THE BRIGHTON BOYS IN THE RADIO SERVICE
LIEUTENANT JAMES R. DRISCOLL
The John C. Winston Company Philadelphia
Copyright, 1918, by John C. Winston Company
I. "FOR UNCLE SAM" 9 II. INTO THE SERVICE—A SPY 21 III. UNEXPECTED ACTION 34 IV. FAREWELL, UNITED STATES 43 V. THE FIGHT IN THE WIRELESS ROOM 54 VI. THE MYSTERY OF THE IRON CROSS 67 VII. THE TIMELY RESCUE 77 VIII. THE DEATH OF THE SPY 88 IX. THE PERISCOPE AT DAWN 101 X. FRANCE AT LAST 110 XI. TAPPING THE ENEMY'S WIRE 118 XII. THE S O S WITH PISTOL SHOTS 131 XIII. THE CAVE OF DEATH 140 XIV. DESPERATE MEASURES 153 XV. THE SURPRISE ATTACK—PROMOTION 164 XVI. A TIGHT PLACE 176 XVII. THE LIEUTENANT'S INVENTION 191 XVIII. SLIM GOODWIN A PRISONER 200 XIX. TURNING THE TABLES 211 XX. THE GREAT NEWS 221
"At Least Ten Thousand of Them," He Announced Frontispiece
There was an Instant of Terrible Whirling about the Room 66
They had Accidentally Discovered an Enemy Wire and had Tapped It 130
Scores of Huge Armored Tanks Rolled Through 168
The Brighton Boys in the Radio Service
"FOR UNCLE SAM"
"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their——"
It was that old practice sentence of typists, which is as old as are typewriting machines, and Joe Harned, seated before the told-style, noisy, but still capable machine in Philip Burton's telegraph office, had rattled it off twenty-five times and was on his twenty-sixth when suddenly, very suddenly, his mind began to work.
Or rather it might be said that an idea, the big idea, danced unceremoniously into his brain, and, beginning to take definite and concrete form, chased a score of other smaller ideas through all the thought-channels of his handsome, boyish, well-rounded head.
He came to a full stop and gazed steadily at the upturned paper in the typewriter in front of him. Twenty-fives times he had written that sentence, and twenty-five times with mechanical precision and true adherence to time-honored custom he had finished it by tapping off the word "party."
It was a formula of words which some genius had devised for the fingering practice it gave one on the keyboard, and Joe Harned had written it hundreds of times before, just as thousands of others had done, without giving a thought to its meaning, or the significance that the substitution of a single word would give it.
He read it again, and as if it were the result of an uncontrollable impulse, his fingers began the rapid tap-tap-tap. And this time he substituted the new word that the big idea had suddenly thrust into his mind.
Joe gave the roller a twirl, the paper rolled out, dropped to the floor, and he grasped for it eagerly.
Even Joe was surprised. He hadn't realized that in his enthusiastic haste he had pushed down the key marked "caps."
In bold, outstanding letters near the bottom of the sheet was an historic sentence, and Joe Harned—Harned, of Brighton Academy—had devised it.
"NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THEIR COUNTRY!"
Joe gazed at it again for a moment, and then let his eyes travel across the little office to where red-headed, freckle-faced, big-hearted and impetuous Jerry Macklin was rapping away at another typewriter, and, two feet away from Jerry, "Slim" Goodwin, "one-hundred-and-seventy pounds in his stockinged feet, and five-feet-four in his gym suit," was working the telegraph key with a pudgy hand.
"Jerry!" he called. "Oh, Slim! Come over here a moment, both of you. I want to show you something."
Jerry immediately ceased typewriting, but Slim was reluctant to release the telegraph key. However, as Joe began folding the paper in such a way that only the last sentence showed, their aroused curiosity brought both of them to his side.
"Read that," said Joe, trying to suppress the quiver in his voice, and holding the paper up before them. "Read it carefully."
One lad on either side of him, they hung over Joe's shoulder and followed his bidding.
"Right!" shouted Jerry, as he came to the last word. "Joe, you're a wizard, and what you've written there is the truth."
"Ain't it—I mean isn't it?" added the delicate Slim Goodwin, and, partly to hide his grammatical error, but mostly to express his enthusiasm, he gave Joe a one-hundred-and-seventy-pound whack on the back that sent him sliding out of the chair and half way under the typewriter table.
"Say!" Joe remonstrated. But just then Philip Burton, telegraph operator and genial good friend of all three of the lads, bustled into the room, a sheaf of yellow telegrams in his hand.
"What's all the excitement?" he asked, striding toward the typewriter just left by Jerry.
"Why," explained Slim, "Joe's just done something that means something."
"Impossible," said Mr. Burton, turning toward them with one of those irresistible smiles which long ago had made him the boys' confidant.
"If you don't believe it, read this," commanded Jerry, thrusting the paper before the telegrapher's eyes.
Mr. Burton read it through and then turned to the three boys again. "Well?" he asked.
"It means what it says," explained Jerry. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."
"And we're 'good men,' ain't—aren't we?" demanded Slim, drawing in his stomach and throwing out his chest as he straightened up to his full five-feet-four-inches "in his gym suit."
"None better anywhere," said Mr. Burton in a tone that showed he meant it. "But just how do you contemplate going to the aid of your country?"
It was Joe's turn to say something, and he did. "By enlisting," he announced, briefly but firmly.
"Yes," agreed Slim, "that's it, by enlisting."
"Uh-huh," said Jerry, nodding his head vigorously and watching Mr. Burton's face for evidence of the effect of their decision.
"And when did you determine upon that?" the telegrapher asked, with increasing interest.
"Well," said Slim, his face now painfully red from his efforts to keep chest out and stomach in, "it was finally decided upon just now, although we have talked about the thing in a general way many times."
"You really mean to enlist—all three of you?" Mr. Burton demanded.
"Yes, sir," they chorused, "all three."
"Good!" exclaimed the man who had been their friend and helper. "Fine! I'm proud of you," and he proceeded to shake hands heartily with each in turn.
"Have you decided upon the branch of the service you intend to enter?" he then asked.
Joe looked at Jerry, Jerry looked at Slim, and Slim cast a helpless glance back at Joe.
"I see you haven't," said Mr. Burton hastily, "and I'm glad of it. Now how about the Signal Corps?"
"What do men in the Signal Corps do?" asked Jerry.
"Do they fight?" demanded Slim.
"Yes," Mr. Burton replied, "they do some fighting on their own account, and often in tough places and against discouraging odds. But they do even more than that. Without their assistance no general would dare lay plans for a battle. The Signal Corps keeps the commanders posted, not only as to the whereabouts and disposition of his own troops, but also of those of the enemy. The Signal Corps is the telephone, the telegraph, the wireless, and often the aviation section as well, of the American army, and often of the American navy, too."
"Isn't that great?" exclaimed the breathless Slim, as Mr. Burton went over to the ticker to answer the code call for his station.
During the ten minutes that he was engaged in receiving and sending messages, the boys perfected plans for notifying their relatives of their intention. Had their attention not been so entirely taken by the subject under discussion they would have seen Herbert Wallace—another and very unpopular student at Brighton—pass by the office window, stop for a moment to stare at them, and then step away quickly in the direction of the door, near which they were standing.
"Well, what's the verdict?" asked Mr. Burton, having finished his duties.
"The Signal Corps is our choice," said Joe, speaking for all, "but how do we go about getting into it?"
"I think I can arrange that," Mr. Burton informed them. "You boys have been studying telegraphy under me for more than six months, and I'm willing to certify that each of you can now handle an instrument. In addition to that, you are able to take down messages on the typewriter as they come over the wire. Yes, sir," Mr. Burton finished, "I think your Uncle Sam will be mighty glad to get three such lads as you, and I know the recruiting agent to put the thing through."
So it was arranged that the three lads should return to the dormitory, write the letters which were to procure them the desired permission to enlist, and then inform the headmaster of their intentions.
Joe and Jerry, who had roomed together throughout their entire three years at Brighton, already were well on with their epistles of explanation when Slim, whose room was seven doors down the corridor, dragged himself in, looking more downcast than any boy in Brighton ever had seen him look before.
"No use," he informed his two friends, a choke in his voice. "They won't have me. I'm overweight."
"Oh, now, Slim, what are you worrying about that for? I don't believe any such thing," counseled Joe.
"It's true, though," affirmed Slim. "That's the worst part of it; I saw it in the book. I'm toting around about twenty pounds more than the government wants, and I'd have to stand on tiptoe in high-heel shoes to meet the requirement in height."
