"How is everything?" he demanded, as he arose to his feet.
"First rate," replied Frank.
"No signs of the enemy?"'
"Not a sign, sir."
"Good! Evidently he doesn't know we have occupied the town. I believe that by a quick dash we can capture Boak. What do you think?"
"Fine!" exclaimed Jack with enthusiasm.
"Of course we can, sir," agreed Frank.
"All right, then; it shall be your job!"
Jack and Frank saluted.
"Thank you, sir," both said breathlessly.
Several hours later the two lads, in the captain's launch, found themselves at the head of a small flotilla moving slowly up the river. Each boat was equipped with one rapid-fire gun and carried twenty men. In all there were twelve boats.
The farther up the river the little party progressed the narrower became the stream, until finally it was little better than a deep creek. Foliage of large trees overhung the water, making it almost as dark as night. The water was black and murky.
Frank shuddered as he glanced at it.
"Looks like it might be full of all kinds of reptiles and things," he said.
"It certainly does," Jack agreed. "I would as soon think of jumping into the bottomless pit as of diving into this black stream."
Around bend after bend in the small stream the little flotilla proceeded cautiously, and ever, as they progressed, the stream became narrower and more fear-inspiring.
In some of the boats men began to grumble. Jack turned and called out angrily:
"Silence!" Then he added more companionably: "It's all right, men. Where men have gone before men can go now without fear of the unknown. I'll admit it doesn't look very pleasant, but surely an English sailor is not afraid to go where a German foot has trod,"
The men started a cheer at the lad's words, but he silenced them by a motion of his hand, and called out:
"Silence! We do not want to warn the enemy of our approach."
Now, rounding a little bend in the stream, the lads could make out, some distance ahead, what appeared to be the huts of a little village. Also, they could see that, at that point, the stream widened out considerably.
Apparently secure in the belief that the forts at Duala could successfully ward off the attacks of any enemy, the German commander at Boak had grown careless, and the lads could not see a single sign of soldiers or sentries.
Frank glanced behind him and ordered softly:
"Take down all flags!"
The command was passed from one boat to another, and soon the little flotilla was moving up the river, looking more like a pleasure party than a hostile force, except for the uniforms of the men. However, these could not be plainly seen from the village, because of the shadow cast by the dense foliage that overhung the river.
Now, through their glasses, the boys could see several German officers peering at them through long telescopes.
"They've seen us," said Jack.
"Yes," was Frank's reply. "But evidently they believe us friends, or they would open fire on us."
"Perhaps their guns are not of the heavy caliber of those at Duala."
"By Jove! I believe you have hit it!" exclaimed Frank. "In that case, with our rapid-firers, we should have little trouble taking the village."
At the point where the stream widened out, Jack allowed two of the craft behind to come up even and thus, three abreast, the journey was continued.
Every man was now at his post. The gunners were ready to open with the rapid-firers at a moment's notice. All held their rifles ready. Still the Germans did not fire, apparently uncertain of the identity of the newcomers — or rather, seemingly certain they were friends.
Suddenly a squad of six German soldiers wheeled a small, old-fashioned cannon to the landing near the officers, and a moment later a solid shot plowed up the water in front of the first boat of the British flotilla.
"A signal to show our colors," said Jack grimly. "What do you say, Frank? Are we ready to show them?"'
"Yes!" cried Frank.
An instant and the English Jack floated over each boat, while at the same time the first three boats in the battle line opened with their rapid-firers.
At the distance, scarcely two hundred yards, the execution was terrible. The German officers and the entire gun squad, riddled with bullets, fell forward on their faces.
But this was only the beginning.
Swiftly moving German troops now came marching to the river front, steadily, in spite of the withering British fire, and sternly, to repel the foe. Slowly they came into position, and, dropping on their knees, poured a volley into the little flotilla.
But, deadly as this fire was, that of the rapid-firers aboard the boats was more so. The British did not escape without considerable damage, but the German loss was far heavier.
Steadily, in spite of the grilling German fire, the boats pressed on.
Each man concealed himself as well as he could behind the low sides of the boats, exposing just enough of his head to take aim at the enemy.
The first boats were now but a scant hundred yards away. For some reason, evidently thinking to pick off the men in the boats, the enemy had not brought artillery to bear. But at this juncture a squad sprang forward to serve the gun already used.
A charge was rammed home and the gun sighted; but, as the man detailed was about to pull the lanyard, Frank sprang suddenly to his feet in the boat and his revolver spoke. The German flung wide his arms and toppled to the ground. Another sprang to his place, but only to meet the same fate; and another, and still another.
All this time the little rapid-firers were continuing their deadly work, and at last a bugle sounded the call for the German retreat. Slowly they drew off, firing as they went, but, as the British now moved up faster, the Teutons turned and ran.
Quickly the little flotilla came alongside the wharf and men scrambled ashore. It was but the work of a few minutes to land the rapid-firers, half the British with rifles meanwhile holding off the enemy.
Then, everything in readiness, Frank gave the order for an advance.
Now, from all sides, came a withering German fire. The enemy had taken to the woods, seeking to pick off the English one at a time; but, at a word from Jack, the machine-guns were turned upon the trees, and this scattering fire soon turned the retreat into a rout.
As the English at length poured into the streets of the little village itself, from every house and hut came a German bullet. Many British fell, and it was here that the heaviest losses were sustained by the attacking party.
But Frank soon found a remedy for this. The rapid-fire guns were turned upon the huts and houses, and, as the bullets began to find their way into the openings, the work of the snipers stopped.
For some minutes there was a lull in the fighting, while ammunition for the guns was brought up from the boats; when, suddenly, down the street came a band of Germans at a charge.
Quickly the British formed to meet them, the rapid-fire guns for the moment being useless. Swords and bayonets were bared and rifles were clubbed. The Germans came on with a rush. The impact was terrific, but the British sailors stood firm, and gave thrust for thrust, blow for blow — and more.
Being unable to force the British back, and, seeing that they were getting the worst of this hand-to-hand encounter, the German officers ordered a retreat. This proved their complete undoing, for, as they drew off at a run, the rapid-firers of the British again came into action, and the enemy were mowed down like chaff.
More rapidly now the British pushed on through the heart of the village, Frank telling off a few men here and there to give notice of a possible approach of reinforcements from some other direction.
But no reinforcements came, and the Germans finally retreated before the victorious British until they were once again sheltered by a dense forest. Then Frank called a halt.
He threw a cordon around the town and dispatched three men in a little boat to inform Captain Marcus of the success of his expedition.
"Well," said Jack, with a laugh, "we've got the town all right. What are we going to do with it?"
"That's the question," replied Frank. "I guess, before making any further move, we had better wait for orders."
"My idea, exactly," said Jack.
"Since we're agreed," replied Frank, "we'll wait."
FINISHING UP THE WORK
It was not until somewhat late the following morning that Captain Marcus, accompanied by the commander of the British cruiser Dwarf, reached Boak. Frank and Jack were at the little wharf to greet him.
After expressing a few words of commendation for the manner in which they had handled their men in the capture of the town, the two British commanders took a turn about the village.
"It will be impossible for us to remain here for the sole purpose of guarding these towns," said Captain Marcus. "We have other work to do. So now the question arises as to what to do with them."
"I would suggest," said the commander of the Dwarf, "that we put a prize crew aboard the German merchantman still in Duala, iron our prisoners, put them aboard her and send her home. We can make a thorough search of the town and destroy all arms and ammunition to be found."
"But," said Captain Marcus, "we shall first have to dispose of those Germans who escaped to the forest."
"That shouldn't be a hard job," replied the commander of the Dwarf, "I do not imagine there are many of them."
"About how many would you say?" asked Captain Marcus, turning to Frank, who, with Jack, had accompanied the two officers on the tour of inspection.
"Not more than a hundred, sir," was the lad's reply.
"Good!" replied Captain Marcus. "Do you feel equal to the task of rounding them up?"
"Perfectly, sir," Frank made answer.
"So be it, then. You may act at your own discretion; only see that you make a good, swift job of it."
Frank and Jack saluted and hurried away. Leaving half their force to guard the village, the lads, with the other half, which had dwindled to less than 100 by now, were soon lost to sight in the forest. They went quickly, but as silently as they could, for they wished, if possible, to take the foe by surprise.
"This is likely to be, a wild goose chase," declared Jack, when, at the end of an hour of forced marching they had seen no sign of the enemy. "There is no telling where the Germans are. They know the lay of the land and we don't. If they continue to retreat, there is no telling where we may come up with them, if at all."
Frank's lips set grimly.
"We'll get 'em," he said, "if we have to follow 'em clear across Africa."
