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Ex Libris

Serialised in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 14 Sep-19 Oct 1918

First e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-02

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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Ben Cutts waa helping aboard a boy of about seventeen.
"There are dead men in the boat with him," said Jerry.


The Mark of the Beast

A HOARSE mutter of distant firing came thudding through the fog, and Griffith Harcourt, lieutenant R.N.V.R., and at present in command of His Majesty's Motor-Launch, No. 707, pricked up his ears.

"Scrap of some sort," he said to Jerry Hands, his second in command, who stood beside him on the tiny covered bridge.

Jerry, a slim little man, all wire and whipcord, was leaning forward, gripping the bridge rail with hands as small as a woman's, yet with a steady strength in them which few would for a moment have suspected.

"A scrap, all right, Griff," he answered eagerly. "Somewhere to the north. Can't be very far, either. This fog deadens sounds."

Griff put his mouth to the speaking tube leading down to the little engine room.

"Shove her along, Sandy. Give her all she'll take!"

"Aye! Ave! sir," came the muffled reply, and No. 707, which so far had been sauntering along at a leisurely eight knots, made a sudden jump forward. A gale seemed to spring up and hit Griff and Jerry in the face. The little craft quivered under the full drive of her powerful twin petrol engines, and her speed mounted to something like a mile in three minutes.

Boom! Thud! went the guns again. One was big and one was little. The two young fellows on the bridge strained their eyes through the fog, but the sulky folds of vapour hung like grey smoke over the glassy surface of the North Sea, and not a sign of anything could be seen.

Boom! Boom! Then the dull echoes died, and the sounds ceased completely. The silence was unbroken except for the deep note of the engines, and the hiss of the parted swell as M.-L. 707 went flashing forward.

"Hang this fog!" growled Griff. He was steering, and as he spoke he spun the wheel, heading more to the north-east. "Hang the fog! One might as well have one's head in a bag. Can you hear anything, Jerry!"

Jerry shook his head.

"It's all over, whatever it was. Only hope it wasn't some of our chaps."

"That's what I'm afraid of, Jerry," Griff answered gravely. "Some of our drifters were up this way this morning. Just like Fritz to take advantage of the fog to sneak out and strafe them."

There was silence again while the little craft ripped ahead. She seemed absurdly small to go rushing, single-handed, through these mine-sown, Hun-infested waters. As a matter of fact, she was little more than sixty feet long, while you could cross her deck in three strides. Yet, in spite of her small size, she was a regular warship provided with a natty gun, a small searchlight, a wireless installation and other weapons and apparatus which must not be here specified.

Frail as she looked, she was, like all her sisters, a capital sea boat. It had to be a gale indeed before Griff Harcourt ran for shelter.

Minutes passed, but the fog remained thick as ever. If anything it grew more dense. And not a sound was heard. M.-L. 707 might have been in mid-Atlantic instead of within twenty miles of the Belgian coast.

All hands were on deck—all that is, except Mr. Alexander Kemp, the gentleman whom his skipper had addressed as Sandy, and who was in charge of the humming engines down below.

There came a shout from forward.

"A boat, sir! A boat! Three points on the port bow."

"Cutts is right," said Jerry quickly. "There she is, Griff."

He pointed as he spoke to a floating object blurred by the fog. No landsman would have even guessed what it was.

Griff spun the wheel again, at the same time shouting to Sandy to slacken speed.

"It's a boat, sure enough," said Jerry, staring through his glasses at the tiny craft. "But only one chap in it."

"One of ours," replied Griff anxiously. "We're too late this time, Jerry."

By this time Sandy had cut out his engines altogether, but the launch, with plenty of way on her, shot rapidly up towards the solitary figure in the tiny boat.

"Ahoy, there!" roared big Ben Cutts. "Who are you?"

The rower shipped his sculls and looked round.

Griff gave a startled exclamation.

"It's Mart Rimmer! Jerry, the hounds have scuppered the Now Then!"

"Mart it is, sure enough," Jerry answered in a low voice. "And, Griff, there are dead men in the boat with him."

A moment or two later, and the launch lay motionless on the silken swells, and big Ben Cutts was helping aboard a boy of about seventeen. A sturdy, broad-shouldered young fellow, but now his sea-tanned face was white and drawn, and there was cold horror in his blue eyes.

Small wonder, for in the bottom of the dinghy lay the bodies of three fine East Coast fishermen, and it did not need a second glance to realise that they had not met their death in fair fight.

Griff sprang down from the bridge.

"Mart, what's happened?"

The boy turned dazedly towards the lieutenant. His forehead and his face were caked with blood.

"They's got dad, sir," he said hoarsely.

"Killed him?"

"No. He's prisoner in the U-boat."

"A U-boat, was it. Tell us, Mart."

"We was sweeping, sir. She come up afore we knew anything of it, and slammed a shell into us. Dad, he jumped to the gun and fired back. Hit her, too, and killed one of her gun-layers."

"Good for James!" growled Ben Cutts, but the boy went on as if he had not heard.

"It wasn't no good, sir. They got us again full in the engines, and the poor old Now Then! began to fill, and we had to jump for the boat. And then that brute ordered us alongside."

"Her skipper, you mean!" put in Griff.

"Aye. Von Kling his name is, Curt von Kling. He was in a fearful rage. First he asked us what we meant by shooting, and when dad answered him back, and told him that was what we was there for, I thought he'd have had a fit with rage.

"He ordered dad aboard," Mart went on, still in the same hoarse tones. "And then he up and struck him across the face. Dad knocked him down, and then one of these chaps shot at him and hit him in the arm."

"The devils!" growled Cutts.

"Then we all took a hand," Mart continued. "But what could four of us do against a dozen of 'em, and we without so much as a stick between us!"

He paused and drew a long breath. The others waited in absolute silence.

"That's what they did," said Mart, pointing to the three dead men huddled in the bottom of the boat.

The men gathered round were still silent. So silent that you could hear the fog dew dripping from the wires of the aerial down on the deck below.

"They killed them," said Mart, "and they've took dad away in the U-boat, and Von Kling he said that there he'd stay, mid if we wanted to catch him he'd kill dad afore he went."

Griff drew a long breath. He looked at Mart's face again, and suddenly spoke:

"What have they done to you, Mart? Your face is all blood."

"They put their mark on me," Mart answered in a low, shamed voice. He brushed the blood away with a rag of a handkerchief, and on his forehead, right in the centre, the men saw a mark, a black ugly mark around which the skin rose puffed and red and angry.

And the mark was the mark of the Iron Cross.

Again there was silence for some seconds.

Then Jerry Hands spoke, and his voice was very quiet and gentle.

"Curt von Kling. Yes, I shall remember that. I think, Mart, that we shall none of us forget that name."

And from the whole crew of M.-L. 707 rose, as from one throat, a deep, savage mutter of assent.

The Blast of Hate

"TOPPING night, Jerry."

Jerry Hands cocked an eye at the clear sky and at the moon just rising above the low French hills inland from Dunkirk, where M.-L. 707 was at present lying.

"Too fine, if you ask me, old son. We'll have Fritz over to-night."

"Suppose we shall!" growled Jerry. "Nuisance, too, for I want a night's deep. You know we clear out early to-morrow."

"Yes, and I've a pretty good notion what the job is."

"So have I!" grinned Griff. Then his face changed.

"How's Mart?" he asked abruptly.

"Fit again. It's wonderful how the boy has pulled round. But he won't go ashore—won't show himself at all. It's a good thing you got them to let us keep him with us. Griff.

"The brand, you mean?" said Griff Harcourt.

"That's it. Mart told Cutts that he'd got to wipe it out by getting his father back."

Griff nodded.

"And incidentally wiping out Von Kling," he added with a sudden grim set of his strong jaw.

"That's about it. But it's going to be some job, Griff. With luck we might scupper the U-boat, but I confess I don't see much chance of getting back poor James Rimmer. He was rather a pal of yours, wasn't he?"

"All of that. He was skipper of the fishing fleet at Blythesea where my people live. Many a time I've been out with him for a night's trawling. My old dad thought a lot of him. A whiter man never lived."

"We must put our heads together and see what we can do," said Jerry. "Drowning's too good for a thing like Von Kling."

"It jolly well is," grunted Griff. "By the by, Jerry, did you see that doctor man?"

"I did. I told him about Mart, and he says that it can be done. The scar can be opened and skin grafted over it. An expensive job, of course, but—"

"But I'd give my last bob rather than leave the boy disfigured like that. Hallo, Jerry, you were right. There goes 'Mournful Mary!'"

As he spoke, the whole harbour was filled with the most gruesome moaning noise. It sounded like all the sick cows in the world bellowing at once. As a matter of fact, it was the steam siren which gives Dunkirk its warning when Fritz is on the wing, and sets its inhabitants hurrying to their dug-outs and cellars.

As soon as the sound stopped, Griff sang out for Ben Cutts.

"Ben, tell the men they can go ashore if they like. There's a dug-out handy up the quay."

"Thank you, sir," replied Ben in a slightly scornful tone.

Jerry grinned.

"I'll lay not one of 'em leaves the boat," he said. Nor did they. They merely remained below, and M.-L. 707 lay quietly at her berth under the wall of the quay. "Mournful Mary" continued to bellow at intervals, but for the rest the night was undisturbed by any sound. As for Griff and Jerry, they remained on deck watching the moonlit sky.


Without further warning two score of guns spoke at once. There was none of that distant thudding you hear when the Gothas raid London. A barrage sprang into being in an instant, and the clear sky was sprinkled with the red bursts of H.E. shells.

Whump! Whump! Whump! Three fountains of fire leaped from amid the battered ruins of the town as the Hums let loose their first bunch of bombs.

Another line of barrage sprang into being. Griff and Jerry watched from under the precarious shelter of the bridge roof.

"Wonderful sight, ain't it, Jerry?" said Griff.

It was.

Three lines of barrage leaped against, the sky, while from the ground sprouted geysers of flame as the great 250-pound bombs exploded horribly among the shattered masonry. The whole scene was illuminated by the flares dropped by the sky-sailing Gothas.

Presently it all drew away to silence. But within a couple of hours over came a fresh fleet of birds, and again night was hideous with the thud of cannon and the crash of bombs.

One struck the wharf within sixty yards of the quay wall, and a shower of broken rubble covered the decks of 707.

"Close!" growled Griff. But Jerry's eyes were on the sky.

"Hit! They've got one, Griff. See, he's wobbling out westwards. Jove, he's coming down!"

Griff leaped up. "We must be after him. Rouse out Sandy. Cutts, let go these ropes."

The launch hummed with life. Petrol engines take but a few moments to start, and inside three minutes the little craft was speeding down the harbour. Jerry, with his night glasses to his eye, was watching the Hun.

"He's got it, sure enough. Confound those fellows. I wish they'd stop shooting."

Everything in the outer harbour was letting loose with all they had. Trawlers, drifters, all the small craft were combined in one blast of hate. The Hun was still at a tremendous height, and their small stuff faded to reach him. But the row was terrific, and the calm sea was spattered with fragments from the bursting shells.

M.-L. 707 went ripping out at top speed. A feather of snow-white foam leaped on either side of her sharp prow, and the land fell away like a cloud.

Meantime the Gotha was clearly getting lower. She was still under control, and they could hear her engines working. But something was very wrong. She fluttered like a wounded bird.

"Three points north, Griff!" said Jerry. "He's trying to head back for the Belgian coast."

"Will she make it?"

"Not likely. Tell Cutts to get to the gun. She's only about five thousand feet how."

Big Ben Cutts was already at his gun, but there was no need for him to fire. Suddenly the Gotha's sputtering engine shut up altogether, and the great machine came planing steeply downwards.

She had headed east again, but it was clear she could not hope to reach land. Down she came, lower and lower, then a triumphant shout from the launch's crew as, with a heavy splash, she struck the water not half a mile ahead of the flying launch.

Short as the time was before M.-L. 707 was alongside, the plane's nacelle, with its heavy engines, was already under water. One figure, one only, was visible, clinging to the upper planes.

Griff leaned over.

"Surrender?" he asked.

"I have no choice," answered the other in excellent English.


"Surrender?" he asked. "I have no choice," the other answered.

"Where are your other men?" questioned Griff.

"Dead," answered the German. "Both were hit by the shell which cut away my rudder."

"Help him aboard, Cutts," said Griff.

With Cutts's aid, the German scrambled aboard. He was a stiffly built man of about thirty, with the close-cropped, fair hair and blue eyes of the typical Prussian. He would not have been bad-looking but for his haughty, intolerant expression.

