Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 18 October 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-29

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The Strange Warship

WITH more than twelve thousand pounds' worth of bar silver in her hold, the stout little salvage steamer Camel pounded onwards, across the grey waste of Antarctic rollers. She was all alone on the dreary expanse of tumbling waters and sturdy as was her build, she looked too small a thing to cope with the mountainous seas of the most stormy ocean in the world.

Dawn was just breaking, a pale, watery dawn, and the yellow light showed, far to the east, a line of tremendous cliffs and headlands, against which the giant waves flung themselves in tall flashes of white.

Eyes reddened with the bitter wind, her skipper and owner, David Tremayne, stood upon the bridge, staring out upon the desert of hissing foam ahead.

There was a step behind him, and he turned to see a tall, strongly built youngster of about seventeen, wearing heavy oilies and a sou'wester tied tightly over his ears.

"Hallo, Bob," he said, "you're up early."

"And you've been up all night, David," replied his younger brother accusingly. "Now you'll kindly go below and drink the cocoa that's waiting for you, and then turn in for a bit. I can carry on."

David steadied himself with one hand on the bridge rail, as the little ship went swinging down into the gulf between two giant seas.

"You!" he said. "You've got a nice conceit of yourself. Have you seen the glass this morning?"

"I have, and it's rising, so the worst is over. Hang it all, Dave, we're not in the Straits now. There's plenty of sea room, and you may just as well let me relieve you for a bit."

David Tremayne shook his head.

"It's not so simple as you think, Bob," he said quietly. "This is a nasty sea for a small craft like ours, and because the glass is rising it does not follow that the wind is going to fall. It will probably shift southerly, and blow harder than over. And when we turn the Horn, we shall get a real doing."

"We haven't reached the Horn yet," returned Robert Tremayne, "and meantime it's all right. Go and take a nap."

David's quiet, blue eyes lit with a smile.

"You're an obstinate beggar, Bob. Tell you what I will do. I'll go down and have my cocoa by the stove. But I won't turn in yet. I'll wait till my watch is over and the mate relieves me. You can carry on till I come on deck again."

He nodded and went off, swinging easily across the reeling, spray-swept deck, and Bob and the steersman, a man named Barstow, were left alone on the little bridge.

Presently Barstow spoke.

"Nasty weather, sir. Takes me all my time to keep her head to it."

"I've seen worse," replied Bob, with a smile.

"So've I, sir; but not in any craft as small as this. I was wondering to myself what made the captain take the outside passage instead o' running back through the Straits."

"I should have thought your common sense would have told you that, Barstow. Do you forget what we've got aboard?"

"The silver, you mean, sir?"

"Of course I do. And how long do you think we should keep it if Pedro Juarez got after us?"

"But he were caught up in that there net, sir," objected Barstow.

"Bless you, it wouldn't take him much more than an hour to get clear, and then he'd have been after us full clip. And once we were in the range of his guns, what sort of show should we have had?"

Barstow brushed the spray out of his eyes with the sleeve of his oilskin. "Aye, I sees, sir. Maybe it was best to come outside. All the same, I won't be sorry to be in sheltered waters again. I don't reckon as the Camel ever had a worse dusting than she's getting out here."

Barstow was probably right. The sea was too big for a little ship like the Camel. But she was strong, well formed and well engined, and all that day she struggled steadily onwards without anything worse happening than the loss of one boat which was snapped clean out of the davits, by a particularly vicious sea.

Early in the afternoon, David Tremayne's prophecy came true. The wind veered southerly and blew harder than ever. It was straight off the Antarctic, and although it was November—that is summer in the Southern Hemisphere—it was cruelly cold.

About, three they sighted a ship. Bob who, as usual, was with his brother on the bridge, spotted her first.

"What is she, Dave?" he asked.

David handed him the glasses, and Bob focused them carefully.

"My word!" he exclaimed presently. "She's a warship! A Chilean cruiser by the look of her. Dave, do you think she's after that sweep, Juarez?"

David shook his head. "No such luck, I'm afraid," he answered ruefully. "The beggar is too cute for them. Besides, he is always dodging about in the Straits and channels where big craft like that can't follow him, even if they had a mind to."

"Someone has got to wipe him up sooner or later," said Bob. and he spoke more gravely than usual. "It's not the game to allow a regular pirate like that to be abroad on the seas in the twentieth century."

He paused as a wave came crashing over the bows, and ducked behind the canvas dodger to avoid the lash of the spray.

"Well, we're quit of him," he went on. "That's one thing to be jolly grateful for."