They continued their march in silence. At length Frank drew his friends' attention to the fact that, a little to the left, the grass had been recently trampled, apparently by a considerable body of men.
"They can't be far ahead of us," he said. "Evidently they are not aware they are being pursued, for they apparently have been traveling slowly."
The British became more wary. Frank divided his men into two bodies, one of which he placed under Jack's command, while he himself led the other.
For another hour or more they continued, still without sign of an enemy.
The two British forces were now separated by at least a quarter of a mile, when Jack unexpectedly came to the edge of the forest. There, just ahead of him, lay the entire German command in a little opening surrounded on all sides by large trees.
Jack raised his hand and his men came to a halt. Frank, at the head of his command, perceived this movement, and also halted his men. Then he covered the distance to where his friend stood peering through the trees as quickly as possible.
Without a word Jack pointed out the Germans. Frank took a quick look, and together the two boys drew back into the shelter of the trees. They had not been seen.
"I believe I have a plan that will deliver the whole bunch into our hands, possibly without bloodshed," said Jack.
"What is it?" demanded Frank.
"Well," said Jack, "you will notice that the opening in which the Germans lie is entirely surrounded by trees. My idea is to completely surround them, and, at a given signal, fire a volley over their heads. Believing that our force is much greater than it is, and apparently cut off from escape in all directions, the Germans may surrender."
"A good idea," exclaimed Frank. "We will act upon it at once."
Quickly he scattered his men in a wide circle around the German camp. Then, when he felt that all was in readiness, he gave the signal — a shot from his revolver.
Immediately there was a fierce volley from the British, aimed high. The German troops sprang to their feet in a moment; then, at a command from their officer, dropped quickly to the ground again.
Whatever idea Frank had had of a bloodless victory was quickly dispelled, for the German troops — lying flat on their stomachs, fired volley after volley into the woods at their unseen opponents.
This was ineffective, however, because the British were well protected by the great trees. At a command from Frank, which was passed rapidly along the British line, the sailors trained their rifles upon the enemy and fired.
The effect was fearful. Germans toppled over on all sides, and some jumped to their feet and ran toward the trees. Bullets greeted them from all sides, however, and, after making one last stand, the entire German force threw their weapons to the ground as one man.
"We surrender!" called the officer in command.
Slowly the circle of British emerged from the forest and closed in on them. The German officer delivered his sword to Frank without a word; then, at the lad's command, the British surrounded the prisoners and started on their return journey to Boak, where they arrived after a three hours' forced march, and were greeted with acclaim by the sailors who had been left behind. Not a single sailor had been killed in the short but decisive battle, though two had been wounded.
Captain Marcus, and the commander of the Dwarf also, complimented the lads highly upon the quick success of their expedition. The village had been thoroughly searched for arms and ammunition during their absence, and all was now ready for a quick departure.
"Get the prisoners into the boats, and we will start down the river at once," ordered Captain Marcus.
This was soon accomplished, and the little flotilla was on its way back toward Duala. At Duala a second search was made for arms, ammunition and other munitions of war. This done, the commander of the Cumberland turned to Frank.
"You will go aboard that German merchantman in the harbor," he said, "and take her to London. You are in command, and Mr. Templeton shall be your first officer. The others you may select yourself. A prize crew will be put aboard immediately."
Frank was somewhat taken aback at this good fortune.
"But I am not a navigator," he said in some confusion, wishing now that he was.
"That makes it different," was Captain Marcus' reply.
"But I am, sir," Jack interrupted. "I have studied navigation for years."
"Good then!" said Captain Marcus. "In that event, I shall appoint you to take command and your friend as first officer."
"But —" Jack started to protest, when Frank interrupted him.
"I shall be glad to serve under him," he said.
So it was arranged, and several hours later the two lads found themselves aboard the German steamer Lena. For the first time in his life Jack trod the bridge of his own ship, and he could not but be proud of that moment; Frank, too, was elated at his good fortune.
With this parting injunction, Captain Marcus dropped over the side of the Lena:
"Make straight for London. Although you carry some guns, if attacked do not fight back unless absolutely necessary. Show the enemy your heels, if possible. However, if you do have to fight, fight as the true sons of Great Britain."
"We shall, sir," replied both lads grimly, and Captain Marcus realized that he could not have put the ship in better hands.
From among the crew Jack now selected a sailor named Jennings for second officer, and another by the name of Johnson for third officer. There was a hissing of steam from below, slowly the cable was loosened, and the Lena put off down the river.
The two British commanders followed in small boats. At the entrance of the river the steamer slowed down, and the boys watched the two commanders go aboard their respective cruisers.
A moment later guns on both ships boomed loudly. It was a salute, carrying a cheery "Good luck" to the ears of the two lads. As they sailed out to sea they could perceive that the cruisers also were getting under way, and were heading in the same direction as the Lena.
The Lena quickened her pace and sped off toward the north, heading for the open water. Night fell and still she steamed rapidly on, the cruisers following in her wake.
Frank took the first watch, and Jack turned in. The sea was perfectly smooth and the Lena steamed on, rolling gently on the even swell of the waves.
At 7 o'clock, the sun streaming high in the heavens, Jack appeared on deck. A moment later Frank who had been relieved by the second officer during the night, also emerged from his cabin.
Both turned their eyes over the stern, where the night before the two British cruisers had been following, offering protection in whatever danger threatened.
The cruisers were not in sight. There was not even a cloud of smoke to show their presence anywhere on the wide sea. They had turned off on another course during the darkness.
"Well," said Jack, "it's up to us to get into port safely. We have been thrown upon our own resources."
"Yes," Frank agreed. "Captain Marcus has put great confidence in us. It's up to us to make good."
"Well," declared Jack slowly, "we'll do it."
"Yes," said Frank, "we will!"
QUELLING AN OUTBREAK
Among the prisoners who were being sent home to England on the Lena was the German commander who had been captured at Duala, Colonel Von Roth. He had given his parole, and accordingly had not been put in irons with the other prisoners in the hold, but had been given a cabin to himself near the one which Frank and Jack shared jointly.
Besides Jack and Frank and the two other officers, the crew of the Lena was made up of fifty sailors, a chief engineer and his assistant and a squad of stokers. In all, there were probably seventy-five British aboard.
All the prisoners captured had not been put aboard the Lena for the reason that there were too many of them. Some were aboard the Cumberland, and the Dwarf was caring for the remainder. However, there were probably a hundred prisoners aboard the Lena besides the colonel.
Colonel Von Roth made himself very agreeable, said, in spite of the fact that he was an enemy, the boys took quite a liking to him. He conversed fluently upon subjects pertaining to America, where he said he had visited more than once, and also spoke familiarly of that spot on the African coast where Jack had made his boyhood home.
Having thus thrown the lads off their guard, Colonel Von Roth set about finding a way in which he could recapture the ship. Of his parole he thought nothing.
"What's a parole worth when given to a couple of children?" he had muttered to himself.
From the start the German officer made himself, perfectly at home, and, although the boys had thought of remonstrating, he was allowed the freedom of all parts of the ship. He went below, when, he felt so disposed, and returned when he was ready.
"It seems to me that our gallant colonel is taking things almost too free and easy," Frank had remarked to Jack, at one of their daily conferences.
"So he is," Jack had made reply, "I'll have to, speak to him about it."
He did so, and was somewhat taken aback at the officer's manner of receiving the rebuke.
"I meant no harm," he replied, with an air offended dignity, "but, of course, if you do not wish me to go below, I shall not do so."
However, he had quickly seemed to forget this and neither lad, because of his apparent sensitiveness, had the heart to remind him of it.
It had just struck four bells two days later a Jack stood on the bridge alone. Frank had gone to his cabin and lain down. He felt somewhat ill, and decided that a rest was what he needed to put him in condition again.
Jack, having just ordered a slight alteration in their course to the man at the wheel, signaled the engine-room for more speed. There was no response to the signal, and Jack tried it again. Still there wits no response.
"That's funny," said the lad to himself, "the bell was working all right a moment ago. Guess I'll go and see what's the matter."
He called the second officer, who took the bridge while Jack went below. As he made his way to the engine-room, he was brought to a sudden stop at the door. He heard a familiar voice inside, speaking in a tone of great satisfaction.
"Colonel Von Roth, or I'm much mistaken," Jack fold himself, laying a hand on the door. "I wonder —"
Struck with a sudden thought, he drew back suddenly, and then laid his ear to the door.
"You dogs!" came the colonel's voice from within. "Thought to get away with this ship, did you? Well, I'll show you!"