The moment he stepped into the light there was a sharp cry. It came from Mart Rimmer.

"It's Von Cling," he shouted, and dashed forward.

Cutts caught the boy in an iron grip.

"Steady on, Mart! What's the matter with you?"

"It's Von Kling!" cried the boy fiercely. "Let me get at him."

Griff stepped between.

"What do you mean. Mart? This cannot be Von Kling. A man cannot leave a U-boat and take to the air."

Mart was trembling violently. His usual self-control was quite gone.

"It is Von Kling, I tell you, sir. It is the man who murdered my mates and put this on me." He pointed, as he spoke, to the dreadful brand on his own forehead.

"What is your name, sir?" demanded Griff Harcourt of the German.

"Von Kling," responded the other haughtily. "But how does that spawn come to know me?"

Griff paid no attention to the question.

"Your first name?" he said curtly.

"I am Otto von Kling."

"Have you a relation named Curt von Kling?"

"You refer, I presume, to my brother, Baron Curt von Kling," answered the airman.

Mart Rimmer gave a strangled sound in his throat.

"His brother! That black-hearted hound's brother!" A queer smile twisted his lips, and he turned to Griff.

"You'll keep him, sir," he begged. "You won't let him go. We could change him for dad if you'd keep him."

Before Griff could answer, the silence of the dawn was shattered by the sudden bark of a gun. A shell whistled overhead, and plumped into the calm sea a hundred yards away.

"We shan't keep much of anything if we don't look pretty nippy," said Jerry Hands sharply. "Here's Curt looking for his brother."

He pointed as he spoke.

A mile away a large U-boat lay upon the surface. Her gun was pointed straight at the frail little patrol launch.


GRIFF made one jump for the bridge.

There was no need. Sandy, down below, had already heard the shot from the U-boat and had started up his engines. M.-L. 707 was off like a motor-car suddenly flung into top gear.

Only just in time, for the U-boat's second shell hit the water on the very spot which the launch had occupied ten seconds before and, ricochetting, struck the big Gotha and knocked it to flinders.

"Shockin' wasteful!" grinned big Ben Cutts, as he swung his own little gun around to bear on the U-boat, and at once let fly. But by this time the launch was fairly flying, and though he could actually see the two Hun gunners duck, the shell failed to hit the low-lying, black and ugly hull.

The U-boat was right on the surface, looking very big and grim in the pale moonlight. She had speed, too, and fast as the little launch was, she had nothing to spare.

"We'll have to trust to our heels," said Griff to Jerry, as he spun the spokes and sent his tiny craft dancing this way and that, zigzagging all over the sea. "If we get one of those big stuff of his aboard us it'll be all up, Jerry, my lad."

"Fritz can shoot a bit, too," said Jerry critically, as a third shell sang its ugly song close above their heads. "I say. Griff, that's rum! See her number? It's 707, same as ours."

Griff gave vent to a long, low whistle.

"Great Christopher, so it is! Jerry, that's Von Kling's own craft. Don't you remember, Mart told us she was our own opposite number?"

Jerry chuckled aloud.

"What a game! And we've got the beggar's own brother aboard. Wouldn't the gentle Curt be sick if he knew it!"

Griff frowned slightly.

"It's quite on the cards that he does know it, Jerry. He saw that plane come down as well as we did."

"Then I'll lay he's tearing his hair," chuckled Jerry.

"Don't be too cock-a-hoop, my son. Let me tell you we're not out of the wood yet. The beggar is between us and deep water, and I don't believe we've a knot to spare."

"He can travel, for a fact," allowed Jerry. "But, Griff, we don't draw a quarter as much as he does. Can't we nip in over the banks?"

"That's just what I'm trying to do," replied Griff. "But kindly remember, my lad, that we may be nipping out of the frying pan into the fire. We re in plain sight of the coast already, and those sand dunes are stiff with Boche guns."

"Another case of the devil and the deep sea," grinned Jerry, who was never so cheerful as when in a tight place. "But isn't that the Loom Spit over there, Griff?"

Griff nodded.

"That's what I'm making for. There ought to be just water enough for us to slip over the bank, and Fritz can't follow—that's a sure thing. The worst of it is that, though we shall be safe for the time being, we can't get any farther south until the top of the tide. The Skelder is still almost dry."

"We shall just have to wait," said Jerry.

"You forget that we're due out of Dunkirk, with the rest of the crowd, at four-thirty."

"I know that, but if we do miss the fun, we're having some of our own, old man."

Griff ducked involuntarily as another shell from the U-boat screamed past at close range.

"Glad you think it funny," he said dryly. "I like to be able to shoot back and not be stuck up as a cock-shy for a gun three times as big as my own."

He put his mouth to the speaking tube.

"Give her all you can, Sandy. We've got to rush the bank. Likely as not, she'll touch."

The great petrol engines fairly roared. M.-L. 707 all out, raced for the yellow streak which stained the silver surface of the sea. There was not a breath of wind, yet the shifting currents boiled in ugly eddies over the long bank that ran out for a matter of five or six miles from the Belgian coast.

Boom! Another shell from the U-boat. But this fell a little short. With his eyes glued on the water ahead, Griff Harcourt steered his ship straight for the bank.

Next moment she was in the yellow, mud-stained water. In spite of her speed, she swerved and twisted like a frightened hare.

"Look out now!" Griff shouted. "Hold on, every one."

A jar that, but for his warning, would have flung them all on their faces; a stagger; the little launch lifted like a hunter over a low fence. Then she shot forward again.

"And that's that," said Griff briefly, while from the distant U-boat came a final salvo.

Griff glanced round.

"Ah, I thought so. They're turning back into deep water. See what the good Curt is after, Jerry?"

"That's plain enough. He'll submerge and lie at the mouth of the Gut and wait for us."

The Crewless Boat

"BUT what good can he do?" Jerry added. "We've only to wait till there's water enough to cross the far bank."

Griff pursed his lips.

"I hope so," was all he said.

At quarter speed the M.-L. cruised slowly south towards the next bank. There was no use in hurrying, for even from where they were, they could see the ridge high and dry. They were now in a low bay or wide gut between two ridges which ran almost due westward from the Flemish coast, and to the east they could see the coast, the dunes lying like pale gold under the low moon.

Gulls slept on the surface, the sea was calm as a pond. It was all so still and peaceful that it was difficult to realise that thousands of armed men and hundreds of huge and deadly guns lay hidden within a few miles.

The U-boat had disappeared. She might or might not be lying with her periscope above water. But the crew of M.-L. 707 were not deceived. They knew she was not far off.

From high in the sky came a crack-like drone.

Jerry glanced up at the tiny dark blot high against the blue, then focused his glasses on it.

"Brother Boche again, Griff," he remarked. "Coming to have a look at us, I fancy."

"Too high to strafe," Griff answered. "And he'll hardly waste eggs on us."

All the same he watched the plane carefully as she came out right above them. Then, having apparently satisfied her curiosity, she turned and made back for the land.

"Wonder what she's after," he said uneasily. "No good, I'll be bound, Jerry."

"She didn't bomb us anyhow," replied Jerry smiling. "So I don't think we need worry our heads. Inside an hour we shall be able to slip over the bank and slide back home. Meantime, what about an early breakfast?"

"Quite a sound idea," allowed Griff. "You go down, Jerry, and feed. Then you can relieve me."

They fared well aboard M.-L. 707. Scotty, the cook, had managed to smuggle a small otter trawl aboard, and whenever an opportunity could be found, down it went to come up full of plaice and soles, brill and turbot. Jerry found a daintily grilled sole awaiting him, and made short work of it.

He had hardly finished before he was roused by a hail from Griff. He came scuttling up oh deck.

"There's a craft in sight," Griff told him. "Coming from the land. What do you make of her?"

Jerry glanced in the direction indicated. Sure enough, a boat was running out towards them. She was quite small and very low in the water, and by the tall curl of white water at her bow was evidently coming at a headlong rate.

"Looks like an electric launch," said Jerry frowning. "But, I can't see anyone aboard her."

He focused his glasses on the queer craft and stared again.

"There isn't anyone aboard her," he declared at last. "Not a soul, Griff. I can swear to it. What devilment is Fritz up to now?"

Griff brought, his big hand down heavily on the bridge rail. "I'll tell you, Jerry. I'll tell you. It's one of those infernal crewless boats!"

For a moment or two Jerry stared incredulously. But the strange craft was coming up at the rate of knots, and each moment, grew more clear to view. And now it was quite clear that there was no one aboard her. There was something horribly uncanny about the whole business.

"Hertzian waves," said Jerry at last.

"That's it," Griff replied. "She's simply a great torpedo controlled from shore. Jerry, were up against it. She's faster than we are, and if she so much as touches us we all go to Glory."

"Including Otto von Kling," replied Jerry dryly. "That's one comfort. But buzz her up, Griff. With luck we may be able to keep out of her light."

Griff had already rung for full speed, and was now running rapidly back towards the north. But the crewless boat, with a sort of horrible sagacity, swung to starboard and followed her. She came at appalling speed. Fast as the launch was, it was quite clear that the controlled boat had the legs of her.

"Let her have it, Cutts," shouted Griff. "Sink her if you can."

Cutts was already at his gun, only waiting for orders. The words were hardly out of Griff's mouth before he let fly. The first shell just missed her, and went dancing away towards the east, but the second, better aimed, caught her full on the curve of her bow.

She staggered slightly, then came on as if nothing had happened.

"Armoured," growled Griff. Then aloud—"Lower, Ben! You'll have to get her between wind and water. All her upper part is armoured."

"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Cutts cheerily. He was loading and firing with a speed and skill which few men could have equalled and fewer still excelled. Shell after shell rang home on the steel hull of their ugly pursuer, bursting with sharp flashes at the impact.

"Might as well pelt an elephant with a pop-gun," snapped Griff. "That stuff of ours isn't heavy enough to do any harm. We're for it, old son."

Jerry made no reply. There seemed nothing to say. They were doing all they could, but except that the ugly craft did not seem to be travelling quite so fast, she was certainly none the worse for their bombardment. The whole of her upper-works were so heavily armoured that it would have taken at least a 4.7 shell to smash through into her vitals, and although she had slowed a little, she was steadily but none the less surely overtaking the motor-launch.

"We'll have to bunk out to sea and chance Von Kling," said Griff. As he spoke, he spun the wheel, and M.-L. 707 went round like a dancer and tore westwards.

Ben still blazed away at the crewless boat, but she came on as doggedly as ever. She was gaining, too. Slowly, but still quite clearly. It could only be a question of a very few minutes before she overtook her prey.

Two or three miles away to the westward the calm sea boiled, and a long dark object hove upwards through the blue.

"There's our friend again," said Jerry grimly, and as he spoke, the conning tower of U-boat No. 707 opened, and out tumbled the gunners. "Griff, you'll have to swing again."

Griff did. He turned north once more, and ran like a hunted hare, The crewless bout swung, too, gaining a trifle on the turn. The little launch was in a trap from which there seemed to be no escape.

Ahead was the long line of yellow surf which they had crossed an hour earlier. There was now more water over the bank, but the tide rips still eddied and boiled fiercely. Griff knew that he could cross it well enough, but then so could his crewless pursuer. She drew even less water than the M.-L.

"Of all foul luck!" he growled. "I wouldn't mind being knocked out in fair fight, but to be ended by a beastly, brainless machine like this doesn't seem straight goods—" He broke off short.

"Hallo, what's Mart Rimmer after?" he exclaimed. "Yes, Mart, what is it?"

"There—the mine!" cried Mart breathlessly. He pointed, as he spoke, to a dark object rocking in the swinging eddies over the bank.

"A mine," repeated Jerry sharply. "He's right, Griff. It's a mine broken loose from one of our fields, and floating."

"Five quids' worth if we had time to explode it," Griff answered. "But what good is five or even five thousand quids to us now?"

"What good?" cried Jerry. "Man alive, can't you see? Run for it. Get it between you and the 'crewless.' They can't see it from shore."

Griff gasped.

"And I never thought of it," he muttered, as he hastily obeyed Jerry's suggestion.

To do so, he had to turn eastward a little. By now their pursuer was not fifty yards astern, and the moment the M.-L. turned, she, with her uncanny intelligence, did the same. Only she turned at a sharper angle, so gaining more rapidly than before.

"The last ounce, Sandy!" shouted Griff down the tube. "Then, when I give the word, cut off altogether."

"Can't give her no more, sir," came the muffled reply from below. "She's all out now."

"All right, Griff, she'll just do it," said Jerry.

