E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
Note: This is book five of eight of the Submarine Boys Series.
THE SUBMARINE BOYS' LIGHTNING CRUISE
The Young Kings of the Deep
VICTOR G. DURHAM
CHAPTERS I. Why the Danger Sign Was Up II. Torpedo Practice at Last III. Struck by a Submerged Foe IV. A Submariner's Revenge V. The Mysterious Order Comes VI. Judas & Co. Introduce Themselves VII. Eph Sommers Plays Gallant VIII. One, Two, Three—A Full Bag IX. But Something Happened Next X. John C. Rhinds Advocates Fair Sport! XI. The Strain of Red-Hot Metal XII. Let a Sailor Stick to Her Deck XIII. The Trick is Easily Seen Through XIV. Radwin Doesn't See His Best Chance XV. The Goal of the Lightning Cruise XVI. Jack Gives the Order. "Fire!" XVII. The Message of Terror XVIII. The Findings on the "Thor" XIX. On the Other Side of the Forced Door XX. Captain Jack Pulls a New String XXI. Jack Meets a Human Fact, Face to Face XXII. A Cornered Submarine Captain XXIII. A Coward's Last Ditch XXIV. Conclusion
WHY THE "DANGER" SIGN WAS UP
That sign might have been over an air-hole in the ice; or it might have been near rapidly moving shafting and belting in a factory.
As a matter of fact, the letters, white against the red paint on the door of the shed, meant danger in the most terrible form. It was the sort of danger, which, defied too far, would send one traveling skyward.
The shed stood in a lonely corner of the big Farnum shipbuilding yards at Dunhaven. Now, it was the Farnum yard in which the Pollard submarine boats were built, and this shed contained some two dozen Whitehead submarine torpedoes, each with its fearful load of two hundred pounds of that dread high explosive, guncotton.
It was in the month of February, and the day, at this seacoast point, was cold and blustery, when two boys of seventeen, each in natty blue uniforms and caps resembling those worn by naval officers, crossed the yard toward the shed. Over their uniforms both boys wore heavy, padded blue ulsters, also of naval pattern.
"Danger?" laughed young Captain Jack Benson, stopping before the door and fumbling for the key. "Well, I should say so!"
"Something like two tons and a half of guncotton in this old shed," smiled Hal Hastings. "That's not mentioning some other high explosives."
"It's this gun-cotton that begins to make our calling in life look like a really dangerous one," muttered Jack, as he produced the key and fitted it into the lock.
"Once upon a time," murmured Hal, "we thought there was sufficient danger, just in going out on the ocean in a submarine torpedo craft, and diving below the surface."
"Yet we found that submarine travel wasn't really dangerous," pursued Captain Jack. "Really, riding around in a submarine craft seems as safe, and twice as pleasant, as cruising in any other kind of yacht."
"After we've gotten more used to having hundreds of pounds of gun-cotton on board," smiled Hal, "I don't suppose we'll ever think of the danger in that stuff, either."
Jack unlocked the door, swinging it open. Then both young men passed inside the red shed.
It needed hardly more than a glance, from an observing person, to make certain that neither boy was likely to be much bothered by any ordinary form of danger.
For a number of months, now, Jack Benson and Hal Hastings had lived all but continually aboard submarine torpedo boats. They had operated such craft, when awake, and had dreamed of doing it when asleep. Being youths of intense natures, and unusually quick to learn, they had long before qualified as experts in handling submarine craft.
They had yet, however, one thing to learn practically. It needs the deadly torpedo, fired below the water, and traveling under the surface, to make the torpedo boat the greatest of all dangers that menace the haughty battleship of a modern navy.
Now, at last, Captain Jack Benson, together with his engineer, Hal Hastings, and Eph Somers, another young member of the crew, were about to have their first practical drill with the actual torpedo. An officer of the United States Navy, especially detailed for the work, was expected hourly at Dunhaven. The three submarine boys were eager for their first taste of this work. Barely less interested were Jacob Farnum, shipbuilder, and president of the submarine company, and David Pollard, inventor of the Pollard type of submarine craft.
In this shed, placed on racks in three tiers, lay the two dozen Whitehead torpedoes with which the first work was to be done. As Jack stepped about the shed, looking to see that everything was in order, he was thinking of the exciting work soon to come.
Eph Somers was near at hand, though up in the village at that particular moment. There was a fourth member of the crew, however, named Williamson. He was a grown man, a machinist who had been long in Farnum's employ, and who was considered a most valuable hand to have in the engine room of a submarine.
Williamson, during the preceding fortnight, had been away in the interior of the country. He had taken a midwinter vacation, and had gone to visit his mother. Now, however, the machinist knew of the work at hand, and his return was expected.
"Really," declared Jack, turning around to his chum, "Williamson ought to be here not later than to-morrow morning. He had Mr. Farnum's letter in good season."
At this moment a heavy tread was heard on the light crust of snow outside. Then a man's head appeared in the doorway.
"Speaking of angels!" laughed Hal.
"Williamson, I'm mighty glad to see you back," hailed Captain Jack, delightedly.
"I'm glad to be back, if there's anything unusual going to happen," replied the machinist, as they shook hands all around. Then, as they fell to chatting, the machinist seated himself on a keg, the top of which was about half off, revealing, underneath, a layer of jute bagging.
"We're going to have some great practice work," declared Hal, moving about. "We're just waiting for that Navy man, and then we're going out on the new submarine—the one that's named after me, you know."
Out in the little harbor beyond rode at anchor two grim-looking little torpedo boats, each about one hundred and ten feet long. The older one was named the "Benson," after Captain Jack. But the latest one to be launched, which had had its full trial trip only some few days before, bore the name of "Hastings" after the capable young chief engineer of the Pollard boats.
Both of the boys, by this time, happened to be looking away from the machinist. Williamson, in utter unconcern, drew a pipe out of one of his pockets, filled it, and stuck the stem between his lips. Next, he struck a safety match, softly, against the side of the match-box, and lighted his pipe, drawing in great whiffs.
"Just how far does this practice go!" inquired the machinist, still sitting on the keg and smoking contentedly.
At that moment Captain Jack Benson caught, in his nostrils, the scent of burning tobacco.
In an instant a steely glitter shone in the young captain's eyes. Firm, strong lines appeared about his mouth. All that part of the face showed white and pallid. Just a second or two later Hal Hastings also turned. Like a flash his lower jaw dropped, as though the hinge thereof had broken.
When Captain Jack's voice came to him it sounded low, yet hard and metallic. One would have wondered whether he had suddenly become ugly.
"Williamson," he directed, "just step outside and see if Eph is there!"
Hardly noting the unusual ring in the young commander's voice, the machinist, still with the pipe-stem between his teeth, rose and walked out into the open. With an almost inarticulate yell Captain Jack Benson leaped after him, striking the man in the back and sending him spinning a dozen feet beyond.
Hal Hastings, too, dashed through the door way; then paused, grasping the edge of the door and shutting it with a bang.
"What on earth do you mean by knocking a fellow down like that?" demanded the machinist, angrily, leaping to his feet and wheeling about, leaving the lighted pipe on the snowcrust.
"Look at the sign on this door," ordered Hal Hastings, pointing to the big white letters.
"Danger, eh?" asked Williamson, speaking more quietly. "Well, that door was open and swung back when I came along, so I couldn't see any warning. But what is there in the shed that's so mighty dangerous?"
"What do you suppose is in the half-open keg that you were sitting on?" demanded Captain Jack, rather hoarsely.
"What!" queried the machinist, curiously.
"The head of that keg is half off," Jack continued. "Now, if any sparks from your pipe had dropped down and set the bagging afire—well, that keg is almost full of cubes of gun-cotton!"
"Whew!" gasped Williamson, beginning to look pallid himself.
"Nor is that all," Hal took up. "Of course, if you had touched off that gun-cotton in the keg, it would have sent us all through the roof. But the smaller explosion would have touched off the two tons and a half of gun-cotton in those Whitehead torpedoes. That would have laid the whole shipyard flat. In fact, after the torpedoes went up, there wouldn't have been much left of any part of Dunhaven!"
"Gr—great Hercules!" gasped the machinist, his face now losing every vestige of color.
Then, after a moment:
"With so much sky-high trouble stored in that shed, you should have a sign up."
"There is one, on the door," replied Captain Jack. "But the door happened to be swung open, so that you couldn't see it. Yet I guess you're the only one in all Dunhaven who didn't know what the shed contains."
"And how does the little town like the idea!" demanded Williamson, beginning to smile as his color slowly returned.
"Why, the people can't expect to have very much to say," Jack replied. "We have a permit to store the explosive, and it's at the request of the United States Government. You're not afraid to be near so much rockety stuff are you?"
Williamson gazed at the young skipper reproachfully.
"Now, what have I ever done, Captain, or what have I failed to do, that should make you think me only forty per cent. good on nerve? Though I'll admit that my appetite for smoking won't be good when I'm near this shed. How long is the stuff going to stay here? That is, if some idiot doesn't play with matches in that shed."
"I expect it will about all be used, after the Navy officer gets on the scene, and drills us in using torpedoes," Captain Benson answered. "It isn't intended to keep that sort of stuff stored here all the time."