Without a moment's hesitation Jack opened the door and sprang inside. The action almost cost him his life. He had expected to find no enemy but the German officer in the engine-room, but in this he was sadly mistaken. The room was full of men.
The colonel had laid his plans carefully, and they had worked out to his satisfaction.
In a moment when the attention of the sentry guarding the captives had been attracted elsewhere, Von Roth sneaked up on him from behind and struck him a heavy blow with his fist. Then, tying the prostrate man, the colonel had possessed himself of the guard's key and removed the irons from some of the German prisoners.
He did not wait to release all of them, for he was too anxious to try his plan of retaking the ship. Therefore, when he had freed twenty-five men, he led them quickly to the engine-room, thinking first to capture their strategic point and to take care of the rest of the ship's crew later.
He had burst into the engine-room so suddenly, with his men at his heels, that the engineer and his assistants had been too surprised to resist, in spite of the fact that not one of the prisoners, save the colonel himself, was armed — the colonel having appropriated one of Frank's revolvers.
When Jack sprang into the room it was with his revolver held ready for instant use. In a trice lit took in the situation, and realized that it was no time for talk. The stokers, the engineer and his assistant were standing helpless, evidently awed by the larger number of Germans.
Jack's revolver spoke, and Colonel Von Roth's hat leaped from his head. In his hurry Jack's aim had been poor.
The German officer whirled and his revolver also rang out. Jack felt a sting in his left arm, but he did not pause.
Right into the middle of the crowd of Germans he sprang, his revolver spitting fire as he leaped. Down went three Germans, and then Jack was in among them. The tenth and last shot of his automatic went squarely into the face of a German soldier.
Battling desperately the Germans leaped upon him and overwhelmed him. So closely entwined were the struggling men that Jack was unable to take the time to draw his second revolver; but he was not daunted. His fighting blood was up, and he hurled his six feet of height and 178 pounds of weight into the thick of the conflict.
His revolver reversed in his hand, he struck out often and fiercely. Here and there the sound of a crunch told him a blow had landed. But he had no time to investigate; the press was too thick.
By this time the engineer, his assistant and the stokers had recovered from their surprise and rushed to Jack's aid. Friend and foe alike grabbed up whatever weapon they could lay their hands on wrenches, hand-bars and heavy iron pokers.
Guarding his head as well as he could with one upraised arm, Jack struck right and left with his revolver butt. A man sprang at him with a heavy wrench, but the lad caught it, by a quick move, on his revolver. It saved his head, but the weapon went to the floor in a thousand pieces.
Jack grappled with this antagonist, and, by a quick twist of the arm, whipped the wrench from his opponent's hand. It rose and fell and the German toppled over.
Colonel Von Roth, now the only man in the room armed, stood off to one side, trying in vain to bring his revolver to bear upon Jack. He was afraid to fire, however, for fear of hitting one of his own men. Hither and thither he darted around the struggling mass of men, attempting to get a clear shot at the lad.
Suddenly Jack stooped near the door of one of the furnaces and picked up a heavy iron poker. With this he laid about him right lustily, and in a moment had cleared a little circle about himself. The rest of the English, driven back by the Germans, were still fighting desperately at the opposite side of the room.
Now that Jack was standing alone, he made an excellent target for Colonel Von Roth's revolver and the colonel was not slow to realize it.
Quickly he raised the revolver and fired; but at that same moment Jack suddenly took two rapid steps forward, and the bullet whistled harmlessly over his head. The lad raised his eyes from the rest of his opponents for a brief instant, and in that instant realized that the colonel had singled him out for his bullet.
With a sudden fierce bellow he raised his heavy poker in both hands, and plunged into the thick of the conflict. There was no stopping him now. His rush was irresistible. He bore down upon the foe like a human catapult.
Heavy wrenches, pieces of steel, nuts and bolts were hurled at him. Some struck him and some flew past. But to these he paid no heed. Strong as a lion he fought his way on. The Germans retreated before this fighting figure of sinew and muscle; they quailed before his grim set mouth and the gleam in the eye of him.
With mighty strokes he swept them aside with broken heads and arms and limbs. His object now was Colonel Von Roth, who still stood at the far end of the room, his revolver raised, ready to fire.
Taking heart from the gallant action of their commander, the British stokers sprang forward anew, and now the Germans tried to escape. The English pushed them back rapidly.
Straight for Colonel Von Roth went Jack. The colonel, with upraised revolver, saw him coming and turned pale. He aimed quickly and fired. Jack staggered back a step and then came on again. A second time the colonel fired, but this time the lad did not even pause.
The heavy iron poker seemed to whirl about his head; there was the sound of a blow. Colonel Von Roth went to the floor with a groan, and Jack fell sprawling on top of him, unconscious.
Even as the lad fell, the one German soldier who still remained in the room, picked up a heavy wrench and sprang forward. Quickly he raised his arm, and was in the very act of hurling it at the head of the unconscious lad when there was the sound of a revolver shot. The German threw up both arms, spun rapidly around once or twice, and fell to the floor.
In the doorway stood Frank. Aroused from his slumber by the sounds of scuffling below, he had sprung up suddenly. At first he could not make out the cause of the disturbance. Then there suddenly flashed before his face a vision of Colonel Von Roth.
This vision spurred him to instant action. Leaping from his bunk he ran on deck. There all was serene and quiet. He paused for a moment, undecided. Then, urged on by some uncanny foresight, he dashed toward the engine-room.
On the steps he met the first of the retreating German soldiers. With a cry over his shoulder to the third officer, who had followed him, he plunged in among them, striking out swiftly right and left. At the door of the engine-room he halted.
At first he could not make out Jack's unconscious figure lying, on the floor. But, as the German stooped to pick up the wrench, the lad divined his purpose. He had fired just a moment before the wrench would have crushed out his friend's life.
Quickly Frank bent over his chum and gently raised his head to his knee. There was no sign of life in the still body and Frank quickly placed his hand over the lad's heart. A faint fluttering was his reward.
"Thank God! he's alive!" he said.
Exerting himself to the utmost, he lifted Jack to his own shoulders, and started toward the door. At that moment the third officer came rushing down the steps. Together they carried Jack to his cabin, where they laid him on his bunk. Then Frank hastily summoned the surgeon.
The lad bent over his friend anxiously as the physician examined him.
"Will he live, doctor?" he asked anxiously.
The surgeon shook his head doubtfully.
"Bullet just grazed his temple," he said. "Also he is badly bruised about the body. So far as I can see there are no broken bones; but he may be injured internally."
"Is there anything I can do, doctor?"
The surgeon looked at the lad's white face.
"Yes," he replied. "Go and see that the prisoners are safely secured. I can work better without your presence here."
Frank started to protest, but the surgeon raised a warning hand. Without another word Frank left the cabin.
Making sure that all the unwounded prisoners had been safely secured, Frank gave orders that Colonel Von Roth's body be prepared for burial. An hour later he returned to the cabin.
"How is he, doctor?" was his first question.
"Still unconscious, as you may see," was the reply. "However, I have made a thorough examination, and I believe that you need have no fear; but he must have perfect quiet for several days. Some one must be with him constantly. It would be well to have someone come now and wait here until he regains consciousness. I have other work to do."
"I'll sit here myself," said Frank quietly. "As you go out will you tell the second officer to keep the bridge until further notice?"
The surgeon bowed and left the cabin. Drawing up a chair, Frank sat down beside his unconscious friend and took up his silent vigil.
It was hours later that Frank first noticed signs of returning consciousness in his wounded comrade. Jack's pale face took on a little color, his eyelids fluttered, and a minute later he opened his eyes.
Frank bent over him.
"How do you feel, old fellow?" he asked gently.
It was some seconds before Jack replied. His gaze roved about the cabin, and Frank could see that for the moment his friend was unable to recognize his surroundings. At last, however, a look of understanding passed over his face, and he spoke:
"It was a great old scrap, wasn't it?" and he smiled up at his friend.
"It was all of that," replied Frank. "But tell me, how do you feel?"
"Well, I don't feel tip top, and that's a fact," replied Jack feebly, moving about on his bed.
He made as if to sit up, but Frank held him down.
"You stay where you are," he ordered.
"What's the matter?" demanded Jack. "Can't I get up if I feel like it?"
"No," replied Frank, "you can't. You'll stay where you are until the doctor says you are out of danger."
"Danger!" echoed Jack. "You ought to know by this time that I was not made to be killed so easily."
"Nevertheless," said Frank, "you are badly wounded. It will be several days before you will be able to get about."
"Several days!" cried Jack in dismay. "You take my word for it, I'll be up tomorrow."
