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HOME > Classical Novels > Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish > Chapter XV THE CHASE
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 By the time Bill reached his station on the poop, the quiet routine aboard the liner had given way to activity. The Amtonia was awake to the heat and fever of desperate life.  
Lieutenant Schneider, who was in command of the gun, seized Bill’s arm. “Bolton!” he cried, “look there—she’s changed her course! She’s going to head us off!”
Shading his eyes with his hand, Bill strained them toward the northern horizon. The great molten surface of the sun was already half obliterated by the spreading bank of fog that turned the sea to dull amethyst.
“I doubt it,” he replied. “If that fog keeps increasing, the visibility will soon be too poor for the cruiser to get our range.”
“There is Commander Geibel on the bridge. The ship is in good hands—that is a blessing!” Lieutenant Schneider’s tone betrayed his excitement.
“We’re sheering off to starboard—” said Bill. “That’s good news. It’s going to be a close thing, just the same.”
Schneider jumped on the rail and leaned outward in order to get a better view of the forward end of the ship.
“The Exec. has left the bridge!” he cried. “What’s happened now?”
“Calm down! He’s probably run down the steps and crossed that gangway to the foremast. Yes, there he is! See him? He’s climbed up to the lookout. Gosh, that lad’s got a voice. You can hear him bellowing orders all over the ship, I’ll bet.”
“He’s a good officer,” admitted the Lieutenant, getting off the rail. “Too bad the Herr Baron is not able to take command. He would use the Flying Fish to get us out of this mess.” He pointed to the submarine racing along off their starboard quarter. “Donner und Blitzen! I believe she is going to submerge!”
“The very best thing she could do, under the circumstances,” Bill asserted. “What would you have her do—head over yonder and let go a torpedo?”
“Wasn’t she built for that kind of thing?” Lieutenant Schneider’s tone was still nettled.
“Perhaps she was, but not in a position of this kind. That cruiser would blow her out of the water before she got near enough to make a torpedo effective!”
“If that’s the case, why don’t you go aboard her and get busy with her in the air?”
“And stop both the Flying Fish and ourselves while a boat is being lowered and I am ferried over to her? Even if the Amtonia was able to get away, the Flying Fish would be blown to pieces long before she was ready to take off. Weren’t you in the merchant service before you shipped aboard this raider?”
“I was—but why?”
“Commander Geibel was an officer in the Imperial German Navy. He fought through the war. I’ve never been in action before, but I’ve had a couple of years at the U. S. Naval Academy and I know that our Commander is doing the one thing possible to save his ships.”
“Then I suppose you think it a waste of time and effort for us to be manning the guns?”
Bill laughed good-naturedly and clapped the incensed lieutenant on the shoulder. “Let’s not fight about it. Clearing for action and manning the guns is okay. It’s splendid discipline and helps the morale of the crew. But you know just as well as I do, Schneider, that if we win out, coal will do it, not gunpowder.”
“I’m sorry,” apologized the German, and offered his hand.
Bill took it, feeling rather silly.
“Here it comes!” he cried a moment later, as a white cloud of smoke enveloped the cruiser’s forward turret.
“Missed!” exclaimed the lieutenant. “I can’t hand your compatriots much on their shooting, Bolton. That shot didn’t come within a thousand meters of the ship.”
“That was just meant as a warning,” explained Bill. “Those gunners know they aren’t yet within range of this ship. It’s the next five minutes that’s going to tell the tale.”
Lieutenant Schneider studied the battleship through his sea glasses. “She’s steaming more to the eastward,” he remarked sharply.
“And we’ve sheered off a point or two. The fog’s coming our way—and coming fast. It’s getting darker by the minute. The sun’s almost washed out. Gosh, this is better than a horse race. Doesn’t it give you a thrill, Schneider?”
The young officer grimaced. “Not the kind of thrill I enjoy, thank you. If that cruiser suddenly blew up, I shouldn’t weep. There—she’s firing again. Oh, if our guns could only carry over to her!”
This time the projectile struck the water a bare twenty yards ahead of the speeding liner. So close was it that those aboard the Amtonia felt the spray from the geyser that shot skyward.
“We’re within their range, now, that’s a cinch!” Bill said calmly.
“Do you think they’ll hull us, knowing that there are passengers aboard, Bolton?”
“They’re sure to, unless Commander Geibel puts on the brakes. It’s his responsibility, not theirs. That last shot was an order to stop. The Commander is paying no attention to it. He’s evidently decided to take the risk. You can’t blame him. Give us another minute and we’ll be in the fog. Those prisoners below-decks, or passengers, as you call them, will have to take their chance with the rest of us—”
There came a terrific crash which jarred the ship from end to end. Every man of the gun crew was thrown to the deck. For several seconds the Amtonia trembled like a live thing in agony. Her speed slackened materially. But before the dazed men could scramble to their feet, she was blanketed in a protecting cloak of fog. Bells rang, men shouted orders, and the wounded ship swung round to the northwest with a suddenness that sent her over at a sharp angle while the crew went rolling into the starboard scuppers.
There was no more firing from the cruiser. The race, for the time being, was over.
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