"Oh! Then I reckon I won't toss my job into the harbor," grinned the machinist. "How soon are you going to want me?"
"You can go aboard the 'Hastings' at once," replied Skipper Jack. "It won't do any harm to have the machinery of the new boat looked over with a most critical eye."
"Any gun-cotton, rack-a-rock wool or dynamite silk stored on board the new craft?" inquired Williamson, with a look of mock anxiety.
"Nothing more dangerous than gasoline," Captain Jack smiled.
"Oh, I don't mind that stuff,". chuckled the machinist. "I want a smoke. That's why I'm particular about not going to work near any stuff that has such a big idea of itself that it swells up every time a match or a lighted pipe comes around. I'll go aboard now."
With this statement, Williamson strolled down to the beach, untying a small skiff and pulling himself out to the newer of the pair of very capable submarine torpedo boats that lay at moorings out in the little private harbor.
Hal, in the meantime, had quietly swung the shed door to and locked it. The great white word, "Danger," was once more in plain view.
"What are you going to do now!" asked young Hastings of his chum.
"I reckon I'll spend my time wondering where the Navy man is," laughed Captain Jack.
"Let's go up to the office, then. Mr. Farnum may have had some word in the matter."
As they neared the door of the office building, Eph Somers, who was a combination of first officer, steward and general utility man on board the Pollard boats, came in through the gate, joining his friends at once.
Readers of our previous volumes are now well acquainted with these young men and their friends. In "The Submarine Boys on Duty" was told how Jack and Hal came to Dunhaven at just the right moment, as it happened, to edge their way into the employ of Jacob Farnum, the young shipbuilder, who was then engaged in the construction of the first of those famous submarine torpedo craft. The first boat was named the "Pollard," after David Pollard, the inventor of the craft and of its successors. By the time that the "Pollard" was ready for launching Jack and Hal had made themselves so valuable to their employer that the boys were allowed to take to the water with the boat when it left the stocks. Eph Somers, freckle-faced and sunny aired, was a Dunhaven boy who had fairly won his way aboard the same craft by his many sided ability. Yet, under the direction of Messrs. Farnum and Pollard these youngsters so rapidly acquired the difficult knack of handling submarine boats that they remained aboard. In the end Jack Benson became the recognized captain of the boat. Some notable cruises were made, in which the great value of the Pollard type of submarines was splendidly proved, thanks largely to the cleverness of the boys who handled her.
The "Pollard" was present during naval manoeuvres of a fleet of United States warships. Captain Jack conceived and carried out a most laughable trick against one of the battleships, which attracted public attention generally to this new craft.
In the second volume of the series, "The Submarine Boys' Trial Trip," our readers found the young men engaged in giving further and much more startling demonstration to naval officers of the full value of the Pollard type of boat. Incidentally, it was told how a grasping financier attempted to get control of the Farnum shipyard and its submarine business, with a series of startling plots that the submarine boys were instrumental in balking. The submarine boat itself passed some of the severest trials that could be invented, yet the trials through which the builders and the submarine boys passed were far greater. Yet, in the end, just as Mr. Farnum and his associates were about to go to the wall, financially, the Navy Department purchased and paid for the "Pollard." In this volume was also told how Jack and his friends were the first to discover a simple, yet seemingly mysterious, method of leaving and entering a submarine boat at will when it lay on the bottom of the ocean.
Then, in "The Submarine Boys and the Middies," was related how Captain Jack and his chums secured the prize detail of going to Annapolis with the company's new boat, the "Farnum," there to teach the midshipmen of the Naval Academy how to operate boats of this class. That narrative was unusually full of adventures, including the laughable recital of how Eph innocently brought down upon the trio a first-class sample of hazing by Uncle Sam's naval cadets. Captain Jack had many startling adventures with the secret agent of a rival submarine company, who sought to discredit and disgrace the young commander of the submarine boys.
In the volume preceding this, entitled "The Submarine Boys and the Spies," the third of the company's boats, the "Benson," named in honor of the young captain, was discovered in Florida waters. This newest submarine had been sent to Spruce Beach, in December, to undergo some tests and to give an exhibition, the U.S. gunboat, "Waverly" being on hand to act as host. In this volume it was related how Captain Jack's very life was at stake, from the foreign spies gathered at Spruce Beach to pry into the secrets of the mysterious submarine. Here the United States Secret Service officers were called in to aid, yet it was Captain Jack and his friends who contributed to the full success of the government sleuths. At this period of his career Captain Jack's greatest dangers came through the wiles of charming women spies, especially one beautiful young Russian woman, Mlle. Sara Nadiboff, easily the most clever of all international spies. Yet the cleverness of the submarine boys carried them successfully, and with highest honor, through the gravest situations in their eventful, young careers.
Just at this particular time the young men had been going through dull days. Beyond the fact of the mere presence of the heavily charged torpedoes at the shipyard there had been nothing like excitement, for some time. This dullness, however, was destined to turn, suddenly, into the most intense and exciting activity.
As Jack pushed open the outer door of the office building of the shipyard, Jacob Farnum, the owner, happened to be bustling through the corridor.
"Hallo, boys!" came his quick, cheery greeting. "I was just about to send for you."
"Any word," queried Jack, good-humoredly, "as to when that cold-molasses naval officer is going to be here!"
From within the office sounded a light laugh.
"You'll see him shortly," grinned Mr. Farnum. "But come in, boys."
As the three submarine boys entered the office, in a group, their glances fell upon two men, in the uniform of United States sailors, standing at ease near the door. In a chair near Mr. Farnum's desk sat a third man, dressed in ordinary citizen attire. He was a man of about twenty-eight, dark, smooth-faced, slender of figure, yet broad-shouldered.
"Lieutenant Danvers," called Mr. Farnum, smiling broadly, "I want to present my submarine boys to you. First of all, Jack Benson, our young captain."
Realizing that his question had been overheard, Jack went forward with a very red face, holding out his hand. With a quiet smile, Lieutenant Frank Danvers, U.S. Navy, took the boy's hand. Then Hal and Eph were presented.
"I see that I was mistaken about the molasses," laughed Jack.
"Nothing as sweet as all that about the Navy, eh?" smiled Mr. Danvers. "However, my delay in getting here was due entirely to delay in official orders. I am now on the ground, however, and ready for prompt—"
At this moment the outer door shot open with a bang. Hal looked out into the corridor to see what had caused the disturbance.
"Look a-here!" sounded the voice of machinist Williamson, in an injured tone. "Here I am, looking about for a quiet place for a five minutes' smoke. Captain Benson sends me out to the 'Hastings,' telling me that it will be all right there. So I light my pipe on the platform deck and go below. Great Jehosh! The first thing I run on to is a couple of torpedoes, about a mile long and two hundred yards thick, loaded up with gun-cotton or pistol-satin enough to blow the ocean up into the sky. And I haven't had my smoke yet!"
"That's all right," called Hal, quietly, as the machinist's somewhat shaking voice died out. "You're always safe, man, in following any lead that Captain Jack Benson gives you. Go back on the 'Hastings' and have your smoke out."
"But those two torpedoes, loaded up to the muzzles with artillery-felt, or some other exploding kind of dry-goods!" protested the machinist.
"Those two torpedoes are dummies," laughed Hal Hastings. "They're aboard just for dummy torpedo practice. There isn't a kick in a dozen of 'em. Go back and get your smoke, man!"
Hal must have looked at the machinist with unusual sharpness, for Williamson went promptly out through the door, closing it after him.
"I'm ready to go aboard, Mr. Benson," proposed Lieutenant Danvers, "and make a start whenever you're so inclined."
"We'd better put it off for half an hour," proposed Skipper Jack, with a laugh. "That'll give Williamson a chance to have that smoke of his over with."
"That'll suit me," agreed the naval officer, cheerfully. "In fact, Mr. Benson, if you won't think me too much like cold molasses"—Jack winced—"I would propose that we start at a little after one o'clock this afternoon. Even at that, we'll be out long enough between that time and dark."
"Any arrangement that suits you, Lieutenant, suits me," nodded Jack Benson. "You're going with us to-day, aren't you, Mr. Farnum?"
"Don't you believe, for a moment," retorted the shipbuilder, "that I'd let anything keep me from the first torpedo practice on one of our boats. And I'm almost ashamed of Dave Pollard. That fellow, instead of being here, is away somewhere in hiding, dreaming about a new style of clutch for the after end of the torpedo tube. Oh, yes, I'll be with you!"
"Hallo!" muttered Eph, stepping to a window that looked out on the yard near the street gate. "What's this coming? A hundred people, at least, and they look like a mob!"
There was, in truth, a goodly inpouring of people, and fully a dozen of these new-corners seemed to be trying to talk at the same time.
TORPEDO PRACTICE AT LAST
"Perhaps they're coming to make a row about having so much gun-cotton stored close to the village," hinted Lieutenant Danvers.
The same thought was in Captain Jack Benson's mind. However, they were not long to be kept in doubt, for Jacob Farnum had moved hastily to the outer door.
"Good day, friends!" called the shipbuilder, as he pulled the outer door open, for he recognized most of the faces of men and women in the crowd. "What's wrong, friends!"