"You'll stay right where you are until the doctor gives his permission for you to get up," said Frank firmly, "if I have to hold you in."
"Don't you believe it," cried Jack. "I'll be up and out of here tomorrow, or I'll know the reason why."
But he wasn't; for, as Frank had said, he was too badly wounded to be able to get about. The next day and the following one, while the Lena continued steadily on her course toward England, Jack was forced to lie in his bed.
It was not until the dawn of the third day that the surgeon gave him permission to go on deck. Supported by Frank's arm, the injured lad made his way to the bridge, where he took a deep breath of the invigorating air.
"By Jove! this feels good," he exclaimed, as a stiff breeze swept across the ship. "Think I'll camp out up here a while."
"Oh, no, you won't," replied Frank. "Just one hour, and then back to bed for you."
"By George! you'd think I was a baby the way you tell me what to do," said Jack, with some show of temper.
"You'll go back when your hour is up, if I have to drag you," said Frank. "And I don't believe you are in condition to put up much resistance."
"I guess you are right," replied Jack ruefully.
His hour up he returned to his cabin and Frank once more tucked him comfortably in bed.
It was several days before Jack was able to get about the ship with his accustomed alacrity; and then the Lena was well out of African waters, steaming up the coast of Portugal — the English channel and London now not far away.
Jack had now resumed command of the ship, and the boys, standing together on the bridge one fine morning, were congratulating themselves upon the success of the voyage, when from the lookout came a cry:
"Cruiser off the starboard bow, sir?"
"How is she headed?" demanded Jack.
"Coming right this way, sir."
"Can you make her out?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Let me know as soon as you can," was Jack's command.
It was fully half an hour later, and the cruiser was not yet plainly discernible to the naked eye, when the lookout called:
"She's British, sir."
"I wouldn't be too sure," muttered Jack to Frank. "She may be flying the English flag and still be an enemy. I don't trust these Germans much."
"Nor I," agreed Frank. "However, we will soon know whether she is friend or foe."
Slowly the cruiser drew nearer. Now the boys were able to make out the British flag flying at her masthead. There came a puff of smoke from the stranger, and a shot passed over the bow of the Lena.
"Signal to show our colors," muttered Frank.
At his command the British ensign soon fluttered gaily in the breeze.
Came another shot from the cruiser.
"What's the matter now, do you suppose?" asked Frank. "That's a signal to heave to. If she's British, what does she want us to heave to for?"
The vessels were still a considerable distance apart, and night was drawing on. The answer to Frank's question came from the approaching vessel.
The British ensign flying at the masthead of the approaching cruiser suddenly came fluttering down, and a moment later the Red, white and Black of Germany fluttered aloft in its stead.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Jack. "I was afraid of it!"
At the same moment another shot crossed the Lena's bow.
Jack acted with decision and promptness. At a quick command the Lena raised the German flag. Then, as the German commander hesitated, fearing to fire lest the vessel really be of his own country, Jack signaled the engine-room for full speed ahead.
The Lena seemed to leap forward, and in a moment had turned her stern to the enemy, thus making her a harder target to hit. The German, evidently taken by surprise, could not bring her guns to bear in a moment, and that moment undoubtedly saved the Lena.
The small guns on the Lena, at Frank's command, were made ready for instant use, and the men were piped to quarters. Although well aware he was outranged by the enemy, Jack determined to fight his ship to the last.
"They'll know they have been in a battle unless they sink us before they come in range of our guns," said Jack grimly.
"You bet they will," replied Frank.
"Everything ready?" demanded Jack.
"All ready, sir," replied Frank, with a slight smile and a salute.
The second and third officers made their reports. The British were ready for instant action, and eager for the fray.
"We'll run as long as we can," said Jack, "but, if we can't outrun them, we'll turn about and give them a fight, anyhow."
This word was passed along to the crew, and a loud British cheer rang out across the waters of the North Atlantic. Frank and Jack were forced to smile.
"The British sailor would always rather fight than run," said Frank.
"Right," said Jack. "This running rather goes against me, too."
Now the forward guns of the German cruiser were brought into action, and heavy detonations rang out across the water. But the German gunners had not yet found the range, and the fact that the Lena was so maneuvered as to keep her stern to the enemy made the task of the enemy that much harder.
Darkness fell, and still the flight and pursuit continued, but so far the Lena had not been struck by a single shell. She had fired but one shot at the foe — from one of her small guns aft — but this had shown that the German cruiser was not yet within range of the Lena's guns.
Now that darkness had fallen the huge searchlight of the German cruiser played full upon the Lena. Suddenly Jack and Frank felt a terrific shock, and the Lena, for a moment, seemed to pause in her stride. A shell had struck the stem of the vessel. There was an explosion and a single high mast crashed to the deck.
Quickly a score of sailors sprang forward, and at a word from Frank, cleared away the wreckage and tumbled it overboard.
"Nothing serious, sir," reported the second officer, after a hurried investigation.
"Good!" said Jack calmly.
Then, so suddenly that it appeared to be the hand of magic, the searchlight of the German cruiser faded from view. Darkness fell over the Lena intense darkness.
The glare of the searchlight had vanished so suddenly that for a brief moment Frank did not determine the cause of it.
"What is it?" he demanded anxiously.
"Fog," replied Jack laconically, "and just in time. With luck, we may make our escape."
The course of the Lena was quickly altered, and she once more headed toward the coast of England.
At full speed the Lena continued her voyage through the dense fog.
"Is there any danger of our colliding with another ship, speeding along like this without knowing what is ahead?" asked Frank in some anxiety.
"Certainly," replied Jack. "However, it is a chance we must take. We know what lies behind, and the way I figure it is that it is better to take a chance on what may lie before rather than on what we know lies behind."
"Right," said Frank, and he became silent.
All night the Lena forged ahead at full speed through the fog, which hung thick and dismal overhead and all about; and all this time the boys did not leave the bridge.
The men were allowed to rest at their posts, but were kept on the alert, for, as Jack said, "we must be prepared for anything."
Jack looked at his watch. It was 8 o'clock in the morning; and, even as he glanced at his timepiece, the fog lifted as suddenly as it had enveloped them.
"This is better —" Frank began, and broke off with a cry of amazement.
Not a hundred yards to the leeward his eyes fell upon the dark hull of the German cruiser which had pursued them the night before. Evidently the commander of the vessel had anticipated the course of the Lena and had taken the same route. There is no telling in what imminent danger the two had been of a collision during the night, as both had sped along silently, each fearing to betray his presence to the other.
Jack espied the enemy at the same instant that Frank cried out; and he acted upon the instant.
Hoarse commands were shouted across the decks of the Lena, and a moment later her small guns burst into sound. In spite of the fact that the enemy must have been on the lookout for the Lena, it was apparent that the Lena had been the first to realize the presence of the other.
"Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!" spoke the Lena's guns, and the sound went hurtling out across the sea.
At this close range a miss was almost out of the question, and the Lena's shells crashed into the sides of the German cruiser. The German vessel staggered and reeled, but in a moment her big guns answered the smaller caliber ones of the Lena.
The Lena quivered like a human thing under the deadly hail of fire from the enemy. The great guns raked the merchant ship from stem to stem, pierced her until her sides resembled nothing more than a sieve. Men fell everywhere, many prisoners being killed by fragments. But still the Lena continued to fight back.
Standing upon the bridge Jack directed the fighting of his ship. He realized in the first moment of contact that the doom of the Lena was sealed. She was no match for the German cruiser, but, before going down, it was his intention to do as much damage as possible to the enemy. And the fire of the Lena was doing terrific damage.
Men fell on the cruiser as well as on the Lena. Shells crashed aboard, tumbling down masts, bursting in the mouths of the guns and hurling showers of iron about. Grimy-faced men ran hither and thither about the decks of both vessels. They had long since lost all resemblance to human beings, and all fought like demons.
The German commander did not call upon the British to surrender. Evidently he did not wish to be bothered with prizes. To sink the enemy — that was his sole aim.
One by one the guns of the Lena were put out of action, until finally but two remained to reply to the fire of the enemy. Slowly the head of the Lena swung round, to permit of these last two guns being brought to bear.
"Boom! Boom!" They spoke their last message, and two shells pierced the very heart of the German cruiser.
There was a sudden, terrific explosion. A fierce red sheet of flame leaped from the German cruiser, and shot high in the air. The center turret rose with the flame and fell back to the waters of the North Atlantic in a million pieces.
The magazine of the cruiser had blown up! Her vitals were opened and the waters engulfed her.
The two lads stood on the bridge of the Lena, open-mouthed, awed by this spectacle. Both were too surprised to speak. At the very moment when the battle seemed lost, one well-directed shot had turned the fortunes of war in favor of the arms of the British.
