"You Are Not Likely to Be of Any Use Here."
The Submarine Boys and the Middies
The Prize Detail at Annapolis
By Victor G. Durham
Author of The Submarine Boys on Duty, The Submarine Boys' Trial Trip, The Submarine Boys and the Spies, Etc.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY Akron, Ohio . New York Made in U.S.A.
CHAPTER I: THE PRIZE DETAIL CHAPTER II: HOW EPH FLIRTED WITH SCIENCE CHAPTER III: "YOU MAY AS WELL LEAVE THE BRIDGE!" CHAPTER IV: MR. FARNUM OFFERS ANOTHER GUESS CHAPTER V: TRUAX SHOWS THE SULKS CHAPTER VI: TWO KINDS OF VOODOO CHAPTER VII: JACK FINDS SOMETHING "NEW," ALL RIGHT CHAPTER VIII: A YOUNG CAPTAIN IN TATTERS CHAPTER IX: TRUAX GIVES A HINT CHAPTER X: A SQUINT AT THE CAMELROORELEPHANT CHAPTER XI: BUT SOMETHING HAPPENED! CHAPTER XII: JACK BENSON, EXPERT EXPLAINER CHAPTER XIII: READY FOR THE SEA CRUISE CHAPTER XIV: THE "POLLARD" GOES LAME CHAPTER XV: ANOTHER TURN AT HARD LUCK CHAPTER XVI: BRAVING NOTHING BUT A SNEAK CHAPTER XVII: THE EVIL GENIUS OF THE WATER FRONT CHAPTER XVIII: HELD UP BY MARINES CHAPTER XIX: THE LIEUTENANT COMMANDER'S VERDICT CHAPTER XX: CONCLUSION
LIST OF FIGURES
"You Are Not Likely to Be of Any Use Here." Down Dropped the Bag. Eph Raced After Jack, Barking at Him.
CHAPTER I: THE PRIZE DETAIL
"The United States Government doesn't appear very anxious to claim its property, does it, sir?" asked Captain Jack Benson.
The speaker was a boy of sixteen, attired in a uniform much after the pattern commonly worn by yacht captains. The insignia of naval rank were conspicuously absent.
"Now, that I've had the good luck to sell the 'Pollard' to the Navy," responded Jacob Farnum, principal owner of the shipbuilding yard, "I'm not disposed to grumble if the Government prefers to store its property here for a while."
Yet the young shipbuilder—he was a man in his early thirties, who had inherited this shipbuilding business from his father—allowed his eyes to twinkle in a way that suggested there was something else behind his words.
Jack Benson saw that twinkle, but he did not ask questions. If the shipbuilder knew more than he was prepared to tell, it was not for his young captain to ask for information that was not volunteered.
The second boy present, also in uniform, Hal Hastings by name, had not spoken in five minutes. That was like Hal. He was the engineer of the submarine torpedo boat, "Pollard." Jack was captain of the same craft, and could do all the talking.
Jacob Farnum sat back, sideways, at his rolltop desk. On top of the desk lay stacked a voluminous though neat pile of papers, letters, telegrams and memoranda that some rival builders of submarine torpedo boats might have been willing to pay much for the privilege of examining. For, at the present moment, there was fierce competition in the air between rival American builders of submarine fighting craft designed for the United States Navy. Even foreign builders and inventors were clamoring for recognition. Yet just now the reorganized Pollard Submarine Boat Company stood at the top of the line. It had made the last sale to the United States Navy Department.
At this moment, out in the little harbor that was a part of the shipyard, the "Pollard" rode gently at anchor. She was the first submarine torpedo boat built at this yard, after the designs of David Pollard, the inventor, a close personal friend of Jacob Farnum.
Moreover, the second boat, named the "Farnum," had just been launched and put in commission, ready at an hour's notice to take the sea in search of floating enemies of the United States.
"The United States will take its boat one of these days, Captain," Mr. Farnum continued, after lighting a cigar. "By the way, did Dave tell you the name we are thinking of for the third boat, now on the stocks?"
"Dave" was Mr. Pollard, the inventor of the Pollard Submarine boat.
"No, sir," Captain Jack replied.
"We have thought," resumed Mr. Farnum, quietly, after blowing out a ring of smoke, "of calling the third boat, now building, the 'Benson.'"
"The—the—what, sir?" stammered Jack, flushing and rising.
"Now, don't get excited, lad," laughed the shipbuilder.
"But—but—naming a boat for the United States Navy after me, sir—"
Captain Jack's face flushed crimson.
"Of course, if you object—" smiled Mr. Farnum, then paused.
"Object? You know I don't, sir. But I am afraid the idea is going to my head," laughed Jack, his face still flushed. "The very idea of there being in the United States Navy a fine and capable craft named after me—"
"Oh, if the Navy folks object," laughed Farnum, "then they'll change the name quickly enough. You understand, lad, the names we give to our boats last only until the craft are sold. The Navy people can change those names if they please."
"It will be a handsome compliment to me, Mr. Farnum. More handsome than deserved, I fear."
"Deserved, well enough," retorted the shipbuilder. "Dave Pollard and I are well enough satisfied that, if it hadn't been for you youngsters, and the superb way in which you handled our first boat, Dave and I would still be sitting on the anxious bench in the ante-rooms of the Navy Department at Washington."
"Well, I don't deserve to have a boat named after me any more than Hal does, or Eph Somers."
"Give us time, won't you, Captain?" pleaded Jacob Farnum, his face straight, but his eyes laughing. "We expect to build at least five boats. If we didn't, this yard never would have been fitted for the present work, and you three boys, who've done so handsomely by us, wouldn't each own, as you now do, ten shares of stock in this company. Never fear; there'll be a 'Hastings' and a 'Somers' added to our fleet one of these days—even though some of our boats have to be sold to foreign governments."
"If a boat named the 'Hastings' were sold to some foreign government," laughed Jack Benson, "Hal, here, wouldn't say much about it. But call a boat named the 'Somers,' after Eph, and then sell it, say, to the Germans or the Japanese, and all of Eph's American gorge would come to the surface. I'll wager he'd scheme to sink any submarine torpedo boat, named after him, that was sold to go under a foreign flag."
"I hope we'll never have to sell any of our boats to foreign governments," replied Jacob Farnum, earnestly. "And we won't either, if the United States Government will give us half a show."
"That's just the trouble," grumbled Hal Hastings, breaking into the talk, at last. "Confound it, why don't the people of this country run their government more than they do? Four-fifths of the inventors who get up great things that would put the United States on top, and keep us there, have to go abroad to find a market for their inventions! If I could invent a cannon to-day that would give all the power on earth to the nation owning it, would the American Government buy it from me? No, sir! I'd have to sell the cannon to England, Germany or Japan—or else starve while Congress was talking of doing something about it in the next session. Mr. Farnum, you have the finest, and the only real submarine torpedo boat. Yet, if you want to go on building and selling these craft, you'll have to dispose of most of them abroad."
"I hope not," responded the shipbuilder, solemnly.
Having said his say, Hal subsided. He was likely not to speak again for an hour. As a class, engineers, having to listen much to noisy machinery, are themselves silent.
It was well along in the afternoon, a little past the middle of October. For our three young friends, Jack, Hal and Eph, things were dull just at the present moment. They were drawing their salaries from the Pollard company, yet of late there had been little for them to do.
Yet the three submarine boys knew that big things were in the air. David Pollard was away, presumably on important business. Jacob Farnum was not much given to speaking of plans until he had put them through to the finish. Some big deal was at present "on" with the Government. That much the submarine boys knew by intuition. They felt, therefore, that, at any moment, they were likely to be called into action—to be called upon for big things.
As Jack and Hal sat in the office, silent, while Jacob Farnum turned to his desk to scan one of the papers lying there, the door opened. A boy burst in, waving a yellow envelope.
"Operator said to hustle this wire to you," shouted the boy, panting a bit. "Said it might be big news for Farnum. So I ran all the way."
Jacob Farnum took the yellow envelope, opening it and glancing hastily through the contents.
"It is pretty good news," assented the shipbuilder, a smile wreathing his face. "This is for you, messenger."
"This" proved to be a folded dollar bill. The messenger took the money eagerly, then demanded, more respectfully:
"Any answer, sir?"
"Not at this moment, thank you," replied Mr. Farnum. "That is all; you may go, boy."
Plainly the boy who had brought the telegram was disappointed over not getting some inkling of the secret. All Dunhaven, in fact, was wildly agog over any news that affected the Farnum yard. For, though the torpedo boat building industry was now known under the Pollard name, after the inventor of these boats, the yard itself still went under the Farnum name that young Farnum had inherited from his father.
While Jacob Farnum is reading the despatch carefully, for a better understanding, let us speak for a moment of Captain Jack Benson and his youthful comrades and chums.
Readers of the first volume in this series, "The Submarine Boys on Duty," remember how Jack Benson and Hal Hastings strayed into the little seaport town of Dunhaven one hot summer day, and how they learned that it was here that the then unknown but much-talked-about Pollard submarine was being built. Both Jack and Hal had been well trained in machine shops; they had spent much time aboard salt water power craft, and so felt a wild desire to work at the Farnum yard, and to make a study of submarine craft in general.
How they succeeded in getting their start in the Farnum yard, every reader of the preceding volumes knows; how, too, Eph Somers, a native of Dunhaven, managed to "cheek" his way aboard the craft after she had been launched, and how he had always since managed to remain there.
Our same older readers will remember the thrilling experiences of this boyish trio during the early trials of the new submarine torpedo boat, both above and below the surface. These readers will remember, also, for instance, the great prank played by the boys on the watch officer of one of the stateliest battleships of the Navy.
Readers of the second volume, "The Submarine Boys' Trial Trip," will recall, among other things, the desperate efforts made by George Melville, the capitalist, aided by the latter's disagreeable son, Don, to acquire stealthy control of the submarine building company, and their efforts to oust Jack, Hal and Eph from their much-prized employment. These readers will remember how Jack and his comrades spoiled the Melville plans, and how Captain Jack and his friends handled the "Pollard" so splendidly, in the presence of a board of Navy officers, that the United States Government was induced to buy that first submarine craft.
After that sale, each of the three boys received, in addition to his regular pay, a bank account of a thousand dollars and ten shares of stock in the new company. Moreover, Messrs. Farnum and Pollard had felt wholly justified in promising these talented, daring, hustling submarine boys an assured and successful future.
Jacob Farnum at last looked up from the final reading of the telegram in his hands. Captain Jack Benson's gaze was fixed on his employer's face. Hal Hastings was looking out of a window, with almost a bored look in his eyes.
"You young men wanted action," announced Mr. Farnum, quietly. "I think you'll get it."
"Soon?" questioned Jack, eagerly.
"Immediately, or a minute or two later," laughed the shipbuilder.
"I'm ready," declared Captain Jack, rising.
"It'll take you a little time to hear about it all and digest it, so you may as well be seated again," declared Farnum.
Hal, too, wandered back to his chair.