Poor Slim! He showed his disappointment in every look and every action.
"What kind of a book did you see it in?" asked Jerry, in a tone almost as sad as Slim's.
"In the manual," Slim groaned. "Herb Wallace showed it to me."
"That settles it," exclaimed Joe. "If Herb Wallace had a hand in it anywhere there's something wrong. I'll tell you what we'll do, fellows. We'll go and ask the headmaster."
Now the headmaster of Brighton had once been a boy himself. He could be stern, even cruelly severe, when occasion demanded, but he was kind of heart and broad of understanding.
Before him the three lads laid their case, as before the final tribunal.
"H'm," said he, when all the details had been related and the all-important information asked. "You say Herbert Wallace showed you this in a manual?"
Slim solemnly affirmed that that was the case.
The headmaster pushed a button on the side of his desk and in a few seconds his secretary, a big, bluff fellow, appeared.
"Bring Herbert Wallace here at once," said the headmaster. And in five more minutes, while the headmaster was shrewdly questioning the three lads as to the seriousness of their determination to enlist, the secretary returned, accompanied by young Wallace, flushed and shamefaced.
"Well, Wallace," said the principal of Brighton, "I hear you've been studying up on military subjects. Intending to get into the fight?"
Herbert Wallace hung his head and muttered an unintelligible reply.
"Now look here, Wallace," spoke the headmaster sternly, "where did you get the military manual from which you gave Goodwin the information that he could not pass the examination for the army?"
"I—I got it from the library, sir."
"Got it without permission, too, didn't you?" pursued the headmaster.
"Yes, sir," said Wallace, in confusion.
"And didn't know that it was out of date, and that the requirements were completely changed after the United States entered this war, eh?"
"No, sir," answered Wallace, on the verge of a breakdown.
"I'll decide upon your punishment later," announced the headmaster. "See me here at four o'clock. Meanwhile, Wallace, be careful where you get information, and be careful how you dispense it."
And Herbert Wallace, utterly humiliated, was glad to flee from the room.
"I don't think," said the headmaster, "that any of you will have difficulty passing the examinations. I dislike to see you go, but you speak the truth when you say that your country does need you, and I pay a great tribute of respect to you for the patriotism and courage with which you step forth to shoulder your obligations. Others already have gone from Brighton. Still others will go in the future. God bless all of you, and may you return safe and sound to reap the full benefits of the democracy for which you are going to fight."
The suspicion of tears dimmed the kindly eyes of the headmaster, and each boy choked up as he bade him good-by.
But, after all, this was no time for sadness. Young gladiators were going forth to the fray. And so we will skip over the farewells the following day, in which the parents of each lad, with many a heartache but never a word of discouragement, bade the boys Godspeed in the service of their country.
The three lads, together with fifteen others, formed a detachment of the recently enlisted who were to go to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for further assignment. Just before the train pulled out a students' parade that seemed to include every boy in Brighton marched to the station to see them off.
One of the lads carried a large transparency on which was printed:
"THEY BRIGHTEN THE FAME OF BRIGHTON"
And just as the train pulled out, and there was great cheering and waving of hats and handkerchiefs, Joe, Jerry and Slim, leaning from adjoining windows, sang out in chorus:
"For Uncle Sam."
INTO THE SERVICE—A SPY
A brilliant October morning was just breaking when a final bump of the train ended the none too musical snoring of Slim Goodwin and he came to a sitting posture, his first yawn almost instantly to give way to an exclamation of surprise.
It was strange scenery he was gazing upon, and for the moment he had forgotten where he was. The grinning faces of Joe and Jerry, whom he had awakened half an hour before with his sawmill sleeping serenade, brought him to a realization of his surroundings.
"Where are we?" he asked, now fully awake.
"I imagine it's Philadelphia," answered Joe, "although I've never been there."
"Well, let's climb out and see," was a suggestion from Jerry which found ready response in the other two; and a moment later, while half the passengers were still asleep, they were investigating the mysteries of Washington Avenue, near Broad Street, in the Quaker City.
Strings of freight cars were stretched out on the sidings, and either side of the railroad yard was flanked by large manufacturing buildings, which already were showing preliminary signs of industrial activity.
"You are enlisted men, sirs?" queried a deep voice just behind them, and all three turned, somewhat startled to find they were not alone.
They faced a young giant of a fellow, who wore the khaki uniform of Uncle Sam, with a sergeant's stripes upon his sleeve. He was unable wholly to suppress a smile as Slim came to a difficult and not entirely regulation salute.
"We are," answered Joe. "We just stepped off that train to get a breath of fresh air and to learn where we were."
"No harm done," the sergeant responded in a friendly tone. "You are in Philadelphia, and the only restriction upon you now is that you are not to stroll too far away. We leave here in a short while for the navy yard, where mess will be served."
"Mess? That's breakfast, ain't—isn't it?" asked Slim anxiously.
"Yes," the sergeant replied, "and a good one, too."
Each boy touched his cap respectfully as the non-commissioned officer turned to return to the train.
"Hope we have sausage," said Jerry in an undertone; "but I'm hungry enough to eat anything they give me."
"Same with me," Slim added in melancholy tones; "but I guess I'll have to diet some until I'm sure, certain, and solidified in the service."
At that instant the shrill blast of a whistle brought their attention back to the train, where the sergeant was signaling them to return. Three automobiles had arrived, and into these our three friends and the other fifteen recently enlisted men climbed, for the trip to League Island, where is located one of the Nation's largest and most important navy yards.
Down wide, asphalted Broad Street the party sped, past solid rows of handsome dwellings, and then across the stretch of beautiful park that was once a mosquito-ridden marshland, and to the gates of the navy yard.
Here the detachment of marines on guard gave the boys their first close association with the spirit of war. As they swung through the gates a virtual wonderland of the machinery of sea battles greeted their eyes—powerful battleships, lithe and speedy cruisers, spider-like destroyers, tremendous colliers capable of carrying thousands of tons of coal to the fleets at sea, and in the distance a transport, waiting to take on its human freight of Uncle Sam's fighters for foreign battlefields.
On the parade ground several companies of marines were going through maneuvers, while on every ship bluejackets were engaged in various tasks, and activities were in full sway in the many large manufacturing buildings at the lower end of the yard, near the waterfront.
It was a scene to inspire the lads with a full appreciation of the great military and naval service of which they were to become a part, and in their patriotic enthusiasm they forgot even their healthy young appetites.
Mess was in one of the big barracks, where they mingled with hundreds of others, some of whom were raw rookies like themselves, others of longer experience, and some of previous service in Haiti and elsewhere.
The big sergeant, whose name they learned was Martin, brought the entire eighteen together immediately after the meal, and they joined a score of others who had arrived a few days before. All were then marched to another building, where their instructions began, and they were informed that before night they would be uniformed.
This was welcome information, indeed. To get into the uniform of Uncle Sam! Every young man in the group breathed a little deeper and drew himself up a little straighter at the thought.
We will not trace Joe, Jerry and Slim through their initial instruction, for it had lasted less than an hour, when an orderly hastily entered the room, saluted the officer who was acting as instructor, and then talked to him for a moment in an undertone.
The officer's countenance underwent a curious change. Finally he turned toward the youths before him.
"Are there any men here who are already telegraphers?" he asked.
Instantly Joe, Jerry, and two others arose, while Slim tried to, but had great difficulty getting himself out of the small, school-child's sort of desk at which he was seated. Finally he managed it by sliding out sidewise, the way he had entered, instead of attempting a direct upward rise.
"How many of you can use the international code?" the officer continued.
Thanks to good old Burton, Joe, Jerry and Slim were as familiar with that as they were with the Morse American code. The other two men resumed their seats. Sergeant Martin had entered the room. Apparently he was not at all displeased to find the three polite young men whom he had addressed earlier in the day, now able to show greater capabilities than the other men in the detachment.
"You are excused from further instruction here at this time," the officer announced to the trio. "You will accompany Sergeant Martin for further orders."
And they hurried from the room with the non-com., who they instinctively knew was their friend.
What was this new experience that lay before them? They were not long in learning, and the information almost carried them beyond the restraints of good discipline and to the indulgence in three ripping good cheers.
Sergeant Martin could be a hard taskmaster when it was necessary to be so, but, like the headmaster of Brighton, he did not believe in needless red tape, nor did he delude himself that the stripes upon his sleeve made him a better man—except in official authority—than the one who wore none at all. He realized the curiosity that must be consuming the three lads, and he was not averse to satisfying it.
"Selected for service aboard a transport bound for Europe," he announced briefly.
