The World Peril of 1910George Chetwynd Griffith / Science Fiction
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THE WORLD PERIL OF 1910
AUTHOR OFTHE ANGEL OF THE REVOLUTION, A CONQUEST OF FORTUNE,A MAYFAIR MAGICIAN, HIS BETTER HALF, ETC. ETC.
F. V. WHITE & CO. LTD.
14, BEDFORD STREET, STRAND, W.C.
PROLOGUE--A RACE FOR A WOMAN 1
I. A MOMENTOUS EXPERIMENT 9
II. NORAH'S GOOD-BYE 17
III. SEEN UNDER THE MOON 24
IV. THE SHADOW OF THE TERROR 31
V. A GLIMPSE OF THE DOOM 37
VI. THE NOTE OF WAR 47
VII. CAUGHT! 55
VIII. FIRST BLOOD 63
IX. THE FLYING FISH APPEARS 72
X. FIRST BLOWS FROM THE AIR 79
XI. THE TRAGEDY OF THE TWO SQUADRONS 88
XII. HOW LONDON TOOK THE NEWS 98
XIII. A CRIME AND A MISTAKE 106
XIV. THE EVE OF BATTLE 115
XV. THE STRIFE OF GIANTS 123
XVI. HOW THE FRENCH LANDED AT PORTSMOUTH 132
XVII. AWAY FROM THE WARPATH 143
XVIII. A GLIMPSE OF THE PERIL 151
XIX. A CHANGE OF SCENE 160
XX. THE NIGHT OF TERROR BEGINS-- 167
XXI. --AND ENDS 176
XXII. DISASTER 182
XXIII. THE OTHER CAMPAIGN BEGINS 189
XXIV. TOM BOWCOCK--PITMAN 195
XXV. PREPARING FOR ACTION 201
XXVI. THE FIRST BOMBARDMENT OF LONDON 208
XXVII. LENNARD'S ULTIMATUM 215
XXVIII. CONCERNING ASTRONOMY AND OYSTERS 223
XXIX. THE LION WAKES 231
XXX. MR PARMENTER SAYS 239
XXXI. JOHN CASTELLAN'S THREAT 247
XXXII. A VIGIL IN THE NIGHT 254
XXXIII. MR PARMENTER RETURNS 261
XXXIV. THE AURIOLE 268
XXXV. THE AURIOLE HOISTS THE WHITE ENSIGN 273
XXXVI. A PARLEY AT ALDERSHOT 281
XXXVII. THE VERDICT OF SCIENCE 288
XXXVIII. WAITING FOR DOOM 295
XXXIX. THE LAST FIGHT 298
EPILOGUE--AND ON EARTH, PEACE! 305
THE WORLD PERIL OF 1910
A RACE FOR A WOMAN
In Clifden, the chief coast town of Connemara, there is a house at theend of a triangle which the two streets of the town form, the frontwindows of which look straight down the beautiful harbour and bay, whosewaters stretch out beyond the islands which are scattered along thecoast and, with the many submerged reefs, make the entrance sodifficult.
In the first-floor double-windowed room of this house, furnished as abed-sitting room, there was a man sitting at a writing-table--not anordinary writing-table, but one the dimensions of which were more suitedto the needs of an architect or an engineer than to those of a writer.In the middle of the table was a large drawing-desk, and on it waspinned a sheet of cartridge paper, which was almost covered withportions of designs.
In one corner there was what might be the conception of an enginedesigned for a destroyer or a submarine. In another corner there was asketch of something that looked like a lighthouse, and over against thisthe design of what might have been a lantern. The top left-hand cornerof the sheet was merely a blur of curved lines and shadings andcross-lines, running at a hundred different angles which no one, savethe man who had drawn them, could understand the meaning of.
In the middle of the sheet there was a very carefully-outlined drawingin hard pencil of a craft which was different from anything that hadever sailed upon the waters or below them, or, for the matter of that,above them.
To the right hand there was a rough, but absolutely accurate, copy ofthis same craft leaving the water and flying into the air, and justunderneath this a tiny sketch of a flying fish doing the same thing.
The man sitting before the drawing-board was an Irishman. He was one ofthose men with the strong, crisp hair, black brows and deep brown eyes,straight, strong nose almost in a line with his forehead, thin, nervouslips and pointed jaw, strong at the angles but weak at the point, whichcome only from one descent.
Nearly four hundred years before, one of the ships of the great Armadahad been wrecked on Achill Island, about twenty miles from where he sat.Half a dozen or so of the crew had been saved, and one of these was aSpanish gentleman, captain of Arquebusiers who, drenched and bedraggledas he was when the half-wild Irish fishermen got him out of the water,still looked what he was, a Hidalgo of Spain. He had been nursed back tohealth and strength in a miserable mud and turf-walled cottage, and,broken in fortune--for he was one of the many gentlemen of Spain who hadrisked their all on the fortunes of King Philip and the Great Armada,and lost--he refused to go back to his own country a beaten man.
