NAVY BOYS BEHIND THE BIG GUNS
Sinking the German U-Boats
Author of "Navy Boys after the Submarines," "Navy Boys Chasing a Sea Raider," Etc.
New York George Sully & Company Publishers
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BOOKS FOR BOYS
NAVY BOYS SERIES
BY HALSEY DAVIDSON
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated
NAVY BOYS AFTER THE SUBMARINES Or Protecting the Giant Convoy
NAVY BOYS CHASING A SEA RAIDER Or Landing a Million Dollar Prize
NAVY BOYS BEHIND THE BIG GUNS Or Sinking the German U-Boats
NAVY BOYS TO THE RESCUE Or Answering the Wireless Call for Help
NAVY BOYS AT THE BIG SURRENDER Or Rounding Up the German Fleet
THE NAVY BOYS ON SPECIAL SERVICE Or Guarding the Floating Treasury
GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
Navy Boys Chasing a Sea Raider
PRINTED IN U.S.A.
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NAVY BOYS BEHIND THE BIG GUNS
I A RUN TO ELMVALE 1
II THE STRANGER 11
III THE WATER WHEEL 19
IV S. P. 888 27
V THE STREAK ON THE WATER 38
VI AN OLD FRIEND 44
VII FOG HAUNTED 54
VIII PUZZLED 64
IX JUST TOO LATE 74
X AHEAD OF THE FLOOD 81
XI UNEXPECTED PERIL 90
XII COURAGE 100
XIII THE KENNEBUNK SAILS 106
XIV AN UNEXPECTED TARGET 115
XV THE BIG GUN SPEAKS 127
XVI AN ACCIDENT 135
XVII BLOWN UP 144
XVIII MORE TROUBLE 155
XIX COINCIDENCE 162
XX THE WITCH'S WARNING 173
XXI THE EXPLANATION 180
XXII THE RACE 190
XXIII UNDER SPECIAL ORDERS 196
XXIV TICK-TOCK! TICK-TOCK! 204
XXV IN THE THICK OF THE FIGHT 211
NAVY BOYS BEHIND THE BIG GUNS
A RUN TO ELMVALE
When Philip Morgan announced his approach by an unusually cheerful strain, Al Torrance was already behind the steering wheel of his father's car, with the engine purring smoothly.
"'Lo, Whistler," Al said. "Thought you had forgotten where we planned to go this morning. What made you so late?"
"'Lo, Torry. Never hit the hay till after one. Just talking. My jaws ache," Morgan broke off his whistling long enough to say.
"Sure it isn't whistling that's made your jaws ache?" queried his chum slyly. "Not having had much chance to pipe up while we were aboard ship, I guess you are making up for lost time."
"Talking, I tell you," returned Morgan. "Thought the girls never would let me stop. And father, too. Mother won't own up she's reconciled to my being in the Navy," and Whistler grinned suddenly. "But she listened to all I told them, too. She was just as eager to hear about it as Phoebe and Alice."
"Guess you made yourself out to be some tough garby," chuckled Torrance, using the term the seamen themselves employ to designate a sailor.
"Oh, I gave 'em an earful," Whistler agreed, and puckered his lips again.
"Come on and get in," ordered Torry impatiently. "Pa's got to use the car this afternoon. But he says we can have it to run over to Elmvale in, if we want."
"Where are Frenchy and Ikey?" Whistler broke off in his tune again to ask.
"Going to wait for us down on High Street—and Seven Knott, too."
"Did Hansie say he'd go?" cried the other sailor boy. "Bet he's sore as he can be because he's not with the Colodia and Lieutenant Lang."
"He'd never 've taken this furlough, he says, if his mother hadn't begged so hard. Did you ever see a garby so stuck on a gold stripe as Seven Knott is on Lieutenant Commander Lang?" said Torry, rather scornfully.
"I don't know. Mr. Lang has been a good friend to Hans Hertig. This is his second hitch under Mr. Lang," Whistler said.
"Wonder if we'll enlist a second time, too, Whistler."
"Bet you!" was the succinct reply.
The car started under Torry's careful guidance, and they quickly whisked around the corner into the main street of Seacove, the small port in which the chums had been born and had lived all their lives until they had enlisted as seamen apprentices in the Navy not many months before.
They passed the little cottage in which Mrs. Hertig, Seven Knott's mother, lived. Beyond that was the Donahue home, where Frenchy's widowed mother lived with his younger brothers and sisters.
Then came the Rosenmeyer delicatessen shop, and there the car was pulled down by Torry, for there was a little group outside the shop, the center of which were three figures in blue.
"Look at those happy Jacks, will you?" ejaculated Torry in feigned disgust. "Got an audience, haven't they? And even Seven Knott must be talking some, too. What do you know about that?"
For the attitude of Seacove had changed mightily since these boys had joined the Navy early in 1917. War had been declared between the United States and Germany and her allies, the drafted men were being called to the training camps, and some had already gone "over there" and were fighting in the trenches of northern France.
Philip Morgan, Alfred Torrance, Michael Donahue, Ikey Rosenmeyer, and their mates on the destroyer Colodia had already aided in convoying a large number of troop ships across the Atlantic, had chased submarines and destroyed at least one of the enemy U-boats, and had hunted for and captured the German raider, Graf von Posen, which had among the other loot in her hold the treasure of the Borgias which had been purchased from an Italian nobleman by the four Navy boys' very good friend, Mr. Alonzo Minnette.
The four friends, Morgan, Torrance, Donahue, and Ikey Rosenmeyer, the son of the proprietor of the village delicatessen store, had been given a furlough since landing at Norfolk with the captured raider, of the prize crew of which they had been members. Coming north to Seacove by train, they had met their shipmate, Hans Hertig, known aboard the Colodia as Seven Knott, who had likewise been given a furlough after leaving the naval hospital where he had been convalescing from a wound.
The Colodia was still at sea—or across the Atlantic—or somewhere. The young seamen who belonged to her crew did not know where. They awaited her return to port in order to rejoin her.
They had another iron in the fire, too; but that they did not talk about much, even among themselves. Mr. Minnette, who was their very good friend, and who worked now in a War Department office at Washington in a lay capacity, had told them he would try his best to get them aboard a new superdreadnaught that was just out of the yard and was being fitted for her maiden cruise.
A number of Naval Reserves would be put aboard this new huge ship; and the Seacove boys, with their experience in the training school at Saugarack and aboard the Colodia, surely would be of some use as temporary members of the dreadnaught's crew.
The boys had written Mr. Minnette about Seven Knott, for he was eager to get back into harness, too. And Seven Knott had held the rank of boatswain's mate aboard the Colodia.
Naturally the friends were all eager to get behind the big guns. Almost every boy who joins the Navy desires to become a gunner. Whistler and Al Torrance were particularly striving for that position, and they studied the text-books and took every opportunity offered them to gain knowledge in that branch of the service.
"Hi, fellows!" called Torry, having stopped the car. "Going to stand there gassing all day?"
The three figures in seaman's dress broke away from their admiring friends and approached the automobile. Frenchy Donahue was a little fellow with pink cheeks, bright eyes, and an Irish smile. Ikey Rosenmeyer was a shrewd looking lad who always had a fund of natural fun on tap. The older man, Hans Hertig, was round-faced and solemn looking, and seldom had much to say. He had had an adventurous experience both as a fisherman and naval seaman, and really attracted more attention in his home town than did the four boy chums.
"Get in, fellows," urged Torry. "We want to be sure to catch those chaps at Elmvale during the noon hour. They go home from the munition works for dinner, and we must talk with them then."
Frenchy and Ikey and Seven Knott climbed into the tonneau and the car whizzed away, leaving the crowd of boys and girls, and a few adults, staring after them.
"By St. Patrick's piper that played the last snake out of Ireland!" sighed Frenchy, ecstatically, "we never was of such importance since we was christened—hey, fellows?"
"Oi, oi!" murmured Ikey, wagging his head, "my papa don't even suggest I should take out the orders to the customers no more. He does it himself, or he hires a feller to do it for him.
"Mind, now! Last night he closed the shop an hour early so's to sit down with my mama and me and Aunt Eitel in the back room, after the kids was all in bed, and made me tell about all we'd done and seen. I tell you it's great!"
"And before we began our hitch," Al Torrance chuckled, as he expertly rounded a corner, "we were scarcely worth speaking to in Seacove. Now folks want to stop us on the street and tell us how much they think of us."
"Gee!" exploded Frenchy, "I could eat candy and ice cream all day long if I'd let the kids spend money on me."
"We're sure some pumpkins," drawled Whistler Morgan, dryly, sitting around in the front seat so he could talk with those in the rear. "I say, Hans!"
"Yep?" was Seven Knott's reply.
"Do you really think we can get some of those fellows at Elmvale to go to the recruiting office and enlist?"
"Yep. You fellows can tell 'em. You can talk better'n I can."
Seven Knott knew his shipboard duties thoroughly, and never was reprimanded for neglect of them. But since the four chums had known him well, the petty officer had been no conversationalist, that was sure.
