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Title: The Raid of Le Vengeur
Author: George Griffith
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Language: English
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The Raid of Le Vengeur
George Griffith



I.--THE DREAM OF CAPTAIN FLAUBERT.

IT was the third morning after the naval manoeuvres at Cherbourg, and
since their conclusion Captain Leon Flaubert, of the Marine
Experimental Department of the French Navy, had not had three
consecutive hours' sleep.

He was an enthusiast on the subject of submarine navigation. He firmly
believed that the nation which could put to sea the first really
effective fleet of submarine vessels would hold the fleets of rival
nations at its mercy and acquire the whole ocean and its coasts as an
exclusive territory. To anyone but an enthusiast it would have seemed
a wild dream and yet only a few difficulties had still to be overcome,
a few more discoveries made, and the realisation of the dream would be
merely a matter of money and skilled labour.

Now the Cherbourg evolutions had proved three things. The submarines
could sink and remain below the surface of the water. They could be
steered vertically and laterally, but once ten feet or so below the
water, they were as blind as bats in bright sunshine.

Moreover, when their electric head-lights were turned on, a luminous
haze through which it was impossible to see more than a few metres,
spread out in front of them and this was reflected on the surface of
the water in the form of a semi-phosphorescent patch which infallibly
betrayed the whereabouts of the submarine to scouting destroyers and
prowling gun-boats. The sinking of a couple of pounds of dynamite with
a time-fuse into this patch would have consequences unspeakable for
the crew of the submarine since no human power could save them from a
horrible death.

It as the fear of this discovery that had caused the rigid exclusion
of all non-official spectators from the area of the experiments. Other
trials conducted in daylight had further proved that the dim, hazy
twilight of the lower waters was even worse than darkness. In short,
the only chance of successful attack lay in coming to the surface,
taking observations, probably under fire, and then sinking and
discharging a torpedo at a venture. This, again, was an operation
which could only be conducted with any chance of success in a smooth
sea. In even moderately rough weather it would be absolutely
impossible.

It was these difficulties which joined to a thousand exasperatingly
stubborn technical details had kept Captain Flaubert awake for three
nights. For him everything depended upon the solution of them. He was
admittedly the best submarine engineer in France. The submarines had
been proved to be practically non-effective. France looked to him to
make them effective.

The troubles in the far East and, nearer home, in Morocco, had brought
the Dual Alliance and the British Empire to the verge of war. At any
moment something might happen which would shake a few sparks into the
European powder magazine. Then the naval might of Britain would be let
loose instantly. In a few hours her overwhelming fleets would be
striking their swift and terrible blows at the nearest enemy--France--
and yet, if he could only give the submarines eyes which could see
through the water, France could send out an invisible squadron which
would cripple the British fleets before they left port, destroy her
mightiest battleships and her swiftest cruisers before they could fire
a single shot, and so in a few days clear the Narrow Seas and make way
for the invasion of England by the irresistible military might of
France. Then the long spell would be broken, and the proudly boasted
Isle Inviolate would be inviolate no longer.

It was a splendid dream--but, until the submarines could be made to
see as well as steer, it was as far away as aerial navigation itself.

Day was just breaking on the third morning when a luminous ray of
inspiration pierced the mists which hang over the border land of sleep
and waking, of mingled dream and reality, amidst which Flaubert's soul
was just then wandering.

He sat bolt upright in his little camp bed, clasped his hands across
his close-cropped head, and, hardly knowing whether he was asleep or
awake, heard himself say:

"Nom de Dieu, it is that! What foolishness not to have thought of that
before. If we cannot see we must feel. Electric threads, balanced so
as to be the same weight as water--ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred
metres long, all round the boat, ahead and astern, to port and to
starboard! Steel ships are magnetic, that is why they must swing to
adjust their compasses."

"The end of each thread shall be a tiny electro-magnet. In-board they
will connect with indicators, delicately swung magnetic needles, four
of them, ahead, astern, and on each side; and, as Le Vengeur--yes, I
will call her that, for we have no more forgotten Trafalgar than we
have Fashoda--as she approaches the ships of the enemy, deep hidden
under the waters, these threads, like the tentacles of the octopus,
shall spread towards her prey!"