And meanwhile he had fallen in love with the daughter of his nurse, thewife of the fisherman who had taken him more than half dead out of theraging Atlantic surf.
No man ever knew who he was, save that he was a gentleman, a Spaniard,and a Catholic. But when he returned to the perfection of physical andmental health, and had married the grey-eyed, dark-browed girl, who hadseemed to him during his long hours of sickness the guardian angel whohad brought him back across the line which marks the frontier betweenlife and death, he developed an extraordinary talent in boat-building,which was the real origin of the wonderful sea-worthiness of smallcraft which to this day brave, almost with impunity, the terrible seaswhich, after an unbroken run of almost two thousand miles, burst uponthe rock-bound, island-fenced coast of Connemara.
The man at the table was the descendant in the sixth generation of theunknown Spanish Hidalgo, who nearly four hundred years before had saidin reply to a question as to what his name was:
Juan de Castillano.
As the generations had passed, the name, as usual, had got modified, andthis man's name was John Castellan.
I think that will about do for the present, he said, getting up fromthe table and throwing his pencil down. I've got it almost perfectnow; and then as he bent down again over the table, and looked overevery line of his drawings, Yes, it's about all there. I wonder what myLords of the British Admiralty would give to know what that means. Well,God save Ireland, they shall some day!
He unpinned the paper from the board, rolled it up, and put it into thetop drawer of an old oak cabinet, which one would hardly have expectedto find in such a room as that, and locked the drawer with a key on hiskeychain. Then he took his cap from a peg on the door, and his gun fromthe corner beside it, and went out.
There are three ways out of Clifden to the west, one to the southwardtakes you over the old bridge, which arches the narrow rock-walledgorge, which gathers up the waters of the river after they have hadtheir frolic over the rocks above. The other is a continuation of themain street, and this, as it approaches the harbour, where you may nowsee boats built on the pattern which John Castellan's ancestor haddesigned, divides into two roads, one leading along the shore of thebay, and the other, rough, stony, and ill-kept, takes you above thecoast-guard station, and leads to nowhere but the Atlantic Ocean.
Between these two roads lies in what was once a park, but which is now awilderness, Clifden Castle. Castle in Irish means country house, andall over the south and west of Ireland you may find such houses as thiswith doors screwed up, windows covered with planks, roofs and eavesstripped of the lead and slates which once protected them from thestorms which rise up from the Atlantic, and burst in wind and rain, snowand sleet over Connemara, long ago taken away to sell by the bankruptheirs of those who ruined themselves, mortgaged and sold every acre ofground and every stick and stone they owned to maintain what they calledthe dignity of their families at the Vice-Regal Court in Dublin.
John Castellan took the lower road, looking for duck. The old house hadbeen the home of his grandfather, but he had never lived in it. The ruinhad come in his father's time, before he had learned to walk. He lookedat it as he passed, and his teeth clenched and his brows came togetherin a straight line.
Almost at the same moment that he left his house an Englishman came outof the Railway Hotel. He also had a gun over his shoulder, and he tookthe upper road. These two men, who were to meet for the first time thatday, were destined to decide the fate of the world between them.
As John Castellan walked past the ruined distillery, which overlooks thebeach on which the fishing boats are drawn up, he saw a couple of duckflying seaward. He quickened his pace, and walked on until he turned thebend of the road, at which on the right-hand side a path leads up to agate in the old wall, which still guards the ragged domains of ClifdenCastle. A few hundred yards away there is a little peninsula, on whichstands a house built somewhat in bungalow fashion. The curve of thepeninsula turns to the eastward, and makes a tiny bay of almost crescentshape. In this the pair of duck settled.
John Castellan picked up a stone from the road, and threw it into thewater. As the birds rose his gun went up. His right barrel banged andthe duck fell. The drake flew landward: he fired his left barrel andmissed. Then came a bang from the upper road, and the drake dropped.The Englishman had killed it with a wire cartridge in his choked leftbarrel.
I wonder who the devil did that! said Castellan, as he saw the birdfall. It was eighty yards if it was an inch, and that's a good gun witha good man behind it.
The Englishman left the road to pick up the bird and then went down thesteep, stony hillside towards the shore of the silver-mouthed bay in thehope of getting another shot farther on, for the birds were nowbeginning to come over; and so it came about that he and the Irishmanmet within a few yards of each other, one on either side of a low spitof sand and shingle.
That was a fine shot you killed the drake with, said the Irishman,looking at the bird he was carrying by the legs in his left hand.