"If this war was going to be won by talk, like some fellows in Congress seem to think," Al Torrance once said, "Seven Knott wouldn't have a chance. But it is roughnecks just like him that man the boats and shoot the guns that are going to show Kaiser Bill where he gets off—believe me!"
Elmvale was a factory town not more than six miles above Seacove. It was on the river, at the mouth of which was situated the little port in which were the homes of Whistler Morgan and his friends.
The biggest dam in the State, the Elmvale Dam, held back the waters of the river above the village; and below the dam were several big mills and factories that got their power from the use of the water.
On both sides of the stream, and around the cotton mills, the thread mills, and the munition factories, were built many little homes of the factory and mill hands. It had been pointed out by the local papers that these homes were in double peril at this time.
Guards were on watch night and day that ill-affected persons should not come into the district and blow up the munition factories. But there was a second and greater danger to the people of Elmvale.
If anything should happen to the dam, if it should burst, the enormous quantity of water held in leash by the structure would pour over the village and cover half the houses to their chimney tops.
Two bridges crossed the river at Elmvale; one at the village proper and the other just below the dam itself and about half a mile from the first mill, Barron & Brothers' Thread Factory.
"Let's take the upper road," proposed Frenchy, as the car came within sight of the chimneys of the Elmvale mills. "We've plenty of time before the noon whistle blows. I haven't been up by the dam since before we all joined the Navy."
"Just as you fellows say," Al responded, and turned into a side road that soon brought them above the mills on the ridge overlooking the valley.
"I say, fellows," Whistler stopped whistling long enough to observe, "there's a slue of water behind that dam. S'pose she should let go all of a sudden?"
"I'd rather be up here than down there," Al said.
"Oi, oi!" croaked Ikey, "you said something."
"I wonder if they guard that dam as they say they do the munition factories," Frenchy put in.
Al turned the machine into the road that descended into the valley by a sharp incline. In sight of the bridge which crossed the river Whistler suddenly put his hand upon his chum's arm.
"Hold on, Torry," he said earnestly. "I bet that's one of the guards now. See that fellow in the bushes over there?"
"I see the man you mean!" Frenchy exclaimed, leaning over the back of the front seat of the automobile. "But he isn't in khaki. And he hasn't got a gun."
All the Navy boys in the automobile, even Seven Knott, saw the man to whom Whistler Morgan had first drawn attention. The man had his back to the road. He was standing upright with a pair of field glasses to his eyes. His interest seemed fixed on a point along the face of the dam just where a thin slice of water ran over the flashboard into the rocky bed of the river.
For the life of him Phil Morgan could not have told why he was so keenly interested in that stranger. He could not see the man's face; he did not presume it was anybody he had ever seen before; nor had he any reason to be suspicious of the man.
Nevertheless he felt a little thrill as he first caught sight of the stranger, and this feeling spurred his exclamation to Torry, which lead the others' attention to him.
After they had all seen the man, Phil added: "Pull her down. Let's see what he is up to."
Torrance stopped the automobile. His chum was their acknowledged leader in most things, and all the other Navy boys were used to obeying Phil Morgan's mandates without much question. As told in the former books of this series, Morgan was an observant and level-headed youth, and his friends might have followed a much more dangerous leader in both work and play.
The four boys, at that time all under eighteen years of age, had begun their first enlistment in the Navy several months before the United States got into the war. They spent some months in the training camp at Saugarack, on the New England coast.
The Government commissioned new craft of all kinds as rapidly as they could be obtained, and was obliged to man some of them partly with youths who had not yet finished their preliminary training ashore.
Phil Morgan and his friends had made rapid progress in their studies and the drills, and they were lucky enough to be assigned to the same ship. This was the destroyer Colodia, one of the newest of her class, a fast ship of a thousand tons' burden. She made two cruises, both crammed full of excitement and adventure; and the story of these cruises is related in the first volume of the series, entitled "Navy Boys After the Submarines; Or, Protecting the Giant Convoy."
In this first narrative of their adventures in the United States Navy, Phil had a very thrilling experience. He fell overboard from his ship and was picked up by the German U-boat No. 812.
After the conclusion of the destroyer's second cruise the four chums from Seacove were enabled to spend a week at home. Returning to the port in which they had been instructed to join the Colodia the evening before she again was to sail, the four chums were held up by a burning railroad bridge, which had been set on fire by German agents.
It looked as though they would be unable to reach the Colodia on time. This event would be a very serious matter, for the naval authorities frown upon any tardiness of enlisted men in returning from shore leave. Besides, the boys particularly desired to be aboard the Colodia during her coming cruise.
The second volume of the series opened with this situation. The boys made the acquaintance of an influential man, Mr. Alonzo Minnette, who was likewise a passenger on the stalled train. And he made it possible for the four apprentice seamen to reach their ship in time.
In this second volume entitled: "Navy Boys Chasing a Sea Raider; Or, Landing a Million Dollar Prize," the four young members of the Colodia's crew, whose adventures we are following, had many thrilling experiences. In the end, the destroyer, by a ruse, captured the Graf von Posen, a noted sea raider, and Whistler and his chums are allowed to board her as part of the prize crew.
The boys were particularly interested in the cargo of the raider, for Mr. Minnette had promised them a thousand dollars to divide among them if they discovered aboard the raider the treasure of the Borgias, a collection of precious stones, that the captain of the Graf von Posen had taken from an Italian merchant ship which had been captured and sunk by the Germans.
Naturally the Navy boys were interested in having others join the Navy; and Hans Hertig, whom they found at home visiting his mother, was particularly anxious to get some young men, who were working in Elmvale and who came of German stock like himself, to enlist and show their patriotism and love for the country of their birth.
"Say! what do you suppose is the matter with that chap?" Frenchy demanded at last in his rather high, penetrating voice.
Instantly the man in the bushes turned and saw the automobile. Like a flash he settled down in his tracks and disappeared. One moment he was a plain figure standing out against the background of the dam; the next he was not there at all!
"By St. Patrick's piper that played the last snake out of Ireland!" gasped Frenchy, "he ain't there no more."
"You poor fish!" ejaculated Al in disgust, "you scared him off with your squealing. Who do you suppose he was?"
"And what is he doing over there?" added Ikey Rosenmeyer.
"Funny thing," observed Whistler. "Must be something important up on that dam he was looking at through his glasses."
"Might as well drive on," growled Al, punching the starter button again. "This Frenchman from Cork would spoil anything."
"Aw—g'wan!" muttered the abashed Michael Donahue.
"Well, that chap was no guard, that is sure," Whistler said.
They drove slowly on across the bridge. All of them searched the base of the dam—or as much of it as could be seen, for the fringe of trees and shrubs that masked it—but not a moving figure did they see. The water poured over the flashboard with a splashing murmur at that distance, and ran down under the bridge in a rocky bed. It was clear and cool looking. Below the factories the river water was of an entirely different color, and people in Seacove had begun to object to the filth from the Elmvale mills being dumped into the cove.
Al Torrance stopped the car at the side gate of the biggest munition works just as the noon whistle blew. Seven Knott got out and began to look about for his friends to whom he had tried to talk enlistment.
He soon spied two of them, and beckoned them near. Others followed. Whistler and his chums were introduced by the boatswain's mate, who left the talking to the youths after he had introduced his friends.
In five minutes there was a very earnest enlistment meeting going on at the gate of the munition factory. Perhaps no harder place to gain recruits could have been selected. In the first instance, all the boys working here were earning big money. And there was, too, some excitement in the work. As one of them said:
"You Jackies haven't anything on us. We don't know but any moment we may be blown sky-high."
"True for you," put in Frenchy smartly. "But you don't get any fun out of your danger. We do. And we get promotion and steadily increased pay and a chance to get up in the world."
"Sure!" broke in Al. "Some day we're all going to win gold stripes; aren't we, fellows?"
His chums declared he was right. But one listener said doubtfully:
"You won't ever win commissions if you get sunk or blown up, on one of those blamed old iron pots."
"Say!" put in Ikey Rosenmeyer hotly, "you fellows won't get no advance in rating at all, and you may get blown up any time. We've got something to work for, we have!"
"We've got money to work for," declared one of the munition workers.
"Oi, oi!" sneered Ikey. "What's money yet?" A sneer which vastly amused his chums, for Ikey's inborn love for the root of all evil was well known.
As the group stood talking, along came a man, walking briskly from the direction the Seacove boys had come in their automobile. Two or three of the munition workers spoke to the man, who was broad-shouldered, walked with a brisk military step, and was heavily bewhiskered.
Whistler stopped talking to a possible candidate for the blue uniform of the Navy, and looked after this stranger.
"Who is he?" he asked.
"That's Blake. Works in our laboratory. Nice fellow," was the reply.
"Oh! I didn't know but he was one of the men guarding the dam," Whistler murmured.
"Shucks! there aren't any guards up there. There are soldiers here at the factories, though."
"Is that so?" questioned Whistler. "Where's he been, do you suppose?"
