Captain Moore thrust his head close to the little opening between the casing and the door and almost screamed:
"Do you mean that she is crippled so that she can't get away from you?"
"I said that I thought she had injured herself in trying to destroy the Sea Lion," was the reply.
"Well, even if she can't get away," the Captain went on, with a change of expression, "she can blow you out of the water."
"We'll have to take our chances on that," Ned replied.
After some further talk, the boy entered the room where the prisoners were and closed the door, leaving Hans on guard outside. Captain Moore frowned as he seated himself by the port.
"It is bad enough to be confined here without being obliged to endure your company," he said.
"What a snake you would have made!" commented Ned. "I never saw a fellow loaded to the guards with venom as you are. Will you answer a few questions?"
"Depends on what they are," was the reply.
"If they will aid you, you will answer them, eh?"
"And if they will assist me, you won't?"
The Captain nodded.
"All right," laughed Ned. "Suppose the correct answers would help us both? What then?"
"Oh, what's the use of all this nagging?" demanded the son. "If you have anything to say, say it, and get out."
"And you're a pretty good imitation of this other snake," Ned said, glancing at the young fellow. "If you interfere in the talk again I'll put you in the dungeon and forget to feed you."
Captain Moore motioned to his son to remain quiet.
"This cheap Bowery boy has the upper hand now," he said. "Wait until conditions are reversed."
"Captain," began Ned, paying no attention to the venom of the other, "will you tell me what the packet that was rescued from the wreck by the pirates under your command contained?"
"What packet?" demanded the Captain, surprise showing on his drawn features. "What packet do you refer to?"
"The mysterious packet you came to this part of the world to obtain. You know very well what I mean."
"We came, under contract, for the gold," was the reply.
"Yet your boat went away and left most of it on the bottom after the packet was discovered."
"She came to this harbor after supplies."
"And neglected to secure them!"
"Well, there was trouble with the trader."
"You met a Shark man, on the island?"
"Of course. I came here to meet him, to receive a report as to the success of the expedition."
"You received such a report?"
"You were told that the gold had been found intact?"
"That is not for discussion here."
"You were astonished when your son did not make his appearance?"
"You expected that he would bring you the report?"
"Yes; he was in charge of the Shark."
"If he had been in charge when the man landed, he would have given you the packet?"
"If he had had a packet, or anything else taken from the wreck, he would have turned it over to me."
"But the man you met refused to do so?"
"How do you know what took place?"
"That is immaterial, so long as I do know. Tell, me, what was the difficulty at the store—money?"
The Captain did not answer.
"Now," Ned went on, "you stated a moment ago that you came here under contract to get the gold. Who are your principals?"
No reply was received.
"What will the man now in charge of the Shark do with the packet he refused to deliver to you?" was the next question.
"He will transfer it to me as soon as we meet again."
"You are sure of that?"
"Then what will you do with it?"
"Anything given to me will be turned over to my principals."
"But, suppose the contents of the packet are not favorable to your side of the case? Suppose they clear the United States Government of suspicion?"
Captain Moore gave a quick start of amazement.
"I don't know what you are talking about," he said.
"In that case," Ned went on, "I presume you will destroy the papers? If you can't entangle the Government that fed you so long in some trouble, you won't play."
"You've been reading some of the red-covered detective stories, and think you're a sleuth!" snarled the Captain.
"You may as well tell me all about it," Ned urged.
"I have told you all I know about the condition of the wreck."
"And the packet?"
"There was a long envelope, but I did not see what it contained."
"Yet you came here to make sure that it should not get out of your hands unless it would aid you in your treachery?"
The prisoner was silent.
"Why didn't you obtain a knowledge of its contents?"
"The man who held it refused to make delivery."
"In other words, he demanded more money than you were authorized to pay him?"
"I have nothing to say about that."
"He took the packet back to the Shark?"
"And made an appointment to meet you at Hongkong?"
"It does not matter to you what our arrangement is."
"Oh, yes it does, for I'm telling you now that the appointment will never be kept."
"You don't know what peril you are in this minute," snarled the other. "There are bombs under your keel now!"
Ned did not like the tone of satisfaction in which the words were spoken. The Shark had passed slowly over the spot where the Sea Lion now lay, and torpedoes and bombs might have been laid.
"Thank you for the hint," he finally said. "I'll go out and see about it."
"When you want further information," frowned the Captain, with a scornful laugh, "come in and I'll give it to you—just as I have on this occasion."
"No trouble to show goods!" broke in the son.
Ned opened the door and motioned to Hans and Jack, who were just outside, watching and listening to such few words as came through the heavy panels of the door.
"Take this impertinent young murderer to the den," he said, as Hans and Jack stepped up, "and leave him there in darkness. Don't feed him until I give the word."
The young man's struggles only increased the violence which was used in his removal. The boys would have killed the man who had attempted the lives of all the crew if they had been directed to do so.
Then Ned turned back to the Captain, now foaming with rage and calling to his son to remain docile until his turn should come.
"You pride yourself on having put me off without any information whatever," the boy said. "You advise me to come again and meet with the same treatment. Now, let me tell you, for your information, that I came in here to get answers to only two questions."
"Did you get them?"
"Indeed I did," was the reply.
The Captain looked disgusted.
"What were they?" he asked.
"I wanted to know if the man who landed from the Shark had the packet, and if he took it back on board with him. You gave me the information I sought. You even told me that the packet had not been opened when you saw it."