"You've been wondering how much longer the Government would leave the 'Pollard' here," went on Mr. Farnum. "I am informed that the gunboat 'Hudson' is on her way here, to take over the 'Pollard.'"
"What are the Navy folks going to do?" demanded Captain Jack, all but wrathfully. "Do they propose to tow that splendid little craft away?"
"Hardly that, I imagine," replied Farnum. "It's the custom of the United States Navy, you know, to send a gunboat along with every two or three submarines. They call the larger craft the 'parent boat.' The parent boat looks out for any submarine craft that may become disabled."
"The cheek of it," vented Jack, disgustedly. "Why, sir, I'd volunteer to take the 'Pollard,' unassisted, around the world, if she could carry fuel enough for such a trip."
"But the Navy hasn't been accustomed to such capable submarine boats as ours, you know," replied Mr. Farnum. "Hence the parent boat."
"Parent boat?" interjected Hal Hastings, with his quiet smile. "You might call it the 'Dad' boat, so to speak."
Mr. Farnum laughed, then continued:
"A naval crew will take possession of the 'Pollard,' and the craft will proceed, under the care of the Dad boat"—with a side glance of amusement at Hal—"to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis."
"Annapolis—where they train the naval cadets, the midshipmen, into United States Naval officers? Oh, how I'd like to go there!" breathed Captain Jack Benson, eagerly.
"As a cadet in the Navy, do you mean?" asked Mr. Farnum.
"Why, that would have been well enough," assented Jack, "before I had such a chance in your submarine service. No; I mean I'd like to see Annapolis. I'd like to watch the midshipmen at their training, and see the whole naval life there."
"It's too bad every fellow can't have his wish gratified as easily," continued Jacob Farnum.
"Do you mean we're going to Annapolis, too?" asked Jack Benson, his eyes glowing. Even Hal Hastings sat up straighter in his chair, watching the shipbuilder's face closely.
"Yes," nodded Jacob Farnum. "Permission has been granted for me to send our second boat, the 'Farnum,' along with the 'Pollard'—both under the care of the—"
"The Dad boat," laughed Hastings.
"Yes; that will give us a chance to have the 'Farnum' studied most closely by some of the most capable officers in the United States Navy. It ought to mean, presently, the sale of the 'Farnum' to the Government."
"That's just what it will mean," promised Captain Jack, "if any efforts of ours can make the Navy men more interested in the boat."
"You three youngsters are likely to be at Annapolis for some time," went on Mr. Farnum. "In fact—but don't let your heads become too enlarged by the news, will you?"
Hal, quiet young Hal, neatly hid a yawn behind one hand, while Benson answered for both:
"We're already wearing the largest-sized caps manufactured, Mr. Farnum. Don't tempt us too far, please!"
"Oh, you boys are safe from the ordinary perils of vanity, or your heads would have burst long ago. Well, then, when you arrive at Annapolis, you three are to act as civilian instructors to the middies. You three are to teach the midshipmen of the United States Navy the principles on which the Pollard type of boat is run. There; I've told you the whole news. What do you think of it?"
Mr. Farnum's cigar having burned low, he tossed it away, then leaned back as he lighted another weed.
"What do we think, sir?" echoed Captain Jack, eagerly. "Why, we think we're in sight of the very time of our lives! Annapolis! And to teach the middies how to run a 'Pollard' submarine."
"How soon are we likely to have to start, sir!" asked Hal Hastings, after a silence that lasted a few moments.
"Whenever the 'Hudson' shows up along this coast, and the officer in command of her gives the word. That may be any hour, now."
"Then we'd better find Eph," suggested Captain Jack, "and pass him the word. Won't Eph Somers dance a jig for delight, though?"
"Yes; we'd better look both boats over at once," replied Mr. Farnum, picking up his hat. "And we'll leave word for Grant Andrews and some of his machinists to inspect both craft with us. There may be a few things that will need to be done."
As they left the office, crossing the yard, Captain Jack Benson and Hal Hastings felt exactly as though they were walking on air. Even Hal, quiet as he was, had caught the joy-infection of these orders to proceed to Annapolis. To be sent to the United States Naval Academy on a tour of instruction is what officers of the Navy often call "the prize detail."
Farnum and his two youthful companions went, first of all, to the long, shed-like building in which the third submarine craft to be turned out at this yard was now being built. From inside came the noisy clang of hammers against metal. The shipbuilder stepped inside alone, but soon came out, nodding. The three now continued on their way down to the little harbor. All of a sudden the three stopped short, almost with a jerk, in the same second, as though pulled by a string.
At exactly the same instant Jacob Farnum, Captain Jack Benson and Engineer Hal Hastings put up their hands to rub their eyes.
Their senses had told them truly, however. While the "Pollard" rode serenely at her moorings, the "Farnum," the second boat to be launched, was nowhere to be seen!
"What on earth has happened to the other submarine?" gasped the shipbuilder, as soon as he could somewhat control his voice.
There was not a sign of her. At least, she had not sunk at her moorings, for the buoys floated in their respective places, with no manner of tackle attached to them.
"A submarine boat can't slip its own cables and vanish without human hands!" gasped the staggered Jack Benson.
"There's something uncanny about this," muttered Hal Hastings.
Jacob Farnum stood rooted to the spot, opening and closing his hands in a way that testified plainly to the extent of his bewilderment.
CHAPTER II: HOW EPH FLIRTED WITH SCIENCE
Jack Benson was the first of the trio to move.
Without a word he broke into a run, heading for the narrow little shingle of beach.
"Got an idea, Captain?" shouted Jacob Farnum, darting after his young submarine skipper.
"Yes, sir!" floated back over Jack's shoulder.
"Then what's at the bottom—"
"Eph and the boat, both together, or I miss my guess," Captain Jack shouted back as he halted at the water's edge, where a rowboat lay hauled up on the shore.
Jacob Farnum's face showed suddenly pallid as he, also, reached the beach. Hal, who was in the rear, did not seem so much startled.
"Do you think Eph has gone off on a cruise all alone?—that he has come to any harm?" gasped the shipbuilder.
"I don't know, but I'm not going to worry a mite about Eph Somers until I have to," retorted Jack Benson, easily.
"Eph can generally take care of himself," added Hal Hastings. "He rarely falls into any kind of scrape that he can't climb out of."
"But this is a bad time for him to take the 'Farnum' and cruise away," objected the owner of the yard. "The 'Hudson' may be here at any hour, you know, and we ought to be ready for orders."
As he spoke, Mr. Farnum scanned the horizon away to the south, out over the sea.
"There's a line of smoke, now, and not many miles away," he announced. "It may, as likely as not, be smoke from the 'Hudson's' pipe."
"Going out with us, sir?" inquired Captain Jack Benson, as Hal took his place at a pair of oars.
"Yes," nodded the owner of the yard, dropping into a seat at the stern of the boat, after which Benson pushed off at the bow.
Down on the seashore, on this day just past the middle of October, the air was keen and brisk. There had been frost for several nights past. Sleighing might be looked for in another month.
"Cable's gone from this buoy," declared Captain Jack, as Hal rowed close. "Over to the other one, old fellow."
Here, too, the cable was missing. Evidently the "Farnum" had made a clean get-away. If there had been any accident, it must have taken place after the new submarine boat had slipped away from her moorings.
"Humph!" grunted Jack, scanning the sea. "No sign of the boat anywhere. Eph may be anywhere within twenty miles of here."
"Or within twenty feet, either," grinned Hal, looking down into the waters that were lead-colored under the dull autumn sky.
"What are we going to do, Captain?" inquired Jacob Farnum. "There are Grant Andrews and three of his machinists coming down to the water."
"I reckon, sir, we'd better put them aboard the 'Pollard' first, sir," Benson suggested.
Mr. Farnum nodding, the boat was rowed in to the shore and Andrews and his men were put aboard the "Pollard" at the platform deck. Captain Jack Benson unlocking the door to the conning tower, was himself the first to disappear down below. When he came back he carried a line to which was attached a heavy sounding-lead.
"It won't take us long to sound the deep spots in this little harbor," said the young skipper, as he dropped down once more into the bow of the shore boat. "Row about, Hal, over the places where the submarine could go below out of sight."
As Hal rowed, Skipper Jack industriously used the sounding-lead.
For twenty minutes nothing resulted from this exploration. Then, all of a sudden, Benson shouted:
"Back water, Hal! Easy; rest on your oars. Steady!"
Jack Benson raised the lead two or three feet, then let it down again, playing it up and down very much as a cod fisherman uses his line and hook.
"I'm hitting something, and it is hardly a rock, either," declared young Benson. "Pull around about three points to starboard, Hal, then steal barely forward."
Again Benson played see-saw with his sounding-line over the boat's gunwale.
"If my lead isn't hitting the 'Farnum,'" declared the young skipper, positively, "then it's the 'Farnum's' ghost. Hold steady, now, Hal."
Immediately afterward, Benson caused the lead fairly to dance a jig on whatever it touched at bottom.
"What's the good of that, anyway?" demanded Jacob Farnum.
"You don't think I'm doing this just for fun, do you, sir?" asked Captain Jack, with a smile.
"No; I know you generally have an object when you do anything unusual," responded the shipbuilder, good-humoredly.
"You know, of course, sir, that noises sound with a good deal of exaggeration when you hear them under water?"
"Yes; of course."
"You also know that all three of us have been practicing at telegraphy a good deal during the past few weeks, because every man who follows the sea ought to know how to send and receive wireless messages at need."
"Yes; I know that, Benson."
"Well, sir, I guess that the lead has been hitting the top of the 'Farnum's' hull, and I've been tapping out the signal—"
"The signal, 'Come up—rush!'" broke in Hal, with an odd smile.
"Right-o," nodded Jack Benson.
"How on earth did you know what the signal was, Hastings?" demanded Mr. Farnum.
"Why, sir, I've been sitting so that I could see Jack's arm. I've been reading, from the motions of his right arm, the dots and dashes of the Morse telegraph alphabet."
"You youngsters certainly get me, for the things you think of," laughed the shipyard's owner.
"And the 'Farnum,' or whatever it is, is coming up," called Captain Jack, suddenly. "I just felt my lead slide down over the top of her hull. Hard-a-starboard, Hal, and row hard," shouted young Benson, breathlessly.
Though Hastings obeyed immediately he was barely an instant too soon. To his dismay, Mr. Farnum saw something dark, unwieldy, rising through the water. It appeared to be coming up fairly under the stern of the shore boat, threatening to overturn the little craft and plunge them all into the icy water.
Hal shot just out of the danger zone, though. Then a round little tower bobbed up out of the water. Immediately afterward the upper third of a long, cigar-shaped craft came up into view, water rolling from her dripping sides, which glistened brightly as the sun came out briefly from behind a fall cloud.
In the conning tower, through the thick plate glass, the three people in the shore boat made out the carroty-topped head and freckled, good-humored, honest, homely face of Eph Somers. The boat lay on the water, under no headway, drifting slightly with the wind-driven ripples. Then Eph raised the man-hole cover of the top of the conning tower, thrusting out his head to hail them.