"That man," said young Morgan grimly.
"Oh, he's a bug on natural history, or the like. Always tapping rocks with a hammer, or hunting specimens, or botanizing. Great chap. Hasn't been here in Elmvale long. But everybody likes him."
Phil made no further comment aloud, but to himself he said:
"He wasn't botanizing through that field-glass; or knocking specimens off of rocks. His interest was centered on the face of the dam. I wonder why?"
For the military looking man, called Blake, was the individual he and his friends had seen in the bushes as they drove along the Upper Road, and who had seemed desirous of being unobserved by the passers-by.
THE WATER WHEEL
Phil Morgan was no more suspicious by nature than his chums. Merely a thought had come into his mind that had not come into theirs; and he disliked to be annoyed by anything in the nature of an unsolved problem. He always wanted to know why.
In this particular case he wished to know why the man called Blake had tried to hide himself in the clump of bushes beside the Upper Road when the automobile load of boys had come along and caught him examining the face of the Elmvale Dam through a field-glass.
It was through a break in the trees that partly masked the dam the man had been looking, and Whistler knew that the spot in which he was interested must be directly beside the overflow of the dam—where the water splashed down into the rocky river bed.
Whistler did not lose interest in the attempt to inspire some of the factory workers to enlist in the Navy, and he worked just as hard as his mates all through the noon hour. But the puzzle connected with the man named Blake continued to peck at his mind like an insistent chick trying to get out of its shell.
Hans Hertig's desire to get some of his old friends to enlist bore some fruit. Three men promised to go down to the enlistment bureau on Saturday afternoon, when they had a half holiday.
The Seacove party then wanted to go to a dining-room for dinner; but Whistler excused himself. He was hungry enough; but he "had other fish to fry," he whispered to Torrance.
"Come around by the Upper Road—same way we got here," directed Whistler. "I'll meet you at the bridge. Wait if I'm not there."
"What is the matter with you, Whistler?" demanded Al.
But although Morgan went away without making answer, he knew that his chum would do as he was asked, and bluff off the others when they asked questions, too.
Philip Morgan hurried past the factories and the few houses which lay in this direction. The land near the dam which had been built across the valley was so sterile that few people lived in this neighborhood.
Up on the ridges, on either side, were farms; but this was a wild piece of scrub at the foot of the dam. One could jump a rabbit in it, or get up a flock of quail at almost any time during the hunting season.
Like most boys of Seacove, as well as Elmvale, Whistler was familiar with this stretch of untamed ground and plunged into it with full knowledge of its tangled brier patches and rough quarries. He started diagonally for the dam, and in a brief time came to the edge of the shallow channel, which now carried the overflow of the huge reservoir behind the dam down to the cove.
As he followed this stream, he could not help thinking of the possibility of a break occurring in the high wall of masonry which loomed ahead of him. If there should be any undiscovered weakness in the wall! Or if an enemy should sink a charge of dynamite, or some other high explosive, at the base of the dam and blow a hole through it!
He did not see any one moving about the dam either above or below. He knew that on the ridge, level with the top of the barrier, lived a man they called the dam superintendent. He sometimes walked across the embankment, from end to end; a privilege forbidden to others.
But Whistler was quite sure that this dam superintendent seldom went to the foot of the wall, or examined the face of it for any break in the stonework. Of course, the dam had stood secure for so many years that it seemed improbable that it would fail in any part now.
But Whistler Morgan was not considering any leakage of the water through the masonry which might endanger the foundation of the dam. Such seepage must have shown itself long ago if the barrier had not been properly constructed.
It was of a sudden, unexpected, and treacherous blow-out that the young sailor was thinking. That man in the bushes, who had seemed so desirous of hiding from the passers-by and whose interest in the face of the dam had been so marked, puzzled Phil and excited his suspicions.
Blake. And Blake was an English name! He looked about as much like an Englishman as he, Whistler, looked like Dinkelspiel!
"I have seen plenty of Britishers," thought the young fellow, "and not one of them ever looked like this chemist, or whatever he is. And he's a stranger—worked here only a month.
"He was not tapping rocks or getting botanical specimens over here when we fellows came along the Upper Road. His interest was in this dam—if it was at long distance. I wonder if we ought to report him to the marshal's office.
"And get him, if he's innocent of any wrongdoing, into hot water," Whistler added, wagging his head. "Say! that won't do. We fellows came near getting poor Seven Knott into trouble, thinking him a German spy," he added, referring to an incident mentioned in "Navy Boys After the Submarines."
Thus meditating he drew nearer to the place where the flashboard was down and the water poured into the rocky river bed. There were stepping stones here, so it was easy for an agile person to get across the stream.
A blue haze of spray rose from the foaming water on the rocks, and there sounded a pleasant murmur from the falling water. Birds darted in and out of this spray, fluttering their pinions in the bath thus provided.
On this side of the waterfall Whistler could discover nothing on the face of the dam nor along its foot that seemed in the least suspicious. The masonry was perfect.
He crossed the river bed, leaping from stone to stone, and stepped up so close to the falling water that the spray splashed him. It was somewhere about here, he thought, that the man, Blake, had focused his field-glass from the roadside.
There was absolutely nothing out of the way here that he could see. The brush was kept cleared out at the foot of the dam for a dozen feet or so; there seemed to be no cover here. Not a stone had been overturned along this cleared path.
The water splashed and bubbled at the foot of the fall. Did it seem to splash more vigorously just here at the edge of the pool, hidden by the spray in part, and partly by the overhang of a great rock on which Whistler stood?
The observant youth stooped, then knelt beside the stream. The rock was wet and his garments were fast becoming saturated. But he paid no attention to this.
There was something down there in the pool, at its edge, struggling beneath the surface. Not a fish, of course!
Suddenly he thrust in his hand, wetting his sleeve to the elbow. Quickly he made sure that his suspicion was correct. There was some kind of water wheel whirling down there.
He moved a flat stone which seemed to have lain for ages in its present position. Yet under that stone was the end of the wheel's axle with cogwheels rigged to pass on the power engendered by the wheel to some mechanical contrivance not yet placed.
Whistler returned the flat rock back to its former position, and moved slowly back from the place on hands and knees. Then he stood up and looked all around to see if he had been observed. Particularly did he look through the break in the trees toward the spot where Blake, the stranger, had stood when Whistler and his friends had first spied him.
There was nobody in sight as far as the young fellow could see. He moved back into the shelter of a clump of brush. He heard an automobile chugging up from the village and believed Al and the others were approaching the bridge where he had asked his chum to wait for him.
But he lingered a bit. He was deeply moved by his discovery. This was no boy's plaything. The mechanism was the effort of a mature mind, perhaps the result of inventive genius of high quality.
Some inventor might be secretly experimenting with water power here; and if Whistler told of his discovery he might be doing the unknown a grave wrong.
Yet Blake's peculiar actions and the fact that the foot of the dam had been chosen for the experiment troubled the young fellow vastly.
There was nothing along the wall, as far as he could see, or upon its face, that excited Whistler's further suspicion. Just that little water wheel under the rock whirling and splashing by the power of the falling stream. It was perfectly innocent in itself; yet Philip Morgan had never been more excited and troubled in his life.
He went slowly back to the road and found the car waiting on the bridge. The other boys were loud in their demands as to what he had been doing, and Frenchy and Ikey did their best to pump information out of him.
"What for did you go up there to the dam yet?" demanded Ikey.
"Cat's fur, to make kittens' breeches," declared Whistler. "Because I couldn't get any dog fur. Now do you know?"
And this was all the satisfaction there was to be got out of their leader at this particular time.
S. P. 888
The result of the boys' campaign for recruits to the Navy was very encouraging. They had been to places besides Elmvale; and several of their old friends in Seacove were getting into one branch or another of the service.
Many of the young men in the neighborhood, of course, were of draft age; but, being longshore bred, they naturally preferred salt water service. So they enlisted before the time came for them to answer the call of their several draft boards.
The interest of our four friends, and of Seven Knott even, was not entirely centered in this patriotic duty of urging others into the service. Their release from duty might end any day. Under ordinary circumstances the chum would have been assigned before this to some patrol vessel, or the like, until their own ship, the Colodia, made port.
Mr. Minnette, however, was trying to place them on the Kennebunk, the new superdreadnaught, for a short cruise. If he succeeded the friends might be obliged to pack their kits and leave home again at almost any hour. The Kennebunk was fitting out in a port not fifty miles from Seacove.
Meanwhile the chums were "having the time of their young sweet lives," Al Torrance observed more than once. The home folks had never before considered these rather harum-scarum boys of so much importance as now that they were in the Navy and becoming real "Old Salts." From Doctor Morgan down to Ikey's youngest brother the relatives and friends of the quartette treated them with much consideration.
To tell the truth it had not been patriotism that had carried Ikey Rosenmeyer and his friends into the Navy. At that time the United States was not in the war, and the four friends had thought little of the pros and cons of the world struggle.