The Captain stormed up and down the little room in a towering rage.
"If I could turn a lever now and blow us all into eternity," he shouted, "I would do it!"
"Your mind seems to run on blowing up somebody."
Moore gritted his teeth and made no reply.
Ned locked him in again and went out to Frank, who was in charge of the boat.
"Get her over to the west a few yards," he said. "Our friend the Captain says the Shark is sowing torpedoes along here, and we can't afford to be blown up just now."
"The Shark is at the surface now," Frank said. "Anybody on the bottom?"
"Not so far as I can see, but it is pretty thick down here."
"Why not go to the surface?" asked Jack.
"Yes; she knows we are here, all right," Frank added.
"Well, keep to the bottom until you change position, then come to the top and keep dark. Not a light in sight, understand, and the tower up just high enough to keep out the water."
"What are you going to do?" asked Frank.
"I want to get aboard the Shark," was the cool reply.
"Yes; I see you doing it," Frank said.
"I can only try," was the reply. "The boat is headed for Hongkong, where she is to deliver the packet we want. She is to deliver it to Captain Moore on the payment of a certain sum of money, but if the Captain is not there she will turn it over to whoever has the price. We can't allow that."
"Of course not; but how are you going to get on board the Shark? If you don't watch out you'll be served as you served young Moore."
"The minute the Shark strikes Hongkong," Ned replied, "we will have a thousand places to search for those papers. Before she lands, we have only one."
"You are always right!" cried Frank. "When are you going to make the attempt?"
"That depends. In the meantime, we must get to the surface and in a position where we cannot be seen. If she thinks we have gone away, so much the better."
"I guess our little picnic isn't over with yet!" laughed Frank. "Are you going to take me on board with you?"
"I'll be lucky if I can take myself on board," was the reply.
By this time the Sea Lion was some distance from the Shark, and the hatch in the conning tower was open. It was a clear, starlit night, and there would be a moon later on.
There seemed to be great confusion on board the Shark. The boat was brilliantly lighted, and the conning tower stood high above the water. The ports on the side toward the Sea Lion were open, as if to admit the pure, cool air of the night.
"I believe there's something the matter with her air supply," Ned said to Frank as the two stood together on the tower. "The ramming she gave us must have done her a lot of mischief. Looks like she was stuck there until help comes."
"The help she ought to have is right here," Frank replied. "I'd like to get that crew on board a man-of-war."
"We have the real criminals," Ned replied.
The boys watched the Shark for a long time. They could see people moving about on the inside, and occasionally a group assembled on the conning platform, which was much larger than that of the Sea Lion.
"I believe some one is going down in a water suit," Ned said, presently. "The water chamber is on the other side, but she lists as if a weight was pulling at her."
"Listen!" Frank cautioned. "There's the machinery working. That would be the lowering apparatus. Some one is going down, all right. Now, what for?"
Ten minutes passed, and then the waters surged about the Sea Lion, and a great roar and rumble came with the waves which swept into the open hatch. The Shark, too, rocked on the crest of a great wave.
"Dynamite below!" Ned said. "Will there be more than one?"
BAD FOR THE SEA CREATURES
As Ned spoke there came another upheaval of water, and a louder roar from the sea. The Shark and the Sea Lion both swayed perilously. Ned and Frank closed their hatch and clung to the railing around the conning tower platform.
"Those are torpedoes, all right," Frank said.
"But I don't understand—"
Ned cut the sentence short as a third reverberation came from beneath the water.
"They think we are down there yet!" Frank said. "I wonder how the man who went down came to make such a mistake?"
"Cheerful sort of people to fight!" Ned said. "Every man on that boat is a murderer at heart."
A pounding on the under side of the hatch was now heard, and Jimmie's face showed when it was lifted.
"Say," the little fellow said, "Captain Moore wants to speak to you, Ned. These here earthquake shocks have got him goin'. He acts like a crazy man."
Ned paid no attention to the request.
"He wants to say that he told me so," Ned said to Jimmie. "Go back and tell him that he ought not to be afraid of his friends on board the Shark."
"Gee!" the little fellow replied. "If he don't behave himself, I'll turn the hose on him. He ought to have a salt water bath, anyway. For a long time he's been tryin' to give us one!"
"Let him alone," Ned ordered.
This second upheaval of the water had swung the Shark around so that the door to the water chamber was in view from the Sea Lion. The boys saw that it was open, probably left in that way for the return of the man who had gone down in the water suit.
The light, shining from the main cabin, filtered through the chamber, which was, of course, under water, only a few inches of the conning tower of the submarine now being above the surface.
"Can they shut that door from the cabin?" Frank asked.
"I presume so," Ned replied. "They ought to be able to shut the door and empty the room as well."
"That can't be done on the Sea Lion," Frank said.
"No, but that is a detail that was overlooked in the construction of the boat. I was just learning to run the craft, and did not observe the deficiency."
"Well," Frank went on, "they are closing the door, but they are not doing a good job at it. Say," he added, grasping Ned's arm, "I'll bet the machinery connecting with the door from the cabin is broken!"
"Then the man who is down below will have to come up and do the opening after he gets up, and after he shuts the outer door and exhausts the water."
"I don't believe the outer door can be closed."
"What I'm interested in just now," Ned said, "is whether the diver is still alive. If he was anywhere near where the torpedoes exploded he is dead."