"Hey, you landsmen, do you know a buoy from an umbrella?"
"Do you know the difference between a Sunday-school text and petty larceny?" retorted Jack Benson, sternly. "What do you mean by taking the submarine without leave?"
"I've been experimenting—flirting with science," responded Eph, loftily. "Say, if you landsmen know a buoy from a banana, get down to the bow moorings of this steel mermaid, and I'll pass you the bow cable. It's a heap easier to lead this submarine horse out of the stall, single-handed, than it is to take him back and tie him."
Hal rowed easily to the buoy, while Eph, returning to the steering wheel and the tower controls, ran the "Farnum," with just bare headway, up to where he could toss the bow cable to those waiting in the boat. A few moments later the stern cable, also, was made fast, in such a way as to allow a moderate swing to the bulky steel craft.
"Now, you can take me ashore, if you feel like it," proposed Eph, standing on the platform deck.
"Not quite yet," returned Skipper Jack, though the small boat lay alongside. "We've got some inspecting to do. But how did you get on board in the first place?"
"Why, the night watchman was in the yard for a few minutes, and I got him to put me on board. I figured I could hail somebody else when I was ready to go on shore."
"But what on earth made you do such a thing?" demanded Captain Jack, in a low tone. "It's really more than you had a right to do, Eph, without getting Mr. Farnum's permission."
"Why, I've known you to take the 'Pollard' and try something when Mr. Farnum wasn't about," retorted Somers, looking surprised.
"You never knew me to do it when I could ask permission, although, as captain, I have the right to handle the boat. But that leave doesn't extend to all the rest, Eph. What were you doing down there, anyway?"
"Why, I came on board, and left the manhole open for ten minutes," answered Somers. "Then I found the cabin thermometer standing at 49 degrees. I wondered how much warmth could be gained by going below the surface. I had been down an hour and five minutes when you began to signal with that sledge-hammer—"
"Sounding-lead," Jack corrected him.
"Well, it sounded like a sledge-hammer, anyway," grinned young Somers. "While I was down below I found that the temperature rose four degrees."
"Part of that was likely due to the warmth of your body, and the heat of the breath you gave off," hinted Benson.
"You could have gotten it up to eighty or ninety degrees by turning on the electric heater far enough," suggested Hal.
"I wanted to see whether it would be warmer in the depths; wanted to find out how low I could go and be able to do without heat in winter," Somers retorted.
"I could have told you that, from my reading, without any experiment," retorted Skipper Jack. "Close your conning tower and go down a little way, and the temperature would gradually rise a few degrees. That's because of the absence of wind and draft. But, if you could go down very, very deep without smashing the boat under the water pressure, you'd find the temperature falling quite a bit."
"Where did you read all that?" inquired Eph, looking both astonished and sheepish.
"Here," replied Jack, going to a small wall book-case, taking down a book and turning several pages before he stopped.
"Just my luck," muttered Eph, disconsolately. "Here I've been dull as ditch-water for an hour, trying to find out something new, and it's all stated in a book printed—ten years ago," he finished, after rapidly consulting the title-page.
Jacob Farnum had been no listener to this conversation. Taking the marine glasses from the conning tower, the shipbuilder was now well forward on the platform deck, scanning what was visible of the steam craft to the southward. At last the yard's owner turned around to say:
"I don't believe you young men can have things ship-shape a second too soon. The craft heading this way has a military mast forward. She must be the 'Hudson.' If there's anything to be done, hustle!"
Jack and Hal sprang below, to scan their respective departments. Five minutes later Grant Andrews hailed from the "Pollard," and Eph rowed over in the shore boat to ferry over the machinists.
Half an hour later Andrews and his men had put in the few needed touches aboard the newer submarine boat. The sun, meanwhile, had gone down, showing the hull of a naval vessel some four miles off the harbor.
Darkness came on quickly, with a clouded sky. As young Benson stepped on deck Grant Andrews followed him.
"All finished here, Grant?" queried the yard's owner.
"Yes, sir. There's mighty little chance to do anything where Hal Hastings has charge of the machinery."
"That's our gunboat out there, I think," went on Mr. Farnum, pointing to where a white masthead light and a red port light were visible, about a mile away.
"Dunhaven must be on the map, all right, if a strange navigating officer knows how to come so straight to the place," laughed Jack Benson.
"Oh, you trust a United States naval officer to find any place he has sailing orders for," returned Jacob Farnum. "I wonder if he'll attempt to come into this harbor?"
"There's safe anchorage, if he wants to do so," replied Captain Jack.
While Somers was busy putting the foreman and the machinists ashore, Mr. Farnum, Jack and Hal remained on the platform deck, watching the approach of the naval vessel, which was now plainly making for Dunhaven.
Suddenly, a broad beam of glaring white light shot over the water, resting across the deck of the "Farnum."
"I guess that fellow knows what he wants to know, now," muttered Benson, blinking after the strong glare had passed.
"There, he has picked up the 'Pollard,' too," announced Hastings. "Now, that commander must feel sure he has sighted the right place."
"There go the signal lights," cried Captain Jack, suddenly. "Hal, hustle below and turn on the electric current for the signaling apparatus."
Then Benson watched as, from the yards high up on the gunboat's signaling mast, colored electric lights glowed forth, twinkling briefly in turn. This is the modern method of signaling by sea at night.
"He wants to know," said Benson, to Mr. Farnum, as he turned, "whether there is safe anchorage for a twelve-hundred-ton gunboat of one hundred and ninety-five feet length."
Reaching the inside of the conning tower at a bound, the young skipper rapidly manipulated his own electric signaling control. There was a low mast on the "Farnum's" platform deck, a mast that could be unstepped almost in an instant when going below surface. So Captain Jack's counter-query beamed out in colors through the night:
"What's your draught?"
"Under present ballast, seventeen-eight," came the answer from the gunboat's signal mast.
"Safe anchorage," Captain Jack signaled back.
"Can you meet us with a pilot?" questioned the on-coming gunboat.
"Yes," Captain Jack responded.
"Do so," came the laconic request.
"That's all, Hal," the young skipper called, through the engine room speaking tube. "Want to row me out and put me aboard the gunboat?"
In another jiffy the two young chums had put off in the boat, Hal at the oars, Jack at the tiller ropes. The gunboat was now lying to, some seven hundred yards off the mouth of the little harbor. Hastings bent lustily to the oars, sending the boat over the rocking water until he was within a hundred yards of the steam craft's bridge.
"Gun boat ahoy!" roared Hal, between his hands. Then, by a slip of the tongue, and wholly innocent of any intentional offense, he bellowed:
"Is that the 'Dad' boat?"
"What's that?" came a sharp retort from the gunboat's bridge. "Don't try to be funny, young man!"
"Beg your pardon, sir. That was a slip of the tongue," Hal replied, meekly, as he colored. "Are you the gunboat 'Hudson?'"
"No; I'm her commanding officer, young man! Who in blazes are you?"
"I'm the goat, it seems," muttered Hastings, under his breath. But, aloud, he replied:
"I have the pilot you requested."
"Then why don't you bring him on board?" came the sharp question. "Did you think I only wanted to look at a pilot?"
"All right, sir. Shall I make fast to your starboard side gangway?" Hal called.
"In a hurry, young man!"
"That's the naval style, I guess," murmured Jack to his chum. "No fooling in the talk. I wonder if that fellow eats pie? Or is his temper due to coffee?"
Answering only with a quiet grin, Hal rowed alongside the starboard side gangway. Jack, waiting, sprang quickly to the steps, ascending, waving his hand to Hal as he went. Young Hastings quickly shoved off, then bent to his oars.
"Where's the pilot?" came a stern voice, from the bridge, as Jack Benson's head showed above the starboard rail.
"I am the pilot, sir," Jack replied.
"Why, you're a boy."
"Guilty," Jack responded.
"What does this fooling mean? You're not old enough to hold a pilot's license."
By this time Benson was on the deck, immediately under the bridge. A half dozen sailors, forward, were eyeing him curiously.
"I have no license, sir," Jack admitted. "Neither has anyone else at Dunhaven. For that matter, the harbor's a private one, belonging to the shipyard."
"Hasn't Mr. Farnum a man he can send out?"
"No one who knows the harbor better than I do, sir."
"Who are you? What are you?"
"Jack Benson, sir. Captain of the Pollard submarine boats."
"Why didn't you tell me that before?"
The question came sharply, almost raspingly.
"Beg your pardon, sir, but you didn't ask me," Jack replied.
"Come up here, Benson," ordered the lieutenant commander, in a loud voice intended to drown out the subdued titter of some of the sailors forward.
Jack ascended to the bridge, to find himself facing a six-footer in his early thirties. There was a younger officer at the far end of the bridge.
"Does Mr. Farnum consider you capable of showing us the way into the harbor?" demanded the commanding officer of the "Hudson."
"I think so, sir. He trusts me with his own boats."
"Then you are—"
"Benson, Mr. Farnum's captain of the submarine boats."
Lieutenant Commander Mayhew gazed in astonishment for a moment, then held out his hand as he introduced himself, remarking:
"I was told that I would find a very young submarine commander here, but—"
"You didn't expect to find one quite as young," Jack finished, smiling.
"No; I didn't. Mr. Trahern, I want you to know Captain Jack Benson, of the Pollard submarines."
Ensign Trahern also shook hands with young Benson.
"And now," went on the commander of the "Hudson," "I think you may as well show us the way into the harbor."
"You'll want to go at little more than headway, sir," Jack replied. "The harbor is small, though there's enough deep water for you. In parts there are some sand ledges that the tide washes up."
"I can't allow you to pilot us, exactly, but you'll indicate the course to me, won't you, Mr. Benson?"
The "mister" was noticeable, now. Naval officers are chary of their bestowal of the title "captain" upon one who does not hold it in the Army or Navy service.
At Mr. Mayhew's order the "Hudson" was started slowly forward, the searchlight playing about the entrance to the harbor.
"For your best anchorage, sir," declared Captain Jack, after he had brought the gunboat slowly into the harbor, "you will do well to anchor with that main arc-light dead ahead, that shed over there on your starboard beam, and the front end of the submarine shed about four points off your port bow."
Mr. Mayhew slowly manoeuvred his craft, while men stood on the deck below, forward, prepared to heave the bow anchors.
"Go four points over to port, Mr. Trahern," instructed Mr. Mayhew. "Now, back the engines—steady!"
Jack Benson opened his mouth wide. Then, as he saw the way the "Hudson" was backing, he suddenly called:
"Slow speed ahead, quick, sir!"
"You said—" began Mr. Mayhew.
Gr-r-r-r! The stern of the gunboat dug its way into a sand ledge, lifting the stern considerably.
"Slow speed ahead!" rasped Lieutenant Commander Mayhew, sharply.
But the gunboat could not be budged. She was stuck, stern on, fast in the sand-ledge.
"Benson!" uttered the lieutenant commander, bitterly, "I congratulate you. You've succeeded in grounding a United States Naval vessel!"
CHAPTER III: "YOU MAY AS WELL LEAVE THE BRIDGE!"
