Danger and Other Stories

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Danger and Other Stories


"Danger" is a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that revolves around the adventures of Professor George Edward Challenger, a brilliant but eccentric scientist. In the story, Challenger is visited by a man named Malone, who brings news of a strange and dangerous creature lurking in the Amazon jungle. Challenger, along with Malone and a small group of other adventurers, sets out to investigate the creature and encounters a variety of obstacles and dangers along the way, including hostile indigenous tribes and treacherous natural obstacles. Eventually, they discover the creature, a prehistoric monster known as a glyptodon, and must use all their skills and ingenuity to survive its attacks and escape from the jungle alive.

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It is an amazing thing that the English, who have the reputation of being a practical nation, never saw the danger to which they were exposed.  For many years they had been spending nearly a hundred millions a year upon their army and their fleet.  Squadrons of Dreadnoughts costing two millions each had been launched.  They had spent enormous sums upon cruisers, and both their torpedo and their submarine squadrons were exceptionally strong.  They were also by no means weak in their aerial power, especially in the matter of seaplanes.  Besides all this, their army was very efficient, in spite of its limited numbers, and it was the most expensive in Europe.  Yet when the day of trial came, all this imposing force was of no use whatever, and might as well have not existed.  Their ruin could not have been more complete or more rapid if they had not possessed an ironclad or a regiment.  And all this was accomplished by me, Captain John Sirius, belonging to the navy of one of the smallest Powers in Europe, and having under my command a flotilla of eight vessels, the collective cost of which was eighteen hundred thousand pounds.  No one has a better right to tell the story than I.

I will not trouble you about the dispute concerning the Colonial frontier, embittered, as it was, by the subsequent death of the two missionaries.  A naval officer has nothing to do with politics.  I only came upon the scene after the ultimatum had been actually received.  Admiral Horli had been summoned to the Presence, and he asked that I should be allowed to accompany him, because he happened to know that I had some clear ideas as to the weak points of England, and also some schemes as to how to take advantage of them.  There were only four of us present at this meeting-the King, the Foreign Secretary, Admiral Horli, and myself.  The time allowed by the ultimatum expired in forty-eight hours.

I am not breaking any confidence when I say that both the King and the Minister were in favour of a surrender.  They saw no possibility of standing up against the colossal power of Great Britain.  The Minister had drawn up an acceptance of the British terms, and the King sat with it before him on the table.  I saw the tears of anger and humiliation run down his cheeks as he looked at it.

"I fear that there is no possible alternative, Sire," said the Minister.  "Our envoy in London has just sent this report, which shows that the public and the Press are more united than he has ever known them.  The feeling is intense, especially since the rash act of Malort in desecrating the flag.  We must give way."

The King looked sadly at Admiral Horli.

"What is your effective fleet, Admiral?" he asked.

"Two battleships, four cruisers, twenty torpedo-boats, and eight submarines," said the Admiral.

The King shook his head.

"It would be madness to resist," said he.

"And yet, Sire," said the Admiral, "before you come to a decision I should wish you to hear Captain Sirius, who has a very definite plan of campaign against the English."

"Absurd!" said the King, impatiently.  "What is the use?  Do you imagine that you could defeat their vast armada?"

"Sire," I answered, "I will stake my life that if you will follow my advice you will, within a month or six weeks at the utmost, bring proud England to her knees."

There was an assurance in my voice which arrested the attention of the King.

"You seem self-confident, Captain Sirius."

"I have no doubt at all, Sire."

"What then would you advise?"

"I would advise, Sire, that the whole fleet be gathered under the forts of Blankenberg and be protected from attack by booms and piles.  There they can stay till the war is over.  The eight submarines, however, you will leave in my charge to use as I think fit."

"Ah, you would attack the English battleships with submarines?"

"Sire, I would never go near an English battleship."

"And why not?"

"Because they might injure me, Sire."

"What, a sailor and afraid?"