"Thank you, sir," said Joe, not entirely able to control the happiness in his voice, while Slim's excess stomach almost entirely disappeared in the abnormal expansion of his chest. Jerry could find no other dignified way of expressing his great pleasure than by quietly poking Slim under the ribs, to the entire undoing of that young man's military attitude.
"Do we go at once, sir?" inquired Joe deferentially.
"Probably to-morrow evening," said Sergeant Martin, as they arrived at the building housing the captain and staff in charge of men of the Signal Corps then stationed at the navy yard.
It was the busiest office the three boys had ever seen. Typewriters were clicking, telegraph instruments were at work, orderlies were hurrying about, and every man in the place was engrossed in his own particular task.
Sergeant Martin guided them to an inner office. Here they confronted an austere gentleman whose uniform denoted that he was a captain, and whose whole bearing bespoke military service.
The three boys were dumbfounded to learn that he already had their names on a card before him. They were getting a new idea of the efficiency of Uncle Sam's service.
The captain made numerous notes as he questioned them about their experience, general knowledge, and extent of their education. He eyed Slim shrewdly as he inquired whether they thought they might be subject to seasickness.
"Young men," he said abruptly, "this country is engaged in the greatest war in all history. Considering your youth and present lack of experience, yours is to be a part of great responsibility. You look like capable and courageous young Americans, and I believe you are. I have confidence that you will bear your share of the burdens of war with credit to yourselves and glory to your country. With one other man of more experience, you will be placed in charge of the wireless and other signal apparatus aboard the transport Everett, leaving within thirty-six hours. Sergeant Martin will now aid you in procuring your uniforms."
The three boys came to full military salute, the captain returned it, they swung upon their heels like seasoned soldiers and departed behind their friend, the young giant of a sergeant.
An hour later, fully uniformed, they were taken to the Everett and down into the wonders of the transport's wireless room, where they were introduced to Second Lieutenant Gerald Mackinson, who was to be their superior officer on the perilous trip.
Lieutenant Mackinson was a square-jawed young fellow with keen eyes, bushy hair and a good breadth of shoulders. He had been an electrical engineer prior to entering the service, and had gained his promotion three months before strictly upon his merit and knowledge, which were the qualities he demanded in others. He already had been "across" three times, and he knew the many problems and dangers that would confront them.
Satisfied by his questioning that the three young men who were to accompany him "had the stuff in them," Lieutenant Mackinson then began instructing them in the elementaries of the radio.
It seemed, though, that that day was destined to be one of interruptions, but not, however, of the sort to be of disadvantage to the three boys from Brighton. For, just as the sudden ending of their instructions in class in the morning had led to their assignment to a transport, to start overseas within thirty-six hours, so the call now which required Lieutenant Mackinson's presence elsewhere, indirectly led to a new and thrilling experience for the lads.
"I am ordered to report to aid in the repairs to the wireless of another vessel," said the lieutenant, after perusing the order that a private had brought to him. "It will require until late to-night to finish. Inasmuch as this is probably the last night that you lads will spend on land for some time, you might as well see a little of the city, if you care to, but be sure that you are within the gates of the yard before ten o'clock."
He then gave each of the boys a pass, and told them to be aboard the Everett not later than half-past ten o'clock, and departed for the special work to which he had been called.
"Wouldn't you like to be a lieutenant, though?" exclaimed Joe enthusiastically. "Just imagine being called from ship to ship to help them out of their difficulties."
And, discussing their aspirations and what the future held for them, the three young men from Brighton went to mess, afterward brushed their brand-new uniforms of the last possible speck of dust, and left the navy yard for a stroll through the southern section of the city founded by William Penn.
How far they walked none of them knew. They had turned many corners, and their conversation had covered a wide field—always, however, turning upon some military subject—when a church clock tolled out nine times.
"I think we had better return," said Slim, who was beginning to tire under the long day's strain and excitement.
"Yes," agreed Jerry, "but which way do we go?"
They were, in truth, lost. Uniformed as they were, they were ashamed to ask directions, and finally agreed that Joe was right in indicating that they should walk straight southward.
Twelve blocks southward they walked, and the damp, marshy atmosphere assured them that they were nearing the river, but their only hope now, as they plodded across desolate and deserted dumps, and even invaded a truck patch or two, was that they would strike a road that led around to the navy yard entrance.
"What's that?" exclaimed Jerry in a hoarse whisper, grasping a boy on either side of him by the arm. "Did you hear?"
"I thought I heard something," averred Slim, also lowering his voice. "What did it sound like to you?"
"We are almost upon the river bank," said Joe. "It was someone rowing, but it sounded to me as though they were using muffled oars."
While the boys stopped to listen, the rowing began again, very slowly, very cautiously, and then there was a muffled splash.
At the same instant a great flashlight to the south began playing first upon the sky, and then, in a slow arc, down the river and then inland toward themselves.
Although they did not come quite within its radius, the boat they had heard was between them and the light! It was a row boat, evidently heavily laden, for it rode low in the water, and it was occupied by one man, who was crouching in the bottom as though to avoid discovery!
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the searchlight was obscured, and the blackness of the night was more intense by contrast.
"That light was at the navy yard," said Joe, beginning to peel off his coat. "Jerry, you're a fast runner. By heading straight in the way I'm looking you ought to be able to get to the yard in ten minutes. Do it as quickly as you can. Slim will stay here."
By this time Joe had stripped off his shirt and preparing to unlace his shoes.
"And you," blurted Jerry and Slim, almost at the same instant, but still in guarded tones, "what are you going to do?"
"I'm as safe as a duck in the water, and almost as noiseless," responded Joe calmly. "I'm going to swim out and see what is going on. That man out there is a spy!"
If red-headed, freckle-faced Jerry Macklin, star sprinter of Brighton, ever ran in his life he ran that night. Down across the uneven, hill-dotted dumps he tore at a speed that would have put his school records to shame. Three times he fell, but each time on the instant he was up and off again, without even a thought as to whether or not he had injured himself.
And all the time he kept repeating in his mind, "There's a spy out there planning dangerous things for the navy yard and the United States. Joe's in the icy water watching him, and I must get help as fast as I can."
It was good, too, that he did put forth the last ounce of his strength. Sergeant Martin was just passing through the navy yard gate as Jerry arrived, his uniform covered with loose ashes and dirt, and his hands bleeding from stone cuts received in his falls.
To Sergeant Martin, between gasps, Jerry managed to blurt out enough to make the other understand. Within two more minutes Sergeant Martin had imparted the vital information to the captain of the company of marines charged with guarding the navy yard for that particular night. The captain sent two aides scurrying, one to his major, the other to the office of the navy yard commandant.
Twenty marines, fully armed, were hurried aboard a launch that constantly was kept under steam for just such an emergency, and, with Jerry directing, the boat swung out to Joe's aid.
Rapidly as Jerry had traveled the distance between the spot where Slim waited and the navy yard itself, it seemed like ages to Joe, out there in the icy water, a quarter of a mile from shore.
At first the tense excitement of the manhunt had made him unmindful of the low temperature, and he swam with strong, even, silent strokes that sent his lithe body gliding through the current noiselessly; but when he had come within forty feet of the rowboat its lone occupant had turned suddenly, as though scenting danger, and Joe, after waiting for a few seconds to see what might happen, considered the absolute silence an omen of danger and had dived under water, staying there as long as he could, and coming to the surface at an entirely different point from the boat.
After that the cold got to the very heart of him. His muscles grew numb, he felt his strength waning, and he had to bring the whole force of his will to bear to keep from turning back to shore.
But just as Jerry had maintained his courage and strength by keeping constantly in mind Joe's plight, so Joe stuck to his terrible task, suffering the most severe punishment, by an unwavering confidence in Jerry's ability to get assistance in the shortest possible time.
He could see and hear that the man in the boat was working hastily, even laboriously; and every few seconds there was the smothered splash of something heavy being dropped carefully overboard.
And then, at the most inopportune moment, just when Joe was head and shoulders out of the water, not more than twenty feet away from the boat, the searchlight was thrown full upon him.
He dived; but not before the other man saw him. Joe, swimming ten feet under water, and as hard as he could with the current down stream, knew that he had been discovered, for he heard the quick rap-rap of the oars, the sound dying away as the little craft sped toward shore.
When he did come to the surface it was with the certain feeling that the fatal searchlight had been played upon the scene two minutes too early, and just in time to prevent the capture red-handed of a very questionable character, undoubtedly carrying out some plot for an enemy government.
For as distinctly as he could hear the oars thrashing the water toward shore, he could discern the steady but subdued puffing of a steam launch racing up the river.