At length Frank spoke.
"It is a miracle!" he exclaimed.
"No," replied Jack calmly, "not a miracle; rather, the courage and bravery of the sons of Britain are responsible for this good fortune."
He turned his eyes upon the floating wreckage. Not a survivor was in sight. "Poor fellows!" he said, half aloud, "may they rest in peace!"
At this moment the chief engineer came rushing on deck. Blood streamed down his face and one arm hung limp at his side.
"The engines are out of commission, sir," he reported, "and there is three feet of water in the engine-room. The ship is sinking!"
Jack drew himself up to his full height and shouted out his orders:
"Man the boats!" he cried.
He called the second and third officers.
"Look after the wounded," he commanded. "See that they are all placed in the boats. Release the prisoners, but they must shift for themselves."
"And the dead, sir?" questioned the second office.
Jack lifted his cap from his head.
"The dead," he said softly, "must be left to the mercy of the sea. We can do them no good."
The second officer saluted and hurried away.
Frank and Jack superintended the lowering of the boats. Each small craft already contained a quantity of provisions and water, and, at Jack's command, such small arms as could be hurriedly secured were thrown overboard. The wounded were lifted gently into the boats — the dead left where they had fallen. The last act was to release the prisoners. That was all that could be done for them.
At last all the boats were manned, and, at a word from Jack, they put away from the ship. Each boat was crowded, for some had been damaged in the battle with the German cruiser and made unfit for use.
Slowly the boats pulled away from the Lena.
"Which way?" asked Frank.
"Due east," replied Jack. "We must be some place off the coast of France, and, unless a storm arises, we stand a good chance of reaching land safely."
He cast his eyes toward the Lena.
"And hurry!" he commanded. "The Lena is likely to go down any moment, and, if we do not put some distance between us, she is likely to carry us under also."
The men in the boats bent to their work with a will, and soon they were out of danger.
"There she goes!" exclaimed Frank suddenly, and, standing up in the boat, be pointed a finger toward the Lena.
Slowly the ship had been settling by the head. Now she sank lower and lower in the water. A terrible hissing arose and went forth across the sea. The water had reached her boilers.
Then the bow of the ship climbed clear out of the water, for a moment pointed almost straight toward the sky — it seemed that she would turn completely over — then suddenly lurched heavily forward, and dived.
The water foamed angrily white, parted quietly for the Lena, as she took her death plunge, rose high in the air; then, its fury over, closed calmly over her. The Lena was gone.
"And so," said Jack sadly, "goes my first command!"
Frank laid his hand on his friend's arm.
"It's pretty tough," he said, "but there is no use crying over spilt milk. What can't be cured must be endured, you know."
"You are right," replied Jack, "and the thing do now is to try and reach land."
Standing up in the boat and shading his eyes with one band he looked eastward across the water for a long time. Then he sat down.
"See anything?" Frank asked.
"Have you any idea how far we are from shore?"
"I don't believe we can be very far away. With clear weather and steady rowing I believe we should make land within twenty-four hours, at least."
"Well," said Frank, "when we get ashore, what then?"
"Why," replied Jack, "we must return to London if we can and report to the Admiralty."
"And then what?"
"Then," said Jack slowly, "I hope we shall once more be assigned to a ship that is going into battle, that we may avenge ourselves for the loss of the Lena, and, yes, the death of Lord Hastings!"
UNDER THE TRICOLOR
It was to be many a long day before Frank and Jack were destined to see London again.
All day, following the loss of the Lena, the little boats bobbed up and down on the smooth sea, as they headed eastward as fast as strong British arms could drive them. All day the sun shone brightly, but as night drew on the air became cold and penetrating. The men wrapped themselves up as tightly as they could but even this did not keep out the chill.
Frank and Jack took turns sleeping and in keeping watch. At length the darkness began to give way to light; and, in the cold gray dawn of another day Jack, standing watch in the first boat, made out something in the distance that caused him to utter a loud cry.
Because of the intense darkness they had approached thus close without having gained a glimpse of what Jack now saw.
It was land.
Frank, aroused by Jack's cry, was on his feet in an instant and echoed his friend's cry of joy.
"Where do you suppose we are?" he asked.
"At a rough guess, I should say off the coast of France," was Jack's reply.
"Good! Then we should be perfectly safe."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said Jack. "You never can tell what is going to happen in times like these. However, we will land as soon as possible."
The sun was high in the sky when the first of the little boats, rounding a sharp promontory, came in sight of a large vessel. She was plainly a ship of war, anchored a mile off the coast in a little bay. Beyond the lads could make out the houses of what appeared to be a small town.
"Wonder what place that is?" said Frank.
"I don't know," replied Jack, "but we'll soon find out. See! Our presence has been discovered."
Frank looked in the direction Jack pointed. It was true. They were close enough to the vessel now for the lads to make out several figures standing upon the deck, pointing toward them and gesticulating.
A moment later and the guns on the vessel shone in the sunlight, as the ship came about. They were pointed squarely at the little British flotilla.
A flag was quickly, run up to the masthead. The boys made it out in an instant — the tricolor of France. A cheer went up from the British sailors, and in one of the boats a sailor sprang to his feet and waved a British ensign above his head.
This was seen from the deck of the French vessel, and several small boats were hurriedly manned and came toward the British. Within hailing distance a voice cried out in French:
"Who are you and where from?"
"British prize crew aboard German merchantman, which was sunk by a German cruiser yesterday," Jack shouted back.
The French boats approached closer. The men in them were all armed, and it was plainly apparent they were not too confident of the identity of the British. They held their rifles ready for instant use, and small rapid-firers in the prow of each craft were ready for business.
But now that the French had approached close enough for their commander to distinguish the faces of the English sailors the tenseness of the French sailors relaxed, and they came on more confidently. The French officer ran his boat close to the one occupied by Frank and Jack and leaped lightly aboard it. The lads rose to greet him.
All three saluted, and the French officer said:
"I'm glad to see you."
"Not half as glad as we are to see you," replied Jack with enthusiasm. "This time yesterday we didn't know whether we would ever see land again or not."
"You have been adrift all that time?" questioned the officer.
"You said something about having been sunk by a German cruiser. Why didn't they pick you up?"
"Because they were already at the bottom of the sea," replied Jack calmly.
"You mean that you sunk them with the small guns of your ship?" asked the officer in great wonderment.
"Yes," replied Jack briefly. "We were fortunate enough to do that with our last shot."
"Good for you!" ejaculated the officer. "But come! You must go aboard the Marie Theresa. Captain Dreyfuss will indeed be glad to greet two such gallant Englishmen."
It was fully half an hour later, the lads in the meantime having seen to the disposition of the British sailors aboard the French cruiser, before Jack and Frank were seated in the commander's cabin, relating their experiences to him.
"And what do you plan to do now?" asked the commander, after he had complimented the boys upon their gallant conduct.
"Well," replied Frank, "we had thought of returning to London. By the way, just whereabouts are we?"
The commander swept an arm in the direction of the little town.
"That," he said, "is St. Julien, on the southern coast of France. Bordeaux is to the north, and, in the event that you are planning to return to London, it will be necessary to go that way. If I were bound that way, I would gladly land you there, but I am not."
"May I ask which way you are going?" asked Frank.
"I am bound for the Adriatic," replied the commander, "to join the rest of the French fleet blockading the Austrians there."
"By Jove!' ejaculated Jack suddenly, struck with a sudden idea. "Why cannot we go with you, Captain Dreyfuss."
"Go with me?" echoed the commander of the Marie Theresa.
"Yes," cried Frank, falling in with the idea at once. "May we, captain?"
The captain mused silently for some time.
"It would be very irregular," he said at length.
"We would certainly be pleased to see service under another flag," persisted Jack.
"Indeed we would," agreed Frank; "and we would be willing to go in any capacity. If we go to London we may have a long wait before being assigned to another ship."
Suddenly Captain Dreyfuss slapped his leg with his hand and got to his feet.
"It shall be done," he said; "and, I may say that I shall be glad of your company. I will have you shown your quarters. As it happens, I am short handed. I shall see that your crew is set ashore and given passage for London."
At his signal a young midshipman entered the cabin and came to attention.
"I place these young men in your charge," Captain Dreyfuss said to him. "You will show them quarters. From this time on they will be your shipmates."
The young Frenchman saluted, and the lads followed him from the commander's cabin.
He showed them to very neat quarters and said abruptly:
"You will bunk here."
He departed without another word. Frank and Jack stared after him in some surprise.
