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- The Boy Allies Under Two Flags - 10/39 -
Briefly once more Jack explained.
"The Sylph sunk!" exclaimed Captain Marcus. "And what of my old friend Lord Hastings?"
"Gone down with his ship, sir," replied Jack, Patiently.
"Hastings dead!" cried the commander of the Cumberland. "It is impossible!"
"No, sir," said Frank. "It is true."
For a moment the commander bowed his head in reverence. Then he raised his eyes and looked at the boys.
"He was my very good friend," he said simply, and motioned the boys to follow him below.
Inside the cabin of the commander of the Cumberland, the captain motioned the lads to seats.
"Now we shall see what is to be done with you," he said. "At present, because of the loss of the Sylph, you are, of course, unattached. How would you like to go with me?"
"Where to, sir?" asked Jack.
"I'll explain," replied the captain. "Until yesterday the Cumberland was one of the blockading fleet off Heligoland. You can understand, therefore, that I have already heard of you lads. I have been ordered to patrol the west coast of Africa, and, if I mistake not, there will be fighting. I have recently lost two of my midshipmen through illness. You may have their places. What do you say?"
Both lads had taken a great liking to Captain Marcus at first sight, but it was Jack who made answer for both:
"Thank you, sir. We shall be glad to go with you."
PATROLLING THE SOUTH SEA
The boys learned from Captain Marcus that they had reckoned rightly and that at the moment they were off the port of Amsterdam, Holland.
"Our course," the captain explained, "will take us through the English channel into the Atlantic, thence south to the African coast. How far south we shall go, I cannot say at present."
He called a midshipman to show the boys to the cabin which was to be their quarters while on the Cumberland. It was very comfortable, but not much like the one they had aboard the Sylph. "However," said Jack, "it's plenty good enough for anyone."
For several days the boys were not assigned to duty, Captain Marcus declaring that they needed, a chance to rest up after their strenuous experience with the submarine. He introduced them to all the officers, with whom they speedily became favorites. It was very evident to both the boys that their relationship to Lord Hastings was well known to Captain Marcus and they felt that the many little favors shown them was because of this. They frequently talked of their former commander and friend and their hearts were sad at his untimely end.
In spite of their new surroundings, the days that they sailed southward were somewhat monotonous, and the boys were more than pleased when the Cumberland put into Lisbon, Portugal, for coal. Here they were given a day ashore and bought a number of things that they greatly needed as all their effects had gone down with the Sylph.
Continuing her journey, the Cumberland sailed south through and past the Tropic of Cancer, almost to the equator, without a sign of an enemy. It was in fact just a day's sail from the equator before the Cumberland sighted another ship.
Quickly the wireless was put to working and it was found that the approaching vessel was the small British cruiser Dwarf. The cruisers came to anchor a short distance apart and the commanders of the two ships exchanged visits.
Upon Captain Marcus' return aboard the Cumberland, both ships immediately got under way, the Dwarf taking the lead.
"Something up!" said Jack to Frank, as they stood leaning over the rail.
"You are right," replied Frank, "and I'll bet you a little red apple I can tell you what it is."
"You can?" exclaimed Jack in surprise. "Let's have it then."
"In my spare moments," explained Frank, "I have been making a study of the maps and charts. We are now almost in the Gulf of Guinea. A small but nevertheless very deep, river called the Cameroon, empties into the gulf. Do you follow me?"
"Yes, but I don't see what you are driving at."
"Well, the Cameroon region is a German possession. Its largest town, several miles up this navigable river, is Duala, strongly fortified. This, if I am not badly mistaken, is our objective point."
"Perhaps you are right," said Jack somewhat dubiously, "but won't the forts be too strong for the cruisers?"
"Not these, I am sure."
"Well," said Jack, "I hope we see some action soon, whether it is at Duala, as you call it, or some other place. This is growing monotonous."
Frank's prophecy proved correct. Even now the Cumberland and the Dwarf were well into the Gulf of Guinea and making all headway toward the mouth of the river Cameroon, which point the vessels reached early the following morning, intending to anchor in the mouth of the stream.
At the approach of the cruisers, however, a fort guarding the harbor broke into action.
A few well-directed shots from the big guns of the Cumberland, and the fort was silenced. Then, instead of coming to anchor, the cruisers steamed slowly up the river.
Rounding a bend in the stream, Duala could be seen in the distance; likewise the forts guarding the town, and a bombardment of the fortifications was at once begun.
The shore batteries promptly returned the fire, but it soon became apparent that the guns on the ships outranged them.
For several hours the bombardment continued, and then two merchant steamers were seen making their way from the shelter of the port directly toward the British ships.
"Wonder what's up now?" said Frank, who at that moment, having been relieved from duty, stood beside Jack at the rail.
"Don't know," was the latter's brief reply. Nor did anyone else, so those on board the cruisers watched the movements of the oncoming steamers with much curiosity.
When the approaching vessels were little more than a mile up the river they came to a stop. Small boats were lowered over the sides and put off hurriedly in the direction from which they had come. Shortly after, a blinding glare rose to the sky, there was the sound of two terrific reports, one immediately following the other, and the two steamers slowly settled into the water.
Captain Marcus, on the bridge of the Cumberland, cried out:
"They have blockaded the river!"
It was true. The ruse was plainly apparent now that it was too late to prevent it. The two sunken vessels made further progress up the river by the British ships impossible.
"Wonder what we shall do now?" asked Frank.
"Haven't any idea," said Jack briefly.
Night drew on and still the British guns continued to hurl their shells upon the German town.
With the fall of darkness there came an answer to Frank's question.
Captain Marcus summoned Frank and Jack.
"The Germans have effectually blocked the river," he told them. "Therefore we cannot capture the town that way. Because of your experience, I have called you two lads to undertake a most dan- gerous mission.
"You," pointing to Jack, "will lead 4oo sailors around through the woods and attack the enemy from the flank. You, Mr. Chadwick," turning to Frank, "I shall put in command of a fleet of four small boats, armed with rapid-firers, and it will be your duty to try and crawl up the river without attracting the attention of the forts. Attacking from, two sides, simultaneously, we should take the town. "In the meantime we shall continue to shell the town, stopping our bombardment at such a time as I believe you will be prepared for a sudden attack. Therefore, when you reach your positions, you will not attack until the bombardment ceases. That shall be your signal. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," both lads agreed.
"Good, then. Everything shall be in readiness for you in an hour."
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