A good gun, and a wire cartridge, I fancy, were mainly responsible forhis death, laughed the Englishman. See you've got the other.
Yes, and missed yours, said the Irishman.
The other recognised the tone as that of a man to whom failure, even inthe most insignificant matter, was hateful, and he saw a quick gleam inhis eyes which he remembered afterwards under very differentcircumstances.
But it so happened that the rivalry between them which was hereafter tohave such momentous consequences was to be manifested there and then ina fashion much more serious than the hitting or missing of a brace ofwild fowl.
Out on the smooth waters of the bay, about a quarter of a mile from thespit on which they stood, there were two boats. One was a light skiff,in which a girl, clad in white jersey and white flannel skirt, with awhite Tam o' Shanter pinned on her head, was sculling leisurely towardsthe town. From the swing of her body, the poise of her head andshoulders, and the smoothness with which her sculls dropped in the waterand left it, it was plain that she was a perfect mistress of the art;wherefore the two men looked at her, and admired.
The other craft was an ordinary rowing boat, manned by three lads outfor a spree. There was no one steering and the oars were going in andout of the water with a total disregard of time. The result was that hercourse was anything but a straight line. The girl's sculls made nonoise, and the youths were talking and laughing loudly.
Suddenly the boat veered sharply towards the skiff. The Englishman puthis hands to his mouth, and yelled with all the strength of his lungs.
Look out, you idiots, keep off shore!
But it was too late. The long, steady strokes were sending the skiffpretty fast through the smooth water. The boat swerved again, hit theskiff about midway between the stem and the rowlocks, and the nextmoment the sculler was in the water. In the same moment two guns and twoducks were flung to the ground, two jackets were torn off, two pairs ofshoes kicked away, and two men splashed into the water. Meanwhile thesculler had dropped quietly out of the sinking skiff, and after a glanceat the two heads, one fair and the other dark, ploughing towards her,turned on her side and began to swim slowly in their direction so as tolessen the distance as much as possible.
The boys, horrified at what they had done, made such a frantic effort togo to the rescue, that one of them caught a very bad crab; so bad,indeed that the consequent roll of the boat sent him headlong into thewater; and so the two others, one of whom was his elder brother, perhapsnaturally left the girl to her fate, and devoted their energies tosaving their companion.
Both John Castellan and the Englishman were good swimmers, and the racewas a very close thing. Still, four hundred yards with most of yourclothes on is a task calculated to try the strongest swimmer, and,although the student had swum almost since he could walk, his muscleswere not quite in such good form as those of the ex-athlete ofCambridge who, six months before, had won the Thames Swimming ClubHalf-mile Handicap from scratch.
Using side stroke and breast-stroke alternately they went at it almoststroke for stroke about half a dozen yards apart, and until they werewithin thirty yards or so of the third swimmer, they were practicallyneck and neck, though Castellan had the advantage of what might becalled the inside track. In other words he was a little nearer to thegirl than the Englishman.
When circumstances permitted they looked at each other, but, of course,neither of them was fool enough to waste his breath in speech. Still,each clearly understood that the other was going to get the girl firstif he could.
So the tenth yard from the prize was reached, and then the Englishmanshook his head up an inch, filled his lungs, rolled on to his side, andmade a spurt with the reserve of strength which he had kept for thepurpose. Inch by inch he drew ahead obliquely across Castellan's courseand, less than a yard in front of him, he put his right hand under thegirl's right side.
A lovely face, beautiful even though it was splashed all over with wetstrands of dark chestnut hair, turned towards him; a pair of big blueeyes which shone in spite of the salt water which made them blink,looked at him; and, after a cough, a very sweet voice with just asuspicion of Boston accent in it, said:
Thank you so much! It was real good of you! I can swim, but I don'tthink I could have got there with all these things on, and so I reckon Iowe you two gentlemen my life.
Castellan had swum round, and they took her under the arms to give her arest. The two boys left in the boat had managed to get an oar out totheir comrade just in time, and then haul him into the boat, which wasnow about fifty yards away; so as soon as the girl had got her breaththey swam with her to the boat, and lifted her hands on to the gunwale.
If you wouldn't mind, sir, picking up those oars, said theEnglishman, I will get the young lady into the boat, and then we canrow back.
Castellan gave him another look which said as plainly as words: Well, Isuppose she's your prize for the present, and swam off for the oars.With the eager help of the boys, who were now very frightened and verypenitent, the Englishman soon had the girl in the boat; and so it cameabout that an adventure which might well have deprived America of one ofher most beautiful and brilliant heiresses, resulted in nothing morethan a ducking for two men and one girl, a wet, but somehow notaltogether unpleasant walk, and a slight chill from which she had quiterecovered the next morning.
The after consequences of that race for the rescue were of course, quiteanother matter.