At the very doorstep the leaders of the crowd halted.
"The 'Mary Bond' isn't in yet, Mr. Farnum," called one of the men.
That was the name of a fishing smack that put out from Dunhaven at regular intervals through the winter. She carried a Dunhaven captain and mate, and, altogether, fourteen men and boys.
"When should she have been in!" queried Mr. Farnum. The crowd had halted, now, and all but their chosen speaker remained silent.
"Yesterday morning, sir," replied the spokesman.
"Do you people fear that harm has come to the 'Mary Bond!" queried the shipbuilder.
"Why, it must be so, sir. For the smack wasn't due to go out more'n some forty miles. With the winds we've been having lately she could come in, any time, within a few hours."
"Perhaps the captain had a poor run of luck," suggested Mr. Farnum. "He may be staying out longer than usual."
"No, sir, for all the reports that have come in off the sea are of big catches. The ocean has been swarming with fish these last few days," replied the spokesman.
"Then, friends, I take it there's something you want me to do. What is it?" demanded Jacob Farnum.
"We've come to ask you, sir, if you won't have one of your torpedo boats put out and look for the 'Mary Bond.' Your boats can go a big distance in a few hours. We're afraid, Mr. Farnum, that the smack's canvas or sticks may have suffered in the big blow of yesterday. We're afraid, too, that the 'Mary Bond' may be drifting about helplessly on the sea, just for the need of a little aid. We're afraid, sir, that good Dunhaven men may be in great danger of going to the bottom, and leaving behind families that—"
The spokesman stopped, a little choke in his voice. As though in answer sobs came from some of the women.
"Now, now, friends, if that's the trouble, we'll soon know about it," promised the shipbuilder, one of the biggest-hearted men living. "One of our boats is going out for practice. But, if you'll supply a good sea-going hand or two, the second boat shall go out and sweep the seas hereabouts, looking for the 'Mary Bond.'"
A cheer went up at once. Mr. Farnum flushed with pleasure. Not above doing a kind act, he also enjoyed having it appreciated.
"Who'll command the relief boat!" called one of the women. "Jack Benson?"
"No," replied Mr. Farnum, shaking his head. "Captain Benson must go out on naval business to-day."
A murmur of disappointment went up from the crowd. Jack Benson was a young skipper on whose success a Dunhaven crowd would make bets.
"But, see here," proposed the shipbuilder, "I'll go out myself, on the 'Benson,' and take Williamson along with me. Now, you folks find any local salt-water captain and a couple of good deck hands to go with me."
"When will you start, sir?" asked the spokesman.
"The minute you have my helpers ready. There's Captain Allen among you now. If he'll go, he's as good a salt-water dog as I want on a cruise with me. Let him pick two sailors out of the crowd. We can start in five minutes."
Another cheer went up as Jacob Farnum, leaving the outer door open, hurried back to his own party. Captain Allen, a retired master of coasting vessels, had five times as many volunteers in the crowd as he needed.
"Jack, I'm sorry I can't go with you," sighed Mr. Farnum, as he returned. "But the call of humanity is too big a one. I'm going to take Williamson with me. The rest of you go with Lieutenant Danvers and his men. I'll hope to be able to go with you to-morrow, anyway."
"Isn't there a tug hereabouts that those people could hire?" questioned the naval officer.
"Oh, yes; there's a small one to the south of here, but her captain would charge at least fifty dollars a day," replied the shipbuilder, as he drew on a heavy deck ulster.
"I suppose these people expect you to go out for nothing," hinted Lieutenant Danvers.
"Oh, yes, of course," nodded the shipbuilder. "But one can't be a crank, or a miser, when women are red-eyed and weeping from worry over their missing husbands and sons."
There was a suspicion of moisture in Mr. Farnum's own eyes as he snatched up a cap, bidding his own party a hasty good-bye ere he ran from the office.
"There goes a good-natured man," laughed Lieutenant Danvers.
"A big-hearted one, you mean, sir," corrected Captain Jack Benson. "He's a man with a heart bigger than any torpedo craft he could possibly build and launch."
"I wish him all luck," said the naval officer, heartily. "And that crowd, and also the poor seafaring men that put out in the like of the 'Mary Bond.'"
The crowd had gone from the office building, now, following Mr. Farnum and his volunteers down to the little harbor. Jack, his chums and the naval party slowly followed down to the water front.
Little time did the shipbuilder lose in getting under way. A rousing cheer ascended when the grim little "Benson" slipped her moorings and turned her nose out toward the sea.
"Your pipe-hungry machinist went on that craft, didn't he!" asked the naval officer, as the crowd began to turn back from the beach.
"Yes," nodded Captain Jack. "So there's nothing at all to prevent our getting the 'Hastings' out on the wave as soon as you like."
"I'm going to send my men up to the hotel, first, for a jolly big feed," proposed Lieutenant Danvers. "They've been on the rail, eating on the jump, and now they'll appreciate a good square meal."
"Suppose we all go up to the hotel for luncheon!" proposed Captain Jack.
"Then how about having torpedoes aboard when we return?"
"How many real torpedoes will you want for to-day, Mr. Danvers?" Benson inquired.
"Two, besides the dummies, will be plenty."
"Then I'll run over to Mr. Partridge, the superintendent of the yard, and he'll have a foreman and a gang attend to it," suggested the young submarine skipper.
Accordingly, this was done. Then the party slated for the afternoon cruise went over to the hotel. By the time that they came back from the midday meal the two service torpedoes were aboard the "Hastings" and the target was in readiness to be towed out to sea.
This "target" was not a handsome-looking affair. It was an old scow, some thirty feet long and broad of beam, that had once been used, up the coast, in sea-wall construction work. Mr. Farnum had bought it a short time before and it now lay at anchor, near the beach, ready to be towed out to sea for its last service to mankind. The scow was heavily laden with rock, this being intended to sink the craft's keel as far as was advisable. The old scow had now something more than four feet draught, with less than two feet of freeboard.
Two of the workmen, in an old whaleboat, waited to row the party out to the "Hastings." Jack was soon able to welcome Lieutenant Danvers on board the submarine.
"You can look around all you want, Ewald and Biffens," suggested Mr. Danvers, "and see if you can find any great differences between this craft and the 'Pollard' and the 'Farnum.'"
The two sailors, accordingly, made themselves wholly at home in the interior of the submarine.
"Both men have put in tours of duty on the first two boats turned out by your company," explained the officer. "They know all about the two Pollard boats that the Navy bought."
"Then they won't find very much that is different on board the 'Hastings,'" Jack replied. "All that is new here is in the way of a few more up-to-date little mechanisms and devices. A man used to running the old 'Pollard' would really be wholly at home here."
A few minutes, only, were allowed for inspection of the newest submarine of the lot. By this time the workmen in the small boat had made fast a towing hawser between the bow of the old scow and the stern towing bitts of the "Hastings."
"Use my men all you need to, in casting off, or in boat handling generally," requested Lieutenant Danvers. Jack therefore ordered Ewald and Biffens forward on the upper hull to cast loose from moorings. Hal stood the trick in the engine-room, while Jack himself sat at the wheel in the tower.
In another minute, despite her rather heavy tow, the "Hastings" was nosing briskly out of the harbor. The gasoline engines this little craft were of a "heavy service" pattern, which adapted the submarine to the work of towing at need.
"How far out do you want to go, sir!" asked Captain Jack, as the Navy lieutenant took a seat beside him in the tower, after Eph and the sailors had gone below.
"We want to be sure to be well out of the path of coastwise vessels," replied Danvers. "That's the main thing, you know. We can't take any risk of sinking a merchantman while we're having our fun."
"With this tow, then, it will be three o'clock before we get out where we really ought to be, sir."
"That will give us at least two hours of good daylight," nodded Mr. Danvers. "Of course you know this coast well enough to pick your way back after dark?"
"I'd run the craft five times the distance, under water, and hit the harbor without thought of an accident," spoke young Benson, seriously, and with no thought of boasting.
"Jove, my young friend, if you can do a thing like that, you're a genius at the work," muttered Danvers, after a swift, side glance at Skipper Jack.
"I've done as much before," laughed Jack. "Either of my friends could do it, for that matter."
"Then you're veritable young kings of the deep!" declared Lieutenant Danvers, heartily.
"Oh, we're not wonders," smiled Jack, goodhumoredly; then added, more seriously, "If we really do anything worth while, my friends and I, we're to be regarded simply as the products of constant practice."
"You're modest enough about it," agreed Danvers.
Presently, the naval officer himself took a hand at managing the submarine. Jack, knowing that the boat was in fine professional hands, slipped unconcernedly below, to chat with Hal Hastings, who sat doggedly by his engines.
"What's the matter? What makes you look so solemn, old fellow?" asked the young submarine skipper, when he caught sight of his chum's solemn face.
"Oh, you'd laugh, if I told you," smiled Hal.
"Seeing omens of ill again!" persisted young Benson.
"I suppose," sighed Hal, "well, I have a sort of premonition."
"Pre—premo—" stuttered Captain Jack, holding comically to the port side of his jaw. "Oh, pshaw! Call it a plain United States 'hunch.' What's the tip the spooks are giving anyway, Hal?"