Griff did not answer. His even were on the floating mine which bobbed sulkily among the eddies. All his attention was on his steering. Aft, the little gun still banged away. Cutts's shells, if they failed to damage the crewless boat, at any rate, slowed her a trifle.

M.-L. 707 shot straight towards the mine. To her breathless crew it seemed as though she must strike it full. And all knew that one tap upon those spiky "whiskers" would send them and everything in the neighbourhood soaring heavenwards.

Griff and his boat seemed one. He kept the launch going as she was until less than her own length from the mine. Then, with the merest touch, he turned her and she glided past, actually within arm's length.

Hard on her heels came the wireless boat. Every eye was now fixed on the latter. The five who stood on the deck of the M.-L. could hardly breathe for sheer suspense.

This was their last chance, and every one of them knew it. Should Griff's ruse fail, and their pursuer pass the mine in safety, it was only a question of seconds before they were all blown sky high.

"Down with you! Lie down, all of you!"

Griff's voice rang like a bugle, and every soul but he flung themselves face downwards on the deck. Next moment the "crewless" hit the mine fair and square.

There was a crash that shook the very sky. The double explosion made the little launch quiver in every plate and web. Up from the sea rose a gigantic column of water, smoke and yellow foam. It towered high into the air to fall again with a splitting roar, and the wave that rose smashed aboard the M.-L., sluicing her decks.

Yet no one moved. So tremendous had been the shock that they lay stunned and deafened like so many logs.

As for Griff, he had fallen forward across the wheel, and M.-L. 707, with no guiding hand on her tiller, coursed at her own sweet will across the heaving sea.

Jerry was the first to come back to his senses. His head sang. He felt dizzy and stunned and almost deaf. It took him some moments to realise what had happened.

At last he struggled giddily to his feet.

"Hurrah!" he cried hoarsely. "We've done the trick."

Suddenly he realised that Griff lay on his face all across the bridge, that in his fall he had turned the wheel and that the launch had turned eight points westward and was speeding away in the direction of the open sea.

Not only towards the open sea. She was running straight as a die for Von Kling's U-boat which still lay awash, waiting for her as a cat waits for a mouse.

He gave a gasp of dismay, and catching hold of Griff dragged him to one side. Then he seized the wheel.


Catching hold of Griff dragged him to one side.

He was just one moment too late. The launch was now right in the yellow water on top of the bank. Before he could spin the spokes and turn her there was a rustling hiss beneath her keel. He felt her bows rise suddenly.

Next instant she stopped with a suddenness which flung him forward almost over the rail.

"Aground!" he gasped, and leaping on to the deck, dashed down below to stop the engines.

He found Sandy on his knees, spitting like a scalded cat. He had been flung down twice in as many minutes. He was bruised, cut and singed, and very angry. But he was still able to cut out the engines.

"What's wrong wi' her now?" he demanded. "Is it the coast of Flanders ye've hit?"

"It's a sand bank," Jerry answered.

"Aweel, that's not so bad," said the big raw-boned Scot. "Ye'll be getting off when the flood makes."

"If there's anything left of her to get off," replied Jerry. "Listen to that!"

As he spoke there came the boom of the U-boat's four-inch gun, and next instant the heavy splash of a shell close aboard.

The two fled on deck together. The U-boat barely two miles away was steaming slowly up the Channel, firing as she came.

A Prussian Gentleman

FOR the moment Jerry Hands was so dismayed that he could only stare helplessly at the approaching U-boat. To be trapped like this just at the moment when he had fancied they were clear of their troubles was such cruel bard luck that it seemed beyond belief.

But Jerry was not the sort to stand idle in time of danger. He swung round on Sandy.

"Get to your engines, Sandy. Quickly! Reverse them. We must get her off. It's our only chance."

"Get her off, is it? I'm thinking 'tis easier said than done," growled Sandy. "Ye will have to help all ye can, sir. Get all hands to work. Ye'll need to launch the boat, and tow."

He turned and vanished down the little square hatchway, and Jerry sprang across to where Big Ben Cutts was just picking himself up off the dripping deck.

"Hurry, Ben!" snapped Jerry. "Get the boat over. Hurry! We're aground, and here's the U-boat right on top of us."

"Aye, aye, sir!" Ben answered. Like the rest of them, he had been stunned by the double explosion, but the very urgency of the danger pulled him together, and dragging a couple of other men to their feet, he set to work to yank the boat out of the chocks where she lay amidships.


The U-boat's gun spoke again, and the shell struck the water so close that the upflung spray fell across the deck of the launch.

"Rotten shooting!" said Jerry, as he worked over Griff. Griff, having been the only one on his feet when the explosion occurred, had got it worse than any of them. He was quite dazed.

Sandy had the engines working again. The twin screws were revolving at full speed, thrashing the water into milky foam. But the little motor-launch did not more an inch. Her bows were fairly buried in the soft sand of the bank.

"Pull!" roared Cutts to his men. They were straining at the oars till the tough hickory blades bent like bows, but their efforts were useless. Jerry saw clearly that they would never get her off until the tide rose, and long before that time, there would be nothing left to get off. The U-boat had only to lie off and pound her to pieces at leisure.

The ugly beast was now within three thousand yards, a mere nothing for her big four-inch gun. Each moment Jerry expected the shell that would smash in amidships and send M.-L. 707 and all aboard her to glory.

Yet it did not come.

"The brutes! They're playing with us like a cat with a mouse!" he muttered.

"Who are? What's up?"

Griff had suddenly opened his eyes, and had caught Jerry's words.

"We're aground, Griff," Jerry explained rapidly, "hard and fast. We were all knocked silly by the explosion, and the ship took charge and ran on to the top of the bank. And Von Kling is coming up to finish us at his leisure."

Griff struggled to his feet.

"Rotten luck, Jerry! Christmas, how my head does ring!"

"We're reversed, and I've got the boat out," went on Jerry. "But it's not a bit of use. Here we are until the floods run another half-hour at the least."

"And by then we shall be mince-meat. I suppose," said Griff. "But why doesn't the beggar shoot? He's within easy range."

"Can't imagine," began Jerry, then stopped short. "Great Scott, what an ass I am! Why, it's Von Kling's brother, of course!"

Griff pursed his lips.

"Of course it is! He knows that, if he polishes us off, Otto will go with us. What does he mean to do, then?"

"Make terms, I suppose. Ah, there he is signalling. What's the hoist, Jerry? My head's so queer I can't see the flags."

The U-boat, still leisurely steaming up the gat, was signalling. Jerry focused his glasses.

"Give—up—my—brother—and—I —spare—your lives," he read out slowly.

"Tell him to go to blazes," said Griff.

"No, Griff. Steady on! Time's on our side. Let's parley."

"What about?"

"Mart's father, of course. Why not suggest an exchange?"

"I'm not going to do any exchange with a swab like Von Kling," retorted Griff fiercely. "The man's a common murderer."

"Of course he is, and, of course, we are not really going to do a trade," said Jerry quietly "But as I say, time is everything. If we could gain half an hour, we'd probably be afloat again."

"Not a chance of it," Griff answered. "Take it from me, Von Kling knows too much for that. Still, if you want to try it, go ahead."

The signaller aboard the U-boat was busy again.

"Send your answer at once. We have no time to waste."

Jerry got signal flags out of a locker and began to reply. "You have prisoner of ours. Skipper Rimmer. Will entertain exchange."

He waited, and the signaller aboard Von Kling's craft got busy again.

"No question of exchange. You are at our mercy. I give you one minute to decide."

Griff's jaw set hard as Jerry translated the message.

"Tell him to go to blazes, Jerry. Tell him his brother goes with us."

Jerry nodded and signalled as follows: "You cannot destroy us without destroying your brother."

A tall, stiff figure was standing beside the Hun signalman. Jerry could actually see him stamp his foot as the message was received.

"It's Von Kling himself," he explained to Griff. "He's getting distinctly shirty. Hallo, there go the flags again."

"My brother will take his chance like any Prussian gentleman. But if he is injured, I promise you that my prisoner and any of you who survive shall die a worse death than he."

"Sweet creature!" said Jerry as he translated the message. "Steady, Griff!" he went on, for there was an ugly glint in Griff's sea-blue eyes. "It's no use getting your rag out. Remember, it's just what any Prussian gentleman would do."

"Don't waste any more time on him," said Griff curtly. "Tell him to go ahead."

"She's moving an inch or two," came a shout from Ben Cutts in the boat.

The German flag-wagger was at it again.

"Get that boat in or we shell it," was the message.

"I'll not order her in," snapped Griff, and suddenly, taking the flags from Jerry's hands, he began spelling out a curt message.

"Go ahead, Prussian gentlemen!"

Through his glasses Jerry could actually see Von Kling's face. It was white with rage. He turned to his gunner and gave a sharp order.

Next moment came the heavy boom of the U-boat's gun, and the shell came screaming just over the boat, and plumped into the sea barely twenty yards beyond her.

"Shoot! Ye can't shoot for little sour apples," roared out Cutts, shaking his big fist in the direction of the U-bout. "Now then, lads. All together! One pull more, and maybe we'll have her off this time."

The rope tightened; the engines roared. But there was no further movement. Jerry groaned inwardly. There was no chance before the tide rose.

Another shell. It actually grazed the stern of the little dinghy. "Call them in, Griff," begged Jerry. "It's murder."

Much against his will. Griff did so. Cutts was equally unwilling to give up, but he could not disobey his skipper.

The U-boat was now within less than a mile. Her signalman was at work once more.

"Your last chance. Show the white flag within thirty seconds, or we smash you."

A Miss—and Several Miles

DEAD silence aboard M.-L. 707. Every soul aboard knew what was going to happen—all except Sandy, still busy below with his straining engines. All knew well that their last minute had come, yet not one had a word to say.

Only young Mart Rimmer's face was very white and pinched. He was thinking of his father, lying at the mercy of the brutal Von Kling.

Every eye was on the U-boat and on the gun, from the mouth of which their death was so soon to come. As for hoisting the required white flag, any one of them would have jumped into the sea before dreaming of such a thing.

"She's slewing round," said Jerry, in a low voice.

"To get her gun to bear better," Cutts answered. "She's almost within our range, sir. Let me try a shot."

"By all means," replied Griff, smiling grimly.

Cutts sprang to his gun, but before he could reach it the U-boat had fired.

At so close a range, the first shot should have done the trick. But the shell was high. It passed just over the arch of the bridge, and, striking the water a hundred yards beyond, went skipping away towards the Belgian coast.

"I said they couldn't shoot for nuts," jeered Cutts, as he rammed a shell into the breech of his own little gun.

Before he could finish sighting there came a second report, a heavy distant boom. A six-inch shell plumped into the sea close to the U-boat.

"What's that?" asked Jerry sharply, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before there came a shout from young Mart Rimmer.

"She's going under. The U-boat is submerging."

It was true. Without waiting to fire another shot, her gunners had leaped for the conning tower. They, Von Kling, and the signaller all disappeared into the opening with a speed that was anything but dignified, and the heavy hatch had hardly clanged down before the U-boat was in the act of diving.

"What's up?" asked Jerry again, then the puzzled frown cleared from his face, and he gave a shout of delight.

"Our chaps! The monitors! Look at 'em!"

He pointed as he spoke to where, through the soft haze to westward, four great lumping craft had suddenly appeared in view, attended by a swarm of smaller craft which flitted like gnats about them.

"Hurrah!" roared Cutts, as he sent his little shell flying in the direction of the vanishing U-boat. His cheer was taken up by all the rest. They had stuck it out like men, but the relief was so great that it was small wonder they all yelled themselves hoarse.

"Bit of luck for us," said Griff quietly to Jerry. "Another minute—"

"Another minute, and we should not have been here to watch 'em," replied Jerry. "But a miss is as good as a mile, and I shouldn't wonder if that rotten shot of his will cost Curt von Kling something in the long run. Meantime, here's one of our own lot coming to tow us off. Tell you what, Griff, we're going to see the big strafe to-day, after all."

The monitors, having with one shell put the fear into the U-boat, went waddling steadily on northwards, while the motor-launch detached for the purpose made short work of yanking No. 707 off the bank.

Her skipper, a stout, short, cheerful person, by name Teddy Baynes, shouted volleys of questions at them, between loud-voiced orders to his crew. And all were answered, with one exception. Not a word was said about their German prisoner. Griff and Jerry had already warned their men not to breathe a whisper on the subject. They had their own ideas as to what they were going to do with Herr Lieutenant Otto von Kling.

"Are you all right?" shouted Baynes, as No. 707 came off the bank with a rush. "Not leaking? Nothing strained?"