"And the Shark can't close her water chamber! I see a chance, Ned," Frank exclaimed. "Suppose I drop out and enter that water chamber?"
"What for?" asked Ned.
"Why, they would think I was the other fellow and let me in."
"With your line and hose unconnected with the mechanism inside?" asked Ned.
"Never thought of that."
"The only way for us to get into that boat," Ned went on, "is to get in from the top."
"That's just what I'm trying to study out."
"I presume the man who went down is there for good," Frank suggested.
"He probably went down to see why the torpedoes didn't go off and got caught," Ned replied.
"Perhaps the Shark will go down to see about it directly," the other ventured.
"I hardly think she could lift again with that water chamber door open and the chamber full of water," Ned went on. "It is my opinion that they will remain on top."
"I should think she'd be afraid of the traps she set for us, anyway. I wish she would get caught in one of them."
"Not while she has that mysterious packet on board," smiled Ned. "We have traveled a long way to get that."
No more submarine explosions came, and the boys sat on the dark conning tower until nearly midnight, watching the people on the Shark flying about, evidently laboring under great excitement.
The diver had not returned. The machinery was evidently out of order and the Shark might as well have tied to the bottom for all the speed she could make.
"I'm afraid some ship friendly to these pirates will come along," Ned said, after a long silence. "I think I'd better go aboard the Shark and find out what she intends doing."
"I see you doing it!"
"I can only try."
"And try only once," Frank muttered.
"I think they are ready for a compromise by this time."
"Well, then, I'll go with you," Frank decided.
"Get up the boat, then."
Jack and Jimmie were not inclined to favor the scheme, but they assisted in launching the boat and stood with half-frightened faces while Ned and Frank stepped into her.
Just as they were pushing off, Hans made his appearance on the little platform, his china-blue eyes filled with excitement.
"Mine friendts," he said, "vot iss if I goes py the poat?"
"No more room," said Frank.
"Now, you hold on," Jimmie called out. "You know what sort of a left hand punch this baby has? Well, then, you may need him when you get over to the Shark. See?"
"That might be," Frank muttered, looking inquiringly at Ned.
"Then let him come along," the latter said, so Hans entered the boat and took up the oars. "Rows like a steam engine!" Jimmie observed as the boat sped away. "That Dutchman is stronger than a mule."
It was still and lonely on the Sea Lion after the departure of the boys. The lights of the Shark were in sight, but they did not bring cheerful thoughts. The boys sat on the railing of the conning tower and waited in no little anxiety.
Occasionally the pounding of the prisoners reached their ears, but they paid little attention to it.
"They are suffering the tortures of the lost," Jack said. "Every minute they think they're going to the bottom. Let them take their medicine!"
"I wish they were going to the bottom," Jimmie responded. "When we see snakes like they are we ought never to let them get away from us. If we don't get bitten, some one else will."
Jack rested his chin on his palms and regarded the boy quizzically for a moment.
"How do you like it, as far as you've got?" he asked, then.
Jimmie looked down into the interior of the submarine, out over the sea, sparkling in the moonlight, then up to the heavens, bright with stars. Presently he answered:
"I don't like it."
"Why not?" "We ain't havin' any fun. We've been down in that old hold for a long time, and haven't got anywhere. I'd rather take a trip through South America, or through China. I want the ground under my feet part of the time, anyway."
"It seems to me that it is getting stale and unprofitable," Jack admitted. "Suppose we get up power and drift up closer to the Shark. Then we can at least see what's going on."
"All right, 'bo!" cried Jimmie, starting down the stairs.
"Well," called Jack, "don't be in such a hurry! We want to make sure that Ned has attracted the attention of the Shark people before we move. If they see us moving up on them before Ned gets a chance to talk with them, they may do something rash to the boys."
"Guess you are right," Jimmie admitted.
"So far as I can see," Jack continued, "they are over there now. Do you hear that voice?"
"Ned's, all right."
The boys listened, but the voice came no more.
"They've pulled him into the boat!" cried Jimmie. "Hurry up and get started!"
When Jack went below to handle the motive power machinery he heard Captain Moore thumping on the door of his prison.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"Come to the door."
Jack did as requested, but did not open the door.
"Now, what is it?" he asked.
"Is that Nestor?"
"It's Jack," was the reply.
"Well, ask Nestor if he'll let both of us go if well give up the whole scheme. Will you?"
"And the papers?"
"I'll help him get the papers."
"I'll tell him," said Jack.
"Send for him at once," urged the Captain. "If we remain here much longer, we'll be blown out of water. You heard those explosions?"
"They harmed no one but the sea creatures," Jack replied. "They were bad for them."
"Where is Nestor?" was then asked.
"Visiting on the Shark," was the reply.
"If they've got him, he'll never come back," gritted the Captain.
"But they haven't," said the boy. "We're going to run the Sea Lion over to the Shark now and help them entertain him."
"You're a fool!" roared Moore. "Don't you tell them that we are on board—my son and myself."
"Don't they know it?"
"How should they know it? Don't you tell them. If you do they will raid your ship and get us."
"So you've been playing some dirty trick on them, have you?" asked Jack. "Well, what about your meeting them at Hongkong?"
"That was a lie."
"You are out with them?"
"They are out with me. They claim I am keeping them out of a lot of money. Don't tell them I am here."
"In all your life"—asked Jack—"in all your life, did you ever do business with any man, woman, or child you didn't cheat and betray? You ought to be hanged."