There was so much of overwhelming censure in the naval officer's tone that Jack's spirit was stung to the quick.
"It's your mistake, sir," he retorted. "You didn't follow the course I advised. You swung the ship around to port, and—"
"Silence, now, if you please, while men are trying to get this vessel out of a scrape a boy got her into," commanded Mr. Mayhem, sternly.
Jack flushed, then bit his tongue. In another moment a pallor had succeeded the red in his face.
He was blamed for the disaster, and he was not really at fault.
Yet, under the rebuke he had just received, he did not feel it his place to retort further for the present.
Mr. Mayhew and Mr. Trahern conferred in low tones for a moment or two.
"You may as well leave the bridge, young man," resumed Mr. Mayhew, turning upon the submarine boy. "You are not likely to be of any use here."
As Jack, burning inwardly with indignation, though managing to keep outwardly calm, descended to the deck below, he caught sight of Hal Hastings, hovering near in the rowboat. Hal signaled to learn whether he should put in alongside to take off his chum, but Benson shook his head.
Over on the "Farnum" the yard's owner and Eph Somers watched wonderingly. They understood, well enough, that the new, trim-looking gunboat was in trouble, but they did not know that Jack Benson was held at fault.
Down between decks the engines of the "Hudson" were toiling hard to run the craft off out of the sand. Then the machinery stopped. An engineer officer came up from below. He and Mr. Mayhew walked to the stern, while a seaman, accompanying them, heaved the lead, reading the soundings.
"We're stuck good and fast," remarked the engineer officer. "We can't drive off out of that sand for the reason that the propellers are buried in the grit. They'll hardly turn at all, and, when they do, they only churn the sand without driving us off."
"Confound that ignoramus of a boy!" muttered Mr. Mayhew, walking slowly forward. It was no pleasant situation for the lieutenant commander. Having run his vessel ashore, he knew himself likely to be facing a naval board of inquiry.
Hal, finding that the shore boat was not wanted for the present, had rowed over to the "Farnum's" moorings. Now Jacob Farnum came alongside in the shore boat.
"May I speak with your watch officer?" he called.
"I am the commanding officer," Mr. Mayhew called down, in the cold, even, dulled voice of a man in trouble.
"I am Mr. Farnum, owner of the yard. May I come on board?"
"Be glad to have you," Lieutenant Commander Mayhew responded.
So Mr. Farnum went nimbly up over the side.
"May I ask what is the trouble here, sir?" asked the yard's owner.
"The trouble is," replied Mr. Mayhew, "that your enterprising boy pilot has run us aground—hard, tight and fast!"
Jacob Farnum glanced swiftly at his young captain. Jack shook his head briefly in dissent. Jacob Farnum, with full confidence in his young man, at once understood that there was more yet to be learned.
"Come up on the bridge, sir, if you will," requested the commander of the gunboat, who was a man of too good breeding to wish any dispute before the men of the crew. "You may come, too, Benson."
Jack followed the others, including the engineer officer of the "Hudson." Yet Benson was clenching his hands, fighting a desperate battle to get full command over himself. It was hard—worse than hard—to be unjustly accused.
Jacob Farnum wished to keep on the pleasantest terms with these officers of the Navy. At the same time he was man enough to feel determined that Jack, whether right or wrong, should have a full chance to defend himself.
"I understand, sir," began Mr. Farnum, "that you attach some blame in this matter to young Benson?"
"Perhaps he is not to be blamed too much, on account of his extreme youth," responded Mr. Mayhew.
"Forget his youth altogether," urged Mr. Farnum. "Let us treat him as a man. I've always found him one, in judgment, knowledge and loyalty. Do you mind telling me, sir, in what way he erred in bringing you in here?"
"An error in giving his advice," replied Mr. Mayhew. "Or else it was ignorance of how to handle a craft as large as this gunboat. For my anchorage he told me—"
Here the lieutenant commander repeated the first part of Jack's directions correctly, but wound up with:
"He advised me to throw my wheel over four points to port."
"Pardon me, sir," Jack broke in, unable to keep still longer. "What I said, or intended to say, was to bring your vessel so that the forward end of the submarine shed over there would be four points off the port bow."
"What did you hear Mr. Benson say, Mr. Trahern?" demanded the gunboat's commander, turning to the ensign who had stood with him on the bridge.
"Why, sir, I understood the lad to say what he states that he said."
"You are sure of that, Mr. Trahern?"
"Unless my ears tricked me badly," replied the ensign, "Mr. Benson said just what he now states. I wondered, sir, at your calling for slow speed astern."
Lieutenant Commander Mayhew gazed for some moments fixedly at the face of Ensign Trahern. Then, of a sudden, the gunboat's commander, who was both an officer and a gentleman, broke forth, contritely:
"As I think it over, I believe, myself, that Benson advised as he now states he did. It was my own error—I am sure of it now."
Wheeling about, Mayhew held out his right hand.
"Mr. Benson," he said, in a deep voice full of regret, "I was the one in error. I am glad to admit it, even if tardily. Will you pardon my too hasty censure?"
"Gladly, sir," Benson replied, gripping the proffered hand. Jacob Farnum stood back, wagging his head in a satisfied way. It had been difficult for him to believe that his young captain had been at fault in so simple a matter, or in a harbor with which he was so intimately acquainted.
As for the young man himself, the thing that touched him most deeply was the quick, complete and manly acknowledgment of this lieutenant commander.
"Mr. Farnum," inquired the gunboat's commander, "have you any towboats about here that can be used in helping me to get the 'Hudson' off this sand ledge?"
"The only one in near waters, sir," replied the yard's owner, "is a craft, not so very much larger than a launch, that ties up some three miles down the coast. She's the boat I use when I need any towing here. Of course, I have the two torpedo boats, though their engines were not constructed for towing work."
"May I offer a suggestion?" asked Jack, when the talk lagged.
"I'll be glad to have you, Mr. Benson," replied Mr. Mayhew, turning toward the submarine boy.
"Flood tide will be in in about two hours and a half, sir," Benson followed up. "That ought to raise this vessel a good deal. Then, with the towboat Mr. Farnum has mentioned, and with such help as the engines of the submarines may give, together with your own engines, Mr. Mayhew, I think there ought to be a good chance of getting the 'Hudson' afloat with plenty of water under her whole keel. We can even start some of the engines on shore, and rig winches to haul on extra cables. Altogether, we can give you a strong pull, sir."
"That sounds like the best plan to me," nodded Jacob Farnum. "I'll have a message sent at once for that towboat."
A white-coated steward now appeared on deck, moving near the lieutenant commander.
"Is dinner ready, Greers?" called Mr. Mayhew.
"Lay two more plates, then. Mr. Farnum, I trust you and your young submarine commander will sit as my guests to-night."
This invitation the yard's owner accepted, asking only time enough to arrange for keeping some of his workmen over-time, awaiting the coming of flood-tide.
So, presently, Jack and his employer found themselves seated at table in the gunboat's handsome wardroom. Besides the lieutenant commander there were Lieutenant Halpin, two ensigns, two engineer officers and a young medical officer. In the "Hudson's" complement of officers there were also four midshipmen, but these latter ate in their own mess.
The time passed most pleasantly, Mr. Mayhew plainly doing all in his power to atone for his late censure of the submarine boy.
Before dinner was over the small towboat was in the harbor. At the coming of flood tide this towing craft had a hawser made fast to the gunboat. With the help of some of the naval machinists aboard the "Hudson," both submarine craft were also manned and hawsers made fast. Two cables were passed ashore to winches to which power was supplied by the shipyard's engines. When all was ready a mighty pull was given, the gunboat's own propellers taking part in the struggle. For two or three minutes the efforts continued. Then, at last, the "Hudson," uninjured, ran off into deep water and shortly afterwards anchored in safety.
It was a moment of tremendous relief for Mr. Mayhew.
"Call the tugboat captain aboard, and I'll settle with him at my own expense," proposed the lieutenant commander.
"I trust you will think of nothing of the sort," replied Jacob Farnum, quickly. "In this harbor I wish to consider you and your vessel as my guests."
Again Mr. Mayhew expressed his thanks. Presently, glancing ashore through the night, he asked:
"What sort of country is it hereabouts?"
"Mostly flat, as to the surface," Mr. Farnum replied. "If your question goes further, there are some fine roads and several handsome estates within a few miles of here. Mr. Mayhew, won't you and a couple of your officers come on shore with me? I'll telephone for my car and put you over quite a few miles this evening."
"Delighted," replied the commander of the gunboat.
One of the "Hudson's" cutters being now in the water alongside, the party went ashore in this. Jack, after bidding the naval officers good-night, found Hal and Eph, who had just come ashore from supper on board the "Farnum."
"No sailing orders yet, I suppose?" Hal asked.
"None," Jack replied. "I reckon we'll start, all right, some time to-morrow morning."
"What'll we do to-night?" Eph wondered.
"I don't know," replied Jack. "We've few friends around here we need to take the trouble to say good-bye to. We could call on Mrs. Farnum, but I imagine we'd run into the naval party up at the Farnum house. We want to keep a bit in the background with these naval officers, except when they may ask for our company."
"Let's take a walk about the old town, then," Hal suggested.
So the three submarine boys strolled across the shipyard. Just as they were passing through the gate a man of middle height and seemingly about thirty years of age quickened his pace to reach them.
"Is this shipyard open nights?" he queried.
"Only to some employees," Jack answered.
"I suppose Mr. Farnum isn't about?"
"Benson is my name."
"This letter is addressed to Mr. Farnum," went on the stranger, "but Mr. Pollard told me I could hand it to you."
Captain Jack took the letter from the unsealed envelope.
"My dear Farnum," ran the enclosure, "since you're short a good machinist for the engine room of the 'Farnum,' the bearer, Samuel Truax, seems to me to be just the man you want. I've examined him, and he understands the sort of machinery we use. Better give him a chance." The note was signed in David Pollard's well-known, scrawly handwriting.
"I'm sorry you can't see Mr. Farnum to-night," said Benson, pleasantly. "He'll be here early in the morning, though."
"When do you sail?" asked Truax, quickly.
"That you would have to ask Mr. Farnum, too," smiled Jack.
"But, see here, Mr. Pollard engaged me to work aboard one of your submarines."
"It looks that way, doesn't it?" laughed the young skipper.
"And you're the captain?"
"Yes; but I can't undertake to handle Mr. Farnum's business for him."
"You'll let me go aboard the craft to sleep for to-night, anyway?" coaxed Truax.
"Why, that's just what I'm not at liberty to do," replied the young submarine captain. "No; I couldn't think of that, in the absence of Mr. Farnum's order."
"But that doesn't seem hardly fair," protested Truax. "See here, I have spent all my money getting here. I haven't even the price of a lodging with me, and this isn't a summer night."
"Why, I'll tell you what I'll do," Benson went on, feeling in one of his pockets. "Here's a dollar. That'll buy you a bed and a breakfast at the hotel up the street. If you want to get aboard with us in time, you'd better show up by eight in the morning."