Joe was now on the point of exhaustion. He was flapping the water desperately, but he was making no progress, and he was having the greatest difficulty keeping himself afloat. He tried to cry out, and this final effort took his last bit of strength.
The steam launch was then perhaps thirty feet away, but Jerry's words, "Right about here," floated to him as from the opposite side of the river. The boat's searchlight that was then suddenly thrown on blinded him; he lost all account of things, and had the vague feeling of sailing across great spaces on fleecy white clouds.
When he regained partial consciousness Sergeant Martin was in the water with him, and trying to raise his body over the side of the launch; then he relapsed again, for what seemed to him hours, but what was actually only about two minutes, and was awakened to his real senses by the shouts of Slim, on shore.
"Slim's got him," Jerry almost shouted. "Hurry, captain, right off this way to the shore. Slim must have him. Listen to Slim's bellow."
And if there wasn't a first-class ruction in progress just upon the spot from which Slim's vocal signals were emanating, then Slim's voice was deceptive, indeed.
As a matter of fact, there was the finest sort of a fracas afoot.
Slim, on shore, had been a silent and anxious witness to the sudden turning on of the navy yard searchlight, and to all that it exposed—the boat, the man at work in it, Joe in the water, and his discovery by the boat's occupant.
And then, as the light was extinguished, and the whole affair was engulfed in darkness, Slim heard the rapid beating of the oars upon the water, and the rower heading toward shore—and Slim.
Unable to see the craft approaching, he traced its course by sound, and when the man stepped ashore Slim was only a few yards away. Discerning a shadow just ahead of him, the youth threw himself at it with his whole weight, only to grunt his pain and disgust as he came into violent contact with the trunk of a dead tree.
The sound, however, startled the enemy into an exclamation which revealed his whereabouts, and a moment later the two were locked together and rolling over the ground, Slim with a desperate grip upon the stranger's throat, and the latter landing blow after blow upon Slim's stomach.
It was during this melee that Slim spied the searchlight of the launch and let out his first call. After that most of his "bellows" were involuntary and but punctuated the rapid-fire attack with which the other man was landing his blows just above Slim's waist-line, or where his waist-line should have been.
As the launch headed toward shore, its searchlight trained over the bow, the man of the rowboat resorted to more desperate tactics. With a tremendous jerk he managed to free his throat from Slim's grasp. An instant later he gave the youth's neck a twist which almost broke it. Then he landed a vicious kick which put poor Slim out of business.
Just as the marines from the launch were climbing ashore the fellow sped off into the denseness of the night; and as his footsteps died away all present trace of him was gone. A dozen of them searched for an hour, but without result, and further investigation along that line had to be abandoned until the following day.
Meanwhile, however, all three lads were hurried back to the navy yard for fresh clothing and other repairs; having received which, together with hot coffee from the cook at the barracks mess, they were permitted, at their own earnest solicitation, to return to the scene with four marines who were to be stationed along that section of the shore for the balance of the night.
What they saw upon their arrival astounded them. Three additional launches had arrived upon the scene, and the commandant of the navy yard was himself directing matters.
He had in his hand a slight rope that ran down into the water, and close beside it was a hose line attached to an apparatus in the boat. The boys knew at once that a diver was at work down on the river bed.
From the side of another launch anchored parallel with the first, and fifteen feet distant, four husky bluejackets were waiting expectantly to divide their strength on two stout ropes that were being attached to something down in the water. The third launch played its flashlight upon the work, while the fourth steamed about, doing patrol duty.
Even as the boys watched, the commandant gave a signal and the sailors began hauling upward on the two heavy ropes. In a moment an oblong box, about two feet long, a foot wide and of the same depth, came dripping from the water. As it was brought to the boat's side two other men grasped it carefully and placed it in the bottom of the launch. Then the ropes, which were attached to a guide line, were hauled down into the river again.
"What does it mean?" Joe asked of Sergeant Martin, who had changed his clothes and arrived back ahead of them.
"What does it mean?" repeated the big sergeant. "It means that you three young men are due for several credits and early recognition, or I'm much mistaken. The man you discovered has not yet been caught, but he cannot escape for long. And when he is captured it will be a long time before he is free again.
"You lads have frustrated a dangerous plot by an enemy government. The river bottom seems to be paved with those cases. They've taken out a dozen already. One of them was opened, and, just as expected, it proved to be a water-tight container for smokeless powder!
"The government that had those boxes hidden there undoubtedly was scheming to have plenty of ammunition ready for use if it ever managed to land its men on American soil.
"But you boys appeared here just in time to blow up the whole plot. You have been in your first real action in the service of your country, and you have come off with flying colors."
FAREWELL, UNITED STATES
When the boys arose the following morning, each somewhat stiff and sore from the experiences of the night before, it was with a feeling of happy anticipation that made their physical discomforts seem like trivial things.
For before nightfall the twin screws of the large transport Everett would begin to churn the waters of the Delaware, her bow would be pointed down stream, and the great voyage of adventure would be started.
But in the meantime there was much for the lads to learn. Up to the present every moment had been occupied to the exclusion of such instructions as were absolutely necessary to know, in order that they might give the best service to their country.
And so they responded early to a summons from the superior officer in charge of men in the Signal Corps at that station. By him they were informed of the serious mission upon which they were bound, and of the responsibilities that would fall upon them should the transport, by any mishap, become separated from its armed convoy.
No message picked up at sea or elsewhere, he told them, was to be repeated to anyone but the superior officer to whom it was directed; and any calls for another vessel or station were to be ignored by them, even if their aerial should pick the words up.
They were told of the fine loyalty demanded of men in their branch of the service, and given some idea of the sacrifices they might be called upon to make.
"The success of this war," said Major Briggs, "depends upon the courage and ability with which each man in it performs the immediate task before him. Whether the whole world shall fall under the iron hand of a merciless tyranny, or the peoples of the various nations may govern themselves in the freedom of democracy, now depends largely upon the men of the United States. We must regard the responsibilities thrust upon us as a glorious opportunity to serve all of mankind."
Thrilled with the nature of the great work ahead of them, Joe, Jerry and Slim hurried down the long length of the navy yard to where the Everett lay moored to her slip, the center of much activity.
Steam already was up, as they could see from the thick black clouds of smoke that curled upward from her smokestack. Big cranes, operated by powerful winches on the vessel and on shore, were hoisting cases of various sizes and shapes upon the lower decks and into the hold. A small army of men helped complete the loading of the ship, and one group was experiencing considerable difficulty in trying to persuade unwilling mules to board the transport for Europe.
The boys hurdled over piles of food and ammunition, wended their way through scores of stacks of ordnance, and finally over a gang-plank to the vessel. There they saluted and reported to the officer of the day, who directed them to go at once to the wireless room.
As they entered there Lieutenant Mackinson was busily engaged in "tuning up" his instruments. He stopped when he saw them and reached into an inner pocket, from which he produced three large oblong envelopes. One was addressed to each lad, and as they accepted them they saw that each was closed to prying eyes by the official seal of Uncle Sam.
Swept by various emotions, the boys stood there gazing first at the envelopes and then at Lieutenant Mackinson.
"Well," said the lieutenant at last, with an amused smile, "do you want me to retire while you read your communications?"
"Oh, no, not at all, sir," Joe hastened to say, and as if to prove the statement all three envelopes were ripped open and the single sheet of paper in each drawn forth.
Especially addressed to each lad, the letters were identical and read:
"I hereby convey to you my heartiest congratulations upon the efficient and heroic manner in which you and your two friends discovered and frustrated a plot to conceal enemy ammunition in the vicinity of this naval base. You all displayed true American courage; and I wish you every success for the future."
The letters were signed by the commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
"Look at that," said Slim, pushing his letter at Lieutenant Mackinson, utterly forgetful of the fact that the other man was his superior officer. "Ain't—isn't that fine, though? For the commandant to mention it that way, I mean."
"Yes," admitted Lieutenant Mackinson, "but he wouldn't have mentioned it that way if you hadn't deserved it."
"I'm not going to lose that letter," announced Jerry.
"Nor I," added Joe, "although we only did what any other fellows would have done under the same circumstances."
"Well," said Lieutenant Mackinson, "it showed that you were to be depended upon in an emergency, and emergencies are likely to crop up at any time in our work, so let's get down to business."
He immediately began explaining the apparatus of the wireless room—how messages were sent and received; the power of the batteries and their auxiliaries; the switch-board regulating voltage; the automatic recording apparatus—in fact, every detail connected with the intricate mechanism of an up-to-date wireless.