"If Nestor comes back, you send him here and I'll tell him the whole story if he'll let us go. And I'll tell him how to get the papers he is after. Will you see that he comes—if he gets back?"
"I think it would do you more good," laughed Jack, "to have a talk with the people on the Shark."
Ignoring the prisoner's further demands, Jack turned on the power and directed the Sea Lion toward the Shark. In a moment Jimmie called down through the hatchway:
"Slow up, now, unless you want to bunt the other boat."
Jack, accordingly, shut off the power and went up to the platform. The boat was still drifting ahead a trifle, and the boy went below again and dropped an anchor.
If the advance of the submarine had attracted the attention of those on the Shark's conning tower they gave no evidence of the fact. The boat Ned had taken lay swinging on the easy sea close to the tower, with Frank and Hans sitting near the stern.
Directly voices came from the other submarine. The first speaker was Ned, then a heavier voice exclaimed, angrily:
"You have no right to suppose anything of the kind. We are here on legitimate business, and must not be interfered with."
"What did you take from the wreck?" asked Ned.
"What is it to you?" came the stronger voice. "You can't make any bluff work with me."
"Then I may as well go back to my ship," Ned said.
"Go back to your ship!" snapped the other. "Not if I know myself. You have come aboard without leave or license, and you'll stay until we get good and ready to let you go."
The boys saw Hans and Frank spring for the platform, and then a shout of triumph came from half a dozen throats. Ned surely was in trouble.
"MAKING A GOOD JOB OF IT."
"I guess they've got Ned!" Jimmie cried, as the heavy hatch of the Shark closed with a slam. "If they have, we'll ram 'em to the bottom."
"You just wait!" Jack advised. "There's a good deal of a racket going on over there. I guess Hans is putting his educated left into motion. Look at him!"
There was indeed a great commotion on the platform. Presently the hatch was lifted and one of the contestants disappeared.
"Do you mind that, now!" shouted Jimmie. "Ned has captured the boat for keeps! There! Now he's tellin' them where to head in at!"
Through the still night air they heard Ned's voice:
"You people down there know what I am here for. If the thing I want is destroyed you'll all be hanged for piracy. Understand?"
Then the hatch was jammed down again, and Ned and Frank stepped into the rowboat, leaving Hans on the platform. Jimmie threw up his cap when the two boys stepped on the Sea Lion's platform.
"You captured the bunch!" he yelled, "and you stole the boat. You sure made a good job of it."
"What's the proposition?" asked Jack.
"I thought I'd tow the old tub into a port where I can communicate with an American man-of-war," replied Ned.
"This is luck!" Frank exclaimed. "Luck for us, and trouble for the pirates. I wonder if they've got much gold on board."
"If they have," laughed Ned, "Hans will see that they don't get away with it. They're nailed down hard."
"Talk about the luck of the British army!" roared Jack. "It is blind adversity to the luck of the Boy Scouts! Here we've got the pirates bunched! As soon as we communicate with a man-of-war, we'll turn 'em over to Uncle Sam and go back and get the gold."
"The Shark," Frank observed, "was a derelict when we picked her up, wasn't she? She couldn't move a foot. Well, then, we're entitled to salvage. We'll put in a bill that will eat up the whole business!"
"If we get her into port," Ned replied. "The old tub is in bad shape owing to the bunting she gave the Sea Lion. I'm afraid she'll go down before morning."
"Cripes!" Jimmie broke out. "What will we do, then, with all them bold, bad men? We've got our penitentiary full now!"
"And the prisoners are making all kinds of trouble, too," Jack added. "If the door wasn't good and strong, it'd be in splinters by this time. That young Moore is the worst."
"We won't cross any bridges until we come to them," Ned remarked. "The Shark may last until we get to Hongkong. Anyway, I'm counting on quite a run before she goes down."
"How many are there on board?" asked Jack.
"Six, not counting Hans. I think we can accommodate them all on board the Sea Lion, if we have to."
The Sea Lion towed the Shark all through the night, keeping to an easterly direction with the idea of going to Hongkong, something over 150 miles away. All along the eastern coast of Kwang Tung, from the slender peninsula which separates the Gulf of Tongking from the China Sea to the bay which penetrates almost to Canton, there is a succession of little islands, so the submarine and her prize were always in sight of land.
Just at dawn there came a cry from the platform of the Shark, and Hans was discovered waving his cap excitedly in the air.
"Vater! Vater!" he cried. "Dis iss droubles! Make us off dis durdle—gwick!"
"Sinking?" Ned called back.
Further talk with the German informed Ned that water was seeping into the different compartments of the Shark, and that the inmates were already perched on tables and on the stairs leading to the platform.
The boy attached the towing cable to a windlass on the platform of the Sea Lion, turned on the power, and the sinking craft soon lay alongside. She was indeed in a bad predicament. Another half hour would see the last of her.
"Now," Ned said, "we don't know what those fellows will try to do when the hatch is lifted. I've known snakes to sting the hand that fed and warmed them. Anyway, we'll take no chances."
Following his orders, the boys got out their automatic revolvers and ranged themselves on the platform. Then Ned lowered the rowboat, making a bridge between the two. The hulls of the boats met under water, but the platforms, owing to the bulge, were some little distance apart. The railings of the conning towers were not much above the surface.