They thought they had had enough school, and there was no steady and congenial work for them about Seacove. Entering the Navy had been a lark in the offing.
As soon as they had joined, they found that they had entered another school, and one much more severe and thorough than the Seacove High School. They were learning something pretty nearly all the time, both in the training school and aboard the Colodia. And there was much to learn.
However, Whistler and Al took the work more seriously than their younger mates. They were studying gunnery, and hoped to get into the gun crew of the Kennebunk for practice if they were fortunate enough to cruise on that ship. Just at present Frenchy and Ikey Rosenmeyer were more engaged in getting all the fun possible out of existence.
The thing that delighted the latter most was the way in which his father treated him. Mr. Rosenmeyer had been a stern parent, and had opposed Ikey's desire to enlist in the Navy. He always declared he needed the boy to help in the store and to take out orders. Ikey had got so that he fairly hated the store and its stock in trade. Pigs feet and sauerkraut and dill pickles were the bane of his life.
Now that he was at home on leave, Mr. Rosenmeyer would not let Ikey help at all in the store. If a customer came in, the fat little storekeeper heaved himself up from his armchair and bade Ikey sit still.
"Nein! It iss not for you, Ikey. Don't bodder 'bout the store yet. We haf changed de stock around, anyvay, undt you could not find it, p'r'aps, vot de lady vants. Tell us again, Ikey, apout shootin' de camouflage off de German raider-poat, de Graf von Posen. Mebby-so de lady ain't heardt apout it yet. I didn't see it in de paper meinselluf."
So Ikey, thus urged, spun the most wonderful yarns regarding his adventures; and he was not obliged to "draw the long bow"; for the experiences of him and his three friends had been exciting indeed.
Mr. Rosenmeyer had become as thoroughly patriotic as he once had been pro-German. It was a great cross to him now that he could not learn to speak English properly. But German names he abhorred and German signs he would no longer allow in the store. He even put a newly-printed sign over the sauerkraut barrel which read: "Liberty Cabbage."
Into the store on a misty morning rolled Frenchy Donahue in his most pronounced Old Salt fashion. Frenchy had acquired such a sailorish roll to his walk, that Al Torrance hinted more than once that the Irish lad could not get to sleep at night now that he was ashore until his mother went out and threw several buckets of water against his bedroom window.
"Hey, Ikey! what you think?" called Frenchy. "Channel bass are running. Whistler and Torry are going out in the Sue Bridger. What d'you know about that? Bridger's let 'em have his cat for the day. Never was known to do such a thing before," and Frenchy chuckled. "Oh, boy! aren't we having things soft just now? Want to go fishing, Ikey?" Ikey favored his friend with a sly wink, but only said crisply:
"I don't know about it. I was going to wash the store windows. Where are Whistler and Torry going?"
"As far as Blue Reef. They say the bass are schoolin' out there."
"They'd better be on the lookout for subs, as far out as the Reef," Ikey said solemnly. "I don't believe they've got this coast half patrolled. We don't often see one of those chasers in the cove here."
"Mebbe we'll catch a submarine instead of bass," remarked Frenchy.
"You petter go along mit your friends in dot catboat, Ikey," said Mr. Rosenmeyer, who was listening with both ears and his eyes wide open. "If there iss one of them German submarines in dese waters idt shouldt be known yet. Ain't that right?"
"Yes. We'd have to report it, Papa, to the naval authorities," admitted Ikey seriously.
"Vell, you go right along den," urged his father. "Nefer mindt yet de winders. I can get a winder washer easy."
"Well, if you don't mind, Papa," said Ikey, with commendable hesitancy.
"Come along, Ikey," urged Frenchy under his breath. "And be sure you bring along your submarine tackle—I mean your bass rod," and he rolled out of the store, chuckling to himself.
"Undt take a lunch, Ikey!" cried Mr. Rosenmeyer after his son. "Ham, undt bologna, undt cheese, undt there's some fine dill pickles——"
"Oh, my!" groaned his son. "No dill pickles."
He joined Frenchy in a few minutes with a basket crammed with things to eat, as well as his fishing tackle. It was not far to Bridger's float, off which the twenty-four-foot catboat, Sue Bridger, was moored.
Ikey remarked: "Sometimes I almost faint when I see the change in papa. He never wanted me to have a bit of fun before. He didn't have no fun when he was a boy. He always worked. That is the German way, he says.
"But he don't have any use for anything German now—not even the way they bring up children."
"Ain't it a fact?" chuckled Frenchy. "Me mother makes the kids git up and give me the best chair when I come into the sitting room.
'Git up out o' that, Ye impident brat! An' let Mr. M'Ginnis sit down.'
That's the way she treats me. Me head's gettin' that swelled I couldn't draw a watch cap down over me ears."
The exhaust of the auxiliary engine of the catboat was spitting when Frenchy hailed their mates. Whistler was loosening the points of the big sail while Torry worked at the engine.
"How'll we get over there?" demanded Ikey. "There's no boat here."
Whistler Morgan, barefooted and with his sleeves rolled up, came aft and tossed Ikey the end of a coil of line.
"Draw her in to the float. I'll pay out the mooring cable. What have you in that basket?"
"A litter of pups a neighbor wants him to drown," answered Frenchy solemnly. "You fellows brought lunch enough for all, didn't you?"
"Couldn't get any at my house," Al confessed. "The girl's on a strike."
There was no mother at the Torrance house, and sometimes the housekeeping there was "at sixes and sevens."
"I was going to get some crackers and sardines," confessed Whistler. "I had no idea we could get this boat when I left the house. But I can run up and get Alice to put us up a snack."
Frenchy was carrying Ikey's basket very carefully—indeed, lovingly. He allowed his mate to catch the line and draw the Sue Bridger in to the float alone.
They stepped aboard, and Al made a grab for the basket handle with his greasy hands. "Let's see the pups," he demanded suspiciously.
"Have a care! Have a care!" cried Whistler as the two struggled for possession of the basket. "What is in it, Ikey?"
"Oi, oi! Oi, oi!" moaned Ikey. "They will the basket haf overboard yet! Stop it! Stop it!"
It was Whistler who rescued the lunch basket with a firm hand. In the struggle Frenchy came near going overboard, but he fell into the bilge in the bottom of the boat instead.
"Wow!" he yelled. "Me clean pants! This old tub is leaking like a sieve, Whistler!"
Whistler and Al were peeping into the basket. Their delight was acclaimed at once.
"Good boy, Ikey!" declared Torry, smacking his lips. "You must have robbed the whole delicatessen shop."
"You don't know my papa," declared Ikey with pride. "He would like to feed the whole American Navy—that's the way he feels about it."
"He's all right," agreed Torry. "Come on, now, fellows, let's stir around. The best of the day will be gone soon. Don't worry about your wet pants, Frenchy. Get up and pump out the bilge. She hasn't been used for a fortnight, and of course some moisture has gathered."
"'Moisture?' Good-night!" growled the Irish lad, setting to work as he was told with the tin pump. "I bet I have to sit and do this all day while you fellows fish."
The engine was only for an emergency. Captain Bridger had told them that. Gasoline was expensive. So Whistler and Ikey got up the sail, it filled, and they cast off the moorings. The catboat began to edge her way out into the cove. There was no rain falling; but fog wreaths rolled in from the sea.
"Get your scare!" shouted Whistler as he ran back to take the tiller. "Toot away once in a while. We don't want to stub our toe against some other craft, and that before we get out of the cove."
"A submarine, for instance?" chuckled Frenchy, soon becoming pacified. "Ikey's father thinks maybe he might bag one while we're out here."
"I'd like to get a close-up view of one of those submarine chasers," remarked Torry, finding the horn in the forward locker. He tooted it raucously, and then continued: "They say some of 'em can go like the wind."
"Go right through a tub like this, if once we got in the way," commented Whistler. "Mind you! faster than the Colodia—and that's some speed."
"Wow!" cried Frenchy. "Don't believe anything on water ever does go faster than a torpedo boat destroyer."
"Oh, yes, there are faster boats. How about a hydro?" Phil said, when Ikey broke in with an inquiry:
"Say! lemme ask you: Why do they call the Colodia and her sister ships 'torpedo boat destroyers'? We don't see many torpedo boats anyway. They are all old stuff."
"That's right," Torry said. "What is the why-for? All naval craft are supposed to be destroyers anyway—I mean service craft."
Morgan was the oracle on this occasion.
"Ikey is right. I've read that torpedo boats antedate the Spanish War. Their exclusive business was to run up close to an enemy battleship and deliver against it an automobile torpedo. These boats were great stuff in the beginning.
"Then they invented a craft as an antidote for the torpedo boat—the torpedo boat destroyer. Our Admiral Sims called this new vessel 'a tin box built around a mighty big engine.'"
"Wow! And he is right," cried Frenchy Donahue. "That's just what our Colodia is."
"And these subchasers are still faster," Torry observed. "They tell me they can make thirty-five, and better, an hour."
