The Coming Conquest of England

第87章

THE ADVENTURES OF THE CALEDONIA

The passengers of the Caledonia were in a state of hopeless dejection and violent exasperation.An attempt was made to throw the blame of their misfortune on the unpardonable carelessness of the responsible military authorities, rather than attribute it to an accident that could not have been reckoned upon.

"Here we have another striking example of English lack of foresight," said Mr.Kennedy."The idea of allowing the Caledonia to travel without protection! Think of all the men-of-war lying idle at Bombay, Aden, and Port Said! And yet nobody thought there was any occasion to send one or more of them to escort this splendid ship, with nearly a thousand Englishmen on board, and a cargo worth more than a million.Had our commanders no suspicion that the French ships were so near?""Our commanders relied upon there being enough English ships cruising in the Mediterranean to prevent such enterprises," said the General.

But this excuse was not accepted, and bitter were the reproaches hurled at the English way of managing the war.When night came on the majority of the passengers, utterly exhausted by the exciting events they had gone through, retired to their cabins.But Heideck remained on deck for some time, cooling his heated forehead in the delightful night breeze.The squadron quickly pursued its course through the gently rushing waves, the position of each ship being clearly defined by the sidelights.On the right was the Chanzy, on the left the Arethuse, in the rear the Forbin and the O'Hara, manned by a French crew.Nothing could be seen of the destroyer.

At length Heideck, tired of hearing the regular steps of the French sentries pacing up and down the deck, went down to his cabin.He was soon asleep, but his rest was broken by uneasy dreams.The battle, of which he had been a spectator, was fought again.His dreams must have been very vivid, for he thought he heard, without cessation, the dull roar of the guns.He rubbed his eyes and sat up in his narrow berth.Was it a reality or only a delusion of his excited senses? The dull thunder still smote on his ear; and, having listened intently for a few moments, he jumped up, slipped on his clothes, and hurried on deck.On the way he met several passengers, who had also been woke by the report of the guns.As soon as he reached the deck, he saw that another violent naval engagement was in progress.

The night was rather dark, but the flash from the guns showed fairly the position of the enemy, which became perfectly clear, when a searchlight from the Arethuse played over the surface of the water with dazzlingly clear light.The huge hulks of two battleships, white and glittering, emerged from the darkness.In addition, there were to be seen five smaller warships and several small, low vessels, the torpedo-boats of the British squadron, which was advancing to meet the French.Then, bright as a miniature sun, a searchlight was turned on also by the English.It was an interesting spectacle to notice how the two electric lights, slowly turning round, as it were lugged each ship out of the darkness, showing the guns where to aim.

The French squadron, whose commander was well aware of the enemy's superiority, began to bestir itself rapidly.All the vessels, the Caledonia included, turned round and retreated at full speed.But the heavy English shells from the guns of the battleships were already beginning to fall amongst them, although the distance might have been three knots.Suddenly, when the Caledonia, in the course of a turning manoeuvre, showed a broadside to the British fire, a sharp, violent shock was felt, followed by the report of a violent explosion.The Caledonia stopped dead, and loud cries of agony were heard from the engine-room.The passengers, frightened to death, ran about the deck.It could not be concealed from them that the ship had been struck by a shell, which had exploded.

But it proved that the Caledonia, although badly injured, was in no immediate danger.Only her speed and manoeuvring capacity had suffered considerably owing to a steampipe having been hit.

The French warships retired as rapidly as possible, leaving the Caledonia and the prize crew on board to their fate, since it was impossible to take her with them.They were obliged to abandon the valuable prize and rest content with their great success in the destruction of the Royal Arthur and the capture of the O'Hara.The Caledonia, being recognised by the searchlight thrown upon her, had no fear of being shot at again.She moved slowly northwards, and in the early morning was overtaken by two British cruisers.An officer came on board, declared the French prize crew prisoners of war, and was informed by the third officer, who was now in command, of the events of the last twenty-four hours.

While the British squadron followed the French ships the Caledonia, only travelling eight knots an hour, made for Naples, which was reached without further incidents.The passengers were disembarked, the large sum of money was deposited in the Bank of Naples to the credit of the English Government, and only the cargo of cotton, carpets, and embroidered silkstuffs was left on board.

The Kennedys and Mrs.Irwin went to the Hotel de la Riviera.They were accompanied by Heideck, who intended to stay only one day at Naples, and then to take the through train to Berlin.

Although he had said nothing to her about going to Berlin Edith suspected his intention.A few hours later she spoke to him in the reading-room, where he was eagerly studying the papers.

"Any news of importance?"

"Everything is new to me.Up to the present we have only had a glimpse of what has been going on; these papers have given me a comprehensive view of events for the first time.""And now, of course, your only desire is to see your colours again?

I know that it is only ambition that guides you.""Can you reproach an officer for that?"

August Niemann

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