Hastings smiled again, though he went on:
"Oh, it's just a queer sort of notion I have that something is going to happen to us this afternoon."
"Right-o," drawled Jack. "You don't have to shove off from that, Hal. Something is going to happen to us. This afternoon we're going to have the first drill in the actual firing of submarine torpedoes."
"Oh, I know that," Hastings admitted, quickly. "But what I see ahead, or feel as though I see, is some kind of disaster. Now, you'll think I'm a sailor-croaker, won't you, Jack?"
"Disaster?" repeated Jack, slowly. "Well, to be sure, we've the outfit on board for a disaster, if we wanted one. Two real torpedoes that hold, between them, four hundred pounds of gun-cotton—or danger-calico, as Williamson would call it. But cheer up, old fellow. There's no danger, after all. Williamson and his pipe are on the other boat."
"Oh, of course nothing is really going to happen," laughed Hal. "It is just the feeling that is over me. That's all."
It was fully three o'clock by the time Lieutenant Danvers decided they were far enough out to sea, and far enough from any craft in those waters. Not a stick or a stack of another vessel showed within ten miles of them. The scow was accordingly cast loose and allowed to drift.
Captain Jack was at the tower wheel again, as Eph and the two sailors returned from setting the scow loose.
"We've got to be sure to record one good hit against that old barge of stone," muttered Lieutenant Danvers, who stood beside the youthful submarine commander. "The sea is roughening, and I doubt if we could pick up that scow in tow again. We've got to destroy her, or she'd be a fearful menace to navigation, drifting about in the night in the path of incoming vessels."
"Oh, I guess you'll get rid of her easily enough," spoke Jack, confidently. "You're a professional at this business, sir."
"So are the two men with me," nodded the officer. "By the way, Ewald can just as well come on deck and take the wheel, if you want him to do so. Then you can go below and see all that we do with a torpedo."
"Now, that's what I call a great idea," cried Benson, enthusiastically. "I want to know just how a torpedo is handled at the time of firing."
"It's the only thing you have left to learn about this business," smiled the naval officer. Then he passed the word for Ewald. When that it sailor had taken the wheel, the naval officer and the young submarine skipper went below.
"We'll swing in one of the dummy torpedoes, first, of course," announced Mr. Danvers.
One of the dummies was, therefore, hauled forward on a truck, then forced on into the torpedo tube. Jack watched, intently, this part of the business.
The torpedo itself was a cigar-shaped affair, with a propeller at the after end. This propeller was set in motion by means of an engine in the after part of the torpedo, the engine being so constructed that it was set in operation at the moment the torpedo left the tube and entered the ocean outside. The propeller was fitted with apparatus that would drive the torpedo in a straight line.
"The torpedo looks like a miniature submarine, doesn't it?" muttered young Benson.
"It surely does," nodded the naval officer. "And, since the torpedo has to travel under water, what better model could have been chosen? Now, the engines in these dummy torpedoes can be set for two, four, six or eight hundred yards, and the torpedo, once it enters the water, travels forward, in a straight line until the engine gives out. That is, the torpedo travels ahead if it doesn't hit something. So, in actual war conditions, we would always get nearer to the object than the distance for which the engine is set to run. The speed of a torpedo like this, under water, is a good deal better than thirty miles an hour, but the distance the torpedo can go is naturally short. That is a direct consequence of its speed. Now, Mr. Benson, would you like to know how to fire the torpedo, since it is already in the tube?"
"Certainly, sir," nodded Jack. And then he continued as if reciting a lesson: "Just give that firing lever at the back of the after port a quick shove to the right and downward. That releases the charge of compressed air and forces the torpedo out. At the same instant the forward port opens, so that the torpedo can be shot out into the water. The compressed air also serves to keep the sea water from rushing in through the torpedo tube. When the lever is swung up and back again that closes the forward port, and it is then safe to open this after port."
"You've committed that to memory," laughed the naval lieutenant.
"Oh, we've often talked this over, all three of us," smiled Jack.
"Then, since you understand this part so well, Benson," proposed Mr. Danvers, "perhaps you'd like to go forward, on deck, and see when this dummy torpedo is fired?"
"I surely would," agreed the submarine boy "And Eph can just as well come with me."
The two submarine boys, therefore, hastened above, out on the platform deck, and then further forward on the upper hull, until they lay out along the nose of the "Hastings."
Danvers reached Ewald's side in the tower, while Biffens waited below, at the lever, for the firing signal.
The "Hastings" was now drifting, rather aimlessly, something more than four hundred yards away from the scow. As the sea was roughening all the while, the two submarine boys out forward were having a hard time of it. Added to that, icy spray was falling over them.
Lieutenant Danvers quickly rang for speed and then brought the submarine boat within about three hundred yards of the scow, and at a position that pointed the nose of the "Hastings" at the middle of the scow's hull, the line of fire making a right angle with the scow.
"Get ready to watch, out there!" warned the naval officer.
"Now, Eph," glowed Jack, "we're going to see the thing we've so often dreamed about! We'll see that dummy torpedo leap forth, like a real one. For a little way, at least, we ought to see the track of the torpedo."
"Feel like betting the dummy will bit the scow?" questioned young Somers, half doubtfully.
"Of course it will," retorted Jack Benson, scornfully, "with naval experts on the job!"
Lieutenant Danvers gave the firing signal.
In the silence that followed, the two submarine boys hanging over the nose of the boat heard just a muffled click below. Then—
"There it goes!" shouted Jack Benson, with all the glee in the world.
Down beneath them, under the nose of the "Hastings" an object shot into brief view. First the war-head, then the middle, then the tail and propeller of a fourteen-foot Whitehead torpedo swept away from them, two or three feet below the surface of the waves. A line of bubbles came to the surface, showing that the torpedo was headed, straight and clean, for the stone-laden scow over on the ocean. Then the torpedo, still under water, passed out of their range of view.
"Hurrah!" yelled Jack Benson, leaping to his feet with all the glee and fervor of the enthusiast. "Hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" bellowed Eph Somers, for the glory of the game had gotten into his blood, too. Both submarine boys capered up and down on the platform deck.
But Lieutenant Danvers sat with left hand on the conning tower steering wheel, his watch in his right hand. He was counting the seconds.
"Look out for the signal," called the naval officer, coolly. "When I tell you, then look out for what happens over at the scow. Er—now!"
They were too far away to hear the impact, but the two submarine boys saw a slight commotion in the waters under the scow's rail. Then the dummy torpedo bounded back, rising and floating on the surface—spent!
Had that torpedo contained the fighting service charge of two hundred pounds of gun-cotton it would have shattered and sunk the biggest, staunchest, proudest battleship afloat.
"It's uncanny—isn't it?" gasped Jack Benson, feeling an odd shudder run over him.
STRUCK BY A SUBMERGED FOE
"Yep!" agreed Eph Somers, blaster of day-dreams. "But say?"
"Well?" demanded Captain Jack.
"At the same time," muttered Eph, grimly, "I'm glad that scow isn't a real battleship, with a half a dozen twelve-inch cannon turned on us."
"Humph!" muttered Jack, dryly, "if that scow were an enemy's battleship, twelve-inch barkers and all, we'd be twenty feet under the surface, and we'd be out of sight and out of mind."
"Quite right," nodded Lieutenant Danvers. "In a contest of that sort I'd feel fifty times safer here than on the battleship we were after. Now, Benson, you've seen the first part of it. We have the other dummy to fire. The real gunner, on a submarine, is the fellow at the wheel. Do you want to take the wheel, manoeuvre the boat and give the order for the next dummy shot?"
"Do I?" uttered Jack Benson. "Just!"
Orders were then given to place the other dummy torpedo in the tube, and this done, Jack took his place at the wheel, while Eph Somers and the lieutenant stood outside. At the naval officer's direction Jack Benson came up on the other side of the scow, about three hundred yards away, with the nose of the "Hastings" so pointed that the torpedo dummy could be delivered straight amidships.
At just the right moment Captain Jack passed the order to fire. Then he watched the scow with a strange fascination. Danvers stood, watch in hand.
"Now!" he shouted.
Barely two seconds later the second dummy torpedo rose, a few yards back from the side of the scow.
"That torpedo struck, full and fair," nodded Lieutenant Danvers, turning toward the conning tower. "Mr. Benson, if you always hit as full and well, you'll be an expert torpedoist."
"Why, it's nothing but holding the nose of your own boat full on the other craft, amidships, and the torpedo itself does the rest," uttered the young submarine skipper.
"That's it," nodded Lieutenant Danvers. "But, when you're below the surface, the problem becomes a harder one."
"But then I'd come up enough to use the periscope, and get the bearings of the enemy's vessel," declared Benson. "Then I'd drop below, using the compass for direction, and the number of motor revolutions to give me the knowledge of distance traveled."
"That's just the way it is done," agreed Danvers. "After all, it's just a matter of accurate boat handling, and being able to judge distances by the eye alone. And now, Mr. Benson, if you'll run over yonder, carefully, we'll pick up the dummies. After that, we've got to make as good a shot, with a real torpedo, and sink the scow."
