Chapter XV

THE STRIFE OF GIANTS

AS it happened, it was a fine, cold wintry day that dawned as the two
great fleets drew towards each other. As Denis Castellan said, "It was
a perfect jewel of a day for a holy fight," and so it was. The French
fleet was advancing at twelve knots. Admiral Beresford made his
fifteen, and led the line in the Britain. Erskine had been ordered to
go to the rear of the French line and sink any destroyer or torpedo
boat that he could get hold of, but to let the battleships and
cruisers alone, unless he saw a British warship hard pressed, in which
case he was to ram and sink the enemy if he could.

One division of cruisers, consisting of the fastest and most powerful
armoured vessels, was to make a half-circle two miles in the rear of
the French Fleet. The ships selected for this service were the Duke of
Edinburgh, Warwick, Edward III., Cromwell and King Alfred. Outside
them, two miles again to the rear, the Leviathan, Good Hope, Powerful
and Terrible, the fastest ships in the Fleet, were to take their
station to keep off stragglers.

For the benefit of the non-nautical reader, it will be as well to
explain here the two principal formations in which modern fleets go
into action. As a matter of fact, they are identical with the tactics
employed by the French and Spanish on the one side and Nelson on the
other, during the Napoleonic wars. Before Nelson's time, it was the
custom for two hostile fleets to engage each other in column of line
abreast, which means that both fleets formed a double line which
approached each other within gunshot, and then opened fire.

At Trafalgar, Nelson altered these tactics completely, with results
that everybody knows. The allied French and Spanish fleets came up in
a crescent, just in the same formation as Admiral Durenne was
advancing on Portsmouth. Nelson took his ships into action in column
of line ahead, in other words, in single file, the head of the column
aiming for the centre of the enemy's battle line.

The main advantage of this was, first, that it upset the enemy's
combination, and, secondly, that each ship could engage two, since she
could work both broadsides at once, whereas the enemy could only work
one broadside against one ship. These were the tactics which, with
certain modifications made necessary by the increased mobility on both
sides, Lord Beresford adopted.

With one exception, no foreigner had ever seen the new class of
British flagship, and that exception, as we know, was safely locked up
on board the Ithuriel, and his reports were even now being carefully
considered by the Naval Council.

There are no braver men on land and sea than the officers and crews of
the French Navy, but when the giant bulk of the Britain loomed up out
of the westward in the growing light, gradually gathering way with her
stately train of nineteen-knot battleships behind her, and swept down
in front of the French line, many a heart stood still for the moment,
and many a man asked himself what the possibilities of such a Colossus
of the ocean might be.

They had not long to wait. As the British battleships came on from the
left with ever-increasing speed, the whole French line burst into a
tornado of thunder and flame, but not a shot was fired from the
English lines. Shells hurtled and screamed through the air, topworks
were smashed into scrap-iron, funnels riddled, and military masts
demolished; but until the Britain reached the centre of the French
line not a British gun spoke.

Then the giant swung suddenly to starboard, and headed for the space
between the Patrie and the Republique. The Canada, Newfoundland, New
Zealand and Hindustan put on speed, passed under her stern, and headed
in between the Sufren, Liberte, Verite and Patrie, while the Edward
VII, Dominion and Commonwealth turned between the Justice, Democratie,
the Aube and Marseillaise.

Within a thousand yards the British battleships opened fire. The first
gun from the Britain was a signal which turned them all into so many
floating volcanoes. The Britain herself ran between the Patrie and the
Republique, vomiting storms of shell, first ahead, then on the
broadside and then astern. Her top-works were of course crumpled out of
all shape--that was expected; for the range was now only about five
hundred yards--but the incessant storm of thousand-pound shells from
the fourteen-inch guns, followed by an unceasing hail of three hundred
and fifty pound projectiles from the 9.2 quickfirers, reduced the two
French battleships to little better than wrecks. The Britain steamed
through and turned, and again the awful hurricane burst out from her
sides and bow and stern. She swung round again, but now only a few
dropping shots greeted her from the crippled Frenchmen.

"I don't think those chaps have much more fight left in them," said
the Admiral to the Captain as they passed through the line for the
third time. "We'll just give them one more dose, and then see how the
other fellows are getting on."

Once more the monster swept in between the doomed ships; once more her
terrible artillery roared. Two torpedo boats, five hundred yards ahead
were rushing towards her. A grey shape rose out of the water, flinging
up clouds of spray and foam, and in a moment they were ground down
into the water and sunk. The hastily-fired torpedoes diverged and
struck the two French battleships instead of the Britain. Two
mountains of foam rose up under their sterns, their bows went down and
rose again, and with a sternward lurch they slid down into the depths.

The Britain swung round to port, and poured a broadside into the
Liberte, which had just crippled the Hindustan, and sunk her with a
torpedo. The New Zealand was evidently in difficulties between the
Liberte and the Verite. Her upper works were a mass of ruins, but she
was still blazing away merrily with her primary battery. The Admiral
slowed down to ten knots, and got between the two French battleships;
then her big guns began to vomit destruction again, and in five
minutes the two French battleships, caught in the triangular fire and
terribly mauled, hauled their flags down, and so Lord Beresford's
scheme was accomplished. The Dominion and Edward VII. had got between
their ships at the expense of a severe handling, and were giving a
very good account of them, and the Canada had sunk the Suffren with a
lucky shell which exploded in her forward torpedo room and blew her
side out.

It was broad daylight by this time, and it was perfectly plain, both
to friend and foe, that the French centre could no longer be counted
upon as a fighting force. One of the circumstances which came home
hardest afterwards to the survivors of the French force was the fact
that, as far as they knew, not a single British battleship or cruiser
had been struck by a French destroyer or torpedo boat. The reason for
this was the very simple fact that Erskine had taken these craft under
his charge, and, while the big ships had been thundering away at each
other, he had devoted himself to the congenial sport of smashing up
the smaller fry. He sent the Ithuriel flying hither and thither at
full speed, tearing them into scrap-iron and sending them to the
bottom, as if they had been so many penny steamers. He could have sent
the battleships to the bottom with equal ease, but orders were orders,
and he respected them until his chance came.

The Verite was now the least injured of the French battleships. To
look at she was merely a floating mass of ruins, but her engines were
intact, and her primary battery as good as ever. Her captain, like the
hero that he was, determined to risk his ship and everything in her in
the hope of destroying the monster which had wrought such frightful
havoc along the line. She carried two twelve-inch guns ahead, a 6.4 on
each side of the barbette, and four pairs of 6.4 guns behind these,
and the fire of all of them was concentrated ahead.

As the Britain came round for the third time every one of the guns was
laid upon her. He called to the engine-room for the utmost speed he
could have, and at nineteen knots he bore down upon the leviathan. The
huge guns on the Britain swung round, and a tempest of shells swept
the Verite from end to end. Her armour was gashed and torn as though
it had been cardboard instead of six- and eleven-inch steel; but still
she held on her course. At five hundred yards her guns spoke, and the
splinters began to fly on board the Britain. The Captain of the Verite
signalled for the last ounce of steam he could have--he was going to
appeal to the last resort in naval warfare--the ram. If he could once
get that steel spur of his into the Britain's hull under her armour,
she would go down as certainly as though she had been a first-class
cruiser.

When the approaching vessels were a little more than five hundred
yards apart, the Ithuriel, who had settled up with all the destroyers
and torpedo boats she could find, rose to the north of the now broken
French line. Erskine took in the situation at a glance. He snatched
the receiver from the hooks, shouted into it:

"Sink--full speed--ram!"

The Ithuriel dived and sprang forward, and when the ram of the Verite
was within a hundred yards of the side of the Britain his own ram
smashed through her stern, cracked both the propeller shafts, and tore
away her rudder as if it had been a piece of paper. She stopped and
yawed, broadside on to the Britain. The chases of the great guns swung
round in ominous threatening silence, but before they could be fired
the Tricolor fluttered down from the flagstaff, and the Verite,
helpless for all fighting purposes, had surrendered.

It was now the turn of the big armoured cruisers. They were
practically untouched, for the heaviest of the fighting had fallen on
the battleships. A green rocket went up from the deck of the Britain,
and was followed in about ten seconds by a blue one. The inner line of
cruisers made a quarter turn to port, and began hammering into the
crippled battleships and cruisers indiscriminately, while the
Leviathan, Good Hope, Powerful and Terrible took stations between the
Isle of Wight and the Sussex coast.

The Ithuriel rose to her three-foot freeboard, and put in some very
pretty practice with her pneumatic guns on the top-works of the
cruisers. The six-funnelled Jeanne d'Arc got tired of this, and made a
rush at her at her full speed of twenty-three knots, with the result
that the Ithuriel disappeared, and three minutes afterwards there came
a shock under the great cruiser's stern which sent a shudder through
her whole fabric. The engines whirled furiously until they stopped,
and a couple of minutes later her captain recognised that she could
neither steam nor steer. Meanwhile, the tide was setting strongly in
towards Spithead, and the disabled ships were drifting with it, either
to capture or destruction.

The French centre had now, to all intents and purposes, ceased to
exist. Four out of six battleships were sunk, and one had surrendered,
and the Jeanne d'Arc had gone down.

On the British side the Hindustan had been sunk, and the Dominion,
Commonwealth and Newfoundland very badly mauled, so badly indeed that
it was a matter of dry dock as quickly as possible for them. All the
other battleships, including even the Britain herself, were little
better than wrecks to look at, so terrible had been the firestorms
through which they had passed.

But for the presence of the Ithuriel, the British loss would of course
have been much greater. It is not too much to say that her
achievements spread terror and panic among the French torpedo
flotilla. Under ordinary circumstances they would have taken advantage
of the confusion of the battleship action to attack the line of
armoured cruisers behind, but between the two lines there was the
ever-present destroying angel, as they came to call her, with her
silent deadly guns, her unparalleled speed, and her terrible ram. No
sooner did a destroyer or torpedo boat attempt to make for a cruiser,
than a shell came hissing along the water, and blew the middle out of
her, or the ram crashed through her sides, and sent her in two pieces
to the bottom.

The result was that when the last French cruiser had hauled down her
flag, Admiral Beresford found himself in command of a fleet which was
still in being. Of the French battleships the Justice and the
Democratie were still serviceable, and of the cruisers, the Jules
Ferry, Leon Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Aube and Marseillaise were still in
excellent fighting trim, although of course they were in no position
to continue the struggle against the now overwhelming force of British
battleships and armoured cruisers. This was what Admiral Beresford had
fought for: to break the centre and put as many battleships as
possible out of action. His orders had been to spare the cruisers as
much as possible, because, he said, with a somewhat grim laugh, they
might be useful later on.

The idea of their escaping to sea through the double line of British
cruisers, to say nothing of the Ithuriel, with her speed of over fifty
miles an hour, and her ability to ram them in detail before they were
halfway across the Channel, was entirely out of the question. To have
attempted such a thing would have been simply a form of collective
suicide, so the flags were hauled down, and all that was left of the
fleet surrendered.

Another circumstance which had placed the French fleet at a tremendous
disadvantage was the absence of the three Flying Fishes, which were to
have co-operated with the invading fleet, but of course neither
Admiral Durenne, who had gone down with his ship, nor any other of his
officers knew that the Banshee had been blown up in mid-air, or that
the Ithuriel had destroyed the dépôt ship, and so forced Castellan,
after his mad waste of ammunition in the destruction of Portsmouth, to
wing his way to Kiel, with the See Adler, in order to replenish his
magazines. Had those two amphibious craft been present at the battle,
the issue might have been something very different.

The whole fight had only taken a couple of hours from the firing of
the first shot to the hauling down of the last flag. Admiral Beresford
made direct for Portsmouth to get his lame ducks into dock if
possible, and to discover the amount of damage done. As they steamed
in through the Spithead Forts, flags went up all along the northern
shore of the Isle of Wight, and the guns on the Spithead Forts and
Fort Monckton, which the Banshee had been commissioned to destroy,
roared out a salute of welcome.

The signal masts of the sunk battleships showed where their shattered
hulls were lying, and as the Britain led the way in between them, Lord
Beresford rubbed his hands across his eyes, and said to his Commodore,
who was standing on what was left of the navigating bridge.

"Poor fellows, it was hardly fair fighting. We might have had
something very like those infernal craft if we'd had men of decent
brains at the War Office. Same old story--anything new must be wrong
in Pall Mall. Still we've got something of our own back this morning.
I hope we shall be able to use some of the docks; if I'm not afraid
our lame ducks will have to crawl round to Devonport as best they can.
The man in command of those airships must have been a perfect devil to
destroy a defenceless town in this fashion. The worst of it is that if
they can do this sort of thing here they can do it just as easily to
London or Liverpool, or Manchester or any other city. I hope there
won't be any more bad news when we get ashore."



Chapter XVI

HOW THE FRENCH LANDED AT PORTSMOUTH

ALL the ships able to take their place in the fighting-line were left
outside. The French prisoners were disembarked and their places taken
by drafts from the British warships, who at once set about making such
repairs as were possible at sea. Admiral Beresford boarded the
Ithuriel, which, until the next fight, he proposed to use as a
despatch-boat, and ran up the harbour.

He found every jetty, including the North and South Railway piers,
mere masses of smoking ruins: but the Ordnance Depot on Priddy's Hard
had somehow escaped, probably through the ignorance of the assailants.
He landed at Sheer jetty opposite Coaling Point, and before he was
halfway up the steps a short, rather stout man, in the undress
uniform of a General of Division, ran down and caught him by the hand.
After him came a taller, slimmer man with eyes like gimlets and a skin
wrinkled and tanned like Russian leather.

The first of the two men was General Sir John French, Commander-in-
Chief at Aldershot, and the second was General Sir Ian Hamilton,
Commander of the Southern Military District.

"Bravo, Beresford!" said General French, quietly. "Scooped the lot,
didn't you?"

"All that aren't at the bottom of the Channel. Good-morning, Hamilton.
I've heard that you're in a pretty bad way with your forts here,"
replied the Admiral. "By the way, how are the docks? I've got a few
lame ducks that want looking after badly."

"We've just been having a look round," replied General Hamilton. "The
town's in an awful state, as you can see. The Naval and Military
barracks, and the Naval School are wrecked, and we haven't been able
to save very much from the yards, but I don't think the docks are hurt
much. The sweeps went more for the buildings. We can find room for
half a dozen, I think, comfortably."

"That's just about what I want," said the Admiral. "We've lost the
Hindustan and New Zealand. The Canada and Newfoundland are pretty
badly mauled, and I've got half a dozen Frenchmen that would be all
the better for a look over. The Britain, Edward VII, Dominion and
Commonwealth are quite seaworthy, although, as you see, they've had it
pretty hot in their top-works. The cruiser squadron is practically
untouched. We've got the Verite, Justice and Democratie, but the
Verite has got her propellers and rudders smashed. By the way, that
ship of Erskine's, the Ithuriel, has turned out a perfect demon. She
smashed up the first attack, sank nine destroyers and two cruisers,
one of them was that big chap the Dupleix, before we came on the
scene. During the action she wiped out I don't know how many
destroyers and torpedo boats, sank the Jeanne d'Arc and saved my ship
from being rammed by crippling the Verite just in the nick of time. If
we only had a squadron of those boats and made Erskine Commodore, we'd
wipe the fleets of Europe out in a month. Now that's my news. What's
yours?"

"Bad enough," replied General French. "A powerful combined fleet of
Germans and French, helped by some of these infernal things that seem
as much at home in the air as they are in the water, are making a
combined attack on Dover, and we seem to be getting decidedly the
worst of it. Dover Castle is in flames, and nearly all the forts are
in a bad way; so are the harbour fortifications. The Russians and
Dutch are approaching London with a string of transports behind them,
and four airships above them. Their objectives are supposed to be
Tilbury and Woolwich on one hand, and Chatham on the other. By the
way, weren't there any transports behind this French Fleet that you've
settled up with?"

He had scarcely uttered the last word when a helio began to twinkle
from the hill above Foreland.

"That's bad news," said the Admiral, "but wait now, there's something
else. It's a good job the sun's come out, though it doesn't look very
healthy."

The message that the helio twinkled out was as follows:

"Thirty large vessels, apparently transports, approaching from
direction of Cherbourg and Brest about ten miles south-east by south."

"Very good," said the Admiral, rubbing his hands. "Of course they
think we're beaten. I've got five French cruisers that they'll
recognise. I'll get crews aboard them at once and convoy those
transports in, and the Commanders will be about the most disgusted men
in Europe when they get here."

Acting on the principle that all is fair in love and war, Admiral
Beresford and the two Generals laid as pretty a trap for the French
transports as the wit of man ever devised. Ten minutes' conversation
among them sufficed to arrange matters. Then the Admiral, taking a
list of the serviceable docks with him, went back on board the
Ithuriel and ran out to the Fleet. He handed over the work of taking
care of the lame ducks to Commodore Courtney of the Britain; then from
the damaged British ships he made up the crews of the French cruisers,
the Jules Ferry, Leon Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Aube and Marseillaise. He
took command of the squadron on board the Victor Hugo, and to the
amazement of officers and men alike, he ordered the Tricolor to be
hoisted. At the same time, the White Ensign fluttered down from all
the British ships that were not being taken into the dockyard and was
replaced by the Tricolor. A few minutes afterward the French flag rose
over Fort Monckton and upon a pole mast which had been put up amidst
the ruins of Southsea Castle.

The French prisoners of course saw the ruse and knew that its very
daring and impudence would command success. Some of them wrung their
hands and danced in fury, others wept, and others cursed to the full
capability of the French language, but there was no help for it. What
was left of Portsmouth was already occupied by twenty thousand men of
all arms from the Southern Division. The prisoners were disarmed and
their ships were in the hands of the enemy to do what they pleased
with, and so in helpless rage they watched the squadron of cruisers
steam out to meet the transports, flying the French flag and manned by
British crews. It meant either the most appalling carnage, or the
capture of the First French Expeditionary Force consisting of fifty
thousand men, ten thousand horses, and two hundred guns.

The daringly original stratagem was made all the easier of achievement
by the fact that the Commanders of the French transports, counting
upon the assistance of the airships and the enormous strength of the
naval force which had been launched against Portsmouth, had taken
victory for granted, and when the first line came in sight of land,
and officers and men saw the smoke-cloud that was still hanging over
what twenty-four hours before had been the greatest of British
strongholds, cheer after cheer went up. Portsmouth was destroyed and
therefore the French Fleet must have been victorious. All that they
had to do, therefore, was to steam in and take possession of what was
left. At last, after all these centuries, the invasion of England had
been accomplished, and Waterloo and Trafalgar avenged!

Happily, in the turmoil of the fight and the suddenness to which the
remains of the French Fleet had been forced to surrender, the captain
of the Victor Hugo had forgotten to sink his Code Book. The result was
that when the cruiser squadron steamed out in two divisions to meet
the transports, the French private signal, "Complete victory--
welcome," was flying from the signal-yard of the Victor Hugo. Again a
mighty cheer thundered out from the deck of every transport. The
cruisers saluted the transports with seventeen guns, and then the two
divisions swung out to right and left, and took their stations on
either flank of the transports.

And so, all unsuspecting, they steamed into Spithead, and when they
saw the British ships lying at anchor, flying the Tricolor and the
same flag waving over Fort Monckton and Southsea Castle, as well as
from half a dozen other flagstaffs about the dockyards, there could be
no doubt as to the magnitude and completeness of the victory which the
French Fleet had gained, and moreover, were not those masts showing
above the waters of Spithead, the masts of sunken British battleships.

Field-Marshal Purdin de Trevillion, Commander of the Expeditionary
Force, accompanied by his staff, was on board the Messageries liner
Australien, and led the column of transports. In perfect confidence he
led the way in between the Spithead Forts, which also flew the
Tricolor and saluted him as he went past. As the other vessels of the
great flotilla followed in close order, Fort Monckton and the rest of
the warships saluted; and then as the last transport entered the
narrow waters, a very strange thing happened. The cruisers that had
dropped behind spread themselves out in a long line behind the forts;
the British ships slipped their moorings and steamed out from Stokes
Bay and made a line across to Ryde. Destroyers and torpedo boats
suddenly dotted the water with their black shapes, appearing as though
from nowhere; then came down every Tricolor on fort and ship, and the
White Ensign ran up in its place, and the same moment, the menacing
guns swung round and there was the French flotilla, unarmed and
crowded with men, caught like a flock of sheep between two packs of
wolves.

Every transport stopped as if by common instinct. The French Marshal
turned white to the lips. His hands went up in a gesture of despair,
and he gasped to his second-in-command, who was standing beside him:

"Mon Dieu! Nous sommes trahis! Ces sacrés perfides Anglais! We are
helpless, like rats in a trap. With us it is finished, we can neither
fight nor escape."

While he was speaking, the huge bulk of the Britain steamed slowly
towards the Australien, flying the signal "Do you surrender?" Within
five hundred yards, the huge guns in her forward barbette swung round
and the muzzles sank until the long chases pointed at the Australien's
waterline. The Field-Marshal knew full well that it only needed the
touch of a finger on a button to smash the Australien into fragments,
and he knew too that the first shot from the flagship would be the
signal for the whole Fleet to open fire, and that would mean massacre
unspeakable. He was as brave a man as ever wore a uniform, but he knew
that on the next words he should speak the lives of fifty thousand men
depended. He took one more look round the ring of steel which enclosed
him on every side, and then with livid lips and grinding teeth gave
the order for the flag to be hauled down. The next moment he unbuckled
his sword and hurled it into the sea; then with a deep groan he
dropped fainting to the deck.

It would be useless to attempt to describe the fury and mortification
with which the officers and men of the French Force saw the flags one
by one flutter down from end to end of the long line of transports,
but it was plain even to the rawest conscript that there was no choice
save between surrender and massacre. They cursed and stamped about the
decks or sat down and cried, according to temperament, and that, under
the circumstances, was about all they could do.

Meanwhile, a steam pinnace came puffing out from the harbour, and in a
few minutes General French was standing on the promenade deck of the
Australien. The Field Marshal had already been carried below. A grey-
haired officer in the uniform of a general came forward with his sword
in his hand and said in excellent English, but with a shake in his
voice:

"You are General French, I presume? Our Commander, Field-Marshal
Purdin de Trevillion had such an access of anger when he found how we
had been duped that he flung his sword into the sea. He then fainted,
and is still unconscious. You will, therefore, perhaps accept my sword
instead of his."

General French touched the hilt with his hand, and said:

"Keep it, General Devignes, and I hope your officers will do the same.
I will accept your parole for all of them. You are the Field-Marshal's
Chief-of-Staff, I believe, and therefore, of course, your word is his.
I am very sorry to hear of his illness."

"You have my word," replied General Devignes, "for myself and those of
my officers who may be willing to give their parole, but for those who
prefer to remain prisoners I cannot, of course, answer."

"Of course not," replied General French, with a rather provoking
genial smile. "Now I will trouble you to take your ships into the
harbour. I will put a guard on each as she passes; meanwhile, your men
will pile arms and get ready to disembark. We cannot offer you much of
a welcome, I'm afraid, for those airships of yours have almost reduced
Portsmouth to ruins, to say nothing of sending ten of our battleships
and cruisers to the bottom. I can assure you, General, that the losses
are not all on your side."

"No, General," replied the Frenchman, "but for the present, at least,
the victory is on yours."

Then transport after transport filed into the harbour, and General
Hamilton and his staff took charge of the disembarkation. Six of the
British lame ducks had been got safely into dock, and every available
man was slaving away in deadly earnest to repair the damage done in
those terrible two hours. Repairs were also being carried out as
rapidly as possible on the cruisers and battleships lying in Spithead,
and as shipload after shipload of the disarmed French soldiers were
landed, they were set to work, first at clearing up the dockyards and
getting them into something like working order, and then clearing up
the ruins of the three towns.

The news of Admiral Beresford's magnificent coup had already reached
London, and the reply had come back terse and to the point:

  "Excellently well done. Congratulate Admiral Beresford and all
concerned. We are hard pressed at Dover, and London is threatened.
Send Ithuriel to Dover as soon as possible, and let her come on here
when she has given any possible help. Land and sea defence of south
and south-east at discretion of yourself, Domville and Beresford.

  CONNAUGHT."

By some miracle, the Keppel's Head, perhaps the most famous naval
hostelry in the south of England, had escaped the shells from the
airships, and so General French had made it his headquarters for the
time being. Sir Compton Domville had received a rather serious injury
from a splinter in the left arm during the destruction of the Naval
Barracks, but he had had his wounds dressed and insisted, against the
advice of the doctors, in driving down to the Hard and talking matters
over with General French. They were discussing the disposition of the
French prisoners and the huge amount of war material which had been
captured, when the telegram was delivered. They had scarcely read it
when there was a knock at the door and an orderly entered, and said:

"Captain Erskine, of the Ithuriel, would be pleased to see the General
when he's at liberty."

"The very man!" said General French. "This is the young gentleman," he
continued, turning to Admiral Domville, "who practically saved us from
two torpedo attacks, won the Fleet action for us, and saved Beresford
from being rammed at the moment of victory."

The door opened again, and Erskine came in. He saluted and said:

"General, if I may suggest it, I shall not be much more use here, and
my lieutenant, Denis Castellan, has just had a telegram from his aunt
and sister, who are in London, saying that things are pretty bad
there. I fancy I might be of some use if you would let me go, sir."

"Let you go!" laughed the General. "Why, my dear sir, you've got to
go. Here's a telegram that I've just had from His Royal Highness the
Commander-in-Chief, saying that Dover and London are in a bad way, and
telling me to send you round at once. When can you start?"

"Well, sir," replied Erskine, after a moment's thought, "we're not
injured in any way, but it will take a couple of hours, I'm afraid, to
replenish our motive power, and fill up with shell, and added to that,
I should like to have a good overhaul of the machinery."

"Just listen to that, now!" exclaimed Admiral Beresford, who had
entered the room while he was speaking. "Here's a man who has done
nearly as much single-handed as the rest of us put together and fought
through as stiff a Fleet action as the hungriest fire-eater in the
navy wants to see, and tells you he isn't injured, while half of us
are knocked to scrap-iron. I wish we had fifty Ithuriels, there'd be
very little landing on English shores."

"I don't think you have very much to complain of in the French landing
at Portsmouth, Beresford," laughed Sir Compton Domville. "I don't want
to flatter you, but it was an absolute stroke of genius. We shall have
to set those fellows to work on the forts and yards and get some guns
into position again. It isn't exactly what they came for but they'll
come in very useful. But that can wait. Here's the wire from the
Commander-in-Chief. Captain Erskine, you are to get round to Dover and
London as soon as possible, and, I presume, do all the damage you can
on the way. General French is going to London as soon as a special can
be got ready for him."

"May I ask a great favour, sir?" said Erskine.

"Anything, after what you've done," replied Sir Compton. "What is it?"

General French and Lord Beresford nodded in agreement, and Erskine
continued, addressing Lord Beresford: "That Mr. Lennard, whom your
lordship met on board the Ithuriel, has given me the formula of a new
high explosive. Absurdly simple, but simply terrific in its effect. I
made up half a dozen shells with it and tried them. I gave the Dupleix
three rounds. They seem to reduce steel to dust, and, as far as we
could see every man on the decks dropped as if he had been struck by
lightning. From what we have done with them I think they will be of
enormous value. Now Mr. Lennard is very anxious to get to London and
the north of England, and if General French could find him a place in
his special--"

"My dear sir," interrupted the General, "I shall be only too delighted
to know your maker of thunderbolts. Is he here now?"

"Yes, sir, he's in the smoking-room with Lieutenant Castellan. And
that reminds me, if I am to go to London, I hope you will allow me to
hand over the German spy that we caught here as soon as convenient."

"Bring them both in," said General French. "Sir Compton and General
Hamilton will court-martial your spy this morning, and, I hope, shoot
him this evening."

Within an hour, Lennard, who had something more serious now to think
about than even war, was flying away Londonwards in General French's
special, with a letter of introduction from Denis Castellan to his
aunt and sister, and an hour after the special had started, the
Ithuriel had cleared the narrow waters and was tearing up the Channel
at fifty miles an hour, to see what havoc she could work on the
assailants of London and Dover.



Chapter XVII

AWAY FROM THE WARPATH

WHEN Lennard entered the little drawing-room in the house in
Westbourne Terrace, where Norah Castellan and her aunt were staying,
he had decided to do something which, without his knowing it, probably
made a very considerable difference in his own fortunes and those of
two or three other people.

During his brief but exciting experiences on board the Ithuriel, he
had formed a real friendship for both Erskine and Castellan, and he
had come to the conclusion that Denis's sister and aunt would be very
much safer in the remote seclusion of Whernside than in a city which
might within the next few days share the fate of Portsmouth and
Gosport. He was instantly confirmed in this resolution when Mrs.
O'Connor and her niece came into the room. Never had he seen a more
perfect specimen of the Irishwoman, who is a lady by Nature's own
patent of nobility, than Mrs. O'Connor, and, with of course one
exception, never had he seen such a beautiful girl as Norah Castellan.

He was friends with them in half an hour, and inside an hour he had
accepted their invitation to dine and sleep at the house and help them
to get ready for their unexpected journey to the North the next
morning.

He went back to the Grand and got his portmanteau and Gladstone bag
and returned to Westbourne Terrace in time for afternoon tea.
Meanwhile, he had bought the early copies of all the evening papers
and read up the condition of things in London, which, in the light of
his experiences at Portsmouth, did not appear to him to be in any way
promising. He gave Norah and her aunt a full, true and particular
account of the assault on Portsmouth, the doings of the Ithuriel, the
great Fleet action, and the brilliant ruse de guerre which Admiral
Beresford had used to capture the First French Army Corps that had
landed in England--and landed as prisoners.

The news in the afternoon papers, coupled with what he already knew of
the tactics of the enemy, impressed Lennard so gravely that he
succeeded in persuading Mrs. O'Connor and Norah to leave London by the
midnight sleeping-car train from St. Pancras for Whernside, since no
one knew at what time during the night John Castellan or his
lieutenants might not order an indiscriminate bombardment of London
from the air. He was also very anxious, for reasons of his own, to get
back to his work at the Observatory and make his preparations for the
carrying out of an undertaking compared with which the war, terrible
as it was and would be, could only be considered as the squabblings of
children or lunatics.

His task was not one of aggression or conquest, but of salvation, and
the enemy he was going to fight was an invader not of states or
countries, but of a whole world, and unless the assault of this
invader from the outer wilderness of Space were repelled, the result
would not be merely the destruction of ships and fortresses, or the
killing of a few hundreds or thousands of men on the battlefield; it
would mean nothing less than a holocaust which would involve the whole
human race, and the simultaneous annihilation of all that the genius
of man had so laboriously accumulated during the slow, uncounted ages
of his progress from the brute to the man.

They left the train at Settle at six o'clock the next morning, and
were at once taken charge of by the stationmaster, who had had his
instructions by telephone from the Parmenter mansion on the slopes of
Great Whernside. He conducted them at once to the Midland Hotel, where
they found a suite of apartments, luxuriously furnished, with fires
blazing in the grates, and everything looking very cosy under the soft
glow of the shaded electric lights. Baths were ready and breakfast
would be on the table at seven. At eight, Mr. Parmenter, who
practically owned this suite of rooms, would drive over with Miss
Parmenter in a couple of motor-cars and take the party to the house.

"Sure, then," said Mrs. O'Connor, when the arrangements had been
explained to her, "it must be very comfortable to have all the money
to buy just what you want, and make everything as easy as all this,
and it's yourself, Mr. Lennard we have to thank for making us the
guests of a millionaire, when neither Norah nor myself have so much as
seen one. Is he a very great man, this Mr. Parmenter? It seems to me to
be something like going to dine with a duke."

"My dear Mrs. O'Connor," laughed Lennard, "I can assure you that you
will find this master of millions one of Nature's own gentlemen.
Although he can make men rich or poor by a stroke of his pen, and,
with a few others like him, wield such power as was never in the hands
of kings, you wouldn't know him from a plain English country gentleman
if it wasn't for his American accent, and there's not very much of
that."

"And his daughter, Miss Auriole, what's she like?" said Norah. "A
beauty, of course."

Lennard flushed somewhat suspiciously, and a keen glance of Norah's
Irish eyes read the meaning of that flush in an instant.

"Miss Parmenter is considered to be very beautiful," he replied, "and
I must confess that I share the general opinion."

"I thought so," said Norah, with a little nod that had a great deal of
meaning in it. "Now, I suppose we'd better go and change, or we'll be
late for breakfast. I certainly don't want the beautiful Miss
Parmenter to see me in this state for the first time."