"That's really all I can do," Jack Benson hastily assured the fellow. "I'm not the owner of the boat, and I can't take any liberties. Oh, wait just a moment. I'll see if there's any chance of Mr. Farnum coming back to-night."
Jack knew well enough that there wasn't any chance of Mr. Farnum returning, unless possibly at a very late hour with the naval officers, but the boy had seen the night watchman peering out through the gateway.
Retracing his steps, Jack drew the night watchman inside, whispering:
"Just a pointer for you. You've seen that man on the street with us? He has a letter from Mr. Pollard to Mr. Farnum, but I wouldn't let him in the yard to-night, unless Mr. Farnum appears and gives the order."
"I understand," said the night watchman, nodding.
"That's all, then, and thank you."
Jack Benson hastily rejoined the others on the sidewalk.
"I don't believe, Mr. Truax, it will be worth your while to come here earlier than eight in the morning. Better go to the hotel and tie up to a good sleep. Good night."
"Say, why did you take such a dislike to the fellow?" queried Eph, as the three submarine boys strolled on up the street, Truax following slowly at some distance in the rear.
"I didn't take a dislike to him," Jack replied, opening his eyes wide.
"You choked him off mighty short, then."
"If it looked that way, then I'm sorry," Benson protested, in a tone of genuine regret. "All I wanted to make plain was that I couldn't pass him on to our precious old boat without Mr. Farnum's order."
Truax plodded slowly along behind the submarine boys, a cunning look in the man's eyes as he stared after Jack Benson.
"You're a slick young man, or else a wise one," muttered Truax. "But I think I'm smart enough to take it out of you!"
Nor did Sam Truax go to the hotel. He had his own plans for this evening—plans that boded the submarine boys no good.
The three boys strolled easily about town, getting a hot soda or two, and, finally, drifting into a moving picture show that had opened recently in Dunhaven. This place they did not leave until the show was over. They were half-way home when Captain Jack remembered that he had left behind him a book that he had bought earlier in the evening.
"You fellows keep right on down to the yard. I'll hurry back, get the book and overtake you," he proposed.
Jack ran back, but already the little theatre was closed.
"I'm out that book, then, if we sail in the morning," he muttered, as he trudged along after his friends.
On the way toward the water front Benson had to pass a vacant lot surrounded by a high board fence on a deserted street. He had passed about half way along the length of the fence, when a head appeared over the top followed by a pair of arms holding a small bag of sand. Down dropped the bag, striking Jack Benson on the top of the head, sending him unconscious to the ground.
CHAPTER IV: MR. FARNUM OFFERS ANOTHER GUESS
Close at hand there was a loose board in the fence. Through this Sam Truax thrust his head, peering up and down the street. Not another soul was in sight.
With a chuckle Truax stepped through the hole in the fence. Swiftly he gathered up the young submarine captain, bearing him through the aperture and dropping him on the ground behind the fence. At the same time he took with him the small bag of sand.
"Knocked you out, but I don't believe you'll be unconscious long," mused Truax, standing over his young victim, regarding him critically. "There wasn't steam enough in the blow to hurt you for long. You're sturdy, following the sea all the time, as you do."
With a thoughtful air Sam Truax drew a small bottle from his pocket, sprinkling some of the contents over Jack's uniform coat. Immediately the nauseating smell of liquor rose on the air.
"Now, if someone finds you before you come to, you'll look like a fellow that has been drinking and fighting," muttered Truax under his breath. "If you come to and get back to the yard without help, you'll walk unsteadily and have that smell about your clothes. Usually, it needs only a breath of suspicion to turn folks against a boy!"
Down Dropped the Bag.
Pausing only long enough to learn that Jack's pulses were beating, and that the submarine boy was breathing, Truax stole off into the night, carrying the bag of sand under his overcoat. At one point he paused long enough to empty the sand from the bag over a fence. The bag itself he afterwards burned in the open fireplace in the room assigned to him at Holt's Hotel.
For twenty minutes Jack Benson lay as he had been left. Then he began to stir, and groan. Then he opened his eyes; after a while he managed to sit up.
"Ugh!" he grunted. "What's the odor? Liquor! How does that happen? Oh, my head!"
He got slowly to his feet, using the board fence as a means to help steady himself. Then, though he found himself weak and tormented by the pain in his head, Benson managed to feel his way along the fence until he came to the opening made by the loose board. Holding himself here, he thrust his head beyond.
Now, Hal and Eph, having waited for some time at the shore boat, before going out on board the "Farnum," had at last made up their minds to go back and look for their missing leader. They came along just at the moment that the young captain's head appeared through the opening in the fence.
"There he is," muttered Hal, stopping short. "Gracious! He acts queerly. I wonder if anything can have happened to him? Come along, Eph!"
The two raced across the street.
"Jack, old fellow! What on earth's the matter?" demanded Hal Hastings, anxiously.
"I wish you could tell me," responded Jack Benson, speaking rather thickly, for he was still somewhat dazed. "Oh, my head!"
"There has been some queer work here," muttered Hal in Eph's ear. "Don't torment him with questions. Just help me to get him down to the yard."
While the two submarine boys were guiding their weak, dizzy comrade out to the sidewalk a man came by with a swinging stride. Then he stopped short, staring in amazement.
"Hullo, boys! What on earth has happened?"
It was Grant Andrews, foreman of the submarine work at the yard, and a warm personal friend of Benson's.
"I don't believe the old chap feels like telling us just now," muttered Hal, with a sour face.
"Whiskey!" muttered Andrews, almost under his breath. "What does it mean? Benson never touched a drop of that vile stuff, did he?"
"He'd sooner drown himself," retorted Hal, with spirit.
"Of course he would," agreed Grant Andrews. "But what is the meaning of all this?"
"Oh, there's some queer, hocus-pocus business on foot," muttered Hal, bitterly. "But I don't believe Jack feels much like telling us anything about it at present."
In truth, Jack didn't seem inclined to conversation. He was too sore and dazed to feel like talking. He couldn't collect his ideas clearly. The most that he actually knew was that the pain in his head was tormenting.
"I'll pick him right up in my arms and carry him," proposed Andrews. "I'll take him to Mr. Farnum's office. Then I'll get a doctor. We don't want much noise about this, or folks will be telling all sorts of yarns against Jack Benson and his drinking habits, when the truth is he's about the finest, steadiest young fellow alive!"
Just as Andrews was about to carry his purpose into action, however, an automobile turned the nearest corner and came swiftly toward them. In another instant it stopped alongside. It contained Mr. Farnum and his chauffeur, besides three naval officers.
"What's wrong, Andrews?" called the yard's owner. "Why, that's Jack Benson! What has happened to him?"
Hal and Eph stood supporting their comrade, almost holding him, in fact. Jacob Farnum leaped from his automobile. Lieutenant Commander Mayhew followed him.
"Liquor, eh?" exclaimed the naval officer, the odor reaching his nostrils.
"No such thing," retorted Farnum, turning upon the officer. "At least, Jack Benson has been drinking no such stuff."
"It was only a guess," murmured Mr. Mayhew, apologetically. "You know your young man better than I do, Mr. Farnum."
"There is liquor on his clothing," continued the shipbuilder. "It looks as though someone had assaulted the lad, laid him out, and then sprinkled him. It's a wasted trick, though. I know him too well to be fooled by any such clumsy bit of nonsense."
"A stupid trick, indeed," agreed Lieutenant Commander Mayhew, but the naval officer did not quite share the shipbuilder's confidence in the submarine boy's innocence. Mr. Mayhew had known of too many cases of naval apprentices ruined through weak indulgence in liquor. Indeed, he had even known of rare instances in which cadets had been dismissed from the Naval Academy for the same offense. The lieutenant commander's present doubt of Jack Benson was likely to work to that young man's disadvantage later on.
Others of the party left the auto. Hal and Mr. Farnum got into the tonneau, supporting Jack there between them. Thus they carried him to Mr. Farnum's office at the yard, Grant Andrews then going in the car after a doctor, while the others stretched Jack on the office sofa. The naval officers returned to the "Hudson," at anchor in the little harbor below.
"The young man acts as though he had been struck on the head," was the physician's verdict. "No bones of the skull are broken. The odor of liquor is on his coat, but I can't seem to detect any on the breath."
"Of course you can't," commented Jacob Farnum, crisply. "Will Benson be fit to sail in the morning?"
"I think so," nodded the doctor. "But there ought to be a nurse with him to-night."
"Take my car, Andrews, and get a man nurse at once," directed Mr. Farnum. "Doctor, can the young man be moved to his berth on the 'Farnum'?"
"Safely enough," nodded the medical man. They waited until the nurse arrived, when Jack was put to bed on the newer submarine craft.
Jack slept through the night, moaning once in a while. Mr. Farnum and the Dunhaven doctor were aboard early to look at him. The surgeon from the "Hudson" also came over.
Under the effects of medicine Jack Benson was asleep when, at ten o'clock that morning, the two submarine torpedo boats slipped their moorings, following the "parent boat," the "Hudson," out of the harbor.
Ten minutes later the motion of the sea awoke the young skipper.
CHAPTER V: TRUAX SHOWS THE SULKS
"Hullo!" muttered the young submarine skipper, staring curiously about the little stateroom aft. He had it to himself, the nurse having been put on shore. "Under way, eh? This is the queerest start I ever made on a voyage."
Nor was it many moments later when Jack Benson stood on his feet. His clothes were hung neatly on nails against the wall. One after another Jack secured the garments, slowly donning them.
"How my head throbs and buzzes!" he muttered, his voice sounding unsteady. "Gracious! What could have happened? Let me see. The last I remember—passing that high fence—"
But it was all too great a puzzle. Benson finally decided to stop guessing until some future time. He went on with his dressing. Finally, with his blouse buttoned as exactly as ever, and his cap placed gingerly on his aching head, he opened the stateroom door, stepping out into the cabin.
Accustomed as he was to sea motion, the slight roll of the "Farnum" did not bother the young skipper much. He soon reached the bottom of the short spiral stairway leading up into the conning tower. Up there, in the helmsman's seat, he espied Hal Hastings with his hands employed at the steering apparatus. Hal was looking out over the water, straight ahead.
"Sailing these days without word from your captain, eh?" Jack called, in a voice that carried, though it shook.
"Gracious—you?" ejaculated Hal, looking down for an instant. Then Hastings pressed a button connecting with a bell in the engine room.
"I'm going up there with you," Jack volunteered.
"Right-o, if you insist," clicked Eph Somers, appearing from the engine room and darting to the young skipper's side. True, Jack's head swam a bit dizzily as he climbed the stairs, but Eph's strong support made the task much easier. There was space to spare on the seat beside Hal, and into this Jack Benson sank.
"Say, you ought to sleep until afternoon," was Hastings's next greeting, but Jack was looking out of the conning tower at the scene around him.
The three craft were leaving the coast directly behind. About three hundred yards away, abeam, steamed the "Hudson" at a nine-knot gait.
"The 'Pollard' is on the other side of the gunboat, isn't she?" asked Jack.