"And, if you don't, sir—?" smiled the young submarine skipper.
"Then we'll be guilty of poor shooting, and have to try the second loaded torpedo," replied the naval officer. "If we miss with the second, then we'll have to contrive either to tow the scow, or to sink her somehow. If either of the loaded torpedoes fails to explode, we'll have to pick it up, at all hazards. If we left a loaded torpedo floating on the surface of the water, here in the paths of coast navigation, it would sink the first ship that struck the war-head of the torpedo."
The sea, by this time, was rough and whitecapped, and a brisk wind was blowing down from the north-east. It was no easy task to get a rope around first one dummy torpedo, and then the other. Yet at last this was done, and the heavy objects were hoisted aboard and stored below.
"Now, we'll get off and sink the scow, before dark," muttered Lieutenant Danvers.
"Are you going to let me fire the torpedo at her, sir?" demanded Skipper Jack Benson, eagerly.
"If you feel sure you can do it," replied the naval officer. "For that matter, if you fail, there'll be one loaded torpedo left, and I can take the second shot."
At a sign from the young skipper Eph hurried below, to relieve Hal Hastings, who wished to see some of the fun. Hal came up into the conning tower to take the wheel while Jack Benson slipped below to direct the loading of the torpedo into the tube. Then Biffens, the sailor, took his post by the firing lever, while Ewald stood back to pass the word from the conning tower.
This loaded torpedo, like the dummies, had been set to run four hundred yards. Captain Jack, therefore, determined to release the torpedo at a range of three hundred yards.
The "Hastings" had drifted somewhat away from the scow, but Jack, one hand on steering wheel and the other at the signals, ran the submarine over so that he could head the craft around to deliver a broadside fire at the scow, at right angles. When he had the "Hastings" in this position he shouted down:
"Be ready, Ewald!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
A breathless instant followed, during which the young submarine commander took his last sight from the conning tower.
"Fire it is, sir."
Jack and Hal could just barely see, from the tower, the slight commotion that the torpedo made in the water at the bow when released.
Hal, watch in hand was counting: "One, two, three, four—" and so on.
Suddenly there came a low rumble, followed by—
The explosion was a dull and sullen one, but loud enough to make the blood of the submarine boys tingle. A column of spray shot up, followed by detached whiffs of smoke, for the torpedo had exploded beneath the surface.
In the same instant a sound of rending timbers reached their ears. Then the scow—where was it? Only the waters rolled where the scow had been. Captain Jack and Hal rubbed their eyes.
"The same thing would have happened to a battleship," smiled Lieutenant Danvers, who had come up behind them. "Now, you young men begin to have something like an idea of what an engine of war you are handling, because this craft would be much more deadly, and vastly more nerve-racking to an enemy, because she would approach under water, and those on the battleship would have little or no means of gauging their peril. Incidentally, Mr. Benson, I must congratulate you upon the neatness of the shot."
"To accept congratulations for that would be like robbing a poor-box in a church," laughed Jack. "It called for nothing but aiming the nose of the boat straight."
"And, even under water," replied Danvers, "it calls for but few more calculations. With really trained men all through the crew of a submarine, you can now understand what show the battleship of coming days will have against a single hostile torpedo boat. Why, the captain of a torpedo boat, if he has but one torpedo on board, could sail in under a fleet, pick out his battleship, sink it and then scuttle away, under water, from the rest of the enemy's fleet."
"It seems almost like cowardice, doesn't it?" asked Hal Hastings, soberly.
"Not exactly," replied Lieutenant Danvers, grimly. "In the first place, the game of war is to destroy the enemy with as little loss as possible to yourself. Moreover, the commander and crew of a submarine torpedo boat, during a naval campaign, would have to take risks enough to make most men's hair turn gray."
"I'm not wishing for war," muttered Jack Benson. "Still, if one has to come, I hope I'll be in command of a torpedo craft that sees service."
"And I think you'd have your wish, my lad," nodded Lieutenant Danvers. "Of course, none but regularly commissioned naval officers may command the craft of the Navy. Still, in our Civil War, and in the War with Spain, we had to commission a good many volunteers. So, in the event of another war coming, I don't believe the Navy Department would feel that it could possibly pass by boys trained as well as you three have been."
"Are you going to use the other loaded torpedo to-day, sir?" asked Jack.
"Against what?" demanded Danvers. "You've sunk the scow as deep as the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean."
"Then I suppose we may as well put back to Dunhaven, sir?"
Jack accordingly signaled for slow speed ahead, turning the nose of the "Hastings" toward the west. Hal and Eph, as the submarine started back, took a drill in loading and unloading torpedoes into the tube, performing this work with one of the dummies, Ewald and Billens assisting.
Knowing that Hal was not in the engine room, Captain Jack was content to run along at slow speed. Nor had the boat gone more than two miles when something struck the bow.
At the first impact alert Jack Benson felt his heart leap into his mouth. It was as though the "Hastings" had struck, lightly, on a reef. Almost by instinct Jack threw the wheel over to port. Something was rasping, forcefully, under the hull of the submarine. As the helm went to port that something underneath, whatever it was, sheered off.
"What was that, Benson?" called up Lieutenant Danvers, sharply.
"Struck something, sir, I'm sure," Jack called back.
At the first sound of trouble, Hal Hastings leaped into the engine room. Lieutenant Danvers sprang up the stairs into the conning tower. He was in time to find Captain Jack swinging the nose of the "Hastings" around. Then the youthful commander signaled for the stop and the reverse.
"Mr. Somers!" shouted Jack, coolly but promptly.
"Aye, sir," called up Eph.
"Take a lantern and get down into the compartments along the keel forward. See whether we're taking in any water."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"We struck part of a derelict, or something else submerged," guessed Lieutenant Danvers. "We're lucky, indeed, if our plates are not sprung."
Then he called down to Biffens to follow and aid Eph Somers.
It was almost dark now. Jack, reaching over, switched on the electric sidelights outside, and also the white light at the signal masthead. Then he turned on the searchlight, sending its bright ray through the gathering darkness.
"Look over there, sir," muttered Jack, holding the searchlight ray steadily on an object he believed he saw. "Don't you make out, sir, bobbing up and down when the waves part, what looks like the stump of the broken-off mast of a vessel submerged? Is it a death-dealing derelict in the very path of coastwise navigation!"
"By Jove, yes!" gasped Lieutenant Danvers, hoarsely. "Your eyes are sharp, Benson, and your judgment sound. That, then, was what we struck on—the mast-stump of a water-logged, sunken derelict! If our underhull plates are sprung, down we go to the bottom!"
They waited, in dreadful anxiety, for the report of Eph from the region of the keel plates.
They were far out to sea, and a submarine cannot carry a lifeboat!
A SUBMARINE'S REVENGE
All now waited on Eph's word during the next few moments.
If the "Hastings," striking on that stub of a submerged mast, had had her plates so badly sprang that pumping would not drive out the water as fast as it came in, then this newest of the submarines was doomed to go to the bottom.
All that would then remain to those aboard would be to take to the ocean.
True, they had life-preservers aboard, and with these, officers and men could keep afloat.
In the icy waters of a February night, however, with something like fifteen miles to swim to mainland through an ever-roughening sea, it was almost impossible that the strongest among them could hope to reach shore alive.
Yet, desperately anxious as he was to know the news, Jack Benson did not desert his post by the steering wheel. Some one must be there. Nor had Hal thought of leaving the engine room.
So the naval lieutenant remained with Benson, duplicating, in those awful moments, the boy's cool courage.
It was Ewald who presently came running up the stairs to report.
"Mr. Somers orders me to report that there's a little trickle of water coming in between two plates about twelve feet abaft of the bow, sir. But Mr. Somers believes that, even without pumping, we could run forty miles without serious danger, sir."
Knowing his friend's ability and good judgment as he did, Jack Benson stood ready to accept that report, without question. But Lieutenant Danvers inquired:
"Did you see the leak, Ewald?"
"What do you think about it?"
"Why, sir, I agree with Mr. Somers."
"I believe I'll go down and take a look at the leak," announced Danvers, slowly.
"Then, while you're gone," said Benson, "I'll keep the searchlight steadily on what I can see of the top of that mast-stump."
"Why not keep on in toward the shore?"
"Because, sir," and Jack's jaws snapped, "if we've been insulted in this fashion by an old derelict, I don't believe in letting the old derelict get off so easily, sir."
Lieutenant Danvers knitted his brow, thoughtfully, as he hurried down the stairs, then followed Ewald through a steel trapway into the cramped compartments under the cabin flooring.
In three or four minutes Mr. Danvers came up again.
"It's all right," he said. "I can't see that the leak threatens to become serious, unless we should happen to hit that mast-stump again."
"I believed it was all right," the young captain replied, quietly, "after having heard Mr. Somers's report."
"You three boys certainly stick together and admire each other, don't you?" laughed Danvers.
"We've every reason to, sir. We three have been trained together in this work. No one of the three knows anything that the others don't," came Benson's matter-of-fact reply.
"When I went below you made some remark about not letting the derelict off too easily, Benson. What did you mean?"
"Why, I believe we ought to get square with that old sunken hulk," retorted Captain Jack, wheeling around and eyeing the naval officer.