"My dear Miss Castellan, I can assure you that you have not the
faintest reason to fear any comparison that might be made," laughed
Lennard as he left the room and went to have his tub.

Punctually at eight a double "Toot-toot" sounded from the street in
front of the main entrance to the hotel. Norah ran to the window and
saw two splendidly-appointed Napier cars--although, of course, she
didn't know a Napier from a Darracq. Something in female shape with
peaked cap and goggles, gauntleted and covered from head to foot in a
heavy fur coat, got out of the first car, and another shape, rather
shorter but almost similarly clad, got out of the second. Five minutes
later there was a knock at the door of the breakfast-room. It opened,
and Norah saw what the cap and the goggles and the great fur coat had
hidden. During the next few seconds, two of the most beautiful girls
in the two hemispheres looked at each other, as only girls and women
can look. Then Auriole put out both her hands and said, quite simply:

"You are Norah Castellan. I hope we shall be good friends. If we're
not, I'm afraid it will be my fault."

Norah took her hands and said:

"I think it would more likely be mine, after what Mr. Lennard has been
telling us of yourself and your father."

At this moment Lennard saved the situation as far as he was concerned
by making the other introductions, and Mrs. O'Connor took the hand
which wielded the terrible power of millions and experienced a curious
sort of surprise at finding that it was just like other hands, and
that the owner of it was bending over hers with one of those gestures
of simple courtesy which are the infallible mark of the American
gentleman. In a few minutes they were all as much at home together as
though they had known each other for weeks. Then came the preparation
of Norah and her aunt for the motor ride, and then the ride itself.

The sun had risen clearly, and there was a decided nip of frost in the
keen Northern air. The roads were hard and clean, and the twenty-five-
mile run over them, winding through the valleys and climbing the
ridges with the heather-clad, rock-crowned hills on all sides, now
sliding down a slope or shooting along a level, or taking a rise in
what seemed a flying leap, was by far the most wonderful experience
that Norah and her aunt had ever had.

Auriole drove the first car, and had Norah sitting beside her on the
front seat. Her aunt and the mechanician were sitting in the tonneau
behind. Mr. Parmenter drove the second car with Lennard beside him. His
tonneau was filled with luggage.

At the end of the eighteenth mile the cars, going at a quite illegal
speed, jumped a ridge between two heather-clad moors, which in South
Africa would have been called a nek, and dived down along a white road
leading into a broad forest track, sunlit now, but bordered on either
side by the twilight of towering pines and firs through which the
sunlight filtered only in little flakes, which lay upon the last
year's leaves and cones, somewhat as an electric light might have
fallen on a monkish manuscript of the thirteenth century.

Then came two more miles on hard, well-kept roads, so perfectly graded
that the upward slope was hardly perceptible.

"We're on our own ground now and I guess I'll let her out," said Miss
Auriole. "Don't be frightened, Norah. These things look big and
strong, but it's quite wonderful what they'll do when there's a bit of
human sense running them. See that your goggles are right and twist
your veil in a bit tighter, I'm going to give you a new sensation."

She waved her hand to her father in the car behind and put on the
fourth speed lever, and said: "Hold tight now."

Norah nodded, for she could hardly breathe as it was.

Then the pines and firs on either side of the broad drive melted into
a green-grey blur. The road under them was like a rapidly unwinding
ribbon. The hilltops which showed above the trees rose up now to the
right hand and now to the left, as the car swung round the curves.
Every now and then Norah looked at the girl beside her, controlling
the distance-devouring monster with one hand on a little wheel, her
left foot on a pedal and her right hand ready to work the levers if
necessary.

The two miles of the drive from the gates to the front door of
Whernside House, a long, low-lying two-storeyed, granite-built house,
which was about as good a combination of outward solidity and indoor
comfort as you could find in the British Islands, was covered in two
and a half minutes, and the car pulled up, as Norah thought, almost at
full speed and stopped dead in front of the steps leading up from the
broad road to the steps leading up to the terrace which ran along the
whole southward front of Whernside House.

"I reckon, Miss Castellan--"

"If you say Miss Castellan, I shall get back to Settle by the first
conveyance that I can hire."

"Now, that's just nice of you, Norah. What I was going to say, if I
hadn't made that mistake was, that this would be about the first time
that you had covered two miles along a road at fifty miles an hour,
and that's what you've just done. Pretty quick, isn't it? Oh, there's
Lord Westerham on the terrace! Come for lunch, I suppose. He's a very
great man here, you know. Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding of
Yorkshire, fought through the Boer War, got made a Colonel by some
miracle when he was only about twenty-eight, went to Lhassa, and now
he's something like Commander-in-Chief of the Yeomanry and Volunteers
round here--and without anything of that sort, he's just about the
best sort of man you want to meet. Come along, I'll introduce you."

The two cars stopped at the steps leading up to the terrace, a man in
khaki, with a stretch of a dozen ribbons across the left side of his
tunic, came bareheaded down the steps and opened the side door of
Auriole's motor-car. Auriole pushed her goggles up and held out her
gauntleted hand, and said:

"What! Lord Westerham! Well now, this is nice of you. Come to lunch,
of course. And how's the recruiting going on?"

Then without waiting for a reply, she went on: "Norah, dear, this is
Lord Westerham, Lord-Lieutenant of this part of the County of York,
Colonel commanding the West Riding Yeomanry and lots of other things
that I don't understand."

Norah pushed her goggles up and tilted her hat back. Auriole saw a
flash of recognition pass like lightning between their eyes. She
noticed that Norah's cheeks were a little bit brighter than even the
speed of the car could account for. She saw, too, that there was a
flush under the tan of Lord Westerham's face, and to her these were
signs of great comfort.

"I don't know how this particular miracle has been arranged," said
Lord Westerham, as he gave his hand to Norah and took her out of the
car, "but a re-introduction is, if you will allow me to say so, Miss
Parmenter, rather superfluous. I have known Miss Castellan for quite
two years, at least, I had the pleasure of meeting her in Connemara,
and we have fished and shot and sailed together until we became almost
friends."

Auriole's eyes, observant at all times, had been working hard during
the last two or three minutes, and in those few minutes she had
learned a great deal. Arthur Lennard, who also had his eyes wide open,
had learnt in his own slow, masculine way about as much, and perhaps a
little more. He and Lord Westerham had been school-fellows and college
chums and good friends for years, but of late a shadow had come
between them, and it's hardly necessary to say that it was the shadow
of a woman. He knew perfectly well by this time that Lord Westerham
was, in the opinion of Mr. Parmenter, the husband-designate, one might
say, of Auriole. Young as he was, he already had a distinguished
record as a soldier and an administrator, but he was also heir to one
of the oldest Marquisates in England with a very probable reversion to
a dukedom.

This was what he had been thinking of that night in the observatory
when he told Auriole of the fate that was approaching the world. No
one knew better than he how brilliant a figure she would make in
Society as the Marchioness of Westerham, granted always that the
Anglo-Saxon would do now as he had ever done, fling the invader back
upon his own shores or into the sea which he had crossed: but that
swift flash of recognition seen as his car came up behind Auriole's,
and the slight but most significant change which had come over the
features of both of them as he handed her out of the car, had
instantly banished the shadow and made him a happier man than he had
been for a good many months past.

Still he was one of those hard-headed, practical men who rightly
consider that the very worst enemy either to friendship between man
and man, or love between man and woman, is an unexplained
misunderstanding, and so in that moment he decided to "have it out"
with his lordship on the first possible opportunity.



Chapter XVIII

A GLIMPSE OF THE PERIL

THE morning was spent in a general overhaul of the observatory and the
laboratory in which Lennard had discovered and perfected the explosive
which had been used with such deadly effect in the guns of the
Ithuriel. Lunch was an entirely delightful meal, and when it was over
Auriole took Mrs. O'Connor and Norah up to her own particular domain in
the house to indulge in that choicest of feminine luxuries, a good
long talk. Mr. Parmenter excused himself and disappeared into his study
to get ready for the evening mail, and so Lord Westerham and Lennard
were left to their own devices for a couple of hours or so. This was
just what Lennard wanted, and so he proposed a stroll and a smoke in
the Park.

They lit their cigars and walked for a few minutes along a pine-shaded
path. His lordship had an intuitive idea that his companion had
something to say to him--albeit he was very far from imagining what
that something was to be--and so he thought he had better let him
begin. When they were out of sight or hearing of anyone, Lennard
slowed down his pace a little and said somewhat abruptly:

"Westerham, I am going to ask you a question which you will probably
think a rather impertinent one, and, moreover, whether you choose to
answer it or not, I hope you will not for the present ask me why I ask
it. Now there are a good many 'asks' in that, but as the matter is
somewhat important to both of us, I wanted to put the thing plainly,
even at the expense of a little tautology."

Lord Westerham, in addition to being a gentleman and a soldier, was
also one of the most frankly open-minded men that another honest man
could wish to have anything to do with, and so, after a long pull at
his cigar, he looked round and said:

"My dear Lennard, we were school-fellows once, and we managed to worry
through Cambridge together--you with a great deal more kudos than I
did--and we have been very good friends since, so there can't be any
question of impertinence between us, although there might be some
unpleasantness for one or both of us. But, anyhow, whatever it is, out
with it. Honestly, I don't think you could offend me if you tried."

"That's just what I thought you would say," replied Lennard. "And I
think you are about the only man I should like to ask such a question;
but after what you've just said I'll put it just as shortly as it can
be made."

"And the question is?" asked Lord Westerham, blowing a long stream of
blue smoke up through the still air towards the tops of the pine
trees.

There was a little pause, during which Lennard bit off about half an
inch of the end of his cigar, spat it out, and took two or three more
puffs from what was left. Then he said, in a dry, almost harsh tone:

"The question is quite a short one, Westerham, and you can answer it
by a simple yes or no. It's just this: Do you intend to make Miss
Parmenter Marchioness of Westerham or not? Other things of course
being equal, as we used to say at school."

Somewhat to Lennard's astonishment, Lord Westerham's cigar shot from
his lips like a torpedo from a tube, and after it came an explosion of
laughter, which fully accounted for its sudden ejectment. His lordship
leant up against a convenient pine and laughed till he was almost
speechless.

"What the devil's the matter with you, Westerham?" said Lennard, with
a note of anger in his voice. "You'll excuse my saying so, but it
seems hardly a question for a sort of explosion like that. I have been
asking you a question which, as you might have seen, concerns me
rather closely."

Lord Westerham sobered down at once, although his voice was still
somewhat tremulous with suppressed laughter when he said:

"My dear chap, I'm very sorry. It was beastly rude of me to laugh, but
I'm quite sure you'll forgive me when you know the facts or, at least,
the fact, and that is as follows, as they say in the newspapers. When
I tell you that your sweetheart drove my sweetheart up to the house
to-day from Settle--"

"What, Norah Castellan!" exclaimed Lennard. "I didn't even know that
you had met her before."

"Haven't I!" replied Lord Westerham. "Look here, it was this way."

And then he began a story of a fishing and shooting trip to Connemara,
where he had rented certain salmon streams and shooting moors from a
squire of the county, named Lismore, who was very much in love with
Norah Castellan, and how he had fished and shot and yachted with her
and the brother who had sold his diabolical inventions to the enemies
of England, until he had come to love the sister as much as he hated
the brother. And when he had done, Lennard told him of the swimming
race in Clifden Bay, and many other things to which Lord Westerham
listened with an interest which grew more and more intense as every
minute passed; until when Lennard stopped, he crossed the road and
held out his hand and said:

"I've got the very place to suit you. A cannel-coal mine near Bolton
in Lancashire with a perpendicular shaft, twelve hundred feet deep.
The very place to do your work. It's yours from to-day, and if the
thing comes off, Papa Parmenter shall give a couple of hundred
thousand dowry instead of buying the mine. I don't think he'll kick at
that. Now, let's go back and have a whisky-and-soda. I've got to be
off recruiting to-morrow."

"I wish I could join the Yeomanry and come with you, if you would have
me," laughed Lennard, whose spirits had been rising rapidly during the
last half-hour or so, "only I reckon, as Mr. Parmenter would put it,
that I shall have all my work cut out getting ready to give our
celestial invader a warm reception. To begin with, it won't exactly be
child's play building a cannon twelve hundred feet long."

"I wonder what they'd think of a proposition like that at the War
Office?" laughed Lord Westerham in reply. "Several permanent officials
would certainly faint on the spot."

A sharp frost set in during the night, and the sky was brilliantly
clear. After dinner, when the ladies had left the table, Lennard said
to Mr. Parmenter:

"I am going to renew my acquaintance with our celestial visitor to-
night. I shall want a couple of hours to run over my calculations and
verify the position of the comet up to date; and then, say at eleven
o'clock, I should like you and Lord Westerham to come up to the
observatory and have a somewhat serious talk."

The owner of the great reflector looked up quickly over his wine-glass
and said:

"Look here, Mr. Lennard, I guess this poor old country of yours has
about enough serious matters on hand just now without worrying about
comets. What's the trouble now?"

"My dear sir," replied Lennard, gravely "this is a matter which not
only England, but every other country in the world, will have to
trouble about before very long."

"Say, that sounds pretty serious," said Mr. Parmenter. "What's the
worry with this old comet of yours, anyhow?"

Lord Westerham smiled, and Lennard could not help smiling too as he
replied:

"It is too long a story to tell now, sir, and what is more, I cannot
tell it until I have reverified my observations and figures, and,
besides, the ladies will be expecting us. I shall be quite ready for
you by eleven. By the way, I haven't told you yet that those shells
were a perfect success, from our point of view, at least. It seems
rather curious how that all came about, I must say. Here's Denis
Castellan, the brother of the traitor, a British naval officer, and
like his sister an acquaintance of Westerham's. I discover the
explosive, tell you about it, you tell Westerham, and send me off to
try it on the Ithuriel, and here I come back from London with Miss
Castellan and her aunt."

"Quite an excellent arrangement of things on the part of the Fates,"
remarked Lord Westerham with a meaning which Mr. Parmenter did not
understand.

"Why, yes," said their host, "quite like a piece out of a story, isn't
it? And so that explosive got its work in all right, Mr Lennard?"

"As far as we could see," replied Lennard. "It tore steel armour into
shreds as if it had been cardboard, and didn't leave a living thing
anywhere within several yards of the focus of the explosion. Erskine
and Castellan are filling up with it, and I expect we shall hear
something about it from London before long. I am glad to say that Lord
Beresford told me that after what he had seen of our fire, Government
and private gun factories were going to work night and day turning out
pneumatic guns to use it. The effect of it on land if a battery once
gets within reach of large masses of men will be something frightful."

"Sounds pretty useful," said Lord Westerham, who was one of those
soldiers who rightly believe that the most merciless methods of waging
war are in the end most merciful.

By nine o'clock Lennard was in the equatorial chamber of the
Observatory, taking his first observations since he had left for
Portsmouth the week before. The ghostly shape pictured on the great
reflector was bigger and brighter now, although, to his great comfort,
none of the scientific papers had made any mention of its discovery by
other observers. When he had noted its exact position, he went to his
desk and plunged into a maze of calculations.

Precisely at eleven, there was a tap at the door and Mr. Parmenter and
Lord Westerham came in. Lord Westerham, as the guest, had the first
look at the approaching World Peril; then Mr. Parmenter took a long
squint into the eye-piece and then they sat down, and Lennard told Mr.
Parmenter, in the cold, precise language of science, the story which
he had already told to Auriole and Lord Westerham.

The millionaire, who had listened with an attention that even he had
never given to any subject before, smoked in silence for a few moments
after Lennard had finished, and then he said quietly:

"Well, I reckon that's about the biggest order that two or three human
beings have ever been called upon to fill. One thing's certain. It'd
make these fighting fellows feel pretty foolish if they could be got
to believe it, which they couldn't. No disrespect to you, Lord
Westerham, because I take it you do believe it."

"Certainly I do," he replied. "Lennard was never known to make a
mistake in figures, and I am perfectly certain that he would not make
any in working out such a terrific problem as this. I think I may also
say that I have equal confidence in his plan for saving humanity from
the terrible fate which threatens it."

"That's good hearing," said Mr. Parmenter, drily. "Personally, I don't
quite feel that I've finished up with this old world yet, and if it's
a question of dollars--as far as I'm concerned, as I've got a few
millions hanging around loose, I might as well use them to help to
save the human race from being burnt to death as to run corners and
trusts, which won't be much use anyhow if we can't stop this comet, or
whatever it is. Now, Mr. Lennard, what's your plan for the scientific
salvation of the world?"

"There is nothing new about the idea," replied Lennard, "except its
application to the present circumstances. Of course you have read
Jules Verne's Journey to the Moon? Well, my plan is simply to do the
same thing on a much bigger scale, only instead of firing men and dogs
and chickens out of my cannon, I am going to fire something like a ton
and a half of explosives.

"The danger is in the contact of the nucleus of the comet with the
earth's atmosphere. If that can be prevented there is no further cause
for alarm; so, to put the matter quite shortly, my projectile will
have an initial velocity of ten miles a second, and therefore a range
that is practically infinite, for that velocity will carry it beyond
the sphere of the earth's attraction.

"Hence, if the gun is properly trained and fired at precisely the
right moment, and if the fuse does its work, the projectile will pass
into the nucleus of the comet, and, before the heat has time to melt
the shell, the charge will explode and the nucleus--the only dangerous
part--will either be blown to fragments or dissipated in gas.
Therefore, instead of what I might be allowed to call a premature Day
of Judgment, we shall simply have a magnificent display of celestial
fireworks, which will probably amount to nothing more than an
unparalleled shower of shooting stars, as they are popularly called.

"The details of the experiment will be practically the same as those
Jules Verne described--I mean as regards the making and firing of the
cannon--only, as we haven't time to get a big enough hole dug, I
should strongly advise the acceptance of Lord Westerham's very
opportune offer."

"That's so," said Mr. Parmenter, quietly, "but I've got a sort of fancy
for running this business myself. My reflector discovered this comet,
thanks, of course, to the good use you made of it, and it seems to me
that I'm in a way responsible for making it harmless if that can be
done, and so I'm not disposed to take that convenient colliery as a
gift from anyone, no, not even you, Lord Westerham. You see, my lord,
all that I can do here is just finding the dollars, and to a man in
your position, doing his best to get as many men and horses and guns
together for the defence of his country, money is money. Will you take
a quarter of a million pounds for that colliery?"

"No, I won't, Mr. Parmenter," laughed Lord Westerham. "In the first
place, the colliery isn't worth a tenth of that, and this country can
very well afford to pay for her own defence. Besides, you must
remember that you will have to pay for the work: I mean casing the
pit-shaft, smelting the metal and building the shell, to say nothing
of the thousand and one other expenses of which Lennard can tell you
more than I. For one thing, I expect you will have a hundred thousand
or so to pay in damage to surrounding property after that cannon has
gone off. In other words, if you do save the world you'll probably
have to pay pretty stiffly for doing it. They're excellent business
people in Lancashire, you know."

"I don't quite see the logic of that, Lord Westerham," replied Mr.
Parmenter a little testily. "If we can put this business through, the
dollars couldn't be much better used, and if we can't they won't be
much use to me or anyone else. It's worth doing, anyhow, if it's only
to show what new-world enterprise helped with old-world brains can do
in bringing off a really big thing, and that's why I want to buy that
colliery."

"Well, Mr. Parmenter," laughed Lord Westerham again, "we won't quarrel
over that. I'm not a businessman, but I believe it's generally
recognised that the essence of all business is compromise. I'll meet
you halfway. For the present you shall take the pit for nothing and
pay all expense connected with making a cannon of it. If that cannon
does its work you shall pay me two hundred thousand pounds for the use
of it--and I'll take your I.O.U. for the amount now. Will that suit
you?"

"That's business," said Mr. Parmenter, getting up and going to
Lennard's desk. "There you are, my lord," he continued, as he came
back with a half sheet of notepaper in his hand, "and I only hope I
shall have to pay that money."



Chapter XIX

A CHANGE OF SCENE

THE Ithuriel had orders to call at Folkestone and Dover in order to
report the actual state of affairs there to the Commander-in-Chief by
telegraph if Erskine could get ashore or by flash-signal if he could
not, and incidentally to do as much damage as he could without undue
risk to his craft if he considered that circumstances demanded it.

He arrived off Folkestone just before dusk, and, as he expected, found
that there were half a dozen large transports, carrying probably eight
thousand men and a proportionate number of horses and quick-firing
guns, convoyed by four cruisers and ten destroyers, lying off the
harbour. There were evidently no airships with the force, as, if there
had been, they would certainly have been hovering over the town and
shelling Shorncliffe Barracks and the forts from the air. A brisk
artillery duel was proceeding between the land batteries and the
squadron, and the handsome town was already in flames in several
places.

Erskine, of course, recognised at once that this attack was
simultaneous with that on Dover; the object of the enemy being
obviously the capture of the shore line of railway between the two
great Channel ports, which would provide the base of a very elongated
triangle, the sides of which would be roughly formed by the roads and
railways running to the westward and southward through Ashford and
Maidstone, and to the northward and eastward through Canterbury,
Faversham and Sittingbourne, and meeting at Rochester and Chatham,
where the land forces of the invaders would, if all went well, co-
operate with the sea forces in a combined attack on London, which
would, of course, be preceded by a bombardment of fortified positions
from the air.

Knowing what he did of the disastrous results of the battle of
Portsmouth, he came to the conclusion that it was his duty to upset
this plan of attack at all hazards, so he called Castellan up into the
conning-tower and asked his advice on the situation.

"I see just what you mean, Erskine," replied the Lieutenant, when he
had taken a good look at the map of Kent, "and it's my opinion that
you'll do more to help London from here and Dover just now than you
will from the Thames. Those French cruisers are big ones, though I
don't quite recognise which they are, and they carry twice or three
times the metal that those miserable forts do--which comes of trusting
everything to the Fleet, as though these were the days of wooden walls
and sails instead of steam battleships, fast cruisers and destroyers,
to say nothing of submarines and airships. These Frenchies here don't
know anything about the hammering they've got at Portsmouth and the
capture of the transports, so they'll be expecting that force to be
moving on London by the Brighton and South Coast line instead of 
rebuilding our forts and dockyards; so you go in and sink and smash
everything in sight. That's just my best advice to you."

"It seems pretty rough on those chaps on the transports, doesn't it?"
said Erskine, with a note of regret in his voice. "We sha'n't be able
to pick up any of them. It will be pretty like murder."

"And what's that?" exclaimed Castellan, pointing to the fires in the
town. "Don't ye call shelling a defenceless watering-place and burning
unarmed people to death in their own homes murder? What if ye had your
sister, or your mother, or your sweetheart there? How would ye feel
about murder then?"

Denis Castellan spoke feelingly, for his captain possessed not only a
mother, but also a very charming sister in connection with whom he
cherished certain not altogether ill-founded hopes which might
perchance be realised now that war had come and promotion was fairly
sure for those who "got through all right."

Erskine nodded and said between his teeth:

"Yes, you're right, old man. Such mercy as they give--such shall they
have. Get below and take charge. We'd better go for the cruisers first
and sink them. That'll stop the shelling of the town anyhow. Then
we'll tackle the destroyers, and after that, if the transports don't
surrender--well, the Lord have mercy on them when those shells of
Lennard's get among them, for they'll want it."

"And divil a bit better do they deserve. What have we done to them
that they should all jump on us at once like this?" growled Denis as
the platform sank with him. "There isn't one, no, nor two of them that
dare tackle the old sea-dog alone."

Which remark was Irish but perfectly true.

By this time it was dusk enough for the Ithuriel to approach the
unsuspecting cruisers unseen, as nothing but her conning-tower was
soon visible, even at five hundred yards, and this would vanish when
she sank to make her final rush.

The cruisers were the Chayner, Chanzy, Bruix and Latouche-Treville,
all of about five thousand tons, and carrying two 7.6 in., six 5.5 in.
and six 9 pounders in addition to their small quick-firers. They were
steaming in an oval course of about two miles long in line ahead,
delivering their bow, stern and broadside fire as they circled. The
effect of the shells along the strip of coast was terrible, and by the
time the Ithuriel came on the scene of action Sandgate, Shorncliffe
and Folkestone were ablaze. The destroyers were of course shepherding
the transports until the cruisers had silenced the shore batteries and
prepared the way for the landing.

The Latouche-Treville was leading the French line when Erskine gave
the order to sink and ram. Her captain never so much as suspected the
presence of a British warship until his vessel reeled under the shock
of the ram, trembled from stem to stern, and began to settle quickly
by the head. Before she had time to sink, the Ithuriel had shaken
herself free, swung round in half a curve, and ripped the port quarter
of the Chanzy open ten feet below the waterline. Then she charged the
Bruix amidships and nearly cut her in half, and as the Charner steamed
up to the rescue of her stricken consorts her screws dragged her back
from the sinking ship and her stern ram crashed into the Frenchman's
starboard side under the foremast, and in about a quarter of an hour
from the delivery of the mysterious attack the four French cruisers
were either sunk or sinking.

It would be almost impossible to describe the effect which was
produced by this sudden and utterly unexpected calamity, not only upon
the astounded invaders, but upon the defenders, who, having received
the welcome tidings of the tremendous disaster which had befallen the
French Expedition at Portsmouth, were expecting aid in a very
different form. Like their assailants, they had seen nothing, heard
nothing, until the French cruisers suddenly ceased fire, rolled over
and disappeared.

But a few minutes after the Charner had gone down, all anxiety on the
part of the defenders was, for the time being, removed. The Ithuriel
rose to the surface; her searchlight projector turned inshore, and she
flashed in the Private Code:

  "Suppose you have the news from Portsmouth. I am now going to smash
destroyers and sink transports if they don't surrender. Don't shoot:
might hurt me. Get ready for prisoners.

  ERSKINE, Ithuriel."

It was perhaps the most singular message that had ever been sent from
a sea force to a land force, but it was as well understood as it was
welcome, and soon the answering signals flashed back:

  "Well done, Ithuriel. Heard news. Go ahead!"

Then came the turn of the destroyers. The Ithuriel rose out of the
water till her forward ram showed its point six feet above the waves.
Erskine ordered full speed, and within another twenty-five minutes the
tragedy of Spithead had been repeated on a smaller scale. The
destroying monster rushed round the transports, hunting the
torpilleurs de haute mer down one after the other as a greyhound might
run rabbits down, smashed them up and sank them almost before their
officers and crew had time to learn what had happened to them--and
then with his searchlight Erskine signalled to the transports in the
International Code, which is universally understood at sea:

  "Transports steam quarter speed into harbour and surrender. If a
shot is fired shall sink you as others."

Five of the six flags came down with a run and all save one of the
transports made slowly for the harbour. Their commanders were wise
enough to know that a demon of the deep which could sink cruisers
before they could fire a shot and smash destroyers as if they were
pleasure boats could make very short work of liners and cargo
steamers, so they bowed to the inevitable and accepted with what grace
they could defeat and capture instead of what an hour or so ago looked
like certain victory. But the captain of the sixth, the one that was
farthest out to sea, made a dash for liberty--or Dover.

Erskine took down the receiver and said quietly:

"Centre forward gun. Train: fire!"

The next moment a brilliant blaze of flame leapt up between the
transport's funnels. They crumpled up like scorched parchment. Her
whole super-structure seemed to take fire at once and she stopped.

Again flashed the signal:

  "Surrender or I'll ram."

The Tricolor fluttered slowly down through the damp, still evening air
from the transport's main truck, and almost at the same moment a fussy
little steam pinnace--which had been keeping itself snugly out of
harm's way since the first French cruiser had gone down--puffed busily
out of the harbour, and the proudest midshipman in the British Navy--
for the time being, at least--ran from transport to transport, crowded
with furious and despairing Frenchmen, and told them, individually and
collectively, the course to steer if they wanted to get safely into
Folkestone harbour and be properly taken care of.

Then out of the growing darkness to the westward long gleams of silver
light flashed up from the dull grey water and wandered about the
under-surface of the gathering clouds, coming nearer and growing
brighter every minute, jumping about the firmament as though the men
behind the projectors were either mad or drunk; but the signals spelt
out to those who understood them the cheering words:

  "All right. We'll look after these fellows. Commander-in-Chief's
orders: Concentrate on Chilham, Canterbury and Dover."

"That's all right," said Erskine to himself, as he read the signals.
"Beresford's got them comfortably settled already, and he's sending
someone to help here. Well, I think we've done our share and we'd
better get along to Dover and London."

He flashed the signal: "Good-bye and good luck!" to the shore, and
shaped his course for Dover.

So far, in spite of the terrible losses that had been sustained by the
Reserve Fleet and the Channel Fleet, the odds of battle were still a
long way in favour of Britain, in spite of the enormous forces ranged
against her. At least so thought both Erskine and Castellan until they
got within about three miles of Dover harbour, and Castellan, looking
on sea and land and sky, exclaimed:

"Great Heaven help us! This looks like the other place let loose!"



Chapter XX

THE NIGHT OF TERROR BEGINS--

DENIS CASTELLAN had put the situation tersely, but with a considerable
amount of accuracy. Earth and sea and sky were ablaze with swarms of
shooting, shifting lights, which kept crossing each other and making
ever-changing patterns of a magnificent embroidery, and amidst these,
huge shells and star-rockets were bursting in clouds of smoke and
many-coloured flame. The thunder of the big guns, the grinding rattle
of the quick-firers, and the hoarse, whistling shrieks of the shells,
completed the awful pandemonium of destruction and death that was
raging round Dover.

The truth was that the main naval attack of the Allies was being
directed on the south-eastern stronghold. I am aware that this is not
the usual plan followed by those who have written romantic forecasts
of the invasion of England. It seems at first sight, provided that the
enemy could pass the sentinels of the sea unnoticed, easy to land
troops on unprotected portions of our shores; but, in actual warfare,
this would be the most fatal policy that could be pursued, simply
because, whatever the point selected, the invaders would always find
themselves between two strong places, with one or more ahead of them.
They would thus be outflanked on all sides, with no retreat open but
the sea, which is the most easily closed of all retreats.

From their point of view, then, the Allies were perfectly right in
their project of reducing the great strongholds of southern and
eastern England, before advancing with their concentrated forces upon
London. It would, of course, be a costly operation. In fact Britain's
long immunity from invasion went far to prove that, to enemies
possessing only the ordinary means of warfare, it would have been
impossible, but, ever since the success of the experiment at Potsdam,
German engineering firms had been working hard under John Castellan's
directions turning out improved models of the Flying Fish. The various
parts were manufactured at great distances apart, and no one firm knew
what the others were doing. It was only when the parts of the vessels
and the engines were delivered at the closely-guarded Imperial factory
at Potsdam, that, under Castellan's own supervision, they became the
terrible fighting machines that they were.

The Aerial Fleet numbered twenty when war broke out, and of these five
had been detailed for the attack on Dover. They were in fact the
elements which made that attack possible, and, as is already known,
four were co-operating with the Northern Division of the Allied Fleets
against the forts defending Chatham and London.

Dover was at that time one of the most strongly fortified places in
the world. Its magnificent new harbour had been completed, and its
fortifications vastly strengthened and re-armed with the new fourteen-
inch gun which had superseded the old sixteen-inch gun of position, on
account of its greater handiness, combined with greater penetrating
power.

But at Dover, as at Portsmouth, the forts were powerless against the
assaults of these winged demons of the air. They were able to use
their terrible projectiles with reckless profusion, because only
twenty-two miles away at Calais there were inexhaustible stores from
which they could replenish their magazines. Moreover, the private
factory at Kiel, where alone they were allowed to be manufactured,
were turning them out by hundreds a day.

They had, of course, formed the vanguard of the attacking force which
had advanced in three divisions in column of line abreast from
Boulogne, Calais and Antwerp. The Boulogne and Calais divisions were
French, and each consisted of six battleships with the usual screens
of cruisers, destroyers and torpedo boats: these two divisions
constituted the French North Sea Squadron, whose place had been taken
by the main German Fleet, assisted by the Belgian and Dutch squadron.

Another German and Russian division was advancing on London. It
included four first-class battleships, and two heavily-armed coast
defence ships, huge floating fortresses, rather slow in speed, but
tremendous in power, which accompanied them for the purpose of
battering the fortifications, and doing as much damage to Woolwich and
other important places on both sides as their big guns could achieve.
Four Flying Fishes accompanied this division.

Such was the general plan of action on that fatal night. Confident in
the terrific powers of their Aerial Squadrons, and ignorant of the
existence of the Ithuriel, the Allied Powers never considered the
possibilities of anything but rapid victory. They knew that the forts
could no more withstand the shock of the bombardment from the air than
battleships or cruisers could resist the equally deadly blow which
these same diabolical contrivances could deliver under the water.