"Nice, pleasant companion he'll make," said Frank with fine sarcasm.
"I should say so," answered Jack. "From his actions you'd think we had done something to offend him."
"Oh, well," said Frank, "I guess we don't need to worry a whole lot about him."
"No," said Jack, "but just the same I would rather be on good terms with all on board."
The British sailors had now been gathered on deck and Frank and Jack went up to bid them goodbye. As they were rowed away in the direction of the little town the sailors stood up in the boats and gave three lusty cheers for both lads. The lads waved their hats at them.
"You'd think these English were somebody," came a voice from Frank's elbow, and turning the lad saw several French midshipmen standing nearby. "They leave us to do all the fighting," continued one, whom Frank now recognized as the one who had escorted them to their quarters. "If they fought as well as they talk, this war wouldn't last long."
Frank took a quick step toward the speaker, but Jack's hand fell on his arm and stayed him.
"Quiet," said Jack. "We don't want to have any trouble with them. Besides their words do not apply to you. You are American."
"You are right," said Frank, and turned away.
Suddenly Captain Dreyfuss' voice rang out on the bridge. Instantly all became bustle and confusion. The Marie Theresa was about to get under way. Not yet having been assigned to their duties, Jack and Frank stood a little to one side.
Slowly the big battle cruiser got under way. With her flag flying proudly, she turned her stern toward the shore and made for the open sea. Soon she was heading southward at full speed.
Now a second midshipman approached the lads.
"I am instructed to show you your duties," he said, without enthusiasm, and the boys could see that he was not well pleased with his task.
Frank stepped up to him and held out his hand. "See here," he said, "why can't we be friends?'
The Frenchman took the proffered hand and shook it half-heartedly. He glanced furtively about, evidently in fear that some of his comrades might see him in this compromising situation. Then, as rapidly as possible, he instructed the lads in their tasks.
"And now," he concluded, "dinner is ready. You will mess with the other midshipmen. Come, will show you the way."
Without a word the lads followed him. The long table was already filled. + But there were still some vacant seats. Frank and Jack dropped into these.
"Midshipman Templeton and Midshipman Chadwick," said their escort, introducing them to the rest, with a sweep of his arm.
Frank and Jack rose from their seats and bowed. The young Frenchmen barely acknowledged the introduction with nods of their heads.
Frank's face flushed, and he made as if to rise, but, again Jack stayed him, and they fell to eating in silence. Several times during the meal some Frenchman inadvertently made a remark derogatory to the fighting ability of the English.
Frank held his temper, though his face burned,'' and Jack was fearful that his friend would soon be mixed up in trouble again. However, the meal finally came to an end, and Jack and Frank arose with the others to leave the room.
To the deck below, where the midshipmen were wont to spend most of their leisure hours, the lads followed the Frenchmen. Here some drew cigarettes from their pockets, and, in spite of the regulations against this practice, proceeded to light up in most approved style.
Then they broke up into little knots, and Jack and Frank found themselves left to themselves.
"Come," said Jack at length, "we might as well go on deck."
He took Frank by the arm and started away. As they neared the door, a big, hulking Frenchman suddenly stretched forth a foot, and Frank, who had not noticed this obstruction, tripped and fell heavily to the deck.
He was up in a moment, his face a dull red. He turned on the now giggling midshipmen, angrily.
"Who did that?" he demanded, taking a step forward and doubling up his fists.
A laugh went round the room, but there was, no reply.
"Who did that?" demanded Frank again.
The big French middie who had tripped the lad stepped forward.
"I did it," he replied, thrusting out his face. "What of it?"
"Just this," replied Frank, and started forward. Jack stopped him.
"Here's where I get into this," he said quietly. "I tried to keep out, but it's no use. Stand aside, Frank, can't you see you are no match for him."
"Step aside nothing," said Frank, struggling, in Jack's grasp. "I never saw a Frenchman yet I couldn't lick."
"Well," said Jack calmly, "this is one you won't lick. I'm going to do it myself. It's my fight, anyway in vain did Frank struggle. He was like a child in his friend's strong hands.
The big Frenchman thrust his face forward again.
"So you are going to interfere, are you?" he said.
"Yes," said Jack pleasantly, "and you'll wish I hadn't."
"Then take that," cried the Frenchman, and struck out suddenly.
Jack leaped back quickly, but he was not swift enough to entirely avoid the blow. A tiny stream of blood trickled from his nose. Without a word he calmly drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away the red drops. Then he stepped forward and spoke to all.
"Now," he said quietly, "this chap is going to pay for that. Are you gentlemen here? Will you see that this is conducted in a proper manner, or is it to be a rough-and-tumble?"
One of the French middies stepped forward suddenly. He offered Jack his hand.
"I'll see that it is conducted ship-shape," he said. "You impress me as a brave man, and I'll see that you get fair play."
"Thanks," said Jack laconically, accepting his hand.
"I might as well tell you, however," continued the Frenchman, "that you are up against more than your match. This man is one of the heavyweight aspirants for the championship of the French navy, and has several scalps to his credit."
"I guess he hasn't bumped up against an Englishman," was Jack's reply.
"What's it to be?" asked the Frenchman.
"Anything suits me," said Jack.
"To a finish," grumbled Jack's antagonist.
Quickly a square was marked off, and, enjoining the spectators to silence, the young Frenchman who appeared more friendly than the rest as self-appointed referee called time.
Jack and his opponent squared off.
JACK MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF
Frank, who had never seen Jack exhibit his prowess in the fistic art, and who was rather a skillful boxer himself, though by no means a heavyweight, muttered to himself:
"Why didn't I insist on taking him on myself? Jack is due for a good lacing. He's strong enough, but he hasn't the science, I'm afraid."
He stood nervously in his friend's corner.
The Frenchman opened the fight with a rush, and his friends uttered subdued cheers and encouragement as he dashed at Jack. In size, it appeared that the two were about evenly matched, although the Frenchman was a shade taller than his opponent.
That his comrades believed him a master of the fistic art was evinced by their cries:
"Finish him up quickly."
"Let him stay a couple of rounds."
"No; one round's enough."
The Frenchman rushed, evidently having decided to finish the fight as quickly as possible. His expression showed that he had no doubt of his ability to polish off the Englishman and of his superiority as a boxer.
Jack met the first rush calmly, and with a slight smile on his face. His guard was perfect and not a blow reached him. The Frenchman landed blow after blow upon Jack's arms, with which the lad covered first his face and then his body.
Frank, having a knowledge of boxing, realized that he was witnessing a defense that was indeed remarkable, and muttered happily to himself. But to the rest of the spectators it appeared that their idol was hitting his man at will, and they continued to encourage him with low words, at the same time hurling epithets at Jack.
So far Jack had not attempted to strike a blow; nor had he given ground. He had presented a perfect defense to his opponent, who danced rapidly about him, striking from this side and that. The round ended, and still Jack had not offered at his opponent.
The Frenchman himself, however, skillful boxer that he was, was not deceived. He realized, as he rested in his corner, that he had met a foeman worthy of the best he had to offer. As yet, though, he had no means of telling what the lad had in store for an attack of his own; but he realized that Jack's defense was well-nigh perfect.
Therefore, when they advanced to the middle of the ring for the second round, he was more wary, for he had no mind to let Jack slip over a hard blow through carelessness. Suddenly Jack led with his right, then made as if to land with his left. The Frenchman threw up his arm to guard the latter blow, and Jack's right, which had not been checked — the feint with the left having made the desired opening — caught the Frenchman flush on the nose.
The Frenchman staggered back. Jack followed this advantage with a quick left and then another right to the Frenchman's face. Both blows had steam behind them, and his opponent, plainly in distress, covered up quickly and cinched.
In the clinch he attempted to deliver several short arm blows, but Jack was prepared for this kind of fighting, and blocked them with ease. Finally the two broke, and the Frenchman stood on the defensive.
It was apparent to all who were not too prejudiced that he now stood in awe of his opponent's hitting power.
Then they stood off and boxed at long range, and Jack trimmed his adversary beautifully. Tiring of this, the Frenchman rushed, but time was called as he swung wildly. In swinging he left a wide opening. Jack, starting a hard blow, turned it aside when the referee called time.
"Where did you learn to box?' asked Frank breathlessly between rounds.
"Why," said Jack, with a smile, "from my father. He was rather proficient in the use of his fists."
"He must have been," said Frank dryly. "Why didn't you tell me you could box?"
"You never asked me," replied Jack calmly.
He arose and walked slowly to meet his opponent as the referee again called time.
"Now, my friend," said Jack to his opponent, "I am going to give you as good a licking as you ever have had."