"I hope we are," responded David. "That last escape of ours was a bit too close for my liking. If it hadn't been for that fishing net in which his ship happened to catch her screw, he'd have had us all right."

"And the silver, too," added Bob.

"And the silver," echoed David, "though that wouldn't have been much use to us, after we'd all had our throats cut."

"What! You think he'd have murdered us?"

"Think! I know," said David grimly. "Don't you make any mistake about that, Bob. The black-hearted crowd would not have left one of us alive. It would have been a case of 'Sunk without trace' for us!"

Silence fell between the two, as the sturdy little ship bored her way into the great crested waves. The sea was still rising. While the wind had been westerly they had been protected to some extent by the lee of the great island of Tierra del Fuego. Now that it had gone south, there was nothing to check the vast send of the sea between them and the Antarctic continent.

Bob noticed that his brother's face was growing grave.

"This is getting to be rather too much of a good thing," he said at last. "The strain on the engines is something frightful. We can never risk her off the Horn in this kind of weather. It's a case of lying to or making for Desolate Bay."

"That's a beast of a place," said Bob quickly. "Why not go a bit farther, south of Stewart Island and into Adventure Pass?"

"H'm! That's a stretch of water I don't know much about."

"You've got charts, haven't you?" said Bob. "I was looking it up this morning, and it seems to me that we could lie quite snug there until this blows over."

"It looks as if it might blow for a month," said David rather gloomily. "Still your advice is generally pretty sound, Bob, and I'll try your tip."

Bob flushed a little at the compliment. A word of praise from his elder brother was worth having. Then David gave an order to the man at the wheel and, turning slowly, the Camel set her head south-east.

The sky was dark with low-driving clouds, and evening was beginning to close in when Bob pointed suddenly to the southwards.

"Someone else running for shelter," he said.

Again David focused his glasses.

"A schooner, Bob. A sealer, I fancy. Making pretty heavy weather of it, too."

"Let me see," said Bob, stretching out a hand for the glasses.

He took a long look. His eyes were keener even than David's. When he lowered the glasses, his young face was grave.

"She's in a bad way," he said. "Fore topmast gone, and deck swept pretty near clean. David, it strikes me we'll have to give her a hand."

David pursed his lips in a soundless whistle. He took the glasses once more.

"H'm," he grunted at last. "Yes, Bob, we must see what we can do."

He issued fresh orders and presently the chunky little salvage ship was driving down towards the stranger.

A Helping Hand

"THIS is going to be an ugly job," said Bob under his breath, as they closed with the schooner. Then as the half-wrecked vessel was hove up on the top of a mighty sea, he gave a shout. "David, she's the Narwhale. There's Captain Harter himself."

"You're right," answered David briefly, and putting a megaphone to his mouth, bellowed across to the other vessel.

"Ahoy, there, Harter, how are you making it?"

"Derned bad," came a hoarse roar from the bearded skipper of the schooner. "I hardly likes to ask you, Tremayne, but we'd be mighty glad of a tow."

"Can do," shouted back David. "Look out for a line!"

The Camel's people saw two men run forward along the streaming deck of the sealer. David himself took the wheel of the Camel, and held her with amazing skill while a light line was sent down wind to the Narwhale. Somehow her people caught it, and somehow they hauled the hawser aboard and made fast. Then round went the Camel, and half buried in foam faced the toppling, white-capped seas.

The Narwhale lurched drunkenly behind her. The strain of towing in such weather was fearful.

"Good thing we haven't far to go," Bob heard David mutter between tight lips, as a sea like a precipice smashed upon their bows, burying everything in a welter of white.

The next two hours seemed like centuries. No craft less stout than the Camel would possibly have stood the strain. Half the time her decks were hidden under a yeast of roaring foam. All her boats but one were swept away. Yet down below her engines thudded with a comforting regularity, and as they approached the land the tall cliffs cut off something of the bitter fury of the gale.

Black night had fallen when at long last the two ships, rescued and rescuer, drew into shelter under the mighty heights of Stewart Island, and David heaved a deep sigh of relief as he gave orders to anchor.

Later, the Camel's one remaining boat brought old Harter aboard. His gnarled fist gripped David's, and for a moment neither spoke. Then David asked: "All right with you, captain?"

"All right, Tremayne, thanks to you. That's the second time you've pulled me out o' trouble. All I hopes is as Providence'll put the chance in my way to pay back a bit o' what I owe you."

David laughed. "Don't you worry, skipper. We've made our little pile at last, and now we want to take it home before the good Juarez can get his finger in the pie. Come below, and I'll tell you."

