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- The Boy Allies with Uncle Sams Cruisers - 1/34 -
Scanned by Sean Pobuda.
THE BOY ALLIES WITH UNCLE SAMS CRUISERS
By Ensign Robert L. Drake
Frank Chadwick jumped from a chair in the front window and ran toward the door. A form had swung from the sidewalk along the drive that marked the entrance to Lord Hasting's London home and at sight of it Frank had uttered an exclamation. Now, as the figure climbed the steps, Frank flung open the door.
"Jack!" he exclaimed with outstretched hand. "I feared something had happened, you have been gone so long and we had heard nothing of you."
"I'm perfectly whole," laughed Jack, grasping his friend's hand. "Why, I've been gone less than two weeks."
"But you expected to be gone only a day or two."
"That's true, but a fellow can't tell what is going to happen, you know. I wasn't sure I should find you here when I returned, though."
"You probably wouldn't had you come a day later," returned Frank.
"We sail tomorrow night," said Frank.
"By George! Then I'm back just in time," declared Jack. "Where bound this time?"
"I don't know exactly, but personally I believe to America."
The United States, I understand, is about to declare war on Germany. I have heard it said that immediately thereafter American troops will be sent to Europe."
"What's that got to do with our voyage?"
"I'm coming to that. There will be need, of convoys for the American transports. I believe that is the work in which we will be engaged."
"That will be first rate, for a change," said Jack.
"But come," said Frank, leading the way into the house. "Where have you been? Tell me about yourself."
"Wait, until I get a breath," laughed Jack, making himself comfortable in a big armchair. "By the way, where is Lord Hastings?"
"He is in conference with the admiralty."
"And Lady Hastings?"
"Shopping, I believe. However, both will be back before long. Now let's have an account of your adventures."
"Well, they didn't amount to much," said Jack.
"Where've you been?"
"Pretty close to Heligoland."
"Exactly. You remember how Lord Hastings came to us one day and said that the admiralty had need of a single officer at that moment, and that we both volunteered?"
"I certainly do," declared Frank, "and we drew straws to see which of us should go. I lost."
"Exactly. Well, when I reached the admiralty I found there a certain Captain Ames. I made myself known and was straightway informed that I would do as well as another. Captain Ames was in command of the British destroyer Falcon. He was bound on active duty at once, and he took me along as second in command."
"Where was he bound?" demanded Frank. "And what was the nature of the work?"
"The nature of the work," said Jack, "was to search out German mines ahead of the battleships, who were to attempt a raid of Heligoland."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Frank. "I hadn't heard anything about that. Was the raid a success?"
"It was not," replied Jack briefly.
"Explain," said Frank.
"I'm trying to," smiled Jack. "Give me a chance, will you?"
He became silent and mused for a few moments. Then he said meditatively:
"The destroyer service might well be called the cavalry of the sea. It calls for dashing initiative, aggressiveness and courage and daring to the point of rashness. Where an officer would be justified --even duty bound -- by navy standards to run away with a bigger and more valuable vessel, the commander of a destroyer often must close in to almost certain annihilation."
"Hm-m-m," said Frank slyly. "You are not feeling a bit proud of yourself, are you?"
"Oh, I'm not talking about myself," said Jack quietly. "I was thinking of a man like Captain Ames -- and other men of his caliber. However, I've been pretty close to death myself, and having come as close to a fellow as death did to me, I believe he'll become discouraged and quit. Yes, sir, I don't believe I shall ever die afloat."
"Don't be too cock-sure," said Frank dryly. "However, proceed."
"Well," Jack continued, "I followed Captain Ames aboard the Falcon and we put to sea immediately. It was the following night the, we found ourselves mixed up in the German mine fields and so close to the fortress itself that we were in range of the land batteries as well as the big guns of the German fleet. Our main fleet came far behind us, for the big ships, of course, would not venture in until we had made sure of the position of the mines."
"Right," said Frank. "I can see that -"
"Look here," said Jack, "who's telling this story?"
"You are," said Frank hastily. "Go ahead."
"All right, but don't interrupt me. As I said, we'd been searching mines for the battleships. Better to lose a dozen or two of us little fellows than one of the dreadnoughts, so we steamed ahead like a fan with nets spread and a sharp lookout. We lost a few craft by bumping mines, but we destroyed a lot of the deadly things by firing into the fields and detonating them.
"We could generally tell when we were getting close to a field, which at this point was protected by the land batteries, for the batteries would redouble their fire. Might better have saved their powder and let us run into the fields and be blown to bits, you will say. Not at all. They would consider that a waste of good mines. Nobody wants to waste a whole mine on a poor little torpedo boat destroyer -- and twenty to forty men. There's no profit in that.
"We were sneaking along slowly, feeling our way and sitting on the slippery edge of eternity when the batteries opened up.
"'We're getting warmer,' said Ames.
"It was close range work and we were able to reply to the fire of the land batteries with our little 3-inch beauties, although I don't suppose we did much good. It makes a fellow feel better, however, as you know, if he's barking back. It's funny how most men have a dread of dying without letting the other fellow know why he's there. It doesn't seem so bad when you're hammering him.
"Anyway, it was part of our business.
"There was a bunch of red buoys anchored along one side where our chart showed the channel to be, and we supposed that they had been used by the German destroyers as channel buoys or to mark mine fields.
"It developed that the Germans had anchored those buoys and got the range of them so they could have their guns already set for anything that came near them. Some of our boats were hit by the first fire. It was a desperate spot.
"We were up near the lead and we had to run fairly well in advance of the main body. As you know, it often happens that when a vessel is steaming head-on very fast, it is difficult to hit her. It seems to rattle the gunners the same as charging infantry does the defenders.
"Shell after shell missed, but there were so many of them falling around us that we were almost smothered in the spray. We had all been under fire before, so it didn't have much effect on us, though.
"Then a shell hit us amidships and tore out one of our boilers. I was on the bridge with Captain Ames at the time.
"'Go below and report,' said Ames, just as calmly as though we were at maneuvers and one of our piston rods was pounding a little.
"I went down into a cloud of steam and found two men, pretty well scalded, dragging out the others who had been more badly hurt by the explosion. There wasn't enough of the water tight compartment left to shut it off from the rest of the vessel, but we still had one boiler intact.
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