"There was a time," explained Lieutenant Mackinson, "when the sending of a message almost deafened the sender. It was like being in the midst of a machine-gun assault. But recent improvements have eliminated that. You may see for yourselves."
And the lieutenant tapped off the Everett's own signal call with little more sound than is made by the sending of a message with the ordinary telegraph instrument.
"We have a sending and receiving radius of from five hundred to eight hundred miles," Lieutenant Mackinson continued. "Of course, it doesn't compare with the great wireless station at Radio, Virginia, one of the largest in the world, where one tower is six hundred feet high and the other four hundred and fifty feet in height, and each charged with two hundred thousand volts, giving a radius of three thousand miles; but it is sufficiently powerful for practically every purpose required at sea."
"Wasn't Marconi a wonderful man?" said Jerry in true admiration.
"Yes, he was; no doubt of that, and he still may contribute much to the science, for he is not old yet," the young lieutenant answered. "But still, full credit must be given where credit is due, and in that respect it must be acknowledged that Marconi only assembled and perfected to practicable purposes the discoveries and inventions made before his time.
"Radio-telegraphy might be briefly traced in the names of Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz—the discoverer of the Hertzian rays—Righi, Lodge and Marconi. All of them contributed something to the evolvement of the present highly efficient and dependable wireless. Marconi should, and does, receive great credit; but the others, the pioneers, the real discoverers, should not be forgotten or overlooked."
The lieutenant's words threw a new light on the history of the wireless for the boys from Brighton, and they were anxious that the officer should tell them more; but at that moment Lieutenant Mackinson caught the faint recording of a distant wireless call for another station, far down the Atlantic coast.
"Here," he said hastily, turning to Joe, who was nearest him, "see if you can catch this message."
He slipped the receiving apparatus over Joe's head, and tightened up the ear-pieces, then pushed toward him a pad and pencil.
Into Joe's ears came the faint but distinct sounds of a distant call:
-. ... -. ... -. ...
"N S," Joe jotted down on the sheet before him.
"A ship at sea calling Newport News," Lieutenant Mackinson informed the other two, who waited impatiently for Joe to begin recording the message.
Newport News acknowledged the call, and then the vessel's wireless continued:
.—- .- ... .—. . .-.
And Joe, transcribing, wrote: "JASPER." Following this came:
-.. . - .- .. .-..
The other boys looked on in chagrin, while Lieutenant Mackinson's countenance took on an amused smile, as Joe wrote down the word "DETAIL," and then nothing else but the initials "N. N.," which ended the message.
"Don't make sense," announced Slim in a discouraged voice. "You must have missed part of it."
"No, I didn't," Joe replied, looking anxiously toward the lieutenant.
"I guess he got it all," the young officer assured them, at the same time unlocking a little closet and taking a leather-bound book from an upper shelf. "Let's see."
He turned to the J's and ran his finger down the page until he came to the word "JASPER."
"That means 'We have coaled,'" he said, writing the words out on the pad.
"Oh, it's in code," said Slim apologetically; "I didn't know that."
"DETAIL," the lieutenant announced, finding that word. "'Understand and am following sealed orders'. That's the North Dakota. She has coaled at sea and is now starting upon some mission known only to her commander and the naval authorities."
Almost as he finished speaking the Everett gave a lurch, her whistle was tooted two or three times, the engines started turning, and the big boat began to vibrate under the pressure.
There was a shout from the thousand or more who had crowded to the river's edge, responded to by the fifteen hundred khaki-clad young men who were lined up at every point of vantage along the vessel's side.
"And we're off, too," shouted Lieutenant Mackinson.
"Hurrah!" cried the three boys from Brighton in the same breath, as they double-quicked it behind the lieutenant to the upper deck.
The scene was one to inspire the most miserable slacker. Somewhere in the upper part of the yard a band was playing Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." From the windows of the ordnance and other buildings at the lower end of the yard workmen hung forth, waving hats and handkerchiefs, and joining in the shouted well-wishes of those along the shore. The crews of every fighting craft in that part of the river sang out friendly advice to those aboard the transport, and two miles down the channel could be discerned the smoke from the stacks of the armed convoys that were to give the Everett safe passage to her destination.
Among those at the water's edge the boys could discern the big form of Sergeant Martin, and even as distance welded them in an indistinguishable mass, they could still see him, towering above the others, his hat describing wide circles through the air.
"So long, fellows; we'll meet you over there," shouted the men of the last vessel they passed.
As though by prearrangement the fifteen hundred men on the Everett began singing, "I'm Going Over," sang it to the end of the first verse, then stopped, and from a point well down the river could hear those they had passed taking up the second stanza.
Hours later, out upon the ocean, the dim lights ashore fading one by one, the fighters for Uncle Sam gave one last, long, lingering look at their native land. And Jerry, voicing the spirit of all, cried out:
"Farewell, United States."
THE FIGHT IN THE WIRELESS ROOM
"Oh my; oh, my!" wailed Slim weakly, his head hanging over the side of his bunk. "I never felt worse in all my life. I never felt half so sick."
"Never mind," urged Joe, soothingly, "you'll soon be feeling better now."
"Yes, he will," moaned Jerry, miserably, from the opposite bunk; "he will, but I won't."
The wind howled, the big ship gave a forward and downward lurch, and Jerry would have slid from his bunk but for the quick action of Joe.
"I think I'm going to die. I wish I would," gasped the red-headed boy when he was again laid out at full length. "I had the measles and the mumps at the same time once, but I never felt like this. Why don't they steer this old boat through the waves, instead of trying to jump her over them?"
"There's a heavy sea running," explained Joe; "that's what makes the Everett ride so roughly."
"Wish I was back at Brighton," Slim groaned dismally.
Two hardy youths strolling along the deck, who hadn't been touched by the epidemic of seasickness, stopped to peer in at the porthole. They had mischief in their eyes, and as they caught sight of Slim's humorously pathetic countenance, one of them muttered in a low but distinct voice: "How'd you like to have some fried sausage, and some plum pudding, and some——"
"Shut up!" bawled out Jerry with what strength he had left.
With a loud laugh the two withdrew their heads and disappeared.
At that moment the ship's physician, accompanied by Lieutenant Mackinson, arrived to give what further comfort he could to the seasick lads.
"It is clearing," the lieutenant told them, while the doctor measured out a powder for each boy. "The wind has died down and the sea is becoming calm."
"Oh, yes," the physician added, "in an hour or so you will be feeling better than you did before. Seasickness has a tonic effect, but it's rather a bitter dose."
"Sure is," said Slim weakly.
Nevertheless, it was just about an hour later that Jerry, feeling his nausea leave him almost as suddenly as it had appeared, raised himself on one elbow and looked across at his companion in misery.
"How do you feel, Slim?" he inquired.
"Almost human again," the stout lad replied.
"Going to get up?"
"Guess I can in a few minutes."
"I'm going to try it now," said Jerry. "Seems as if the pilot of this ferry had learned to steer her a whole lot better than he did earlier in the day."
"Yep," agreed Slim, sliding from his bunk. "Certainly was tough, wasn't it?"
"I feel sort of weak in the legs yet," said Jerry, by way of answer. "Let's go up on deck and get some fresh air."
"Stomach feels as empty as a vacant house; how's yours?" Slim inquired.
"Nothing in it but the lining, and I guess most of that's pried loose. We've got to wait more than two hours for mess, too."
"How about some fried sausage, and some plum pudding, and some——"
Jerry laughed for the first time that day. "That fellow certainly did make me mad," he admitted.
"Yeh, he made you mad," said Slim in a remorseful tone, "but he made me sick."
On deck a hundred or more vigorous young men were exercising their muscles in various forms of athletic sport. Here a group crowded around a contest in broad jumping, eagerly echoing the distances made, and there the men of another throng loudly applauded their favorites in a stiff boxing bout, while on another part of the deck a pair of one-hundred-and-eighty-pound huskies were struggling in a friendly wrestling match.
A bright sun shone upon a sparkling sea, and the air was just crisp enough to be invigorating. At that moment Joe came up to inquire how his two chums felt.
"Fine," declared Jerry.
"Like a two-year-old," added Slim. "That doctor was telling the truth. I believe I never felt better in my life," and he began flapping his arms up and down like a rooster flails the air with its wings.
"A fat man's race three times around the ship!" a youth yelled, spying Slim's activities.
"Hurrah!" cried the crowd. "Get them started."
The jumpers, the wrestlers, and the boxers immediately suspended their respective contests to enjoy the innovation.