"Oi, oi!" cried Ikey Rosenmeyer at this juncture. "Speak of the Old Harry and hear his wings, yet! What's that off yonder?"
The Sue Bridger was now skimming out of the cove, and the fog was lifting. They got a sight of a patch of open sea across which a low, gray vessel was shooting like a shark after its prey.
"What a beaut!" shouted Torry.
"That's one of the new chasers all right," Whistler agreed. "Their base is at New London where the submarine base is."
At that moment the sun broke through the murk overhead. Its rays shone brilliantly upon the patch of blue sea on which the submarine patrol boat steamed at such a rapid pace.
The sunbeams pricked out the letters and figures painted so big upon the side of the craft and the Navy boys repeated in chorus:
"S. P., Eighty-eighty-eight."
THE STREAK ON THE WATER
The Navy boys arrived at the patch of shallow water over the Blue Reef at about noon. By that time the fog was pretty well dissipated, and they had a clear view of miles and miles of sea as well as of the coastline behind them and the narrow entrance to the cove.
The submarine chaser was out of sight. No other craft appeared upon the open sea beyond the Sue Bridger's present anchorage. The boys threw out a little chum, and then dropped their hooks.
"First nibble!" whispered Torry. "Now watch me play him."
But the first few "nibbles" proved to be merely "hook-cleaners." The fish got the bait, and the boys had the exercise of swishing their lines in and out of the water.
Channel bass run to large sizes. Torry told about seeing one hung up on the dock at Seacove weighing sixty-four and a quarter pounds.
"That's all right," grumbled Frenchy, who had just lost a nibbler, "but a two-pound one will satisfy me. What would we do with a sixty-four-pound bass?"
"Keep it alive and teach it to draw a little red wagon," chuckled Ikey. "Oi, oi! That would be fine!"
"It would be as big as Dugan's goat. Don't know why it shouldn't be tackled up and made use of," Whistler agreed, dryly.
"Only they lack feet—Gee-whillikins! what's this?" burst forth Torry.
He certainly had a bite at last. His reel hummed and the fish started for the coast of Spain; or, at least, in that general direction.
He had to play the fish well to save his line, for the latter was neither a very heavy one, nor new. The bass ran stubbornly out to sea.
"That's a whale, Torry," Whistler declared, breaking off in a military tune to make the observation. "You should have harpooned it."
"I'm going to get him aboard here if I swamp the boat!" declared Torry with vigor.
The boys were so interested in his playing the fish for the next ten minutes that they did not cast a glance shoreward. Finally the bass was tired out, and Torry drew him in close to the boat. Whistler leaned over the side and, with a maul, tapped the bass on the head.
But when he got his hand in the gills of the fish they clamped down upon his fingers, and, in the struggle, he was almost hauled out of the boat.
"Hey! Help!" he bawled. "What are you fellows? Just passengers?"
Frenchy gave him a hand on one side and Ikey on the other; between them the trio hauled a ten-pound bass over the gunwale. Torry was dancing around in glee and shouting at the top of his voice.
"Hush!" commanded Whistler. "You'll scare even the sharks and dogfish away."
"Or you'll dance through the rotten old bottom boards of the boat and we'll have to walk ashore," added Frenchy.
But it was a great catch, and the others could feel nothing but envy of Torry's success. He had set a pace that none of them could equal; for after that there did not seem to be another bass of even two pounds' weight in the whole ocean.
"Hey, fellows!" ejaculated Ikey suddenly. "Who's this coming?"
"Somebody walking on the water, is it?" chuckled Frenchy.
"Aw, you needn't be correcting my English," responded Ikey. "There are no medals on you for being a purist."
"Wow, wow!" yelled Torry. "Listen to him sling language."
"Hold on, fellows," Whistler said, diving for the glass he never went to sea without. "That's no smack."
They all had turned to look at the approaching craft which Ikey had first sighted. It was a power boat and was running parallel with the coast in a southeasterly direction and inshore of the anchorage of the Sue Bridger.
She was about forty feet long and was showing some speed; but her hull looked battered, and there was nothing natty or yacht-like about her.
"No pleasure craft, that," ventured Torry, as Phil trained his glasses on her. "She's too slouchy."
"She's got speed, just the same," observed Frenchy. "What's her name, Phil?"
"Can't make it out," returned Morgan. Then immediately he uttered a surprised ejaculation.
"What's up?" Torry asked him.
Whistler said nothing but he drew his chum up beside him and thrust the glass into his hand. "Look at that fellow," he commanded.
"Which fellow?" asked Torry trying to focus the glass on the strange craft.
"The man forward. He's looking this way. See! The man with the whiskers," whispered Morgan.
"I see him," returned Torry.
The other boys were giving more attention to their fishing again. Whistler was very much in earnest, and he spoke softly in his chum's ear:
"You've seen him before. It's the man we saw in the bushes up there by the Elmvale Dam the other day. Remember, Al?"
"Gee! Yes!" breathed Torry.
"They told me his name was Blake. He doesn't look it," said Whistler earnestly. "He looks more like a German than Hansie Hertig—and that's enough!"
"Of course, he can't help that," agreed Whistler before Torrance could voice objection. "But he is a stranger in Elmvale. He works at the munition factory. You'd think of course they'd be careful who they employ. But he wouldn't be the first alien that has been employed in such a factory."
"What are you driving at, Phil?" demanded his chum, much puzzled now.
"I found something up there near the dam that I didn't tell you fellows about. And it is something that I think that man's interested in. Now, what's he out here for?"
"For a sail."
"In that old tub that is full of oil casks and the like?"
"Whistler Morgan!" breathed Torry in amazement, "how do you know at this distance what kind of cargo that boat has?"
"Why, she fairly reeks of oil!" said Whistler confidently. "See that streak along the water in her wake—that purplish, reddish streak?"
"I see it!" admitted Torry in a moment.
"Nothing but oil would do that. She's got leaky casks aboard. And where would an oil lighter be going out this way? Where is she coming from and where is she going? And what is that bewhiskered Blake doing aboard her? Tell me that, will you?"
But the wondering and excited Torrance could not answer these questions.
AN OLD FRIEND
Fishing rather palled upon both Whistler and Torry after sighting the other boat. The younger boys had not paid much attention to the passing of the craft which Whistler was confident was an oil lighter of some kind.
"You're so plaguy suspicious, Whistler," muttered Al Torrance, as they heaved up the anchor and the younger boys hoisted the big sail.
"For all you know, that Blake may be as harmless as a baby."
"Sure," agreed Morgan. "But what's he doing out in that boat, and what is the boat itself doing out here? She's headed off shore—and you saw she was loaded. The water almost lapped over her rail."
"She surely isn't headed for the other side of the Atlantic," Whistler declared. "Yet she's aiming straight out to sea right now. She isn't following the coast any longer."
It was a fact. Although the strange power launch was now at a great distance, it was plain she was leaving the land behind her. There was no land in that direction save the European coast.
"You believe she's a supply ship for German subs?" asked Torry.
"Or taking out gasoline or oil to put aboard some Swedish or Norwegian ship that expects to give the cargo to the Germans at some rendezvous in the North Sea. That isn't impossible, Torry."
"Just the same I fancy you are hunting a mare's nest," his chum declared.
Torry—nor the other Navy boys—was not apt to call in question Whistler's judgment. But on this occasion it seemed to him as though Morgan was shooting wild.
Frenchy Donahue and Ikey Rosenmeyer had caught several fish and were satisfied; but soon they began to notice that their companions had something on their minds besides the catch of channel bass.
"What's bitin' you fellows?" demanded Frenchy. "Had a spat?"
"I bet they've had a lover's quarrel," grinned Ikey. "Ain't you going to speak to us, ever again, Torry?"
"Oh, my eye!" growled Torry.
But he and Whistler really had very little to say while the boat was running back into the cove. The wind was not so favorable, so it took a much longer time for the trip than it had to come out to the fishing grounds.
"But if we use a drop of his gas, old Cap Bridger will know it," grumbled Frenchy. "Maybe we'll have to row her in."
A little flicker of breeze helped after a while, however; but it was just then, too, and after they had rounded one of the crab-claw capes that defended the cove from the ocean, that Ikey sang out:
"What's this coming? Oi, oi! D'you see it, Whistler? It's a streak of light!"
The other boys turned to look seaward. Rushing in from that watery world was a gray shape—narrow, low-decked, with slight upperworks and a single stack.
"A chaser!" cried Torry, finding his voice and growing excited.
"She's aiming right this way," added Frenchy excitedly.
Phil Morgan had his glass out again, and his lips unpuckered and the tune he had been monotoning died.
"What do you make of her, Phil?" whispered Al Torrance.
"It is a sub patrol boat all right," agreed their leader.
Ikey, who had the tiller at this juncture, got so excited watching the swiftly approaching craft that he pretty nearly swung the Sue Bridger in a circle.
"Look out, you chump!" yelled Torry. "Want to yank the stick out of her? If you haven't a care Captain Bridger will get the price of a new catboat out of us."
Whistler gave Torrance the glass and went aft himself to relieve Ikey at the helm.