He feinted with dazzling rapidity several times, and drove a straight left to the Frenchman's ear. With lightning-like quickness he played a tattoo upon the Frenchman's face and body. Bewildered, his opponent dashed into a clinch.
"If you say so, we'll call this off right here," said Jack.
The Frenchman suddenly freed himself, and his reply to this kindly offer was to send a jab to Jack's nose, drawing blood.
"Just for that," said Jack quietly, who felt somewhat ashamed at having been caught off his guard, "I'll finish this fight right now. There is no need prolonging it."
Once, twice, he rocked the Frenchman's head, and then, as the latter came forward in a last desperate effort, Jack pivoted on his heel, and, starting his left low, swung. The Frenchman checked himself in his attack, and desperately tried to leap back.
But it was too late. Through his guard went the blow, and, catching the Frenchman on the point of the chin, it lifted him from his feet and into the air.
At least four feet through the air went the Frenchman, and came to the deck, head first, at the feet of his friends. He lay there while the referee counted him out.
Quickly Jack leaped forward, and, kneeling, raised his late opponent's head.
"Water, some of you," he called.
It was quickly brought, and Jack, wetting his handkerchief, bathed the Frenchman's face. His efforts were at last rewarded by a slight groan, and finally the unconscious man opened his eyes.
"What hit me?" he asked in a faint whisper.
"It's all right, old man," said Jack. "You'll be all right in a second."
Slowly the light of comprehension dawned in the Frenchman's eyes. He struggled to his feet, where he stood uncertainly for a few moments, looking at his conqueror.
Jack extended a hand.
"I'm sorry I had to do it," he said, a pleasant smile lighting up his face.
The Frenchman looked at him in silence for a full minute, then, stepping forward, he grasped the outstretched hand.
"What are you," he demanded, grinning, "a prizefighter?"
"No," said Jack, with a laugh, "but I guess I have had better training than you."
"Well," said the Frenchman, "if you ever need anybody to help you out, you can count on me. Maybe some day you will bump up against someone who can best you, but I believe the two of us together can put him down."
"Thanks," laughed Jack, "I'll remember that offer when the time comes."
The other French middies now gathered found and shook Jack and Frank both by the hand, while the one who had first made himself odious apologized profusely for his actions.
"Say no more about it," exclaimed Frank. "I'm glad we're all friends at last."
Further conversation was interrupted by the sudden sound of a bugle on deck. It was the call to quarters.
Quickly all sprang to their posts. Men dashed hither and thither, and in almost less time than it takes to tell it the Marie Theresa was cleared for action.
Then, at last having time to glance about, the two lads made out the cause of this sudden call. Several miles across the water could be seen two small cruisers. A closer look showed the boys the German flag flying at the masthead of each.
"Now," said Frank to Jack, "we'll have an opportunity of seeing how the French fight."
"They'll fight," said Jack briefly. "You may make sure of that."
"Nevertheless I would rather that we had an English crew."
Now the range was signaled to the gunners, and the Marie Theresa quivered and recoiled as the first of her big guns spoke. The shot fell short. Again the range was signaled, and once more the shot fell short, though nearer, the first of the German cruisers.
The third shot plowed up the water under her bow.
"We have the range now," said Jack, "we'll hit her next time."
His words proved true. A solid shot, hurled by one of the Marie Theresa's forward guns, struck the first German cruiser squarely in the side. The two following ones hit her just below the water line.
"That's pretty good shooting, if you ask me," said Frank enthusiastically.
But now the Germans also had succeeded in finding the range, and a shell burst over the Marie Theresa, hurling its fragments upon the deck. Five men went down, never to rise again.
As the battle progressed the two German cruisers drew farther and farther apart, until now they poured their fire upon the Marie Theresa from two directions. To avoid this cross fire, the commander of the Marie Theresa signaled full speed ahead, and dashed straight for the nearest of the enemy.
In spite of the galling fire from both of the enemy, the Marie Theresa bore down on the German cruiser. Too late the latter turned to flee from her larger opponent; but her guns continued to pour in her fire.
Although raked from stem to stern, the Marie Theresa had not been hit in a vital spot. The first German cruiser turned to run, but, by a quick maneuver, Captain Dreyfuss plowed into her as she turned. The sharp prow of the Marie Theresa crashed into the German amidships, and so terrific was the impact that the French ship recoiled.
But it was the death-blow of the German cruiser. Men leaped into the small boats and put off from the ship, or flung themselves head first into the sea. The Marie Theresa drew off and turned her attention to the other German cruiser.
But the latter had had enough. She turned quickly and headed west. Boats were lowered from the Marie Theresa and hurried to the aid of the survivors of the enemy. Many were picked up and taken aboard the French ship.
On the bridge of the German cruiser' now settling fast, could be seen the German commander. Several officers were gathered about him. They were gesticulating violently, but to each the captain shook his head negatively.
"They'll all be drowned if they don't hurry," said Captain Dreyfuss anxiously. "Why don't the fools jump!"
Suddenly the German commander drew a revolver from his pocket, and pointed it directly at the protesting officers. They drew back. The German commander followed them.
One by one they threw themselves into the sea all but one. At him the commander pointed revolver, and shook his head vigorously. The latter protested.
Finally the German commander hurled his weapon far into the sea, and held out his hand. The officer took it, and, arm in arm, the two walked, back to the bridge.
The German cruiser lurched heavily, but the two German officers were unmindful of it. Calmly the commander drew two cigars from his pocket, and offered one to the officer. The latter accepted it, and, taking a match from his pocket, struck it calmly.
He held the match so his commander could get a light, then lighted his own cigar. Thus the two stood, calmly smoking, as the cruiser settled.
Slowly the fatally wounded craft sank lower and lower in the water, until nothing was visible below the bridge. Then, with a sudden lurch, this to disappeared — nothing but the mast remained — then nothing at all.
The German commander had gone down with his ship — as had so many before him — as would so many after him.
The commander of the Marie Theresa lifted his cap, uttering no word — a silent tribute to a hero.
IN THE ADRIATIC
The Marie Theresa had not escaped unscathed in the combat, but, although her injuries were not serious, they were such as to prevent a pursuit of the second German cruiser, which was dashing away at full speed.
The crew set to work with a will wreckage, and finally the vessel was shipshape once more. Then, at a command from Captain Dreyfuss, she was put on her course toward the south.
Several uneventful days passed, during which Frank and Jack struck up quite a friendship with their fellow middies. The unkindly spirit of the young Frenchmen gave way to real comradeship, and all were now on the best terms.
It was on a bright, sunny morning that the Marie Theresa steamed through the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, where the French fleet, with one or two British warships, had the entire Austrian naval force cooped up. The Austrians had made several dashes, in an attempt to run the blockade, but so far all such efforts had been unsuccessful.
As the Marie Theresa steamed up to the other vessels of the fleet, she was greeted with a salute. A short time later Captain Dreyfuss put off for the flagship in a small boat to pay his respects to the admiral.
It was late when he returned aboard the Marie Theresa, and immediately he set foot on board a subdued air of excitement became apparent. The midshipmen, not being in the confidence of the superior officers, at first could not account for this; but they soon learned its cause.
The Marie Theresa had been ordered to try and get closer to the Austrian fleet.
It was a well-known fact that all the Austrian ports had been mined, and that the heavy shore batteries of the enemy were more than a match for the big guns on the cruiser — that they outranged them — but, nevertheless, the crew of the Marie Theresa made what preparations were necessary with enthusiasm.
It was well after nightfall when the French cruiser moved slowly between the other vessels of the allied fleet, heading for the enemy. Not a light shone aboard the vessel, and there was not a sound to break the stillness of the night.
Beyond the rest of the fleet the Marie Theresa was forced to go more slowly, feeling her way cautiously to avoid being blown up by one of the many floating mines.
"This is ticklish work," said Jack to Frank, they moved slowly along.
"You bet," was the latter's reply. "This thing, of floating along, not knowing the next minute you are liable to be on the bottom, would try anybody's, nerves. By Jove! I can feel my hair standing end now."
"I guess it's not as bad as all that," laughed Jack.
"Well, I have a bad case of nerves, anyhow," replied Frank.
Suddenly, at a subdued cry from forward, the Marie Theresa came to a halt.
"Vessel of some sort dead ahead," the word was passed along.
A moment later a voice of command rang out:
"Pass the word for Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Templeton."
"Wonder what's up?" asked Frank, as they made their way to the bridge, where Captain Dreyfuss was standing.
"I guess we'll know soon enough," was Jack's reply.
They halted before their commander and came to attention.