"We re not leaking, anyhow," replied Griff. "What about your engines, Sandy? Are they all right?"

Sandy Kemp thrust an oil-streaked face up out of the narrow hatch.

"I'm thinking there's no' much wrong wi' them," he answered dryly, and disappeared again.

"Then come on. It's Zeebrugge this journey," cried Baynes. "It'll be a proper strafe, I'll bet you."

Broken Down

THE soft summer sea mist had thickened a little as the four monitors and the score or so of small craft reached their destination. It was hardly more than a haze, but it cut off all sight of the low-lying Belgian coast.

The monitors ranged themselves in line and anchored; the smaller craft took station between them. Then a signal flew from the masthead of the flagship, the Fury.

"Smoke, that means," said Griff, with his eyes on the signal. "Get to it, Jerry."

Jerry got busy at once. With Cutts's help, tins of a certain chemical were rapidly opened, and their contents emptied into a sort of great boiler. At once a huge volume of pure white smoke, exactly resembling sea fog, began to pour forth, and, carried by the faint westerly breeze, drifted across the water.

A dozen other motor-launches were busy in similar fashion, and within little more than five minutes they, the monitors, and the whole fleet had vanished completely beneath a heavy white pall.

"Topping!" said Griff, with quiet satisfaction. "Wind and all exactly right. Bet the beggars won't dream that this is anything but a real sea fog."

"They'll get the shock of their misspent lives when they see what comes out of it," replied Jerry. Sailor-like, he and Griff had already forgotten the unpleasant half-hour with the U-boat, and were looking forward hugely to the strafing of Zeebrugge.


"There she goes!" said Griff, as one of the fourteen-inch guns of the Terror went off with a reverberating crash. They could not see her shell, but could plainly hear it, travelling through the sky with a sound like a train through a tunnel.

The echoes had not died before every one of the monitors began firing. The din was terrific. Crimson flashes shone luridly through the smoke fog, but of the guns themselves, the monitors, or the rest of the fleet hardly a glimpse could be caught.

"They're talking back," said Jerry presently. In a momentary lull he had caught the distant thunder of the shore batteries.

"They don't seem to be getting anywhere near us," Griff remarked, in a surprised tone. "There's not a splash to be seen anywhere."

"They'll get our range after a while," Jerry answered. "There are guns in the dunes there up to fifteen inch."

But the minutes passed and the monitors pounded away, and still the glassy sea was unbroken by even a fragment of falling stuff.

"We must be giving 'em socks," said Griff. "You bet we are! And we'll hear all about it from our airmen later on. They'll sail over and take pictures, and that will annoy Fritz worse then even the strafing."

A cat's paw ruffled the calm surface, and swept the fog of smoke aside for a moment. A voice hailed them from the Terror.

"Ahoy there, 707!"

"Yes, sir," answered Griff.

"Who is in command?"

"I, sir—Lieutenant Harcourt."

"Lieutenant Harcourt, you will kindly proceed northwards around the edge of the smoke, and report where the enemy shells are falling," was the order given by the quiet-looking officer who had spoken.

"Very good, sir," Griff answered. Then to Jerry: "Here's a bit of luck. We're going to see life, old son."

"You will be careful to avoid running into unnecessary danger," shouted the officer, as 707 darted away.

The smoke fog lay upon the surface of the sea like cotton wool. It took five minutes at full speed to run round the upper end of it. Then quite suddenly M.-L. 707 flashed out into brilliant sunshine.

Griff drew a deep breath. As for Jerry, he simply gasped.

"Great Christopher!" exclaimed Griff, "and we hardly knew that the Huns were firing at all!"

The sight was a most extraordinary one. All along the edge of the close-lying pall of smoke the calm sea was lashed to foam by a perfect hurricane of huge shells. The sound of the firing from the shore was like the beating of monstrous drums, and the upper air was alive with enormous projectiles which came screaming vengefully through the blue.

The two youngsters stared in amazement. They had never yet seen such a terrific bombardment.

"This is making holes in Fritz's pockets," said Griff presently.

"And not a blessed one of 'em getting home," chuckled Jerry. "Griff, we've fooled them one time."

"Can't think why their U-boats don't tackle us," he added.

"Not water enough, my son," Griff answered. "They'd do more with their planes, if they could see us. But the smoke covers everything. They haven't a notion of the range."

"Talking of planes, here's one that looks as if it had spotted us," said Jerry, pointing upwards.

Griff glanced in the direction indicated. Sure enough, a big German seaplane was dropping down out of the sky towards them. She was a beautiful sight, with the sun gleaming on her widespread wings, but neither of the young officers thought of that. A hornet may be pretty, but it stings.

"Discretion is the better part of valour, I take it, Jerry," said Griff. "We'd better camouflage ourselves before the beggar has time to attend to us." As he spoke, he spun the wheel, and M.-L. 707, wheeling like a waltzer, scuttled back for the smoke cloud.

But they were farther from its edge than they had fancied, and their speed was nothing compared with the hawk-like dart of the great plane. They had hardly covered half the distance before she was above them.

"Look out, Griff!" cried Jerry. "Dodge! She's going to drop an egg."

Before the words were out of his mouth the Hun airman had pulled his lever and a long slender object came whizzing down.

It struck the water barely her own length in front of the launch, and up shot a fountain of foam, which fell all across her, fairly deluging her deck.

"Close call!" gasped Jerry, as he swept the salt water from his eyes.

As he spoke the engines shut up like a knife, and the launch, after gliding onwards for a matter of a hundred yards, came to rest, and lay silent and helpless on the smooth surface of the sunlit sea.

"What's up, Sandy?" shouted Griff.

Sandy Kemp's head shot up above the hatch. "Magneto, I'm thinking, sir," he growled. "But I'll have to make sure before I can tell ye."

Griff cocked an eye at the big plane. She had wheeled and was coming back, dropping as she came. This time, it seemed, she meant to make sure of her prey.

The Petunia of Hull

THERE came a whip-like crack from the deck of the launch. A jagged black hole gaped in the yellow wing of the big seaplane, and she swerved sharply.

The bomb which she dropped fell a good fifty yards wide, and merely made a hole in the sea.

"Good for you, Ben!" cried Griff. "That's the stuff. Let them have it again."

Ben wasted no time in letting loose a second shell, but the Hun pilot was expecting this, and was dodging and spinning like a snipe. Ben failed to hit him.

The Hun came lower still.

"Look out, Griff!" cried Jerry. "He means to use his machine gun."

"Down! Down, all of you!" roared Griff.

They knew what was coming, and each flung himself down behind any cover he could find. Just in time, for next instant came the tremendous rattle of the German's quick-firer, and a storm of lead swept the deck, and tore the water beyond her into foam.


Came the rattle of the German's quick-
firer, and a storm of lead swept the deck.

It was over in an instant, and he was past and gone.

Griff sprung up.

"Anyone hurt?"

"The beggar's broke my new pipe," growled big Ben Cutts, in a tone of deep annoyance.

"The rest are all right, Griff," said Jerry. "Watch out! Here he comes again."

Ben whirled his little gun round, and let fly. But apparently he failed to do any damage, for the Hun swooped down at unabated speed. He was closer than before, and Griff felt a sudden pang of fear. He loved his men, and was horribly afraid that some one of them might lose the number of his mess.

"Take cover again!" he shouted, and flung himself down once more. As he did so he saw one man deliberately rise to his feet.

"Down!" he roared again. "Down with you!"

The crackle of firing burst out again. The sound was like the drawing of a giant's stick across an endless row of palings. He heard the bullets clang and clatter upon the metal work of the launch.

With startling suddenness the sound ceased, and the plane, which had been shooting past within sixty or seventy yards distance, swerved sharply.

Griff looked up. He could hardly believe his eyes. It seemed to him as though the pilot had gone mad. He was diving sharply towards the sea.

Next instant the great biplane struck the surface like a diving gull—struck it with such force as to fling the spray fifty feet into the air, and to drive her whole body beneath the sea. Her wings were literally torn from the body, and the body itself vanished completely. Griff found himself staring dumbly at a patch of foam on which still floated an indistinguishable mass of wreckage.

"W-what happened?" he gasped.

"Mart, sir. Mart shot him," answered Cutts.

"Mart shot him!" Even now Griff could not believe his eyes or ears.

"Yes, sir. With a rifle. Must have got him clean through the head, I reckon."

Griff pulled himself together.

"So it was you who disobeyed orders, Mart? You who stood up when I told you to lie down."

"Yes, sir," the boy answered. He was very white, but his sea-blue eyes gleamed with a queer light. "I thought there were just a chance, sir."

Griff stared at him.

"It was a wonderful shot, Mart. Anyhow, it saved us, and under the circumstances we won't say anything more about disobeying orders."

"You've got a bit of your own back, Mart," said Jerry. "And I hope it won't be the last bit, either."

"I hope not, sir," replied the boy quietly. And just then Sandy popped his head up.

"Engines are all right, sir. If ye wish it, we can proceed again."

"Proceed for all you're worth, Sandy," replied Griff. "We shall all be a lot happier, once we're back in the smoke again."

A very few minutes later, they were once more alongside the flagship, and Griff made his report with sailor-like briefness. All he said about their recent encounter was that they had shot down a German seaplane, and that there were no survivors.

"You, youngster, have all the fun," said the officer, with a smile, as he turned away.

Jerry grinned.

"Wish he'd been with us," he said. "He might have said a bit more if he had."

By that time the thunder of the bombardment was beginning to die down. The fact was that the monitors had fired away practically everything they had. And the best of it all was that, barring two men slightly wounded by splinters, there was not a single casualty in the whole fleet.

Presently the firing ceased altogether, and the order was given to up anchor and return to port. The smoke was kept going until the unwieldy monitors had hove up their anchors and were well under way. Then the lighter craft followed.

The day was still and very warm, and the banks of mist which had formed early had now thickened and lay in heavy bands across the sea. Into one of these the fleet soon plunged, and for the time its units were lost to one another's sight.

Scotty, who was acting as gaoler, came up to Griff.

"The prisoner wants to speak to you, sir."

"I'll come and see him," replied Griff, and made his way into the cabin where Otto von Kling was confined. To make him safe while the rest were busy, he had been tied up securely.

He glared at Griff angrily.

"Is this the way in which you treat your prisoners?" he demanded. "I had heard that your naval officers, at least, were gentlemen. But—but you do not belong to the regular Navy?" he added, glancing sneeringly at the two waved bands on Griff's cuffs, which denote an officer of the Reserve.

Griff's eyes gleamed, but he kept his temper.

"I regret to have seemed to treat you discourteously," he answered. "It was unfortunately necessary, seeing that, while we were in action, I could not spare a man to watch you."

"To watch me!" repeated Von Kling haughtily. "You may not be aware that it is customary to offer parole to officers of my rank."

Griff was stung to retort.

"I should, no doubt, have done so, had your name been anything but what it is."

Von Kling went rather white.

"I fail to understand you," he answered.

"Then I will explain. Your brother, commander of Unterseeboot 707, has treated his prisoners in a manner which is not becoming to either an officer or a gentleman."

Von Kling was silent a moment.

"What my brother does is no concern of mine," he said, with an effort. "I at any rate, am willing to offer my parole if you, on your part, will accept it. And—and I regret if, in my anger, I have said anything which might cause you annoyance. I have been here tied up, for many hours, and I am both hungry and thirsty."

Griff thawed.

"I am sorry, myself, to have been so inhospitable," he said. "You shall have a meal as soon as possible, and if you will give me your word to remain in the cabin for the present, I will have you untied at once."

"I agree to that," Von Kling answered, and Griff himself released him. Then he told Scotty to get some food and hot coffee as soon as possible.

When he came on deck again, the fog was thicker, and the launch was nosing through it at half speed.

"Haven't a notion where the rest are," Jerry told him. "Sandy's had trouble with the engines again, and we seem to have dropped behind."

"Well, we are on our course all right," said Griff, with a glance at the compass. "And here we are running out of the fog at last, I do believe."

As he spoke, the light grew suddenly stronger, and they ran out into a broad band of sunlight. But there was no sign of the rest of the fleet, and a mile away the fog lay thick as ever.

"You'd best go down again and get some grub, Griff," said Jerry. "You haven't had much to-day. I can carry on."

"All right," Griff answered, and was in the act of turning when, out of the farther fog bank came a dull heavy boom.

Griff stopped and listened.

"More trouble," he said. "Or is it just a Boche plane trying to lay eggs on the fleet?"

Next moment the sound was heard again.