As she gets nearer and nearer they swing round and converge upon the
ship that is nearest and biggest. As we dive under her they will point
upwards. When they are perpendicular the overhead torpedo will be
released. Its magnets will fasten it to the bottom of the doomed ship.
Le Vengeur will sink deeper, obeying always the warning of the
sounding indicator, and seek either a new victim or a safe place to
rise in. In ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, as I please, the torpedo
will explode, the battleship or the cruiser will break in two and go
down, not knowing whose hand has struck her.

"Ah, Albion, my enemy, you are already conquered! You are only
mistress of the seas until Le Vengeur begins her work. When that is
done there will be no more English navy. The soldiers of France will
avenge Waterloo on the soil of England, and Leon Flaubert will be the
greatest name in the world. Dieu Merci, it is done! I have thought the
thought which conquers a world---and now let me sleep."

His clasped hands fell away from his head; his eyelids drooped over
his aching, staring eyes; his body swayed a little from side to side,
and then fell backwards. As his head rested on the pillow a long deep
sigh left his half-parted lips, and in a few moments a contented snore
was reverberating through the little, plainly-furnished bedroom.



II.--A DINNER AT ALBERT GATE.

Curiously enough, while Captain Leon Flaubert had been worrying
himself to the verge of distraction over the problem of seeing under
water, and had apparently solved it by substituting electric nerves of
feeling for the sight-rays which had proved a failure, Mr. Wilfred
Wallace Tyrrell had brought to a successful conclusion a long series
of experiments bearing upon the self-same subject.

Mr. Tyrrell was the son of Sir Wilfred Tyrrell, one of the Junior
Lords of the Admiralty. He was a year under thirty. He had taken a
respectable degree at Cambridge, then he had gone to Heidelberg and
taken a better one, after which he had come home entered at London,
and made his bow to the world as the youngest D.Sc. that Burlington
Gardens had ever turned out.

His Continental training had emancipated him from all the limitations
under which his father, otherwise a man of very considerable
intelligence, suffered. Like Captain Flaubert he was a firm believer
in the possibility of submarine navigation, but, like his unknown
French rival, he, too, had been confronted with that fatal problem of
submarine blindness, and he had attacked it from a point of view so
different to that of Captain Flaubert that the difference of method
practically amounted to the difference between the genius of the two
nations to which they belonged. Captain Flaubert had evaded the
question and substituted electric feeling for sight. Wilfred Tyrrell
had gone for sight and nothing less, and now he had every reason to
believe that he had succeeded.

The night before Captain Flaubert had fallen asleep in his quarters at
Cherbourg there was a little dinner-party at Sir Wilfred Tyrrell's
house in Albert Gate. The most important of the guests from Wilfred's
point of view was Lady Ethel Rivers, the only daughter of the Earl of
Kirlew. She was a most temptingly pretty brunette with hopelessly
dazzling financial prospects. He had been admiring her from a
despairing distance for the last five years, in fact ever since she
had crossed the line between girlhood and young womanhood.

Although it was quite within the bounds of possibility that she knew
of his devotion, he had never yet ventured upon even the remotest
approach to direct courtship. In every sense she seemed too far beyond
him. Some day she would be a countess in her own right. Some day, too.
she would inherit about half a million in London ground-rents, with
much more to follow as the leases fell in, wherefore, as Wilfred
Tyrrell reasoned, she would in due course marry a duke, or at least a
European Prince.

Lady Ethel's opinions on the subject could only Ix gathered from the
fact that she had already declined one Duke, two Viscounts, and a
German Serene Highness, during her first season, and that she never
seemed tired of listening when Wilfred Tyrrell was talking---which of
itself was significant if his modesty had only permitted him to see
it.

But while he was sitting beside her at dinner on this momentous night
he felt that the distance between them had suddenly decreased. So far
his career had been brilliant but unprofitable. Many other men had
done as much as he had and ended in mediocrity. But now he had done
something; he had made a discovery with which the whole world might be
ringing in a few weeks' time. He had solved the problem of submarine
navigation, and, as a preliminary method of defence, he had discovered
a means of instantly detecting the presence of a submarine destroyer.

He was one of those secretive persons who possess that gift of
silence, when critical matters are pending, which has served many
generations of diplomats on occasions when the fates of empires were
hanging in the balance.

Thus, having learnt to keep his love a secret for so many years, he
knew how to mask that still greater secret, by the telling of which he
could have astonished several of the distinguished guests round his
father's dinner table into a paralysis of official incredulity. But
he, being the son of an official, knew that such a premature
disclosure might result, not only in blank scepticism, for which he
did not care, but in semi-official revelations to the Press, for which
he did care a great deal. So when the farewells were being said, he
whispered to his mother:

"I want you and father and Lady Ethel and Lord Kirlew to come up to
the laboratory after everyone has gone. I've got something to show
you. You can manage that, can't you, mother?"