They had not the slightest doubt but that forts would be silenced and
fleets put out of action with a swiftness unknown before, and then the
crowded transports would follow the victorious fleets, and the
military promenade upon London would begin, headed by the winged
messengers of destruction, from which neither flight nor protection
was possible.

Of course, the leaders of the Allies were in ignorance of the
misfortunes they had suffered at Portsmouth and Folkestone. All they
knew they learned from aerograms, one from Admiral Durenne off the
Isle of Wight saying that the Portsmouth forts had been silenced and
the Fleet action had begun, and another from the Commodore of the
squadron off Folkestone saying that all was going well, and the
landing would shortly be effected: and thus they fully expected to
have the three towns and the entrance to the Thames at their mercy by
the following day.

Certainly, as far as Dover was concerned, things looked very much as
though their anticipations would be realised, for when the Ithuriel
arrived upon the scene, Dover Castle and its surrounding forts were
vomiting flame and earth into the darkening sky, like so many
volcanoes. The forts on Admiralty Pier, Shakespear Cliff, and those
commanding the new harbour works, had been silenced and blown up, and
the town and barracks were in flames in many places.

The scene was, in short, so inhumanly appalling, and horror followed
horror with such paralysing rapidity, that the most practised
correspondents and the most experienced officers, both afloat and
ashore, were totally unable to follow them and describe what was
happening with anything like coherence. It was simply an inferno of
death and destruction, which no human words could have properly
described, and perhaps the most ghastly feature of it was the fact
that there was no human agency visible in it at all. There was no
Homeric struggle of man with man, although many a gallant deed was
done that night which never was seen nor heard of, and many a hero
went to his death without so much as leaving behind him the memory of
how he died.

It was a conflict of mechanical giants--giant ships, giant engines,
giant guns, and explosives of something more than giant strength.
These were the monsters which poor, deluded Humanity, like another
Frankenstein, had thought out with infinite care and craft, and
fashioned for its own mutual destruction. Men had made a hell out of
their own passions and greed and jealousies; and now that hell had
opened and mankind was about to descend into it.

The sea-defence of Dover itself consisted of the Home Fleet in three
divisions, composed respectively of the England, London, Bulwark and
Venerable, Queen and Prince of Wales battleships, and ten first-class
armoured cruisers, the Duncan, Cornwallis, Exmouth and Russell
battleships, with twelve armoured cruisers, and thirdly, the
reconstructed and re-armed Empress of India, Revenge, Repulse and
Resolution, with eight armoured cruisers. To the north between Dover
and the North Foreland lay the Southern Division of the North Sea
Squadron.

When the battle had commenced these three divisions were lying in
their respective stations, in column of line ahead about six miles
from the English shore. Behind them lay a swarm of destroyers and
torpedo boats, ready to dart out and do their deadly work between the
ships, and ten submarines were attached to each division. The harbour
and approaches were, of course, plentifully strewn with mines.

"It's an awful sight," said Castellan, with a note of awe in his
voice, when they had taken in the situation with the rapidity and
precision of the professional eye. "And to me the worst of it is that
it won't be safe for us to take a share in the row."

"What!" exclaimed Erskine, almost angrily. "Do you mean to tell me we
sha'n't be able to help our fellows? Then what on earth have we come
here for?"

"Just look there, now!" said Castellan, pointing ahead to where huge
shapes, enveloped in a mist of flame and smoke, were circling round
each other, vomiting their thunderbolts, like leviathans engaged in a
veritable dance of death.

"D'ye see that!" continued Denis. "What good would we be among that
lot? The Ithuriel hasn't eyes on her that can see through the dark
water, and if she had, how would we tell the bottom of a French or
German ship from a Britisher's, and a nice thing it would be for us to
go about sinking the King's ships, and helping those foreign devils to
land in old England! No, Erskine, this ship of yours is a holy terror,
but she's a daylight fighter. Don't you see that we came too late, and
wait till tomorrow we can't, and there's the Duke's orders.

"I'll tell you what," he continued more cheerfully, as the Ithuriel
cleared the southern part of the battle, "if we could get at the
transports we might have some fun with them, but they'll all be safe
enough in port, loading up, and there's not much chance that they'll
come out till our boys have been beaten and the roads are clear for
them. Then they'll go across thinking they'll meet their pals from
Portsmouth and Folkestone. Now, you see that line out there to the
north-eastward?"

"Yes," said Erskine, looking towards a long row of dim shapes which
every now and then were brought out into ominous distinctness by the
flashes of the shells and searchlights.

"Well," continued Castellan, "if I know anything of naval tactics,
that's the Reserve lot waiting till the battle's over. They think
they'll win, and I think so too, thanks to those devil-ships my
brother has made for them. Even if Beresford does come up in time, he
can no more fight against them than anybody else. Now, there's just
one chance that we can give him, and that is sinking the Reserve; for,
you see, if we've only half a dozen ships left that can shoot a bit in
the morning, they won't dare to put their transports out without a
convoy, and unless they land them, well, they're no use."

"Castellan," said Erskine, putting his hand on his shoulder, "you'll
be an admiral some day. Certainly, we'll go for the convoy, for I'll
be kicked if I can stand here watching all that going on and not have
a hand in it. We'd better sink, and use nothing but the ram, I
suppose."

"Why, of course," replied Castellan. "It would never do to shoot at
them. There are too many, and besides, we don't want them to know that
we're here until we've sent them to the bottom."

"And a lot they'll know about it then!" laughed Erskine. "All right,"
he continued, taking down the receiver. "Courtney and Mac can see to
the sinking, so you'd better stop here with me and see the fun."

"That I will, with all the pleasure in life and death," said Castellan
grimly, as Erskine gave his orders and the Ithuriel immediately began
to sink.

Castellan was perfectly right in his conjecture as to the purpose of
the Reserve.

The French and German Squadron, which was intended for the last rush
through the remnants of the crippled British fleet, consisted of four
French and three German battleships, old and rather slow, but heavily
armed, and much more than a match for the vessels which had already
passed through the terrible ordeal of battle. In addition there were
six fast second-class cruisers, and about a score of torpedo boats.

With her decks awash and the conning-tower just on a level with the
short, choppy waves, the Ithuriel ran round to the south of the line
at ten knots, as they were anxious not to kick up any fuss in the
water, lest a chance searchlight from the enemy might fall upon them,
and lead to trouble. She got within a mile of the first cruiser
unobserved, and then Erskine gave the order to quicken up. They had
noticed that the wind was rising, and they knew that within half an
hour the tide would be setting southward like a mill-race through the
narrow strait.

Their tactics therefore were very simple. Every cruiser and battleship
was rammed in the sternpost; not very hard, but with sufficient force
to crumple up the sternpost, and disable the rudder and the
propellers, and with such precision was this done, that, until the
signals of distress began to flash, the uninjured ships and the
nearest of those engaged in the battle were under the impression that
orders had been given for the Reserve to move south. But this
supposition very soon gave place to panic as ship after ship swung
helplessly inshore, impelled by the ever-strengthening tide towards
the sands of Calais and the rocks of Gris Nez.

Searchlights flashed furiously, but Erskine and Castellan had already
taken the bearings of the remaining ships, and the Ithuriel, now ten
feet below the water, and steered solely by compass, struck ship after
ship, till the whole of the Reserve was drifting helplessly to
destruction.

This, as they had both guessed, produced a double effect on the
battle. In the first place it was impossible for the Allies to see
their Reserve, upon which so much might depend, in such a helpless
plight, and the admirals commanding were therefore obliged to detach
ships to help them; and on the other hand, the British were by no
means slow to take advantage of the position. A score of torpedo
boats, and half as many destroyers, dashed out from behind the British
lines, and, rushing through the hurricane of shell that was directed
upon them, ran past the broken line of unmanageable cruisers and
battleships, and torpedoed them at easy range. True, half of them were
crumpled up, and sent to the bottom during the process, but that is a
contingency which British torpedo officers and men never take the
slightest notice of. The disabled ships were magnificent marks for
torpedoes, and they had to go down, wherefore down they went.

Meanwhile the Ithuriel had been having a merry time among the torpedo
flotilla of the Reserve Squadron. She rose flush with the water, put
on full speed, and picked them up one after another on the end of her
ram, and tossed them aside into the depths as rapidly as an enraged
whale might have disposed of a fleet of whaleboats.

The last boat had hardly gone down when signals were seen flashing up
into the sky from over Dungeness.

"That's Beresford to the rescue," said Castellan, in a not over-
cheerful voice. "Now if it wasn't for those devil-ships of my
brother's there'd be mighty little left of the Allied Fleet to-morrow
morning; but I'm afraid he won't be able to do anything against those
amphibious Flying Fishes, as he calls them. Now, we'd better be off to
London."



Chapter XXI

--AND ENDS

THE defenders of Dover, terribly as they had suffered, and hopeless as
the defence really now seemed to be, were still not a little cheered
by the tidings of the complete and crushing defeat which had been
inflicted by Admiral Beresford and the Ithuriel on the French at
Portsmouth and Folkestone, and the brilliant capture of the whole of
the two Expeditionary Forces. Now, too, the destruction of the Allied
Reserve made it possible to hope that at least a naval victory might
be obtained, and the transports prevented from crossing until the
remains of the British Fleet Reserve could be brought up to the
rescue.

At any rate it might be possible, in spite of sunken ships and
shattered fortifications, to prevent, at least for a while, the
pollution of English soil by the presence of hostile forces, and to
get on with the mobilisation of regulars, militia, yeomanry and
volunteers, which, as might have been expected, this sudden
declaration of war found in the usual state of hopeless muddle and
chaos.

But, even in the event of complete victory by sea, there would still
be those terrible cruisers of the air to be reckoned with, and they
were known to be as efficient as submarines as they were as airships.

Still, much had been done, and it was no use going to meet trouble
halfway. Moreover, Beresford's guns were beginning to talk down yonder
to the southward, and it was time for what was left of the North Sea
Squadron and the Home Fleet to reform and manoeuvre, so as to work to
the north-eastward, and get the enemy between the two British forces.

A very curious thing came to pass now. The French and German Fleets,
though still much superior to the defenders, had during that first
awful hour of the assault received a terrible mauling, especially from
the large guns of the England and the Scotland--sisters of the
Britain, and the flagships respectively of the North Sea Squadron and
the Home Fleet--and the totally unexpected and inexplicable loss of
their reserve; but the guns booming to the south-westward could only
be those of Admiral Durenne's victorious fleet. He would bring them
reinforcements more than enough, and with him, too, would come the
three Flying Fishes, which had been commissioned to destroy Portsmouth
and the battleships of the British Reserve. There need be no fear of
not getting the transports across now, and then the march of victory
would begin.

In a few minutes the fighting almost entirely ceased. The ships which
had been battering each other so heartily separated as if by mutual
consent, and the French and German admirals steamed to the south-
westward to join their allies and sweep the Strait of Dover clear of
those who had for so many hundred years considered--yes, and kept it--
as their own sea-freehold.

At the same time private signals were flashed through the air to the
Flying Fishes to retire on Calais, replenish their ammunition and
motive power, which they had been using so lavishly, and return at
daybreak.

Thus what was left of Dover, its furiously impotent soldiery, and its
sorely stricken inhabitants, had a respite at least until day dawned
and showed them the extent of the ruin that had been wrought.

It was nearly midnight when the three fleets joined, and just about
eight bells the clouds parted and dissolved under the impact of a
stiff nor'-easter, which had been gathering strength for the last two
hours. The war smoke drifted away, and the moon shone down clearly on
the now white-crested battlefield.

By its light and their own searchlights the French and German
admirals, steaming as they thought to join hands with their victorious
friends, saw the strangest and most exasperating sight that their eyes
had ever beheld. The advancing force was a curiously composed one.
Trained, as they were, to recognise at first sight every warship of
every nation, they could nevertheless hardly believe their eyes. There
were six battleships in the centre of the first line. One was the
Britain, three others were of the Edward the Seventh class; two were
French. Of the sixteen cruisers which formed the wings, seven were
French--and every warship of the whole lot was flying the White
Ensign!

Did it mean disaster--almost impossible disaster--or was it only a
ruse de guerre?

They were not left very long in doubt. At three miles from a direction
almost due south-east of Dover, the advancing battleships opened fire
with their heavy forward guns, and the cruisers spread out in a fan on
either side of the French and German Fleets. The Britain, as though
glorying in her strength and speed, steamed ahead in solitary pride
right into the midst of the Allies, thundering and flaming ahead and
from each broadside. The Braunschweig had the bad luck to get in her
way. She made a desperate effort to get out of it; but eighteen knots
was no good against twenty-five. The huge ram crashed into her vitals
as she swerved, and reeling and pitching like some drunken leviathan,
she went down with a mighty plunge, and the Britain ploughed on over
the eddies that marked her ocean grave.

This was the beginning of the greatest and most decisive sea-fight
that had been fought since Trafalgar. The sailors of Britain knew that
they were fighting not only for the honour of their King and country,
but, as British sailors had not done for a hundred and four years, for
the very existence of England and the Empire. On the other hand, the
Allies knew that this battle meant the loss or the keeping of the
command of the sea, and therefore the possibility or otherwise of
starving the United Kingdom into submission after the landing had been
effected.

So from midnight until dawn battleship thundered against battleship,
and cruiser engaged cruiser, while the torpedo craft darted with
flaming funnels in and out among the wrestling giants, and the
submarines did their deadly work in silence. Miracles of valour and
devotion were achieved on both sides. From admiral and commodore and
captain in the conning-towers to officers and men in barbettes and
casemates, and the sweating stokers and engineers in their steel
prisons--which might well become their tombs--every man risked and
gave his life as cheerfully as the most reckless commander or seaman
on the torpedo flotillas.

It was a fight to the death, and every man knew it, and accepted the
fact with the grim joy of the true fighting man.

Naturally, no detailed description of the battle of Dover would be
possible, even if it were necessary to the narrative. Not a man who
survived it could have written such a description. All that was known
to the officials on shore was that every now and then an aerogram
came, telling in broken fragments of the sinking of a battleship or
cruiser on one side or the other, and the gradual weakening of the
enemy's defence; but to those who were waiting and watching so
anxiously along the line of cliffs, the only tidings that came were
told by the gradual slackening of the battle-thunder, and the ever-
diminishing frequency of the pale flashes of flame gleaming through
the drifting gusts of smoke.

Then at last morning dawned, and the pale November sun lit up as sorry
a scene as human eyes had ever looked upon. Not a fourth of the ships
which had gone into action on either side were still afloat, and these
were little better than drifting wrecks.

All along the shore from East Wear Bay to the South Foreland lay the
shattered, shell-riddled hulks of what twelve hours before had been
the finest battleships and cruisers afloat, run ashore in despair to
save the lives of the few who had come alive through that awful
battle-storm. Outside them showed the masts and fighting-tops of those
which had sunk before reaching shore, and outside these again lay a
score or so of battleships and a few armoured cruisers, some down by
the head, some by the stern, and some listing badly to starboard or
port--still afloat, and still with a little fight left in them, in
spite of their gashed sides, torn decks, riddled topworks and smashed
barbettes.

But, ghastly as the spectacle was, it was not long before a mighty
cheer went rolling along the cliffs and over the ruined town for,
whether flew the French or German flag, there was not a ship that
French or German sailor or marine had landed on English soil save as
prisoners.

The old Sea Lion had for the first time in three hundred and fifty
years been attacked in his lair, and now as then he had turned and
rent the insolent intruder limb from limb.

The main German Fleet and the French Channel Fleet and North Sea
Squadrons had ceased to exist within twenty-four hours of the
commencement of hostilities.

Once more Britain had vindicated her claim to the proud title of Queen
of the Seas; once more the thunder of her enemies' guns had echoed
back from her white cliffs--and the echo had been a message of defeat
and disaster.

If the grim game of war could only have been played now as it had been
even five years before, the victory would have already been with her,
for the cable from Gibraltar to the Lizard had that morning brought
the news from Admiral Commerell, Commander-in-Chief in the
Mediterranean, that he had been attacked by, and had almost destroyed,
the combined French Mediterranean and Russian Black Sea Fleets, and
that, with the aid of an Italian Squadron, he was blockading Toulon,
Marseilles and Bizerta. The captured French and Russian ships capable
of repair had been sent to Malta and Gibraltar to refit.

This, under the old conditions, would, of course, have meant checkmate
in the game of invasion, since not a hostile ship of any sort would
have dared to put to sea, and the crowded transports would have been
as useless as so many excursion steamers, but---



Chapter XXII

DISASTER

ABOUT eight o'clock, as the half-wrecked victors and vanquished were
slowly struggling into the half-ruined harbour, five winged shapes
became visible against the grey sky over Calais, rapidly growing in
size, and a few minutes later two more appeared, approaching from the
north-east. They, alas, were the heralds of a fate against which all
the gallantry and skill of Britain's best sailors and soldiers would
fight in vain.

The two from the north-east were, of course, the Flying Fish and the
See Adler; the others were those which had been ordered to load up at
the Calais depot, and complete that victory of the Allied Fleets which
the science and devotion of British sailors had turned into utter
defeat.

John Castellan, standing in the conning-tower of the Flying Fish,
looking down over sea and land through his prismatic binoculars,
suddenly ground his teeth hard together, and sent a hearty Irish curse
hissing between them. He had a complete plan of the operations in his
possession, and knew perfectly what to expect--but what was this?

Dover and its fortifications were in ruins, as they ought to have been
by this time; but the British Flag still floated over them! The
harbour was almost filled with mutilated warships, and others were
slowly steaming towards the two entrances; but every one of these was
flying the White Ensign of England! There was not a French or German
flag to be seen--and there, all along the coast, which should have
been in the possession of the Allies by now, lay the ragged line of
helpless hulks which would never take the sea again.

What had happened? Where were the splendid fleets which were to have
battered the English defence into impotence? Where was the Reserve,
which was to have convoyed the transports across the narrow waters?
Where were the transports themselves and the half million men, horses
and artillery which to-day they were to land upon the stricken shores
of Kent?

With that marvellous intuition which is so often allied with the
Keltic genius, he saw in a flash all, or something like all, that had
really happened as a consequence of the loss of the depot ship at
Spithead, and the venting of his own mad hatred of the Saxon on the
three defenceless towns. The Channel Fleet had come, after all, in
time, and defeated Admiral Durenne's fleet; the Reserve cruisers had
escaped, and Portsmouth had been retaken!

Would that have happened if he had used the scores of shells which he
had wasted in mere murder and destruction against the ships of the
Channel Fleet? It would not, and no one knew it better than he did.

Still, even now there was time to retrieve that ghastly mistake which
had cost the Allies a good deal more than even he had guessed at. He
was Admiral of the Aerial Squadrons, and, save under orders from
headquarters, free to act as he thought fit against the enemy. If his
passion had lost victory he could do nothing less than avenge defeat.

He ran up his telescopic mast and swerved to the southward to meet the
squadron from Calais, flying his admiral's flag, and under it the
signal:

"I wish to speak to you."

The Flying Fish and the See Adler quickened up, and the others slowed
down until they met about two thousand feet above the sea. Castellan
ran the Flying Fish alongside the Commodore of the other Squadron, and
in ten minutes he had learned what the other had to tell, and arranged
a plan of operations.

Within the next five minutes three of the seven craft had dropped to
the water and disappeared beneath it. The other four, led by the
Flying Fish, winged their way towards Dover.

The aerial section of the squadron made straight for the harbour. The
submarine section made southwestward to cut off the half dozen "lame
ducks" which were still struggling towards it. With these, unhappily,
was the Scotland, the huge flagship of the North Sea Squadron, which
still full of fight, was towing the battleship Commonwealth, whose
rudder and propellers had been disabled by a torpedo from a French
submarine.

She was, of course, the first victim selected. Two Flying Fishes
dived, one under her bows and one under her stern, and each discharged
two torpedoes.

No fabric made by human hands could have withstood the shock of the
four explosions which burst out simultaneously. The sore-stricken
leviathan stopped, shuddered and reeled, smitten to death. For a few
moments she floundered and wallowed in the vast masses of foaming
water that rose up round her--and when they sank she took a mighty
sideward reel and followed them.

The rest met their inevitable fate in quick succession, and went down
with their ensigns and pennants flying--to death, but not to defeat or
disgrace.

The ten British submarines which were left from the fight had already
put out to try conclusions with the Flying Fishes; but a porpoise
might as well have tried to hunt down a northern diver. As soon as
each Flying Fish had finished its work of destruction it spread its
wings and leapt into the air--and woe betide the submarine whose
periscope showed for a moment above the water, for in that moment a
torpedo fell on or close to it, and that submarine dived for the last
time.

Meanwhile the horrors of the past afternoon and evening were being
repeated in the crowded harbour, and on shore, until a frightful
catastrophe befell the remains of the British Fleet.

John Castellan, with two other craft, was examining the forts from a
height of four thousand feet, and dropping a few torpedoes into any
which did not appear to be completely wrecked. The captain of another
was amusing himself by dispersing, in more senses than one, the
helpless, terror-stricken crowds on the cliffs whence they had lately
cheered the last of Britain's naval victories, and the rest were
circling over the harbour at a height of three thousand feet, letting
go torpedoes whenever a fair mark presented itself.

Of course the fight, if fight it could be called, was hopeless from
the first; but your British sailor is not the man to take even a
hopeless fight lying down, and so certain gallant but desperate
spirits on board the England, which was lying under what was left of
the Admiralty Pier, got permission to dismount six 3-pounders and
remount them as a battery for high-angle fire. The intention, of
course, was, as the originator of the idea put it: "To bring down a
few of those flying devils before they could go inland and do more
damage there."

The intention was as good as it was unselfish, for the ingenious
officer in charge of the battery knew as well as his admiral that the
fleet was doomed to destruction in detail--but the first volley that
battery fired was the last.

A few of the shells must have hit a French Flying Fish, which was
circling above the centre of the harbour, and disabled the wings and
propellors on one side, for she lurched and wobbled for an instant
like a bird with a broken wing. Then she swooped downwards in a spiral
course, falling ever faster and faster, till she struck the deck of
the Britain.

What happened the next instant no one ever knew. Those who survived
said that they heard a crashing roar like the firing of a thousand
cannon together; a blinding sheet of flame overspread the harbour; the
water rose into mountains of foam, ships rocked and crashed against
each other--and then came darkness and oblivion.

When human eyes next looked on Dover Harbour there was not a ship in
it afloat.

Dover, the great stronghold of the south-east, was now as defenceless
as a fishing village, and there was nothing to prevent a constant
stream of transports filled with men and materials of war being poured
into it, or any other port along the eastern Kentish coast. Then would
come seizure of railway stations and rolling stock, rapid landing of
men and horses and guns, and the beginning of the great advance.

On the whole, John Castellan was well satisfied with his work. He
regretted the loss of his consort; but she had not been wasted. The
remains of the British fleets had gone with her to destruction.

Certainly what had been done had brought nearer the time when he, the
real organiser of victory, the man who had made the conquest of
England possible, would be able to claim his double reward--the
independence of Ireland, and the girl whom he intended to make the
uncrowned Queen of Erin.

It was a splendid and, to him, a delicious dream as well; but between
him and its fulfilment, what a chaos of bloodshed, ruin and human
misery lay! And yet he felt not a tremor of compunction or of pity for
the thousands of brave men who would be flung dead and mangled and
tortured into the bloody mire of battle, for the countless homes that
would be left desolate, or for the widows and the fatherless whose
agony would cry to Heaven for justice on him.

No; these things were of no account in his eyes. Ireland must be free,
and the girl he had come to love so swiftly, and with such consuming
passion, must be his. Nothing else mattered. Was he not Lord of the
Air, and should the desire of his heart be denied him?

Thus mused John Castellan in the conning-tower of the Flying Fish, as
he circled slowly above the ruins of Dover, while the man who had
beaten him in the swimming-race was sitting in the Observatory on far-
off Whernside, verifying his night's observations and calculating for
the hundredth time the moment of the coming of an Invader, compared
with which all the armed legions of Europe were of no more importance
than a swarm of flies.

When he had satisfied himself that Dover was quite defenceless he sent
one of the French Flying Fishes across to Calais with a letter to the
District Commander, describing briefly what had taken place, and
telling him that it would be now quite safe for the transports to
cross the Straits and land the troops at Portsmouth, Newhaven,
Folkestone, Dover and Ramsgate.

He would station one of his airships over each of these places to
prevent any resistance from land or sea, and would himself make a
general reconnaissance of the military dispositions of the defenders.
He advised that the three Flying Fishes, which had been reserved for
the defence of the Kiel Canal, should be telegraphed for as convoys,
as there was now no danger of attack, and that the depot of torpedoes
and motive power for his ships should be transferred from Calais to
Dover.

As soon as he had despatched this letter, Castellan ordered two of his
remaining ships to cruise northward to Ramsgate, keeping mainly along
the track of the railway, one on each side of it, and to wreck the
first train they saw approaching Dover, Deal, Sandwich and Ramsgate
from the north. The other two he ordered to take the Western Coast
line as far as Portsmouth, and do the same with trains coming east.

Then he swung the Flying Fish inland, and took a run over Canterbury,
Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge, Guildford and Winchester, to
Southampton and Portsmouth, returning by Chichester, Horsham and
Tunbridge Wells.

It was only a tour of observation for the purpose of discovering the
main military dispositions of the defenders--who were now
concentrating as rapidly as possible upon Folkestone and Dover--but he
found time to stop and drop a torpedo or two into each town or fort
that he passed over--just leaving cards, as he said to M'Carthy--as a
promise of favours to come.

He also wrecked half a dozen long trains, apparently carrying troops,
and incidentally caused a very considerable loss of good lives and
much confusion, to say nothing of the moral effect which this new and
terrible form of attack produced upon the nerves of Mr Thomas Atkins.

When he got back to Dover he found a letter waiting for him from the
General informing him that the transports would sail at once, and that
his requests would be complied with.



Chapter XXIII

THE OTHER CAMPAIGN BEGINS

IT was on the day following the destruction of Dover that the news of
the actual landing of the French and German forces had really taken
place at the points selected by Castellan reached Whernside. The
little house party were at lunch, and the latest papers had just come
over from Settle. Naturally what they contained formed the sole topic
of conversation.

"Really, Arnold, I think even you must confess that things are a great
deal more serious than anyone could have imagined a few days ago. The
very idea--an invasion accomplished in forty-eight hours--Portsmouth,
Dover, Sheerness and Tilbury destroyed, and French and German and
Russian soldiers actually in arms on English soil. The thing would be
preposterous if it were not true!

"And what are we to do now, I should like to know? The Fleet doesn't
exist--we have no army in the Continental sense of the word, which of
course is the real military sense, thanks to a lot of politicians
calling themselves statesmen who have been squabbling about what an
army ought to be for the last ten years.

"You will be able to put a million trained and half-trained--mostly
half-trained-men into the field, to face millions of highly-trained
French, German, Russian and Austrian troops, led by officers who have
taken their profession seriously, and not by gentlemen who have gone
into the army because it was a nice sort of playground, where you
could have lots of fun, and a little amateur fighting now and then. I
wonder what they will do now against the men who have made war a
science instead of sport!

"I should like to know what the good people who have made such a fuss
about the 'tyranny of Conscription' will say now, when they find that
we haven't trained men enough to defend our homes. Just as if military
service was not the first duty a man owes to his country and to his
home. A man has no right to a country nor a home if he isn't able to
defend them. Kipling was perfectly right when he said:"

     'What is your boasting worth

  If you grudge a year of service to the lordliest life on earth?'

This little lecture was delivered with trembling lips, flushed cheeks
and flashing eyes by Lady Margaret Holker, Lord Westerham's sister,
who had joined the party that morning to help her brother in his
recruiting.

She was an almost perfect type of the modern highly-bred Englishwoman,
who knows how to be entirely modern without being vulgarly "up-to-
date." She was a strong contrast to her brother, in that she was a
bright brunette--not beautiful, perhaps not even pretty, but for all
that distinctly good-looking. Her hair and eyebrows were black, her
eyes a deep pansy-blue. A clear complexion, usually pale but decidedly
flushed now, and, for the rest, somewhat irregular features which
might have been almost plain, but for that indefinable expression of
combined gentleness and strength which only the careful selection of
long descent can give.

As for her figure, it was as perfect as absolute health and abundant
exercise could make it. She could ride, shoot, throw a fly and steer a
yacht better than most women and many men of her class; but for all
that she could grill steaks and boil potatoes with as much distinction
as she could play the piano and violin, and sing in three or four
languages.

She also had a grip, not on politics, for which she had a wholesome
contempt, but on the affairs of the nations--the things which really
mattered. And yet withal she was just an entirely healthy young
Englishwoman, who was quite as much at home in the midst of a good
singing waltz as she was in an argument on high affairs of State.

"My dear Madge," said her brother, who had been reading the reports in
the second morning edition of the Times aloud, "I am afraid that,
after all, you are right. But then, you must not forget that a new
enemy has come into the field. I hardly like to say so in Miss
Castellan's presence, but it is perfectly clear that, considering what
the Fleet did, there would have been no invasion if it had not been
for those diabolical contrivances that John Castellan took over to the
German Emperor."

"You needn't have any hesitation in saying what you like about him
before me, Lord Westerham," said Norah, flushing. "It's no brother he
is of mine now, as I told him the day he went aboard the German yacht
at Clifden. I'd see him shot to-morrow without a wink of my eyes. The
man who does what he has done has no right to the respect of any man
nor the love of any woman--no, not even if the woman is his sister.
Think of all the good, loyal Irishmen, soldiers and sailors, that he
has murdered by this time. No, I have no brother called John
Castellan."

"But you have another called Denis," said Auriole, "and I think you
may be well content with him!"

"Ah, Denis!" said Norah, flushing again, but for a different reason,
"Denis is a good and loyal man; yes, I am proud of him--God bless
him!"

"And I should reckon that skipper of his, Captain Erskine, must be a
pretty smart sort of man," said Mr. Parmenter, who so far had hardly
joined in the conversation, and who had seemed curiously indifferent
to the terrible exploits of the Flying Fishes and all that had
followed them. "That craft of his seems to be just about as business-
like as anything that ever got into the water or under it. I wonder
what he is doing with the Russian and German ships in the Thames now.
I guess he won't let many of them get back out of there. Quite a young
man, too, according to the accounts."

"Oh, yes," said Lady Margaret, "he isn't twenty-nine yet. I know him
slightly. He is a son of Admiral Erskine, who commanded the China
Squadron about eight years ago, and died of fever after a pirate hunt,
and he is the nephew of dear old Lady Caroline Anstey, my other mother
as I call her. He is really a splendid fellow, and some people say as
good-looking as he is clever; although, of course, there was a
desperate lot of jealousy when he was promoted Captain straight away
from Lieutenant-Commander of a Fishery cruiser, but I should like to
know how many of the wiseacres of Whitehall could have designed that
Ithuriel of his."

"It's a pity she can't fly, though, like those others," said Mr.
Parmenter, with a curious note in his voice which no one at the table
but Lennard understood. "She's a holy terror in the water, but the
other fellow's got all the call on land. If they get a dozen or so of
these aerial submarines as you might call them, in front of the
invading forces, I can't see what's going to stop a march on London,
and right round it. Your men are just as brave as any on earth, and a
bit more than some, if their officers are a bit more gentlemen and
sportsmen than soldiers; but no man can fight a thing he can't hit
back at, and so I reckon the next thing we shall hear of will be the
siege of London. What do you think, Lennard?"

Lennard, who had hardly spoken a word during the meal, looked up, and
said in a voice which Lady Madge thought curiously unsympathetic:

"I shouldn't think it would take more than a fortnight at the outside,
even leaving these air-ships out of the question. We haven't three
hundred thousand men of all sorts to put into the field, who know one
end of a gun from another, or who can sit a horse; and now that the
sea's clear the enemy can land two or three millions in a fortnight."

"All our merchant shipping will be absolutely at their mercy, and they
will simply have to take them over to France and Germany and load them
up with men and horses, and bring them over as if they were coming to
a picnic. But, of course, with the airships to help them the thing's a
foregone conclusion, and to a great extent it is our own fault. I
thoroughly agree with what Lady Margaret says about conscription. If
we had had it only five years ago, we should now have three million
men, instead of three hundred thousand, trained and ready to take the
field. Though, after all--"

"After all--what?" said Lady Margaret, looking sharply round at him.

"Oh, nothing of any importance," he said. "At least, not just at
present. I daresay Lord Westerham will be able to explain what I might
have said better than I could. There's not time for it just now, I've
got to get a train to Bolton in an hour's time."

