Page:Yule Logs.djvu/50

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34
THE FIGHTING MERMAID

face but a short distance from them. This time, instead of being a simple silken flag, it was outlined in flames of red white and blue. There was a confused shouting of orders, and then the rattling fire of a machine-gun began to tear through the water just beyond the blazing emblem. With the first sound of firing it vanished, but a minute later the Alfonso XIX. lay in a glow of diffused light that seemed to come from beneath her very keel. And so it did, for that was the point from which the Mermaid was just then operating her 4000 candle-power search-light.

As the Spaniards waited in breathless terror for what should happen next, and fully expecting to be hurled into eternity by some tremendous explosion, a dense volume of sickening smoke rose slowly from the water on both sides of the ship, until she was completely enveloped in its suffocating folds. In a vain effort to escape this terror against which they could not fight, the Spaniards slipped their moorings with the idea of steaming out to sea, but, to their dismay, the great screw, that should have driven them through the water at a speed of twenty miles an hour, refused to move, and the vast bulk of the Alfonso XIX. only drifted helplessly.

Now the fiery emblem of free Cuba was again seen moving swiftly from point to point, fired at by ship after ship, disappearing with each shot only to flash out again a moment later in some unexpected quarter. Its erratic course was marked by eddying clouds of pungent smoke, bursts of flame, and loud explosions that threw the whole harbour into an uproar of terror. The panic-stricken ships of Spain dropped their moorings and made desperate efforts to escape from the enemy that they could neither see nor fight, but which seemed to hold them at its mercy. Some of them could not move, others could not be steered, and all drifted helplessly, colliding with one another, running aground, blinding each other with flashing search-lights that incessantly swept the black waters