Lady Tyrrell nodded and managed it.

Wilfred Tyrrell's laboratory was away up at the top of the house in a
long low attic, which had evidently been chosen for its seclusion.

As they were going up the stairs Wilfred, sure of his triumph, took a
liberty which, under other circumstances, would have been almost
unthinkable to him. He and Lady Ethel happened to be the last on the
stairs, and he was a step or two behind her. He quickened his pace a
little, and then laying his hand lightly on her arm he whispered:

"Lady Ethel."

"Oh, nonsense!" she whispered in reply, with a little tremble of her
arm under his hand. "Lady Ethel, indeed! As if we hadn't known each
other long enough. Well, never mind what you want to say. What are you
going to show us?"

"Something that no human eyes except mine have ever seen before;
something which I have even ventured to hope will make me worthy to
ask you a question which a good many better men than I have asked---"

"I know what you mean," she replied in a whisper even lower than his
own, and turning a pair of laughing eyes up to his. "You silly,
couldn't you see before? I didn't want those Dukes and Serene
Highnesses. Do something--so far I know you have only studied and
dreamt,--and, much and all as I like you--Well, now?"

"Now," he answered, pulling her arm a little nearer to him, "I have
done something. I quite see what you mean, and I believe it is
something worthy even of winning your good opinion. Here we are; in a
few minutes you will see for yourself."

III.--THE WATER-RAY.

The laboratory was littered with the usual disorderly-order of similar
apartments. In the middle of it on a big, bare, acid-stained deal
table there stood a glass tank full of water, something like an
aquarium tank, but the glass walls were made of the best white plate.
The water with which it was filled had a faint greenish hue and looked
like seawater. At one end of it there was a curious looking apparatus.
A couple of boxes, like electric storage batteries, stood on either
side of a combination of glass tubes mounted on a wooden stand so that
they all converged into the opening of a much larger tube of pale blue
glass. Fitted to the other end of this was a thick double concave lens
also of pale blue glass. This was placed so that its axis pointed down
towards the surface of the water in the tank at an angle of about
thirty degrees.

"Well, Wallace," said Sir Wilfred as his son locked the door behind
them, "what's this? Another of your wonderful inventions? Something
else you want me to put before my lords of the Admiralty?"

"That's just it, father, and this time I really think that even the
people at Whitehall will see that there's something in it. At any rate
I'm perfectly satisfied that if I had a French or Russian Admiral in
this room, and he saw what you're going to see, I could get a million
sterling down for what there is on that table."

"But, of course you wouldn't think of doing that," said Lady Ethel,
who was standing at the end of the table opposite the arrangement of
glass tubes.

"That, I think, goes without saying, Ethel," said Lord Kirlew. "I am
sure Mr. Tyrrell would be quite incapable of selling anything of
service to his country to her possible enemies. At any rate, Tyrrell,"
he went on, turning to Sir Wilfred, "if I see anything in it, and your
people won't take it up, I will. So now let us see what it is."

Tyrrell had meanwhile turned up a couple of gas-jets, one on either
side of the room, and they saw that slender, twisted wires ran from
the batteries to each of the tubes through the after end, which was
sealed with glass. He came back to the table, and with a quick glance
at Lady Ethel, he coughed slightly, after the fashion of a lecturer
beginning to address an audience. Then he looked round at the
inquiring faces, and said with a mock professional air:

"This, my Lord, ladies, and gentlemen, is an apparatus which I have
every reason to believe removes the last and only difficulty in the
way of the complete solution of the problem of submarine navigation."

"Dear me," said Lord Kirlew, adjusting his pince-nez and leaning over
the arrangement of tubes, "I think I see now what you mean. You have
found, if you will allow me to anticipate you, some sort of Roentgen
Ray or other, which will enable you to see through water. Is that so?"

"That is just what it is," said Tyrrell. "Of course, you know that the
great difficulty, in fact, the so far insuperable obstacle in the way
of submarine navigation has been the fact that a submerged vessel is
blind. She cannot see where she is going beyond a distance of a few
yards at most."