"My life belongs to the country, Sire.  It is nothing.  But these eight ships-everything depends upon them.  I could not risk them.  Nothing would induce me to fight."

"Then what will you do?"

"I will tell you, Sire."  And I did so.  For half an hour I spoke.  I was clear and strong and definite, for many an hour on a lonely watch I had spent in thinking out every detail.  I held them enthralled.  The King never took his eyes from my face.  The Minister sat as if turned to stone.

"Are you sure of all this?"

"Perfectly, Sire."

The King rose from the table.

"Send no answer to the ultimatum," said he.  "Announce in both houses that we stand firm in the face of menace.  Admiral Horli, you will in all respects carry out that which Captain Sirius may demand in furtherance of his plan.  Captain Sirius, the field is clear.  Go forth and do as you have said.  A grateful King will know how to reward you."

I need not trouble you by telling you the measures which were taken at Blankenberg, since, as you are aware, the fortress and the entire fleet were destroyed by the British within a week of the declaration of war.  I will confine myself to my own plans, which had so glorious and final a result.

The fame of my eight submarines, AlphaBetaGammaThetaDeltaEpsilonIota, and Kappa, have spread through the world to such an extent that people have begun to think that there was something peculiar in their form and capabilities.  This is not so.  Four of them, the DeltaEpsilonIota, and Kappa, were, it is true, of the very latest model, but had their equals (though not their superiors) in the navies of all the great Powers.  As to AlphaBetaGamma, and Theta, they were by no means modern vessels, and found their prototypes in the old F class of British boats, having a submerged displacement of eight hundred tons, with heavy oil engines of sixteen hundred horse-power, giving them a speed of eighteen knots on the surface and of twelve knots submerged.  Their length was one hundred and eighty-six and their breadth twenty-four feet.  They had a radius of action of four thousand miles and a submerged endurance of nine hours.  These were considered the latest word in 1915, but the four new boats exceeded them in all respects.  Without troubling you with precise figures, I may say that they represented roughly a twenty-five per cent. advance up on the older boats, and were fitted with several auxiliary engines which were wanting in the others.  At my suggestion, instead of carrying eight of the very large Bakdorf torpedoes, which are nineteen feet long, weigh half a ton, and are charged with two hundred pounds of wet gun-cotton, we had tubes designed for eighteen of less than half the size.  It was my design to make myself independent of my base.

And yet it was clear that I must have a base, so I made arrangements at once with that object.  Blankenberg was the last place I would have chosen.  Why should I have a port of any kind?  Ports would be watched or occupied.  Any place would do for me.  I finally chose a small villa standing alone nearly five miles from any village and thirty miles from any port.  To this I ordered them to convey, secretly by night, oil, spare parts, extra torpedoes, storage batteries, reserve periscopes, and everything that I could need for refitting.  The little whitewashed villa of a retired confectioner-that was the base from which I operated against England.

The boats lay at Blankenberg, and thither I went.  They were working frantically at the defences, and they had only to look seawards to be spurred to fresh exertions.  The British fleet was assembling.  The ultimatum had not yet expired, but it was evident that a blow would be struck the instant that it did.  Four of their aeroplanes, circling at an immense height, were surveying our defences.  From the top of the lighthouse I counted thirty battleships and cruisers in the offing, with a number of the trawlers with which in the British service they break through the mine-fields.  The approaches were actually sown with two hundred mines, half contact and half observation, but the result showed that they were insufficient to hold off the enemy, since three days later both town and fleet were speedily destroyed.

However, I am not here to tell you the incidents of the war, but to explain my own part in it, which had such a decisive effect upon the result.  My first action was to send my four second-class boats away instantly to the point which I had chosen for my base.  There they were to wait submerged, lying with negative buoyancy upon the sands in twenty foot of water, and rising only at night.  My strict orders were that they were to attempt nothing upon the enemy, however tempting the opportunity.  All they had to do was to remain intact and unseen, until they received further orders.  Having made this clear to Commander Panza, who had charge of this reserve flotilla, I shook him by the hand and bade him farewell, leaving with him a sheet of notepaper upon which I had explained the tactics to be used and given him certain general principles which he could apply as circumstances demanded.

