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Great War Syndicate

Frank Richard Stockton




  Author of "The Lady or the Tiger," "Rudder Grange," "The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine," "What Might Have Been Expected," etc., etc.


  In the spring of a certain year, not far from the close of thenineteenth century, when the political relations between the UnitedStates and Great Britain became so strained that careful observers onboth sides of the Atlantic were forced to the belief that a seriousbreak in these relations might be looked for at any time, the fishingschooner Eliza Drum sailed from a port in Maine for the banks ofNewfoundland.

  It was in this year that a new system of protection for Americanfishing vessels had been adopted in Washington. Every fleet of thesevessels was accompanied by one or more United States cruisers, whichremained on the fishing grounds, not only for the purpose of warningAmerican craft who might approach too near the three-mile limit, butalso to overlook the action of the British naval vessels on the coast,and to interfere, at least by protest, with such seizures of Americanfishing boats as might appear to be unjust. In the opinion of allpersons of sober judgment, there was nothing in the condition ofaffairs at this time so dangerous to the peace of the two countries asthe presence of these American cruisers in the fishing waters.

  The Eliza Drum was late in her arrival on the fishing grounds, andhaving, under orders from Washington, reported to the commander of theLennehaha, the United States vessel in charge at that place, hercaptain and crew went vigorously to work to make up for lost time.They worked so vigorously, and with eyes so single to the catching offish, that on the morning of the day after their arrival, they werehauling up cod at a point which, according to the nationality of thecalculator, might be two and three-quarters or three and one-quartermiles from the Canadian coast.

  In consequence of this inattention to the apparent extent of the marinemile, the Eliza Drum, a little before noon, was overhauled and seizedby the British cruiser, Dog Star. A few miles away the Lennehaha hadperceived the dangerous position of the Eliza Drum, and had startedtoward her to warn her to take a less doubtful position. But beforeshe arrived the capture had taken place. When he reached the spotwhere the Eliza Drum had been fishing, the commander of the Lennehahamade an observation of the distance from the shore, and calculated itto be more than three miles. When he sent an officer in a boat to theDog Star to state the result of his computations, the captain of theBritish vessel replied that he was satisfied the distance was less thanthree miles, and that he was now about to take the Eliza Drum into port.

  On receiving this information, the commander of the Lennehaha steamedcloser to the Dog Star, and informed her captain, by means of aspeaking-trumpet, that if he took the Eliza Drum into a Canadian port,he would first have to sail over his ship. To this the captain of theDog Star replied that he did not in the least object to sail over theLennehaha, and proceeded to put a prize crew on board the fishingvessel.

  At this juncture the captain of the Eliza Drum ran up a large Americanflag; in five minutes afterward the captain of the prize crew hauled itdown; in less than ten minutes after this the Lennehaha and the DogStar were blazing at each other with their bow guns. The spark hadbeen struck.

  The contest was not a long one. The Dog Star was of much greatertonnage and heavier armament than her antagonist, and early in theafternoon she steamed for St. John's, taking with her as prizes boththe Eliza Drum and the Lennehaha.

  All that night, at every point in the United States which was reachedby telegraph, there burned a smothered fire; and the next morning, whenthe regular and extra editions of the newspapers were poured out uponthe land, the fire burst into a roaring blaze. From lakes to gulf,from ocean to ocean, on mountain and plain, in city and prairie, itroared and blazed. Parties, sections, politics, were all forgotten.Every American formed part of an electric system; the same fire flashedinto every soul. No matter what might be thought on the morrow, or inthe coming days which might bring better under-standing, this day theunreasoning fire blazed and roared.

  With morning newspapers in their hands, men rushed from thebreakfast-tables into the streets to meet their fellow-men. What wasit that they should do?

  Detailed accounts of the affair came rapidly, but there was nothing inthem to quiet the national indignation; the American flag had beenhauled down by Englishmen, an American naval vessel had been fired intoand captured; that was enough! No matter whether the Eliza Drum waswithin the three-mile limit or not! No matter which vessel firedfirst! If it were the Lennehaha, the more honour to her; she ought tohave done it! From platform, pulpit, stump, and editorial office cameone vehement, passionate shout directed toward Washington.

  Congress was in session, and in its halls the fire roared louder andblazed higher than on mountain or plain, in city or prairie. No memberof the Government, from President to page, ventured to oppose thetempestuous demands of the people. The day for argument upon theexciting question had been a long weary one, and it had gone by in lessthan a week the great shout of the people was answered by a declarationof war against Great Britain.

  When this had been done, those who demanded war breathed easier, butthose who must direct the war breathed harder.

  It was indeed a time for hard breathing, but the great mass of thepeople perceived no reason why this should be. Money there was in vastabundance. In every State well-drilled men, by thousands, stood readyfor the word to march, and the military experience and knowledge givenby a great war was yet strong upon the nation.

  To the people at large the plan of the war appeared a very obvious anda very simple one. Canada had given the offence, Canada should be madeto pay the penalty. In a very short time, one hundred thousand, twohundred thousand, five hundred thousand men, if necessary, could bemade ready for the invasion of Canada. From platform, pulpit, stump,and editorial office came the cry: "On to Canada!"

  At the seat of Government, however, the plan of the war did not appearso obvious, so simple. Throwing a great army into Canada was all wellenough, and that army would probably do well enough; but the questionwhich produced hard breathing in the executive branch of the Governmentwas the immediate protection of the sea-coast, Atlantic, Gulf, and evenPacific.

  In a storm of national indignation war had been declared against apower which at this period of her history had brought up her navalforces to a point double in strength to that of any other country inthe world. And this war had been declared by a nation which,comparatively speaking, possessed no naval strength at all.

  For some years the United States navy had been steadily improving, butthis improvement was not sufficient to make it worthy of reliance atthis crisis. As has been said, there was money enough, and everyship-yard in the country could be set to work to build ironcladmen-of-war: but it takes a long time to build ships, and England's navywas afloat. It was the British keel that America had to fear.

  By means of the continental cables it was known that many of thelargest mail vessels of the British transatlantic lines, which had beenwithdrawn upon the declaration of war, were preparing in British portsto transport troops to Canada. It was not impossible that these greatsteamers might land an army in Canada before an American army could beorganized and marched to that province. It might be that the UnitedStates would be forced to defend her borders, instead of invading thoseof the enemy.

  In every fort and navy-yard all was activity; the hammering of ironwent on by day and by night; but what was to be done when the greatironclads of England hammered upon our defences? How long would it bebefore the American flag would be seen no more upon the high seas?

  It is not surprising that the Government found i
ts position one ofperilous responsibility. A wrathful nation expected of it more than itcould perform.

  All over the country, however, there were thoughtful men, not connectedwith the Government, who saw the perilous features of the situation;and day by day these grew less afraid of being considered traitors, andmore willing to declare their convictions of the country's danger.Despite the continuance of the national enthusiasm, doubts,perplexities, and fears began to show themselves.

  In the States bordering upon Canada a reactionary feeling becameevident. Unless the United States navy could prevent England fromrapidly pouring into Canada, not only her own troops, but perhaps thoseof allied nations, these Northern States might become the scene ofwarfare, and whatever the issue of the contest, their lands might beravished, their people suffer.

  From many quarters urgent demands were now pressed upon the Government.From the interior there were clamours for troops to be massed on theNorthern frontier, and from the seaboard cities there came a cry