"And I'll have to be in Glasgow to-night," said Mr. Parmenter, rising.
"I hope you won't think it very inhospitable of us, Lady Margaret: but
business is business, you know, and more so than usual in times like
these.

"Now, I had better say good-bye. I have a few things to see to before
Mr. Lennard and I go down to Settle, but I've no doubt Auriole will
find some way of entertaining you till you want to start for York."

At half-past two the motor was at the door to take Mr. Parmenter and
Lennard to Settle. That evening, in Glasgow, Mr. Parmenter bought the
Minnehaha, a steel turbine yacht of two thousand tons and twenty-five
knots speed, from Mr. Hendray Chinnock, a brother millionaire, who had
laid her up in the Clyde in consequence of the war the day before. He
re-engaged her officers and crew at double wages to cover war risks,
and started for New York within an hour of the completion of the
purchase.

Lennard took the express to Bolton, with letters and a deed of gift
from Lord Westerham, which gave him absolute ownership of the cannel
mine with the twelve-hundred-foot vertical shaft at Farnworth.

That afternoon and evening Lady Margaret was more than entertained,
for during the afternoon she learned the story of the approaching
cataclysm, in comparison with which the war was of no more importance
than a mere street riot; and that night Auriole, who had learned to
work the great reflector almost as well as Lennard himself, showed her
the ever-growing, ever-brightening shape of the Celestial Invader.



Chapter XXIV

TOM BOWCOCK--PITMAN

LENNARD found himself standing outside the Trinity Street Station at
Bolton a few minutes after six that evening.

Of course it was raining. Rain and fine-spun cotton thread are
Bolton's specialities, the two chief pillars of her fame and
prosperity, for without the somewhat distressing superabundance of the
former she could not spin the latter fine enough. It would break in
the process. Wherefore the good citizens of Bolton cheerfully put up
with the dirt and the damp and the abnormal expenditure on umbrellas
and mackintoshes in view of the fact that all the world must come to
Bolton for its finest threads.

He stood for a moment looking about him curiously, if with no great
admiration in his soul, for this was his first sight of what was to be
the scene of the greatest and most momentous undertaking that human
skill had ever dared to accomplish.

But the streets of Bolton on a wet night do not impress a stranger
very favourably, so he had his flat steamer-trunk and hat-box put on
to a cab and told the driver to take him to the Swan Hotel, in
Deansgate, where he had a wash and an excellent dinner, to which he
was in a condition to do full justice--for though nation may rage
against nation, and worlds and systems be in peril, the healthy human
digestion goes on making its demands all the time, and, under the
circumstances, blessed is he who can worthily satisfy them.

Then, after a cup of coffee and a meditative cigar, he put on his
mackintosh, sent for a cab, and drove to number 134 Manchester Road,
which is one of a long row of small, two-storeyed brick houses, as
clean as the all-pervading smoke and damp will permit them to be, but
not exactly imposing in the eyes of a newcomer.

When the door opened in answer to his knock he saw by the light of a
lamp hanging from the ceiling of the narrow little hall a small,
slight, neatly-dressed figure, and a pair of dark, soft eyes looked up
inquiringly at him as he said:

"Is Mr. Bowcock at home?"

"Yes, he is," replied a voice softly and very pleasantly tinged with
the Lancashire accent. Then in a rather higher key the voice said:

"Tom, ye're wanted."

As she turned away Lennard paid his cabman, and when he went back to
the door he found the passage almost filled by a tall, square-
shouldered shape of a man, and a voice to match it said:

"If ye're wantin' Tom Bowcock, measter, that's me. Will ye coom in?
It's a bit wet i' t' street."

Lennard went in, and as the door closed he said:

"Mr. Bowcock, my name is Lennard--"

"I thou't it might be," interrupted the other. "You'll be Lord
Westerham's friend. I had a wire from his lordship's morning telling
me t' expect you to-night or to-morrow morning. You'll excuse t'
kitchen for a minute while t' missus makes up t' fire i' t'
sittin'room."

When Lennard got into the brightly-lighted kitchen, which is really
the living-room of small Lancashire houses, he found himself in an
atmosphere of modest cosy comfort which is seldom to be found outside
the North and the Midland manufacturing districts. It is the other
side of the hard, colourless life that is lived in mill and mine and
forge, and it has a charm that is all its own.

There was the big range, filling half the space of one of the side-
walls, its steel framings glittering like polished silver; the high
plate-rack full of shining crockery at one end by the door, and the
low, comfortable couch at the other; two lines of linen hung on cords
stretched under the ceiling airing above the range, and the solid deal
table in the middle of the room was covered with a snow-white cloth,
on which a pretty tea-service was set out.

A brightly polished copper kettle singing on the range, and a daintily
furnished cradle containing a sleeping baby, sweetly unconscious of
wars or world-shaking catastrophes, completed a picture which,
considering his errand, affected Gilbert Lennard very deeply.

"Lizzie," said the giant, "this is Mr. Lennard as his lordship
telegraphed about to-day. I daresay yo can give him a cup of tay and
see to t' fire i' t' sittin'-room. I believe he's come to have a bit
of talk wi' me about summat important from what his lordship said."

"I'm pleased to see you, Mr. Lennard," said the pleasant voice, and as
he shook hands he found himself looking into the dark, soft eyes of a
regular "Lancashire witch," for Lizzie Bowcock had left despair in the
heart of many a Lancashire lad when she had put her little hand into
big Tom's huge fist and told him that she'd have him for her man and
no one else.

She left the room for a few minutes to see to the sitting-room fire,
and Lennard turned to his host and said:

"Mr. Bowcock, I have come to see you on a matter which will need a good
deal of explanation. It will take quite a couple of hours to put the
whole thing before you, so if you have any other engagements for to-
night, no doubt you can take a day off to-morrow--in fact, as the pit
will have to stop working--"

"T' 'pit stop working, Mr. Lennard!" exclaimed the manager. "Yo' dunno
say so. Is that his lordship's orders? Why, what's up?"

"I will explain everything, Mr. Bowcock," replied Lennard, "only, for
her own sake, your wife must know nothing at present. The only
question is, shall we have a talk to-night or not?"

"If it's anything that's bad," replied the big miner with a deeper
note in his voice, "I'd soonest hear it now. Mysteries don't get any
t' better for keepin'. Besides, it'll give me time to sleep on't; and
that's not a bad thing to do when yo've a big job to handle."

Mrs. Bowcock came back as he said this, and Lennard had his cup of tea,
and they of course talked about the war. Naturally, the big miner and
his pretty little wife were the most interested people in Lancashire
just then, for to no one else in the County Palatine had been given
the honour of hearing the story of the great battle off the Isle of
Wight from the lips of one who had been through it on board the now
famous Ithuriel.

But when Tom Bowcock came out of the little sitting-room three hours
later, after Lennard had told him of the approaching doom of the world
and had explained to him how his pit-shaft was to be used as a means
of averting it--should that, after all, prove to be possible--his
interest in the war had diminished very considerably, for he had
already come to see clearly that this was undeniably a case of the
whole being very much greater than the part.

Tom Bowcock was one of those men, by no means rare in the north, who
work hard with hands and head at the same time. He was a pitman, but
he was also a scientific miner, almost an engineer, and so Lennard had
found very little difficulty in getting him to grasp the details of
the tremendous problem in the working out of which he was destined to
play no mean part.

"Well, Measter Lennard," he said, slowly, as they rose from the little
table across which a very large amount of business had been
transacted. "It's a pretty big job this that yo've putten into our
hands, and especially into mine; but I reckon they'll be about big
enough for it; and yo've come to t' right place, too. I've never heard
yet of a job as Lancashire took on to as hoo didn't get through wi'.

"Now, from what yo've been telling me, yo' must be a bit of an early
riser sometimes, so if yo'll come here at seven or so i' t' mornin',
I'll fit yo' out wi' pit clothes and we'll go down t' shaft and yo'
can see for yoursel' what's wantin' doin'. Maybe that'll help yo'
before yo' go and make yo'r arrangements wi' Dobson & Barlow and
t'other folk as yo'll want to help yo'."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Bowcock," replied Lennard. "You will find me
here pretty close about seven. It's a big job, as you say, and there's
not much time to be lost. Now, if Mrs. Bowcock has not gone to bed,
I'll go and say good-night."

"She's no'on to bed yet," said his host, "and yo'll take a drop o'
summat warm before yo' start walkin' to t' hotel, for yo'll get no cab
up this way to-neet. She'll just have been puttin' t' youngster to
bed--"

Tom Bowcock stopped suddenly in his speech as a swift vision of that
same "youngster" and his mother choking in the flames of the fire-mist
passed across his senses. Lennard had convinced his intellect of the
necessity of the task of repelling the Celestial Invader and of the
possibility of success; but from that moment his heart was in the
work.

It had stopped raining and the sky had cleared a little when they went
to the door half an hour later. To the right, across the road, rose a
tall gaunt shape like the skeleton of an elongated pyramid crowned
with two big wheels. Lights were blazing round it, for the pit was
working night and day getting the steam coal to the surface.

"Yonder's t' shaft," said Tom, as they shook hands. "It doesn't look
much of a place to save the world in, does it?"



Chapter XXV

PREPARING FOR ACTION

THE next day was a busy one, not only for Lennard himself but for
others whose help he had come to enlist in the working out of the
Great Experiment.

He turned up at Bowcock's house on the stroke of seven, got into his
pit clothes, and was dropped down the twelve-hundred-foot shaft in the
cage. At the bottom of the shaft he found a solid floor sloping
slightly eastward, with three drives running in fan shape from north-
east and south-east. There were two others running north and north-
west.

After ten minutes' very leisurely walk round the base of the shaft,
during which he made one or two observations by linear and
perpendicular compass, he said to Tom Bowcock:

"I think this will do exactly. The points are absolutely correct. If
we had dug a hole for ourselves we couldn't have got one better than
this. Yes, I think it will just do. Now, will you be good enough to
take me to the surface as slowly as you can?"

"No, but yo're not meanin' that, Measter Lennard," laughed the
manager. "'Cause if I slowed t' engines down as much as I could you'd
be the rest o' t' day getting to t' top."

"Yes, of course, I didn't mean that," said Lennard, "but just slowly--
about a tenth of the speed that you dropped me into the bowels of the
earth with. You see, I want to have a look at the sides."

"Yo' needna' trouble about that, Mr. Lennard, I can give yo' drawin's
of all that in t' office, but still yo' can see for yo'rself by the
drawin's afterwards."

The cage ascended very slowly, and Lennard did see for himself. But
when later on he studied the drawings that Tom Bowcock had made, he
found that there wasn't as much as a stone missing. When he had got
into his everyday clothes again, and had drunk a cup of tea brewed for
him by Mrs. Bowcock, he said as he shook hands with her husband:

"Well, as far as the pit is concerned, I have seen all that I want to
see, and Lord Westerham was just as right about the pit as he was
about the man who runs it. Now, I take it over from to-day. You will
stop all mining work at once, close the entrances to the galleries and
put down a bed of concrete ten feet thick, level. Then you will go by
the drawings that I gave you last night.

"At present, the concreting of the walls in as perfect a circle as you
can make them, not less than sixteen feet inner diameter, and building
up the concrete core four feet thick from the floor to the top, is
your first concern. You will tell your men that they will have double
wages for day work and treble for night work, and whether they belong
to the Volunteers or Yeomanry or Militia they will not be called to
the Colours as long as they keep faith with us; if the experiment
turns out all right, every man who sees it through shall have a bonus
of a thousand pounds.

"But, remember, that this pit will be watched, and every man who signs
on for the job will be watched, and the Lord have mercy on the man who
plays us false, for he'll want it. You must make them remember that,
Mr. Bowcock. This is no childish game of war among nations; this means
the saving or the losing of a world, and the man who plays traitor
here is not only betraying his own country, but the whole human race,
friends and enemies alike."

"I'll see to that, Mr. Lennard. I know my chaps, and if there's one or
two bad 'uns among 'em, they'll get paid and shifted in the ordinary
way of business. But they're mostly a gradely lot of chaps. I've been
picking 'em out for his lordship for t' last five yeers, and there
isn't a Trade Unionist among 'em. We give good money here and we want
good work and good faith, and if we don't get it, the man who doesn't
give it has got to go and find another job.

"For wages like that they'd go on boring t' shaft right down through
t' earth and out at t' other side, and risk finding Owd Nick and his
people in t' middle. A' tell yo' for sure. Well, good-mornin', yo've a
lot to do, and so have I. A'll get those galleries blocked and bricked
up at once, and as soon as you can send t' concrete along, we'll start
at t' floor."

Lennard's first visit after breakfast was to the Manchester and County
Bank in Deansgate, where he startled the manager, as far as a
Lancashire business man can be startled, by opening an account for two
hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and depositing the title-deeds of
the whole of Lord Westerham's properties in and about Bolton.

When he had finished his business at the Bank, he went to the offices
of Dobson & Barlow, the great iron-workers, whose four-hundred-and-
ten-foot chimney towers into the murky sky so far above all other
structures in Bolton that if you are approaching the town by road you
see it and its crest of smoke long before you see Bolton itself.

The firm had, of course, been advised of his coming, and he had
written a note over-night to say when he would call. The name of
Ratliffe Parmenter was a talisman to conjure with in all the business
circles of the world, and so Lennard found Mr. Barlow himself waiting
for him in his private office.

He opened the matter in hand very quietly, so quietly indeed that the
keen-sighted, hard-headed man who was listening to him found that for
once in his life he was getting a little out of his depth.

Never before had he heard such a tremendous scheme so quietly and
calmly set forth. Bessemer furnaces were to be erected at once all
round the pit mouth, meanwhile the firm was to contract with a
Liverpool firm for an unlimited supply of concrete cement of the
finest quality procurable. The whole staff of Dobson & Barlow's works
were to be engaged at an advance of twenty-five per cent. on their
present wages for three months to carry out the work of converting the
shaft of the Great Lever pit into the gigantic cannon which was to
hurl into Space the projectile which might or might not save the human
race from destruction.

Even granted Lennard's unimpeachable credentials, it was only natural
that the great iron-master should exhibit a certain amount of
incredulity, and, being one of the best types of the Lancashire
businessman, he said quite plainly:

"This is a pretty large order you've brought us, Mr. Lennard, and
although, of course, we know Mr. Parmenter to be good enough for any
amount of money, still, you see, contracts are contracts, and what are
we to do with those we've got in hand now if you propose to buy up for
three months?"

"Yes," replied Lennard, "I admit that that is an important point. The
question is, what would it cost you to throw up or transfer to other
firms the contracts that you now have in hand?"

There was a silence of two or three minutes between them, during which
Mr. Barlow made a rapid but comprehensive calculation and Lennard took
out his chequebook and began to write a cheque.

"Counting everything," said Mr. Barlow, leaning back in his chair and
looking up at the ceiling, "the transfer of our existing contracts to
other firms of equal standing, so as to satisfy our customers, and the
loss to ourselves for the time that you want--well, honestly, I don't
think we could do it under twenty-five thousand pounds. You
understand, I am saying nothing about the scientific aspect of the
matter, because I don't understand it, but that's the business side of
it; and that's what it's going to cost you before we begin."

Lennard filled in the cheque and signed it. He passed it across the
table to Mr Barlow, and said:

"I think that is a very reasonable figure. This will cover it and
leave something over to go on with."

Mr Barlow took the cheque and looked at it, and then at the calm face
of the quiet young man who was sitting opposite him.

The cheque was for fifty thousand pounds. While he was looking at it,
Lennard took the bank receipt for a quarter of a million deposit from
his pocket and gave it to him, saying:

"You will see from this that money is really no object. As you know,
Mr. Parmenter has millions, more I suppose than he could calculate
himself, and he is ready to spend every penny of them. You will take
that just as earnest money."

"That's quite good enough for us, Mr. Lennard," replied Mr. Barlow,
handing the bank receipt back. "The contracts shall be transferred as
soon as we can make arrangements, and the work shall begin at once.
You can leave everything else to us--brickwork, building, cement and
all the rest of it--and we'll guarantee that your cannon shall be
ready to fire off in three months from now."

"And the projectile, Mr. Barlow, are you prepared to undertake that
also?" asked Lennard.

"Yes, we will make the projectile according to your specification, but
you will, of course, supply the bursting charge and the charge of this
new powder of yours which is to send it into Space. You see, we can't
do that; you'll have to get a Government permit to have such an
enormous amount of explosives in one place, so I'll have to leave that
to you."

"I think I shall be able to arrange that, Mr. Barlow," replied Lennard,
as he got up from his seat and held his hand out across the table. "As
long as you are willing to take on the engineering part of the
business, I'll see to the rest. Now, I know that your time is quite as
valuable as mine is, and I've got to get back to London this
afternoon. To-morrow morning I have to go through a sort of cross-
examination before the Cabinet--not that they matter much in the sort
of crisis that we've got to meet.

"Still, of course, we have to have the official sanction of the
Government, even if it is a question of saving the world from
destruction, but there won't be much difficulty about that, I think;
and at any rate you'll be working on freehold property, and not even
the Cabinet can stop that sort of work for the present. As far as
everything connected with the mine is concerned, I hope you will be
able to work with Mr. Bowcock, who seems a very good sort of fellow."

"If we can't work with Tom Bowcock," replied Mr. Barlow, "we can't work
with anyone on earth, and that's all there is about it. He's a big
man, but he's good stuff all through. Lord Westerham didn't make any
bad choice when he made him manager. And you won't dine with me to-
night?"

"I am sorry, but I must be back to London to-night. I have to catch
the 12.15 and have an interview in Downing Street at seven, and when
I've got through that, I don't think there will be any difficulty
about the explosives."

"According to all accounts, you'll be lucky if you find Downing Street
as it used to be," said Mr Barlow. "By the papers this morning it
looks as if London was going to have a pretty bad time of it, what
with these airships and submarines that sink and destroy everything in
sight. Now that they've got away with the fleet, it seems to me that
it's only a sort of walk over for them."

"Yes, I'm afraid it will have to be something like that for the next
month or so," replied Lennard, thinking of a telegram which he had in
his pocket. "But the victory is not all on one side yet. Of course,
you will understand that I am not in a position to give secrets away,
but as regards our own bargain, I am at liberty to tell you that while
you are building this cannon of ours there will probably be some
developments in the war which will be, I think, as unexpected as they
will be startling.

"In fact, sir," he continued, rising from his seat and holding out his
hand across the table, "I am neither a prophet nor the son of a
prophet but when the time comes, I think you will find that those who
believe that they are conquering England now will be here in Bolton
faced by a foe against which their finest artillery will be as useless
as an air-gun against an elephant.

"All I ask you to remember now is that at eleven p.m. on the twelfth
of May, the leaders of the nations who are fighting against England
now will be standing around me in the quarry on the Belmont Road,
waiting for the firing of the shot which I hope will save the world.
If it does not save it, they will be welcome to all that is left of
the world in an hour after that."

"You are talking like a man who believes what he says, Mr. Lennard,"
replied Mr. Barlow, "and, strange and all as it seems, I am beginning
to believe with you. There never was a business like this given into
human hands before, and, for the sake of humanity, I hope that you
will be successful. All that we can do shall be done well and
honestly. That you can depend on, and for the rest, we shall depend on
you and your science. The trust that you have put in our hands to-day
is a great honour to us, and we shall do our best to deserve it. Good-
morning, sir."



Chapter XXVI

THE FIRST BOMBARDMENT OF LONDON

WHEN Lennard got out of the train at St. Pancras that evening, he found
such a sight as until a day or so ago no Londoner had ever dreamed of.
But terrible as the happenings were, they were not quite terrible
enough to stop the issue of the evening newspapers.

As the train slowed down along the platform, boys were running along
it yelling:

"Bombardment of London from the air--dome of St. Paul's smashed by a
shell--Guildhall, Mansion House, and Bank of England in ruins--orful
scenes in the streets. Paper, sir?"

He got out of the carriage and grabbed the first newspaper that was
thrust into his hand, gave the boy sixpence for it, and hurried away
towards the entrance. He found a few cab-men outside the station; he
hailed one of the drivers, got in, and said:

"Downing Street--quick. There's a sovereign; there'll be another for
you when I get there."

"It's a mighty risky job, guv'nor, these times, driving a keb through
London streets. Still, one's got to live, I suppose. 'Old up there--my
Gawd, that's another of those bombs! You just got out of there in
time, sir."

Even as though it had been timed, as it might well have been, a
torpedo dropped from a ghostly shape drifting slowly across the grey
November clouds. Then there came a terrific shock. Every pane in the
vast roof and in the St. Pancras Hotel shivered to the dust. The engine
which had drawn Lennard's train blew up like one huge shell, and the
carriages behind it fell into splinters.

If that shell had only dropped three minutes sooner the end of the
World war of 1910 would have been very different to what it was; for,
as Lennard learned afterwards, of all the porters, officials and
passengers, who had the misfortune to be in the great station at that
moment, only half a hundred cripples, maimed for life, escaped.

"I wonder whether that was meant for me," said Lennard as the
frightened horse sprang away at a half gallop. "If that's the case
John Castellan knows rather more than he ought to do, and, good Lord,
if he knows that, he must know where Auriole is, and what's to stop
him taking one of those infernal things of his up to Whernside,
wrecking the house and the Observatory, and taking her off with him to
the uttermost ends of the earth if he likes?

"There must be something in it or that shell would not have dropped
just after I got outside the station. They watched the train come in,
and they knew I was in it--they must have known.

"What a ghastly catastrophe it would be if they got on to that scheme
of ours at the pit. Fancy one of those aërial torpedoes of his
dropping down the bore of the cannon a few minutes before the right
time! It would mean everything lost, and nothing gained, not even for
him.

"Ah, good man Erskine," he went on, as he opened the paper, and read
that every cruiser, battleship and transport that had forced the
entrance to the Thames and Medway had been sunk. "That will be a bit
of a check for them, anyhow. Yes, yes, that's very good. Garrison
Fort, Chatham and Tilbury, of course, destroyed from the air, but not
a ship nor a man left to go and take possession of them."

While he was reading his paper, and muttering thus to himself, the cab
was tearing at the horse's best speed down Gray's Inn Road. It took a
sudden swing to the right into Holborn, ran along New Oxford Street,
and turned down Charing Cross Road, the horse going at a full gallop
the whole time.

Happily it was a good horse, or the fate of the world might have been
different. There was no rule of the road now, and no rules against
furious driving. London was panic-stricken, as it might well be. As
far as Lennard could judge the aerial torpedoes were being dropped
mostly in the neighbourhood of Regent Street and Piccadilly, and about
Grosvenor Place and Park Lane. He half expected to find Parliament
Street and Westminster in ruins, but for some mysterious reason they
had been spared.

The great City was blazing in twenty places, and scarcely a minute
passed without the crash of an explosion and the roar of flame that
followed it, but a magic circle seemed to have been drawn round
Westminster. There nothing was touched, and yet the wharves on the
other side of the river, and the great manufactories behind them, were
blazing and vomiting clouds of flame and smoke towards the clouds as
though the earth had been split open beneath them and the internal
fires themselves let loose.

When the cab-man pulled up his sweating and panting horse at the door
of Number 2 Downing Street, Lennard got out and said to the cab-man:

"You did that very well, considering the general state of things. I
don't know whether you'll live to enjoy it or not, but there's a five-
pound note for you, and if you'll take my advice you will get your
wife and family, if you have one, into that cab, and drive right out
into the country. It strikes me London's going to be a very good place
to stop away from for the next two or three days."

"Thank 'ee, sir," said the cabman, as he gathered up the five-pound
note and tucked it down inside his collar. "I don't know who you are,
but it's very kind of you; and as you seem to know something, I'll do
as you say. What with these devil-ships a-flyin' about the skies, and
dropping thunderbolts on us from the clouds, and furreners a-comin' up
the Thames as I've heard, London ain't 'ealthy enough for me, nor the
missus and the kids, and thanks for your kindness, sir, we're movin'
to-night, keb an' all.

"Oh, my Gawd, there's another! 'Otel Cecil and Savoy this time, if
I've got my bearin's right. Well, there's one thing, t'ain't on'y the
pore what's sufferin' this time; there'll be a lot of rich people dead
afore mornin'. A pal of mine told me just now that Park Lane was
burnin' from end t' end. Good-evenin', sir, and thenk you."

As the cab drove away Lennard stood for a few moments on the pavement,
watching two columns of flame soaring up from the side of the Strand.
Perhaps the most dreadful effects produced by the aerial torpedoes
were those which resulted from the breaking of the gas mains and the
destruction of the electric conduits. Save for the bale-fires of ruin
and destruction, half London was in darkness. Miles of streets under
which the gas mains were laid blew up with almost volcanic force. The
electric mains were severed, and all the contents dislocated, and if
ever London deserved the name which James Thompson gave it when he
called it "The City of Dreadful Night," it deserved it on that evening
of the 17th of November 1909.

Lennard was received in the Prime Minister's room by Mr. Chamberlain,
Lord Whittinghame, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Lord Milner and
General Lord Kitchener.

It was perhaps the strangest meeting that had ever taken place in that
room, not even saving the historic meeting of 1886. There was very
little talking. Even in the House of Commons the flood of talk had
ebbed away in such a fashion that it made it possible for the nation's
business to be got through at a wonderful speed. The fact of the
matter was that the guns were talking--talking within earshot of
Palace Yard itself, and so men had come to choose their words and make
them few.

After the introductions had been made the man who really held the fate
of the world in his hands took a long envelope out of the breast-
pocket of his coat, and proceeded to explain, somewhat as a
schoolmaster might explain to his class, the doom which would
overwhelm humanity on the 12th May 1910.

He was listened to in absolute silence, because his hearers were men
who had good reason for believing that silence is often worth a good
deal more than speech. When he had finished the rustle of his papers
as he handed them to the Prime Minister was distinctly audible in the
solemn silence. The Prime Minister folded them up, and said:

"There is no necessity for us to go into the figures again. I think we
are prepared to take them on the strength of your reputation, Mr.
Lennard.

"We have asked you here to-night as an adviser, as a man who in more
ways than one sees farther than we can. Now, what is your advice? You
are aware, I presume, that the German Emperor, the Czar of Russia and
the French President landed at Dover this morning, and have issued an
ultimatum from Canterbury, calling upon us to surrender London, and
discuss terms of peace in the interests of humanity. Now, you occupy a
unique point of view. You have told us in your letters that unless a
miracle happens the human race will not survive midnight of the 12th
of May next. We believe that you are right, and now, perhaps, you will
be good enough to let us have your opinions as to what should be done
in the immediate present."

"My opinion is, sir, that for at least forty days you must fight, no
matter how great the odds may appear to be. Every ditch and hedgerow,
every road and lane, every hill and copse must be defended. If London
falls, England falls, and with it the Empire."

"But how are we to do it?" exclaimed Lord Kitchener. "With these
infernal airships flying about above it, and dropping young
earthquakes from the clouds? There are no braver men on earth than
ours, but it isn't human nature to keep steady under that kind of
punishment. Look what they've done already in London! What is there to
prevent them, for instance, from dropping a shell through the roof of
this house, and blowing the lot of us to eternity in little pieces?
It's not the slightest use trying to shoot back at them. You remember
what happened to poor Beresford and the rest of his fleet in Dover
Harbour. If you can't hit back, you can't fight."

"That certainly appears to be perfectly reasonable," said Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman. "Personally, I must confess, although with the
greatest reluctance, that considering the enormous advantage possessed
by the enemy in this combination of submarine and flying machine, we
have no other alternative but to surrender at discretion. It is a
pitiful thing to say I am well aware, but we are fighting forces which
would never have been called into being in any other war. I agree with
Lord Kitchener that you cannot fight an enemy if you cannot hit him
back. I am afraid there is no other alternative."

"No," added Lord Whittinghame, "I am afraid there is not. By to-morrow
morning there will be three millions of men on British soil, and we
haven't a million to put against them--to say nothing of these
horrible airships: but, Mr. Lennard, if the world is only going to live
about six months or so, what is the use of conquering the British
Empire? Surely there must be another alternative."

"Yes, my lord," replied Lennard, "there is another. I've no doubt your
lordship has one of your motors within call. Let us go down to
Canterbury, yourself, Lord Kitchener and myself, and I will see if I
can't convince the German Emperor that in trying to conquer Britain he
is only stabbing the waters. If I only had him at Whernside, I would
convince him in five minutes."

"Then we'd better get hold of him and take him there," said Lord
Kitchener. "But I'm ready for the Canterbury journey."

"And so am I," said Lord Whittinghame, "and the sooner we're off the
better. I've got a new Napier here that's good for seventy-five miles
an hour, so we'd better be off."



Chapter XXVII

LENNARD'S ULTIMATUM

WITHIN five minutes they were seated in the big Napier, with ninety
horse-power under them, and a possibility of eighty miles an hour
before them. A white flag was fastened to a little flagstaff on the
left-hand side. They put on their goggles and overcoats and took
Westminster Bridge, as it seemed, in a leap. Rochester was reached in
twenty-five minutes, but at the southern side of Rochester Bridge they
were held up by German sentries.

"Not a pleasant sort of thing on English soil," growled Lord Kitchener
as Lord Whittinghame stopped the motor.

"Is the German Emperor here yet?" asked Lennard in German.

"No, Herr, he is at Canterbury," replied the sentry. "Would you like
to see the officer?"

"Yes," said Lennard, "as soon as possible. These gentlemen are Lord
Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener, and they wish to meet the Emperor as
soon as possible."

The sentry saluted and retired, and presently a captain of Uhlans came
clattering across the street, clicked his heels together, touched the
side of his helmet, and said:

"At your service, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"

"We wish to get into communication with the German Emperor as soon as
possible," replied Lord Whittinghame. "Is the telegraph still working
from here to Canterbury?"

"It is," replied the German officer; "if you will come with me to the
office you shall be put into communication with His Majesty at once;
but it will be necessary for me to hear what you say."

"We're only going to try and make peace," said Lord Kitchener, "so you
might as well hear all we've got to say. Those infernal airships of
yours have beaten us. Will you get in? We'll run you round to the
office."

"I thank you," replied the captain of the Uhlans, "but it will be
better if I walk on and have the line cleared. I will meet you at the
office. Adieu."

He stiffened up clicked his heels again, saluted, and the next moment
he had thrown his right leg across the horse which the orderly had
brought up for him.

"Not bad men, those Uhlans," said Lord Kitchener, as the car moved
slowly towards the telegraph station. "Take a lot of beating in the
field, I should say, if it once came to cold steel."

They halted at the post-office, and the captain of Uhlans, who was in
charge of all the telegraph lines of the south-east, was requested to
send the following telegram, which was signed by Lord Whittinghame and
Lord Kitchener.

"Acting as deputation from British Government we desire interview with
your Majesty at Canterbury, with view to putting end to present
bloodshed, if possible, also other important news to communicate."

This telegram was despatched to the Kaiser at the County Hotel,
Canterbury, and while they were waiting for the reply a message came
in from Whitstable addressed to "Lennard, oyster merchant, Rochester,"
which was in the following terms:

  "Oyster catch promises well. Advised large purchase to-morrow.--
ROBINSON & SMITH."

"That seems rather a frivolous sort of thing to send one nowadays,"
said Lennard, dropping the paper to the floor after reading the
telegram aloud. "I have some interest in the beds at Whitstable, and
my agents, who don't seem to know that there's a war going on, want me
to invest. I think it's hardly good enough, when you don't know
whether you'll be in little pieces within the next ten minutes."

"I don't see why you shouldn't take on a contract for supplying our
friends the enemy," laughed Lord Kitchener, as the twinkle of an eye
passed between them, while the captain of Uhlans' back was turned for
an instant.

"I'm afraid they would be confiscated before I could do that," said
Lennard. "I shan't bother about answering it. We have rather more
serious things than oysters to think about just now."

The sounder clicked, and the German telegraphist, who had taken the
place of the English one, tapped out a message, which he handed to the
captain of Uhlans.

"Gentlemen, His Imperial Majesty will be glad to receive you at the
County Hotel, Canterbury. I will give you a small flag which shall
secure you from all molestation."

He handed the paper to Lord Whittinghame as he spoke. The Imperial
message read:

  "Happy to meet deputation. Please carry German flag, which will
secure you from molestation en route. I am wiring orders for
suspension of hostilities till dawn to-morrow. I hope we may make
satisfactory arrangements.--WILHELM."

"That is quite satisfactory," said Lord Whittinghame to the captain of
Uhlans. "We shall be much obliged to you for the flag, and you will
perhaps telegraph down the road saying that we are not to be stopped.
I can assure you that the matter is one of the utmost urgency."

"Certainly, my lord," replied the captain. "His Majesty's word is
given. That is enough for us."