His arrangements for securing the prisoners without trouble completed, Ned went over to the Shark and lifted the hatch. He was greeted with a chorus of threats, supplications, and questions.
"You'll get yours for sinking the Shark!" one shouted.
"For God's sake let us out; we are drowning!" whined another.
"What's the matter with the boat?" asked a third.
"Listen," Ned said. "The Shark may go down in ten minutes, or she may float, under tow, for a long time. Anyway, you are better out of her. I'll take you all out if you promise to behave yourselves. Come out of the hatch one at a time and be searched for weapons. The man that carries a weapon of any kind on his person will be thrown back, to feed the fish. Do you understand?"
They understood, and not even a penknife was found when search was made. Five of the rescued ones were plain seamen, with little knowledge of submarine work. The other was the captain of the Shark. Under the direction of young Moore he had attempted to make off with everything of value on the wreck, including the papers.
This man was a fair type of marine officer, had, in fact, resigned from the United States service with Captain Moore. He was by no means an ill-looking man, but his snaky eyes and treacherous mouth told Ned to look out for him.
He came out of the hatch last and was stepping onto the rowboat when Ned stopped him with a question:
"Where are the papers?"
"What papers?" snarled the other, Babcock by name.
"The papers you took from the wreck."
"They are below, soaked with water."
"Get them! Quick!"
"But they are afloat, and—"
Babcock went down the staircase with murder in his eyes. He returned, in a moment, with a sealed packet, which was perfectly dry. Ned broke the seal and glanced at the sheets inside.
The one which met his eyes first was headed:
"General instructions, to be opened only when the demand for the coin is made."
"Now" Ned went on," where are your sailing orders?"
"Lost!" was the reply.
"Get them!" Ned said, quietly.
"Get them," came again from the boy's lips.
Again Babcock went into the submarine, now rapidly filling with water. He returned dripping with sea water, holding in his hand a water-tight tin box which was secured by a brass padlock.
"You now have everything I held concerning the mission of the boat and the disposition of the gold," he said. "I suppose I may get out of the water now?"
Ned stepped aside and Babcock passed over to the Sea Lion. Ned attached a buoy to the tower of the Shark and cut loose from her.
"We'll let some of Uncle Sam's boats pick her up," he said. "I'm for Hongkong with these papers."
The five sailors were not locked up, but were given the run of the cabin, the machine room only being closed against them.
"I'm not going to have them mixing things down here," Jack, who was in charge that day, said.
Babcock, however, was locked up with Captain Moore. When the door closed on the two men the boys heard them both talking at the same time, and their language was not at all complimentary to each other.
"You're a blackmailer!" Moore yelled.
"You're a liar!" was the reply.
"Fight it out!" Jimmie shouted from the door.
"Get to going and see who's to blame for this!"
Then the voices quieted down, and no more words were heard.
"Did you hear what they called each other?" asked Jack. "Well, I'm betting they are both right."
Ned went to his cabin and opened the tin box. He lingered over what he found there until noon and then called Frank into conference with him.
"There's a plot which involves officers at Canton," he said, "and we may as well bag the whole bunch."
"Of course. We ought to make a good job of it, as Jimmie says."
Ned examined his map and called Frank over to the table where it was spread out.
"If we go to Canton," he said, "we'll have to run into the lake-like mouth of the Si River. Guess that's its name. It looks dim on the map. Fifty miles to the north the little stream on which Canton is situated runs into the larger stream.
"We can run to that point and leave the Sea Lion while we go to Canton. I guess the prisoners won't object to a few days more of imprisonment. Anyway, we may meet a ship we can turn them over to."
"They are objecting, right now, it seems," cried Frank, opening the door and looking out into the main cabin. "Hans is sitting on one of the sailors and Jack and Jimmie are holding the others back with their automatics."
Both boys leaped out. The sailors, doubtless alarmed at the arrival of the leaders, sprang for the hatchway. The boys did not fire at them as they passed, and directly splashes in the sea told those on the stairs that the sailors had leaped into the water.
Hans arose, scratching his head, and looked down on the man he had been sitting on. The fellow looked up into the lad's face with a queer expression in his eyes.
"Vot iss?" demanded Hans. "Go py the odders if you schoose! Py schimminy, dose shark haf one feast!"
"Not on your life!" cried the prisoner. "I'm not anxious to get away. I was shanghaied on the Shark, and it's glad I am to be out of that bum crowd."
Jimmie, who had followed the sailors to the platform, now came back with the information that three of them had been picked up by a native canoe which had now disappeared from sight in a group of islands. The other, he said, had gone down.
"How much do those sailors know?" asked Ned of the man Hans had taken prisoner.
"They know a lot," was the reply. "They were all in together. What one knew, all knew, I guess. It is too bad they got away, for they had a definite plan to operate if there was trouble and any got away. They will lay in wait for you when you land."
"They'll have to travel fast if they do!" Frank laughed.
ON THE EDGE OF DISASTER
The Si River is not a river at all where its waters flow into the China Sea. It is a wide, salt-water inlet, a bay, a great delta, like that of the Amazon. This great bay is miles in width in places and extends at least fifty miles into the interior.
Almost at the end, it is joined by a narrow little stream upon which Canton, the capital city of Kwang Tung, is situated. The city is something less than fifteen miles from the mouth of the river upon which it stands.