"Now this apparatus will make it possible, not only for her to see
where she is going up to a distance which is limited only by the power
of her batteries, but it also makes it possible for those on a vessel
on the surface of the water to sweep the bottom of the sea just as a
search-light sweeps the surface, and therefore to find out anything
underneath from a sunken mine to a submarine destroyer. I am going to
show you, too, that it can be used either in daylight or in the dark,
I'll try first with the gas up."

He turned a couple of switches on the boxes as he said this. The
batteries began to hum gently. The tubes began to glow with a strange
intense light which had two very curious properties. It was just as
distinctly visible in the gaslight as if the room had been dark, and
it was absolutely confined to the tubes. Not a glimmer of it extended
beyond their outer surfaces.

Then the big blue tube began to glow, turning pale green the while.
The next instant a blaze of greenish light shot in a direct ray from
the lens down into the water. A moment later the astonished eyes of
the spectators saw the water in the tank pierced by a spreading ray of
intense and absolutely white light Some stones and sand and gravel
that had been spread along the bottom of the tank stood out with
magical distinctness wherever the ray touched them. The rest, lit up
only by the gas, were dim and indistinct in comparison with them.

"You see that what I call the water-ray is quite distinct from
gaslight," said Tyrrell in a tone which showed that the matter was now
to him a commonplace. "It is just as distinct from daylight. Now we
will try it in the dark. Lord Kirlew, would you mind turning out that
light near you? Father, turn out the one on your side, will you?"

The lights were turned out in silence. People of good intelligence are
as a rule silent in the presence of a new revelation. Every eye looked
through the darkness at the tank. The tubes glowed with their strange
light, but they stood out against the darkness of the room just like
so many pencils of light, and that was all. The room was just as dark
as though they had not been there. The intense ray from the lens was
now only visible as a fan of light. Tank and water had vanished in the
darkness. Nothing could be seen but the ray and the stones and sand
which it fell on.

"You see," said Tyrrell, "that the ray does not diffuse itself. It is
absolutely direct, and that is one of its most valuable qualities. The
electric lights which they use on the French submarines throw a glow
on the top of the water at night, and so it is pretty easy to locate
them. The surface of the water there, you see, is perfectly dark. In
fact the water has vanished altogether. Another advantage is that this
ray is absolutely invisible in air. Look!"

As he said this he tilted the arrangement of tubes backwards so that
the ray left the water, and that moment the room was in utter
darkness. He turned it down towards the tank and again the brilliant
fan of light became visible in the water.

"Now," he continued, "that's all. You can light the gas again, if you
don't mind."

"Well, Wallace," said Lord Kirlew when they had got back to the
library, "I think we can congratulate you upon having solved one of
the greatest problems of the age, and if the Admiralty don't take your
invention up, as I don't suppose they will, eh, Tyrrell?--you know
them better than I do--I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll buy or build
you a thirty-five knot destroyer which shall be fitted up to your
orders, and until we get into a naval war with someone you can take a
scientific cruise and use your water-ray to find out uncharted reefs
and that sort of thing, and perhaps you might come across an old
sunken treasure-ship. I believe there are still some millions at the
bottom of Vigo Bay."

Before Lady Ethel left, Tyrrell found time and opportunity to ask her
a very serious question, and her answer to it was:

"You clever goose! You might have asked that long ago. Yes, I'll marry
you the day after you've blown up the first French submarine ship."



IV.--IN THE SOLENT.

For once at least the British-Admiralty had shown an open mind. Sir
Wilfred Tyrrell's official position, and Lord Kirlew's immense
influence, may have had something to do with the stimulating of the
official intellect, but, at any rate, within a month after the
demonstration in the laboratory, a committee of experts had examined
and wonderingly approved of the water-ray apparatus, and H.M.
destroyer Scorcher had been placed at Tyrrell's disposal for a series
of practical experiments.

Everything was, of course, kept absolutely secret, and the crew of the
Scorcher were individually sworn to silence as to anything which they
might see or hear during the experimental cruise. Moreover they were
all picked men of proved devotion and integrity. Every one of them
would have laid down his life at a moment's notice for the honour of
the Navy, and so there was little fear of the momentous secret leaking
out.

Meanwhile international events had been following each other with
ominous rapidity, and those who were behind the scenes on both sides
of the Channel knew that war was now merely a matter of weeks, perhaps
only of days.

