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- The Boy Allies with Uncle Sams Cruisers - 10/34 -
Frank, on deck, was doing his work. At the first stroke of six bells, the lad had dropped his hand to his pocket. A moment later there came a sharp report from below.
"Things have started moving," said Frank quietly.
The officer on the bridge had also caught the sound of the revolver shot. He looked up sharply. A moment later Lieutenant Blum dashed forward and jumped to the bridge. He spoke hurriedly to the officer of the deck, and both made a leap for the machine guns.
Frank smiled quietly to himself. Here was fighting in which he knew his true value.
The lad's revolver flashed. The man nearest to the first machine gun dropped in his track. The second man, Lieutenant Blum, touched the nearest machine gun. Frank's revolver spoke again. The German lieutenant pitched forward on his face.
"So much for you!" cried Frank. He leaped to the bridge and covered the man at the wheel.
"A false move and you are a dead man," he said. "Hold her steady."
A glance told the helmsman that the lad meant what he said. The German kept his hand on the wheel.
Came the cries of men as those released below poured on deck in the wake of Lord Hastings. Frank gazed in that direction. As he did so, the man at the wheel rose suddenly, snatched the revolver from the lad's hand and before Frank could turn, brought it down heavily on his head.
Frank dropped limply to the deck.
The helmsman himself sprang toward the machine gun, while the big vessel, with no hand to guide her wallowed in the trough of the sea.
There came a hoarse command from Lord Hastings, who had seen Frank fall.
Several men fired at the helmsman and he went down. The bridge was unmanned now but its capture was to be no sinecure. The opposition from forward had developed considerable force and the Germans there realized that possession of the bridge by the Americans and Englishmen meant disaster. The third officer, in command, roared out his orders and a score of heavily armed Germans from the forecastle gathered about him.
At Lord Hastings' command, his forces scattered -- it would be every man for himself.
The Germans under the third officer held the forecastle and between them and the opposition amidships was the bridge. Now more men swarmed from aft. The British and Americans were between two fires.
A volley belched from the third officer's men. Two Americans went down. From their scattered positions about the deck, the allies returned the fire, and with effect, as Lord Hastings could see, for several men dropped.
"Good work, men!" shouted Lord Hastings.
The British commander knew that Jack, Tom and the other prisoners would be on deck in a few moments, and that if he could hold the deck until that time, the bridge might be captured by a massed attack.
But now, with the Germans guarding the bridge from the forecastle, it was well nigh impossible, for the allied sailors would be mowed down. For the same reason, the Germens in the forecastle were unable to advance upon the bridge.
Meantime the Vaterland staggered helplessly.
Suddenly there was a wild cry from forward. On deck dashed Jack and the negro, Tom, followed by the released prisoners. The Germans in the forecastle were panic stricken at sight of these unexpected re-enforcements for the opposition. They poured in a withering fire, but it was returned with such deadly effect that the Germans scattered.
But the Germans aft pressed into the heat of the conflict, disregarding shots rained upon them by the allies. Lord Hastings called his men to make a massed stand. They gathered about him and dashed headlong at the Germans.
Revolvers replaced rifles now, for the fighting was at too close quarters for the use of the latter. Men emptied their revolvers in the very faces of their enemies, then clubbed their weapons and continued the struggle.
As the allies turned to meet this attack, the Germans in the forecastle rallied and dashed for the bridge. From behind them, the force led by Jack with Tom flung themselves forward.
At almost the same time consciousness returned to Frank on the bridge. Slowly he raised his head, saw the men approaching him, picked up the revolver that lay near his hand and emptied it into the face of the foe. His second automatic leaped from his pocket and also flashed fire.
Taken by surprise, the Germans hesitated. At the same moment Frank staggered toward the machine guns. He gripped one, whirled it so that it covered the deck.
But he could not fire. Lord Hastings' force was in the line of fire and to have opened up with the rapid-firer would have annihilated the allies as well as the Germans.
A bullet whistled past the lad's head and he ducked instinctively. He emptied the second revolver into the mass of his foes and hurled the now useless weapon in their faces.
Then the Germans were upon him.
But Jack, who realized what would follow should the Germans gain control of the bridge, had urged his men to greater efforts, and these now fell upon the Germans from behind.
With absolute disregard for their own safety, and fighting side by side, Jack and the giant negro forced their way through the struggling mass. The negro wreaked terrible havoc with his deadly pair of brass knuckles, but Jack was giving an equally good account of himself with his two clubbed revolvers.
Two men sprang to the bridge. Frank met the first with a blow of his right fist and the man dropped back. The second made the bridge and Frank grappled with him. The two went down in a heap.
"To the bridge, Tom!" called Jack.
With a desperate effort the two broke through the mass of the enemy and leaped safely to the bridge. Four Germans piled forward with them.
Meantime Lord Hastings' force was so hardly pressed that be for the moment lost sight of the bridge. Under the volleys of the Germans who still stuck to the forecastle, the Americans and English threw themselves to the deck for what little shelter they could find. There they sniped off what numbers of the enemy they could.
Then the Germans who held the forecastle charged.
There was nothing for Lord Hasings to do now but order his men to their feet to meet this situation. At command, they leaped up quickly and presented a solid front to the foe.
In the foremost of the fighting was Captain Stoneman, erstwhile commander of the Algonquin. He had long since discarded his empty automatics to favor of bare fists, and now he flung himself into the midst of the battle. Others sprang forward with him, those who were still armed firing point blank into the mass of the foe.
The Germans gave ground.
The men who had been released last by Jack and the big negro now dashed forward with wild cries of joy and fell upon the enemy from the rear.
On the bridge, Jack, Frank and the negro Tom now were battling with fully a dozen men. No shots were fired. All on the bridge had exhausted their ammunition, and now fell to with butts of revolvers and their naked fists.
"Charge 'em!" shouted Jack suddenly, who realized that the enemy was working back so that they could get their hands on the machine guns.
Frank and the negro asked no questions. Jack dashed forward; they followed him.
"I'm coming, suh!" shouted the negro.
His long arms flew about like flails, and wherever those brass knuckles struck a man went down. Jack felled two men with as many blows. The negro accounted for two more. Frank dropped one to the deck.
There were still seven against three, and the Germans pressed forward with wild cries.
Again the brass knuckles found their mark and a German toppled to the deck. Glancing around, the huge negro saw Frank locked in a close embrace with a powerful German.
The negro stepped back and struck out viciously. The grip on Frank relaxed.
There were but five men to deal with now.
One of these Jack disposed of with a blow to the point of the chin. Frank brought his revolver crashing down on the head of another. Tom's knuckles went home again.
There were only two Germans on the bridge now. These turned to run. Tom stepped forward with quick strides and grasped one by the arm, twisted sharply and sent him hurling into the sea. Then, with the rage of battle still in his heart and before Frank or Jack could stop him, he struck the remaining German a powerful blow in the face. The man crumpled tip and lay still.
The three now were the undisputed masters of the bridge. But along the deck the battle still raged.
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