"It's a gun all right, Griff," said Jerry decidedly.

"Then we must go and look," replied Griff. "Let's hope," he added, more gravely, "that it isn't Curt von Kling up to his filthy tricks again."

He headed straight for the low fog bank, and as they entered it once more the gun boomed out.

"Quite close," said Jerry, in a low voice. Suddenly he pointed. "I believe I can see something."

A wandering puff cooled their faces, and right in front of their bows lay a small, rusty looking tramp. Her bows were cocked tipsily in the air, while her stern was almost level with the sea. On her bows they could read her name in big letters: Petunia—Hull.

The Treachery of Otto von Kling

"MORE dirty work at the cross roads," growled big Ben Cutts.

Griff rang for half-speed and picked up his glasses.

"See anyone aboard, Jerry?" he asked.

"Yes, I can see one chap. One of the officers. See, square-looking man, with a beard. Stick it on, Griff. The poor old tramp won't last long."

Griff focused his glasses carefully.

"Yes, I see him. But where's the U-boat?"

"Far enough away by this. She's finished her job."

"What about the shooting, then?" Griff asked suspiciously.

"Signal guns. Distress," Jerry Hands answered.

"Yes, I suppose so," Griff said, but his tone was still doubtful.

"The chap's signalling. Hurry, Griff. She's sinking."

Even now Griff hesitated. He did not seem easy in his mind.

"A nice hole we shall be in if Fritz is camouflaging himself behind her," he remarked. "I'm going to hail him before I take any chances, Ben, stand by to shoot, if necessary."

He picked up a megaphone.

"Ahoy, there, who are you?"

"Carson, skipper of this craft. Was torpedoed half an hour ago. Hurry up, sir. She's sinking beneath us."

"Where's your boat?"

"Smashed, sir. They shelled us and sunk her."

"How many left aboard?"

"Myself and two others, sir. They're both hurt."

"Which way did the U-boat go?"

"Made off east, sir. I don't suppose she is anywhere near now.

"I'll be glad if you'll hurry, sir," he went on. "We can't last more than a few minutes."

"For goodness' sake, get a move on, Griff," begged Jerry. "It'll be a job to get those wounded men off her before she goes under."

Griff waited no longer. He ran No. 707 close up alongside the sinking tramp, and lay to.

"Over with the boat!" he ordered. "You go, Cutts, and you, Scotty."

The boat was launched with record speed, and a minute later the big Cutts and Scotty were scrambling over the low rail of the tramp.

They saw Carson meet them and conduct them below.

Then came a wait.

"They're a mischief of a time," muttered Griff. "And here's the fog thicker than ever."

"Hail them," said Jerry.

Griff shouted, but there was no reply. The deck of the steamer was quite deserted.

"Look out, sir!"

It was a wild shout from Mart.

Griff leaned for the gun. He had seen the oily water heaving. His worst suspicious were verified, as the rusty hull of a large submarine rose out of the calm depths only a few yards away.

"Get a rifle, Jerry," he roared. "Shoot 'em as they come out. It's our only chance."

As he spoke he had swung his gun and let fly. At such a close range a miss was impossible, however hasty the shot. And the clang with which the little shell went home had a heartening sound.

Jerry made a dash for the arms rack. He had not reached it before a cowardly blow from behind knocked him clean overboard. Otto von Kling stood watching him, a stretcher uplifted in his hand, and a cruel grin on his lips.

His triumph was short lived. A rifle shot rang out and Otto, screaming out a furious oath, fell writhing on the deck. A bullet had passed right through the calf of his leg.

"Teach you, you Prussian hog!" cried Mart fiercely, as he sprang across towards him.

He was mad with rage as he swung up his rifle. Another moment, and the treacherous Prussian's brains would have been dashed out but just then came the crack of a rifle from the U-boat's deck. Mart flung up his hands, staggered and toppled over the low rail into the sea.

Companions in Misfortune


"GRIFF! Griff!" muttered Jerry hoarsely.

He was still in that dazed state between consciousness and unconsciousness, but presently he began to come to himself, and to realise that there was something seriously wrong.

For one thing, his head ached abominably, for another he was soaking wet. The third thing that troubled him was the deafening din that was going on all around him.

"Griff!" he whispered again. "What's up?"

"Better keep quiet, sir," answered a voice he knew.

Jerry opened his eyes.

"That you, Mart? Hallo, where the mischief are we?"

"Aboard the U-boat, sir," Mart answered.

Jerry glanced round. All about was a maze of whirling machinery. Levers rose and fell, pressure gauges danced. Overhead was a low roof of steel plating, painted while, and brilliantly illuminated by electric light.

He drew his breath with a long gasp.

"H-how did we get here?" he asked.

Mart, who was lying close beside him on the throbbing floor of the long cigar-shaped hull, glanced round before replying.

"Don't you remember, sir? It were that brute, Otto von Kling, what hit you on the head with a stretcher and knocked you overboard. I shot him, but worse luck, I only got him in the leg. Then I were bowled over by a shot from the U-boat, and I reckon I fell overboard like you did. Anyways, when I come to, I was aboard this here iron kettle."

"The launch—what about her?" gasped Jerry.

"I don't know no more than you, Mr. Hands. I don't know nothing except as we're running on the surface. I don't fancy as how she can submerge, for I reckon Mr. Harcourt's first shell made a hole in her. They're at it now, a-trying to mend it."

By this time Jerry's head was clearing fast, and he was able to realise the terrible plight of Mart and himself. But it was not of themselves he thought first. It was of Griff and the others.

"I suppose they're all at the bottom," he muttered brokenly. "I only wish I was with them."

Next moment he was ashamed of himself for giving way.

"Sorry, Mart," he said. "I didn't mean it." Then he saw that there was blood on Mart's face.

"You're hurt," he added quickly. "Where were you hit?"

"'Tisn't nothing to signify," Mart assured him. "Honest, it isn't, sir. The bullet just cut me across the scalp, parted my hair, so to speak. Stunned me for the time, but barring a headache there's nothing amiss."

The boy's pluck made Jerry feel ashamed.

"Can't we do something?" he whispered. "They haven't tied us up. If we could get hold of a couple of flogging hammers, we might run amok, and smash up the engines before they could stop us."

Mart's curiously blue eyes gleamed.

"It's a good notion, sir," he said eagerly. Then all of a sudden his face fell.

"But, dad, sir. Father's aboard her somewheres."

"Have you seen him?"

"No. I've looked round. But we're aft, sir, and maybe they got him up in the bows."

Jerry raised himself a trifle, and looked round. It was as Mart had said. They were in the stern of the U-boat, and as she was running under steam they were on the surface. Modern U-boats, it may be mentioned, no longer depend on petrol for their power. They use steam engines stoked with heavy oil for surface work, and for charging their accumulators.

He could see men moving about, forward, among the gleaming mazes of machinery, while behind was the thick curtain which cut off the officer's quarters from the main body of the vessel.

"Lie down, sir," came a quick whisper from Mart.

Jerry dropped, but it was just too late. At that moment a man pushed the curtain aside.

"Ach! So the cub has recovered his senses!" he exclaimed, hurrying across at once.

He stood over the two prisoners and looked down on them with a sneer on his thin lips. He was a mean-looking man with sandy hair, pale-blue eyes and a freckled face. One cheek was horribly scarred by an old sword cut.

"So," he said. "So!" Then he fell into a sudden rage.

"Stand up, swine hounds! Stand up and salute when an officer does you the honour to speak to you."

Jerry rose leisurely to his feet. He looked the German full in the face.

"An officer," he said politely, "but, alas! I fear not a gentleman."

The other stared for a moment as if he could not believe his ears. Then, with a spitting oath, he struck Jerry with his open hand across the face.

From any point of view it was a silly thing to do.

Jerry hit out like a flash, and slim and slight as Jerry looked, there was a tremendous reserve of strength in his well-knit frame.

The German, with his nose flat on his face, lay gasping and clucking on the steel floor, staining it with his aristocratic blood.

"Well done, sir!" cried Mart. There was a savage exultation in the boy's voice.

"But look out!" he rapped. "Here they come! Crikey, if we'd only something to fight 'em off with."

"His pistol!" said Jerry. Stooping like a flash, he jerked the fallen man's revolver from his belt, and straightened himself just in time to face four burly Germans who, clad in greasy blue overalls, came charging down in a bunch.

Jerry could have laughed outright at the dismay on their faces as they found themselves covered. To each of them the black muzzle of the pistol looked as big as a four-point seven, and with one accord they came to an abrupt standstill.

"The first one of you who moves, I'll blow his head off," remarked Jerry coolly. His German was not perfect, but it was quite clear that the men understood. They did not like this slim, smiling young man who held his pistol in such a steady grasp.

"Mart," said Jerry, without moving or turning his head, "make for the ladder. Go up quickly and wait for me at the top. I'll keep these beggars quiet till you're safe. Don't show yourself. Mind that."

"Very good, sir," Mart answered quietly, and Jerry heard him move quickly away. Then he himself began to back towards the ladder, still covering the four Germans as he went. It was a ticklish moment, for he did not know when others might not appear on the scene. He had to trust to Mart to warn him of any attack from behind.

He breathed more freely when at last he found himself close against the steel ladder running up into the conning tower. The four Germans had not moved. Your Hun is a good man in a scrap when he has his orders, but he can't do things on his own, like the British tar.

What was going to happen when he reached the deck, Jerry had no notion. He had to trust to luck. Von Kling was certainly up there, and for all he knew there might be half a dozen with him.

He went up the ladder backwards, holding on with his left hand, and still keeping his pistol levelled at his four friends below. He expected them to try a rush, but they did not attempt it.

It seemed an age before he reached the platform at the head of the ladder.

"Are you there, Mart?" he whispered.

There was no answer.

"Mart!" he said, a little more loudly. "Where are you?"

Still no reply. Jerry ventured to turn round. As he did so a noosed rope dropped suddenly over him from above, and was instantly hauled tight.

Jerry jerked his pistol round and blazed away, but the rope was around his arms, and they were pinned tightly to his sides. He fought and struggled with all his might, but he had not a dog's chance. He was hauled ignominiously up through the open hatch, and flung down roughly on the bare steel deck outside.

"They caught me the same way, sir," he heard Mart call. "I tried all I could to warn you, but—"

"Silence, dog!"

It was Curt von Kling's rasping voice, and Jerry found himself alongside Mart, and facing the redoubtable Commander of the U-boat.

"You dare to annoy me, English whelps!" he said. "It is in my mind to have you stripped and flogged. Now understand me, that your one chance of life is to answer fully and accurately the questions I ask you."

"That depends on the questions," Jerry answered quietly.

It is difficult to ho dignified when your clothes have been torn half off you, when you are soaked to the skin, capless, and have, into the bargain, a rope around your body. Yet Jerry managed it very fairly.

Von Kling glared at him.

"The questions will be such as I choose to ask," he answered, in a tone which seemed to admit of no further discussion.

But Jerry did not wilt a bit.

"Then the answers will be such as I choose to give," he replied. "Don't be a fool, Commander von Kling. You must know well enough that there are very few questions of yours that I am likely to answer. But fire ahead!"

Von Kling stiffened visibly. The veins on his forehead swelled, and a red flush rose to his very eyes. He looked as if he could not believe his senses.

"Insolent brat!" he burst out, stamping exactly like the bold bad villain in a twopenny gaff. "Do you not realise that you are in my power? If I choose, I can leave you on deck while I submerge."

"Just the sort of amusement that would delight you, I'm sure," Jerry replied, quite quietly. "Still, you know, I believe you'd think twice before you tried that game. I don't fancy you'd be on the surface this minute if you had not a little memento of ours in the shape of a shell hole in your deck."

If Von Kling was angry before, now he positively raged.

"Swine!" he roared. "They shall pay for that—pay for it with their miserable lives."

Jerry's heart leaped. He realised that, in some amazing fashion, Griff and the rest had escaped.

Aloud, he said as politely as ever: "It is a debt which you may have some difficulty in collecting."

It was the last straw. Beside himself with fury, Von Kling stuck Jerry heavily across the face.

Jerry staggered, but recovered himself almost at once, and he stood up straight again. His face was very white, and his lips were bleeding. But the light in his eyes made the Prussian bully drop his for the moment.

"I congratulate you, Commander von Kling," said Jerry very coldly and clearly. "If I ever had any doubts before as to the stories I have heard as to your Prussian methods of treating prisoners, I have none now. But I think—I somehow think that I shall repay you for that blow one of these days."


"I somehow think that I shall repay you for that blow."