The Scorcher was lying in the South Dock, at Chatham, guarded by dock
police who allowed no one to go within fifty yards of her without a
permit direct from headquarters. She was fitted with four water-ray
instalments, one ahead, one astern, and one amidships to port and
starboard, and, in addition to her usual armament of torpedo-tubes and
twelve and three-pounder quick-firers, she carried four torpedoes of
the Brennan type which could be dropped into the water without making
the slightest splash and steered along the path of the water-ray,
towards any object which the ray had discovered.

The day before she made her trial trip Captain Flaubert had an
important interview with the Minister of Marine. He had perfected his
system of magnetic feelers, and Le Vengeur was lying in Cherbourg
ready to go forth on her mission of destruction Twenty other similar
craft were being fitted with all speed at Cherbourg, Brest, and
Toulon. Le Vengeur had answered every test demanded of her, and, at
the French Marine, the days of the British Navy were already regarded
as numbered.

"In a week you may do it, mon Capitaine," said the Minister, rising
from his seat and holding out both his hands. "It must be war by then,
or at least a few days later. Prove that you can do as you say, and
France will know how to thank and reward you. Victory to-day will be
to those who strike first, and it shall be yours to deliver the first
blow at the common enemy."

At midnight a week after this conversation a terrible occurrence took
place in the Solent. Her Majesty's first-class cruiser Phyllis was
lying at anchor about two miles off Cowes Harbour, and the Scorcher
was lying with steam up some quarter of a mile inside her. She was, in
fact, ready to begin her first experimental voyage at 1 a.m. She had
her full equipment on board just as though she were going to fight a
fleet of submarines, for it had been decided to test, not only the
working of the water-ray, but also the possibility of steering the
diving torpedoes by directing them on to a sunken wreck which was
lying in twenty fathoms off Portland Bill. The Fates, however, had
decided that they were to be tried on much more interesting game than
the barnacle-covered hull of a tramp steamer.

At fifteen minutes past twelve precisely, when Tyrrell and Lieutenant-
Commander Farquar were taking a very limited promenade on the narrow,
rubber-covered decks of the Scorcher, they felt the boat heave jerkily
under their feet. The water was perfectly calm at the time.

"Good Heavens, what's that?" exclaimed Tyrrell, as they both stopped
and stared out over the water. As it happened they were both facing
towards the Phyllis, and they were just in time to see her rise on the
top of a mountain of foaming water, break in two, and disappear.

"A mine or a submarine!" said Commander Farquar between his teeth;
"anyhow--war. Get your apparatus ready, Mr. Tyrrell. That's one of the
French submarines we've been hearing so much about. If you can find
him we mustn't let him out of here."

Inside twenty seconds the Scorcher had slipped her cable, her
searchlight had flashed a quick succession of signals to Portsmouth
and Southampton, her boilers were palpitating under a full head of
steam, and her wonderful little engines were ready at a minute's
notice to develop their ten thousand horse power and send her flying
over the water at thirty-five knots an hour.

Meanwhile, too, four fan-shaped rays of intense white light pierced
the dark waters of the Solent as a lightning flash pierces the
blackness of night, and four torpedoes were swinging from the davits a
foot above the water.

There was a tinkle in the engine-room, and she swung round towards the
eddying area of water in which the Phyllis went down. Other craft,
mostly torpedo boats and steam pinnaces from warships, were also
hurrying towards the fatal spot. The head-ray from the Scorcher shot
down to the bottom of the Solent, wavered hither and thither for a few
moments, and then remained fixed. Those who looked down it saw a sight
which no human words could describe.

The splendid warship which a couple of minutes before had been riding
at anchor, perfectly equipped, ready to go anywhere and do anything,
was lying on the weed-covered sand and rock, broken up into two huge
fragments of twisted scrap-iron. Even some of her guns had been hurled
out of their positions and flung yards away from her. Other light
wreckage was strewn in all directions, and the mangled remains of what
had so lately been British officers and sailors were floating about in
the mid-depths of the still eddying waters.

"We can't do any good here, Mr. Tyrrell." said Commander Farquar.
"That's the work of a submarine, and we've got to find him. He must
have come in by Spithead. He'd never have dared the other way, and
he'll probably go out as he came in. Keep your rays going and let's
see if we can find him."

There was another tinkle in the engine-room. The Scorcher swung round
to the eastward and began working in a zigzag course at quarter speed
towards Spithead.