Over a hot supper David told old Harter the story of how Juarez—using Harter's name as a bait—had induced him to salve a treasure of silver from an old Spanish wreck, how he had waited outside until the job was finished, then came into the inlet, intending to seize the silver, sink the Camel and slit the throat of every mother's son aboard her; finally, how by a happy chance his screw had been caught in a fishing net, set in the entrance to the channel, and his ship had laid helpless while the Camel rushed past to safety.

Harter chuckled like a schoolboy, then suddenly turned grave. "You be careful, captain." he said. "Pedro Juarez ain't going to forget a job like this very easy. He'll have a try for that silver if he risks his neck for it."

David laughed back. "I know he would, Harter. That's why I took the outside passage this time. Here we are safe enough, anyhow."

"You'd ought to he," allowed Harter gravely. "What do you reckon to do now? 'Tain't no weather for the Horn."

"I shall be here for a day or two, and if it doesn't improve shall push on down the Pass. I believe we can get through all right."

"Aye, you can get through right enough, if you're careful," replied the old fellow. "Now, I reckon I'll be getting back to my craft. She ain't leaking a mite, and I reckon I'll get off as soon as I've patched up her rigging."

In the Nick of Time

"FIRST gale, then fog," growled Bob Tremayne as he peered through the wet mist which shrouded the sea.

Two days had passed since the Camel had towed the old Narwhale into safety, and the weather having improved somewhat, David had decided not to risk the Pass, but to go south again, and by New Year Sound into Nassau Bay.

The Sound is a mass of small islands, and of course the fog had come down just when they were in the very worst of it. Now they were nosing along at less than half speed, with double look outs, and no one aboard feeling a bit happy. Worst of all, night was coming on, and they were nowhere near any possible anchorage.

David kept telling Bob to go below. Bob would obey, but ten minutes later would come prowling up again. He was really too uneasy to stay below. Indeed, he never remembered feeling half so worried. The fact was, of course, that he was thinking of the big fortune in silver they had aboard. David and he had been planning for years to buy back the old Tremayne property in Cornwall, and now at last they had the money to do it. Bob felt that he would not be happy until the Camel lay safe in Falmouth Bay.

"There's land over there," quoth Bob suddenly. "See, David? Another of these infernal islands."

"It's all right, Bob," smiled back David. "Petrel Island. Here it is in black and white on the chart."

"And a poisonous lot of reefs around it," prowled Bob. "Hallo, what's that," he cried suddenly.

A streak of fire rose through the gloom, mounted in a great glowing curve and shuttered into a shower of sparks.

"A rocket!" said Dave sharply. "Mischief take it! Someone's in trouble."

As he spoke up went another, then a third. They had the weirdest effect in that desolate place.

"Two points starboard," ordered David, and the Camel turned inward towards the cliffs.

"Have we got to go in there?" asked Bob sharply.

"Bob!" said his brother. That was all, yet the hot blood rose to Bob's cheeks. No sailor can neglect that last cry for help which is signified by the blazing trail of the rocket.

David rang down for reduced speed, and the little steamer crawled into the perilous network of reefs. For some minutes nothing was heard but the slow thud of her engines, the smack of the short waves against her sides, and the distant steady boom of the rollers breaking against the iron cliffs.

Bob stared through the smother till his eyeballs seemed to be cracking. Suddenly he bent forward.

"I see her, David. A full-rigged ship!"

The fog was thinning under a puff of wind, and right opposite towered a cliff that looked as if it reached the very sky. At its foot lay the ship. It was far too dark and foggy to make out. details. What they could see was the sails gleaming pallidly against the blackness of the great rock rampart behind her.

Stolid David gasped. "The man's mad to go into a place like this with all sail set."

Bob had no words. He could not credit such lunacy.

Slowly the Camel crawled inwards. The fog rose and fell in fantastic wreaths.

"David!" Bob's voice was sharp with excitement. "That's not a ship. There's no hull to her."

David leaned forward gazing through the gloom.

"You're right," he said at last. "But—but what is it?"

"It's the Phantom Ship," replied Bob. "I've heard of it. It's a rock lying off the cliff and stained white with sea-bird droppings. Years ago, the steamer Alabama went ashore trying to reach her."

"What about the rockets?" snapped out David.

"The rockets—the rockets!" gasped Bob. "I'd forgotten. A trap. It must be a trap. Turn her. Clear out sharp."

But David was already spinning the wheel. The handy little Camel came round almost in her own length.