Von Kling looked at him as a cat looks at a mouse. An ugly smile twisted his lips.

"I will take good care that you never have the chance," he said.

As he spoke he slowly and deliberately drew his pistol from his pocket.

Jerry drew himself up very straight and fixed his eyes on the bully's face. There was no use in saying anything, but never in his life had he longed more intensely for anything than he did then just to have his hands free. He would have caught Von Kling in both arms and gone overboard with him.

Von Kling paused, he looked at Mart, and grinned again more evilly than before.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Martin Rimmer," spoke up Mart, facing the other as coolly as Jerry.

Von Kling laughed outright. It was an ugly sound.

"Ah! the son of my prisoner. Yes, my young friend, we have met before. I remember now. We will not hurry. Your father must come up to see you before you go overboard to feed the crabs."

Jerry saw the spasm of agony which contracted Mart's face.

"Steady, Mart!" he whispered. "Don't let the brute see that he can hurt you."

Von Kling was speaking to one of his men.

"Henkel," he said, "go below and fetch the English prisoner."

The man went off, and Von Kling turned again to the prisoners. He looked at Mart, and licked his lips.

"I told your father that I would exact vengeance for the killing of my gunner," he said.

Jerry could not resist a retort.

"And what do you think will happen to your brother when my people hear of this?" he asked.

"My brother? He is a prisoner of war."

"So are we," Jerry answered.

"But he will be put in a camp with the rest, and well treated," exclaimed Von Kling.

"Will he?" said Jerry dryly. "Not if I know Griff Harcourt and the crew of 707."

Von Kling's face was convulsed with rage.

"What do you mean?" he demanded. "Speak, or I'll blow your miserable brains out." As he spoke he raised his pistol and jammed the muzzle hard against Jerry's forehead.

Introducing Billy Becks

VON KLING'S finger quivered on the trigger. Jerry felt certain that this was the end.

And so it probably would have been had not a shout of terror burst from the lips of one of the Germans who was standing close by. What his words were Jerry could not hear, but he was pointing frantically up into the sky.

With an oath Von Kling spun round. Jerry, looking up, caught sight of a long, silvery object overhead. It had come out of the fog, silent as a ghost, and hung suspended exactly above the U-boat, only a couple of hundred feet up.

For a breathless moment or so von Kling stood staring up, and his men glared mutely at him for instructions.

"The gun! Shoot him down!" roared Von Kling, and himself leaped towards the small quickfirer.

"A blimp!" gasped Jerry.

"What crazy luck!"

As he spoke he was tearing the rope away from round his body. The Germans, in their haste and excitement, had for the moment forgotten all about their prisoners.

"He'll bomb us!" muttered Mart, who was doing the same as Jerry.

"Jump—jump! It's our only chance," said Jerry, and suiting the action to the word, flung himself into the sea.

As Mart followed, a small, pear-shaped object came whizzing down from above. It missed the U-boat, falling a few yards wide on the opposite side from that on which Jerry and Mart had jumped.

"A dud!" gasped Jerry, striking out furiously.

At the same moment came a yell from the U-boat.

"The prisoners! They are escaping!"

"Look out!" cried Mart. "Look out, sir! They're going to shoot."

Before the words were out of his mouth the sea all around them rose and heaved like water in a boiling kettle. The two were rolled over and tossed this way and that, like twigs in a whirlpool. Jerry saw Mart vanishing under a creaming wave, and, making a desperate grab at him, caught him by the collar.

For the next few seconds it was just one frantic struggle to keep his head up and hold on to Mart. Then at last the wild commotion subsided, and the surface smoothed again. Jerry swept the stinging brine from his eyes and looked round.

The U-boat, already a good four hundred yards away, was making off in an easterly direction as hard as she could split. Of the blimp he could see no sign at all. She was lost somewhere in the heavy folds of drifting fog.

"We're safe, Mart! We're all right!" exclaimed Jerry.

Mart was half dazed.

"What happened, sir?" he asked, spitting out a mouthful of sea water.

"The blimp dropped a depth charge. I'll lay every rivet of that Hun kettle is strained. Anyhow, she's hooked it for all she's worth. We're right as rain."

"That's good, sir," said Mart. "I tell you. I thought we was in for it when that chap pushed his pistol up against your head."

"So did I. So we should have been if the blimp hadn't come along. Must have been just luck, her stumbling on us in the fog."

"It were luck, for a fact," agreed Mart. The two youngsters were so delighted at getting away from Von Kling and his merry men that neither of them gave a thought to their present position.

Yet that was hopeless enough. Miles from shore, wrapped in fog, and without so much as an oar to help them keep afloat. True, they could both swim—Jerry well. Mart tolerably. But they could not swim to land, and even if they could, the nearest was enemy country. It was only a matter of an hour or two before they must be exhausted, and sink. A slower and move painful death than that which Von Kling had prepared for them.

"Take it easy, Mart," advised Jerry. "Don't tire yourself."

"Do you reckon that there blimp will come back for us, sir?" asked Mart.

"Sure to," Jerry answered, but inwardly be had his doubts. Her job was to chase the U-boat, and if possible bomb her. By this time she was probably miles away. And even if she did come back, how was she to find them in this fog?

"It's pretty thick," observed Mart presently.

"It will clear soon," declared Jerry with a confidence he was far from feeling. He realised that he was tiring already. Life during the past twenty-four hours had been fairly strenuous, and the crack on the head which he had got from Otto von Kling had done him no good.

They paddled on for some time in silence.

"How are you feeling, Mart?" asked Jerry.

"Not too fresh, sir," allowed Mart, and Jerry noticed with alarm that the boy's face was very white.

"Put your hand on my shoulder," he said cheerfully. "I can keep you up."

Another five minutes. Jerry realised that Mart was slowly sinking lower in the water. He began to be very much afraid. It would be a bit too rough if, after escaping as they had, it was only to drown like mice in a pail.

A faint droning sound came from out of the grey fog folds.

"Shout, Mart!" cried Jerry. "Yell for all you're worth. It's the blimp."

Mart tried to shout, but his voice was a mere croak. Jerry shouted at the top of his voice, but he knew it was no good. The blimp's engines would drown even a gun shot.

The sound grew louder, then seemed to die away. Jerry's heart was in his boots, when, without the slightest warning, a puff swept aside the thick shroud of vapour, and there was the blimp not half a mile away, her slim, silvery body all ashine in the rays of the evening sun.

"Hurrah!" cried Jerry, waving his arm wildly. "He's spotted us. Hang on, Mart."

A few moments and the little airship with engines stopped hung close overhead, while a cheery face under a leather cap peered over.

"Sorry I've been so long, you chaps," he said. "I had to try and strafe that U-boat. And even now I can't pick you up. This craft won't hold you."

"Afraid we can't keep going much longer," Jerry answered. "Mart Rimmer's nigh done."

"Oh, I'm not going to leave you in the lurch," shouted the airman cheerily. "Catch!"

A life-belt, came whirling down, to fall with a splash close by. Jerry had it in an instant, and was fastening it round poor Mart when a second followed the first.

"That better?" sang out the man in the blimp.

"Topping!" Jerry answered. "Now we can float till the cows come home."

"Or until I can find your own craft and send her back to pick you up," replied the other. "You're motor-launch people, eh?"

"Yes; No. 707. She won't be very far off."

"All right. I'll get her."

"Wait a jiffy. What's your name?"

"Becks is my name, if it's any use to you. Commonly known as Billy Becks."

"I shan't forget it," declared Jerry. "One thing more. Did you strafe that U-boat?"

"Worse luck, no. I slammed my last three pills at her, and then she got into the fog again, and I lost her. And now I must buck along. We're clean off our beat, and we have hardly enough petrol to take us back."

As he spoke his engine began to roar, and his propeller to spin. The long shining shape of the little dirigible turned, and began to make off in a south-easterly direction.

"Feeling better, Mart?" asked Jerry.

"That I am, sir. And look here. The gent's tied a flask on to this here belt. Better take a drain of it, sir."

But Jerry was not listening, and Mart, turning to him, saw that he was staring upwards. He looked too, and saw, just emerging from one of the cloud banks, a large biplane.

"A Boche," he muttered.

"It's a Hun, right enough, Mart," said Jerry grimly. "And he's after the blimp!"

That was clear on the face of it, for the Hun came upon his quarry like a hawk on a pigeon. He was slightly above her too, and it looked all odds on his raking her down with his very first volley.

The sky was clearing fast, and the two boys watched with straining eyes as the big biplane flashed through the intervening space upon the apparently helpless blimp.

Then, when the plane was no more than two hundred yards away, and just as they expected the rattle of the German machine gun to burst out, they saw a thin stream like smoke come sifting down from the blimp, and up she went, like a bubble into the blue.

"Oh, good man!" cried Jerry. "Good for you, Billy Becks! He's got rid of his ballad, and fooled the Hun one time."

But the game had only just began. Round came the Hun, banking so steeply that his wing-tips were almost vertical. Then he began to climb upwards on the track of the blimp.

"It ain't all over yet," said Mart, shaking his head. "And if the beggar strafes him, sir, what's going to become of us?"

Murder Most Foul

"SHE can shift, sir," said Mart.

It was true. The Hun plane was of the newest and most powerful type, and the way in which she climbed was a caution. Her pilot, too, evidently knew his job, and kept her at it wonderfully.

Billy Becks by this time had risen to about twelve thousand feet, and the blimp had dwindled to the size of a cigar.

Jerry watched with straining eyes.

"That's about the blimp's limit," he said to Mart. "I'm afraid she can't go any higher."

"Why not, sir? I thought them gas bags could go any height."

"No; they lose too much gas."

"Can the Boche catch him, then, sir?"

"I'm afraid so. The new planes can climb to twenty thousand."

"Then it's a bad look out for Mr. Becks, sir. 'Specially as he told us he hadn't got no bombs or much petrol."

"Not too bright," Jerry answered briefly. As the Hun rose Jerry's spirits sunk lower and lower. It would be bad enough to see poor Becks strafed, but he could not help thinking of his own and Mart's plight. If Becks could not take the news of their whereabouts to Griff, there was not one chance in a thousand of anyone else picking them up.

Up went the Hun, dwindling to the size of a dragonfly against the warm blue of the summer sky.

"He's getting terrible near, sir," said Mart, raising himself as high as he could in his life-belt in order to watch the combat.

"There—he's a-shooting!" he exclaimed.

Down from the heights came a little rattle, so faint their ears could only just catch the sound. It was the stammer of the Hun's machine gun. But he and the blimp were now more than two miles above the calm surface of the sea, and even with glasses it would have been impossible to see details of the combat.

Again the rattle. Jerry gave a sudden cry of dismay.

"He's got him! Mart, the swine has got him! See—the blimp is afire!"

It was true. A puff of smoke was rising from the little silvery gas bag. The Hun no doubt was firing incendiary bullets.

For the next few moments neither of the pair in the water spoke. They hardly breathed. It was ghastly to have to float there helpless while this tragedy took place. It seemed too cruel that the cheery youngster who had been talking to them only a few minutes before should be sent to his death so horribly before their very eyes.

The smoke grew to a cloud. Jerry fancied he could see crimson threads of flame in its midst. There was a lump in his throat that half choked him.

Suddenly Mart gave a yell.

"It's all right, sir! It's all right! See—he's got a parachute!"

Jerry stared. But Mart was right. Below the flaming blimp an object that looked like a fairy's parasol had suddenly opened out. Beneath dangled and swung a tiny figure, no larger than a fly.

"Only one of them," said Mart. "It may be his mechanic."

"I've a notion somehow as it's Mr. Becks himself," Mart answered. "Anyways, we'll see pretty soon."

Down and down came the little dangling figure. Then suddenly something hurtled past him, and a few seconds later struck the sea with the force of a shell.

"The blimp's engine, sir," said Mart.

That was what it was, and Jerry was thankful that at any rate one of its occupants had escaped destruction. Billy Becks—if it was he—was floating down as lightly as a dry leaf, swaying to and fro in each little puff of the summer breeze. It looked as though he would reach the water only a few hundred yards from where Mart and Jerry were floating.

All of a sudden Jerry saw something else. The plane, which had been almost out of sight in the sky, had appeared again. She was coming down at a tremendous angle, growing larger with startling swiftness.

To Jerry it seemed as though she were making straight for the parachute. A horrible suspicion crossed his mind.

"Good heavens! he can't be going to strafe him?"

"I wouldn't wonder, sir," Mart answered dryly. "Them Huns'll do anything."

"But it would be murder—sheer murder!"