"Yes," Hal nodded.
"Naval crew aboard her?"
"Yes; Government has taken full possession of the 'Pollard.'"
"Who's running this boat? Just you and Eph?"
"No; that new man, Truax, is on board, and at the last moment Mr. Farnum put Williamson, one of the machinists, aboard, also. You can send Williamson back from Annapolis whenever you're through with him."
"Williamson is all right," nodded Jack, slowly. "But how about Truax?"
"I think he's going to be a useful man," Hal responded. "He seems familiar with our type of engines. Of course, he knows nothing about the apparatus for submerging the boat or making it dive. But he doesn't need to. Now, Jack, old fellow, we're going along all right. Why not let Eph help you back to your bunk, or one of the seats in the cabin, and have your sleep out?"
"I've had it out," Benson declared, with a laugh. "I'm ready, now, to take my trick at the wheel."
"Nonsense," retorted Hal Hastings. "I've been here a bare quarter of an hour, and I'm good for more work than that. Jack, you're nothing but a fifth wheel. You're not needed; won't be all day, and at night we anchor in some harbor down the coast. Go and rest, like a good fellow."
"Can't rest, when I know I'm doing nothing," Benson retorted, stubbornly. "Besides, this is the first time I've ever found myself moving along in regular formation with the United States Navy. I feel almost as if I were a Navy officer myself, and I mean to make the most of the sensation. Say, Hal, wouldn't it be fine if we really did belong to the Navy?"
"Gee-whiz!" murmured young Hastings, his cheeks glowing and his eyes snapping.
"If we only belonged to the old Flag for life, and knew that we were practising on a boat like this as a part of the preparation for real war when it came?"
"Don't!" begged Hal, tensely. "For you know, old fellow, it can't come true. Why, we haven't even a residence anywhere, from which a Congressman could appoint one of us to Annapolis!"
"One of us?" muttered Jack, scornfully. "Then it would have to be you. I wouldn't go, even as a cadet at Annapolis, and leave you behind in just plain, ordinary life, Hal Hastings!"
"Well, it's no use thinking about it," sighed Hal, practically. "Neither one of us is in any danger of getting appointed to Annapolis, so there's no chance that either one of us ever will become an officer in the Navy. Let's not talk about it, Jack. I've been contented enough, so far, but now it makes me almost blue, to think that we can only go on testing and handling submarine craft like these, while others will be their real officers in the Navy, and command them in any war that may come."
Though his head throbbed, and though a dizzy spell came over him every few minutes, Jack Benson stuck it out, up there beside his chum, for an hour. Then, disdaining aid, he crept down the stairs, stretching himself out on one of the cabin seats. Eph brought him a pillow and a blanket. Jack soon slept, tossing uneasily whenever pain throbbed dully in his head.
"Guess I'll go out and have a little look at the young captain," proposed Sam Truax, an hour later.
"Try another guess," retorted Eph, curtly. "You'll stay here in the engine room. Jack Benson isn't going to be bothered in any way."
"I'm not going to bother him; just going to take a look at him," protested Truax, moving toward the door that separated the engine room from the cabin.
But young Somers caught the stranger by the sleeve of the oily jumper that Sam had donned on beginning his work.
"Do you know what folks say about me?" demanded Eph, with a significant glare.
"What do they say?"
"Folks have an idea that, at most times, I'm one of the best-natured fellows on earth," declared Eph, solemnly. "Yet they do say that, when I'm crossed in anything my mind's made up to, I can be tarnation ugly. I just told you I don't want the captain disturbed. Do you know, Sam Truax, I feel a queer notion coming over me? I've an idea that that feeling is just plain ugliness coming to life!"
Truax came back from the door, a grin on his face. Yet, when he turned his head away, there was a queer, almost deadly flash in the fellow's eyes.
Jack slept, uneasily, until towards the middle of the afternoon. As soon as Eph found him awake, that young man brought the captain a plate of toast and a bowl of broth, both prepared at the little galley stove.
"Sit up and get away with these," urged Eph, placing the tray on the cabin table. "Wait a minute. I'll prop you up and put a pillow at your back."
"This boat isn't a bad place for a fellow when he's knocked out," smiled Jack.
"Any place ought to be good, where your friends are," came, curtly, from young Somers.
As Captain Jack ate the warm food he felt his strength coming back to him.
"Poor old Hal has been up there in the conning tower all these hours," muttered Captain Jack, uneasily. "He must have that cramped feeling in his hands."
"Humph!" retorted Eph. "Not so you could notice it much, I guess. It's a simpleton's job up in the conning tower to-day. All he has to do is to shift the wheel a little to port, or to starboard, just so as to keep the proper interval from the 'Dad' boat. Besides, I've been up there on relief, for an hour while you slept, and Hal came down and sat with the engines. Cheer up, Jack. No one misses you from the conning tower."
Benson laughed, though he said, warningly:
"I reckon we'll do as well to drop calling the gunboat the 'Dad boat' instead of the 'parent vessel.'"
"Well, you needn't bother at all about the conning tower to-day," wound up Eph, glancing at his watch. "It's after half-past three at this moment and I understand we're to drop anchor about five o'clock."
So Skipper Jack settled back with a comfortable sigh. Truth to tell, it was pleasant not to have any immediate duty, for his head throbbed, every now and then, and he felt dizzy when he tried to walk.
"Who could have hit me in that fashion, last night, and for what earthly purpose?" wondered the boy. "I've had some enemies, in the past, but I don't know a single person about Dunhaven, now who has any reason for wishing me harm."
Never a thought crossed his mind of suspecting Sam Truax. That worthy had come with a note from David Pollard, the inventor of the boats. Sam, therefore, must be all right, the boy reasoned.
Jack lay back on the upholstered seat. He sat with his eyes closed most of the time, though he did not doze. At last, however, he heard the engine room bell sound for reduced speed. Getting up, the young captain made his way to the foot of the conning tower stairs.
"Making port, Hal?" he called.
"Yep," came the reply. "We'll be at anchor in five minutes more."
Jack made his way slowly to the door of the engine room.
"Eph," he called, "as soon as you've shut off speed, take Truax above and you two attend to the mooring."
"Take this other man up with you," urged Sam Truax. "I don't know anything about tying a boat up to moorings."
"Time you learned, then," returned Eph Somers, "if you're to stay aboard a submarine craft."
"Take this other man up with you," again urged Truax.
Eph Somers turned around to face him with a good deal of a glare.
"What ails you, Truax? You heard the captain's order. You'll go with me."
"Don't be too sure of that," uttered Sam Truax, defiantly.
"If you don't go above with me, and if you don't follow every order you get aboard this boat, I know where you will go," muttered Eph, decisively.
"Where?" jeered Sam.
"Ashore—in the first boat that can take you there."
"You seem to forget that I'm on board by David Pollard's order," sneered Truax.
"All I am sure of," retorted Eph, "is that Jack Benson is captain on board this craft. That means that he's sole judge of everything here when this boat is cruising. If you were here by the orders of both owners, Jack Benson would fire you ashore for good, just the same, after you've balked at the first order."
Clang! Jangle! The signal bell was sounding.
"Shut up," ordered Eph Somers, briskly. "I've got the engine to run on signal from the watch officer."
There followed a series of signals, first of all for stopping speed, then for a brief reversing of engines. A moment later headway speed ahead was ordered. So on Eph went through the series of orders until the "Farnum" had been manoeuvred to her exact position. Then, from above, Captain Jack's voice was heard, roaring in almost his usual tones:
"Turn out below, there, to help make fast!"
"Take the lever, Williamson," directed Eph. "Come along lively, Truax."
"Humph! Let Williamson go," grumbled Truax.
"You come along with me, my man!" roared Eph, his face blazing angrily. "Hustle, too, or I'll report you to the captain for disobedience of orders. Then you'll go ashore at express speed. Coming?"
Sam Truax appeared to wage a very brief battle within himself. Then, nodding sulkily, he followed.
"Hustle up, there!" Jack shouted down. "We don't want to drift."
Jack Benson stood out on the platform deck, holding to the conning tower at the port side. A naval launch had just placed a buoy over an anchor that had been lowered.
"Get forward, you two," Jack called briskly, "and make the bow cable fast to that buoy."
Hal still sat at the wheel in the tower. As Eph and Truax crept forward over the arched upper hull of the "Farnum," Hal sounded the engine room signals and steered until the boat had gotten close enough to make the bow cable fast. Then the stern cable was made fast, with more line, to another buoy.
"A neat hitch, Mr. Benson," came a voice from the bridge of the "Hudson," which lay a short distance away. Jack, looking up, saw Lieutenant Commander Mayhew leaning over the bridge rail.
"Thank you, sir," Jack acknowledged, saluting the naval officer.
The parent vessel and her two submarine charges now lay at anchor in the harbor at Port Clovis, one of the towns down the coast from Dunhaven. This mooring overnight was to be repeated each day until Annapolis should be reached.
Within fifteen minutes the craft were surrounded by small boats from shore. Some of these contained merchandise that it was hoped sailors would buy. Other boats "ran" for hotels, restaurants, drinking places, amusement halls, and all the varied places on shore that hope to fatten on Jack Tar's money.
"I'd like to go ashore, sir," announced Sam Truax, approaching Captain Jack.
"For how long?"
"Until ten o'clock to-night."
"Be back by that hour, then," Jack replied. "If you're not, you'll find everything shut tight aboard here."
Truax quickly signaled one of the hovering boats, and put off in it. Eph watched the boat for a few moments before he turned to Captain Jack to mutter:
"Somehow, I wouldn't feel very badly about it if that fellow got lost on shore!"
CHAPTER VI: TWO KINDS OF VOODOO
On the second day of the cruise Jack Benson returned to full duty.
For four nights, in all, the submarine squadron tied up at moorings in harbors along the coast. On the fifth night, as darkness fell, the squadron continued under way, in Chesapeake Bay, for Annapolis was but three hours away.
Immediately after supper Captain Jack took his place in the conning tower. He concerned himself principally with the compass, his only other task being to keep the course by the "Hudson's" lights, for the parent boat supplied in its own conduct all the navigation orders beyond the general course. The "Farnum's" searchlight was not used, the gunboat picking up all the coast-marks as they neared land.
"Annapolis is the place I've always wanted to see," Jack declared, as Hal joined him in the conning tower.
"It's the place where I've always wanted to be a cadet," sighed Hal. "But there's no chance for me, I fear. Jack, I'd rather be an officer of the Navy than a millionaire."
"Same here," replied Jack, steadily. "It's hard to have to feel that I'll never be either."
As she entered the mouth of the Severn River the "Hudson" signaled to the submarines to follow, in file, the "Pollard" leading. A little later the three craft entered the Basin at the Academy. While the gunboat anchored off the Amphitheatre, the two submarine boats were ordered to anchorage just off the Boat House. Then a cutter came alongside.
"The lieutenant commander's compliments to Mr. Benson. Will Mr. Benson go aboard the 'Hudson'?" asked the young officer in command of the cutter. Captain Jack lost no time in presenting himself before the lieutenant commander.