Ten seconds later, the gloom to seaward was split by a fountain of fire, and the ringing crack of cordite woke mad echoes thundering down the cliffs. A shell burst a little to port, and flung up a tall fountain of brine.

"Juarez!" burst from the lips of both brothers at once.

There was no need to say more. The pirate schooner, sails furled, but driven by her motor, loomed up for'ard, cutting them off from the open water.

Again a splitting detonation, a crash, and the upper part of the Camel's funnel vanished in a shower of scrap-iron. There was a scream from a wounded man amidships.

"He's got us this time," said Bob thickly.

"Full speed!" roared David down the tube. The Camel leaped forward. David meant to make a rush for it.

A third time the gun spoke. The shell struck the Camel full in the stern, and burst with a livid flash. The poor little ship quivered and yawed wildly.

"Rudder control's gone," groaned David. "We're done."

"Had enough?" The sneering voice of Pedro Juarez cut through the smother. The crew of the little Camel could see the dark sides of his big black schooner El Capitan looming above them.

"Speak quick!" he snarled, "or the next shell will reach your engine room."

"What do you want me to say?" answered David scornfully.

"Ha! so that is you my bold captain?" sneered Juarez. "I am asking if you have had enough, or whether I shall sink you at once."

"You won't do that," retorted David. "If you did you would lose what you have come so far to steal."

"Steal—you English pig!" screamed Juarez, suddenly losing his temper. "The silver is mine—all mine. I found it."

"And I raised it," replied David, who grew quieter as his enemy's rage increased.

David's words drove Juarez wild. The night rang with his blasphemies. "I'll give you one minute," he shrieked at last. "one minute only, and if you refuse I will sink you at once."

"He'll do it, David," said Bob in his brother's ear. "Dave, let's start shooting. All the rifles are up. If we could nail him, it might sicken the rest of the crew."

"No, Bob," David answered. "No, not yet. He wants the silver. He'll not risk sinking us because that means he will lose it all."

"I don't know so much about that," warned Bob. "He's savage enough to do anything, and the water is shallow here."

"I don't know, Bob. I don't know," David's voice was hoarse with the strain. It was not himself he was thinking of—Bob knew that—but of his men and his ship.

"Ten seconds left," rang out Juarez's voice.

"Come and take the silver, and be hanged to you," roared David.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a sharp crackle of rifle fire burst out from El Capitan's deck, and bullets scourged the Camel. With a gasp, David dropped to his knees and slipped down in a heap.

But the Camel's people were already blazing away. Not that they could do much good. The schooner's deck was higher than theirs, and there was hardly any light. It was hopeless. Bob knew it. The black pirate was closing in upon them. It was clearly her intention to board. And the Camel had but a dozen men to face Juarez's two score or more of swarthy scoundrels.

Above the snapping crackle of the musketry came the thunder of a gun. It was followed by a splintering crash and screams of pain. And the screams came not from the Camel, but from the schooner.

"Help's coming! It's the Chilean cruiser. Let 'em have it!"

Bob's words electrified the Camel's crew. A perfect storm of bullets rattled and thudded against the schooner's wooden sides. Another moment, and out of the darkness beyond the friendly gun roared, again, and a hail of shrapnel, or something like it, swept across the schooner's decks.

She began to turn. Bob shouted again:

"Give it them, men! Kill them all!"

But Juarez had had enough. He had turned westwards, and with his motor engine driving at full power, was standing away at top speed. He fired no more.

Bob called for a man to take the wheel, and dropped on his knees beside his brother.

"Dave!" he said pitifully. "Oh, Dave!"

"Don't worry, lad," came the astonishing answer. "I got a nasty crack on the head, but I don't think there's much amiss."

Bob was coming up from the cabin, where he had left his brother lying comfortably, when Barstow, one of his men, met him at the head of the companion.

"Cap'n Harter's alongside, sir," he announced breathlessly.

"Captain Harter?"

"Yes, sir. You see, it warn't no Chilean cruiser. It were the Narwhale, with her whale gun loaded with old nails and such-like."

Bob looked. Close alongside was the stumpy old Narwhale, jury rigged. By the light of a lantern he saw dear old Harter leaning over the rail.

"Was I in time, Robert?" he asked.

"On the tick," answered Bob. "You saved us, captain. Juarez thought you were a cruiser, and has legged it."

Harter burst into a great roar of laughter. "I lay he did some mighty quick thinking when that keg o' nails burst aboard him. But you get out o' that, Bob, and quick, too. You and me has got to be a long ways from here before daylight."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.