"That's what that there Von Kling did to us chaps in the Now Then, sir."

"Aye," he added. "There ain't no doubt about it. That's what he's after."

"Brute!" muttered Jerry, shaking his fist vainly at the diving airman. "Brute! Oh, if we could only do something to help!"

"We'll be lucky if he don't see us and come along and finish us after he's done with Mr. Becks," said Mart.

Becks was now less than a thousand feet up. So near, that they could recognise his thin little figure. The Hun was a few hundred feet higher, still diving. Apparently he had slightly miscalculated his speed, for he shot clean past Billy, and when he straightened up and flattened out was a good bit below him.


The Hun had apparently miscalculated his speed, for he shot clean past Billy.

Jerry and Mart heard his engine begin to roar again, and saw him start to mount once more. Evidently he meant to waste no ammunition. They stared with a horrible fascination, waiting for the murder to be completed.

A puff of wind carried Billy away to the southwards. The Hun turned to catch him. As he did so, came the sharp bark of a three-pounder, followed by the whip-like whiz of a flying shell.

Mart and Jerry turned as one man, and as one man they yelled with joy and relief. Less than half a mile away M.L. 707 was tearing up full bat, the torn sea curling in a white plume on either side of her knife-like bow.


"OH! good shooting, Ben! Good shooting!" roared Jerry.

The very first shell from the launch had burst right underneath the Hun plane, and so close that it must have shaken her quite badly. At any rate, her pilot brought her round like a top, and began to drive away upwards at the top of his speed.

In his fright he took her a bit too steeply and stalled her. Ben's next shell seemed to burst right on top of the plane. Unfortunately, as Jerry knew, it was nothing but shrapnel. Had it been high explosive it must have brought her down.

But now there was something else at work besides the three-pounder. Someone aboard the M.L. had shipped the Lewis gun, and its stammering rattle was added to the bark of the three-pounder.

At anything like close range a machine gun is far and away the best weapon with which to tackle a plane. It was only a question whether the Hun could climb fast enough to escape before the hose-like stream of bullets reached him.

Jerry's heart was thumping so hard that he could hardly breathe. Mart and he kept their eyes glued upon the plane.

She had levelled out again. She was making off.

"They've lost her," breathed Mart.

Suddenly she staggered, as though she had struck some invisible snag.

"Hit!" snapped out Mart.

"Wait!" gasped Jerry as she recovered again.

"She's all right," he added in a tone of bitter disappointment. "She's going to get away."

"Not so sure about that, sir," insisted Mart. "Listen! Her engine's stopped!"

Stopped it had, and now her nose was tilting downwards. M L. 707 tore after her, the Lewis working at top speed.

"Got him!" shouted Jerry. "Oh, good shooting. Griff!"

The big plane had tilted right over, and was in a spinning nose dive. Another moment, and she had crashed into the sea and vanished from sight in a cloud of foam.

The Cloud

"IT was the fog saved us, Jerry."

Jerry Hands, in dry clothes, was seated in the wardroom of the launch, a mug of cocoa in one hand and a sardine sandwich in the other. Billy Becks, similarly provided, occupied another chair. Griff Harcourt, who had left the bridge in charge of big Ben Cutts, had been listening to their stories.

"We had to sheer off, you see," went on Griff. "If Von Kling had got to anything like close range he would have blown us out of the water.

"But how did you get Ben back, Griff?" asked Jerry. "He and Scotty were aboard that old tramp when I was knocked overboard."

"I know they were. And a nice time they had! You see, this was what happened. Von Kling had caught the poor old Petunia and shot her all to blazes. Some of her crew were killed; the rest got away in their boats. Then, it seems, he spotted us and laid a trap for us. That was one of his fellows aboard, dressed up in the Petunia's skipper's kit.

"Von Kling had hoped to get you or me aboard, but Cutts and Scotty would have answered his purpose nearly as well. Anyhow, as soon as they went below the Hun slammed the hatch down and trapped them—thought he had, at least. He did not reckon on Ben. Ben, being as strong as two ordinary men, and Scotty himself being fairly hefty, they broke open the other hatch aft and got out."

"What happened then?" demanded Jerry.

Griff grinned. "Ben hasn't explained fully. But I gather that the German gentleman was not provided with a life-belt, while Ben and Scotty managed to rig themselves a raft before the Petunia went under. I picked them up shortly afterwards, and then we started to cruise in search of Von Kling."

"And then you saw Becks here?"

"We never saw him until after his blimp had been strafed."

"But how did you get back here?"

"We heard him," said Griff. "We heard his depth charge."

Jerry nodded. There was no need to explain. M.L.s are provided with a mechanical ear by which any under-water sounds—such as the beat of a U-boat's engines, or the bursting of a bomb below the surface—can be heard at very considerable distances.

Jerry finished his cocoa, then stood up, stretched himself and yawned.

"Been quite a day, eh, Griff?" he smiled. "And now I think I'll go on deck. About time I took a spell."

Griff laughed.

"Think again, Jerry. You and Becks are going to turn in at once, and not to move again till morning. No, don't kick, Jerry, for once you'll kindly remember that I'm skipper."

Jerry grinned.

"All right, old man. I'll be good. But just one thing before I stretch out. What about the sweet Otto?"

"You needn't worry about him," replied Griff rather curtly. "If you really want to know, he's down in the magazine. But he's tied up so jolly tight that I don't anticipate any further trouble. Next time he asks for parole he's going to hear my honest, candid opinion of himself, his brother and his entire nation."

"Then you won't hand him over to the authorities at Dunkirk?"

"Not until I've got James Rimmer safe and sound," Griff answered, and as he spoke his jaw set in a way that boded no good for either Otto or his precious brother.

Three hours later M.L. 707 tied up safely at Dunkirk. The night had turned cloudy, and Griff heaved a sigh of relief at the prospect of a good sleep. He had not closed his eyes for more than thirty-six hours.

There was no bombing that night, and when morning broke, fresh and breezy, a very cheerful trio gathered at breakfast in the little wardroom.

Billy was the only one of the three who was at all doubtful.

"I suppose you chaps know that you're liable to get into the very mischief of a row for camouflaging your prisoner," he said.

"Bless you, yes; I know all about that." Griff answered. "But I can't help it. We must take our chances. Jerry and I mean to get hold of James Rimmer by hook or by crook, and Otto is much too good a card to lose until we've done it. You see, old James is one of the best, and so is his boy, Mart. And Mart's breaking his heart to think of his father in the hands of that brute, Curt von Kling."

Billy Becks nodded, but there was a puzzled expression on his thin, brown face.

"Is your idea to trade prisoners?" he asked.

"That's the notion. Of course. I'd rather keep Otto, but if it comes to that, I'll do a trade."

"But how are you going to fix it up? You can't take a white flag into Hun-land."

"I know that. And I'll allow it's a bit of a puzzle. But I've got to get a message to Curt some way or other."

Billy sat quiet for a few moments, munching his toast and marmalade. His forehead was crinkled in a slight frown.

Suddenly he looked up.

"Tell you what," he said. "I believe I can do it for you."

"You! How?" demanded Griff and Jerry.

"Send the message over by plane. There's a pal of mine named Howard in the R.N.A.S. who'd do it like a shot."

Griff drew a long breath.

"Topping notion, Becks! We'll fix up the message at once."

"You'll have to make a lot of copies," said Billy. "There's no saying just where we'll be able to drop them. But if they are properly addressed and there are enough of them, one or two are pretty sure to come into his hands."

"Of course," he added, "there is always the risk that Curt may split so as to get you into trouble. It would be jolly awkward for you if the commodore came down on you and found the noble Otto browsing round in your 'tween decks."

"I'm not taking any risks of that sort, thank you," said Griff. "I've a better prison than that for friend Otto."

"Where's that?" asked Billy.

Griff leaned forward.

"I'm going to ask old de Becke to look after him."

Jerry stared a moment, then burst into a delighted chuckle.

"The old Belgian up in the marshes?"

"That's the chap. We're working up that way this morning. There'll be no difficulty about running in and handing Otto over."

Jerry laughed again.

"The only question is whether you will ever get him back. De Becke loves Huns."

"Oh, he'll do it for me," replied Griff confidently. "He will take good care of him."

"H'm!" grunted Jerry. "All I can say is I'd rather be anyone but Otto for the next few days."

"I think it's a jolly good notion," declared Billy Becks. "And now what about that letter for the gentle Curt? We'd best fix it up as soon as we can. I shall have to be shifting pretty soon, for I must get back to H.Q. and make my report."

Griff produced pencil and paper and scribbled a rough draft, which he passed over:

"To Baron Curt von Kling.—We are willing to exchange prisoners. If you, on your part, agree, you will communicate with us accordingly, giving details of time and place. You will know who we are, so there is no need to sign ourselves."

"That'll do all right," said Jerry. "I wouldn't alter a word of it. What do you think, Becks?"

"Yes, it's enough," replied Billy critically. "But it will be up to you to see that the kindly Hun doesn't do you down."

"We'll look out for that," said Griff. "Will you take this."

"I'll take it and get some copies typed. Howard will chuck 'em into Belgium the first fine night. And as for you chaps, the sooner you put your prisoner into safe keeping the better."

He got up as he spoke and picked up his cap.

"So long," he said. "I must be off."

A few minutes later M.L.707 departed quietly on her usual occasions. Once outside the outer harbour she turned northwards, and went tearing across the sparkling sea in the direction of the canal leading up to Nieuport.

Griff watched the surface with care.

"I've a notion that Curt is keeping an eye for us, Jerry," he said to Hands. "He means to have his brother back somehow or other."

"Shouldn't wonder," was all Jerry said. But nothing happened, and they reached the mouth of the canal safely, and began to work quietly up it.

All this country was flooded in 1914, and they looked out across a wide, desolate marsh which stretched for some miles towards the German lines. Water birds were there in thousands, and overhead gulls wheeled and cried.

Jerry stood staring northwards.

"Wonder if they can spot us," he said thoughtfully. "Be a bit awkward if they started shelling. We can't do more than five or six knots in this ditch."

"I don't think there's much risk," replied Griff. "This part of the line is pretty quiet. Old de Becke told me that weeks go by without a strafe of any kind."

Jerry still kept his eyes to the northward.

"What's that cloud?" he said presently in rather an uneasy tone. "Surely it isn't rain coming?"

"Rain!" exclaimed Griff. "Why, the glass is above thirty, and I never saw a finer day."

"There's a cloud up there, anyhow," insisted Jerry.

"Jove, so there is!" said Griff as he focused his glasses.

He stared hard for some moments, then lowered his glasses suddenly. There was a queer look on his face as he turned to his chum.

"It's not rain, Jerry," he said quietly. "If I'm not very mistaken, it's a Boche cloud."

"What do you mean?" demanded Jerry.

"Poison gas," Griff answered briefly.

The Tables Turned

FOR a moment or two Jerry stood quit still, with his eyes upon the dark, angry-looking cloud which rimmed the horizon. It was very nearly black in colour, but had more the look of a dust storm than of a rain cloud. It lay low and heavy, but was plainly approaching, steadily driven by the light breeze from the north.

At last he turned to Griff.

"Poison gas, eh, Griff? Yes, I suppose it is. What are we going to do?"

Griff looked round. He shook his head.

"Bunk," he said briefly.

"We can't. The canal is too narrow to turn."

"I know that. We must go straight ahead as hard as we can push."

He put his mouth to the speaking tube.

"Give her a few more revs, Sandy. There's a poison cloud coming down on us."


There was a growl from Sandy Kemp, and M.-L. 707 made a sudden jump forward. But the water was too shallow to allow her to do more than six or seven knots, and even at that the mud rolled up in yellow clouds.

The gas cloud became heavier and thicker.

"We've got no masks, Griff," said Jerry.

"I know it, old son."

Jerry was silent a few moments.

"One comfort," he said presently, "Otto will get his share with the rest of us."

"Tell you what, Jerry," said Griff. "If we go down to the wardroom and stuff up all the chinks we might manage to hang out until the filthy stuff blows past."

"Good notion!" Jerry answered "I'll set Cutts and Scotty to work at once with a paste pot."

He did so, and realising the danger, the men worked furiously. They were all, even big Ben Cutts himself, badly scared. The idea of being choked and poisoned to death frightened men who would each have faced a dozen Huns single-handed.

The cloud came rapidly nearer. It blotted out the blue sky and the gleaming marsh, The birds flew. There was a dreadful silence as the billowing masses rolled onwards.

"No good," said Griff at last. "We must tie up and go below."