"Mr. Benson," said Mr. Mayhew, after greeting the submarine boy, "your craft will be under a marine guard to-night, and at all times while here at the Naval Academy. If you and your crew would like to spend the night ashore, in the quaint little old town of Annapolis, there's no reason why you shouldn't. But you will all need to report back aboard, ready for duty, by eight in the morning."
Jack thanked the naval commander, then hastened back to the "Farnum" to communicate the news.
"Me for the shore trip," declared Eph, promptly. All the others agreed with him.
"I'll come back by ten o'clock to-night, though," volunteered Sam Truax. "One of the crew ought to be aboard."
"We'll stay ashore," decided Jack, "and return in the morning."
"I'm coming back to-night," retorted Truax.
"Keep still, and follow orders," muttered Eph, digging his elbow into Truax's ribs. "The captain gives the orders here."
Jack, however, had turned away. Within five minutes a boat put off from shore, bringing two soldiers of the marine guard alongside. With them, in the shore boat, was a corporal of the guard.
"Any of your crew coming back to-night, sir?" asked the corporal.
"None," Benson answered. "Will you instruct the sentries to see that none of the crew are allowed aboard during the night?"
"Very good, sir."
The shore boat waited to convey them to the landing. Before going, young Captain Benson closed and locked the manhole entrance to the conning tower. A sullen silence had fallen over Truax. The instructions to the corporal of the guard, and the prompt acceptance of those instructions, told Sam, beyond any doubt, that he was not coming back on board that night.
Truax followed the others as they passed through the Academy grounds. Beyond the large, handsome buildings, there was not much to be seen at night. Lights shone behind all the windows in Cadet Barracks. Nearly all of the cadets of the United States Navy were in their quarters, hard at study. Here and there a marine sentry paced. A few naval officers, in uniform, passed along the walks. That was all, and the submarine party had crossed the grounds to the gate through which they were to pass into the town of Annapolis.
"Coming with us, Truax?" asked Williamson, as the party passed out into a dimly lighted street.
"No," replied the fellow, sullenly. "I'll travel by myself."
"You're welcome to," muttered Eph, under his breath.
The others climbed the steps to the State Capitol grounds, continuing until they reached one of the principal streets of the little town.
"Say, but this place must have gone to sleep before we got ashore," grumbled Eph. "Hanged if I don't think Dunhaven is a livelier little place!"
"There isn't much to do, except to wander about a bit, then go to the Maryland House for a good sleep on shore," Jack admitted.
For more than an hour the submarine boys wandered about. The principal streets contained some stores that had a bright, up-to-date look, and in these principal streets the evening crowds much resembled those to be found in any small town. There were other streets, however, on which there was little traffic. In some of these quieter streets were quaint, old-fashioned houses built in the Colonial days.
"Annapolis is more of a place to see by daylight, I reckon," suggested Hal. "How about that sleep, Jack?"
"The greatest fun, by night, I guess, consists in finding a drug-store and spending some of our loose change on ice cream sodas," laughed the young submarine skipper.
This done, they found their way to the Maryland House. Jack and Hal engaged a room together, Eph and Williamson taking the adjoining one.
"As for me, in an exciting place like this," grimaced Eph, "I'm off for bed."
Williamson followed him upstairs. For some minutes Hal sat with his chum in the hotel office. Then Jack went over and talked with the night clerk for a few moments.
"There's a place near here, Hal, where a fellow can get an oyster fry," Benson explained, returning to his chum. "With that information came the discovery that I have an appetite. Come and join me?"
"No," gaped Hal. "I reckon I'll go up and turn in."
"I'll be along in half an hour, then."
Jack found the oyster house readily. As he entered the little, not over-clean place, he found himself the only customer. He gave his order, then picked up the local daily paper. As he ate, Jack found himself yawning. The drowsiness of Annapolis by night was coming upon him. Little did he dream how soon he was to discover that Annapolis, in some of its parts, can be lively enough.
As he paid his bill and stepped to the street, a young mulatto hurried up to him.
"Am Ah correct, sah, in supposin' yo' Cap'n Jack Benson?"
"That's my name," Jack admitted.
"Den Ah's jes' been 'roun' to de hotel, lookin' fo' yo', sah. One ob yo' men, Mistah Sam Truax, am done took sick, an' he done sent me fo' yo'."
"Truax ill? Why, I saw him a couple of hours ago, and he looked as healthy as a man could look," Jack replied, in astonishment.
"I reckon, sah, he's mighty po'ly now, sah," replied the mulatto. "He done gib me money fo' to hiah a cab an' take yo' to him. Will yo' please to come, sah?"
"Yes," agreed Jack. "Lead the way."
"T'ank yo', sah; t'ank yo', sah. Follow me, sah."
Jack's mulatto guide led him down the street a little way, then around a corner. Here a rickety old cab with a single horse attached, waited. A gray old darkey sat on the driver's seat.
"Step right inside, sah. We'll be dere direckly. Marse Truax'll be powahful glad to see yo', sah."
"See here," demanded Jack, after they had driven several blocks at a good speed, "Truax hasn't been getting into any drinking scrapes, has he? Hasn't been getting himself arrested, has he?"
For young Benson had learned, from the night clerk at the hotel, that, quiet and "dead" as Annapolis appears to the stranger, there are "tough" places into which a seafaring stranger may find his way.
"No, sah; no, sah," protested the mulatto. "Marse Truax done got sick right and proper."
"Why, confound it, we're leaving the town behind," cried Jack, a few moments later, after peering out through the cab window.
"Dat's all right, sah. Dere ain' nuffin' to be 'fraid ob, sah."
"Afraid?" uttered Jack, scornfully, with a side glance at the mulatto. The submarine boy felt confident that, in a stretch of trouble, he could thrash this guide of his in very short order.
"Ah might jess well tell yo' wheah we am gwine, sah," volunteered the mulatto, presently.
"Yes," Benson retorted, drily. "I think you may."
"Marse Truax, sah, he done hab er powah ob trouble, sah, las' wintah, wid rheumatiz, sah. He 'fraid he gwine cotch it again dis wintah, sah. Now, sah, dere am some good voodoo doctahs 'roun' Annapolis, so Marse Truax, he done gwine to see, sah, what er voodoo can promise him fo' his rheumatiz. I'se a runnah, sah, for de smahtest ole voodoo doctah, sah, in de whole state ob Maryland."
"Then you took Truax to a voodoo doctor to-night?" demanded Jack, almost contemptuously.
"Yes, sah; yes, sah."
"I thought Truax had more sense than to go in for such tomfoolery," Jack Benson retorted, bluntly.
The mulatto launched into a prompt, energetic defense of the voodoo doctors. Young Benson had heard a good deal about these clever old colored frauds. In spite of his contempt, the submarine boy found himself interested. He had heard about the charms, spells, incantations and other humbugs practised on colored dupes and on some credulous whites by these greatest of all quacks. The voodoo methods of "healing" are brought out of the deepest jungles of darkest Africa, yet there are many ignorant people, even among the whites, who believe steadfastly in the "cures" wrought by the voodoo.
While the mulatto guide was talking, or answering Jack's half-amused questions, the cab left Annapolis further and further behind.
"Yo' see, sah," the guide went on, "Marse Truax wa'n't in no fit condition, sah, to try de strongest voodoo medicine dat he called fo'. So, w'ile de voodoo was sayin' his strongest chahms, Marse Truax done fall down, frothin' at de mouth. He am some bettah, now, sah, but he kain't be move' from de voodoo's house 'cept by a frien'."
"I'll get a chance to see one of these old voodoo frauds, anyway," Jack told himself. "This new experience will be worth the time it keeps me out of my bed. What a pity Hal missed a queer old treat like this!"
When the cab at last stopped, Benson looked out to find that the place was well down a lonely country road, well lined with trees on either side. The house, utterly dark from the outside, was a ramshackle, roomy old affair.
"Shall Ah wait fo' yo'?" asked the old colored driver.
"Yes, wait for me," directed Jack, briefly.
"Yeah; wait fo' de gemmun. He's all right," volunteered the mulatto.
"Mebbe yo' kin see some voodoo wo'k, too, ef yo's int'rested," hinted the guide, in a whisper, as he fitted a key to a lock, and swung a door open. In a hallway stood a lighted lantern, which the guide picked up.
"Now, go quiet-lak, on tip-toe. Sh!" cautioned the guide, himself moving stealthily into the nearest room. Jack Benson began to feel secretly awestruck and "creepy," though he was too full of grit to betray the fact.
At the further end of the room the guide, holding the lantern behind his body as though by accident, threw open another door.
"Pass right on through dis room, ahead ob me, sah," begged the guide, respectfully.
But Jack drew back, instinctively, out of the darkness.
"Don' yo', a w'ite man, be 'fraid ob ole voodoo house," advised the mulatto, still speaking respectfully.
Afraid? Of course not. Relying on his muscle and his agility, Jack stepped ahead. By a sudden jerk of his arm the mulatto guide shook out the flame in the lantern.
"Here, you! What are you about?" growled Jack Benson, wheeling like a flash upon his escort.
"Go 'long, yo' w'ite trash!" jeered the mulatto. He gave the boy a sudden, forceful shove.
Jack Benson, under the impetus of that push, staggered ahead, seeking to recover his balance. Without a doubt he would have done so, but, just then, the floor under his feet ended. With a yell of dismay, the submarine boy tottered, then plunged down, alighting on a bed of soft dirt many feet below.
CHAPTER VII: JACK FINDS SOMETHING "NEW," ALL RIGHT
Jack Benson was on his feet in an instant. An angrier boy it would have been hard to find.
From overhead came the sound of a loud guffaw.
"Oh, you infernal scoundrel!" raged the submarine boy, shaking his fist in the dark.
"W'at am de matter wid yo', w'ite trash?" came the jeering query.
"Let me get my hands on you, and I'll show you!" quivered Benson.
"Yah! Listen to yo'! Yo' wait er minute, an' Ah'll show yo' a light."
Gr-r-r-r! Gr-r-r-r! That sound from overhead was not pleasant. Jack, in the few seconds that were left to him, could only guess as to the cause of the sounds. Then, some fifteen feet over his head, a tiny flame sputtered. This match-end was carried to the wick of the lantern that the yellowish guide had been carrying, and now the light illumined the place into which Jack Benson had fallen.
That place was a square-shaped pit, with boarded sides. Up above, on a shelf of flooring, knelt the late guide, grinning down with a look of infernal glee. On either side of the mulatto stood a heavy-jowled bull-dog. Both brutes peered down, showing their teeth in a way to make a timid man's blood run cold.
"Put those dogs back and come down here," challenged Jack, shaking his fist. "Come down, and I'll teach you a few things, you rascal!"
"Don' yo' shake yo' fist at me, or dem dawgs will sure jump down and tackle yo'," grinned the guide, gripping at the collars of the brutes, which, truly, showed signs of intending to spring below.