"You're a fine garby," called Donahue to Rosenmeyer. "Lose your head mighty easy. That chaser isn't chasing us."
"How do you know she isn't?" returned Ikey.
"She certainly is following us," Whistler said. "But until she bespeaks our attention with her forward gun I guess we need not worry," and he smiled grimly.
The boys watched the swiftly approaching boat. It came in through the narrows at top speed, circled around toward the docks, and passed the catboat at a distance.
"'S. P. 888'!" yelled Torry. "Look there!"
"I thought it was that same chaser we saw before," Frenchy said.
"Wonder what she wants in here at Seacove?" Ikey asked.
Whistler had changed their course to bring the catboat nearer to the naval boat, which was slowing down. Torry leaped upon the low-decked cabin and began signaling by the semaphore code. In his blue uniform his body stood out clearly against the catboat's sail, and he was at once observed by the crew of the S. P. 888.
"Whew! Look at that!" gasped Frenchy. "They are answering."
Then he and Ikey began to spell out the word that the seaman on the deck of the chaser was signaling in the same code Torrance had used.
"Oi, oi!" yelled Ikey. "They're after you, Whistler!"
"What's the next?" gasped Frenchy.
Another name was not long in coming.
"They want you, too."
"Look, they are calling somebody else."
Quickly the Navy Boys spelt out the next name.
"That's me," came in a groan from Frenchy.
"Maybe they don't want me," murmured Ikey.
"Don't you fool yourself," returned Whistler promptly. "We couldn't do without you."
"But they ain't wigwaging no more, Whistler."
"Maybe the sailor doin' it got tired," offered Torry.
"R-O-S-E-N-M-E-Y-E-R!" came the signal presently.
"See them coming, boys!"
"Some speed there!"
"He's after us," said Torry. "Whip up this old tub, Whistler. Let's start the engine."
"Hold your horses," advised Morgan. "He knows we are aboard. We'll get there all right, give us time."
The chaser was circling around, and finally headed toward them. The excited boys in the catboat saw Mr. MacMasters examining them through a glass. The S. P. 888 came to a stop near the usual mooring of the Sue Bridger. Captain Bridger put off in a dory from the float and began to scull out toward the Government boat.
"We're going aboard!" cried Torry. "Say, Whistler! do you suppose he's been sent for us? Shall we join up with the crew of that shark?"
"Oi, oi!" groaned Ikey. "No dreadnaught for us, then? What will my papa and mama say? I've been tellin' 'em maybe I get to command a battleship this next cruise."
"I had no idea Ensign MacMasters was in service again," Whistler said. "But I am glad he is on this particular boat."
"Why?" asked Torry, to whom he spoke in a low tone.
"I want to tell him about that oil boat," returned Morgan, nodding his head.
In a few moments they dropped the sail and fended off from the chaser's side, just as Captain Bridger reached the spot too.
"You want these four boys, Skipper?" demanded the old fisherman.
"That's what I do," said Ensign MacMasters. Then to the chums: "Come aboard, boys; I've news for you."
"They been using my catboat," said Captain Bridger. "All right, Phil Morgan. You can go aboard. I'll take charge of the Sue. Got some right nice lookin' bass, ain't you?"
"But you won't take charge of them!" Torry exclaimed. "I caught that big fellow, and I donate it to the officer's mess of the S. P. Eight-eighty-eight, right now!"
The fisherman looked somewhat disappointed, for he was eager to make a penny. Whistler, however, gave him some of the smaller fish. The remainder were tossed to a grinning sailor upon the deck of the chaser.
"Come right aboard, boys," Ensign MacMasters repeated. "I am glad to see you looking so chipper."
He shook hands with them, in rotation, as they came over the side. But the chums did not forget to salute the officer. They lined up before him in a respectful attitude as Captain Bridger got aboard the catboat and shoved her away from the chaser's side.
"I am only acting commander of this little knifeblade," said Ensign MacMasters. "Junior Lieutenant Perkins has time off to attend to some private business, and I have been stuck aboard here for a few days. We're patrolling this stretch of coast, and I ran in to see if I could pick up you boys. Do you know what is going to happen?"
"We're going to lick the Germans!" exclaimed Frenchy.
The ensign laughed. "Smart boy," he said. "You will go to the head of the class for that. But my information is new stuff. I am assigned to the Kennebunk and you four boys are to go with me."
"Hurray!" shouted Torry, unable to suppress his delight.
"That will sure please my papa," declared Ikey, with a broad smile and twinkling eyes. "It sure will."
"But how about the Colodia, sir?" asked Whistler anxiously.
"That's right! Be faithful to your first love, Morgan," laughed Ensign MacMasters. "I imagine they intend to send us all back to her in time. But—whisper!—the Colodia is across the pond. So I am told. There is something doing over there."
"Crickey!" gasped Torry. "And we not in it!"
"It may not come off before we get across in this new battleship——"
"Whew!" shrilled Frenchy, forgetting himself. "Will the Kennebunk go across, too?"
"That's telling," said Ensign MacMasters. "You will have several days yet to get ready for the cruise, no matter how long it may be. Yes, Morgan? What do you want to say?" for he observed that Whistler was restless and wished to speak.
"I've something to report, sir," Whistler declared.
"We made an observation just now. Well, perhaps an hour and a half ago, sir."
"What was it?" queried the ensign, with interest.
"A power boat passed us. She was not as long as this chaser and not very swift. She was steering into the sou'east, and she left a streak of oil in her wake. She was laden to the guards with oil casks, I believe."
Ensign MacMasters made no comment for a moment; then he got the full significance of Whistler's meaning and he briskly demanded:
"Sure her casks were filled, Morgan, and not empty?"
"She had a full cargo of something, sir," said Whistler, nodding.
"And headed southeast?"
Mr. MacMasters wheeled to speak to his navigating officer. In thirty seconds the swift craft started.
"Hold on, Mr. MacMasters!" cried Torry. "We've got to get ashore somehow for supper, you know."
The ensign smiled at him. "I am afraid you will have to remain aboard and help eat some of your own fish for supper. No time just now to put you boys on land."
The S. P. 888 was shaking throughout her structure before she came square with the exit of the cove. If a destroyer is "a tin box built around a mighty big engine," the term even more nearly fits one of these chasers.
The four Navy boys from Seacove were amazed by the quickness with which she got under way and the brief time it took to tune her up to top-notch speed.
"She's a hundred and ten feet long," said Mr. MacMasters, "about as wide as a happy thought, and can make her thirty-five knots an hour without any particular effort."
"No effort?" muttered Torry. "And it feels as though she was shaking herself to pieces!"
"She's faster than the Colodia," observed Whistler, somewhat as though he felt pained by that fact. That any other craft should be a sweeter sailer than his beloved destroyer seemed to him almost a crime.
"She most certainly is," agreed Ensign MacMasters. "She is some speed boat!"
"Why!" Frenchy cried, "she must be faster than the admiral's hydroboat we saw at Newport."
"No, no!" said the ensign. "Those hydroboats have got every other craft in the Navy beaten to a standstill. And about all they use 'em for is pleasure boats."
"They'll be dispatch carriers maybe?" suggested Whistler.
"What do they want of dispatch carriers in a day of wireless?" returned the ensign, and went about his duty of conning the S. P. 888 as she shot through the breach between the claw-like capes that defended the cove, and so straight out to sea in a southeasterly direction.
The "bone in her teeth," as sailors call the white water under the ship's bows, became a windrow of sea, foamed-streaked and agitated, parted by the knife-sharp bows, and rolling away on either hand. The S. P. 888 traveled so swiftly that at a distance "shark" really was the name for her.
She was not camouflaged, as were the hull and upperworks of many Navy vessels with which the four friends were familiar; but her dull coloring made her well nigh unobservable at a few miles' distance when she lay at rest. When she was in action no amount of deceiving paint would hide her, because of the water she disturbed.
The motor boat Phil had suspected had more than an hour and half's start. If she had kept straight ahead on the course she was going when last observed by the boys, she must now be twenty miles or more off shore.
The chaser, propelled by her powerful engines, could traverse that distance, and the oil boat's additional miles, in less than two hours. If the pursued vessel did not change her course she could be easily overtaken before twilight.
Ensign MacMasters was too busy to talk further with the four chums; indeed it would not be conducive to discipline for the commissioned officer to give the apprentice seamen too much of his attention.
But Mr. MacMasters and the four Seacove boys had been through some warm incidents together; and there is always a particular bond between those who have been shoulder to shoulder in a good fight.
"Remember the rumpus we had, Mr. MacMasters and us fellows, when those Germans tried to recapture the Graf von Posen?" Ikey asked his mates.
"Are we likely to forget it?" retorted Al.
"What about it, Ikey?" asked Michael Donahue, complacently. "It was a lovely fight!"
"Do you s'pose the fellows on this oil tender we are chasin' will fight?" asked Ikey.
"Not a chance. Here's fifty men on this chaser. The Germans—if they are Germans—wouldn't stand any show. There are only a few of them," said Torry.