He snapped out orders, and within a few minutes the launch was made fast to the south bank, and officers, crew and all had shut themselves into the wardroom. Every chink had been pasted over or stuffed with rags.

"Not much air," said Jerry uncomfortably.

"Can't be helped, sir," replied Ben Cutts. "Anyways, I'd a sight rather breathe this stuff than Fritz's mixture."

They shut the door, stopped the cracks and even the keyhole with torn paper, and had hardly done so before the sun went out and the air was filled with a thick, brownish fog.

No one spoke. Griff had given orders for silence. There was no air to waste.

The cloud grew thicker. It became almost dark.

"Wonder what sort of stuff it is," whispered Jerry in Griff's ear. "All I can smell is smoke."

"I haven't a notion," Griff answered. "They send over all sorts of filth. Wonder how Otto likes it."

The prisoner, with the others, was in the wardroom. He looked badly scared.

Thicker and thicker rolled the masses of vapour. The air within the narrow little wardroom began to get terribly close and heavy. Griff felt his head swimming.

Jerry grasped him by the arm.

"What was that? I heard a splash."

Griff stiffened.

"Aye, I heard it, too," said Mart Rimmer. "It's my belief as the Huns is tackling us, sir."

"What—in this?"

"Aye; maybe they got masks. There, I heard it again."

Griff sprang to the door.

"Gas or no gas, we've got to stop them. Who's coming?"

"All on us, sir," cried Cutts, and as Griff flung the door open they followed him with a rush.

As Griff reached the deck a head loomed up over the coamings aft. Griff lugged out his revolver and blazed away.

The head disappeared with startling suddenness and there was a hoarse cry of alarm.

"Huns, for any money," cried Cutts, and then dashed aft.

There was a sharp rattle of shots, but the smoke fog was so thick it was difficult to say just where they came from. Griff, pistol in hand, followed Cutts. He heard the big man give a quick exclamation, then saw him stoop and lift something in both arms. With a great effort he flung it over the stern. There was a tremendous crash, followed by shrieks and yells and wild splashings.

"Take that, ye ugly beggars," roared Ben. "Take it an' swim for it."

Griff arrived in the stern in time to see a dozen Germans in the water, clinging to the remains of a large, flat-bottomed boat. The boat, with the whole bottom knocked out, was sinking rapidly.

"I've wasted one o' them there depth charges on 'em, sir," said Cutts, "but I reckon it's done the job."

"It seems to," replied Griff, laughing in spite of himself. It was too funny to see the faces of the discomfited Germans as they hung on as best they might. It was quite clear that they expected no mercy.

"Get 'em aboard, Ben," he ordered. "Here, Scotty, and you, Mart, Pull them in. I'll stand by, and see there's no monkey business."

But the Germans, who had fully expected to catch the crew of the launch unprepared, had no fight left in them. They were only too glad to be hauled in out of the muddy canal, and not one of them offered the slightest resistance.

To Griff's surprise they none of them wore masks. He singled out the non-com, a stout sergeant, who seemed to be the leader.

"Why have you no masks," he demanded.

"Der smoke no vill hurt anyone," growled the other sulkily.

Jerry burnt out laughing.

"All that trouble for nothing," he chuckled. "It was only smoke after all."

"What did you send it over for?" inquired Griff of tho prisoner.

"So dat you vas not see us goming," was the answer.

"And what were you after?"

The German was silent.

"Speak up," snapped Griff.

A German can never resist the voice of authority.

"Ve vas come to take der Herr prisoner," the man answered meekly enough.

"I thought as much," said Griff dryly. "And now you are prisoners yourselves. Tie them up tight, Cutts, and stow them below. We'll leave the lot in the Belgian lines."

Coming to Terms

"I'VE got an answer."

Griff and Jerry, who, after a long day on patrol, were browsing comfortably in two long chairs in the wardroom, leaped up as one man.

"An answer from Curt?" cried Griff.

Billy Becks, who had just appeared in the doorway, walked in and pulled a fat-looking letter from his pocket.

"From Curt, of course," he answered. "It was dropped near No. 3 Aerodrome last night, and, as luck had it, a pal of Howard's picked it up."

"Just as well it didn't fall into the hands of the Censor," he added meaningly.

But Griff was tearing open the envelope.

"What's he say?" Jerry questioned eagerly.

"Wait a jiffy. Ah, here we are."

"Baron Curt von Kling presents his compliments to lieutenant Harcourt, and is prepared to accept his proposal. He will meet M.-L. 707 on June 14th next, at or about a point twelve miles due west from Mariakirke, at five a.m. He trusts to the honour of an English naval officer not to bring any other vessel but his own to the rendezvous, or to give information to other units of the British naval forces. For his part, he makes the same promises, namely, to come alone and not to communicate with any third person.

"He suggests that the exchange shall be carried out by means of the boats of the respective vessels. That each prisoner shall be in charge of one man, and that the two boats shall meet midway between the two vessels. The vessels themselves shall be at a distance of not less than a mile apart, and the signals used on either side shall be made with a plain green flag."

"That's all," said Griff, "barring date and signature. What do you think of it?"

"Too civil by half," answered Jerry promptly.

"He seems to have thought it all out pretty thoroughly," said Griff. "It appears to me we have no choice in the matter."

"Like the chap who said he couldn't help putting his head in the lion's mouth because it fitted so nicely," jeered Billy.

"We're fairly safe, Billy," Griff said. "The water is too shallow there for Fritz to play fool tricks with the fish. I mean, so long as we keep on the shoreward side."

"And what's to prevent him strafing you with his gun?" scoffed Billy.

"Blessed if I know," confessed Griff.

"Seems to me you're chancing a lot," said Billy. "I don't know about that. Remember, he can't start shooting until he's got his brother safe aboard, for if he did we could smash up the boat with Otto in it. And, with any luck, we'll have James Rimmer aboard and be off before the good Curt can get to work."

"I wish you luck," said Billy. "And now I've got to be off. They've given me a new blimp, and I'm taking her over to-morrow."

He was off before they could congratulate him, and Griff and Jerry settled down to read Curt von Kling's letter all over again, and to consult over the details of the whole business.

Presently they called in Ben Cutts, and told him all about it. The big coxswain listened carefully, and Griff asked him his opinion.

"I wouldn't trust that there Hun no farther than you, sir," Cutts admitted. "Still, I don't quite see how he can play the dirty on us. I reckon I'd better take the prisoner along in the dinghy, for I reckon I can get James back to the ship in half the time the Hun can do it."

Last Scene of All

THE morning of the 14th dawned as fine and clear as anyone could desire. There was hardly a breath of wind as M.-L. 707 drove northwards to the rendezvous.

Her crew were on the tiptoe of excitement, and long before they reached the spot every eye was busy watching for the periscope of the U-boat.

It was Mart who spotted it, and the moment he did so Griff cut the launch down to barely steerage way. Then, after a good look all around the horizon in order to make quite certain that no other craft was in sight, he showed his green flag.

The U-boat rose slowly until the whole of her long, dark, sinister-looking hull was above the surface. A man came out of the conning-tower hatch and waved a green flag in answer.

"So far, so good," said Griff. "Signal and ask if they're ready, Ben."

Ben did so, and the answer came back in Morse.

"All ready, sir," said Ben. "They're a getting out their collapsible."

"And there's James Rimmer," put in Jerry, who was watching the U-boat through his glasses.

"It's James, sure enough," Cutts exclaimed eagerly. "Shall I get along, sir?"

"The sooner the better," Griff answered.

More signals, then from the two vessels the two boats started at the same moment and were rowed rapidly towards one another.

"'Pon my Sam, I believe the thing is going through, after all," said Griff in a low voice to Jerry.

"I'm sure I hope so," replied Jerry. "But keep your eyes skinned, old chap. You ought to know by this time just how far to trust Fritz."

"I don't trust him any farther than you do, only I can't quite see how he can play the fool this time. Look at Ben! He can pull twice as fast as the Hun. As I said before, we ought to have James safe aboard at least three or four minutes before they get their man. And we can nip off at once, whereas they have to fold up their boat before they can get under way. I reckon on a good five minutes' start."

"They've met," said Jerry sharply. "They are swapping."

Everyone aboard the M.-L. was watching the two little boats.

They lay side by side on the sparkling ripples, and with his glasses Jerry could actually see the contemptuous look on Ben's face as he handed over Otto, and the broad grin with which he welcomed James Rimmer.

The very moment he had James in the dinghy he wheeled the little craft round and sent her fairly flying back towards the M.-L.

True to his promise. Griff did not move to meet him. But to Scotty he called quietly to be ready to start the moment he gave the word.

"Ben's winning, hands down," said Jerry. "The Hun boat isn't half-way back yet."

"Looks as if Curt was actually going to play the game for once," replied Griff.

"If he does, it's only because he can't help himself," declared Jerry. "Here he is. Up with the dinghy, lads. Sharp now."

The dinghy shot alongside and Ben sprang aboard. There was a deep-throated shout of delight as James Rimmer followed. Then Mart stepped forward, and father and son grasped each other's hands.

Up came the dinghy, as if it had been a toy.

"Off with her!" ordered Griff.

The engines roared, and M.-L. 707 shot ahead. Next instant there was a curious sound under the stern, and she stopped with a wrench that nearly flung them all down.

"What's up?" cried Griff, and making a flying leap off the bridge, tore aft.

"Whatever it is, it's Curt's work," said Jerry. "Get to your gun, Ben. Quickly!" he shouted. "Look at the U-boat."

Like magic, her gun had risen from her deck. Its crew were swinging it round to bear on the M-L. Jerry's heart was in his boots. They were helpless. At such a range the first shell would probably blow them out of the water.

Griff came striding back.

"The screws are all tied up. Net round them, so far as I can make out. We are quite helpless, Jerry."

"Nets, eh! Might have known it," snapped Jerry. "This is Kling's work, of course. I knew he'd have us one way or another."

"Shoot, Ben," ordered Griff. "Don't wait for them to open the ball. Jerry, give me a hand with the Lewis."

Ben had not waited for orders. Before Griff had finished speaking, the smacking report of the three-pounder echoed across the sea.

Almost at the same instant the U-boat's big gun roared out.

But Ben had been a thought the quicker of the two, and his little shell, excellently aimed, struck the hull of the U-boat within a yard of their gun. If it did little actual harm, at any rate it spoilt their aim, and their first shell flew high over the M.-L and wasted itself in the sea half a mile away.

"First point to us," said Jerry. "Oh, if we could only steam!"

Scotty and two others were hard at work over the stern trying their best to clear the screws. But Jerry knew full well that this was an hour's job at least, and that long before that they would all be food for crabs.

He and Griff got the Lewis gun to work, and were pumping out a stream of bullets. But the range was very long for a machine gun, and they did not see any result.

Ben fired again and hit the conning tower.

"That's no good," snapped Griff. "We must get the gun itself. Look out, they're firing again."

With the words the four-inch roared afresh, this time with better aim. The shell struck the bridge of 707 and carried it bodily into the sea. When the smoke cleared. Merton, one of the hands, lay twitching on the deck.

"It's murder!" groaned Griff.

"They haven't got our gun yet," Jerry answered. "Slam 'em with it, Ben!"

"Oh, well done!" he shouted, for Ben's third shot had hit the U-boat just above the water-line and holed her.

"She can't submerge now," said Griff. "If we could only steam, we might hobble her yet. Look, there's Curt himself on the deck. Raging, too."

The U-boat commander had stiffened his gun crew. They fired low this time. The shell struck the water on the near side of 707, ricochetted, and struck her bows just above the water-line.

"That's about finished us," said Jerry under his breath. "The next will do the trick."

But the next was never fired.

At that very moment the whole sea shook with the thud of an enormous explosion, the U-boat seemed to rise bodily on top of a monstrous fountain of yellow foam.

The fountain fell back and with it the U-boat, and the crew of the M.-L., gaping open-eyed with amazement, saw her break in two like a rotten stick and vanish into the maw of the sea.

Jerry was the first to find his voice.

"Torpedoed!" he gasped.

"Torpedoed," echoed Griff. "But by whom?"

Mart Rimmer stepped forward.

"Maybe Mr. Becks could tell you, sir," he said and pointed to the sky.

Griff and Jerry looked up. Down out of the blue was descending the long, slim, silvery shape of Billy Beck's new blimp. They could see him signalling.

"What's he say?" asked Griff.

Jerry read it off slowly:

"Knew—Curt—would—fool—you— so—got—a—pal—to—give —you—a—hand."

Griff drew a long breath.

"A pal indeed!" he said feelingly.


Roy Glashan's Library
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