Jack fell back, his hands dropping to his sides. Had there been but one dog, the submarine boy, with all his grit forced to the surface, might have chosen to face the brute, hoping to despatch it with a well-aimed kick. But with two dogs, both intent on "getting" him, young Benson knew that he would stand the fabled chance of a snow-flake on a red-hot stove.
"Dat's right, gemmun, yo' keep cool," observed the mulatto, mockingly.
"You've decoyed me—trapped me here with a mess of lies," flung back Captain Jack, angrily. "What's your game?"
"Dis am a free lodgin' house—ho, ho, ho!" chuckled the late guide. "Ah's gwine gib yo' er place to sleep fo' de night. Yo' sho'ly must feel 'bleeged to me—ho, ho, ho!"
"You lied to me about Sam Truax!"
"Yeah! Ah done foun' dat was de name ob a gemmun in yo' pahty dat wasn't wid yo'. Truax do as well as any odder name—yah! Now, Ah's gwine leab yo' heah t' git a sleep. Ah'll toss down some blankets. 'Pose yo'se'f and gwine ter sleep, honey. Don't try to clim' up outer dat, or dem dawgs'll sho'ly jump down at yo'. Keep quiet, an' go ter sleep, an' de dawgs done lay heah an' jest watch. But don' try nuffin' funny, or de dawgs'll sho'ly bring trubble to yo'. Dem is trained dawgs—train' fo' dis business ob mine. Ho, ho, ho!"
Mulatto and light vanished, but enraged, baffled, helpless Captain Jack could hear the two dogs moving about ere they settled down on the shelf of flooring overhead.
"No matter how much of a liar that rascal is, he didn't lie to me about the dogs," reflected Jack, his temper cooling, but his bitterness increasing. "They're fighting dogs, and one wrong move would bring them bounding down here on me—the two together. Ugh-gh!"
After a few moments the mulatto reappeared with a light and tossed down three heavy blankets.
"Now, Ah's gwine leave yo' fo' de night," clacked the late guide. "Ef yo' done feel lonesome, yo' jes' whistle de dawgs down to yo'. Dey'll come!"
While the light was still there Benson, in raging silence, gathered the blankets and arranged them.
"Roll up one fo' a pillow, under yo' haid," grinned the mulatto. "Dat's all right, sah. Now, good night, Marse Benson. Ef yo' feel lonesome, Marse Benson, jes' whistle fo' de dawgs. Dey'll come!"
The light vanished while the mulatto's sinister words were ringing in the boy's ears. Would the dogs jump down? Jack knew they would, at the first false move or sound on his part. He huddled softly, stealthily, on the blankets, there in the darkness.
As he lay there, thinking, Benson's sense of admiration gradually got to the surface.
"Well, of all the slick man-traps!" he gasped. "I never heard of anything more clever. Nor was there ever a bigger idiot than I, to walk stupidly into this same trap! What's the game, I wonder? Robbery, it must be. And I have a watch, some other little valuables and nearly a hundred and fifty dollars in money on me. Oh, I'm the sleek, fat goose for plucking!"
Lying there, in enforced stillness, Jack Benson, after an hour or so, actually fell asleep. A good, healthy sleeper at all times, he slumbered on through the night. Once he awoke, just a trifle chilled. He heard one of the dogs snoring overhead. Crawling under one of the blankets, Benson went to sleep again.
"Hey, yo', Marse Benson. It am mawnin'. Time yo' was wakin' up an' movin' erlong!"
It was the voice of the same mulatto, calling down into the pit. Again the rays of the lantern illumined the darkness. Both bull-dogs displayed their ferocious muzzles over the edge of the pit. Jack sat up cautiously, not caring to attract unfriendly interest from the dogs.
"Ah want yo' to take off all yo' clothes 'cept yo' undahclothes, an' den Ah'll let down a string fo' yo' to tie 'em to," declared the mulatto, grinning. "Yo' needn't try ter slip yo' wallet, nor nuffin' outer mah sight, cause Ah'll be watchin'. Now, git a hurry on, Marse Benson, or Ah'll done push dem dawgs ober de aidge ob dis flooring."
Jack hesitated only a moment. Then, with a grunt of rage, he began removing his outer garments. Down came a twine, to the lower end of which the boy made fast his garments, one after another. His money and valuables went up in the pockets, for the sharp eyes of the mulatto could not have been eluded by any amateur slight-of-hand.
"Now, yo' cap an' yo' shoes," directed the grinning monster above.
These, too, Benson passed up at the end of the cord. The mulatto disappeared, leaving the two dogs still on guard. At last, back came the light and the yellowish man with it.
"Yo' sho' is good picking, Marse Benson," grinned the guide of the night before. "Yo' has good pin feathers. Ah hope Ah'll suttinly meet yo' again."
"I hope we do meet at another time!" Jack Benson flared back, wrathily. The cool insolence of the fellow cut him to the marrow, yet where was the use of disobeying a rascal flanked by two such willing and capable dogs?
"Now, yo' jes' put dese t'ings on, Marse Benson, ef yo' please, sah," mocked the mulatto, tossing down some woefully tattered, nondescript garments, and, after them, a battered, rimless Derby hat and a pair of brogans out at the toes.
"I'll be hanged if I'll put on such duds!" quivered Jack.
"Jes' as yo' please, ob co'se, Marse Benson," came the answer, from above. "But, ef yo' don' put dem t'ings on, yo'll sho'ly hab ter gwine back ter 'Napolis in yo' undahclo's. An' yo's gwine back right away, too, so, ef yo' wants ter gwine back weahin' ernuff clo'es—"
"Oh, well, then—!" ground out the submarine boy, savagely enough.
He attired himself in these tattered ends of raiment. Had he not been so angry he must have roared at sight of his comical self when the dressing was completed.
CHAPTER VIII: A YOUNG CAPTAIN IN TATTERS
"Now, yo'll do, Ah reckons."
With that, the mulatto guide of the night before threw down one end of an inch rope.
"Ah reckon yo's sailor ernuff to clim' dat. Come right erlong, 'less yo' wants de dawgs ter jump down dar."
"But they'll tackle me if I come up," objected Jack Benson.
"No, dey won't. Dem dawgs is train' to dis wo'k. Ah done tole yo' dat. Come right erlong. Ah'll keep my two eyes on dem dawgs."
It looked like a highly risky bit of business, but Jack told himself that, now he had been deprived of his valuables, this yellow worthy must be genuinely anxious to be rid of the victim. So he took hold of the rope and began to climb. The mulatto and the dogs disappeared from the upper edge of the pit.
As his head came up above the level of the flooring Benson saw the mulatto and the dogs in the next room, the connecting door of which had been taken from its hinges.
"Come right in, Marse Benson. Dere ain' nuffin' gwineter hu't yo'," came the rascal's voice reassuringly. Jack obeyed by stepping into the next room, though he kept watch over the dogs out of the corners of his eyes.
"Now, yo' lie right down on de flo', Marse Benson," commanded the master of the situation. "Ah's gotter tie yo' up, befo' Ah can staht yo' back ter 'Napolis, but dere ain' no hahm gwine come ter yo'."
Making a virtue of necessity, Captain Jack lay down as directed, passing his hands behind his back. These were deftly secured, after which his ankles were treated in the same fashion. Immediately the mulatto, who was strong and wiry, lifted the boy and the lantern together. The dogs remaining behind, Jack was carried out into the yard, where he discovered that daylight was coming on in the East. He was dumped on the ground long enough to permit his captor to lock the door securely. Then the submarine boy was lifted once more, carried around the corner of the house and dumped in the bottom of a shabby old delivery wagon. A canvas was pulled over him, concealing him from any chance passer. Then the mulatto ran around to the seat, picking up the reins and starting the horse.
It seemed like a long drive to the boy, though Benson was certainly in no position to judge time accurately. At last the team was halted, along a stretch of road in a deep woods. The mulatto lifted the submarine boy out to the ground.
"Now, w'en yo's got yo' se'f free, yo' can take de road in dat direckshun," declared the fellow, pointing. "Bimeby yo' come in sight ob de town. Now, Marse Benson, w'at happen to yo' las' night am all in de co'se ob a lifetime, an' Ah hope you ain't got no bad feelin's. Yo' suttinly done learn somet'ing new in de way ob tricks. Good-bye, sah, an' mah compliments to yo', Marse Benson."
With that the guide of the night before swiftly cut the cords at Jack's wrists, then as swiftly leaped to the seat of the wagon, whipping up the horse and disappearing in a cloud of dust.
Jack, having now no knife, and the bonds about his ankles being tied with many hard knots, spent some precious minutes in freeing his feet. At last he stood up, fire in his eyes.
"Oh, pshaw! There's no sense in trying to run after that rascal and his wagon," decided the young submarine skipper. "I haven't the slightest idea what direction he took after he got out of sight, and—oh, gracious! I'm under orders to be aboard the 'Farnum' at eight this morning. And on Mr. Farnum's business, at that!"
Clenching his hands vengefully, Jack started along in the direction pointed out by his late captor. Brisk walking wore some of the edge off his great wrath. Catching a comprehensive glimpse of himself, Jack could not keep back a grim laugh.
"Well, I certainly am a dandy to spring myself on the trim and slick Naval Academy!" he gritted. "What a treat I'll be to the cadets! That is, if the sentry ever lets me through the gate into the Academy grounds."
As he hurried along, Jack Benson decided that he simply could not go to the Naval Academy presenting any such grotesque picture as he did now. Yet he had no money about him with which to purchase more presentable clothes in town. So he formed another plan.
Within a few minutes he came in sight of Annapolis. Hurrying on faster, he at last entered the town. The further he went the more painfully conscious the boy became of the ludicrous appearance that he made. He saw men and women turn their heads to look after him, and his cheeks burned to a deep scarlet that glowed over the sea-bronze of his skin.
"The single consolation I have is that not a solitary person in town knows me, anyway," he muttered. Then he caught sight of a clock on a church steeple—twenty-five minutes of eight.
"That means a fearful hustle," he muttered, and went ahead under such steam that he all but panted. At last he came to the Maryland House, opposite the State Capitol grounds. Into the office of the hotel he darted, going straight up to the desk.
A clerk who had been on duty for hours, and who was growing more drowsy every moment, stared at the boy in amazement.
"See here, you ragamuffin, what—"
"My name is Benson," began the boy, breathlessly. "I'm a guest of the house—arrived last night. I—"
"You, a guest of this house?" demanded the clerk of the most select hotel in the town. "You—"
That was as far as the disgust of the clerk would permit him to go in words. A score of well-dressed gentlemen were staring in astonishment at the scene. The clerk nodded to two stout porters who had suspended their work nearby.
It had been Jack Benson's purpose to go to his room and keep out of sight, while despatching one of the colored bell-boys of the hotel with a note to Hal Hastings, asking that chum to send him up a uniform and other articles of attire. However, before the young submarine captain fully realized what was happening, the two porters had seized him. Firmly, even though gently, they hustled him out through the entrance onto the street.
"Scat!" advised one of the pair.
Jack started to protest, then realized the hopelessness of such a course. In truth, he did not blame the hotel folks in the least.