"If I am not mistaken," said Captain Dreyfuss, pointing ahead, "that dark hull there is an Austrian vessel, whether a warship or not I cannot say. Now, the success of this venture depends upon silence. A shot from a big gun aboard that ship would mean failure for us. I have called you two lads to ask if you would like to undertake a dangerous task?"
"Yes, sir," replied Jack quietly.
"We shall be only too glad," said Frank eagerly.
"Well, then," continued, Captain Dreyfuss, "I believe that by a quick and silent dash you may be able to board her. If You are successful in getting aboard, your first duty will be to prevent the firing of one of the big guns. Luckily, we are still far from shore, so the sounds of a hand-to-hand struggle are not likely to be overheard. Are you willing to undertake this mission?"
"Yes, sir," replied both lads in a single voice.
"Good! You shall have fifty men. With the effect of a surprise, I believe this should be enough."
Half an hour later, while the Marie Theresa remained stationary, not even showing a light, Frank and Jack, with five small boats at their command, were creeping silently toward the Austrian vessel. Nearer and nearer they approached, and at length the first boat scraped the side of the larger vessel.
So far their presence had not been discovered.
Softly and silently Jack led the way to the deck of the enemy, which, it was now plain, was a small Austrian cruiser. Frank and the French sailors followed close at his heels.
As Jack's head came even with the rail, he paused to look about. And it was well that he did so. For not ten paces from him stood an Austrian sailor.
His eyes were turned in the opposite direction, and so stealthily did Jack now lower himself to the deck that he was not heard.
"I hate to do this," he muttered to himself, "but —"
A moment later his revolver butt crashed down on the Austrian's skull. The man dropped like a log. Hastily the lad led the way to the bridge, where, by quick action, the man on watch was overcome without the sound of a struggle.
Then half of the French turned their attention to the commander's cabin, while the others hastened to see that all means of egress from below were barred.
With drawn revolver Jack entered the cabin first. His eyes fell upon two officers playing checkers, one evidently the commander of the cruiser. So quietly did the lad enter the room that his presence was not discovered until he spoke.
"Hands up!" he commanded.
The officers leaped to their feet with a single movement, and the hand of the commander fell upon his revolver, while the other, unarmed though he was, dashed straight at Jack.
Jack's revolver spoke sharply once, and the second Austrian officer tumbled in a heap to the deck. Before the commander could draw his weapon Jack had him covered.
"None of that," he said sharply, as the commander made another move as though to draw.
The Austrian commander evidently thought better of his act, for his hands flew above his head. Jack advanced quickly and relieved him of his weapons. Then he marched him to the bridge.
"Now," said Jack calmly, "you will signal the engine-room for half-speed ahead."
The officer started to protest, but at the sight of Jack's revolver, leveled right at his head, he reconsidered and did as ordered. Jack now motioned Frank to stand guard over the Austrian commander, and himself took the wheel.
Slowly the Austrian cruiser, her head describing a wide circle, gathered speed and turned in the direction of the allied fleet. Evidently those below had no idea that anything was wrong, for not a sound reached the ears of those on deck.
Now, at Jack's command, the commander signaled the engine-room for full speed ahead, and the pace of the cruiser increased. Swiftly she dashed along in the night, but was suddenly checked in her flight by a hail from across the water:
"What ship is that?"
Jack recognized the voice of Captain Dreyfuss, and called back:
"Captured Austrian cruiser, sir. This is Templeton. What shall I do with her?"
"Take her on to the fleet," came the reply.
"Good work! I shall not wait for you to return but will continue immediately."
This was a disappointment to the two lads, who had banked on being aboard the Marie Theresa in her raid. However, orders were not to be disobeyed.
Day was breaking when the Austrian cruiser steamed in among the French ships. Jack went aboard the admiral's flagship and reported. It was while he was standing beside the admiral that a fearful commotion broke out on board the captured Austrian cruiser.
There was the sound of a big gun, and a shell screamed overhead.
"The fools!" exclaimed the admiral. "Can't they understand they have been captured?"
Evidently the Austrians could not, for a second shell screamed overhead.
Quickly the flagship signaled the French aboard the captured vessel to leave, and when they were over the side and well out of harm's way the French dreadnought opened fire on the cruiser.
Men now emerged from below on to the deck of the captured vessel, and rushed rapidly about.
An officer leveled a glass and took in the imposing sight of the French gathered about on all sides of him.
In another moment a white flag was run up at the masthead. It was the sign of surrender.
The French admiral complimented both lads highly on the success of their venture; and congratulated them again personally that night, when the Marie Theresa, after a successful raid into the very midst of the Austrian fleet, returned unscathed — leaving at the bottom of the sea two Austrian torpedo boats.
THE BATTLE IN THE ADRIATIC
The French and Austrian fleets were steaming into battle in the Adriatic. This coming struggle, while it was to be by no means decisive, was nevertheless the first engagement of any magnitude to be fought in southern waters; also it was the first in which fighters of the air were to play an important part.
The Marie Tieresa, back from her successful raid, was one of the foremost in the French line of battle. Now, as she steamed forward with the rest of the fleet, her hydroplanes were made ready for action.
Captain Dreyfuss summoned Jack and Frank before him.
"You will each take a seat in one of the hydroplanes," he ordered. "Your duties will be to drop bombs on the enemy. Each machine carries two men, one a pilot. Therefore you will each take separate machines."
Frank and Jack saluted, and a moment later were in their places. What was Jack's surprise to find that the pilot of his machine was none other than the French midshipman he had so lately engaged in fistic combat. The latter, whom the boys had learned to call Pierre, greeted him with a smile.
"I'm glad I am to have you along," he said simply.
"Thanks," was Jack's brief reply.
The French hydroplanes, at least fifty of them, from all the battleships, now skimmed over the water, and a moment later soared in the air. Flying on beyond the French ships, a smudge of smoke came into view, then another, and then many more. Ships of all kinds, Jack could see, dreadnoughts, cruisers, torpedo boats and scout ships, advancing toward them.
Then, as they drew nearer, Jack made out other vessels, lying low in the water, without smoke, approaching. These were the Austrian submarines. Jack counted the enemy — sixteen ships of all classes, and opposed to these the French had offered almost an equal number. The forces of both sides under and above the sea, of course, he could not count.
Some of the airships from both sides now came into contact, and brisk skirmishes ensued. Rifles flashed from them, and suddenly one tumbled into the sea. It was an Austrian craft, and it was first blood for the French.
Now the aircraft, at a signal, returned to their respective fleets, and hovered over them. The speed of both squadrons was reduced together. The submarines of both fleets suddenly sank from sight, and it was evident to Jack that the first blows probably would be struck from under water.
The aircraft once more advanced, flying low, seeking to learn the positions of the submarines, and to point them out to the gunners on the big battleships and cruisers. A periscope, extending a few feet above water, gave Jack a good target, and the lad dropped a bomb.
There was a terrific explosion below the water. The periscope disappeared. There was one Austrian submarine less.
The two squadrons of ships meantime were drawing nearer together. The first French battleship, flagship of the squadron, was now engaged with the first ship of the Austrian squadron. They were engaged gun for gun.
Now the second ships of each fleet came into action, and then the third. Ship after ship engaged the enemy, until the battle became general. For an instant, after each salvo, the rival squadrons were hidden from each other by the smoke of battle, but a brisk wind soon blew this away, and the cannonading continued.
Now one of the French vessels steered aside and dropped behind the line of battle. She was disabled.
The next ship moved up, and the French advance continued as before.
The torpedo craft of the French, gathered behind the French battle line dashed forward suddenly, headlong for the Austrian fleet. For two miles they sped on, apparently unnoticed by the enemy, then the great turret guns of the Austrians opened on them. The French torpedo craft began to suffer. Two together swung broadside to the Austrians, riddled with holes; the boiler of a third burst, the ship broke in two and sank almost instantly. But the others raced on.
Toward the big Austrian battleships they dashed. Austrian torpedo boats rushed out to meet them.
A shell from a French warship struck one of these, and she went to the bottom immediately. Others suffered by the French fire.
Four thousand yards from the Austrian fleet the French torpedo boats launched their torpedoes; then they fled back to the protection of the battleships, still engaged with the Austrian pursuers with small guns.
But they had done their work. A hundred torpedoes, driven by their motors of compressed air just below the surface, were steering automatically for the Austrian battleships.
Suddenly the fourth ship of the Austrian line staggered; a white spray of water leaped high in the air, and the Austrian vessel split into many pieces. The first torpedo had gone home. The fifth and sixth Austrian battleships also now leaped from the water, and then sank from sight. Farther back another Austrian ship dropped from the line of battle.