Ten minutes later the big Napier, flying the German flag on the left-
hand side, was spinning away through Chatham, and down the straight
road to Canterbury. They slowed up going through Sittingbourne and
Faversham, which were already in the hands of the Allied forces,
thanks to John Castellan's precautions in blocking all railroads to
Dover, and the German flag was saluted by the garrisons, much to Lord
Kitchener's quietly-expressed displeasure, but he knew they were
playing for a big stake, and so he just touched his cap, as they swung
through the narrow streets, and said what he had to say under his
breath.

Within forty minutes the car pulled up opposite the County Hotel,
Canterbury. The ancient city was no longer English, save as regarded
its architecture. Everywhere, the clatter of German hoofs sounded on
the streets, and the clink and clank of German spurs and swords
sounded on the pavements. The French and Austrians were taking the
westward routes by Ashford and Tonbridge in the enveloping movement on
London. The War Lord of Germany had selected the direct route for
himself.

As the motor stopped panting and throbbing in front of the hotel
entrance, a big man in the uniform of the Imperial Guard came out,
saluted, and said:

"Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener, with Mr. Lennard, I presume?"

"Yes, that's so," said Lord Kitchener, opening the side door and
getting out. "Colonel von Folkerstrom, I believe. I think we've met
before. You were His Majesty's attaché with us during the Boer War, I
think. This is Lord Whittinghame, and this is Mr. Lennard. Is His
Majesty within?"

"His Majesty awaits you, gentlemen," replied the Colonel, formally.
And then as he shook hands with Lord Kitchener he added, "I am sorry,
sir, that we should meet as enemies on English soil."

"Just the fortune of war and those damned airships of yours, Colonel,"
laughed Lord Kitchener in reply. "If we'd had them this meeting might
have been in Berlin or Potsdam. Can't fight against those things, you
know. We're only human."

"But you English are just a little more, I think," said the Colonel to
himself. "Gottes willen! What would my August Master be thinking now
if this was in Berlin instead of Canterbury, and here are these
Englishmen taking it as quietly as though an invasion of England
happened every day." And when he had said this to himself he continued
aloud:

"My lords and Mr. Lennard, if you will follow me I will conduct you
into His Majesty's presence."

They followed the Colonel upstairs to the first floor. Two sentries in
the uniform of the 1st Regiment of Cuirassiers were guarding the door:
their bayoneted rifles came up to the present, the Colonel answered
the salute, and they dropped to attention. The Colonel knocked at the
door and a harsh voice replied:

"Herein."

The door swung open and Lennard found himself for the first but not
the last time in the presence of the War Lord of Germany.

"Good-evening, gentlemen," said the Kaiser. "You will understand me
when I say I am both glad and sorry to see you."

"Your Majesty," replied Lord Whittinghame, in a curiously serious
tone, "the time for human joy and sorrow is so fast expiring that
almost everything has ceased to matter, even the invasion of England."

The Kaiser's brows lifted, and he stared in frank astonishment at the
man who could say such apparently ridiculous words so seriously. If he
had not known that he was talking to the late Prime Minister, and the
present leader of the Unionist party in the House of Lords, he would
have thought him mad.

"Those are very strange words, my lord," he replied. "You will pardon
me if I confess that I can hardly grasp their meaning."

"If your Majesty has an hour to spare," said Lord Whittinghame, "Mr.
Lennard will make everything perfectly plain. But what he has to say,
and what he can prove, must be for your Majesty's ears alone."

"Is it so important as that?" laughed the Kaiser.

"It is so important, sire," said Lord Kitchener, "that the fate of the
whole world hangs upon what you may say or do within the next hour. So
far, you have beaten us, because you have been able to bring into
action engines of warfare against which we have been unable to defend
ourselves. But now, there is another enemy in the field against which
we possess the only means of defence. That is what we have come to
explain to your Majesty."

"Another enemy!" exclaimed the Kaiser, "but how can that be. There are
no earthly powers left sufficiently strong that we would be powerless
against them."

"This is not an earthly enemy, your Majesty," replied Lennard,
speaking for the first time since he had entered the room. "It is an
invader from Space. To put it quite plainly, the terms which we have
come to offer your Majesty are: Cessation of hostilities for six
months, withdrawal of all troops from British soil, universal
disarmament, and a pledge to be entered into by all the Powers of
Europe and the United States of America that after the 12th of May
next there shall be no more war. Your fleets have been destroyed as
well as ours, your armies are here, but they cannot get away, and so
we are going to ask you to surrender."

"Surrender!" echoed the Kaiser, "surrender, when your country lies
open and defenceless before us? No, no. Lord Whittinghame and Lord
Kitchener I know, but who are you, sir--a civilian and an unknown man,
that you should dictate peace to me and my Allies?"

"Only a man, your Majesty," said Lord Whittinghame, "who has convinced
the British Cabinet Council that he holds the fate of the world in the
hollow of his hands. Are you prepared to be convinced?"

"Of what?" replied the Kaiser, coldly.

"That there will be no world left to conquer after midnight on the
12th of May next, or to put it otherwise, that unless our terms are
accepted, and Mr. Lennard carries out his work, there will be neither
victors nor vanquished left on earth."

"Gentlemen," replied the Kaiser, "you will pardon me when I say that I
am surprised beyond measure that you should have come to me with a
schoolboy's tale like that. The eternal order of things cannot be
interrupted in such a ridiculous fashion. Again, I trust you will
forgive me when I express my regret that you should have wasted so
much of your own time and mine on an errand which should surely have
appeared to you fruitless from the first.

"Whoever or whatever this gentleman may be," he continued with a wave
of his hand towards Lennard, "I neither know nor care; but that
yourself and Lord Kitchener should have been deceived so grossly, I
must confess passes the limits of my imagination. Frankly, I do not
believe in the possibility of such proofs as you allude to. As regards
peace, I propose to discuss terms with King Edward--in Windsor--not
before, nor with anyone else. Gentlemen, I have other matters to
attend to, and I have the honour to bid you good-evening."

"And that is your Majesty's last word?" said Lord Kitchener. "You mean
a fight to the finish?"

"Yes, my lord," replied the Kaiser, "whether the world finishes with
the fight or not."

"Very well then," said Lennard, taking an envelope from the breast-
pocket of his coat, and putting it down on the table before the
Emperor. "If your Majesty has not time to look through those papers,
you will perhaps send them to Berlin and take your own astronomer's
report upon them. Meanwhile, you will remember that our terms are:
Unconditional surrender of the forces invading the British Islands or
the destruction of the world. Good-night."



Chapter XXVIII

CONCERNING ASTRONOMY AND OYSTERS

IN spite of the bold front that he had assumed during the interview,
the strain, not exactly of superstition but rather of supernaturalism
which runs so strongly in the Kaiser's family, made it impossible for
him to treat such a tremendous threat as the destruction of the world
as an alternative to universal peace by any means as lightly as he
appeared to his visitors to do; and when the audience was over he
picked up the envelope which Lennard had left upon the table, beckoned
Count von Moltke into his room behind, locked the door, and said:

"Now, Count, what is your opinion of this? At first sight it looks
ridiculous; but whoever this Lennard may be, it seems hardly likely
that two men like Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener, two of the
coolest-headed and best-balanced men on earth, should take the trouble
to come down here as a deputation from the British Cabinet only to
make themselves ridiculous. Suppose we have a look at these papers?
Everything is in train for the advance. I daresay you and I understand
enough of mathematics between us to find out if there is anything
serious in them, and if so, they shall go to Herr Döllinger at once."

"I think it would be at least worth while to look through them, your
Majesty," replied the Count. "Like yourself, I find it rather
difficult to believe that this mysterious Mr. Lennard, whoever he is,
has been able to impose upon the whole British Cabinet, to say nothing
of Lord Kitchener, who is about the best engineer and mathematician in
the British Army."

So the Count and the Kaiser sat down, and went through the elaborate
and yet beautifully clear calculations and diagrams, page by page,
each making notes as he went on. At the end of an hour the Kaiser
looked over his own notes, and said to von Moltke:

"Well, what is your opinion, Count?"

"I am not an astronomer, your Majesty, but these calculations
certainly appear to me to be correct as far as they go--that is,
granted always that the premisses from which Mr. Lennard starts are
correct. But certainly I think that your Majesty will be wise in
sending them as soon as possible to Herr Döllinger."

"That is exactly the conclusion that I have come to myself," replied
the Kaiser. "I will write a note to Herr Döllinger, and one of the
airships must take it across to Potsdam. We can't afford to run any
risks of that infernal submarine ram or whatever she is. I would
almost give an Army corps for that ship. There's no doubt she's lost
us three fleets, a score of transports, and twenty thousand men in the
last three days, and she's just as much a mystery as ever. It's the
most extraordinary position a conquering army was ever put into
before."

The Kaiser was perfectly right. There could be no doubt that up to the
present the invading forces had been victorious, thanks of course
mainly to the irresistible advantage of the airships, but also in no
small degree to the hopeless unpreparedness of the British home armies
to meet an invasion, which both military and naval experts had simply
refused to believe possible.

The seizure of the line from Dover to Chatham had been accomplished in
a single night. A dozen airships patrolled the air ahead of the
advancing German forces, which of course far outnumbered the weak and
hastily-collected British forces which could be brought against them,
and which, attacked at once by land and from the air, never really had
a chance.

It was the most perfectly conducted invasion ever planned. The
construction trains which went in advance on both lines carried
sections of metals of English gauge, already fastened to sleepers, and
ready to lay down. Every little bridge and culvert had been known and
was provided for. Not a bolt nor a fishplate had been forgotten, and
moreover John Castellan's operations from the air had reduced the
destruction to a minimum, and the consequence was that twelve hours
after the Kaiser had landed at Dover he found himself in his
headquarters at Canterbury, whence the British garrison had been
forced to retire after heavy fighting along the lines of wooded hills
behind Maidstone.

It was the old, old story, the story of every war that England had
gone into and "muddled through" somehow; but with two differences. Her
soldiers had never had to fight an enemy in the skies before, and--
there was no time now to straighten out the muddle, even if every
able-bodied man in the United Kingdom had been trained soldiers, as
the invaders were.

But there was another element in the situation. Incredible as it might
seem to those ignorant of the tremendous forces brought into play, the
home fleets of Europe had been destroyed, practically to a ship,
within three days and nights. The narrow seas were deserted. On the
morning of the seventeenth, four transports attempting to cross from
Hamburg to Ramsgate, carrying a force of men, horses and light
artillery, which was intended to operate as a flying column along the
northern shores of Kent, had been rammed and sent to the bottom within
fifteen minutes halfway between land and land, and not a man nor an
animal had escaped.

There was no news from the expeditions which had been sent against
Hull and Newcastle--all the cables had been cut, save the
transatlantic lines, the cutting of which the United States had
already declared they would consider as an unfriendly act on the part
of the Allies, and the British cable from Gibraltar to the Lizard
which connected with Palermo and Rome, and so formed the link of
communication between Britain and the Mediterranean.

The British Mediterranean Fleet was coming home, so were the West
Indian and North American squadrons, while the squadron in the China
seas was also ordered home, via the Suez Canal, to form a conjunction
with our Italian Allies. Of course, these ships would in due time be
dealt with by the aerial submarines, but meanwhile commerce with
Europe had become impossible. Imports had stopped at most of the great
ports through sheer terror of this demon of the sea, which appeared to
be here, there and everywhere at the same time; and with all these
powerful squadrons converging upon the shores of Britain the problem
of feeding and generally keeping fit for war some three millions of
men and over half a million horses would soon begin to look distinctly
serious.

Castellan's vessels had hunted in vain for this solitary vessel, which
single-handed, marvellous as it seemed, kept the narrow waters clear
of invaders. The truth of this matter, however, was very simple. The
Ithuriel was nearly twice as fast in the water as the Flying Fishes,
and she carried guns with an effective range of five miles, whereas
they only carried torpedoes.

For instance, during the battle of Sheerness, in which the remaining
units of the North Sea Squadron had, with the Ithuriel's aid, attacked
and destroyed every German and Russian battleship and transport,
Erskine's craft had done terrible execution without so much as being
seen until, when the last of the German Coast Defence ships had gone
down with all hands in the Great Nore, off the Nore lighthouse, whence
she was shelling Garrison Fort, the Ithuriel had risen above the water
for a few moments, and Denis Castellan had taken a cockshot with the
three forward guns at a couple of Flying Fishes that were circling
over the town and fort and river mouth.

The shells had time-fuses, and they were timed to the tenth of a
second. They burst simultaneously over the airships. Then came a
rending of the atmosphere, and descending streams of fire, which burst
with a rapid succession of sharp reports as they touched the airships.
Then came another blaze of light which seemed to darken the wintry sun
for a moment, and then another quaking of the air, after which what
was left of the two Flying Fishes fell in little fragments into the
water, splashing here and there as though they had been shingle
ballast thrown out of a balloon.

True, Garrison Fort had been blown up by the aerial torpedoes, and the
same fate was befalling the great forts at Tilbury, but their gallant
defenders did not die in vain, and, although the remainder of the
aerial squadron were able to go on and do their work of destruction on
London, whither the Ithuriel could not follow them, the wrecks of six
battleships, a dozen destroyers and ten transports strewed the
approaches to the Thames and the Medway, while nearly thirty thousand
soldiers and sailors would never salute the flag of Czar or Kaiser
again.

"In all the history of war no such loss of men, ships and material had
ever taken place within the short space of three days and a few hours.
Four great fleets and nearly a hundred thousand men had been wiped out
of existence since the assault on Southern England had begun, and even
now, despite the airships, had the millions of Britain's able-bodied
men, who were grinding their teeth and clenching their fists in
impotent fury, been trained just to shoot and march, it would have
been possible to take the invaders between overwhelming masses of
men--who would hold their lives as nothing in comparison with their
country's honour--and the now impassable sea, and drive them back into
it. But although men and youths went in their tens of thousands to the
recruiting stations and demanded to be enlisted, it was no use.
Soldiers are not made in a day or a week, and the invaders of England
had been making them for forty years.

"While the Kaiser and Count von Moltke were going through Lennard's
papers, and coming to the decision to send them to Potsdam, Lord
Whittinghame's motor, instead of returning to Chatham, was running up
to Whitstable to answer the telegram which Lennard had received at
Rochester. The German flag cleared them out of Canterbury. It was
already known that they had been received by the Kaiser, and therefore
their persons were sacred. In consequence of the loss of the squadron
attacking the Thames and Medway, and the destruction of the Ramsgate
flotilla, the country was not occupied by the enemy north of the great
main road through Canterbury and Faversham, and that was just why the
Ithuriel was lying snugly in the mouth of the East Swale River, about
three miles from the little town, with a shabby-looking lighter beside
her, from which she was taking in an extra complement of her own
shells and material for making Lennard's explosive, as well as a full
load of fuel for her engines. They pulled up at the door of the Bear
and Key Hotel, and as the motor came to a standstill a man dressed in
the costume of an ordinary worker on the oyster-beds came up, touched
his sou'wester, and said:

"Mr. Lennard's car, gentlemen?"

"Yes, I'm here," said Lennard, shortly; "we've just left the Emperor
at Canterbury. How about those oysters? I should think you ought to do
well with them in Canterbury. Got plenty?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man. "If you will come down to the wharf I
will be able to show you a shipment that I can send along to-night if
the train comes from Canterbury."

"I think we might as well have a drop of something hot first, it's
rather cold riding."

The others nodded, and they went into the hotel without removing their
caps or goggles. They asked a waiter to show them into a private room,
as they had some business to do, and when four glasses of hot whisky
and water had been put on the table, Lennard locked the door and said:

"My lords, allow me to have the pleasure of introducing to you
Lieutenant Denis Castellan of His Majesty's cruiser Ithuriel."

Lord Whittinghame's and Lord Kitchener's hands went out together, and
the former said:

"Delighted to meet you, Mr. Castellan. You and Captain Erskine have
done magnificently for us in spite of all our troubles. In fact, I
don't know what we should have done without you and this wonderful
craft of yours."

"With all due deference to the Naval Council," said 'K. of K.,' rather
bluntly, "it's a pity they didn't put down a dozen of her. But what
about these oysters that you telegraphed to Mr. Lennard about?"

"There is only one oyster in question at present, my lord," said
Denis, with an entirely Irish smile, "but it's rather a big one. It's
the German Emperor's yacht, the Hohenzollern. She managed to run
across, and get into Ramsgate, while we were up here in the Thames--
that's the worst of there being only one of us, as we can only attend
to one piece of business at a time. Now, she's lying there waiting the
Kaiser's orders, in case he wants to take a trip across, and it seems
to me that she'd be worth the watching for a day or two--she'd be a
big prize, you know, gentlemen, especially if we could catch her with
the War Lord of Germany on board her. I don't think myself that His
Majesty would have any great taste for a trip to the bottom of the
North Sea, just when he thinks he's beginning the conquest of England
so nicely, and, by the Powers, we'd send him there if he got into one
of his awkward tempers with us."

Lord Kitchener, who was in England acting as Chief-of-the-Staff to the
Duke of Connaught, and general adviser to the Council of National
Defence, took Lord Whittinghame to the other end of the room, and said
a few words to him in a low tone, and he came back and said:

"It is certainly worth trying, even if you can only catch the ship;
but we don't think you'll catch the Kaiser. The fact is, you seem to
have established such a holy terror in these waters that I don't think
he would trust his Imperial person between here and Germany. If he did
go across, he'd probably go in an airship. But if you can bring the
Hohenzollern up to Tilbury--of course, under the German flag--I think
we shall be able to make good use of her. If she won't come, sink
her."

"Very good, my lords," said Denis, saluting. "If she's not coming up
the Thames to-morrow night with the Ithuriel under her stern, ye'll
know that she's on the bottom in pieces somewhere. And now," he
continued, taking a long envelope from an inner pocket, "here is the
full report of our doings since the war began, with return of ships
sunk, crippled and escaped; number of men landed, and so on, according
to instructions. We will report again to-morrow night, I hope, with
the Hohenzollern."

They shook hands and wished him good-night and food luck, and in half
an hour the Ithuriel was running half-submerged eastward along the
coast, and the motor was on its way to Faversham by the northern road,
as there were certain reasons why it should not go back through
Canterbury.



Chapter XXIX

THE LION WAKES

AT daybreak on the nineteenth, to the utter amazement of everyone who
was not "in the know," the Imperial yacht, Hohenzollern, was found off
Tilbury, flying the Imperial German Ensign and the Naval flag, as well
as a long string of signals ordering the aerial bombardment of London
to cease, and all the Flying Fishes to return at once to Canterbury.

The apparent miracle had been accomplished in an absurdly easy
fashion. About nine a.m. on the eighteenth a German orderly went into
the post-office at Dover and handed in an official telegram signed
"Von Roon," ordering the Hohenzollern to come round at once to Dover,
as she was considered too open to attack there.

There was something so beautifully natural and simple in the whole
proceeding that, although there were about a dozen German officers and
non-commissioned officers in the room at the time that the orderly
came and went without suspicion, the telegram was taken by the clerk,
read and initialled by the Censor, and passed.

A few minutes later the orderly, marching in perfectly correct German
fashion and carrying a large yellow envelope, walked out through the
town northwards and climbed the hill to the eastward of the ruined
castle. The envelope with its official seal took him past the sentries
without question, but, instead of delivering it, he turned down a
bypath to Fan Bay, under the South Foreland, gained the beach, took
off his uniform in a secluded spot under the cliffs, and went for a
swim. The uniform was never reclaimed, for when he reached the
submerged Ithuriel Denis Castellan had a rubdown and put his own on.

The captain of the Hohenzollern was only too glad to obey the order,
for he also thought that it would be better protected from the dreaded
ocean terror in Dover, so he lost no time in obeying the order; with
the result that, just as he was entering the deserted Downs, the said
terror met him and ordered him to the right-about under pain of
instant sinking.

After that the rest was easy. The captain and officers raged and
stormed, but not even German discipline would have prevented a mutiny
if they had not surrendered. It was known that the Ithuriel took no
prisoners. In five minutes after the irresistible ram had hit them
they would be at the bottom of the sea, and so the Hohenzollern put
about and steamed out into the North Sea, with the three wicked
forward guns trained upon her, and the ram swirling smoothly through
the water fifty yards from her stern.

At nightfall the course was altered for the mouth of the Thames. And
so, with all lights out and steered by a thin shifting ray from her
captor's conning-tower, the Kaiser's yacht made its strange way to
Tilbury.

The instant she dropped her anchor a couple of destroyers ran out from
the Gravesend shore and ranged alongside her. The next minute a
British captain and three lieutenants followed by a hundred
bluejackets had boarded her. The German Commander and his officers
gave up their swords, devoutly hoping that they would never meet their
War Lord again, and so the incident ended.

It will be easily understood that the Kaiser was about the most
infuriated man in the United Kingdom when the Flying Fishes arrived at
Canterbury and the Commander of the squadron described the arrival of
the Hohenzollern in the Thames and asked for orders.

In the first place no one knew better than William the Second how
priceless was the prize won by the impudent audacity of these two
young British sailors. In his private apartments on board there were
his own complete plans of the campaign--not only for the conquest of
Britain, but afterwards for the dismemberment of the British Empire,
and its partition among the Allies--exact accounts of the resources of
the chief European nations in men, money and ships, plans of
fortifications, and even drafts of treaties. In fact, it was such a
haul of Imperial and International secrets as had never been made
before; and that evening the British Cabinet held in their possession
enough diplomatic explosives to blow the European league of nations to
pieces.

Erskine and Castellan were honoured by an autograph letter from the
King, thanking them heartily for their splendid services up to the
present stage of the war, and wishing them all good luck for the
future. Then the Ithuriel slipped down the Thames, towing half a dozen
shabby-looking barges behind her, and for some days she disappeared
utterly from human ken.

What she was really doing during these days was this. These barges and
several others which she picked up now and then were filled with
ammunition for her guns and fuel for her engines, and she dropped them
here and there in obscure creeks and rock-bound bays from Newcastle to
the Clyde, where they lay looking like abandoned derelicts, until such
times as they might be wanted.

Meanwhile, very soon after the loss of the Hohenzollern, the Kaiser
received two messages which disquieted him very seriously. One of
these came by airship from Potsdam. It was an exhaustive report upon
the papers which Lennard had left with him on that momentous night as
it turned out to be, on which the War Lord had rejected the ultimatum
of the Man of Peace. It was signed by Professor Döllinger and endorsed
by four of the greatest astronomers of Germany.

Briefly put, its substance amounted to this: Mr. Lennard's calculations
were absolutely correct, as far as they went. Granted the existence of
such a celestial body as he designated Alpha in the document, and its
position x on the day of its alleged discovery; its direction and
speed designated y and z, then at the time of contact designated n, it
would infallibly come into contact with the earth's atmosphere, and
the consequences deduced would certainly come to pass, viz., either
the earth would combine with it, and be transformed into a semi-
incandescent body, or the terrestrial atmosphere would become a fire-
mist which would destroy all animal and vegetable life upon the planet
within, the space of a few minutes.

The second communication was a joint note from the Emperor of Austria,
the President of the Hague Council, the President of the French
Republic, and the Tsar of Russia, protesting against the bombardment
of London or any other defenceless town by the airships. The note set
forth that these were purely engines of war, and ought not to be used
for purposes of mere terrorism and murder. Their war employment on
land or water, or against fortified positions, was perfectly
legitimate, but against unarmed people and defenceless towns it was
held to be contrary to all principles of humanity and civilisation,
and it was therefore requested by the signatories that, in order to
prevent serious differences between the Allies, it should cease
forthwith.

The result of this communication was of course a Council of War, which
was anything but a harmonious gathering, especially as several of the
older officers agreed with the tone of it, and told the Kaiser plainly
that they considered that there was quite enough in the actual
business of war for the Flying Fishes to do; and the Chancellor did
not hesitate to express the opinion that the majority of the peoples
of Europe, and possibly large numbers of their own soldiers, who,
after all, were citizens first and soldiers afterwards, would strongly
resent such operations, especially when it became known that the
Emperor's own Allies had protested against it; the result of the
Council was that William the Second saw that he was clearly in a
minority, and had the good sense to issue a General Order there and
then that all aerial bombardments, save as part of an organised
attack, should cease from that day.

The events of the next twenty days were, as may well be imagined, full
of momentous happenings, which it would require hundreds of pages to
describe in anything like detail, and therefore only quite a brief
sketch of them can be given here. This will, however, be sufficient to
throw a clear light upon the still more stupendous events which were
to follow.

In consequence of the almost incredible destruction and slaughter
during these first four awful days and nights of the war, both sides
had lost the command of the sea, and the capture of the Hohenzollern
in broad daylight less than a dozen miles from the English coast had
produced such a panic among the rank and file of the invaders, and the
reinforcements of men waiting on the other side of the Channel and the
North Sea, that communication save by airship had practically stopped.

The consequence of this was that, geographically, the Allied armies,
after the release of the prisoners from Portsmouth and Folkestone,
amounted to some three million men of all arms, with half a million
horses, and two thousand guns--it will be remembered that a vast
number of horses, guns and stores had gone to the bottom in the
warships which the Ithuriel had sunk--were confined within a district
bounded by the coast-line from Ramsgate to the Needles, and thence by
a line running north to Southampton; thence, across Hampshire to
Petersfield, and via Horsham, Tunbridge Wells, Ashford, and over
Canterbury, back to Ramsgate.

In view of the defeat and destruction of the expedition against
London, the troops that had been thrown forward to Chatham and
Rochester to co-operate with it were re-called, and concentrated
between Ashford and Canterbury. The rest of England, Scotland and
Ireland was to the present a closed country to them. The blockade on
Swansea and Liverpool had been raised by the Ithuriel, and there was
nothing to prevent any amount of supplies from the west and south
being poured in through half a hundred ports.

Thus the dream of starving the British Islands out had been dissipated
at a stroke. True, the dockyards of Devonport and Milford Haven had
been destroyed by the airships, but copies of the plans of the
Ithuriel had been sent to Liverpool, Barrow, Belfast, the Clyde and
the Tyne, and hundreds of men were working at them night and day.
Scores of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, belonging both to
Britain and other countries, which were nearing completion, were being
laboured at with feverish intensity, so that they might be fitted for
sea in something like fighting trim; submarines were being finished
off by dozens, and Thorneycroft's and Yarrow's yards were, like the
rest, working to their full capacity.

The blind frenzy of rage which had swept like an epidemic over the
whole kingdom during the first days of disaster had died away and in
its place had come the quiet but desperate resolve that if Britain was
to be conquered she should be depopulated as well.

All male employment, save that which was necessary to produce coal and
iron, to keep the shipyards and the gun factories going, and the
shipping on the west coast running, was stopped. In thousands of
cases, especially in the north, the places of the men were taken by
the women; and in addition to these, every woman and girl, from the
match-girls of Whitechapel to the noblest and wealthiest in the land,
found some work to do in the service of their country.

Every day, thousands and tens of thousands of the sons of England,
Scotland, Ireland and Wales were taken in hand by "Mr. Sergeant What's-
'is-Name," and drilled into shape with miraculous speed; and every
day, as detachment after detachment went to the battle front, which
now extended from North Foreland to Portland Bill, the magic of
patriotism and the long-inherited habits of order and obedience
changed the raw recruit into the steady-nerved, strong-hearted
soldier, who learnt his duty in the grim school of battle, and was
ready to do it to the end.

In less than a month Britain had become a military nation. It seemed
at the time and afterwards a miracle, but it was merely the outcome of
perfectly natural causes.

After all, every British man has a strain of fighting blood in him.
Even leaving out his ancient ancestry, he remains the descendant of
families who have given soldier-sons to their country during five
hundred years of almost ceaseless war in one part of the world or the
other. He is really born with battle-smoke in his nostrils, and the
beat of the battle-drum in his heart--and he knows that, neither on
land nor sea has he ever been finally beaten.

Remember, too, that this was to him a holy war, the holiest in which
the sword can be drawn. He was fighting for freedom, for the
possession of his land, for the protection of wife and child and
kindred, and the heritage which his fathers of old time had handed
down to him. Was it any wonder, then, that within the space of a few
weeks the peaceful citizens of Britain, like the fabled harvest of the
dragon's teeth, seemed to spring as men full-armed from the very
ground? Moreover, this was no skirmishing with sharp-shooters over a
vast extent of country, six thousand miles away from home, as it had
been in South Africa. This was home itself. There was no right or
wrong here, nothing for politicians to wrangle about for party
purposes. Here, in a little corner of little England, two mighty hosts
were at death-grips day and night, the one fighting for all that is
dearest and most sacred to the heart of man; and the other to save
itself from what could be nothing less than irretrievable disaster.



Chapter XXX

MR. PARMENTER SAYS

HAPPILY for the defenders of Britain the fleet of aerial submarines,
from which so much had been expected for offensive purposes during the
proposed "triumphal march" on London, soon became of little or no use
in the field.

The reason was this: As, day after day and week after week, that awful
struggle continued, it became absolutely necessary for the Allies to
obtain men and material to make good the fearful losses which the
valour and devotion of what was now a whole nation in arms had
inflicted upon them, and so all but four were despatched to guard the
route between Dover and Calais--eight under the water and eight in the
air--and so make it possible for the transports to cross. Of course,
this meant that thousands of fresh men and hundreds of horses and guns
could be poured into Kent every day; but it also meant that the
greater portion of the defenders' most terrible foes were rendered
harmless--and this was not the least of the good work that the
Ithuriel had done.

Of course, that famous "sea-devil," as the invaders called her, was
mostly on the spot or thereabouts, and every now and then a crowded
transport would lurch over and go down, or a silent, flameless shot
would rise up out of some unknown part of the waters and a shell would
burst with a firmament-shaking concussion close to one of the
airships--after which the airship would burst with a still more
frightful shock and distribute herself in very small fragments through
the shuddering atmosphere; but this only happened every other day or
so, for Erskine and his lieutenant knew a good deal better than to run
too many risks, at least just now.

So, for twelve weeks of bitter, bloody and unsparing strife the grim,
unceasing struggle for the possession of the Capital of the World went
on, and when the eighteenth of March dawned, the outposts of the
Allies were still twelve to fourteen miles from the banks of the
Thames. How desperate had been that greatest of all defences since man
had made war on man may be dimly guessed from the fact that it cost
the invaders two months of incessant fighting and more than a million
men before they planted their guns along the ridges of the North Downs
and the Surrey Hills.

Meanwhile Gilbert Lennard passed his peaceful though anxious days
between Bolton and Whernside, while Auriole, Margaret Holker, Norah
Castellan and Mrs. O'Connor, with hundreds of other heroines, were
doing their work of mercy in the hospital camps at the different bases
behind the fighting front. Lord Westerham, who had worked miracles in
the way of recruiting, was now in his glory as one of General French's
Special Service Officers, which, under such a Commander, is about as
dangerous a job as a man can find in the whole bloody business of war.

And still, as the pitiless human strife went on with its ceaseless
rattle of rifle fire, and the almost continuous roar of artillery, day
by day the Invader from Space grew bigger and brighter in the great
reflector, and day by day the huge cannon, which, in the decisive
moment of the world's fate, was to do battle with it, approached
completion.

At midnight on the twelfth of March, Tom Bowcock had announced that all
was ready for the casting. Lennard gave the order by electric signal.
The hundred converters belched their floods of glowing steel into what
had once been Great Lever pit; night was turned into day by a vast
glow that shot up to the zenith, and the first part of the great work
was accomplished.

At breakfast the next morning Lennard received the following cablegram
from Pittsburg:

  "All ready. Crossing fourteenth. Give particulars of comet away when
you like. Pittsburg Baby doing well. How's yours?--PARMENTER."

In order to understand the full meaning of Mr. Parmenter's curt
cablegram it will be necessary to go back for a little space to the
day when he made his hurried departure from the Clyde in the
Minnehaha. It will be remembered that he had that morning received a
cablegram from New York. This message had read thus:

  "Complete success at last. Craft built and tried. Action and speed
perfect. Dollars out, hurry up.

  "HINGESTON."

Now the signer of this cablegram, Newson Hingeston, was an old college
friend of Mr. Parmenter's, and therefore a man of about his own age. He
was a born mathematician and engineer, and, like many another before
him, the dream of his life had been the conquest of the air by means
of vessels which flew as a bird flew, that is to say by their own
inherent strength, and without the aid of gasbags or buoyancy
chambers, which he, like all the disciples of Nadar, Jules Verne,
Maxim and Langley, had looked upon as mere devices of quackery, or at
the best, playthings of rich people, who usually paid for their
amusement with their lives.

