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- The Boy Allies Under Two Flags - 3/39 -
"Have sighted enemy; four vessels: approaching rapidly," and the exact position of the Sylph.
In a moment came the answer:
"Head north, slowly. We will intercept the enemy when actively engaged. Remember the Hawke!"
Lord Hastings sent another message:
"How many are you?"
"Five," came back the answer. "Undaunted accompanied by torpedo destroyers Lance, Lenox, Legion and Loyal, as convoys."
"Good!" muttered Lord Hastings; then turned to Lieutenant Hetherington:
"You may clear for action, sir!"
The gallant British sailors jumped quickly to their posts, the light of battle in their eager eyes. At Lord Hastings' command, the Sylph was brought about, and soon had her stern toward the enemy.
There came a wireless message from the German commander.
"Surrender!" it said.
"We will die first!" was the answer sent by Lord Hastings.
Steaming slowly, the Sylph apparently was trying to escape; at least so figured the German commander. To him it appeared that he could overtake the little vessel with ease, and his squadron steamed swiftly after it.
Gradually the Germans gained upon the little vessel, finally coming close enough to send a shot after it. They were not yet within range, however, and the shell fell short.
"We'll have to let him get a little closer," muttered Lord Hastings, "or he may draw off. We'll have to face the danger of a shell striking us."
A second shell from the Germans kicked up the water alongside the Sylph.
"He'll have the range in a minute, sir," said Lieutenant Hetherington.
"Bear off a little to the south," was the commander's reply.
For almost an hour the Sylph outmaneuvered the German flotilla, and avoided being struck. All this time Lord Hastings was in constant wireless communication with the Undaunted, which was even now coming to give battle to the Germans.
At last the lookout made them out.
"Battle fleet --" he began, but Lord Hastings keen eye had already perceived what the lookout would have told him.
Well to the rear, perhaps three mile's north, came the British cruiser Undaunted and her four convoys. They were steaming rapidly and in such a direction that they would intercept the Germans should the latter attempt to return in the direction from which they had come.
To escape, the Germans must come directly toward the Sylph. Those on board the Sylph noticed a sudden slackening in the speed of the German squadron.
"They have sighted our fleet, sir," said Jack, who had stood impatiently on the bridge while all this maneuvering was going on.
"So they have," said Lord Hastings, and then turned to Lieutenant Hetherington. "You may bring the Sylph about sir," he said quietly.
Swiftly the little scout cruiser turned her face directly toward the enemy, who even now had turned to escape toward the south, at the same time heading so they would pass the Sylph at the distance of perhaps a mile.
"Full speed ahead!" came the command on the Sylph.
The little vessel darted forward at an angle that would cut off the Germans in the flight. It was a desperate venture, and none, perhaps, realized it more than did Lord Hastings; but he was not the man to see the prey escape thus easily if he could help it.
Rapidly now the Sylph drew closer to the German torpedo destroyers. The gunners were at their posts, the range finder already had gauged the distance, medical supplies for the wounded were ready for instant use. In fact, the Sylph was ready to give battle, regardless of the number of her enemies.
There was a loud crash as the first salvo burst from the Germans, but the Sylph was untouched. Still the British ship drew nearer without firing. Then Lord Hastings gave the command: "Mr. Hetherington, you may fire at will!"
The Sylph seemed to leap into the air at the shock of the first fire. One shell crashed into the side of one of the German destroyers, and a cheer went up from the British. Then came several broadsides from the Germans, who had stopped now to dispose of this brave little vessel, before continuing their flight.
Suddenly the Sylph staggered, and her fire became less frequent. A German shell had struck her forward turret with terrible force, putting her biggest gun out of commission. But the Sylph recovered, and continued to fight on.
Jack and Frank darted hither and thither about the vessel, carrying orders from Lord Hastings and Lieutenant Hetherington, now and then taking a man's place at one of the guns as he toppled over until another relieved them.
Two distinct shocks told that the Sylph had been struck twice more. Then Lord Hastings gave the command for his vessel to withdraw.
In attacking the enemy as he had, in the face of terrible odds, he had accomplished his purpose. He had halted the Germans in their attempt to escape, and had given the Undaunted and the British torpedo boats time to come up.
Before the Germans could again get under full headway, there came the heavy boom of a great gun. The Undaunted was within range, and had opened fire.
Lord Hastings summoned Jack to him.
"What damage do you find to the Sylph?" he asked.
"Forward gun out of commission, sir," replied the lad. "Ten men killed, and many wounded."
Frank also had had news to report.
The British flotilla and the German squadron were now at it hammer and tongs. Seeing that all hope of escape had been cut off, the German commander turned to face his new foes, determined to give battle to the last.
Steadily the British fleet bore down on the enemy, the great guns of the Undaunted belching fire as they drew near.
Now Lord Hastings ordered the Sylph -- still the closest of the British vessels to the Germans -- again into the fray, and in spite of its crippled condition, the little cruiser once more bore down upon the Germans.
Suddenly the nearest German destroyer launched a torpedo at the Sylph. By a quick and skillful maneuver, Lord Hastings avoided this projectile, and a broadside was poured into the German.
Others of the German fleet were too closely pressed by the Undaunted and her convoys to aid the one engaged with the Sylph, and so the two were left to fight it out alone.
Closer and closer together the two vessels came, until they were perhaps only a hundred yards apart. It was evident to those on the Sylph that a shell must have badly crippled the German, for otherwise a torpedo would have put an end to the little British craft.
Unable to check the advance of the Sylph, the German destroyer turned suddenly and made off.
"After her!" shouted Lord Hastings, and the Sylph leaped ahead at the word of command.
SAVED FROM THE SEA
The three other German vessels now singled out the Undaunted and concentrated their fire upon her, thinking first to dispose of the more formidable vessel and then to turn their attention to the lighter craft.
A fierce duel ensued. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. One of the German torpedo destroyers seemed to leap into the air, only to fall back a moment later and disappear beneath the sea with a loud hiss.
A heavy shell struck the Undaunted and carried away part of her superstructure. The two remaining torpedo boats of the enemy, except the one being pursued by the Sylph, suddenly turned and dashed directly at the Undaunted, evidently intending to ram her.
Captain Fox avoided a collision with promptness and skill, and
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