It was for Canton that the boys were headed. Some of the papers Ned had found in the private box of Captain Babcock made reference to a place of meeting there which the boy desired to investigate. He was now convinced that the plot against the Government had been a vicious one, backed by people of influence and standing in the world of diplomacy. It would bring the case on which he was working to a very satisfactory finish if he could include in his report the story of a meeting of the conspirators.
While the boy sat alone on the platform of the conning tower that evening the sailor who had remained on board the Sea Lion at the time of the escape of the others came to him. The fellow was an American, and seemed to be honest in his desire to assist Ned.
"The men who escaped," he said, "will not lose track of the Sea Lion. There are men on shore who will send the news of what has taken place on faster than you can travel. Wherever you go they will be waiting for you, and they are a bad lot."
"They have plenty of money behind them, I presume?" asked Ned.
"They appear to have," was the reply.
"Especially with the prospect of the loot from the wreck in mind," Ned suggested.
"They didn't get much gold out of the wreck," explained the other. "They pulled the yellow boys out until they came to the sealed parcel, and then they made off."
"They knew that we were on the ground, watching them?"
"Oh, yes, but they had a plan for getting rid of you."
"The plan young Moore attempted to carry out?"
"That meant murder?"
Ned was silent for a moment, thinking gratefully of the resourcefulness of the ex-newsboy. To this they all doubtless owed their lives. He promised himself that the lad should be properly remembered when the time of settlement with the Government came.
"Do you know where the conspirators are to meet at Hongkong?" he then asked.
"At Canton, I said," answered the other, with a twinkle in his eyes. "You thought to trip me?" he asked.
Ned, in turn, smiled quietly. He had indeed been testing the man.
"Well," he added, "do you know where they are to meet at Canton?"
"Oh, I heard the name of the street, but it sounded more like the clatter of falling crockery than a name, so I don't remember it."
"Perhaps a landmark was mentioned?"
"Yes, come to think of it, there was. The place of meeting is in the rear of a curio shop next door to an English chop house. That ought to be easy to find."
The visit to Canton promised to be a dangerous one, especially as the men who had escaped would send on word of what had taken place on the Shark. The fellows had been picked up by natives in canoes, and were probably at that time on the main land, within reach of a telegraph wire, or some other means of communication with Canton.
While the boy studied over the matter Frank came on the platform and the seaman went below. Ned laid the proposition before the newcomer.
"Well," Frank said, "you have the papers, you have the private orders of Captain Babcock, of the Shark, and you have the two main rascals, Captain Moore and his precious son. What more do you want?"
"I want the foreigner who put up the job."
"That does seem worth while," Frank mused.
"It's this way," Ned went on. "The sealed packet doubtless contains instruction to one of the revolutionary leaders regarding the disposition of the money. You see, they were sure the rebels would be on hand to grab the shipment as soon as it left the ship. The loss was to fall on the Chinese government and the revolutionists were to profit by it.
"The instructions make it look mighty bad for our Government, for the gold was drawn directly from the subtreasury the day it was shipped. It looked as if we were plotting against a friendly government."
"But some one leaked. The story of the shipment got out, and the vessel was rammed one night by a steamer which has never been identified. The idea, of course, was to prevent the revolutionists getting the money, without telling what was known, or bringing the nation which butted into the case into prominence at all."
"Then some nation friendly to the Emperor of China did that?"
"I don't know. Anyway, the nation that did it bribed Captain Moore and Captain Babcock to get the gold—and to recover the sealed packet. With this in their hands, they might have made Uncle Sam a great deal of trouble."
"I understand, and now you want to get the men who conspired with the Moores and Captain Babcock?"
"That's the idea, not so much in the hope of bringing them to punishment as to locate the source of their inspiration."
"Then, I reckon well have to go to Canton," Frank remarked. "We'll see the town then, anyway."
The boy remained silent for a moment and then asked:
"What can you do to the chief conspirators if you catch them?"
"Nothing. I can only file my report with the government and drop out of the case."
"And the Moores and Babcock?"
"I'll turn them over to the first American man-of-war I meet."
"And then go back after the gold?"
"That depends on instructions."
"That's the difficulty of working on diplomacy cases," said Frank. "We have to take all manner of risks, and then, sometimes, see the real rascals get off free—on account of international complications. I'd like to work on a real old detective case on the Bowery."
Ned laughed softly but made no reply.
The Sea Lion made slow time, for the crippled Shark—which still floated—rolled and tumbled heavily—in her wake and the sea was rougher than it had been before for many days. At last, however, she entered the long inlet leading up to Canton and cast anchor.
"Ever been in these waters?" Ned asked of the American sailor.
"Sure," was the reply. "That is why they shanghaied me in San Francisco."
"How far can I go up?"
"Clear to the mouth of the river."
Proceeding leisurely, the Sea Lion passed up the inlet. It was early morning when she came to the mouth of the river. They had passed many vessels on the way, some native, some foreign, but had not been molested, though many curious eyes were turned toward the tow and the odd-shaped craft doing the pulling.
When anchor was cast in a little bay at the mouth—a quiet little stretch of water sheltered by old warehouses which had been erected years before by native traders—Jack came running up the stairs to meet Ned.
"Captain Moore," he said, "is weeping himself to death for lack of your sweet society. He's all running out under the door!"
"Jack," Ned laughed, "if your imagination wasn't too strong, you'd do well writing fiction. As it is it is so strong that anything you might put on paper would not be believable. Anyway, I'll go and see what the Captain has on his mind."