Captain Flaubert, however, had decided to do the unexpected and,
thirty minutes after the destruction of the Phyllis, Le Vengeur was
feeling her way back into the Channel past the Needles. She was
steering, of course, by chart and compass, about twenty feet below the
water. Her maximum speed was eight knots, but Captain Flaubert, in
view of possible collisions with rocks or inequalities on the sea-
floor, was content to creep along at two.

He had done his work. He had proved the possibility of stealing unseen
and unsuspected into the most jealously guarded strip of water in the
world, destroying a warship at anchor, and then, as he thought, going
away unseen. After doing all that it would be a pity to meet with any
accident. War would not be formally declared for three days at least,
and he wanted to get back to Cherbourg and tell the Minister of Marine
all about it.

The Scorcher zigzagged her way in and out between the forts, her four
rays lighting up the water for a couple of hundred yards in every
direction, for nearly an hour, but nothing was discovered.

"I believe he's tried the other way after all," said Commander Farquar
after they had taken a wide, comprehensive sweep between Foreland and
Southsea. "There's one thing quite certain, if he has got out this way
into the Channel we might just as well look for a needle in a
haystack. I think we'd better go back and look for him the other way."

The man at the wheel put the helm hard over, the bell tinkled full
speed ahead in the engine-room. The throbbing screws flung columns of
foam out from under the stern, and the little black craft swept round
in a splendid curve, and went flying down the Solent towards Hurst
Point at the speed of an express train. Off Ryde she slowed down to
quarter speed, and the four rays began searching the sea bottom again
in every direction.

Le Vengeur was just creeping out towards the Needles, feeling her way
cautiously with the sounding indicator thirty feet below the surface,
when Captain Flaubert, who was standing with his Navigating Lieutenant
in the glass domed conning-tower, lit by one little electric bulb,
experienced the most extraordinary sensation of his life. A shaft of
light shot down through the water. It was as clean cut as a knife and
bright as burnished silver. It wavered about hither and thither for a
few moments, darting through the water like a lightning flash through
thunderclouds, and then suddenly it dropped on to the conning-lower of
Le Vengeur and illuminated it with an almost intolerable radiance. The
Captain looked at his Lieutenant's face. It was almost snow white in
the unearthly light Instinctively he knew that his own was the same.

"Tonnere de Dieu!" he whispered, with lips that trembled in spite of
all his self-control, "what is this, Lieutenant? Is it possible that
these accursed English have learnt to see under water? Or, worse
still, suppose they have a submarine which can see?"

"In that case," replied the Lieutenant, also in a whisper, "though Le
Vengeur has done her work, I fear she will not finish her trial trip.
Look," he went on, pointing out towards the port side, "what is that?"

A dimly-shining, silvery body about five feet long, pointed at both
ends, and driven by a rapidly whirling screw had plunged down the
broad pathway of light and stopped about ten feet from Le Vengeur.
Like a living thing it slowly headed this way and that, ever drawing
nearer and nearer, inch by inch, and then began the most ghastly
experience for the Captain and his Lieutenant that two human beings
had ever endured.

They were both brave men well worthy the traditions of their country
and their profession; but they were imprisoned in a fabric of steel
thirty feet below the surface of the midnight sea, and this horrible
thing was coming nearer and nearer. To rise to the surface meant not
only capture but ignominious death to every man on board, for war was
not declared yet, and the captain and crew of Le Vengeur were pirates
and outlaws beyond the pale of civilisation. To remain where they were
meant a death of unspeakable terror, a fate from which there was no
possible escape.

"It is a torpedo," said the Lieutenant, muttering the words with white
trembling lips, "a Brennan, too, for you see they can steer it. It has
only to touch us and--"

A shrug of the shoulders more expressive than words said the rest.

"Yes," replied Captain Flaubert, "that is so, but how did we not know
of it? These English must have learnt some wisdom lately. We will rise
a little and see if we can get away from it."

He touched a couple of buttons on a signal board as he said this. Le
Vengeur rose fifteen feet, her engines quickened, and she headed for
the open sea at her best speed. She passed out of the field of the ray
for a moment or two. Then three converging rays found her and flooded
her with light. Another silvery shape descended, this time to the
starboard side. Her engines were put to their utmost capacity. The
other shape on the port side rose into view, and ran alongside the
conning-tower at exactly equal speed.

Then Le Vengeur sank another thirty feet, doubled on her course, and
headed back towards Spithead. The ray followed her, found her again,
and presently there were the two ghostly attendants, one on each side,
as before. She turned in zigzags and curves, wheeled round in circles,
and made straight runs hither and thither, but it was no use. The four
rays encircled her wherever she went, and the two torpedoes were ever
alongside.