Slim was trying to back away, protesting that he "couldn't run for a cent," when a familiar, smiling countenance intruded itself in the circle of good-natured faces with the suggestion: "Well, how about a plum pudding, then?"
Slim and Jerry at once recognized him as the youth who had similarly suggested a plum pudding, also sausage, at a most inopportune time.
"Have you got one?" Slim demanded, his spirit aroused.
"Sure have," announced the other, "and I'll make it the stake."
Another shout went up as a second group pushed before Slim another youth who, so far as size, shape and avoirdupois was concerned, might have been his twin brother. They looked at each other and both burst into a hearty laugh.
"Hello, Skinny," said the stranger.
"Howdy, Delicate?" Slim came back at him, quick as a flash. "Want to race?"
"Don't particularly want to race," responded the other lad, "but I'm awfully fond of plum pudding."
"Is there going to be a sausage in it, too?" asked the stranger, evidencing increasing interest.
"Only yourself," Slim announced, laughing and jumping back quickly to avoid any belligerency his joke might inspire in the other.
But he took the joke as good-naturedly as he did the howls of delight from the crowd, and the two peeled off their coats and discarded their hats as a couple of youths marked off the starting and finishing line, while others "cleared the deck for action."
"This will be the tape," said a tall lean fellow, as he tied one end of a string to the rail, at a point just above the starting line. "After you have passed here the second time we'll stretch this out, and the first one to touch it will be the winner."
"Right," said the fat boys together, leaning over in true sprinter fashion so far as their stomachs would permit them to stoop.
One of the one-hundred-and-eighty-pound wrestlers winked to his comrades and hurried down into the lower part of the ship on some mysterious errand.
"One, two, three—Go!" shouted the self-constituted referee.
And Slim and Delicate went! True, neither of them got what sportsmen would call "a flying start," but they got away, nevertheless, and with all the grace and speed of—two loaded hay wagons.
"Whoopee!" yelled one in the crowd. "Look at 'em go! You can't see 'em for dust!"
"Two dollars on the knock-kneed guy," shouted another.
Slim turned his head for the fraction of a second to learn whether this insult had been directed at him, and his opponent gained a lead of a foot.
"Go it, you deerhounds," shrilled an Irish tenor in the crowd. "Work your feet, not your arms."
"The elephant leads; come on, you whale!" shouted another.
By this time the runners had made the curve at the bow of the boat and were coming up the starboard side, toward the stern.
On the nearest armed convoy an officer was taking in the contest through a pair of marine glasses, and apparently enjoying it immensely.
"Hooray! Hooray!" yelled the crowd of onlookers as Slim spurted and the pair rounded the stern and came down to the tape at the end of their first lap, neck and neck. Both were puffing like porpoises.
"Hey, Sausage, you've got a flat tire," cried a youth as they passed.
And from another: "Your engine's knocking, Skinny. Reduce your spark."
So the good-natured raillery continued while the two fat boys drove doggedly on, now at considerably reduced speed, but still side by side, each determined to capture that plum pudding.
They had passed the tape a second time, snorting louder and in shorter gasps than before, and with the biting repartee still assailing their ears, when the man who had disappeared into the hold of the ship came into sight again, carrying a large can.
"Quick!" he warned those about him. "Right here—before they see."
And he proceeded to divulge the contents of the can as a heavy grease, almost the color of the deck, which he began to smear heavily thereon over the entire surface that the runners would have to cover, from a distance fifteen feet away from the tape.
"They're on their way," whispered a voice, and the crowd parted to give the two the proper space in which to finish the race. There was an air of great expectancy among the onlookers.
The lads were still struggling along neck and neck, but Slim's leg work was so timed as to make him the first to strike the grease. He slid, tried to regain his balance, skidded into his competitor, who also was floundering for a foothold, and then, progressing to a spot where the grease was thicker, both feet went out from under him and he went down, kicking Delicate's foundations from under him, also.
The crowd yelled with laughter, and the breath went out of poor Slim with a terrible snort, as Delicate came down squarely upon Slim's stomach. And thus, the most ludicrous sight imaginable, they went sliding under the tape.
"All bets are off," shouted the other man who had been boxing; "they broke before the finish."
Side by side, too breathless to articulate, the two fat youths lay there gasping for breath, while those gathered about them made mock gestures of "first aid to the injured." Nobody had been hurt, however, and the victims of the prank took it in the way it had been intended.
Delicate, whose real name was Remington Bowman, proved to be as good a sportsman as Slim, and they went down the deck arm in arm when the mess call was sounded. And it was evidence of the good fellowship of the owner of the plum pudding that he did share it with both of them directly after the meal was over.
"You fellows earned it," he said. And they agreed that they had.
* * * * *
That evening it was Joe's turn to do watch in the wireless room with Lieutenant Mackinson until eleven o'clock, at about which time the young officer retired to his bunk just off the operating room, and Slim came on, to work until three a. m., when he was relieved by Jerry, who stayed until seven o'clock, at which time the lieutenant again assumed charge until relieved by Joe.
It was a standing order, however—at least until the younger men became more experienced with the wireless—that Lieutenant Mackinson immediately should be apprised of the sending or receiving of any messages.
This first evening out the lieutenant complained of a headache, and, acquiescing in Joe's urging, had gone upon deck to get the air. Perhaps fifteen minutes had elapsed when Joe thought he heard someone prowling about stealthily in the battery room.
His first thought was that the lieutenant had returned to make certain that everything was all right, but a moment's consideration convinced him otherwise.
Whoever was in the adjoining room was making every effort to keep his presence there from becoming known!
It gave Joe a queer sort of feeling. What should he do? To seek the lieutenant and bring him back might require several minutes. Meanwhile the intruder might accomplish his object—whatever it was—and disappear.
He decided to act upon his own initiative. Tiptoeing across the room, he turned off the electric switch, which threw the wireless room into utter darkness except for the meagre moonlight filtering through an open porthole.
Then, just as silently, he re-crossed the room to the door leading to the battery room; slowly and without a sound he turned the knob and opened the door to a sufficient width to permit him to peer in. That room also was in darkness, with only one porthole open.
Cautiously the intruder seemed to be feeling about for something connected with the batteries.
Listening intently for a moment, to get the exact location of the other man, Joe flung open the door and made a flying leap in the other's direction. The man was leaning over, and Joe landed squarely upon his back.
With a muffled exclamation of surprise the man jerked himself forward and Joe went hurtling over his head, his arms, however, still clasped tightly about the other man's neck.
Joe knew in an instant that he was in combat with a man larger and more powerful than himself, but his own youth and suppleness were in his favor.
Throwing all his strength into the movement, he twisted about and at the same time jumped, so that he managed to wrap his legs about the other man's waist. With another lithe movement he was again upon his back and reaching for his antagonist's throat, at the same time squeezing with all the strength of his powerful young limbs upon the other's ribs.
Back and forth across the narrow confines of the little room they staggered, now one having a temporary advantage, and again the other. Just as Joe was managing to fasten his fingers in at the throat, and the other was hammering terrible elbow blows into his stomach, the bigger man stumbled. As he fell he turned, and his full weight came down upon the lad, almost crushing him.
Joe was not done for yet, however. With the strength of desperation he held on to the other fellow's shirt. He felt something hard and metallic under it, and in a new grasp included that in his fist.
Again the struggle began. Unable to break Joe's grip, the intruder tried to sink his teeth into the lad's wrist. Failing in this, he gave an evidence of his strength by rising, dragging Joe upward with him.
There was an instant of terrible whirling about the room, and then the man landed a smashing blow on Joe's jaw. Still gripping the man's shirt, and the unknown metallic thing beneath it, the lad reeled. The shirt ripped, there was another sharp snap, and the boy fell backward, dazed.
He heard the man run swiftly, almost noiselessly toward the stern of the ship; brilliant and many-colored lights flashed before his eyes—and he knew no more.
THE MYSTERY OF THE IRON CROSS
When Joe came back to consciousness it was with his head pounding terribly, and Lieutenant Mackinson bending over him, swathing his face with a cool wet cloth, while Jerry and Slim, whom the lieutenant had wakened, were standing nearby, one holding a basin of water, the other a bottle containing a liniment or lotion.
"You've been done up pretty badly," said Lieutenant Mackinson, as Joe went through the painful motion of moving his head from left to right, letting his gaze take in the now lighted wireless room.
"Yes," he answered with an effort. "Nothing serious, though, I guess." And then, full recollection coming to him, "Did he get away?"
"Who?" asked the lieutenant quickly. "Who was it beat you up so?"
"I don't know," Joe answered. "I discovered him in the battery room. We fought in the dark."