My whole attention was now given to my own flotilla, which I divided into two divisions, keeping Iota and Kappa under my own command, while Captain Miriam had Delta and Epsilon.  He was to operate separately in the British Channel, while my station was the Straits of Dover.  I made the whole plan of campaign clear to him.  Then I saw that each ship was provided with all it could carry.  Each had forty tons of heavy oil for surface propulsion and charging the dynamo which supplied the electric engines under water.  Each had also eighteen torpedoes as explained and five hundred rounds for the collapsible quick-firing twelve-pounder which we carried on deck, and which, of course, disappeared into a water-tight tank when we were submerged.  We carried spare periscopes and a wireless mast, which could be elevated above the conning-tower when necessary.  There were provisions for sixteen days for the ten men who manned each craft.  Such was the equipment of the four boats which were destined to bring to naught all the navies and armies of Britain.  At sundown that day-it was April 10th-we set forth upon our historic voyage.

Miriam had got away in the afternoon, since he had so much farther to go to reach his station.  Stephan, of the Kappa, started with me; but, of course, we realized that we must work independently, and that from that moment when we shut the sliding hatches of our conning-towers on the still waters of Blankenberg Harbour it was unlikely that we should ever see each other again, though consorts in the same waters.  I waved to Stephan from the side of my conning-tower, and he to me.  Then I called through the tube to my engineer (our water-tanks were already filled and all kingstons and vents closed) to put her full speed ahead.

Just as we came abreast of the end of the pier and saw the white-capped waves rolling in upon us, I put the horizontal rudder hard down and she slid under water.  Through my glass portholes I saw its light green change to a dark blue, while the manometer in front of me indicated twenty feet.  I let her go to forty, because I should then be under the warships of the English, though I took the chance of fouling the moorings of our own floating contact mines.  Then I brought her on an even keel, and it was music to my ear to hear the gentle, even ticking of my electric engines and to know that I was speeding at twelve miles an hour on my great task.

At that moment, as I stood controlling my levers in my tower, I could have seen, had my cupola been of glass, the vast shadows of the British blockaders hovering above me.  I held my course due westward for ninety minutes, and then, by shutting off the electric engine without blowing out the water-tanks, I brought her to the surface.  There was a rolling sea and the wind was freshening, so I did not think it safe to keep my hatch open long, for so small is the margin of buoyancy that one must run no risks.  But from the crests of the rollers I had a look backwards at Blankenberg, and saw the black funnels and upper works of the enemy's fleet with the lighthouse and the castle behind them, all flushed with the pink glow of the setting sun.  Even as I looked there was the boom of a great gun, and then another.  I glanced at my watch.  It was six o'clock.  The time of the ultimatum had expired.  We were at war.

There was no craft near us, and our surface speed is nearly twice that of our submerged, so I blew out the tanks and our whale-back came over the surface.  All night we were steering south-west, making an average of eighteen knots.  At about five in the morning, as I stood alone upon my tiny bridge, I saw, low down in the west, the scattered lights of the Norfolk coast.  "Ah, Johnny, Johnny Bull," I said, as I looked at them, "you are going to have your lesson, and I am to be your master.  It is I who have been chosen to teach you that one cannot live under artificial conditions and yet act as if they were natural ones.  More foresight, Johnny, and less party politics-that is my lesson to you."  And then I had a wave of pity, too, when I thought of those vast droves of helpless people, Yorkshire miners, Lancashire spinners, Birmingham metal-workers, the dockers and workers of London, over whose little homes I would bring the shadow of starvation.  I seemed to see all those wasted eager hands held out for food, and I, John Sirius, dashing it aside.  Ah, well! war is war, and if one is foolish one must pay the price.