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       A Sub. of the R.N.R.: A Story of the Great War, p.1

           Percy F. Westerman
 
A Sub. of the R.N.R.: A Story of the Great War


  Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen

  cover art]

  A SUB. OF THE R.N.R.

  "Crash! went the anti-aircraft gun, and theprojectile, bursting almost in front of the bows, gave her a mortalblow."]

  A SUB. OF THE R.N.R.

  _A STORY OF THE GREAT WAR_

  BYPERCY F. WESTERMANAUTHOR OF "THE RIVAL SUBMARINES," "THE DREADNOUGHT OF THE AIR"ETC., ETC.

  _ILLUSTRATED BY W. E. WIGFULL_

  LONDONS. W. PARTRIDGE & CO., LTD.OLD BAILEY

  CONTENTS.

  CHAPTER I. FOUL PLAY IN THE ENGINE-ROOM II. ON THE SCENT III. THE DECLARATION OF WAR IV. A DOUBLE ARREST V. BOARDED VI. AN OCEAN DUEL VII. VON ECKENHARDT SCORES VIII. THE DUTCH TRAWLER IX. THE SECRET WIRELESS X. H.M.S. "STRONGBOW" SAILS XI. ALL IN A DAY'S WORK XII. MINED XIII. THE RAID ON SCARBOROUGH XIV. THE END OF THE "TERRIER" XV. VICE VERSÂ XVI. THE FLOORING OF MR. MCNAB XVII. THE END OF THE "BLUECHER" XVIII. DERELICTS XIX. THE SUBMARINE SCORES XX. A DUEL WITH A ZEPPELIN XXI. THE LAST OF THE "SYNTAX" XXII. THE TABLES TURNED XXIII. THE STRUGGLE IN THE CUTTING XXIV. THE "STRONGBOW'S" PRIZE XXV. THE WRECK XXVI. "THE PRICE OF ADMIRALTY" XXVII. "MEPHISTO" AND THE SUBMARINE XXVIII. THE FOILED AIR RAID XXIX. "LIEUTENANT AUBYN, R.N., D.S.O."

  A SUB. OF THE R.N.R.

  CHAPTER I.

  FOUL PLAY IN THE ENGINE-ROOM.

  "WELL, Mr. McBride?"

  "It's verra far from weel, sir," replied Jock McBride, chief engineerof the SS. "Saraband." Captain Ramshaw folded his arms and waited. Heknew that it was practically a matter of impossibility to urge therugged Scottish engineer beyond his usual gait. McBride could and didwork at high pressure, but when it came to making a report he was asslow and stolid as the proverbial obstinate mule.

  The SS. "Saraband," 5260 tons, intermediate boat of the Red BandLine, had developed engine troubles shortly after leaving Cape Town.In spite of the assiduous care and attention of the staff the faultdeveloped. Two hundred miles from Las Palmas the breakdown reached aclimax. Wallowing like a porpoise the steamer lay helpless in thetrough of the Atlantic rollers.

  "Ye ken ye tauld me to do three things, sir," resumed McBride."Firstly, to discover the fault, secondly, to remedy it, an' lastly,to prevent it from occurring again? We'll take case the furrst: here'tis."

  The chief engineer extended a black greasy hand. In the outstretchedpalm was an oily mass of metal chippings.

  "This is a sample from the high-pressure slide valves. They're badlyscored. It's nae fair play, for as sure as ma name's Jock McBride,this muck has been put in the gear deliberately. I'll hae ye to kenthat both port and starboard engines are damaged."

  "While we were in Table Bay?"

  "Of course, sir, when we took down the high-pressure cylinders."

  "The work was performed by our own staff?"

  "Aye, wurrst luck, by one of our ain people."

  McBride's lean, tanned face was purple with ill-suppressed anger."If I could discover the mon I'd not wait for the law to wurrk itscourse; I'd lay him oot an' stand the consequences. The remedy, sir,is simple, but 'tis the prevention that troubles me. If it is donewance, 'twill most likely occur again--unless I lay my hand on themon."

  "How many of the staff know of this?" asked Captain Ramshaw, pointingto the steel filings.