With the aid of the others he raised himself to a sitting posture, then stood up and walked rather unsteadily across the room, took a long quaff of cold water and dropped heavily into Lieutenant Mackinson's Morris chair.
At the same time he gazed for the first time at what he had been holding tightly clutched in his right hand ever since the knockout blow had been delivered. The other three also were staring at it in open amazement.
"What is it?" asked Joe, as the lieutenant crossed the room and took the thing from him for a closer examination.
"What is it?" Lieutenant Mackinson repeated. "Why, lad, this is the German iron cross! Tell us what happened here."
With the young officer seated before him, and his two pals standing at either side of his chair, Joe, quietly, quickly and as carefully as he could, gave them every detail of the occurrence, from the moment he had first heard sounds in the battery room, to the time that the other man ran away and he lapsed into unconsciousness.
While Joe was relating his story the lieutenant examined and re-examined the iron cross, the bit of broken chain still attached to it, and the piece of brown woolen army shirt which the lad had torn away with it. As the latter finished, the young officer hurried into the battery room, accompanied by Slim, to make a survey there.
In ten minutes he returned, his face pale, his jaws clenched.
"There must not be a word of this to anyone," he warned them. "I am going to report to the captain at once. Someone has been tampering with the batteries, and he had with him a portable wireless which he evidently intended to attach."
"You're the original little discoverer, all right," said Slim in open admiration, addressing Joe as the lieutenant hurried from the room. "And you certainly were game, to take the beating you did."
"Yes, he punished me some," Joe admitted. "But I got in a little work on him, too. The only trouble is that I'm afraid I didn't blacken an eye, or break a jaw, or otherwise do any damage that might be apparent and so lead to the fellow's discovery."
"The nerve of it, though!" broke in Jerry.
"A German spy, doubtless masquerading as an American soldier, and right here on a United States transport loaded with fifteen hundred soldiers and tons of guns and ammunition."
"Yes," said Joe contemplatively, "that's the very serious part of it all—the fifteen hundred soldiers and tons of guns and ammunition."
Slim, who was standing nearest the door, had heard footsteps. A moment later the lieutenant reappeared, accompanied by the captain of the Everett.
When the boys had been presented, the captain abruptly requested Joe to repeat every detail he had told Lieutenant Mackinson. As he did so the captain gazed compassionately upon his injuries.
"And where is the instrument that you discovered?" he asked of the lieutenant when Joe had concluded.
The young officer stepped into the battery room, returning with a small, but evidently powerful, portable wireless transmitter and receiver.
"H'm," exclaimed the captain, examining it carefully. "Of German make."
"Exactly, sir," replied Lieutenant Mackinson, "and evidently quite new—probably never used more than once or twice before."
"This is very serious business," said the captain impressively. And then, addressing Joe: "Did you get a look at the other man? Would you know him if you ever saw him again?"
"No, sir, I did not even get a glimpse of him. But I thought, sir, that perhaps——"
"Yes," encouraged the captain in a kindly tone. "Go on with your suggestion."
"I thought, sir," Joe continued, "that if we could find a man aboard with his shirt torn in such a way that this piece would fit, and especially if he had the other end of this chain in his possession, then it might be pretty definitely assumed that he was the man who was in the battery room."
"The chain—perhaps," said the captain slowly, "although that seems doubtful. As to the shirt, no."
And, unbuttoning his jacket, he produced from beneath it a torn and crumpled brown woolen shirt.
"We found this about twenty feet from here as we were on our way," he continued. "It resembles, but it is not, a regulation army shirt. It is of the same texture and color, but it differs in minor details easily discernible. It is my opinion that the man who wore this shirt bought it and wore it for this very purpose, so that, if necessary, he might discard it and still have the one which came to him through the Quartermaster's Department. We evidently have to deal with a very crafty enemy, and one as bold as he is unscrupulous.
"Lieutenant, what do you make of his manipulations in the battery room?"
"There is no doubt in my mind, sir," Lieutenant Mackinson answered, "that he was about to connect up this instrument and then hide it for future use where it could not easily be seen."
"I believe you are right," said the captain. "And then what use did he intend to make of it?"
"Evidently his intention was not a loyal or friendly one," the junior officer continued. "It would seem to me that his probable purpose was to divulge to German submarines our whereabouts when we came within their zone."
Apparently the commander of the ship agreed with him, for he made no immediate answer. For several moments he remained in meditative silence, his brow wrinkled, as though he was turning the whole thing over and over in his mind.
"From the very fact that he wore such a garment," the captain said at last, "it would seem that this man is among the regularly enlisted men on this ship. However, that is by no means certain. There is this certainty, however: If he would go to such desperate lengths once, there is every possibility that he will do so again—only more cautiously than before, for now he knows that his presence on board is known.
"The most rigid investigation must be started at once, and for that, Lieutenant, I will require your assistance. Leave these young men in charge of the wireless room, unless something unusual or in the nature of an emergency occurs.
"As for you gentlemen," he continued, turning toward the three boys from Brighton, "you are commanded not to mention a single word about this whole occurrence to another soul. If any one should question you, with a seeming knowledge of what happened here to-night, report the matter to me at once."
"Yes, sir," the three boys responded, saluting, and the captain departed, motioning Lieutenant Mackinson to accompany him.
By this time Joe was stiff and sore in every joint. Jerry and Slim insisted that he retire immediately, and helped him off with his clothing.
Nor was there any objection from Jerry, whose turn in the wireless room was to begin then and last until one o'clock in the morning, when Slim suggested that he would stay on with him, "just to talk things over."
"All right," said Jerry, "and then I'll stay on during your shift, until Joe relieves us in the morning. We can get a good sleep to-morrow, anyway."
And so the long night began. The dull song of the engines, far, far below, became like the monotonous droning of giant bees, and the wash of the salt water against the side of the ship was a constantly recurring swash-h-h—swish—swash-h-h—swish as the vessel plowed on and on through the darkness, toward the submarine zone and Europe and the battlefields and the trenches and the men—millions of them—of the Allied armies.
It was near midnight, and the boys had fallen silent, Jerry with the wireless headpiece over his ears, Slim standing near the porthole, gazing out at the lone swaying light that indicated the position and the progress of the cruiser convoy on the port side.
Suddenly Slim whirled around, his face pale, his muscles tense, and with a motion to Jerry signaled silence. As the latter removed the gear from his head, Slim tiptoed across the room to him. Placing his lips close to Jerry's ears he said: "I thought I heard someone in the battery room. Listen!"
There was no doubt of it this time. Both boys heard the sound. It was of someone softly feeling about, as though in doubt as to his exact position.
"Quick!" hissed Slim into Jerry's ear. "You get the captain and lieutenant; I'll wait here."
And as Jerry disappeared through the room in which Joe was sleeping, so as not to give suspicion to the man in the battery room, Slim slid into Jerry's chair and centered every faculty upon listening to the almost inaudible movements in the next chamber.
He could tell instinctively that the man was feeling about the walls with his hands. And not unnaturally, recalling Joe's experience only a few hours before, it gave Slim a creepy sort of feeling.
Then all sound ceased. Try as hard as he would, he could not hear a thing. He rose from the chair and went closer to the intervening door. All was silent!
A few seconds later the captain and lieutenant, accompanied by Jerry, came hurrying into the room. Without an instant's delay the captain turned the knob and they entered the battery room, switching on the light at the same time.
Apparently not a thing had been touched, but the outer door was ajar. The lieutenant jumped to it and peered out, but no one was to be seen. He closed and locked the door and began an inspection of the batteries.
"Everything seems to be all right," he said finally; and then, his eyes traveling to the table, he stopped short.
"The wireless instrument," he gasped. "It's gone!"
"Where was it left?" the captain demanded sharply.
"On that table there," Lieutenant Mackinson answered. "I placed it there myself, as you probably will remember, just before we went out together."
"I remember," the captain admitted.
"That spy has been back," the junior officer continued. "Back in this very room after his instrument, and he intends to use it yet if he can!"
THE TIMELY RESCUE
It was no pleasant thought to contemplate the presence of a bold, even desperate, agent of an enemy government, on board an American transport carrying approximately two thousand souls.
That he was capable of going any lengths, if necessary, already had been proved; and the evidence of his evil genius might come in horrible form at any instant.
Nevertheless, neither the excitement nor the potential danger of the situation was sufficient to prevent Jerry and Slim from taking a full eight hours of much-needed sleep, while Lieutenant Mackinson, Joe and three other officers whom the captain had taken into his confidence in the matter, followed out every possible clue in pursuit of a solution of the baffling mystery.