Presently another feature of this extraordinary chase began to develop
itself. The torpedoes, with a horrible likeness to living things,
began to shepherd Le Vengeur into a certain course. If she turned to
starboard then the silvery shape on that side made a rush at her. If
she did the same to port the other one ran up to within a yard or so
of her and stopped as though it would say: "Another yard, and I'll
blow you into scrap-iron."

The Lieutenant was a brave man, but he fainted after ten minutes of
this. Captain Flaubert was a stronger spirit, and he stood to his work
with one hand on the steering wheel and the fingers of the other on
the signal-board. He knew that he was caught, and that he could expect
nothing but hanging as a common criminal. He had failed the moment
after success, and failure meant death. The Minister of Marine had
given him very clearly to understand that France would not be
responsible for the failure of Le Vengeur.

The line of his fate lay clear before him. The lives of his Lieutenant
and five picked men who had dared everything for him might be saved.
He had already grasped the meaning of the evolutions of the two
torpedoes. He was being, as it were, steered into a harbour, probably
into Portsmouth, where in time he would be compelled to rise to the
surface and surrender. The alternative was being blown into eternity
in little pieces, and, like the brave man that he was, he decided to
accept the former alternative, and save his comrades by taking the
blame on himself.

He touched two more of the buttons on the signal-board. The engines of
Le Vengeur stopped, and presently Tyrrell and Commander Farquar saw
from the deck of the Scorcher a long, shining, hale-backed object rise
above the surface of the water.

At the forward end of it there was a little conning-tower covered by a
dome of glass. The moment that it came in sight the Scorcher stopped,
and then moved gently towards Le Vengeur. As she did so the glass dome
slid back, and the head and shoulders of a man in the French naval
uniform came into sight. His face looked like the face of a corpse as
the rays of the searchlight flashed upon it. His hair, which an hour
ago had been black, was iron-grey now, and his black eyes stared
straight at the searchlight as though they were looking into eternity.

Then across the water there came the sound of a shrill, high-pitched
voice which said in perfectly correct English:

"Gentlemen, I have succeeded and I have failed. I destroyed your
cruiser yonder, I would have destroyed the whole British Navy if I
could have done so, because I hate you and everything English. Le
Vengeur surrenders to superior force for the sake of those on board
her, but remember that I alone have planned and done this thing. The
others have only done what I paid them to do, and France knows nothing
of it. You will spare them, for they are innocent. For me it is
finished."

As the Scorcher's men looked down the rays of the searchlight they saw
something glitter in his hand close to his head--a yellow flash shone
in the midst of the white, there was a short flat bang, and the body
of Captain Leon Flaubert dropped out of sight beside the still
unconscious lieutenant.

Le Vengeur was taken into Portsmouth. Her crew were tried for piracy
and murder, and sentenced to death. The facts of the chase and capture
of Le Vengeur were laid before the French Government, which saw the
advisability of paying an indemnity of ten million dollars as soon as
Le Vengeur, fitted with Wilfred Tyrrell's water-ray apparatus, made
her trial trip down Channel and blew up half-a-dozen sunken wrecks
with perfect case and safety to herself.

A few weeks later, in recognition of his immense services, the
Admiralty placed the third-class cruiser Venus at the disposal of Mr.
Wilfred and Lady Ethel Tyrrell for their honeymoon trip down the
Mediterranean.

The declaration of war of which the Minister had spoken to Captain
Flaubert, remained a diplomatic secret, and the unfortunate incident
which had resulted in the blowing up of a British cruiser in time of
peace, was publicly admitted by the French Government to be an act of
unauthorised piracy, the perpetrators of which had already paid the
penalty of their crime. The reason for this was not very far to seek.
As soon as Wilfred Tyrrell came back from his wedding trip Le Vengeur
was dry-docked and taken literally to pieces and examined in every
detail. Thus everything that the French engineers knew about submarine
navigation was revealed.

A committee of the best engineers in the United Kingdom made a
thorough inspection with a view to possible improvements, and the
result was the building of a British submarine flotilla of thirty
enlarged Vengeurs. And as a couple of these would be quite sufficient
for the effective blockade of a port, the long-planned invasion of
England was once more consigned to the limbo of things which may only
be dreamt of.



THE END



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