"Including the black-whiskered chap Whistler tells about," Frenchy said. "Hey, Whistler!"
"What is it?" asked the older lad seriously.
"D'you really think that power boat we saw is going out to meet a submarine?"
"Ask me an easier one," said Morgan. "I can't guess. But she might. We know very well that German submarines and German raiders, and even Germany itself, pass news back and forth by wireless. We can't control the vibrations of the air—worse luck!"
"Now you've said something, boy!" agreed Torry.
"They read all the news that passes between our ships, too, unless it is in a secret code. And they pick everything they need to know about our ship movements out of the air."
"Too bad wireless was ever invented, then," grumbled Torry.
"Six of one and half a dozen of the other," grinned Frenchy. "You bet our operators steal German messages."
"It's likely. You know that chap on the Colodia whom we all liked so well, the chief wireless operator, got lots of information that was supposed only to be picked up by German submarines.
"In this case," added Whistler Morgan, "the sub may have wirelessed word for supplies. We don't know how many alien enemies may be running wireless stations in the United States. The Secret Service men are unearthing them all the time."
"Well," sighed Ikey, "I only hope we'll catch up with this oil tub we're hunting just as she is unloading her cargo onto a sub. Then! Blooey! We'll drop a depth bomb or two, and settle Mr. Submarine."
"Just like that!" drawled Whistler. "It sounds easy. How many times did the Colodia chase a U-boat and lose it?"
"Crickey!" breathed Torry, "even the Colodia couldn't travel like this shark."
"Oh! you admit it, do you?" grinned Frenchy. "Well, we are going some!"
But there was an element working against the S. P. 888—an element which could not be controlled. No matter how speedy the oil boat might have been, the chaser could have overtaken her had she kept a straight course. That was understood.
But the farther they went the more certain it was that this new element was going to balk them. It was fog. The horizon was masked by it, and soon the damp feel of it was upon them.
Mr. MacMasters paced the deck anxiously. Not a smudge of smoke did he or the lookouts raise. But the growing fog cloud would soon have hidden anything of the kind, even if the oil boat had been near at hand.
"Fog-haunted, Morgan," he said to Whistler, with disappointment. "We'll run on for a while; but it is hopeless, I guess. You say you know one of the men aboard that power boat?"
Morgan told him what he knew of the bewhiskered man called Blake; and also of the little water wheel that was whirling under the waterfall at the Elmvale Dam, although really, it did not seem to him as though that little invention could have a serious connection with any alien-enemy activities.
"I will report the whole thing," Mr. MacMasters said. "But, of course, the Department receives similar and even less assured testimony every day, of suspiciously acting persons. The information furnished the Department has all to be sifted. There may be nothing wrong with this man Blake."
"If he is working at the munition factory, how comes it that he is out here on an oil-laden boat?" demanded Whistler, with what he thought was shrewdness.
"Quite so. You boys are naval apprentices, but you were out fishing to-day," returned Mr. MacMasters, grimly. "There is an explanation for everything, my boy."
They ran on for another hour, but more slowly. They did not raise a craft of any kind, and Mr. MacMasters lost hope.
"I will put you boys ashore at Rivermouth," he said. "You can go home by rail. I shall not be able to put in at Seacove again to-night. And Rivermouth is off yonder—within a few miles."
Even in the fog the navigator found the harbor in question without difficulty. Just as they would have apprehended the presence of a submarine had one been near. There are very delicate and wonderful instruments aboard American naval vessels—instruments that may not be described at present—that enable the officers to apprehend the near approach of other vessels and their own nearness to the shore as well.
The S. P. 888 made her landfall correctly and slipped into Rivermouth Harbor like a ghost in the fog. There was a quantity of small shipping in the place, and Ensign MacMasters did not want to take any chances of collision. So he hailed a fishing smack and put the four friends from Seacove aboard of her.
"Good-bye, boys!" he said, as they went over the side into the smack. "We shall meet in a few days. You will get your notice by telegraph when to join the Kennebunk, and where. I shall be relieved from the command of this shark, and we'll have a big cruise on the superdreadnaught, I have no doubt."
He spoke prophetically, as it was proved later. But at this time neither Ensign MacMasters nor any of the four apprentice seamen imagined just how wonderful a cruise it would be.
As the fishing smack chugged away with her auxiliary engine toward the docks of the town, the S. P. 888 swung in a narrow circle and put out to sea so swiftly that in five minutes she was completely out of sight in the fog and almost out of sound as well.
The fishermen were curious about the boys and the business of the chaser in this locality; but the Navy boys had long since learned to say nothing that would circulate information of any moment. "Keep your mouth closed" is an inflexible rule of the Navy; the yarns Ikey told his "papa" and his "mama" notwithstanding!
As they drifted in toward shore slowly, weaving their way among the moored craft, Whistler suddenly began to sniff the air and show excitement.
"What's the matter?" demanded Torry, his closest chum. "You act like a hound dog on a hot scent."
"Or a colored gem'man smelling po'k chops on the frypan," suggested Frenchy, chuckling.
"Say, Mister," asked Whistler, turning to the skipper of the smack, "is there a tank ship in here?"
"An oil tanker? No! Nothing like it."
"I smell it, too!" exclaimed Ikey suddenly.
"What you boys smell is the Sarah Coville that came in just ahead of us. She's anchored here somewhere," said the fisherman.
"What sort is she?" Whistler demanded. Then he described swiftly the oil tender he had marked that afternoon passing the Blue Reef fishing grounds.
"That's her," said the man. "She often slips in here. Don't know who owns her now. Used to belong to the Texarcana Oil Company before the war. She's only a lighter."
"Is she laden?" asked Whistler.
"Didn't look so to me," was the reply.
Whistler Morgan said no more, and he warned his friends to have no further talk upon the matter. After they got ashore, however, all four were much excited by the incident.
"She was loaded to the Plimsoll mark when she passed us," Torry said. "What could she have done with her cargo in so short a time?"
"I'd like to know," agreed Whistler thoughtfully.
"We ought to tell somebody," declared Frenchy.
"Let's be sure we tell the right person," Whistler advised. "Come on now and get some supper. We've an hour to wait for a train to Seacove."
They marched up the main street of the port. The fog was not so thick inshore here. Just before they reached the restaurant they usually patronized when they were in the town, Whistler uttered an exclamation and held his friends back.
"See those two men going into Yancey's Restaurant?" he queried.
"What about 'em?" Frenchy asked.
"The fellow ahead," said Whistler Morgan deeply in earnest, "is that man Blake. The other I bet is the captain of the Sarah Coville."
"Well," asked Torry, after a moment, "what are you waiting for? Their eating at Yancey's won't stop us from going there too, will it?"
Whistler Morgan's three chums had by this time become somewhat interested in the bearded man, who called himself Blake and who worked in the laboratory of the Elmvale munition factory.
They were not at all as sure as Whistler seemed to be that the man was an alien enemy, and dangerous; for one reason they did not know all that Whistler had discovered up by the dam. It was only to Ensign MacMasters that their leader had told of the water wheel under the rock.
Frenchy began to grin when he saw how Whistler hesitated about entering the restaurant in Rivermouth.
"What's the matter? You so mad with that fellow that you won't eat at Yancey's because he does?" he asked.
"I'd like to get in there," said Whistler, "without attracting his attention and that of the man with him. I know he's the skipper of that oil boat."
"How are you going to do that?" demanded Torry. "They'll spot our blouses and caps in a minute."
"That's just it. Wish we didn't have 'em on," grumbled his friend.
"Good-night! We'd make a nice fumble, wouldn't we, if we didn't wear the uniform? What would it be—a month in the brig on hard tack and water?"
"Say!" murmured the eager Ikey Rosenmeyer, "there's a side door. I'll call Abe, the waiter, out there and tell him. If those fellows have gone into one of the booths——"
"Bully!" cried Torry. "Maybe he can sneak us into one next to 'em. How about it, Whistler?"
"Just the thing," agreed Morgan, nodding his head emphatically.
Ikey ran down the alley beside the restaurant while his mates waited at the corner. The side door was not used save by the restaurant help; but Ikey insinuated himself in by that entrance and in half a minute poked his head out of the door again and beckoned furiously to the other boys.
"Oi, oi!" he chuckled in high feather, when they joined him. "We are in luck all right. Those fellows got a booth, and Abe is layin' the table in the one next to it, this side, for us. Come on! They won't see us."
"If they take a look out of the curtains they will," declared Torry.
"Have a care, now, about talking," Whistler advised earnestly. "Say nothing about boats or the sea. No whispering, remember! Talk right out when you talk at all."
"All right, me lud," said Frenchy. "Anything else?"
"Yes," said Whistler grimly. "This is a Dutch treat. Every fellow pays for his own eats. Last time we were in a restaurant you all wished the check on to me."
At that his mates chuckled much. Each had excused himself and gone out "just for a minute," and Whistler found himself, after waiting half an hour, expected by the waiter to pay the whole score.