The record of every enlisted man and officer on the vessel had been most carefully probed, without building up enough suspicion to warrant the singling out of any individual as the probable offender.
Likewise an investigation of the members of the crew had failed to develop anything tangible, even directly suspicious. It was a case of watch everybody, take every precaution, and be prepared for anything. Only nine men on the vessel, however, including the spy himself, knew anything about it, and the rest were in utter ignorance of the treachery that might be directed against them at any time.
Refreshed by their sleep, Jerry and Slim arose about four o'clock that afternoon. Joe, who had rested easily throughout the later excitement of the preceding night, was still in the midst of the investigation and was not then to be found. Jerry had some letters to write, so Slim went to the upper deck alone.
Seeing no one that he knew, and his mind weighted anyway with the menacing mystery of the strange happenings of the night before, he sat down on a coil of rope, just in the lee of the forward smokestack, to think the whole matter over for the twentieth time.
He was thus absorbed when something, at first vague and indefinite, then clearer and clearer until it was unmistakable, began to impress itself upon his mind. Like the awakening call that comes to a man in a sound sleep—seemingly as a far-off whisper that gradually gathers volume and strength until finally the sleeper awakes with a start to find someone standing directly over him, loudly and insistently calling his name—so Slim came to a realization of the strange series of sounds that were being repeated within a few feet of him.
Could it possibly be only the crackling of the steam-pipe that ran along the smokestack to the whistle—a crackling merely from the pressure within? For a moment Slim thought an over-wrought imagination was playing tricks upon him. But he rose hastily and crossed the short intervening distance.
Clearly and distinctly it came to him then. Someone in another part of the vessel was rapping desperately upon that pipe! And in the long and short dashes of the international code that someone was repeating a single word—"Help! Help! Help!"
In another instant, using the heavy end of his jackknife as a crude transmitter, Slim was tapping off the reply:
"Who are you—and where?"
"Lieutenant Mackinson," the message began to come back. "Locked in closet off engine room. Can't make self heard. Can you help?"
"This is Slim," the youth rapped back upon the pipe. "Caught your message on deck. Am coming with help at once."
And he dashed down the deck toward the captain's quarters, almost bowling over the captain's aide as he hurtled into the sanctum of the ship's commander unannounced.
"Well?" the captain demanded sternly. "Why all the haste?"
"Lieutenant Mackinson," Slim blurted out; "he's locked in a closet down near the engine room."
"Locked in a closet!" the captain repeated incredulously. "How do you know?"
"He gave a telegraphic call for help on the steam-pipe which runs through there and connects with the whistle," the lad explained. "I was on deck and heard it. I talked with him over the pipe."
"There is no time to lose, then. Come with me." And the captain himself hurriedly led the way down through the lower depths of the ship, where it became hotter and more oppressive with every step they took.
They had taken a route by which they escaped the attention of anyone else on the ship.
"It should be right about here somewhere," the captain announced, as they approached a particularly dark passage. For a few steps they felt their way along, and then stopped to listen.
There was nothing but the dull and constant hum of the engines and the almost insufferable heat.
"The other side," said the captain in a lowered voice, as they failed to find any trace of the imprisoned lieutenant where they were.
They were crossing a short gallery when Slim abruptly signaled a halt.
"I thought I heard something," he said. "It sounded like another call."
They stood silent a moment, and then, faint and indistinct, apparently from somewhere several feet ahead of them, they both heard repeated that which had made Slim stop. As the letters were tapped off upon the pipe the lad repeated them for the information of the captain.
"Smothering!" echoed the commander of the ship. "Great Scott! I believe I know now where he is. This way," and he started down the passageway toward a narrow stairs leading to a still lower chamber in the vessel.
Three turns—two to the right and one to the left—and the captain stopped again to listen. Seemingly from within the wall, right at their elbows, there came a feeble knock. The officer whipped out a pocket flashlight. They were directly in front of a heavy wooden door. It was locked.
"Run get a cold chisel or a heavy screwdriver and hammer," the captain ordered, and Slim hastened away, to return two minutes later with all three tools.
"Stand back as far as you can from the door," said the captain, placing his lips close to the keyhole. But there was no response from within.
Realizing now that Lieutenant Mackinson must have lost consciousness, and that moments might mean life or death to him, the captain worked with feverish haste. He drove the heavy chisel into the crack between the door and the jam, and then, standing off to get a wider swing with the hammer, struck it sidewise.
A panel of the door cracked and loosened. Two more attempts and the panel fell in strips to the floor. Thus given something for a grip-hold, the captain, who was a massive man, took hold with both hands, put his right foot against the wall, and, with one tremendous tug, into which he threw the whole weight of his body, brought the entire door from its hinges.
The captain went staggering backward from the force of his effort and the weight of the door.
The unconscious form of Lieutenant Mackinson tumbled out upon the floor. His face was almost blue from suffocation.
The captain sounded three short, sharp blasts upon a whistle which he had taken from his pocket, and two oilers came running to the spot.
"Help us carry this man to fresh air immediately," he ordered. "He has been overcome."
With one of the oilers carrying the lieutenant by the feet, and the other man and Slim at either shoulder, the unconscious young officer was carried up flight after flight of steps until, the captain leading the way, they arrived at the promenade deck.
A seaman was dispatched for the ship's surgeon, who arrived a few minutes later to find the first-aid efforts of the four men just bringing Lieutenant Mackinson back to consciousness.
As the physician forced some aromatic spirits of ammonia between his lips the lieutenant opened his eyes and gazed about vaguely.
"What's the matter?" he asked weakly; but before anyone could answer he had relapsed again, and there was another wait of several minutes.
But this time the lieutenant's mind was clearing.
"Somebody shoved me—in that closet," he gasped, "and then—slammed and—locked—the door."
He recognized the captain and the doctor. As his eyes closed again he added, in an almost inaudible whisper: "I was getting too close on somebody's trail."
The captain looked at the ship's doctor significantly and dismissed the two oilers with instructions to return to their duties.
"Found him locked in a small compartment down near the auxiliary engine room," the commander said briefly. "Hotter than blazes, and no air whatever where he was. He made his whereabouts known by tapping a message on a steam-pipe."
"H'm," said the doctor, whose youthful appearance might not give a stranger a proper measure of his long and varied experience. "Nearly suffocated, too. He couldn't have lasted there much longer. His heart action is pretty weak even yet. Better have him removed to his bed, and kept there for the rest of the day, at least."
At that moment Jerry came hurrying down the deck. He was visibly excited, but, unlike Slim, he did not forget that not only must a soldier never permit his feelings to run away with him, but that he must be equally mindful of respect for superiors.
And so, even as two men carried Lieutenant Mackinson away, he remained standing at salute, waiting for the captain to recognize him with a return of the salute.
"And now what?" asked the captain.
Jerry stepped forward, with difficulty repressing his excitement.
"I stepped out of the wireless room for only a few moments," he said. "When I returned I found this lying upon the table."
He opened his left hand. In it lay a piece of light chain, both ends broken.
"Beside it," he continued, "was this note."
From his pocket he extracted a piece of paper, the edges of which were roughly torn. He handed it to the captain, who read aloud:
"Let this be a warning that no further interference will be of avail."
The captain looked from the note to the chain. There was no further word on the paper, and no signature.
"I believe, sir," said Jerry, "that this is the rest of the chain which was attached to the iron cross torn from the man caught in the battery room."
The senior officer of the vessel took from his pocket the cross, with its two bits of chain still dangling from it. He placed the ends to the chain which Jerry had found in the wireless room.
"You are right," he said simply. And there could be no doubt about it.
The captain's face clearly showed the worry on his mind. The ship's physician, who had been told all about the affair, immediately after Joe's discovery of, and battle with, the mysterious stranger, appeared equally anxious.
"A man is discovered at night in the battery room of the wireless department of this ship, clearly upon an unfriendly mission," said the captain, half to himself and half for the benefit of the others, summing up the evidence thus far known to them. "He gives battle to the man who discovers him, and finally succeeds in knocking that man out and escaping. But he leaves behind him a portable wireless instrument, and a German iron cross, with two bits of the chain attached.
"A few hours later that same night he returns to the battery room and succeeds in recovering the portable instrument.
"To-day Lieutenant Mackinson, while pursuing an investigation of the affair, is shoved into a closet and only escapes death from suffocation by making himself heard as he telegraphs for help over a steam-pipe.
"It must have been while we were rescuing the lieutenant that the same man again enters the wireless room and leaves there this chain, which had been attached to the iron cross, and also this note of warning.