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Автор Моррисон Бойд

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Clive Cussler, Boyd Morrison

The Emperor's Revenge



APRIL 28, 1821

Lieutenant Pierre Delacroix cursed himself for his overconfidence. He had taken a huge risk by sailing into the predawn twilight, hoping to get just a few miles closer to the rocky cliffs on the north side of St. Helena before sunup. A British frigate, one of the eleven guarding the remote island, appeared around the coast and turned in their direction. If his submarine were caught on the surface in broad daylight, the mission to free Napoleon Bonaparte from exile would be over before it began.

Delacroix lowered his spyglass and called down through the hatch. “Prepare to dive the boat!”

Three men quickly lowered the sail in the gusting wind. With the bright sun at his back, Delacroix took one last look at the approaching frigate before ducking below and closing the copper hatch. His nostrils flared at the rank odor of fifteen men packed together inside the cramped quarters.

“Did they spot us?” asked Yves Beaumont, a frown creasing his forehead. Though he kept his voice calm, his eyes flicked incessantly toward the closed portal, betraying his anxiety. The experienced alpinist had nonchalantly stood on ledges at heights that would cause normal men to faint in fear, but the idea of submerging inside the confines of a hollow metal and wooden tube terrified him.

Delacroix had no such claustrophobia, one reason why he was the perfect man to lead the mission on the world’s first operational submarine.

“We’ll know if they’ve seen us soon enough, Monsieur Beaumont.”

They’d also soon know if the sub would be able to withstand submerging in the open ocean. It had been built based on designs American engineer Robert Fulton had used to demonstrate the concept of submarine warfare to Napoleon’s naval staff. Delacroix named his fifty-foot-long update Stingray.

Since casting off from the schooner that had towed the technically advanced vessel within sixty miles of St. Helena’s shores, the Stingray had sailed under cover of darkness. So far, the voyage had been uneventful, and the copper-clad oaken hull remained watertight.

Now it was time to find out if the harbor dive tests that the Stingray had passed with flying colors were matched by her performance under the high seas.

“All hatches sealed, Lieutenant,” said Ensign Villeneuve, Delacroix’s second-in-command. “The snorkel is closed and tight.”

“Ready on the ballast pumps.”

The sub’s two engineers prepared to work the manual pumps that would force water into the empty tanks. The rest of the twelve-man crew was in position to operate the crank that would turn the propeller at the rear, while Delacroix held the stick that controlled the rudder. Beaumont and their second passenger, who wore a black mask at all times to keep his identity secret, pressed themselves against the hull to stay out of the way.

With a deep breath as if he were preparing to plunge into the ocean himself, Delacroix said, “Dive the boat.”

The engineers cranked the pumps, and in a few minutes water began to break against the two windows in the Stingray’s viewing tower. The wood of the vessel creaked as it adjusted to the pressure pushing against it on all sides.

“It’s not natural to be in a boat underwater,” he heard one crewman murmur, but a sharp glance from Delacroix silenced him.

He waited until the external line attached to a float indicated they were submerged twenty feet below the surface, then said, “Hold here.”

The engineers stopped pumping. The Stingray held steady and the creaking ceased.

Now all they could do was wait. Except for an occasional cough from the crewmen, the Stingray’s interior was eerily quiet. Even the reassuring sound of water lapping against the hull was gone.

By now, the sun had fully risen, providing enough light through the inch-thick windows in the observation tower under the water so that a lantern was no longer needed to illuminate the sub’s interior. They should now be able to remain underwater for six hours before needing to either extend the snorkel tubes or surface for air.

Two hours into their vigil, a shadow passed over them. Delacroix, squinting through the window, could just make out the hull of the frigate not a hundred feet away, her sails shading the sub from the sun. All movement inside the submarine stopped as the crew waited for an attack, looking up at the ceiling as if they could see through it to the threat above.

Delacroix’s eyes were glued on the frigate for any clue that it was tacking in their direction. Instead, its course stayed straight and true. In a few minutes, it was out of view. Out of extreme caution, Delacroix waited another three hours before ordering the snorkel to be extended.