Captain Moore had fear on his mind. Ned saw that the second the door was open. His face was white as paper and his eyes roved about like those of a madman. "You are going on to Canton?" the Captain asked, in a trembling tone of voice.
"I was thinking of it," Ned answered.
"And leave the submarine here?"
"If I could take her with me," smiled Ned, "I would do so, but I'm afraid I can't."
"This is no joking matter," snapped Moore.
"I knew you would begin to look at the matter in that light before you had done with it."
"You are going to the chop house in Canton?"
"I hope to be able to find it."
"Of course not."
"Well," the Captain added, wiping his dry lips with the back of his hand, "do you know what will happen to the Sea Lion while you are gone?"
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"She will be blown up, and me with it!" almost screamed the Captain. "The power that is handling this matter would do more than that to get the papers you have secured out of the way, and to get rid of Babcock, my son, and myself."
"They seek to murder you?"
"I believe it."
"For two reasons. We know too much, and we failed."
"You haven't named the power," suggested Ned.
"I am unable to do so. I don't know. I have done all my work with a go-between."
"I see," Ned said.
"If you must go to Canton," the Captain went on, "first turn us over to the authorities here—to the American consul, if you please."
"That would protect the boat?"
"It would protect us."
"For the present, yes."
"And take the papers with you!"
"Why?" laughed Ned, thoroughly amused.
"Because that will draw the search off the boat."
"Then you believe that I shall be watched and followed?"
"Yes, and killed."
"You're a cheerful sort of fellow!" laughed Ned.
Jimmie now came to the door and announced a warship flying an American flag.
"She's signaling you," he added.
Ned was pretty glad to see the ship come to a halt lower down the inlet. She was not a large vessel, but she looked as big to Ned as all Manhattan island.
In an hour he was on board the ship, in earnest conversation with the captain, who had been ordered by cable to look the Sea Lion up and report to Ned. In another hour the prisoners were on board the warship, and the Sea Lion was anchored under her guns.
AN ENDING AND A BEGINNING
Captain Harmon, of the warship Union, was a brave and capable officer. He understood at once the necessity for the trip to Canton. The conspirators must be identified. The United States Government must be informed as to the foreign power which had so nosed into her affairs.
"The power that is doing this," the Captain said, "will resort to other tricks when this one fails. We want to know who she is. On the whole, I think, I'll go to Canton with you—with your permission, of course."
"That's kind of you," Ned replied, pleased at the offer. "I can leave three of the boys on the Sea Lion and take one with me. I should be lost without that little rascal from the Bowery."
"And I'll send a file of marines on board the Sea Lion," the captain continued. "That will make all safe there. Now, about the papers. You have the packet?"
"Yes, of course."
"What does it contain?"
"Instructions which show the hand of private parties only. They completely exonerate our Government."
"And the other parties?"
"I regret that I must not mention names, sir."
"Very well," laughed the Captain. "You have performed your mission well. The slanders must now cease. But one thing more remains to be done—the meddling nation must be identified, as I have already said. We must go to Canton."
And so, leaving the Moores and Babcock safely locked in the den on board the Union and the important papers secure in the Captain's safe, Ned, accompanied by the Captain and Jimmie, set out for Canton by boat. The way was not long, and they arrived at noon, an early start having been secured.
Ned was entirely at sea in the city, but Captain Harmon had been there a number of times, and the English chop house was soon found. Next door to it was the curio shop mentioned to Ned.
The three lounged about the chop house nearly all the afternoon. The Captain was in plain clothes, and the trio seemed to be foreigners waiting for friends to come. After a long time Ned saw a man pass the chop house and turn into the curio shop who did not seem to be a Chinaman.
"Jimmie," he said to the little fellow, "suppose you go in there and buy a dragon, or a silk coat, or a tin elephant. Anything to give you a notion as to what is going on in the shop." The lad was off in a moment, and then the Captain turned to Ned.
"Why did you send the boy?" he asked.
"Because we may both be wanted outside," was the reply.
"You mean that others may come—others who should be followed and observed?"
"That's the idea," Ned replied.
Directly two more men, evidently not Chinamen, passed into the shop, then Jimmie came running out.
"They're going into a back room," he said.
Ned strolled into the shop, and in a moment the Captain followed. Jimmie remained at the door.
The two worked gradually back to the door of the rear room, and Ned "accidentally" leaned against it. It was locked. With the impact of the boy's shoulder against the panels came a scraping of chairs on the floor of the room beyond.
"You've stirred them up," whispered the Captain.
Then some one called from the inside.
"What do you want?"
"A word with you," Ned replied.
The shopkeeper now drew near and motioned the two away. When they did not obey he motioned toward the street, as if threatening to call assistance.
"Who is it?" was now asked.
"A messenger from Captain Henry Moore and his son," Ned answered, with a smile at the Captain.
There was a long pause inside.
"Where is he?" was asked.
"A prisoner. He wished me to come here."
Then the door was opened a trifle and the two saw inside. The shopkeeper, thinking that all was well, went back to the front of the shop.
When the door swung open both Ned and the Captain threw themselves against it. It went back against the wall with a bang, and the two nearly fell to the floor.
When they straightened up again they saw a servant standing between them and the still open doorway. At a round table in the back end of the apartment were three men—all Europeans.
Ned stepped forward to address them, but Captain Harmon drew him back and motioned toward the door.
"What do you want?" one of the three asked, in English. "Why this intrusion?"