His father died soon after he left college, and left him a comfortable
little estate on the north-western slopes of the Alleghanies, and a
fortune in cash and securities of a million dollars. The estate gave
him plenty to live upon comfortably, so he devoted his million to the
realisation of his ideal. Ratliffe Parmenter, who only had a few
hundred thousand dollars to begin with, laughed at him, but one day,
after a long argument, just as a sort of sporting bet, he signed a
bond to pay two million dollars for the first airship built by his
friend that should fly in any direction independently of the wind, and
carry a dead weight of a ton in addition to a crew of four men.

Newson Hingeston registered the bond with all gravity, and deposited
it at his bank, and then their life-ways parted. Parmenter plunged
into the vortex of speculation, went under sometimes, but always came
to the top again with a few more millions in his insatiable grasp, and
these millions, after the manner of their kind, had made more
millions, and these still more, until he gave up the task of measuring
the gigantic pile and let it grow.

Meanwhile, his friend had spent the best twenty-five years of his
life, all his fortune, and every dollar he could raise on his estate,
in pursuit of the ideal which he had reached a few minutes later than
the eleventh hour. Then he had sent that cable. Of course, he wanted
the two millions, but what had so suddenly happened in England had
instantly convinced him that he was now the possessor of an invention
which many millions would not buy, and which might decide the fate of
the world.

Within twelve hours of his arrival at his friend's house, Ratliffe
Parmenter was entirely convinced that Newson Hingeston had been
perfectly justified in calling him across the Atlantic, for the very
good reason that he spent the greater part of the night taking flying
leaps over the Alleghanies, nerve-shuddering dives through valleys and
gorges, and vast, skimming flights over dim, half-visible plains and
forests to the west, soaring and swooping, twisting and turning at
incredible speeds, in fact, doing everything that any bird that ever
flew could do.

When they got back to the house, just as dawn was breaking, and Mr.
Parmenter had shaken hands with Hiram Roker, a long, lean, slab-sided
Yankee, who was Hingeston's head engineer and general manager, and had
fought the grim fight through failure to success at his side for
twenty years, he said to his friend:

"Newson, you've won, and I guess I'll take that bond up, and I'd like
to do a bit more than that. You know what's happening over the other
side. There's got to be an Aerial Navigation Trust formed right away,
consisting of you, myself and Hiram there, and Max Henchell, my
partner, and that syndicate has to have twenty of these craft of
yours, bigger if possible, afloat inside three months. The syndicate
will commence at once with a capital of fifty millions, and there'll
be fifty more behind that if wanted."

"It's a great scheme," Hingeston replied slowly, "but I'm afraid the
time's too short."

"Time!" exclaimed Mr. Parmenter. "Who in thunder thinks about time when
dollars begin to talk? You just let me have all your plans and
sections, drawings and the rest of your fixings in time to catch the
ten o'clock train to Pittsburg. I'll run up and talk the matter over
with Henchell. We'll have fifty workshops turning out the different
parts in a week, and you shall have a staff of trustworthy men that we
own, body and soul, down here to assemble them, and we'll make the
best of those chaps into the crews of the ships when we get them
afloat.

"Now, don't talk back, Newson, that's fixed. I'm sleepy, and that trip
has jerked my nerves up a bit. Give me a drink, and let's go to bed
for two or three hours. You'll have a cheque for five millions before
I start, and we shall then consider the Columbia our private yacht.
We'll fly her around at night, and just raise Cain in the way of
mysteries for the newspapers, but we won't give ourselves away
altogether until the fleet's ready."

As they say on the other side of the Atlantic, what Ratliffe Parmenter
said, went. He wielded the irresistible power of almost illimitable
wealth, and during the twenty-five years that Hingeston had been
working at his ideal, he and Maximilian Henchell, who was a descendant
of one of the oldest Dutch families in America, and one of its
shrewdest business men to boot, had built up an industrial
organisation that was perhaps the most perfect of its kind even in the
United States. It was run on lines of absolute despotism, but the
despotism was at once intellectual and benevolent. To be a capable and
faithful servant of Parmenter and Henchell, even in the humblest
capacity, meant, not only good wages and provision for life, but
prospects of advancement to the highest posts in the firm, and means
of investing money which no outsider would ever hear of.

Wherefore those who worked for Parmenter and Henchell formed an
industrial army, some fifty thousand strong, generalled, officered and
disciplined to the highest point of efficiency, and faithful to the
death. In fact, to be dismissed from any of their departments or
workshops was financial death. It was like having a sort of commercial
ticket-of-leave, and if such a man tried for work elsewhere, the
answer was "If you can't work for P. and H. you must be a crook of
some sort. I guess you're no good to us." And the end of that man was
usually worse than his beginning.

This was the vast organisation which, when the word went forth from
the headquarters at Pittsburg, devoted the best of its brains and
skill to the creation of the Aerial Fleet, and, as Mr. Parmenter had
said, that Fleet was ready to take the air in the time he had allowed
for its construction.

But the new ships had developed in the course of making. They were
half as long again as the Columbia, and therefore nearly twice as big,
with engines four times the power, and they carried three guns ahead
and three astern, which were almost exact reproductions of those of
the Ithuriel, the plans of which had been brought over by the
Minnehaha on her second trip.

The Columbia had a speed of about one hundred miles an hour, but the
new models were good for nearly a hundred and fifty. In appearance
they were very like broad and shallow torpedo boats, with three
aeroplanes on either side, not unlike those of the Flying Fishes, with
three lifting fans under each. These could be driven vertically or
horizontally, and so when the big twin fans at the stern had got up
sufficient way to keep the ship afloat by the pressure under the
aeroplanes the lifting fans could be converted into pulling fans, but
this was only necessary when a very high speed was desired.

There was a signal-mast and yard forward, and a flagstaff aft. The
guns were worked under hoods, which protected the gunners from the
rush of the wind, and just forward of the mast was an oval conning-
tower, not unlike that of the Ithuriel, only, of course, unarmoured,
from which everything connected with the working of the ship could be
controlled by a single man.

Such is a brief description of the Aerial Fleet which rose from the
slopes of the Alleghanies at ten o'clock on the night of the
fourteenth of March 1910, and winged its way silently and without
lights eastward across the invisible waters of the Atlantic.

There is one other point in Mr Parmenter's cablegram to Lennard which
may as well be explained here. He had, of course, confided everything
that he knew, not only about the war, but also about the approaching
World Peril and the means that were being taken to combat it, to his
partner on his first arrival in the States, and had also given him a
copy of Lennard's calculations.

Instantly Mr. Max Henchell's patriotic ambition was fired. Mr. Lennard
had mentioned that Tom Bowcock, Lennard's general manager, had
proposed to christen the great gun the "Bolton Baby." He had spent
that night in calculations of differences of latitude and longitude,
time, angles of inclination of the axis of the orbit, points and times
of orbital intersection worked out from the horizon of Pittsburg, and
when he had finished he solemnly asked himself the momentous question:
Why should this world-saving business be left to England alone? After
all the "Bolton Baby" might miss fire by a second or two. If it was
going to be a matter of comet-shooting, what had America done that she
could not have a gun? Were there not hundreds of eligible shafts to be
bought round Pittsburg? Yes, America should have that gun, if the last
dollar he possessed or could raise by fair means or foul was to be
thrown down the bore of it.

And so America had the gun, and therefore in after days the rival of
the "Bolton Baby" came to be called the "Pittsburg Prattler."



Chapter XXXI

JOHN CASTELLAN'S THREAT

LENNARD'S first feelings after the receipt of Mr. Parmonter's
cablegram, and the casting of the vast mass of metal which was to form
the body of the great cannon, were those of doubt and hesitation,
mingled, possibly, with that sense of semi-irresponsibility which will
for a time overcome the most highly-disciplined mind when some great
task has been completed for the time being.

For a full month nothing could be done to the cannon, since it would
take quite that time for the metal to cool. Everything else had been
done or made ready. The huge projectile which was to wing its way into
Space to do battle for the life of humanity was completed. The boring
and rifling tools were finished, and all the materials for the driving
and the bursting charges were ready at hand for putting into their
final form when the work of loading up began. There was literally
nothing more to be done. All that human labour, skill and foresight
could achieve for the present had been accomplished.

Dearly would he have loved to go south and join the ranks of the
fighters; but a higher sense of duty than personal courage forbade
that. He was the only man who could perform the task he had
undertaken, and a chance bullet or fragment of a shell, to say nothing
of the hundred minor chances of the battlefield, might make the doing
of that work impossible.

No, his time would come in the awful moment when the fate of humanity
would hang in the balance, and his place alike of honour and of duty
was now in the equatorial room of the observatory at Whernside,
watching through every waking hour of his life the movements of the
Invader, that he might note the slightest deviation from its course,
or the most trifling change in its velocity. For on such seemingly
small matters as these depended, not only the fate of the world, but
of the only woman who could make the world at least worth living in
for him--and so he went to Whernside by the morning train after a long
day's talk with Tom Bowcock over things in general.

"Yo' may be sure that everything will be all right, Mr. Lennard," said
Tom, as they shook hands on the platform. "I'll take t' temperatures,
top, bottom and middle, every night and morning and post them to yo',
and if there's any change that we don't expect, I'll wire yo' at once;
and now I've a great favour to ask you, Mr. Lennard. I haven't asked it
before because there's been too much work to do--"

"You needn't ask it, Tom," laughed Lennard, as he returned his grip,
"but I'm not going to invite you to Whernside just yet, for two
reasons. In the first place, I can't trust that metal to anyone else
but you for at least a week; and in the second place, when I do send
you an invitation from Mr. Parmenter I shall not only be able to show
you the comet a bit brighter than it is just now, but something else
that you may have thought about or read about but never seen yet, and
I am going to give you an experience that no man born in England has
ever had--but I'm not going to spoil sport by telling you now."

"Yo've thought it all out afore me, Mr. Lennard, as yo' always do
everything," replied Tom. "I'm not much given to compliments, as yo'
know, but yo're a wonderful man and if yo've got something to show me,
it's bound to be wonderful too, and if it's anything as wonderful as
t' lies I've b'n telling those newspaper chaps about t' cannon, I
reckon it'll make me open my eyes as wide as they've ever been, for
sure. Good-bye."

During the journey to Settle, Lennard began to debate once more with
himself a question which had troubled him considerably since he had
received Mr. Parmenter's cablegram. Should he publish his calculations
to the world at once, give the exact position of the Invader at a
given moment in a given part of the sky, and so turn every telescope
in the civilised world upon it--or should he wait until some
astronomer made the independent discovery which must come within a
short time now?

There were reasons both for and against. To do so might perhaps stop
the war, and that would, at first sight, be conferring a great
blessing upon humanity; but, on the other hand, it might have the very
reverse effect upon the millions of men whose blood was now inflamed
with the lust of battle. Again it was one thing to convince the rulers
of the nations and the scientists of the world that the coming
catastrophe was inevitable; but to convince the people who made up
those nations would be a very different matter.

The end of the world had been predicted hundreds of times already,
mostly by charlatans, who made a good living out of it, but sometimes
by the most august authorities. He had read his history, and he had
not forgotten the awful conditions in which the people of Europe fell
during the last months of the year 1000, when the Infallible Church
had solemnly proclaimed that at twelve o'clock on the night of the
31st of December, Satan, chained for a thousand years, would be let
loose; that on the morning of the 1st of January 1001 the order of
Nature would be reversed, the sun would rise in the west and the reign
of Anti-Christ begin. Then the remnants of the European nations had
gradually awakened to the fact that Holy Church was wrong, since
nothing happened save the results of the madness which her prophesies
had produced.

But the catastrophe of which he would have to be the prophet would be
worse even than this, and, moreover, as far as human science could
tell, it was a mathematical certainty. There would be no miracle,
nothing of the supernatural about it--it would happen just as
certainly as the earth would revolve on its axis; and yet how many
millions of the earth's inhabitants would believe it until with their
own eyes they saw the approaching Fate?

In time of peace perhaps he might have obtained a hearing, but who
would pause amidst the rush of the armed battalions to listen to him?
How could the calm voice of Science make itself heard among the clash
and clangour of war? The German Emperor had already laughed in his
face, and accepted his challenge with contemptuous incredulity. No
doubt his staff and all his officers would do the same. What
possibility then would there be to convince the millions who were
fighting blindly under their orders? No; it was hopeless. The war must
go on. He could only hope that the Aerial Fleet which Mr Parmenter was
bringing across the Atlantic would turn the tide of battle in favour
of the defenders of Britain.

But there was another matter to be considered. Thanks to the control
possessed by the Parmenter Syndicate over the Atlantic cables and the
aerograph system of the world, he was kept daily, sometimes hourly,
acquainted with everything that was happening. He knew that the
Eastern forces of Russia were concentrating upon India in the hope
that the disasters in England and the destruction of the Fleet would
realise the old Muscovite dream of detaching the natives from their
loyalty to the British Crown and so making the work of conquest easy.
In the Far East, Japan was recovering from the exhaustion consequent
upon her costly victories over Russia, and had formed an ominous
alliance with China.

On the other hand Italy, England's sole remaining ally in Europe, had
blockaded the French Mediterranean ports, and while the French legions
were being drawn northward to the conquest of Britain, the Italian
armies had seized the Alpine passes and were preparing an invasion
which should avenge the humiliations which Italy had suffered under
the first Napoleon.

In a word, everything pointed to universal war. Only the United States
preserved an inscrutable silence, which had been broken only by four
words: "Hands off our commerce." And to these the Leagued Nations had
listened, if rather by compulsion than respect.

Who was he, then, that he should, as it were, sound the trump of
approaching doom in the ears of a world round which from east to west
and from west again to east the battledrums might any day be sounding
and the roar of artillery thundering its answering echo.

But a somewhat different aspect was given to these reflections by a
letter which he found waiting for him in the library at Whernside
House. It ran thus:

  "SIR,--You will not, I suppose, have forgotten a certain incident
which happened towards the end of June 1907 in the Bay of Clifden,
Connemara. You won that little swimming race by a yard or so, and
since then it appears to me that, although you may not be aware of it,
you and I have been running a race of a very different sort, although
possibly for the same prize.

  "You will understand what prize I mean, and by this time you ought
to know that I have the power of taking it by force, if I cannot win
it in the ordinary way of sport or battle. I am in command of the only
really irresistible force in the world. I created that force, and, by
doing so, made the invasion of England and the present war possible. I
have done so because I hate England, and desire to release my own
country from her tyranny and oppression; but I can love as well as I
can hate, and whether you understood it or not, I, who had never loved
a woman before, loved Auriole Parmenter from the moment that you and I
lifted her out of the water, and she smiled on us, and thanked us for
saving her life.

  "Before we parted that day I could see love in your eyes when you
looked at her, if you could not see it in mine. You are her father's
private astronomer, and until lately you have lived in almost daily
intercourse with her, in which, of course, you have had a great
advantage over myself, who have not from that time till now been
blessed by even the sight of her.

  "But during that time it seems that you have discovered a comet,
which is to run into the earth and destroy all human life, unless you
prevent it. I know this because I know of the challenge you gave to
the German Emperor in Canterbury. I know also of what you have been
doing in Bolton. You are turning a coal pit into a cannon, with which
you believe that you can blow this comet into thin air or gas before
it meets the earth, and you threatened His Majesty that if the war was
not stopped the human race should be destroyed.

  "That, if you will pardon the expression, was a piece of bluff. You
love Miss Parmenter perhaps as much as, though not possibly more than,
I do, and therefore you would certainly not destroy the world as long
as she was alive in it. You would be more or less than man if you did,
and I don't believe you are either, and therefore I think you will
understand the proposition I am going to make to you.

  "Granted hypothesis that the world will come to an end by means of
this comet on a certain day, and granted also that you are able to
save it with this cannon of yours, I write now to tell you that,
whether the war stops or not in obedience to your threat, I will not
allow you to save the world unless Miss Parmenter consents to marry me
within two months from now. If she does, the war shall stop, or at any
rate I will allow the British forces to conquer the whole of Europe on
the sole condition of giving independence to Ireland. They cannot win
without my fleet of Flying Fishes, and if I turn that fleet against
them they will not only be defeated but annihilated. In other words,
with the sole exception of my own country, I offer England the
conquest of Europe in exchange for the hand of one woman.

  "In the other alternative, that is to say, if Miss Parmenter, her
father and yourself do not consent to this proposal, I will not allow
you to save the world. I can destroy your cannon works at Bolton as
easily as I destroyed the forts at Portsmouth and Dover, and as easily
as I can and will kill you, and wreck your Observatory. When I have
done this I will take possession of Miss Parmenter by force, and then
your comet can come along and destroy the world as soon as it likes.

  "I shall expect a definite answer to this letter, signed by Mr.
Parmenter and yourself, within seven days. If you address your letter
to Mr. James Summers, 28a Carlos Street, Sheerness, it will reach me;
but I must warn you that any attempt to discover why it will reach me
from that address will be punished by the bombardment and destruction
of the town.

  "I hope you will see the reasonableness and moderation of my
conditions, and remain, yours faithfully.

JOHN CASTELLAN."



Chapter XXXII

A VIGIL IN THE NIGHT

ALTHOUGH Lennard had always recognised the possibility of such a
catastrophe as that which John Castellan threatened, and had even
taken such precautions as he could to prevent it, still this direct
menace, coming straight from the man himself, brought the danger home
to him in a peculiarly personal way.

The look which had passed between them as they were swimming their
race in Clifden Bay had just as much meaning for him as for the man
who now not openly professed himself his rival, but who threatened to
proceed to the last extremities in order to gain possession of the
girl they both loved. It was impossible for him not to believe that
the man who had been capable of such cold-blooded atrocities as he had
perpetrated at Portsmouth, London and other places, would hesitate for
a moment in carrying out such a threat, and if he did--No, the
alternative was quite too horrible to think of yet.

One thing, however, was absolutely certain. Although no word of love
had passed between Auriole and himself since the night when he had
shown her the comet and described the possible doom of the world to
her, she had in a hundred ways made it plain to him that she was
perfectly well aware that he loved her and that she did not resent
it--and he knew quite enough of human nature to be well aware that
when a woman allows herself to be loved by a man with whom she is in
daily and hourly contact, she is already half won; and from this it
followed, according to his exact mathematical reasoning, that,
whatever the consequences, her reply to John Castellan's letter would
be in the negative, and equally, of course, so would her father's be.

"I wonder what the Kaiser's Admiral of the Air would think if he knew
how matters really stand," he said to himself as he read the letter
through for a second time. "Quite certain of doing what he threatens,
is he? I'm not. Still, after all, I suppose I mustn't blame him too
much, for wasn't I in just the same mind myself once--to save the
world if she would make it heaven for me, to--well--turn it into the
other place if she wouldn't. But she very soon cured me of that
madness.

"I wonder if she could cure this scoundrel if she condescended to try,
which I am pretty certain she would not. I wonder what she'll look
like when she reads this letter. I've never seen her angry yet, but I
know she would look magnificent. Well, I shall do nothing till Mr.
Parmenter gets back. Still, it's a pity that I've got to gravitate
between here and Bolton for the next seven weeks. If I wasn't, I'd ask
him for one of those airships and I'd hunt John Castellan through all
the oceans of air till I ran him down and smashed him and his ship
too!"

At this moment the butler came to him and informed him that his dinner
was ready and to ask him what wine he would drink.

"Thank you, Simmons," he replied. "A pint of that excellent Burgundy
of yours, please. By the way, have the papers come yet?"

"Just arrived, sir," said Mr. Simmons, making the simple announcement
with all the dignity due to the butler to a millionaire.

He went at once into the dining-room and opened the second edition of
the Times, which was sent every day to Settle by train and thence by
motor-car to Whernside House.

Of course he turned first to the "Latest Intelligence" column. It was
headed, as he half expected it to be, "The Great Turning Movement: The
Enemy in Possession of Aldershot and advancing on Reading."

The account itself was one of those admirable combinations of brevity
and impartiality for which the leading journal of the world has always
been distinguished. What Lennard read ran as follows:

"Four months have now passed since the invading forces of the Allies,
after destroying the fortifications of Portsmouth and Dover by means
never yet employed in warfare, set foot on English soil. There have
been four months of almost incessant fighting, of heroic defence and
dearly-bought victory, but, although it is not too much to say in
sober language that the defending troops, regulars, militia, yeomanry
and volunteers, have accomplished what have seemed to be something
like miracles of valour and devotion, the tide of conquest has
nevertheless flowed steadily towards London.

"Considering the unanimous devotion with which the citizens of this
country, English, Scotch, Irish and Welsh, have taken up arms for the
defence of their Motherland, there can be no doubt but that, if the
war had been fought under ordinary conditions, the tide of invasion
would by this time have been rolled back to our coasts in spite of the
admitted superiority of the invaders in the technical operations of
warfare, and their enormous advantage in numbers to begin with. But
the British forces have had to fight under conditions which have never
before been known in warfare. Their enemies have not been only those
of the land and sea: they have had to fight foes capable of raining
destruction upon them from the air as well, and it may well be
believed that the leaders of the invading hosts would be the first to
admit that without this enormous advantage not even the progress that
they have so far made would have been possible.

"The glories of Albuera and Waterloo, of Inkermann and Balaklava, have
over and over again been eclipsed by the whole-souled devotion of the
British soldiery, fighting, as no doubt every man of them believes,
with their backs to the wall, not for ultimate victory perhaps but for
the preservation of those splendid traditions which have been
maintained untarnished for over a thousand years. It is no
exaggeration to say that of all the wars in the history of mankind
this has been the deadliest and the bloodiest. Never, perhaps, has so
tremendous an attack been delivered, and never has such an attack been
met by so determined a resistance. Still, having due regard to the
information at our disposal, it would be vain to deny that, tremendous
as the cost must have been, the victory so far lies with the invaders.

"After a battle which has lasted almost continuously for a fortnight;
a struggle in which battalion after battalion has fought itself to a
standstill and the last limits of human endurance have been reached,
the fact remains that the enemy have occupied the whole line of the
North Downs, Aldershot has ceased to be a British military camp, and
is now occupied by the legions of Germany, France and Austria.

"Russia, in spite of the disastrous defeat of the united German and
Russian expedition against Sheerness, Tilbury and Woolwich, is now
preparing a force for an attack on Harwich which, if it is not
defeated by the same means as that upon the Thames was defeated by,
will have what we may frankly call the deplorable effect of diverting
a large proportion of the defenders of London from the south to the
north, and this, unless some other force, at present unheard of, is
brought into play in aid of the defenders, can only result in the
closing of the attack round London--and after that must come the
deluge.

"That this is part of a general plan of operations appears to be quite
clear from the desperate efforts which the French, German and Austrian
troops are making to turn the position of General French at Reading,
to outflank the British left which is resting on the hills beyond
Faversham, and, having thus got astride the Thames, occupy the
semicircle of the Chiltern Hills and so place the whole Thames valley
east of Reading at their mercy.

"In consequence of the ease with which the enemy's airships have
destroyed both telegraphic and railway communication, no definite
details are at present to hand. It is only known that since the attack
on Aldershot the fighting has not only been on a colossal scale, but
also of the most sanguinary description, with the advantage slowly but
surely turning in favour of the invaders. Such news as reaches us
comes entirely by despatch rider and aerogram. We greatly regret to
learn, through the former source, that yesterday evening Lord
Westerham, the last of the six special Service officers attached to
General French's staff, was either killed or captured in a gallant
attempt to carry despatches containing an accurate account of the
situation up to date from Reading to Windsor, whence it was to be
transmitted by the underground telephone cable to His Majesty at
Buckingham Palace."

"That reads pretty bad," said Lennard, when Mr. Simmons had left the
room, "especially Westerham being killed or taken prisoner; I don't
like that at all. I wish we'd been able to collar His Majesty of
Germany on that trip to Canterbury as Lord Kitchener suggested, and
put him on board the Ithuriel. He'd have made a very excellent hostage
in a case like this. I must say that, altogether, affairs do not look
very promising, and we've still two months all but a day or two. Well,
if Mr. Parmenter doesn't get across with his aerial fleet pretty soon,
I shall certainly take steps to convince him and his Allies, who are
fighting for a few islands when the whole world is in peril, that my
ultimatum was anything but the joke he seemed to take it for."

He finished his wine, drank a cup of coffee and smoked a meditative
cigar in the library, and then went up to the Observatory.

It was a lovely night from his point of view; clear, cool and almost
cloudless. The young moon was just rising to the eastward, and as he
looked up at that portion of the south-western sky from which the
Celestial Invader was approaching he could almost persuade himself
that he saw a dim ghostly shape of the Spectre from Space.

But when he got to the telescope the Spectre was no longer there. The
field of the great reflector was blank, save for the few far-away
star-mists, and here and there a dimly-distant star, already familiar
to him through many nights of watching.

What had happened? Had some catastrophe occurred in the outer realms
of Space in which some other world had been involved in fiery ruin, or
had the comet been dragged away from its orbit by the attraction of
one of those dead suns, those derelicts of Creation which, dark and
silent, drift for age after age through the trackless ocean of
Immensity?

There was no cooler-headed man alive than Gilbert Lennard when it came
to a matter of his own profession and yet the world did not hold a
more frightened man than he was when he went to re-adjust the
machinery which regulated the movement of the great telescope, and so
began his search for the lost comet all over again. One thing only was
certain--that the slightest swerve from its course might make the
comet harmless and send it flying through Space millions of miles away
from the earth, or bring the threatening catastrophe nearer by an
unknown number of days and hours. And that was the problem, here,
alone, and in the silence of the night, he had to solve. The great gun
at Bolton and the other at Pittsburg might by this time be useless,
or, worse still, they might not be ready in time.

It was curious that, even face to face with such a terrific crisis, he
had enough human vanity left to shape a half regret that his
calculations would almost certainly be falsified.

That, however, was only the sensation of a moment. He ran rapidly over
his previous calculations, did about fifteen minutes very hard
thinking, and in thirty more he had found the comet. There it was: a
few degrees more to the northward, and more inclined to the plane of
the earth's orbit; brighter, and therefore nearer; and now the
question was, by how much?

Confronted with this problem, the man and the lover disappeared, and
only the mathematician and the calculating machine remained. He made
his notes and went to his desk. The next three hours passed without
any consciousness of existence save the slow ticking of the
astronomical clock which governed the mechanism of the telescope. The
rest was merely figures and formulae, which might amount to the death-
sentence of the human race or to an indefinite reprieve.

When he got up from his desk he had learnt that the time in which it
might be possible to save humanity from a still impending fate had
been shortened by twelve days, and that the contact of the comet with
the earth's atmosphere would take place precisely at twelve o'clock,
midnight, on the thirtieth of April.

Then he went back to the telescope and picked up the comet again. Just
as he had got its ominous shape into the centre of the field a score
of other shapes drifted swiftly across it, infinitely vaster--huge
winged forms, apparently heading straight for the end of the
telescope, and only two or three yards away.

His nerves were not perhaps as steady as they would have been without
the shock which he had already received, and he shrank back from the
eye-piece as though to avoid a coming blow. Then he got up from his
chair and laughed.

"What an ass I am! That's Mr. Parmenter's fleet; but what monsters they
do look through a telescope like this!"



Chapter XXXIII

MR. PARMENTER RETURNS

JUST at the north of the summit on the top of which the Observatory
was built there was an oval valley, or perhaps it might be better
described as an escarpment, a digging away by the hand of Nature of a
portion of the mountain summit by means of some vast landslide or
glacier action thousands of years ago.

As he closed the door of the main entrance to the Observatory behind
him, he saw these strange, winged shapes circling in the air some
three miles away, just dimly visible in the moonlight and starlight.
They were hovering about in middle air as though they were birds
looking for a foothold. He ran back, switched the electric current off
the aerograph machines at the base of the Observatory, and turned it
on to the searchlight which was on the top of the equatorial dome. A
great fan of white light flashed out into the sky, he spelt out
"Welcome" in the dot-and-dash code, and then the searchlight fell upon
the valley.

"Thanks," came the laconic answer from the foremost airship; and then
Lennard saw twenty-five winged shapes circle round the Observatory and
drop to rest one by one in perfect order, just as a flock of swans
might have done, and, as the last came to earth, he turned the switch
and shut off the searchlight.

He walked down to the hollow, and in the dim light saw something that
he had hardly believed possible for human eyes to see. There, in a
space of, perhaps, a thousand yards long and five hundred yards wide,
lay, in a perfect oval, a fleet of ships. By all appearances they had
no right to be on land. There was no visible evidence that they could
rise from the solid earth after once touching it, any more than the
albatross can do from a ship's deck.

A light flashed out from a ship lying at the forward end of the
ellipse for a moment into the sky and then it swung slowly round until
it rested on the path from the Observatory to the valley, and Lennard
for a moment felt himself blinded by its rays. Then it lifted and a
most welcomely familiar voice said:

"Well, Mr. Lennard, here we are, you see, just a bit ahead of time, and
how's the comet?"

A ladder, obviously of American design, shot out from the side of the
airship as Mr. Parmenter spoke, and as soon as the lower end touched
the ground he walked down it with his hand outstretched. Lennard
walked to the foot of the ladder and took his hand, and said in a low
voice:

"This is all very wonderful, Mr. Parmenter, but I am glad that you are
here ahead of time, because the comet is too; and very considerably, I
am sorry to say."

"Eh, what's that you say, Mr. Lennard?" replied the millionaire in a
hurried whisper. "Nothing serious, I hope. We haven't come too late,
have we? I mean too late to stop the war and save the world."

"I don't know about stopping the war," replied Lennard, "but, if no
accident happens or is arranged for, we can save the world still, I
think."

"Accident arranged for?" echoed Mr. Parmenter. "What do you mean by
that? Are you talking about John Castellan and those Flying Fish
things of his? I reckon we've got enough here to send him and his
Flying Fishes into the sea and make them stop there. We've heard all
about what they've been doing in the States, and I've got about tired
of them. And as for this old invasion of England, it's got to stop
right away, or we'll make more trouble for these Germans and Frenchmen
and Russians and Austrians than they ever dreamt of.

"Look at that fleet, sir. Twenty-five aerial battleships with a
hundred and fifty miles an hour speed in them. Here to London in one
hour and twenty-five minutes or less, and guns--you just take a look
at those exaggerated peashooters we've got on deck, and believe me,
sir, that if we get one of John Castellan's Flying Fishes within six
thousand yards of the end of one of those things it will do no more
flying, except in very small pieces."

"I'm delighted to hear it, Mr. Parmenter," replied Lennard, in a low
tone, "for to tell you the truth, we haven't many weeks left now.
Something that I can so far neither calculate nor explain has changed
the orbit of the comet and it's due here at midnight on the thirtieth
of April."

"Great Scott, and this is the nineteenth of March! Not six weeks! I
guess we'll have to hurry up with those cannons. I'll send a cable to
Pittsburg to-morrow. Anyhow, I reckon the comet can wait for to-
night."

While Mr. Parmenter had been speaking two other men had come down the
ladder from the deck of the airship and he continued:

"Now, let me introduce you. This is my old friend and college chum,
Newson Hingeston, the man who invented the model we built this fleet
on. This is Mr. Hiram Roker, chief engineer of the fleet and Lord High
Admiral of the air, when Mr. Hingeston is not running his own ships."

Lennard shook hands with Mr Hingeston and Hiram, and was going to say
very complimentary things about the fleet which had literally dropped
from the clouds, when Mr. Parmenter interrupted him again and said:

"You'll excuse me, Mr. Lennard, but you'll be better able to talk about
these ships when you've had a trip in one of them. We've just crossed
the Atlantic in thirty hours, above the clouds, and to-morrow night or
morning, if it's cloudy when we've been through things generally,
we're going to London in the flagship here--I've called her the
Auriole, because she is the daisy of the whole fleet--biggest, fastest
and prettiest. You just wait till you see her in daylight. Now we'll
go down to the house and hear your news. We're thirty hours behind the
times."

It need hardly be said that no one went to bed for the remainder of
that night at Whernside. In one sense it was as busy a time as had
been since the war began. The private telephone and telegraph wires
between Whernside House and Settle and the aerograph apparatus at the
Observatory were working almost incessantly till dawn, sending and
receiving messages between this remote moorland district and London
and the seat of war, as well as Bolton and Pittsburg.

The minutes and the hours passed swiftly, as all Fate-laden time does
pass, and so the grey morning of a momentous day dawned over the
western Yorkshire moors. Just as they were beginning to think about
breakfast one of Lennard's assistants came down from the Observatory
with a copy of an aerogram which read:

  "Begins. PARMENTER, Whernside. Pleased to hear of your arrival.
Proposition laid before His Majesty in Council and accepted. Hope to
see you and your friends during the day.--CHAMBERLAIN. Ends.
"
"Well, I guess that's all right, gentlemen," said Mr. Parmenter, as he
handed the aerogram across the big table littered with maps, plans and
drawings of localities terrestrial and celestial.