With their air supply renewed, they remained submerged until darkness fell. The Stingray surfaced to a night illuminated by a half-moon. Delacroix was pleased to see that no lights were visible.

He turned his gaze to the jagged cliff of Black Point close by. The northern face rose five hundred feet above the sea. He’d been training for months with the mountaineer Beaumont, but seeing the rocky crag in person made him doubt the mission for the first time.

Beaumont joined him in the hatch and nodded as he viewed the steep cliff.

“Can we climb it?” Delacroix asked.

“Oui,” Beaumont replied. “It’s not the Matterhorn. And it will be easier to climb than Mont Blanc, which I’ve ascended three times.”

Instead of this covert infiltration, Delacroix would have preferred a full-on invasion of the island, but he would have needed three dozen warships and ten thousand men to have any chance at success. The garrison of twenty-eight hundred soldiers and five hundred cannon protecting a single prisoner twelve hundred miles from the nearest land made Napoleon Bonaparte the most well-guarded person in world history. It probably would have been easier to abduct the King of England.

The crew tumbled out onto the deck, inhaling the fresh air. They lowered cork bumpers around the edges of the Stingray to keep it from being dashed on the outcroppings and dropped the anchor.

Delacroix looped a large coil of high-strength fishing line over his shoulder, and Beaumont did the same. They hooked a safety line between them. More than a thousand feet of rope was piled on the deck, along with a contraption that looked like a child’s swing.

With a nod, Beaumont stepped onto the nearest rock and began climbing. When he was ten feet up, Delacroix followed. They methodically climbed the cliff face, detouring when they needed to avoid a particularly sheer part. Beaumont proceeded with seemingly little effort, pausing only to give Delacroix some rest. Just once did Delacroix slip, but the safety line prevented him from plummeting to his death.

Normally, Beaumont would take forty minutes to climb five hundred feet on his own, but Delacroix’s inexperienced pace meant that the ascent took more than an hour.

When they reached the top of the cliff, Beaumont hammered an iron bolt and ring into the rock. He then attached a pulley, tied both coils of fishing line together, and looped the line over the pulley before anchoring it with a metal weight painted bright yellow. He tossed it far over the side to make sure it would extend all the way down to the water next to the sub. Delacroix spotted no ships on the horizon, so he waved a small flag to signal the crewmen to hook up the rope to the line.

When they received a signal in return that the rope was attached, he and Beaumont hauled up the fishing line over the pulley. The heavy rope snaked up the cliff. When it reached the top, they signaled again.

With two hundred pounds of the masked man muscle added to the weight of the rope, progress was agonizingly slow. After ten minutes of backbreaking labor, Beaumont held the rope fast while Delacroix heaved the masked man over the edge and helped him out of the wooden swing contraption, called a bosun’s chair. A separate board was lashed behind for Delacroix to stand on while it was being lowered later in the evening.

“Doesn’t he ever talk?” Beaumont asked, pointing a thumb at the masked man.

“He’s paid not to,” Delacroix said. “Just like you were paid to bring me up here. Now your job is done, and I thank you.”

“So who is he?”

“You’ll never know,” Delacroix said, and jabbed a stiletto into Beaumont’s neck. The alpinist went rigid, his eyes staring in confusion and disbelief. He slumped slowly to the ground.

Delacroix shoved twenty pounds of stones into the pack on Beaumont’s back. Using his foot, he nudged the mountaineer’s corpse over the cliff at an angle to avoid hitting the submarine below. The crewmen would see the tumbling body and the splash, and Delacroix would tell them that Beaumont had slipped and fallen. Now there was one less witness to worry about.

“Come,” Delacroix said to the masked man as they began their arduous three-mile trek inland. Delacroix’s companion followed dutifully behind without a word. Barren rock slowly gave way to lowland scrub brush and then thick forest.

By midnight, they reached the edge of the Longwood estate, the sprawling manor house where Napoleon was being held prisoner. It ...