Then Ned observed the face of the speaker, for the light was strong upon it. It was a face he had often seen pictured in reports of diplomatic cases. It was the face of one of the keenest diplomats in the world.
"I come from Captain Moore," Ned said, almost trembling at the thought of standing in the presence of the powerful man who had spoken.
"Can you send him here?" was asked.
"I'll try," was the reply.
"Who is your friend?" asked the other, pointing to Captain Harmon.
Ned turned toward the Captain and was amazed at the change which had taken place in his friend's appearance. The erect naval officer was no longer at his side. Instead, a shambling, bent figure stood there, with face bent to the floor.
"A seaman who is on sick leave," Ned replied.
"Well, step outside while we consider what to do in the matter," said the diplomat. "Chang!" he called.
The shopkeeper appeared at the door.
"Watch these fellows," came the orders. "Watch them, understand!"
The words were spoken in French, a language which Ned understood something of. The boy glanced keenly toward the man who had answered to the name of Chang. He decided that he was not a Chinaman.
The three stepped out into the shop together, Ned watching the seeming Chinaman closely. It was his idea that the fellow would give a signal which would call a score or more of mercenaries to his assistance. He believed that it was not the intention of the men in the rear room to let them leave the place.
When the three neared the center of the shop the alleged Chinaman lifted a whistle to his lips, as if about to signal. Ned snatched the whistle away and seized the fellow by the throat.
"Now, Captain," he whispered.
The Captain, now his old self, sprang forward and the shopkeeper was soon tied fast, gagged, and laid behind one of the counters. Then the two walked calmly out of the place.
Jimmie paused long enough to lean over the counter and make a face at the prisoner, then followed on.
"You know the truth now?" asked Ned, as the two stopped on a street corner not far away.
"The name of the meddlesome power is no longer a mystery?"
"Yes, I understand that, but what are we to do?"
"Make our report."
"Then you think the case is closed?" asked the Captain.
"Well," replied Ned, "we have all the documents, and we have the name of the diplomat who was waiting for Moore. What more do you want?"
"Rather a clean job of it," mused the Captain. "I wonder what the Washington people will say when the papers are laid before them; with the name of the man Moore was doing business with?"
"What will be done about it?"
"Nothing. All Uncle Sam can do is to block such games."
"And the Moores and Babcock?"
"They may be punished for attempting to wreck the Sea Lion."
"I don't like diplomatic cases," Ned said. "The rascals usually get free of punishment."
"Well," Captain Moore said, "suppose we go on board the Union while we can. As soon as the alleged shopkeeper is found behind the counter, there will be the dickens to pay. They will know that the identity of the big gun has been established, and every attempt to murder us will be made."
"You think the man knew you?" asked Ned.
"I don't know. You noticed how I changed my attitude all I could when he looked at me. I rather fancied he saw something military about me before that."
"Then we may as well go aboard," Ned said.
"You have made a wonderful success of the mission," the Captain said, that night. "You have done everything expected of you and more. Has it been easy?"
"Well," was the reply, "we have been kept busy!"
The Captain laughed and pointed to the shore of the inlet in which the Union lay.
"There are people who want to come aboard!" he said. "See the commotion on shore?"
"Shall you permit them to board?"
"Decidedly not. I have cabled to Washington for instructions. Until they arrive I shall keep everybody off the boat."
"That listens good to me," Ned said.
Boats which seemed to have no business there prowled around the warship all night, and once a sneak was caught hanging to the forward chains. However, no one succeeded in getting aboard.
In the morning the Captain came to Ned's cabin with a number of cablegrams, all from Washington.
"I have orders for you," he said.
Ned yawned and shook his head.
"Not for a submarine trip," he said.
"I am going north," the Captain said, "north through the China Sea, into the Yellow Sea, and so on to the Gulf of Pechili. Do you know where that is?"
"It is the highway to Peking," laughed Ned. "I hope you are not going there."
"Sure, and you are going with me."
"What for?" asked the boy.
"To find the two men who sat at the table with the diplomat at Canton," was the reply. "The Government wants them."
"We might have taken them, a few hours ago," mused Ned.
"Doubtful," said the Captain. "Besides, there is other work for you in the Imperial City. Your friends are going with us, and the Sea Lion is to be left here."
"And the prisoners?"
"They remain on board. In fact, the Government has a surprise for the conspirators. We may want Babcock and the Moores at Peking."
"And you'll send the papers to Washington?"
"Yes. Write your report, briefly, for they now know a lot about the wonderful success you have had."
"But how are we to get from the coast to Peking?" asked Ned. "It is quite a trip, and the diplomats will be after us."
"Motorcycles have been provided," was the reply, "and a flying squadron of my boys will go with you."
"Whoopee!" yelled Jimmie, who entered the cabin just in time to hear the latter part of the talk. "Me for the Chink land! I'll go and tell Frank and Jack."
The boy dashed off, and all preparations for the trip were made.
That night the Union sailed out of the China Sea. The case of the missing papers was closed. The gold was still at the bottom of the sea, but that was not Ned's fault. He had followed orders. However, the gold could be taken out at any time. The discovery of the men who had conspired with the famous diplomat could not wait.
What the boys did, the luck they had, and the adventures they met with, on the way from the coast to the Imperial City, will be told in the next volume of this series, "Boy Scouts on Motorcycles; or, With the Flying Squadron."