The aerogram passed round and Mr. Parmenter continued: "You see,
gentlemen, although the United States has the friendliest of feelings
towards the British Empire, still, as the President told me the day
before yesterday, this invasion of Britain is not our fight, and he
does not see his way to making formal declaration of war; so he just
gave me a permit for these ships to leave American territory on what
the Russians and others call a scientific expedition in order to
explore the upper regions of the air and demonstrate the possibility
of navigating the air without using gas as lifting power--and that's
just how we've got here with our clearance papers and so on all in
order; and that means, gentlemen, that we are here, not as citizens of
the United States or any other country, but just as a trading company
with something to hire out.

"John Castellan, as you will remember from what has been said, sold
his Flying Fishes to the German Emperor. Mr. Lennard has proved to us
by Castellan's own handwriting that he is prepared to sell them back
to the British Government at a certain price--and that price is my
daughter. Our answer to that is the hiring of our fleet to the British
Government, and that offer has been accepted on terms which I think
will show a very fair profit when the war is over and we've saved the
world."

"I don't think it will take very long to stop the war," said the
creator of the aerial battle-fleet, in his quiet voice. "Saving the
world is, of course, another matter which no doubt we can leave safely
in the hands of Mr. Lennard. And now," he continued more gravely, "when
is the news of the actual coming of the comet to be made public? It
seems to me that everything more or less hangs upon that. The German
Emperor, and, therefore, his Allies and, no doubt, half the
astronomers of Europe, have been informed of Mr. Lennard's discovery.
They may or may not believe it, and if they don't we can't blame them
because it was only given to them without exact detail."

"And a very good thing too," laughed Lennard, "considering the
eccentric way in which the comet is behaving. But everything is
settled now, unless, of course, some other mysterious influence gets
to work; and, another thing, it's quite certain that before many days
the comet must be discovered by other observatories."

"Then, Mr. Lennard," said Mr. Parmenter, "we've been first in the field
so far and I reckon we'd better stop there. Pike's Peak, Washington
and Arequipa are all on to it. Europe and Australia will be getting
there pretty soon, so I don't think there's much the matter with you
sending a message to Greenwich this morning. The people there will
find it all right and we can run across from London when we've had our
talk with the Prime Minister and post them up in any other details
they want. I'll send a wire to Henchell and tell him to hurry up with
his gun at Pittsburg and send on news to all the American
observatories. Then we'll have breakfast and, as it's a cloudy
morning, I think we might start right away for London in the Auriole
and get this business fixed up. The enemy doesn't know we're here at
all, and so long as we keep above the clouds there's no fear of anyone
seeing us. The world has only forty-four more days to live, so we
might as well save one of those days while we can."

The result of the somewhat informal council of war, for, in sober
truth, it was nothing else, was that the commanders of the airships
were invited to breakfast and the whole situation was calmly and
plainly discussed by those who from the morning would probably hold
the fate of the world in their hands. Not the least important of the
aerograms which had been received during the early morning had been
one, of course in code, from Captain Erskine of the Ithuriel from
Harwich, welcoming the aërial fleet and giving details of his
movements in conjunction with it for the next ten days. The aerogram
also gave the positions of the lighters loaded with ammunition which
he had deposited round the English shores in anticipation of its
arrival.

Soon after eight o'clock a heavy mist came down over Whernside and its
companion heights, and Mr. Parmenter went to one of the windows of the
big dining-room and said:

"I reckon this will just about fit us, Mr. Lennard, so, if you've got
your portmanteau packed, have it sent up to the Auriole at once, and
we'll make a start."

Within thirty minutes the start was made, and with it began the most
marvellous experience of Gilbert Lennard's life, not even excepting
his battle-trip in the conning-tower of the Ithuriel.



Chapter XXXIV

THE "AURIOLE"

"ALL aboard, I think, Captain Roker," said Mr. Parmenter, as he walked
last to the top of the gangway ladder, and stood square-footed on the
white deck of the Auriole.

"All aboard, sir," replied Hiram Roker, "and now I reckon you'll have
to excuse me, because I've got to go below just to see that
everything's in working order."

"That's all right, Mr. Roker. I know where your affections are centred
in this ship. You go right along to your engines, and Mr. Hingeston
will see about the rest of us. Now then, Mr. Lennard, you come along
into the conning-tower, and whatever you may have seen from the
conning-tower of the Ithuriel, I reckon you'll see something more
wonderful still before we get to London. You show the way, Newson.
See, here it is, just about the same. We've stolen quite a lot of
ideas from your friend Erskine; it's a way we've got on our side, you
know. But this is going to be one of the exceptions; if we win we are
going to pay."

Lennard followed Mr. Parmenter down the companionway into the centre
saloon of the Auriole, and through this into a narrow passage which
led forward. At the end of this passage was a lift almost identical
with that on the Ithuriel. He took his place with Mr Parmenter and Mr
Hingeston on this and it rose with them into a little oval chamber
almost exactly like the conning-tower of the Ithuriel, with the
exception that it was built entirely of hardened papier-maché and
glass.

"You see, Mr. Lennard," said Mr. Parmenter, "we don't want armour here.
Anything that hits us smashes us, and that's all there is to it. Our
idea is just to keep out of the way and do as much harm as we can from
the other side of the clouds. And now, Newson, if you're ready, we
might as well get to the other side and have a look at the sun. It's
sort of misty and cheerless down here."

"Just as easy as saying so, my dear Ratliffe. I reckon Hiram's got
about ten thousand horse-power waiting to be let loose; so we may as
well let them go. Hold on, Mr. Lennard, and don't breathe any more than
you can help for a minute or two."

Lennard, remembering his cruise in the Ithuriel, held on, and also,
after filling his lungs, held his breath. Mr. Hingeston took hold of
the steering-wheel, also very much like that of the Ithuriel, with his
left hand, and touched in quick succession three buttons on a signal-
board at his right hand.

At the first touch nothing happened as far as Lennard could see or
hear. At the second, a soft, whirring sound filled the air, growing
swiftly in intensity. At the third, the mist which enveloped Whernside
began, as it seemed to him, to flow downwards from the sky in long
wreaths of smoke-mingled steam which in a few moments fell away into
nothingness. A blaze of sunlight burst out from above--the earth had
vanished--and there was nothing visible save the sun and sky overhead,
and an apparently illimitable expanse of cloud underneath.

"There's one good thing about airships," said Mr. Hingeston, as he took
a quarter turn at the wheel, "you can generally get the sort of
climate and temperature you want in them." He put his finger on a
fourth button and continued: "Now, Mr Lennard, we have so far just
pulled her up above the mist. You'll have one of these ships yourself
one day, so I may as well tell you that the first signal means 'Stand
by'; the second, 'Full power on lifting fans'; the third, 'Stand by
after screws'; and the fourth--just this--"

He pushed the button down as he spoke, and Lennard saw the brilliantly
white surface of the sunlit mist fall away before and behind them. A
few moments later he heard a sort of soft, sighing sound outside the
conning-tower. It rose quickly to a scream, and then deepened into a
roar. Everything seemed lost save the dome of sky and the sun rising
from the eastward. There was nothing else save the silver-grey blur
beneath them. As far as he was concerned for the present, the earth
had ceased to exist for him five minutes ago.

He didn't say anything, because the circumstances in which he found
himself appeared to be more suitable for thinking than talking; he
just stood still, holding on to a hand-grip in the wall of the
conning-tower, and looked at the man who, with a few touches of his
fingers, was hurling this aerial monster through the air at a speed
which, as he could see, would have left the Ithuriel out of sight in a
few minutes.

In front of Hingeston as he sat at the steering-wheel were two dials.
One was that of an aneroid which indicated the height. This now
registered four thousand feet. The other was a manometer connected
with the speed-gauge above the conning-tower, and the indicator on
this was hovering between one hundred and fifty and a hundred and
sixty.

"Does that really mean we're travelling over a hundred and fifty miles
an hour?" he said.

"Getting on for a hundred and sixty," said Mr. Parmenter, taking out
his watch. "You see, according to that last wire I sent, we're due in
the gardens of Buckingham Palace at ten-thirty sharp, and so we have
to hustle a bit."

"Well," replied Lennard, "I must confess that I thought that my little
trip in the Ithuriel took me to something like the limits of everyday
experience; but this beats it. Whatever you do on the land or in the
water you seem to have something under you--something you can depend
on, as it were--but here, you don't seem to be anywhere. A friend of
mine told me that, after he had taken a balloon trip above the clouds
and across the Channel, but he was only travelling forty miles an
hour. He had somewhat a trouble to describe that, but this, of course,
gets rather beyond the capabilities of the English language."

"Or even the American," added Mr. Hingeston, quietly.

"Why, yes," said Mr. Parmenter, rolling a cigarette, "I believe we
invented the saying about greased lightning, and here we are something
like riding on a streak of it."

"Near enough!" laughed Lennard. "We may as well leave it at that, as
you say. Still, it is very, very wonderful."

And so it was. As they sped south the mists that hung about the
northern moors fell behind, and broken clouds took their place.
Through the gaps between these he could see a blur of green and grey
and purple. A few blotches of black showed that they were passing over
the Lancashire and Midland manufacturing towns; then the clouds became
scarcer and an enormous landscape spread out beneath them, intersected
by white roads and black lines of railways, and dotted by big patches
of woods, long lines of hedgerows and clumps of trees on hilltops.
Here and there the white wall of a chalk quarry flashed into view and
vanished; and on either side towns and villages came into sight ahead
and vanished astern almost before he could focus his field-glasses
upon them.

At about twenty minutes after the hour at which they had left
Whernside, Mr. Hingeston turned to Mr. Parmenter and said, pointing
downward with the left hand:

"There's London, and the clouds are going. What are we to do? We can't
drop down there without being seen, and if we are that will give half
the show away. You see, if Castellan once gets on to the idea that
we've got airships and are taking them into London, he'll have a dozen
of those Flying Fishes worrying about us before we know what we're
doing. If we only had one of those good old London fogs under us we
could do it."

"Then what's the matter with dropping under the smoke and using that
for a fog," said Mr. Parmenter, rather shortly. "The enemy is still a
dozen miles to southward there; they won't see us, and anyhow,
London's a big place. Why, look there now! Talking about clouds,
there's the very thing you want. Oceans of it! Can't you run her up a
bit and drop through it when the thing's just between us and the
enemy?"

As he spoke, Lennard saw what seemed to him like an illimitable sea of
huge spumy billows and tumbling masses of foam, which seemed to roll
and break over each other without sound. The silent cloud-ocean was
flowing up from the sou'west. Mr. Hingeston took his bearings by
compass, slowed down to fifty miles an hour, and then Lennard saw the
masses of cloud rise up and envelop them.

For a few minutes the earth and the heavens disappeared, and he felt
that sense of utter loneliness and isolation which is only known to
those who travel through the air. He saw Mr. Hingeston pull a lever
with his right hand and turn the steering-wheel with his left. He felt
the blood running up to his head, and then came a moment of giddiness.
When he opened his eyes the Auriole was dropping as gently as a bird
on the wing towards the trees of the garden behind Buckingham Palace.

"I reckon you did that quite well, Newson," said Mr. Parmenter, looking
at his watch. "One hour and twenty-five minutes as you said. And now
I'm going to shake hands with a real king for the first time."



Chapter XXXV

THE "AURIOLE" HOISTS THE WHITE ENSIGN

RATHER to Mr. Parmenter's surprise his first interview "with a real
king" was rather like other business interviews that he had had; in
fact, as he said afterwards, of all the business men he had ever met
in his somewhat varied career, this quiet-spoken, grey-haired English
gentleman was about the best and 'cutest that it had ever been his
good fortune to strike.

The negotiations in hand were, of course, the hiring of the
Syndicate's fleet of airships to the British Empire during the course
of the war. His Majesty had summoned a Privy Council at the Palace,
and again Mr. Parmenter was somewhat surprised at the cold grip and
clear sight which these British aristocrats had in dealing with
matters which he thought ought to have been quite outside their
experience. Like many Americans, he had expected to meet a sort of
glorified country squire, foxhunter, grouse-killer, trout and salmon-
catcher, and so on; but, as he admitted to Lennard later on, from His
Majesty downwards they were about the hardest crowd to do business
with that he had ever struck.

The terms he offered were half a million a week for the services of
twenty-five airships till the war was ended. Two were retained as
guardians for Whernside House and the Observatory, and three for the
Great Lever colliery, and this left twenty, not counting the original
Columbia, which Mr. Parmenter had bought as his aerial yacht, available
for warlike purposes.

The figure was high, as the owners of the aerial battle-fleet
admitted, but war was a great deal dearer. They guaranteed to bring
the war to a stop within fourteen days, by which time Britain would
have a new fleet in being which would be practically the only fleet
capable of action in western waters with the exception of the Italian
and the American. Given that the Syndicate's airships, acting in
conjunction with the Ithuriel and the twelve of her sisters which were
now almost ready for launching, could catch and wipe out the Flying
Fishes, either above the waters or under them, the result would be
that the Allies, cut off from their base of supplies, and with no
retreat open to them, would be compelled to surrender; and Mr.
Parmenter did not consider that five hundred thousand pounds a week
was too much to pay for this.

At the conclusion of his speech, setting forth the position of the
Syndicate, he said, with a curious dignity which somehow always comes
from a sense of power:

"Your Majesty, my Lords and gentlemen, I am just a plain American
business man, and so is my friend, the inventor of these ships. We
have told you what we believe they can do and we are prepared to show
you that we have not exaggerated their powers. There is our ship
outside in the gardens. If your Majesty would like to take a little
trip through the air and see battle, murder and sudden death--"

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Parmenter," laughed His Majesty, "but,
much as I personally should like to come with you, I'm afraid I should
play a certain amount of havoc with the British Constitution if I did.
Kings of England are not permitted to go to war now, but if you would
oblige me by taking a note to the Duke of Connaught, who has his
headquarters at Reading, and then, if you could manage it under a flag
of truce, taking another note to the German Emperor, who, I believe,
has pitched his camp at Aldershot, I should be very much obliged."

"Anything your Majesty wishes," replied Mr. Parmenter. "Now we've fixed
up the deal the fleet is at your disposal and we sail under the
British flag; though, to be quite honest, sir, I don't care about
flying the white flag first. We could put up as pretty a fight for you
along the front of the Allies as any man could wish to see."

"I am sorry, Mr. Parmenter," laughed His Majesty, "that the British
Constitution compels me to disappoint you but, as some sort of
recompense, I am sure that my Lords in Council will grant you
permission to fly the White Ensign on all your ships and the Admiral's
flag on your flagship, which, I presume, is the one in which you have
come this morning. It is unfortunate that I can only confer the
honorary rank of admiral upon Mr. Hingeston, as you are not British
subjects."

"Then, your Majesty," replied Mr. Parmenter, "if it pleases you, I hope
you will give that rank to my friend Newson Hingeston, who, as I have
told you, has been more than twenty years making these ships perfect.
He has created this navy, so I reckon he has got the best claim to be
called admiral."

"Does that meet with your approval, my lords?" said the King.

And the heads of the Privy Council bowed as one in approval.

"I thank your Majesty most sincerely," said Hingeston, rising. "I am
an American citizen, but I have nothing but British blood in my veins,
and therefore I am all the more glad that I am able to bring help to
the Motherland when she wants it."

"And I'm afraid we do want it, Mr. Hingeston," said His Majesty. "Make
the conditions of warfare equal in the air, and I think we shall be
able to hold our own on land and sea. Your patent of appointment shall
be made out at once, and I will have the letters ready for you in half
an hour. And now, gentlemen, I think a glass of wine and a biscuit
will not do any of us much harm."

The invitation was, of course, in a certain sense, a command, and when
the King rose everyone did the same. While they were taking their wine
and biscuits in the blue drawing-room overlooking St. James's Park, His
Majesty, who never lost his grip of business for a moment, took
Lennard aside and had a brief but pregnant conversation with him on
the subject of the comet, and as a result of this all the Government
manufactories of explosives were placed at his disposal, and with his
own hand the King wrote a permit entitling him to take such amount of
explosives to Bolton as he thought fit. Then there came the letters to
the Duke of Connaught and the German Emperor, and one to the
Astronomer Royal at Greenwich.

Then His Majesty and the members of the Council inspected the aërial
warship lying on the great lawn in the gardens, and with his own hands
King Edward ran the White Ensign to the top of the flagstaff aft; at
the same moment the Prince of Wales ran the Admiral's pennant up to
the masthead. Everyone saluted the flag, and the King said:

"There, gentlemen, the Auriole is a duly commissioned warship of the
British Navy, and you have our authority to do all lawful acts of war
against our enemies. Good-morning! I shall hope to hear from you
soon."

"I'm sorry, your Majesty," said Mr. Parmenter, "that we can't fire the
usual salute. These guns of ours are made for business, and we don't
have any blank charges."

"I perfectly understand you, Mr. Parmenter," replied His Majesty with a
laugh. "We shall have to dispense with the ceremony. Still, those are
just the sort of guns we want at present. Good-morning, again."

His Majesty went down the gangway and Admiral Hingeston, with Mr
Parmenter and Lennard, entered the conning-tower. The lifting-fans
began to whirr, and as the Auriole rose from the grass the White
Ensign dipped three times in salute to the Royal Standard floating
from the flagstaff on the palace roof. Then, as the driving propellers
whirled round till they became two intersecting circles of light, the
Auriole swept up over the tree-tops and vanished through the clouds.
And so began the first voyage of the first British aerial battleship.

The Duke of Connaught had his headquarters at Amersham Hall School on
the Caversham side of the Thames, which was, of course, closed in
consequence of the war, and half an hour after the Auriole had left
the grounds of Buckingham Palace she was settling to the ground in the
great quadrangle of the school. The Duke, with Lord Kitchener and two
or three other officers of the Staff, were waiting at the upper end
where the headmaster's quarters were. As the ship grounded, the
gangway ladder dropped and Mr. Parmenter said to Lennard:

"That's Lord Kitchener, I see. Now, you know him and I don't so you'd
better go and do the talking. We'll come after and get introduced."

"Ah Mr. Lennard," said Lord Kitchener, holding out his hand. "You're
quite a man of surprises. The last time I went with you to see the
Kaiser in a motor-car, and now you come to visit His Royal Highness in
an airship. Your Royal Highness," he continued, turning to the Duke,
"this is Mr. Lennard, the finder of this comet which is going to wipe
us all out unless he wipes it out with his big gun, and these will be
the other gentlemen, I presume, whom His Majesty has wired about."

"Yes," replied Lennard, after he had shaken hands. "This is Mr.
Parmenter whose telescope enabled me to find the comet, and this is
Mr.--or I ought now to say Admiral--Hingeston, who had the honour of
receiving that rank from His Majesty half an hour ago."

"What!" exclaimed the Duke. "Half an hour! Are you quite serious,
gentlemen? The telegram's only just got here."

"Well, your Royal Highness," said Mr. Parmenter, "that may be because
we didn't come full speed, but if you would get on board that
flagship, sir, we'd take you to Buckingham Palace and back in half an
hour, or, if you would like a trip to Aldershot to interview the
German Emperor, and then one to Greenwich, we'll engage to have you
back here safe by dinner time."

"Nothing would delight me more," replied the Duke, smiling, "but at
present my work is here and I cannot leave it. Lord Kitchener, how
would you like that sort of trip?"

"If you will give me leave till dinner time, sir," laughed K. of K.,
"there's nothing I should like better."

"Oh, that goes without saying, of course," replied the Duke, "and now,
gentlemen, I understand from the King's telegram that there are one or
two matters you want to talk over with us. Will you come inside?"

"If your Royal Highness will excuse me," said Admiral Hingeston, "I
think I'd better remain on board. You see, we may have been sighted,
and if there are any of those Flying Fishes about you naturally
wouldn't want this place blown to ruins; so, while you are having your
talk, I reckon I'll get up a few hundred feet, and be back, say, in
half an hour."

"Very well," said the Duke. "That's very kind of you. Your ship
certainly looks a fairly capable protector. By the way, what is the
range of those guns of yours? I must say they have a very business-
like look about them."

"Six thousand yards point blank, your Royal Highness," replied the
Admiral, "and, according to elevation, anything up to fifteen miles;
suppose, for instance, that we were shooting at a town. In fact, if we
were not under orders from His Majesty to fly the flag of truce I
would guarantee to have all the Allied positions wrecked by to-morrow
morning with this one ship. As you will see from the papers which Mr.
Parmenter and Mr. Lennard have brought, nineteen other airships are
coming south to-night and, unless the German Emperor and his Allies
give in, the war will be over in about six days."

"And when you come back to dinner to-night, Admiral Hingeston, you
will have my orders to bring it to an end within that time."

"I sincerely hope so sir," replied Admiral Hingeston, as he raised his
right hand to the peak of his cap. "I can assure you, that nothing
would please me better."

As the lifting-fans began to spin round and the Auriole rose from the
gravelled courtyard, Lord Kitchener looked up with a twinkle in his
brilliant blue eyes and said:

"I wonder what His Majesty of Germany will think of that thing when he
sees it. I suppose that means the end of fighting on land and sea--at
least, it looks like it."

"I hope to be able to convince your lordship that it does before to-
morrow morning," said Lennard, as they went towards the dining-room.

Then came half an hour's hard work, which resulted in the allotment of
the aërial fleet to positions from which the vessels could co-operate
with the constantly increasing army of British citizen-soldiers who
were now passing southward, eastward and westward, as fast as the
crowded trains could carry them. Every position was worked out to half
a mile. The details of the newly-created fleet in British waters and
of those ships which were arriving from the West Indies and the
Mediterranean were all settled, and, as the clock in the drawing-room
chimed half-past eleven, the Auriole swung down in a spiral curve
round the chimney-pots and came to rest on the gravel.

"There she is; time's up!" said Lord Kitchener, rising from his seat.
"I suppose it will only take us half an hour or so to run down to
Aldershot. I wonder what His Majesty of Germany will say to us this
time. I suppose if he kicks seriously we have your Royal Highness's
permission to haul down the flag of truce?"

"Certainly," replied the Duke. "If he does that, of course, you will
just use your own discretion."



Chapter XXXVI

A PARLEY AT ALDERSHOT

LORD KITCHENER had probably never had so bitter an experience as he
had when the Auriole began to slow down over the plain of Aldershot.
Never could he, or any other British soldier, have dreamt six months
ago that the German, Austrian, French and Russian flags would have
been seen flying side by side over the headquarters of the great camp,
or that the vast rolling plains would be covered, as they were now, by
hosts of horse, foot and artillery belonging to hostile nations.

He did not say anything, neither did the others; it was a time for
thinking rather than talking; but he looked, and as Lennard watched
his almost expressionless face and the angrily-glittering blue eyes,
he felt that it would go ill with an enemy whom K. of K. should have
at his mercy that day.

But all the bitterness of feeling was by no means on one side. It so
happened that the three Imperial leaders of the invaders and General
Henriot, the French Commander-in-Chief, were holding a Council of War
at the time when the Auriole made her appearance. Of course, her
arrival was instantly reported, and as a matter of fact the drilling
came to a sudden momentary stop at the sight of this amazing
apparition. The three monarchs and the great commander immediately
went outside, and within a few moments they were four of the angriest
men in England. A single glance, even at that distance, was enough to
convince them that, at any rate in the air, the Flying Fishes would be
no match for an equal or even an inferior number of such magnificent
craft as this.

"God's thunder!" exclaimed the Kaiser, using his usual expletive.
"She's flying the White Ensign and an admiral's pennant, and, yes, a
flag of truce."

"Yes," said the Tsar, lowering his glasses, "that is so. What has
happened? I certainly don't like the look of her; she's an altogether
too magnificent craft from our point of view. In fact it would be
decidedly awkward if the English happened to have a fleet of them.
They would be terribly effective acting in co-operation with that
submarine ram. Let us hope that she has come on a message of peace."

"I understood, your Majesty," said the Kaiser, shortly, "that we had
agreed to make peace at Windsor, and nowhere else."

"Of course, I hope we shall do so," said the Tsar, "but considering
our numbers, and the help we have had from Mr. Castellan's fleet, I'm
afraid we are rather a long time getting there, and we shall be longer
still if the British have any considerable number of ships like this
one."

"Airships or no airships," replied William the Second, "whatever
message this ship is bringing, I will listen to nothing but surrender
while I have an Army Corps on English soil. They must be almost beaten
by this time; they can't have any more men to put in the field, while
we have millions. To go back now that we have got so far would be
worse than defeat--it would be disaster. Of course, your Majesty can
have no more delusions than I have on that subject."

A conversation on almost similar terms had been taking place meanwhile
between the Emperor of Austria and General Henriot. Then the Auriole,
after describing a splendid curve round the headquarters, dropped as
quietly as a bird on the lawn in front the gangway ladder fell over
along the side, and Lord Kitchener, in the parade uniform of a
general, descended and saluted the four commanders.

"Good-morning, your Majesties. Good-morning, General Henriot."

"I see that your lordship has come as bearer of the flag of truce this
time," said the Kaiser, when salutes had been exchanged, "and I trust
that in the interests of humanity you have come also with proposals
which may enable us to put an honourable end to this terrible
conflict, and I am sure that my Imperial brothers and the great
Republic which General Henriot represents will be only too happy to
accede to them."

The others nodded in approval, but said nothing, as it had been more
or less reluctantly agreed by them that the War Lord of Germany was to
be the actual head and Commander-in-Chief of the Allies. K. of K.
looked at him straight in the eyes--not a muscle of his face moved,
and from under his heavy moustache there came in the gentlest of
voices the astounding words:

"Yes, I have come from His Majesty King Edward with proposals of
surrender--that is to say, for your surrender, and that of all the
Allied Forces now on British soil."

William the Second literally jumped, and his distinguished colleagues
stared at him and each other in blank amazement. By this time Lennard
had come down the gangway ladder, and was standing beside Lord
Kitchener. Mr. Parmenter and the latest addition to the British Naval
List were strolling up and down the deck of the Auriole smoking cigars
and chatting as though this sort of thing happened every day.

"I see that your Majesty hardly takes me seriously," said Lord
Kitchener, still in the same quiet voice, "but if your Majesties will
do Mr. Lennard and myself the favour of an interview in one of the
rooms here, which used to belong to me, I think we shall be able to
convince you that we have the best of reasons for being serious."

"Ah, yes Mr. Lennard," replied the Kaiser, looking at him with just a
suspicion of anxiety in his glance. "Good-morning. Have you come to
tell us something more about this wonderful comet of yours? It seems
to me some time making itself visible."

"It is visible every night now, your Majesty," said Lennard; "that is,
if you know where to look for it."

"Ah, that sounds interesting," said the Tsar, moving towards the door.
"Suppose we go back into the Council Room and hear something about
it."

As they went in the Auriole rose from the ground, and began making a
series of slow, graceful curves over the two camps at the height of
about a thousand feet. Neither Mr. Parmenter, nor his friend the
Admiral, knew exactly how far the flag of truce would be respected,
and, moreover, a little display of the Auriole's powers of flight
might possibly help along negotiations, and, as a matter of fact, they
did; for the sight of this huge fabric circling above them, with her
long wicked-looking guns pointing in all directions, formed a
spectacle which to the officers and men of the various regiments and
battalions scattered about the vast plain was a good deal more
interesting than it was pleasant. The Staff officers knew, too, that
the strange craft possessed two very great advantages over the Flying
Fishes--she was much faster, and she could rise direct from the
ground--whereas the Fishes, like their namesakes, could only rise from
the water. In short, it did not need a soldier's eye to see that all
their stores and magazines, to say nothing of their own persons, were
absolutely at the mercy of the British aërial flagship. The Flying
Fishes were down in the Solent refitting and filling up with motive
power and ammunition preparatory to the general advance on London.

As soon as they were seated in the Council Chamber it did not take
Lord Kitchener and Lennard very long to convince their Majesties and
General Henriot that they were very much in earnest about the matter
of surrender. In fact, the only terms offered were immediate
retirement behind the line of the North Downs, cessation of
hostilities and surrender of the Flying Fishes, and all British
subjects, including John Castellan, who might be on board them.

"The reason for that condition," said Lord Kitchener, "Mr. Lennard will
be able to make plain to your Majesties."

Then Lennard handed Castellan's letter to the Kaiser, and explained
the change of calculations necessitated by the diversion of the planet
from its orbit.

"That is not the letter of an honest fighting man. I am sure that your
Majesties will agree with me in that. I may say that I have talked the
matter over with Mr. Parmenter and our answer is in the negative. This
is not warfare; it is only abduction, possibly seasoned with murder,
and we call those things crimes in England, and if such a crime were
permitted by those in whose employment John Castellan presumably is,
we should punish them as well as him."

"What!" exclaimed the Kaiser, clenching his fists, "do you, a
civilian, an ordinary citizen, dare to say such words to us? Lord
Kitchener, can you permit such an outrage as this?"

"The other outrage would be a much greater one, especially if it were
committed with the tacit sanction of the three greatest Powers in
Europe," replied K. of K., quietly. "That is one of our chief reasons
for asking for the surrender of the Flying Fishes. There is no telling
what harm this wild Irishman of yours might do if he got on the loose,
not only here but perhaps in your own territories, if he were allowed
to commit a crime like this, and then went, as he would have to do,
into the outlaw business."

"I think that there is great justice in what Lord Kitchener says,"
remarked His Majesty of Austria. "We must not forget that if this man
Castellan did run amok with any of those diabolical contrivances of
his, he would be just as much above human law as he would be outside
human reach. I must confess that that appears to me to be one of the
most serious features in the situation. Your Majesties, as well as the
French Government, are aware that I have been all along opposed to the
use of these horrible engines of destruction, and now you see that
their very existence seems to have called others into being which may
be even more formidable."

"Mr. Lennard can tell your Majesties more about that than I can," said
K. of K., with one of his grimmest smiles.

"As far as the air is concerned," said Lennard, very quietly, "we can
both out-fly and out-shoot the Flying Fishes; while as regards the
water, eleven more Ithuriels will be launched during the week. We have
twenty-five airships ready for action over land or sea, and for my own
part, I think that if your Majesties knew all the details of the
situation you would consider the terms which his lordship has put
before you quite generous. But, after all," he continued, in a
suddenly changed tone, "it seems, if you will excuse my saying so,
rather childish to talk about terms of peace or war when the world
itself has less than six weeks to live if John Castellan manages to
carry out his threat."

"And you feel absolutely certain of that, Mr. Lennard?" asked the Tsar,
in a tone of very serious interest. "It seems rather singular that
none of the other astronomers of Europe or America have discovered
this terrible comet of yours."

"I have had the advantage of the finest telescope in the world, your
Majesty," replied Lennard, with a smile, "and of course I have
published no details. There was no point in creating a panic or
getting laughed at before it was necessary. But now that the orbit has
altered, and the catastrophe will come so much sooner, any further
delay would be little short of criminal. In fact, we have to-day
telegraphed to all the principal observatories in the world, giving
exact positions for to-night, corrected to differences of time and
latitude. We shall hear the verdict in the morning, and during to-
morrow. Meanwhile we are going to Greenwich to get the observatory
there to work on my calculations, and if your Majesties would care to
appoint an officer of sufficient knowledge to come with us, and see
the comet for himself, he will, I am sure, be quite welcome."

"A very good suggestion, Mr. Lennard," said Lord Kitchener, "very."

"Then," replied the Tsar, quickly, "as astronomy has always been a
great hobby with me, will you allow me to come? Of course, you have my
word that I shall see nothing on the journey that you don't want me to
see."

"We shall be delighted," said the British envoy, cordially, "and as
for seeing things, you will be at perfect liberty to use your eyes as
much as you like."

The Tsar's august colleagues entered fully into the sporting spirit in
which he had made his proposal, and a verbal agreement to suspend all
hostilities till his return was ratified in a glass of His Majesty of
Austria's Imperial Tokay.



Chapter XXXVII

THE VERDICT OF SCIENCE

ALTHOUGH the Tsar had made trips with John Castellan in the Flying
Fish, he had never had quite such an aërial experience as his trip to
Greenwich. The Auriole rose vertically in the air, soared upward in a
splendid spiral curve, and vanished through the thin cloud layer to
the north-eastward. Twenty minutes of wonder passed like so many
seconds, and Admiral Hingeston, beside whom he was standing in the
conning-tower, said quietly:

"We're about there, your Majesty."

"Greenwich already," exclaimed the Tsar, pulling out his watch. "It is
forty miles, and we have not been quite twenty minutes yet."