"Great Scott! You mean that we ought to blow up the derelict?"
"Isn't it usually the Navy, sir, that gets such jobs to do?"
"Yes, yes, Benson. But the Navy Department always sends out a vessel fitted for such work."
"This is a submarine boat. We have one loaded torpedo left on board. Don't you think we answer the description of a vessel fitted for destroying a derelict?" smiled Captain Jack, coolly. "To say nothing of the itch, for revenge that we feel."
"It'll be a ticklish business," muttered Danvers, thoughtfully.
"So is a lot of the Navy's work, isn't it?" persisted Captain Jack.
"See here, lad, do you really mean that you want to make a sure-enough job of blowing up the derelict?"
"That's what I'm staying here for, sir," rejoined Jack, again swinging the searchlight. "And over there, three hundred yards yonder, I can still make out, once in a while, that bit of mast. What do you say, Lieutenant?"
"Why, if you boys have the grit to go ahead and tackle a job like that in the night, the Navy isn't going to feel chilled and run away," laughed Danvers, shortly. "Yet, my boy, do you think you fully understand the dangers of the undertaking?"
"I think I do," nodded Captain Jack.
"It's to be a duel between this submarine and the old derelict. You can't just hang off like this over here, and shoot at that mast. That wouldn't do any good."
"Yes, I know all that," said Jack, eagerly.
"Then what's your plan, Benson?"
"Why, sir, we've got, first of all, to sail as close as we dare to that mast-stump. Then we've got to use a sounding line to find out in which direction the hull of the sunken derelict lies. We must also get an idea of the length of the hull. Then, having gotten our figures, we'll have to glide back a little way, so as to give a right-angle broadside on at the hull of the derelict. Before firing the torpedo we'll first have to go far enough below water so that we'll know we're in fair line with that sunken hull yonder, for we've got to make our one loaded torpedo do the trick."
"You've got the figures down all right," nodded Lieutenant Danvers, thoughtfully. "The risky part is in trying to run over that derelict's sunken hull in order to locate it and make your soundings. Now, you run a big chance of running plumb on to some other stump of a mast. The 'Hastings' may easily get an injury, from the stump of another mast, that may tear a real hole in our plates and send us all to the bottom."
"There's danger to be considered in any submarine game really worth the while," assented Captain Jack Benson, coolly. "Do you feel then, Mr. Danvers, that we should be satisfied to drive back to Dunhaven and content ourselves with wiring the Navy Department news of the derelict and of her present position?"
Lieutenant Danvers thoughtfully gazed at the young submarine commander's face.
"No," he muttered, at last. "I think the best thing for a fellow like you, Jack Benson, will be to wade in and get your revenge! And make it as complete as you can!"
"All right, sir," nodded Jack. "Thank you. And now, we'll see how complete a job we can make of it. Mr. Somers!"
"Aye, aye, sir," answered Eph, from below.
"Are you going to consult with your crew?" whispered Danvers.
"They're not the kind of fellows who need consulting," muttered Captain Jack. "All they want is their orders. Mr. Somers, bring up the sounding line."
"Aye, aye, sir."
In a moment more young Somers was in the conning tower, and Jack, sounding line in hand, was out on the platform deck, where Lieutenant Danvers followed him.
Eph knew, by this time, what was wanted of him. Hal, in the engine room, was, as yet, ignorant of the game, but all Hal had to do was to obey engine room signals promptly.
Sending the submarine craft ahead at very slow speed, Eph steered as close to the bobbing masthead as the young captain deemed safe. Jack shouted his orders back as he and Lieutenant Danvers crouched over the nose of the boat.
In the rough sea that was running their work was doubly hard. But Eph kept the searchlight all the time turned in the direction of the top of the bobbing mast stump. In a circle they went around it, barely thirty feet from the broken mast, Jack heaving the sounding lead.
At last he felt it rest on the deck of the sunken derelict. The distance below was six fathoms—thirty-six feet.
"Now, we've got the line of the hull," called Benson to the lieutenant. "Our next job is to find how far back this hull runs under the water."
This knowledge, also, was gained, at last. Then Jack Benson, rising, hastened back to the conning tower, followed by Danvers. Jack himself closed the manhole, while Eph still trained the searchlight through the darkness of the night. Stormy weather was threatening.
"Now, hustle below, Eph, and get that loaded torpedo into the tube," commanded Skipper Jack Benson.
"My men will help you," added Lieutenant Danvers.
Jack quickly had his figures made. He knew where the hull lay, in what direction, and how far below the surface the deck of the sunken derelict lay. He planned to land the torpedo twelve feet below the derelict's deck, which, he believed, would strike a full and fair blow.
"Torpedo's loaded, sir," called Eph, while the "Hastings," under slow speed astern, was gliding back to get into position for the attack.
"Station Biffens by the firing lever, then," called down Captain Benson. "Tell him to fire on the instant that he gets the order. Now, Mr. Somers, stand by the submerging apparatus. Drop just forty-two feet below the surface, then report instantly to me."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Lieutenant Danvers stood by the submarine boy, intently watching, listening, and digesting Benson's plan. Yet the naval officer ventured no interference.
In another moment the hull of the "Hastings" began to disappear under the waves.
"Forty-two feet—sir—and—stopped!" shouted up Eph Somers.
"Ready to fire!" Jack hailed.
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Fire it is, sir."
"Have you fired, Mr. Somers?" rolled down Jack's next question.
"Then turn on the compressed air, and bring us to the surface."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
The instant that the conning tower stood up, dripping, through the waves, Jack turned on searchlight again. Slow speed ahead he next signaled.
As the piercing rays of light gleamed out over the waters before them the surface of the sea ahead was seen to be covered with floating litter.
"Jove, look at the wreckage!" uttered Lieutenant Danvers, jubilantly. "Everything about that old derelict that could float has come up to the surface."
"Do you think the derelict is utterly smashed, sir?" inquired Jack Benson, respectfully, for this trained naval officer knew more about such things than he did.
"That derelict is blown to kindling wood," exclaimed Danvers, himself manipulating the searchlight as they sailed through a sea littered with small wreckage. "That derelict will never menace any skipper afloat, from now on. Benson, lad, you did a wonderfully keen job."
"You don't think there'd be any risk, then, in sailing back and forth amid this wreckage?" asked Jack.
"Risk? Not a bit," retorted Danvers. "Why, look over there!" as he swung the searchlight in a new direction. "There's that submerged mast-stump, free of the wreck and floating horizontally, now."
Nor was it long before it was clear to trained eyes that the sunken derelict had been efficiently blown up. That water-logged ghost of a ship would never again be a source of peril to navigators.
"Now, you can turn your nose for Dunhaven, and with a clear conscience," chuckled Lieutenant Danvers. "And, while you're doing that, I'm going below for another look at the little leak."
Jack ran the "Hastings" the first few miles of her homeward course. Then he called Eph Somers to the wheel and went below to relax.
It was well on toward eight o'clock when the "Hastings" ran into the little harbor at Dunhaven and made moorings. The night watchman of the yard rowed out to meet them, bringing the news that Mr. Farnum, in the "Benson," had picked up the crew of the "Mary Bond" from two small boats at sea.
There was a light in the office, so Jack's party went inside. There they found Jacob Farnum at his desk, putting the finishing touches to a telegram.
"By Jove, I'm glad we went out after the poor fellows of the 'Mary Bond,'" cried Mr. Farnum, wheeling around. "We found them in sore straits, in two small boats, with only a pair of oars to each boat, and the sea roughening up every minute. They lost their fishing smack. Their boat struck on the stump of a mast of a sunken derelict. The smack sprung a big leak, this morning, and went down. I've just written a telegram to the Navy Department, Mr. Danvers, advising them of the location of the derelict as well as I could gather it from the captain of the late 'Mary Bond.'" With this, he handed Danvers the telegram he had written.
Lieutenant Danvers glanced at the telegram, and then handed it back with a smile.
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded Jacob Farnum, wonderingly.
"The telegram isn't necessary—that's all," replied the naval officer, with a smile. "We encountered that same sunken derelict—and Jack Benson blew her to smithereens!"
THE MYSTERIOUS ORDER COMES
That night a machinist was stationed aboard the "Hastings" to watch the in-coming of water through the slight leak, and to apply the pump occasionally.
In the morning the submarine was hauled up into an improvised drydock and her hull plates examined. It was Lieutenant Danvers's first chance to realize how superbly these Pollard boats were built and put together. He examined the hull with unbounded enthusiasm. Then a gang of workmen started in to replace the two injured plates.
For the next three days the "Benson" was used in target practice. Jacob Farnum scurried up and down the coast, finding and buying suitable old craft for targets.
All three of the submarine boys had ample practice in the firing of torpedoes. After it was all over there were but four of the loaded torpedoes left in the shed labeled "Danger."
"If you could only have a little more practice," grumbled Williamson, good-humoredly, "this would soon be a safe town for a fellow to take a quiet smoke in."
The "Hastings" was now in the water once more, as sound and staunch as on the first day she was launched.