The four got into the booth the waiter had prepared for them, and Whistler sat with his back against the partition dividing it from that in which Blake and his companion sat. Between the clatter of dishes, the waiter's calls to the order man, and the talking of his own friends, Whistler could not hear much at first. But he knew the two men whom he suspected were talking in English.
Of course they would not be unwise enough to speak in German. By this time the German language when spoken in public places was beginning to cause remark. Wise Germans, whether friendly or enemy aliens, were not using it.
One of the voices Whistler heard in the other booth, however, was distinctly German in its accent. This he was quite sure was the skipper of the oil tender. The other man used perfect English.
"They would not be likely to select a man too obviously German for a big part in any plot," thought Whistler. "And that Blake looks like a suave, well educated fellow."
The latter man spoke low, too. The other had a bluff and coarse voice. He was a typical old sea-dog in his way. Only, a German sea-dog!
"Are you going back there yet?" Whistler heard him ask.
"For just one thing. You know what that is, Braun."
"My work is done there," said the man, Blake, with pride in his voice. "Oh, it will be taken note of, don't fear."
"I bet you!" growled the other, in evident admiration. "Undt so she goes oop, yes? Boom!"
"Sh!" warned the other. "Never mind any talk about it."
But the other was inclined to be voluble. Whistler thought the skipper of the oil tender, Braun, had been drinking. "And when alcohol is in the brain wit is very likely to move out," he muttered.
"Grand work!" he ejaculated. "Ach, yes! Undt there will be more grand work when two-fifty is joined by the others."
"Sh!" warned Blake again. "You talk too much, Braun. The wise man keeps a still tongue."
Ordinarily Whistler Morgan would have found nothing in this overheard conversation to fan suspicion into a blaze. He quite realized this fact. But what he had seen at Elmvale, and the presence of Blake on the oil tender, led in his mind to but one conclusion.
Blake and his companion referred to the former's work in Elmvale. And what was that work? Not merely the peaceful occupation of chemist in the laboratory of the munition factory. He was convinced that Blake referred to something entirely different when he said: "My work is done there."
Nor was Blake merely an inventor, hiding away the actual working model of an invention until he could secure its patent, for instance. No, indeed!
Yet Morgan could not imagine what that water wheel was for. To what end could it have been placed under the rock on the edge of the overflow-stream from the Elmvale Dam?
Whistler had little to say himself during that meal at Yancey's. He heard nothing more from the next booth, for Blake seemed to manage the half drunken skipper of the Sarah Coville with better judgment. By and by the two men left the restaurant.
"Say! are we going to follow them?" asked the excited Frenchy.
"Aw, you poor fish!" scoffed Torry. "Where'd we follow them to? Back to that stinking oiler? And how would we follow them to sea? We haven't a boat."
"That's so," Frenchy admitted, crestfallen.
"No good to try to keep tabs on them," admitted Phil. "I hope Ensign MacMasters will pick up news of that boat again. Just think of his chaser coming right in here and not seeing the oiler in the fog. Tough luck!"
"Say!" queried Ikey, "what did you hear, Whistler?"
"Just about what you did," returned the older lad. "Nothing much."
"What are we going to do?" demanded Torry.
"Pay our bills and go to the train. It is almost time," said Whistler rather grumpily.
And this they did. The train for Seacove came along in a few minutes. The boys got aboard. Ikey ran ahead down the aisle of the car and got into a seat by an open window. The first thing he did was to thrust his head out of the window and look back along the platform as the train started.
"Oi, oi!" he cried, under his breath. "Here he comes!"
"Here who comes?" demanded Al Torrance.
"The German spy," declared Ikey.
"Hush up!" commanded Frenchy. "Want everybody to hear you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Whistler.
"That man," said Ikey. "He got aboard. He went into the last car."
"You don't mean Blake?"
"That's who I mean," declared Ikey with conviction.
"Aw, he's crazy," scoffed Frenchy.
But Torry went back through the train after it was well under way and the conductor had taken their tickets. He peered through the glass in the door of the rear car.
He came back shaking his head and looking puzzled.
"He's there all right," he said to Whistler. "Bet he's going to Elmvale instead of to sea again. What do you make of it?"
"Not a thing," grumbled Whistler. "I wish I knew what to do."
"Let's have him pinched," suggested the eager Frenchy.
"Not a chance! On what charge?" asked Torry. "Accuse him of being in disguise because he wears that beard?" and he chuckled.
But to Whistler Morgan's mind it was no laughing matter. He was silent all the way to Seacove. Torry suggested that they stay on the train to Elmvale and see if Blake got off at that station.
"No," his friend said decidedly, "we can't do that. Our folks will be worried about us if we don't report soon. Cap Bridger may have told around town that we went off on the submarine chaser, and perhaps our folks will think we've gone for good."
So they alighted at their station and left the mysterious Blake aboard the train. Whistler hurried home to consult with his father. There was nobody else in whom he had so much confidence; at least, nobody within reach.
In this case, however, his father was not within reach. Dr. Morgan had been called away to see a patient in the country. It was a call that might keep him away from home all night. Whistler was greatly disappointed.
He went down town again and hunted up Torry. He found his friend getting into his father's car in front of the garage.
"I was just coming over to get you," Torry said. "D'you know, Whistler, I feel just as nervous as a cat?"
"I guess that's what is the matter with me," Morgan confessed. "I'm bothering my head about that fellow Blake."
"Me, too. Say! let's run over there."
"Yep. Pa's gone away——"
"So has my father," admitted Whistler.
"Well, neither of them can advise us, then," said Torry, practically. "How about talking with somebody in Elmvale? The manager of the munition works, for instance?"
"That's so! Mr. Santley. Say! let's 'phone him and see if he is at home."
"But you can't say anything over the telephone about Blake, or about us fellows thinking he is up to something wrong."
"We'll make an appointment with the manager," said Whistler, running into the Torrance house.
He knew where the telephone was, the girl at central quickly gave him the connection. A man answered the call.
"Is this Mr. Santley?" Whistler asked.
"It is. Who are you?"
Morgan told him who he was and asked if he could see the manager if he drove right over to Elmvale in his friend's car.
"It has something to do with a man named Blake in the employ of the factory," said Whistler plainly. "But I can say nothing more about it over the 'phone."
"'Blake'?" repeated the voice at the other end, and Whistler thought there was a startled note in it. "What about him?"
"I can only tell you when I see you."
"Come on, then!" exclaimed the man. "I shall wait here for you at my office."
Whistler ran out of the house. Al was already at the steering wheel of the car.
"What did he say?" he shouted.
"For us to come over," Whistler replied. "And somehow, Torry, I feel we ought to hurry."
"You said it!" agreed the other and turned on the power.
JUST TOO LATE
"Shall we stop and pick up the other fellows?" demanded Al as the heavy car shot up the road toward High Street. They had to cross the railroad tracks to get into the Elmvale road.
"Stop for nothing!" exclaimed Phil Morgan. "I feel that we can't delay a minute."
But as it chanced Michael Donahue was standing at the open door of the Rosenmeyer delicatessen shop as the Torrance car wheeled around the corner into Seacove's main street. Dusky as it now was, the Irish lad recognized the car and the two boys on the front seat.
"Hi, Ikey!" he yelled to his chum, back in the store. "See who's joy-riding! And they never said a word about it."
Ikey ran out in a hurry.
"Stingy! Stingy!" he cried, almost getting into the path of the automobile.
Torry had been obliged to slow down to turn the corner; so it was easy for the reckless Frenchy and Ikey to jump upon the running board of the car.
"Tumble in, kids!" exclaimed Torry, out of the corner of his mouth, for he had to keep his eyes ahead for traffic. "We're in a hurry."
"I—should—think—you—were!" gasped out Frenchy, as the car jounced over the railroad tracks by the station. "I almost swallowed my gum."
"Who's sick?" demanded Ikey.
"Nobody. Sit down," adjured Whistler. "We're going to Elmvale."
"Wow, wow!" yelled Frenchy. "What for?"
"We don't know till we get there," declared Torry suddenly grinning.
Torry increased the speed the very next moment. There were not many constables around Seacove, and the first five miles of the road to Elmvale was perfectly straight. The amber lamps of the car gave a good light ahead, and Torry was really a safe driver.
But he seemed reckless on this evening. Inspired by the same feeling that impressed Whistler Morgan, he felt that they could not get to Elmvale too quickly.
During the journey the older boys vouchsafed no explanation to the younger pair save that they had made an engagement with Mr. Santley at the munition factory over the telephone. In fact, they had no idea what they would do, or what they would say to Mr. Santley.
The car roared on, the dogs barked behind them, and finally they came to the slope leading down into Elmvale. Lights were already twinkling in the valley. But the mills were closed, and even the munition factory seemed deserted.
This time they did not take the Upper Road, but drove through the center of the little hamlet. The stores were open and there were lights in most of the cottages of the workmen. There were lively parties in all the long, barrack-like boarding houses. The town was wide awake.