  "Only Meester Raeburn, sir, and he's as guid a lad as ever I hope tohave under me. It was he who removed the stuff an' showed it me."

  "Then caution him to keep his mouth shut on the business, Mr.McBride. When can you promise to have steam raised?"

  "A matter of twa' hours after we've re-assembled the high-pressureslide valves and the auxiliary starting valves, sir."

  "Very good, Mr. McBride, that will do."

  The chief engineer saluted and hurried off to the engine-room, whileCaptain Ramshaw made his way to the bridge, which was in charge ofChief Officer Lymore and the fourth officer, Terence Aubyn.

  Mr. Lymore, a short, broad-shouldered, powerfully built man, lookedinquiringly at his superior officer as the skipper mounted thebridge.

  "McBride's found the cause of the mischief, Mr. Lymore," announcedCaptain Ramshaw. "I do not want either you or Mr. Aubyn to mentionthe matter to any of the passengers and crew, and Mr. McBride hasundertaken to conceal the knowledge from his staff with the exceptionof Mr. Raeburn. I think the secret can be safely trusted with thosewhose names I've mentioned."

  "You can rely upon us, sir," said the chief officer, and TerenceAubyn touched his cap in acquiescence.

  "There's underhand work somewhere," continued the "old man." "McBrideinforms me that metal scrap has been surreptitiously placed in thehigh-pressure cylinders, and that it must have been done while theengines were being overhauled at Cape Town. As we had no outsidehelp, the culprit or culprits must have been one of our own men."

  "For what reason, do you suppose, sir?"

  "That I cannot say. The engineers are, I think, absolutelytrustworthy. The firemen are apparently contented. They are paid atrates considerably higher than those demanded by their Union. Theyhave no cause to be affected by labour troubles. And yet some one hasdeliberately attempted to delay the ship by maliciously tamperingwith the engines.

  "Will it be a long job, sir?" asked Lymore.

  "I think not. One blessing, the sea's fairly calm and the passengersdon't appear to be unduly anxious. There is now no necessity to senda call for assistance. You might go to the wireless-room, Mr. Aubyn,and tell the operator to inform our agents that the repairs are wellin hand, and that we hope to arrive at Las Palmas by daybreakto-morrow."

  Terence Aubyn saluted and hurried off. Keen on his work he realizedthe desirability of executing all orders "at the double." Alacrityafloat, he knew, is a sure password for success, and already he hadthe reputation of being a smart young officer.

  He was barely twenty-two years of age, tall, slimly built yetwell-proportioned. His complexion was normally fresh, but constantexposure to a tropical sun and the stinging salt spray of theAtlantic had tanned his skin to a rich deep red. His dark brown hair,in spite of being closely cut, showed a decided tendency to wave. Hiseyes were rather deep set and of a greyish hue, and were surroundedby a pair of regularly curved eyebrows. The depth of his foreheadindicated a sound judgment, while his powerful square jaw betokened afirmness almost bordering on obstinacy.

  Terence Aubyn had from his earliest days a strong and passionate loveof the sea. He came of an old naval family. For generations back theAubyns had served their sovereign worthily as officers in the RoyalNavy, and Terence fondly hoped to tread the quarter deck of a Britishbattleship as a fully commissioned naval officer.

  But hitherto the fates had not been kind to the lad.

  While he was still a lieutenant Terence's father had to retire, owingto ill-health. His disability pension was absolutely insufficient forhim to hope to send his son to Osborne. Two years later Mr. Aubyndied, leaving Terence, then a promising youth of fourteen, to makehis own way in the world.

  The lad had plenty of grit. He was determined to go to sea, althoughthe immediate prospect of service under the White Ensign seemed to bevery remote. There was a way--the hitherto somewhat despised "backdoor" method via the Red and Blue ensigns; and although he could nothope to be anything more than a Royal Naval Reserve officer, thechance of serving as such in a British man-of-war slowly but surelychanged from a shadow to a substance.

  So Terence offered himself at the "Red Band" Line offices as anapprentice and was accepted. Perhaps it was a mistake. It might havebeen better for him to have served part of his apprenticeship in asailing vessel. Be that as it may his application and
activity gainedhim the good opinion of the various masters under whom he served, andwith flying colours he obtained his Mate's and First Mate'scertificates.