Then came a few days of idleness. Lieutenant Danvers left Dunhaven, intending apparently to return soon. Ewald and Biffens, the two sailors, were quartered at the hotel at government expense, and were likely to enjoy themselves until orders came.
Eph went home for two or three days. Jack and Hal slept on board the "Benson," while Williamson quartered himself aboard the "Hastings," which craft no longer carried any torpedoes.
One afternoon, as Jack Benson was strolling through the shipyard, Jacob Farnum, in the doorway of the office building, called to the young skipper.
"I suppose both boats are ready, Jack?" asked the shipbuilder.
"Quite, sir," nodded Benson.
He did not inquire for what they were expected to be ready. Jacob Farnum was one who liked to plan by himself, and to announce a new move only when he was ready for it.
"All right, lad," nodded Farnum. "Keep both boats ready for any instant move that may be required of them. That's all."
Again young Benson nodded, then strolled on out of the yard. Up on the Main street of the village he encountered his chum.
"There's something in the wind, Hal, for the boats," Jack announced.
"All right," nodded Hal. "We're ready when needed."
Nor did either one of them waste any time in wondering what the new move was to be. When Jacob Farnum wanted them to know he would tell them and not before.
The chums visited a moving picture show for an hour. Then, tiring of that, they came out into the street. The first, man they encountered, almost, was Lieutenant Danvers, in citizen dress.
"Back from your trip, sir?" Jack asked.
"Yes. Has Farnum told you what's in the wind?"
"He has only given us a hint, sir, that something may happen."
"Oh!" replied the naval officer, next adding: "That's rather queer on the whole."
"Not at all, sir," replied young Benson. "Mr. Farnum has a habit of telling us things only when he's ready."
"Yet when—" began Danvers, but checked himself.
"No matter what is in the wind, Mr. Danvers, there's no real need of posting us about anything until the time comes. Suppose Mr. Farnum wants us to start for China within an hour? The galley cupboard is already as full of provisions as it will hold. Both boats are in the best possible trim. We need only time, perhaps, to fill the gasoline tanks as full as they'll hold. Then we're ready to cast off and sail far the first stopping place on the route."
"You're great fellows for system, then. So I understand why Mr. Farnum doesn't have to post you far in advance."
"He certainly doesn't have to," Jack relied.
"Where are you going? Down to the yard?"
"Not yet. Mr. Farnum hasn't given us any instructions about hanging around."
"Oh!" responded Lieutenant Danvers, with a quizzical smile. "Well, I must be leaving you, now."
Hal gazed after the shore-bound naval officer for a few moments, then observed, dryly:
"I'm not a bit curious. Are you, Jack?"
"Of course not," smiled the young skipper. "All I want to know is what's in the air so suddenly."
"Going back to the yard earlier?"
"No; later," retorted Benson. "What is the use of letting folks suppose they have our curiosity aroused?"
In fact, when evening came on, instead of going to the "Benson" for supper, Jack and Hal stopped at the hotel.
Ewald and Biffens were there, at one of the tables, but the sailors seemed to be eating in more haste than usual. Then, as they left the dining room, they saluted the young captain and engineer.
"Hurrying back to the yard, sir?" asked Ewald.
"No," said Jack, quietly.
"That's queer. Them's our orders. We're going now, sir," replied Ewald.
"You and I appear to be the only two in Dunhaven who don't know what is up," observed Hal Hastings, dryly.
"I don't believe Ewald or Biffens know what is on hand," Jack answered. "They've orders to report back in haste. That's all."
"Then hadn't we better hurry back to the yard, too?" inquired Hastings.
"No; we haven't any orders."
"But Mr. Farnum may be wondering where we are."
"Then the sailors can tell him; they know."
Jack dawdled over his supper.
"Going back to the yard now?" asked Hal.
"No; to the bookstore."
"Hm!" muttered Hal. "I begin to think you're going to keep Mr. Farnum guessing, to pay him back in his own coin."
"No; I'm going up to the store to pick out a small stack of books. Hal, I believe we're going on a cruise, and I mean to have something to read."
"I wonder if you know more than you've told me?" mused Hal, aloud.
"Not a blessed thing. I'm on the guessinglist, and I'm doing the best I know how at guessing."
Hal didn't say any more, but accompanied his chum to the book-store. There was a package for each of them to carry when they came out. Then they headed down, toward the shipyard.
It was well on toward one o'clock by the time that the chums stepped through the gate into the yard.
"Mr. Farnum is still at his office. That's late for him," remarked Hal.
"Maybe some one has him on the guessinglist, too," laughed Benson
The night watchman came forward out of a shadow.
"Boss wants to see you young gentlemen," announced the watchman.
So Jack and Hal turned in there. As they entered the office a scene of "solid comfort" met their eyes. Shipbuilder and naval officer were lounging in easy chairs, smoking Havanas until the air was thick and white with the smoke.
"Sailing orders, Jack," announced Farnum.
"All right, sir," nodded the young skipper, looking at his watch. "I can pull out inside of twelve minutes."
"But you don't have to," laughed Farnum. "You have until morning. Where do you suppose you're going?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I don't care where we're going," Benson smiled back. "When it's a matter of business all parts of the earth look alike to me."
Lieutenant Danvers laughed heartily.
"Benson, lad," exclaimed the naval officer, "you've got the real make-up to serve in the Navy. It's a pity we had to lose you."
"Don't be too sure yet, sir, that the Navy has escaped having me," smiled back Skipper Jack.
"You don't start until eight in the morning," went on the shipbuilder. "Pollard got back this evening, and he goes with us. We take both the 'Benson' and the 'Hastings.' Eph will have to command one of the boats, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir; and he'll have to be notified at once, too," replied the young submarine commander.
"He's on one of the craft now," replied Mr. Farnum. "Lieutenant Danvers goes with us, but he's a guest, only, and will not have to help in handling the boats. His two men, Ewald and Biffens, will take steering turns. We've a four hundred and eighty mile sail before us, down to Groton Bay."
"I know of the place, sir," nodded Jack, without emotion or enthusiasm. But Jacob Farnum's next words all but lifted the submarine boys from their feet.
"Jack, my boy, and you, too, Hal, at Groton Bay you will have to make the very efforts of your lives. We're to go through an official test for the United States Government. We shall be in competition with five other types of submarine boats—the Rhinds, the Seawold, the Griffith, and the Blackson and Day. We shall have to meet—and I hope, vanquish—all the recognized types of submarine boats made in the United States."
"And we will beat them, too!" glowed Jack Benson, his eyes flashing and his fists clenching.
"By the way, Jack," continued Mr. Farnum, "I had two applications for work this afternoon, from men who appear to know all about gasoline marine engines. As we'll be shorthanded for such a long cruise, do you suppose it would be worth while to look these fellows over and make up our minds about them?"
"Great Dewey—no!" burst, vehemently, from the young submarine captain. "If we're going into the test of our lives—for our very lives, I might say—then we don't want aboard any strangers who show up looking for jobs at the last moment. No, sir; I won't have them aboard—that is, not if I go, too!"
"I guess that's sensible enough," nodded Mr. Farnum. "Well, get aboard, boys. Lieutenant Danvers will be out by ten o'clock. Don't lie awake to-night, thinking too hard of what's before you."
"Don't you expect us to, sir," smiled Captain Jack. "We need our sleep to-night, if we've got such work ahead of us. It's big, work, sir."
"Big enough," nodded Jacob Farnum. "If we come out of this big official test with all the points of the game, then Uncle Sam is likely to buy all the submarine boats we can make for a couple of years to come—and our fortunes will be made—yours, too, boys!"
This talk of the boys' fortunes being at stake was not a matter of idle words. Jack, Hal and Eph well understood that, if they came out successful, they would also be at least moderately well off. Messrs. Farnum and Pollard were not of the kind to be niggardly in giving rewards fairly won.
JUDAS CO. INTRODUCE THEMSELVES:
Groton Bay, as every student of geography knows, is a nearly landlocked, well sheltered body of water, some seven miles long and three wide. At the mouth of the Groton river stands Colfax, a city of more than thirty thousand inhabitants.
This was about all that the submarine boys knew of their destination, until they arrived in the bay on the afternoon of the day after they left, Dunhaven.
Their run down had been a continuous one. Jack had had Biffens to relieve him at the wheel, while Mr. Farnum had helped Hal in the engine room. Besides, Besides, Lieutenant Danvers had stood a few tricks at the wheel.
While Jack came in the "Benson," which carried the two remaining loaded torpedoes, Eph had handled the "Hastings," with Ewald as relief. Williamson had handled the engines of the latter boat. David Pollard standing relief engine room watch.
The work had been hard and confining. It was a relief to all hands when they found themselves heading into Groton Bay.
Not far from the city water front lay two United States gunboats, the "Chelsea" and the "Oakland." Near the gunboats a fleet of seven other submarine craft lay at moorings.
"We're not the only crowd, then," mused Jacob Farnum, "that has seen fit to enter more than one boat. I shall have to get busy in the hunt for information."
"I'm not much worried about the triumph of the Pollard boats over competitors," declared Danvers, generously. "And, if anything can win for you, Mr. Farnum, it's the having of such enthusiasts as your submarine boys to handle your boats in the official tests."