"That's about it," said the Admiral, "this craft can do her two miles
a minute, and still have a good bit in hand if it came to chasing
anything."

He pulled back a couple of levers as he spoke and gave a quarter turn
to the wheel. The great airship took a downward slide, swung round to
the right, and in a few moments she had dropped quietly to the turf of
Greenwich Park alongside the observatory.

Lennard's calculations had already reached the Astronomer Royal, and
he and his chief assistant had had time to make a rapid run through
them, and they had found that his figures, and especially the
inexplicable change in the orbit, tallied almost exactly with
observations of a possibly new comet for the last two months or so.

They were not quite prepared for the coming of an Imperial--and
hostile--visitor in an airship, accompanied by the discoverer of the
comet, the millionaire who owned the great telescope, and an American
gentleman in the uniform of a British admiral; but those were
extraordinary times, and so extraordinary happenings might be
expected. The astronomer and his staff, being sober men of science,
whose business was with other worlds rather than this one, accepted
the situation calmly, gave their visitors lunch, talked about
everything but the war, and then they all spent a pleasant and
instructive afternoon in a journey through Space in search of the
still invisible Celestial Invader.

When they had finished, the two sets of calculations balanced
exactly--to the millionth of a degree and the thousandth of a second.
At ten seconds to twelve, midnight, May the first, the comet, if not
prevented by some tremendously powerful agency, would pierce the
earth's atmosphere, as Lennard had predicted.

"It is a marvellous piece of work, Mr. Lennard, however good an
instrument you had. As an astronomer I congratulate you heartily, but
as citizens of the world I hope we shall be able to congratulate you
still more heartily on the results which you expect that big gun of
yours to bring about."

"I'm sure I hope so," said Lennard, toying rather absently with his
pencil.

"And if the cannon is not fired, and the Pittsburg one does not happen
to be exactly laid, for there is a very great difference in longitude,
what will be the probable results, Mr. Astronomer?" asked the Tsar,
upon whom the lesson of the afternoon had by no means been lost.

"If the comet is what Mr. Lennard expects it to be, your Majesty," was
the measured reply, "then, if this Invader is not destroyed, his
predictions will be fulfilled to the letter. In other words, on the
second of May there will not be a living thing left on earth."

At three minutes past ten that evening the Tsar looked into the eye-
piece of the Greenwich Equatorial, and saw a double-winged yellow
shape floating in the centre of the field of vision. He watched it for
long minutes, listening to the soft clicking of the clockwork, which
was the only sound that broke the silence. During the afternoon he had
seen photographs of the comet taken every night that the weather made
a clear observation possible. The series tallied exactly with what he
now saw. The gradual enlargement and brightening; the ever-increasing
exactness of definition, and the separation of the nucleus from the
two wings. All that he had seen was as pitilessly inexorable as the
figures which contained the prophecy of the world's approaching doom.
He rose from his seat and said quietly, yet with a strange
impressiveness:

"Gentlemen, I, for one, am satisfied and converted. What the
inscrutable decrees of Providence may or may not be, we have no right
to inquire; but whether this is a judgment from the Most High brought
upon us by our sins, or whether it is merely an ordinary cataclysm of
Nature against which we may be able to protect ourselves, does not
come into the question which is in dispute amongst us. Humanity has an
unquestioned right to preserve its existence as far as it is possible
to do so. If it is possible to arrange for another conference at
Aldershot to-morrow, I think I may say that there will be a
possibility of arriving at a reasonable basis of negotiations. And
now, if it is convenient, Lord Kitchener, I should like to get back to
camp. Much has been given to me to think about to-night, and you know
we Russians have a very sound proverb: 'Take thy thoughts to bed with
thee, for the morning is wiser than the evening.'"

"That, your Majesty, has been my favourite saying ever since I knew
that men had to think about work before they were able to do it
properly." So spoke the man who had worked for fourteen years to win
one battle and crush a whole people at a single stroke--after which he
made the best of friends with them, and loyal subjects of his
Sovereign.

They took their leave of the astronomer and his staff, and a few
minutes later the Auriole, still flying the flag of truce, cleared the
tree-tops and rose into the serene starlit atmosphere above them.

When the airship had gained a height of a thousand feet, and was
heading south-west towards Aldershot at a speed of about a hundred
miles an hour, the Admiral noticed a shape not unlike that of his own
vessel, on his port quarter, making almost the same direction as he
was. The Tsar and Lord Kitchener were sitting one on either side of
him, as he stood at the steering-wheel, as the ominous shape came into
view.

"I'm afraid that's one of your Flying Fishes, your Majesty, taking
news from the Continent to Aldershot. Yes, there goes her searchlight.
She's found us out by now. She knows we're not one of her crowd, and
so I suppose we shall have to fight her. Yes, I thought so, she means
fight. She's trying to get above us, which means dropping a few of
those torpedoes on us, and sending us across the edge of eternity
before we know we've got there."

"You will, of course, do your duty, Admiral," replied the Tsar very
quietly, but with a quick tightening of the lips. "It is a most
unfortunate occurrence, but we must all take the fortune of war as it
comes. I hope you will not consider my presence here for a moment.
Remember that I asked myself."

"There won't be any danger to us, your Majesty," replied the Admiral
with a marked emphasis on the "us." "Still, we have too many valuable
lives on board to let him get the drop on us."

As he spoke he thrust one lever on the right hand forward, and pulled
another back; then he took the telephone receiver down from the wall,
and said:

"See that thing? She's trying to get the drop on us. Full speed ahead:
I'm going to rise. Hold on, gentlemen."

They held on. The Tsar saw the jumping searchlights, which flashed up
from the little grey shape to the southward, suddenly fall away and
below them. The Admiral touched the wheel with his left hand, and the
Auriole sprang forward. The other tried to do the same, but she seemed
to droop and fall behind. Admiral Hingeston took down the receiver
again and said:

"Ready--starboard guns--now: fire!"

Of course, there was no report; only a brilliant blaze of light to the
southward, and an atmospheric shock which made the Auriole shudder as
she passed on her way. The Tsar looked out to the spot where the blaze
of flame had burst out. The other airship had vanished.

"She has gone. That is awful," he said, with a shake in his voice.

"As I said before, I'm sorry, your Majesty," replied the Admiral, "but
it had to be done. If he'd got the top side of us we should have been
in as little pieces as he is now. I only hope it's John Castellan's
craft. If it is it will save a lot of trouble to both sides."

The Tsar did not reply. He was too busy thinking, and so was Lord
Kitchener.

That night there were divided counsels in the headquarters of the
Allies at Aldershot, and the Kaiser and his colleagues went to bed
between two and three in the morning without having come to anything
like a definite decision. As a matter of fact, within the last few
hours things had become a little too complicated to be decided upon in
anything like a hurry.

While the potentates of the Alliance were almost quarrelling as to
what was to be done, the Auriole paid a literally flying visit to the
British positions, and then the hospitals. At Caversham, Lennard found
Norah Castellan taking her turn of night duty by the bedside of Lord
Westerham, who had, after all, got through his desperate ride with a
couple of bullets through his right ribs, and a broken left arm; but
he had got his despatches in all the same, though nearly two hours
late--for which he apologised before he fainted. In one of the wards
at Windsor Camp he found Auriole, also on night duty, nursing with no
less anxious care the handsome young Captain of Uhlans who had taken
Lord Whittinghame's car in charge in Rochester. Mrs. O'Connor had got a
badly-wounded Russian Vice-Admiral all to herself, and, as she
modestly put it, was doing very nicely with him.

Meanwhile the news of the truce was proclaimed, and the opposing
millions laid themselves down to rest with the thankful certainty that
it would not be broken for at least a night and a day by the whistle
of the life-hunting bullet or the screaming roar and heart-shaking
crash of the big shell which came from some invisible point five or
six miles away. In view of this a pleasant little dinner-party was
arranged for at the Parmenter Palace at eight the next evening. There
would be no carriages. The coming and parting guests would do their
coming and going in airships. Mr. Parmenter expressed the opinion that,
under the circumstances, this would be at once safer and more
convenient.

But before that dinner-party broke up, the world had something very
different from feasting and merrymaking, or even invasion and military
conquest or defeat, to think of.

The result of Lennard's telegrams and cables had been that every
powerful telescope in the civilised world had been turned upon that
distant region of the fields of Space out of which the Celestial
Invader was rushing at a speed of thousands of miles a minute to that
awful trysting-place, at which it and the planet Terra were to meet
and embrace in the fiery union of death.

From every observatory, from Greenwich to Arequipa, and from Pikes
Peak to Melbourne, came practically identical messages, which, in
their combined sense, came to this:

  "Lennard's figures absolutely correct. Collision with comet
apparently inevitable. Consequences incalculable."



Chapter XXXVIII

WAITING FOR DOOM

THIS was the all-important news which the inhabitants of every town
which possessed a well-informed newspaper read the next morning. It
was, in the more important of them, followed by digests of the
calculations which had made this terrific result a practical
certainty. These, again, were followed by speculations, some
deliberately scientific, and some wild beyond the dreams of the most
hopeless hysteria.

Men and women who for a generation or so had been making large incomes
by prophesying the end of the world as a certainty about every seven
years--and had bought up long leaseholds meanwhile--now gambled with
absolute certainty on the shortness of the public memory, revised
their figures, and proved to demonstration that this was the very
thing they had been foretelling all along.

First--outside scientific circles--came blank incredulity. The
ordinary man and woman in the street had not room in their brains for
such a tremendous idea as this--fact or no fact. They were already
filled with a crowd of much smaller and, to them, much more pressing
concerns, than a collision with a comet which you couldn't even see
except through a big telescope: and then that sort of thing had been
talked and written about hundreds of times before and had never come
to anything, so why should this?

But when the morning papers dated--somewhat ominously--the twenty-
fifth of March, quarter day, informed their readers that, granted fine
weather, the comet would be visible to the naked eye from sunset to
sunrise according to longitude that night, the views of the man and
the woman who had taken the matter so lightly underwent a very
considerable change.

While the comet could only be seen, save by astronomers, in the
photographs that could be bought in any form from a picture postcard
to a five-guinea reproduction of the actual thing, there was still an
air of unconvincing unreality about. Of course it might be coming, but
it was still very far away, and it might not arrive after all. Yet
when that fateful night had passed and millions of sleepless eyes had
seen the south-western stars shining through a pale luminous mist
extended in the shape of two vast filmy wings with a brighter spot of
yellow flame between them, the whole matter seemed to take on a very
different and a much more serious aspect.

The fighting had come to a sudden stop, as though by a mutually tacit
agreement. Not even the German Emperor could now deny that Lennard had
made no idle threat at Canterbury when he had given him the
destruction of the world as an alternative to the conquest of Britain.
Still, he did not quite believe in the possibility of that destruction
even yet, in spite of what the Tsar had told him and what he had
learned from other sources. He still wanted to fight to a finish, and,
as Deputy European Providence, he had a very real objection to the
interference of apparently irresponsible celestial bodies with his
carefully-thought-out plans for the ordering of mundane civilisation
on German commercial lines. Whether they liked it or not, it must be
the best thing in the end for them: otherwise how could he have come
to think it all out?

Meanwhile, to make matters worse from his point of view, John
Castellan had refused absolutely to accept any modification of the
original terms, and he had replied to an order from headquarters to
report himself and the ships still left under his control by loading
the said ships with ammunition and motive power and then disappearing
from the field of action without leaving a trace as to his present or
future whereabouts behind him, and so, as far as matters went,
entirely fulfilling the Tsar's almost prophetic fears.

And then, precisely at the hour, minute and second predicted, five
hours, thirty minutes and twenty-five seconds, a.m., on the 31st of
March, the comet became visible in daylight about two and a half
degrees south-westward of the Morning Star. Twenty-four hours later the
two wings came into view, and the next evening the Invader looked like
some gigantic bird of prey swooping down from its eyrie somewhere in
the heights of Space upon the trembling and terrified world. The
professional prophets said, with an excellent assumption of absolute
conviction, that it was nothing less awful than the Destroying Angel
himself in propria persona.

At length, when excitement had developed into frenzy, and frenzy into
an almost universal delirium, two cablegrams crossed each other along
the bed of the Atlantic Ocean. One was to say that the Pittsburg gun
was ready, and the other that the loading of the Bolton Baby--feeding,
some callous humorist of the day called it--was to begin the next
morning. This meant that there was just a week--an ordinary working
week, between the human race and something very like the Day of
Judgment.

The next day Lennard set all the existing wires of the world thrilling
with the news that the huge projectile, charged with its thirty
hundred-weight of explosives, was resting quietly in its place on the
top of a potential volcano which, loosened by the touch of a woman's
hand, was to hurl it through space and into the heart of the swiftly-
advancing Invader from the outmost realms of Space.



Chapter XXXIX

THE LAST FIGHT

IT so happened that on the first night the German Emperor saw the
comet without the aid of a telescope he was attacked by one of those
fits of hysteria which, according to ancient legend, are the
hereditary curse of the House of Brandenburg. He had made possible
that which had been impossible for over a thousand years--he had
invaded England in force, and he had established himself and his
Allies in all the greatest fortress-camps of south-eastern England.
After all, the story of the comet might be a freak of the scientific
imagination; there might be some undetected error in the calculations.
One great mistake had been made already, either by the comet or its
discoverer--why not another?

"No," he said to himself, as he stood in front of the headquarters at
Aldershot looking up at the comet, "we've heard about you before, my
friend. Astronomers and other people have prophesied a dozen times
that you or something like you were going to bring about the end of
the world, but somehow it never came off; whereas it is pretty certain
that the capture of London will come off if it is only properly
managed. At any rate, I am inclined to back my chances of taking
London against yours of destroying it."

And so he made his decision. He sent a telegram to Dover ordering an
aerogram to be sent to John Castellan, whose address was now, of
course, anywhere in the air or sea; the message was to be repeated
from all the Continental stations until he was found. It contained the
first capitulation that the War Lord of Germany had ever made. He
accepted the terms of his Admiral of the Air and asked him to bring
his fleet the following day to assist in a general assault on London--
London once taken, John Castellan could have the free hand that he had
asked for.

In twelve hours a reply came back from the Jotunheim in Norway.
Meanwhile, the Kaiser, as Generalissimo of the Allied Forces,
telegraphed orders to all the commanders of army corps in England to
prepare for a final assault on the positions commanding London within
twenty-four hours. At the same time he sent telegraphic orders to all
the centres of mobilisation in Europe, ordering the advance of all
possible reinforcements with the least delay. It was his will that
four million men should march on London that week, and, in spite of
the protests of the Emperor of Austria and the Tsar, his will was
obeyed.

So the truce was broken and the millions advanced, as it were over the
brink of Eternity, towards London. But the reinforcements never came.
Every transport that steamed out of Bremen, Hamburg, Kiel, Antwerp,
Brest or Calais, vanished into the waters; for now the whole squadron
of twelve Ithuriels had been launched and had got to work, and the
British fleets from the Mediterranean, the China Seas and the North
Atlantic, had once more asserted Britain's supremacy on the seas. In
addition to these, ten first-class battleships, twelve first- and
fifteen second-class cruisers and fifty destroyers had been turned out
by the Home yards, and so the British Islands were once more ringed
with an unbreakable wall of steel. One invasion had been accomplished,
but now no other was possible. The French Government absolutely
refused to send any more men. The Italian armies had crossed the Alps
at three points, and every soldier left in France was wanted to defend
her own fortresses and cities from the attack of the invader.

But, despite all this, the War Lord held to his purpose; and that
night the last battle ever fought between civilised nations began, and
when the sun rose on the sixteenth of April, its rays lit up what was
probably the most awful scene of carnage that human eyes had ever
looked upon. The battle-line of the invaders had extended--from
Sheerness to Reading in a sort of irregular semicircle, and it was
estimated afterwards that not less than a million and a half of killed
and wounded men, fifty thousand horses and hundreds of disabled
batteries of light and heavy artillery strewed the long line of defeat
and conquest.

The British aerial fleet of twenty ships had made victory for the
defenders a practical certainty. As Admiral Hingeston had told the
Tsar, they could both out-fly and out-shoot the Flying Fishes. This
they did and more. The moment that a battery got into position half a
dozen searchlights were concentrated on it. Then came a hail of
shells, and a series of explosions which smashed the guns to fragments
and killed every living thing within a radius of a hundred yards.
Infantry and cavalry shared the same fate the moment that any
formation was made for an attack on the British positions; the storm
of fire was made ten-fold more terrible by the unceasing bombardment.
from the air; and the brilliant glow of the searchlights thrown down
from a height of a thousand feet or so along the lines of the
attacking forces made the work of the defenders comparatively easy,
for the man in a fight who can see and is not seen is worth several
who are seen and yet fight in the dark.

But the assailants were exposed to an even more deadly danger than
artillery or rifle fire. The catastrophe which had overwhelmed the
British Fleet in Dover Harbour was repeated with ten-fold effect; but
this time the tables were turned. The British aerial fleet hunted the
Flying Fishes as hawks hunt partridges, and whenever one of them was
found over a hostile position a shell from the silent, flameless guns
hit her, and down she went to explode like a volcano amongst masses of
cavalry, infantry and artillery, and of this utter panic was the only
natural result.

Eleven out of the twelve Flying Fishes were thus accounted for. What
had become of the twelfth no one knew. It might have been partially
crippled and fallen far away from the great battlefield; or it might
have turned tail and escaped, and in this case it was a practical
certainty, at least in Lennard's mind, that it was John Castellan's
own vessel and that he, seeing that the battle was lost, had taken her
away to some unknown spot in order to fulfil the threat contained in
his letter, and for this reason five of the British airships were at
once despatched to mount guard over the great cannon at Bolton.

The defeat of the Allies both by land and sea, though accomplished at
the eleventh hour of the world's threatened fate, had been so complete
and crushing, and the death-total had reached such a ghastly figure,
that Austria, Russia and France flatly refused to continue the
Alliance. After all the tremendous sacrifice that had been made in
men, money and material they had not even reached London. From their
outposts on the Surrey hills they could see the vast city, silent and
apparently sleeping under its canopy of hazy clouds, but that was all.
It was still as distant from them as the poles; and so the Allies
looked upon it and then upon their dead, and admitted, by their
silence if not by their words, that Britain the Unconquered was
unconquerable still.

The German Emperor's fit had passed. Even he was appalled when upon
that memorable morning he received the joint note of his three Allies
and learnt the awful cost of that one night's fighting.

Just as he was countersigning the Note of Capitulation in the
headquarters at Aldershot, the Auriole swung round from the northward
and descended on to the turf flying the flag of truce. He saw it
through the window, got up, put his right hand on the butt of the
revolver in his hip-pocket, thought hard for one fateful moment, then
took it away and went out.

At the gate he met Lord Kitchener; they exchanged salutes and shook
hands, and the Kaiser said:

"Well, my lord, what are the terms?"

K. of K. laughed, simply because he couldn't help it. The absolute
hard business of the question went straight to the heart of the best
business man in the British Army.

"I am not here to make or accept terms, your Majesty," he said. "I am
only the bearer of a message, and here it is."

Then he handed the Kaiser an envelope bearing the Royal Arms.

"I am instructed to take your reply back as soon as possible," he
continued. Then he saluted again and walked away towards the Auriole.

The Kaiser opened the envelope and read--an invitation to lunch from
his uncle, Edward of England, and a request to bring his august
colleagues with him to talk matters over. There was no hint of battle,
victory or defeat. It was a quite commonplace letter, but all the same
it was one of those triumphs of diplomacy which only the first
diplomatist in Europe knew how to achieve. Then he too laughed as he
folded up the letter and went to Lord Kitchener and said:

"This is only an invitation to lunch, and you have told me you are not
here to propose or take terms. That, of course, was official, but
personally--"

K. of K. stiffened up, and a harder glint came into his eyes.

"I can say nothing personally, your Majesty, except to ask you to
remember my reply to Cronje."

The Kaiser remembered that reply of three words, "Surrender, or
fight," and he knew that he could not fight, save under a penalty of
utter destruction. He went back into his room, brought back the joint
note which he had just received, and gave it to Lord Kitchener, just
as it was, without even putting it into an envelope, saying:

"That is our answer. We are beaten, and those who lose must pay."

Lord Kitchener looked over the note and said, in a somewhat dry tone:

"This, your Majesty, I read as absolute surrender."

"It is," said William the Second his hand instinctively going to the
hilt of his sword. Lord Kitchener shook his head, and said very
quietly and pleasantly:

"No, your Majesty, not that. But," he said, looking up at the four
flags which were still flying above the headquarters, "I should be
obliged if you would give orders to haul those down and hoist the Jack
instead."

There was no help for it, and no one knew better than the Kaiser the
strength there was behind those quietly-spoken words. The awful lesson
of the night before had taught him that this beautiful cruiser of the
air which lay within a few yards of him could in a few moments rise
into the air and scatter indiscriminate death and destruction around
her, and so the flags came down, the old Jack once more went up, and
Aldershot was English ground again.

Wherefore, not to enter into unnecessary details, the Auriole, instead
of making the place a wilderness as Lord Kitchener had quite
determined to do, became an aerial pleasure yacht. Orderlies were sent
to the Russian, Austrian and French headquarters, and an hour later
the chiefs of the Allies were sitting in the deck saloon of the
airship, flying at about sixty miles an hour towards London.

The lunch at Buckingham Palace was an entirely friendly affair. King
Edward had intended it to be a sort of international shake-hands all
round. The King of Italy was present, as the Columbia had been
despatched early in the morning to bring him from Rome, and had picked
up the French President on the way back at Paris. The King gave the
first and only toast, and that was:

"Your Majesties and Monsieur le President, in the name of Humanity, I
ask you to drink to Peace."

They drank, and so ended the last war that was ever fought on British
soil.



EPILOGUE

"AND ON EARTH, PEACE!"

ON the morning of the thirtieth of April, the interest of the whole
world was centred generally upon Bolton, and particularly upon the
little spot of black earth enclosed by a ring of Bessemer furnaces in
the midst of which lay another ring, a ring of metal, the mouth of the
great cannon, whose one and only shot was to save or lose the world.
At a height of two thousand feet, twenty airships circled at varying
distances round the mouth of the gun, watching for the one Flying Fish
which had not been accounted for in the final fight.

The good town of Bolton itself was depopulated. For days past the
comet had been blazing brighter and brighter, even in the broad
daylight, and the reports which came pouring in every day from the
observatories of the world made it perfectly clear that Lennard's
calculations would be verified at midnight.

Mr. Parmenter and his brother capitalists had guaranteed two millions
sterling as compensation for such destruction of property as might be
brought about by the discharge of the cannon, and, coupled with this
guarantee, was a request that everyone living within five miles of
what had been the Great Lever pit should leave, and this was
authorised by a Royal Proclamation. There was no confusion, because,
when faced with great issues, the Lancashire intellect does not become
confused. It just gets down to business and does it. So it came about
that the people of Bolton, rich and poor, millionaire and artisan,
made during that momentous week a general flitting, taking with them
just such of their possessions as would be most precious to them if
the Fates permitted them to witness the dawn of the first of May.

The weather, strangely enough, had been warm and sunny for the last
fortnight, despite the fact that the ever-brightening Invader from
Space gradually outshone the sun itself, and so on all the moors round
Bolton there sprang up a vast town of tents and ready-made bungalows
from Chorley round by Darwen to Bury. Thousands of people had come
from all parts of the kingdom to see the fate of the world decided.
What was left of the armies of the Allies were also brought up by
train, and all the British forces were there as well. They were all
friends now for there was no more need for fighting, since the events
of the next few hours would decide the fate of the human race.

As the sun set over the western moors a vast concourse of men and
women, representing almost every nationality on earth, watched the
coming of the Invader, brightening now with every second and over-
arching the firmament with its wide-spreading wings. There were no
sceptics now. No one could look upon that appalling Shape and not
believe, and if absolute confirmation of Lennard's prophecy had been
wanted it would have been found in the fact that the temperature began
to rise after sunset. That had never happened before within the memory
of man.

The crowning height of the moors which make a semicircle to the north-
west of Bolton is Winter Hill, which stands about halfway between
Bolton and Chorley, and, roughly speaking, would make the centre of a
circle including Bolton, Wigan, Chorley and Blackburn. It rises to a
height of nearly fifteen hundred feet and dominates the surrounding
country for fully fifteen miles, and on the summit of this rugged,
heather-clad moor was pitched what might be called without
exaggeration the headquarters of the forces which were to do battle
for humanity. A huge marquee had been erected in an ancient quarry
just below the summit; from the centre pole of this flew the Royal
Standard of England, and from the other poles the standards of every
civilised nation in the world.

The front of the marquee opened to the south eastward, and by the
unearthly light of the comet the mill chimneys of Bolton, dominated by
the great stack of Dobson & Barlow's, could be seen pointing like
black fingers up to the approaching terror. In the centre of the
opening were two plain deal tables. There was an instrument on each of
them, and from these separate wires ran on two series of poles and
buried themselves at last in the heart of the charge of the great
cannon. Beside the instruments were two chronometers synchronised from
Greenwich and beating time together to the thousandth part of a
second, counting out what might perhaps be the last seconds of human
life on earth.

Grouped about the two tables were the five sovereigns of Europe and
the President of the French Republic, and with them stood the greatest
soldiers, sailors and scientists, statesmen and diplomatists between
east and west.

On a long deck chair beside one of the tables lay Lord Westerham with
his left arm bound across his breast and looking little better than
the ghost of the man he had been a month ago. Beside him stood Lady
Margaret and Norah Castellan, and with them were the two men who had
done so much to change defeat into victory; the captain and lieutenant
of the ever-famous Ithuriel.

Never before had there been such a gathering of all sorts and
conditions of men on one spot of earth; but as the hours went on and
dwindled into minutes, all differences of rank and position became
things of the past. In the presence of that awful Shape which was now
flaming across the heavens, all men and women were equal, since by
midnight all might be reduced at the same instant to the same dust and
ashes. The ghastly orange-green glare shone down alike on the upturned
face of monarch and statesman, soldier and peasant, millionaire and
pauper, the good and the bad, the noble and the base, and tinged every
face with its own ghastly hue.

Five minutes to twelve!

There was a shaking of hands, but no words were spoken. Norah
Castellan stooped and kissed her wounded lover's brow, and then stood
up and clasped her hands behind her. Lennard went to one of the tables
and Auriole to the other.

Lennard had honestly kept the unspoken pact that had been made between
them in the observatory at Whernside. Neither word nor look of love
had passed his lips or lightened his eyes; and even now, as he stood
beside her, looking at her face, beautiful still even in that ghastly
light, his glance was as steady as if he had been looking through the
eye-piece of his telescope.

Auriole had her right forefinger already resting on a little white
button, ready at a touch to send the kindling spark into the mighty
mass of explosives which lay buried at the bottom of what had been the
Great Lever pit. Lennard also had his right forefinger on another
button, but his left hand was in his coat pocket and the other
forefinger was on the trigger of a loaded and cocked revolver. There
were several other revolvers in men's pockets--men who had sworn that
their nearest and dearest should be spared the last tortures of the
death-agony of humanity.

The chronometers began to tick off the seconds of the last minute. The
wings of the comet spread out vaster and vaster and its now flaming
nucleus blazed brighter and brighter. A low, vague wailing sound
seemed to be running through the multitudes which thronged the
semicircle of moors. It was the first and perhaps the last utterance
of the agony of unendurable suspense.

At the thirtieth second Lennard looked up and said in a quiet,
passionless tone:

"Ready!"

At the same moment he saw, as millions of others thought they saw, a
grey shape skimming through the air from the north-east towards
Bolton. It could not be a British airship, for the fleet had already
scattered, as the shock of the coming explosion would certainly have
caused them to smash up like so many shells. It was John Castellan's
Flying Fish come to fulfil the letter of his threat, even at this
supreme moment of the world's fate.

Again Lennard spoke.

"Twenty seconds."

And then he began to count. "Nine--eight--seven--six--five--four--
three-two--Now!"

The two fingers went down at the same instant and completed the
circuits. The next, the central fires of the earth seemed to have
burst loose. A roar such as had never deafened human ears before
thundered from earth to heaven, and a vast column of pale flame leapt
up with a concussion which seemed to shake the foundations of the
world. Then in the midst of the column of flame there came a brighter
flash, a momentary blaze of green-blue flame flashing out for a moment
and vanishing.

"That was John's ship," said Norah. "God forgive him!"

"He will," said Westerham, taking her hand. "He was wrong-headed on
that particular subject, but he was a brave man, and a genius. I don't
think there's any doubt about that."

"It's good of you to say so," said Norah. "Poor John! With all his
learning and genius to come to that--"

"We all have to get there some time, Norah, and after all, whether
he's right or wrong, a man can't die better than for what he believes
to be the truth and the right. We may think him mistaken, he thought
he was right, and he has proved it. God rest his soul!"

"Amen!" said Norah, and she leant over again and kissed him on the
brow.

Then came ten seconds more of mute and agonised suspense, and men's
fingers tightened their grip on the revolvers. Then the upturned
straining eyes looked upon such a sight as human eyes will never see
again save perchance those which, in the fullness of time, may look
upon the awful pageantry of the Last Day.

High up in the air there was a shrill screaming sound which seemed
something like an echo of the roar of the great gun. Something like a
white flash of light darted upwards straight to the heart of the
descending Invader. Then the whole heavens were illumined by a
blinding glare. The nucleus of the comet seemed to throw out long rays
of many-coloured light. A moment later it had burst into myriads of
faintly gleaming atoms.

The watching millions on earth instinctively clasped their hands to
their ears, expecting such a sound as would deafen them for ever; but
none came, for the explosion had taken place beyond the limits of the
earth's atmosphere. The whole sky was now filled from zenith to
horizon with a pale, golden, luminous mist, and through this the moon
and stars began to shine dimly.

Then a blast of burning air swept shrieking and howling across the
earth, for now the planet Terra was rushing at her headlong speed of
nearly seventy thousand miles an hour through the ocean of fire-mist
into which the shattered comet had been dissolved. Then, this passed.
The cool wind of night followed it, and the moon and stars shone down
once more undimmed through the pure and cloudless ether.

Until now there had been silence. Men and women looked at each other
and clasped hands; and then Tom Bowcock, standing just outside the
marquee with his arm round his wife's shoulders, lifted up his mighty
baritone voice and sang the lines:

  "Praise God from whom all blessings flow!"

Hundreds and then thousands, then millions of voices took up the
familiar strain, and so from the tops of the Lancashire moors the
chorus rolled on from village to village and town to town, until with
one voice, though with many tongues, east and west were giving thanks
for the Great Deliverance.

But the man who, under Providence, had wrought it, seemed deaf and
blind to all this. He only felt a soft trembling clasp round his right
hand, and he only heard Auriole's voice whispering his name.

The next moment a stronger grip pulled his left hand out of his coat
pocket, bringing the revolver with it, and Mr. Parmenter's voice,
shaken by rare emotion, said, loudly enough for all in the marquee to
hear:

"We may thank God and you, Gilbert Lennard, that there's still a world
with living men and women on it, and there's one woman here who's
going to live for you only till death do you part. She told me all
about it last night. You've won her fair and square and you're going
to have her. I did have other views for her, but I've changed my mind,
because I have learnt other things since then. But anyhow, with no
offence to this distinguished company, I reckon you're the biggest man
on earth just now."

Soon after daybreak on the first of May, one of the airships that had
been guarding Whernside dropped on the top of Winter Hill, and the
captain gave Lennard a cablegram which read thus:

  "LENNARD, Bolton, England: Good shot. As you left no pieces for us
to shoot at we've let our shot go. No use for it here. Hope it will
stop next celestial stranger coming this way. America thanks you. Any
terms you like for lecturing tour.--HENCHELL."

Lennard did not see his way to accept the lecturing offer because he
had much more important business on hand: but a week later, after a
magnificent and, if the word may be used, multiple marriage ceremony
had been performed in Westminster Abbey, five airships, each with a
bride and bridegroom on board, rose from the gardens of Buckingham
Palace and, followed by the cheers of millions, winged their way
westward. Thirty-five hours, later there was such a dinner-party at
the White House, Washington, as eclipsed all the previous glories even
of American hospitality.

Nothing was ever seen of the projectile which "The Pittsburg Prattler"
had hurled into space. Not even the great Whernside reflector was able
to pick it up. The probability, therefore, is that even now it is
still speeding on its lonely way through the Ocean of Immensity, and
it is within the bounds of possibility that at some happy moment in
the future and somewhere far away beyond the reach of human vision,
its huge charge of explosives may do for some other threatened world
what the one which the Bolton Baby coughed up into Space just in the
nick of time did to save this home of ours from the impending Peril of
1910.



THE END




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