  Two years later, having secured his "Master's Ticket," he wasappointed to SS. "Saraband." The way was now clear for him to applyfor a sub-lieutenancy in the Royal Naval Reserve, for, although onlyfourth officer, the ship exceeded 5000 tons; otherwise he would haveto wait until he was advanced another grade in mercantile rank. Atthe end of the present voyage he hoped to put in his firsttwenty-eight days training on board a battleship or cruiser.

  The "Saraband," though by no means a crack liner, was a fairly swiftboat. Built before the days of turbine engines she could even nowdevelop nineteen knots. She was homeward bound, carrying thirtyfirst-class passengers, seventy second-class, and a hundred andseventy "steerage." In addition to a heavy cargo, specie and bullionto the value of a quarter of a million was locked up in herstrong-room.

  Almost as soon as the "Saraband" cleared Table Bay trouble developedin her engines. Unaccountably the bearings of the main shaftingbecame badly overheated, then a peculiar grinding noise, so foreignto the smoothly purring engines that were the pride and delight ofChief Engineer McBride, became apparent. Finally, to prevent acomplete breakdown, the "Saraband" was stopped in mid-ocean whileMcBride and his staff ascertained and rectified the damage.

  The old Scotsman was right. Some one had maliciously tampered withthe machinery--but for what purpose?

  The fourth officer made his way to the wireless-room and knocked atthe door. He was answered by Wilcox, the second operator. A glimpseinto the room revealed Grant, the senior man, seated at a table withthe receivers clipped to his ears.

  "Anything special?" asked Aubyn casually, after he had delivered the"old man's" instructions.

  "Slightly," drawled Wilcox. He invariably drawled, no matter theimportance of whatever he was about to convey. "Message just comethrough. Germany has declared war on Russia and has invaded Frenchterritory."

  "By Jove! That sounds exciting," commented Aubyn.

  "Perhaps," rejoined the wireless operator. "For one thing it willgive the ship's newspaper a friendly lead. There's been preciouslittle in it for the last three days. I'm just sending out thenotices," and he held up a sheaf of duplicated papers fordistribution in various parts of the ship. "Would you mind takingthem to the bridge."

  In five minutes the news had spread all over the "Saraband." Thehitherto lethargic passengers developed intense excitement, and greatwas the speculation as to when the trouble would end.

  "A jolly good thing for us," observed one of the first-classpassengers, as Terence passed along the promenade deck. "It willspoil Germany's trade for a while, and we can collar the lot whileher hands are full."

  "Unless we are drawn in," remarked another.

  "Rot!" ejaculated the first contemptuously. "The Government wouldnever allow it. Take my word for it: we'll adopt the same attitude aswe did in '70--strict neutrality and make as much as we can out ofall the belligerents. The idea of war between Great Britain andGermany is preposterous."

  The fourth officer passed on. Much as he would have liked to hear thecontinuation of the argument he was unable to delay returning to hispost.

  Shortly after Aubyn's arrival on the bridge, a large German liner,the "Hertzolf," bore down upon the "Saraband." She had some timepreviously picked up the British vessel's wireless reports of herdisabled condition, and in spite of Captain Ramshaw's refusal toaccept assistance, had steamed out of her course to investigate.

  After receiving reiterated assurances that the work of repairing themachinery was well in hand, the "Hertzolf" inquired how long the taskwould take.

  "Tell them we are almost ready to get up steam," ordered the "oldman," somewhat nettled. "Thank them for their inquiries, and saythat we will not detain them longer."

  Five minutes later the "Hertzolfs" propellers began to churn thewater. Gathering way she dipped her red, white, and black ensign, acompliment that the "Saraband" promptly returned. This done sheshaped a course to the sou'-west and was soon hull-down.

  "Too jolly inquisitive for my liking," muttered Captain Ramshaw. "Iwish to goodness old McBride would get his job finished." He movedtowards the telephone communicating with the engine-room, then,abruptly wheeling:--

  "Mr. Aubyn," he exclaimed. "Present my compliments to the chiefengineer, and ask him if he can give me any definite information asto when he will be able to raise steam."

 
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