"Oh, I can depend upon my boys," replied Jacob Farnum, quickly. "I know all about them."
Yet, as the shipbuilder gazed from the conning tower at the rival submarines actual drops of cold sweat oozed out on his forehead. Success meant so much to this shipbuilder, who had all his capital, to the last penny, invested in this submarine game.
"The worst of it is, we've got to keep on the lookout for dirty tricks!" groaned the shipbuilder, to himself. "We are willing to play fair to the last gasp. No doubt some of the other competing submarine builders feel the same way about it. Yet, with so many rivals in the field, there are sure to be one or two rascally fellows who won't consider any trick too low to give them an advantage."
Though Mr. Farnum had no particular rival, or rivals, in mind, his fears, as was afterwards proven, were only too well founded.
"Take the wheel, please, Mr. Farnum," Jack, begged. He ran down the steps to call:
"On deck, Biffens!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" replied the sailor, scrambling to obey.
Jack was out on the platform deck, megaphone in hand, by the time that his employer ran up rather close to the "Chelsea."
"Will you direct us to our moorings, sir?" Jack shouted to the watch officer aboard the gunboat.
"Proceed slowly east. Our launch will follow and show you your moorings," came the reply. Then the launch glided around the stern of the gunboat, leading the way.
Ten minutes later the "Benson" and the "Hastings" were moored, at the extreme eastern end of the line of submarine craft.
Then Hal, mopping his face from the engine room heat, came up on deck for a breath of air.
"I don't suppose we can get ashore," murmured young Hastings, gazing wistfully at the city beyond.
"No," muttered Jack, shaking his head. "We're short-handed as it is, and we've got to be on hand to watch these boats. There are too many of the enemy about, in the shape of rival builders and their employees, and among them there may be some mean tricksters who'd do anything in their power to put the Pollard boats out of the running in the tests to come. No; I reckon we won't see much of the shore, except from our decks, though it is mighty cramped and confining on one of these small craft."
Hal took a couple of turns up and down the deck. No one, until he has tried it, can realize how cramped such small craft are when one has to remain any length of time aboard.
Suddenly Hal paused, pointing landward.
"Great Scott!" he gasped. "Look who's here!"
A roomy whaleboat was approaching them. In it, as passengers, sat Grant Andrews, foreman, and five workmen from the home yard.
"What can have happened?" wondered Captain Jack, as he and his chum waved their hands in greeting; then stood staring.
"Surprised, eh, lads?" laughingly demanded Jacob Farnum, who had stolen up behind them.
"Yes; what's wrong?" asked Jack.
"Nothing," replied the shipbuilder.
"Then what are Andrews and the other men doing here?"
"Do you notice," hinted Mr. Farnum, "that the men with Andrews are all picked from among our older, trusted shipyard men."
"Yes, sir. That's true."
"Well, in the first place," pursued Farnum, "if any sudden repairs, fixings or other work are required in a hurry, while we're here, we have a fine lot of our own men to attend to it. Before leaving I told Grant to bring these men with him. Then they'll serve another purpose. I want you youngsters to be keyed up to your best performances all the time we're here. That you can't do if you're kept confined closely aboard until your very souls ache. So, as much of the time as is wise, you young fellows will be ashore, stretching your legs, and Grant Andrews and his men will be on board as guards."
"That's great!" glowed Jack. "And mighty considerate of you, too, sir."
"Considerate? Not a bit of it!" retorted Jacob Farnum, half indignantly. "Jack Benson, I want to drain the last bit of performance out of you youngsters that I possibly can while we're here. That's why I am going to take some good care of you, also. Right this way, Grant!"
The hail was directed at the foreman. The whaleboat put in alongside of the "Benson," and the foreman with two of his men came aboard.
"And now, everyone else over the side to go ashore!" called the shipbuilder.
This order was quickly obeyed. Then the whaleboat continued on over to the "Hastings," where Eph and his companions were taken off and the remaining three workmen from the home yard left aboard as guards.
Mr. Farnum had already ascertained that the naval board which was to be in charge of the tests was quartered at the leading hotel on shore. Hence, in landing, the shipbuilder was really killing two birds with a single stone, as he intended to report at once to the head of the board for whatever instructions the latter had to give.
"We may as well go up, to the hotel in style," announced Mr. Farnum, when the entire party, the naval lieutenant included, had landed at the wharf. The two sailors, Ewald and Biffens, had already gone away to places of their own choosing.
There were three or four automobiles for hire near the wharf. Two of these Mr. Farnum engaged for his own party. In five minutes more they stood about in the handsome lobby of the Somerset House while their host registered for the party.
Jack, Hal and Eph stood at ease, some distance from the men of the party. Despite their easy attitudes there was yet a certain military erectness about them which was heightened by the handsome, natty uniforms that they wore.
At the further end of the hotel lobby was a doorway before which stood a folding screen. Past that was a clump of potted palms.
Behind the palms stood a man who, once seen, was not likely to be forgotten. He was not a handsome man. About fifty years of age, he was unusually stout; and, though his clothing was of expensive texture, it fitted him badly. On his upper lip was a heavy moustache, now iron-gray. His face was red, almost bloated. There were heavy pouches under his eyes that told of many hours of senseless, vicious dissipation. A small wart on the left side of the man's nose emphasized his lack of good looks. Though the face was large, the eyes were small, beady, and often full of cunning. There was some iron-gray hair at each side of the head; the top was bald.
This man was John C. Rhinds, head of the Rhinds Submarine Company. Three of the boats now at anchor in Groton Bay were his—or, rather, his company's, though John Rhinds owned nearly all of the stock in the company.
So far, Rhinds had not succeeded in selling a submarine craft to the Navy Department. Twice he had been on the point of a sale, but each time the government had decided upon a Pollard boat, instead.
John C. Rhinds loved money. He was resolved, at any cost, to make the government buy several of his boats. And he was utterly unscrupulous.
As he stood behind the palms, looking toward the group of new arrivals, Rhinds's little eyes seemed to grow smaller. He knew the members of this party, though none of them as yet knew Rhinds. But the cunning man had made it his business to find out all about the people whom he hoped to beat in the coming game.
"Here you are, Radwin!"
Mr. Rhinds almost hissed the summons, calling to his side a man of some thirty years of age, tall, dark, handsome, slender and wearing his fine clothes with an air of distinction.
At first glance one would be inclined to like the appearance of Fred Radwin. A closer study of the somewhat shifty eyes and general reckless expression might have turned one skilled in human nature against Mr. Fred Radwin, who was secretary to the Rhinds Company.
"That's the crowd, right over there, that have sold two boats under our noses to the Navy Department," continued Rhinds, a snarl framing about his thick, ugly lips. "That's the crowd we've got to beat."
"Then those young chaps must be the three young submarine officers with such fine records," remarked Fred Radwin, in an undertone.
"They are," nodded Rhinds, slowly. "They're bright youngsters, too. I wish we had them on our side."
"Couldn't they be lured over into our employ, then?" asked Radwin.
"You don't know the youngsters. They're full of fool notions about loyalty to the Farnum Pollard crowd. And, besides, the boys have an interest in the rival company."
"Couldn't we offer the boys a bigger interest with us?" suggested Radwin, as he peered through the palms at the other submarine group.
"No!" retorted Rhinds, sharply. "I know about that crowd. You don't. Listen to me."
"I'm listening," said Fred Radwin.
"We've got to make the acquaintance of that whole crowd, Fred. We've got to get personally acquainted with them all. That will be easy enough, I think. Then we've got to lay our plans. The Pollard boats must have no show whatever in the coming tests, do you understand? Their craft must balk, or behave badly. We must destroy all naval confidence in Pollard boats. Then we must engineer matters so that none of that crowd will be fit to find out what ails their boats—in time, anyway. The easiest point of attack will be the boys themselves. It is absolutely necessary to get them out of the game some way or other—I don't care what! Radwin, you're fertile enough in ideas, and reckless enough in deeds. This is to be your task—put the Pollard boats and those submarine boys wholly out of the running! First of all, we'll get acquainted with them. Come along!"
The Farnum party were just turning away, to follow a bell-boy to the rooms assigned to them upstairs, when John C. Rhinds, his face beaming craftily, approached them, followed by Radwin. Rhinds introduced himself to Farnum, then presented Radwin as secretary to the Rhinds Company.
"We're rivals in a way, of course," declared Mr. Rhinds. "But we want to be good-natured, friendly rivals, my dear Farnum. We hope to see a good deal of you all while here."
Jacob Farnum replied with equal cordiality. When it came Jack Benson's turn to be introduced, Rhinds seized him by the hand, patting his shoulder.
"Captain Benson?" he repeated. "The brainiest young man in America—with two chums who run him a close race. We must all dine together to-night," purred this Judas of the submarine boat world.
EPH SOMERS PLAYS GALLANT
"I don't know when I've enjoyed myself as much," exclaimed Rhinds, looking round beamingly over the dinner party in one corner of the dining room.
Lieutenant Danvers was not there, having pleaded another engagement. But Rhinds and his lieutenant, Radwin, Messrs. Farnum and Pollard and all three of the submarine boys were around the big table. Radwin had succeeded in seating himself between Jack and Hal.