Four bells indicated a resumption of the journey. The great funnels began to pour forth smoke in immense volumes, and the ship fairly shook with the revolutions of the twin screws.
"So we are going directly south," said Ralph, who had just examined the compass, and started for the stairway.
"There will be no let-up now," remarked the captain.
Every one understood that forced draught would now be resorted to, both to avoid the likelihood of being torpedoed, and also to enable the ship to reach port at the earliest possible moment. The St. Duneen, although a twin-screw vessel, was not of more than 5,000 tons burden, having been built as a mail carrier for distant ports, in which speed was regarded as the important element in her construction.
As the commander remarked to the captain, after the latter reached the bridge, he felt sure that the speed alone, which he was able to make in an emergency, would baffle any attempt to reach his hull. It seemed so, for the vessel fairly skimmed the surface of the water, and left a trail which could be marked for miles.
Every one felt happy, and there was a feeling of security aboard that was shared by every one. Luncheon was announced, and the boys were descending the stairway leading to the cabin, when they felt a peculiar sensation. They were thrown down the steps, taking with them several women and children, who were alongside.
No sooner had they landed at the bottom, when the most terrific crash was heard.
"Submarine!" shrieked a voice.
The sensation of the oscillating movement of the vessel was a sickening one. The dining room was half-filled with women, children and men.
"To your cabins at once; life belts as quickly as possible!" shouted an officer. "The men must aid the women and children. Do not become excited."
This warning had a marked effect; it restored the confidence which had been so rudely shocked. Ralph and Alfred sprang for the closets where the life preservers were kept, and threw them out on the floor as fast as they could grasp them. They caught up one child after the other, and, without heeding the resistance which some offered, adjusted the belts, and, as fast as this was done, they assisted in pushing the children toward the companionway.
The ship was slowly sinking to one side. The angle was very perceptible, and especially noticed as the boys reached the stairway, for it was found to be impossible to ascend by the starboard stairs. This made it more difficult to get the people out of the crowded rooms below.
"Don't get excited!" shouted the officer from the head of the stairs. "We can all clear the ship safely before she goes down."
As fast as the passengers reached the deck, officers were present to direct them to the most advantageous boats, but no orders were given to man the boats. The bow of the ship had gone down, and she was now lying at a considerable angle, but it was evident that there was considerable buoyancy in the vessel, and that there was no immediate danger.
"Are you sure that all are out of the cabins?" asked the captain, as one of the porters appeared at the end of the passageway.
"We might as well take a look," said Alfred, as he rushed toward the port passage.
"I will go through the other passageway and meet you at the aft stairway," said Ralph, as he darted toward the gangway leading along the right side of the ship.
Alfred diligently opened every door and glanced about; he was not long in reaching the aft stairway area, and waited for some minutes for Ralph to appear. As he was crossing the open space between the two passageways, he heard a shriek, followed by piercing screams, evidently from the port passage.
Directed by the sounds he sprang from door to door, and soon detected a terrific struggle. "Help! help! I am being murdered!" was the cry.
At the door of a cabin Alfred saw two forms, one the woman, and the other Ralph in a fierce struggle, the woman with her arms around the post, which extended upward from the floor at the side of the cabin couch. She defied every effort on the part of Ralph. Alfred seized her hands, gradually loosened them, and when they had succeeded in freeing her, she dropped down, completely exhausted, threw her head to one side, and swooned.
This greatly facilitated her removal. The boys dragged her along the passageway, and, nearing the stairs, noticed a peculiar sound, something like a muffled explosion, followed by a sudden lurch of the ship, which destroyed their balance so that they were compelled to drop their burden.
"What can that be?" asked Ralph.
"Seems as though we have been hit the second time," replied Alfred.
"Oh! here you are!" shouted the captain, as he rushed down the stairway, followed by an officer.
"What was that?" asked Ralph.
"A bulkhead has just given way," replied the captain.
"Then we are bound to go down," said Alfred with a sigh. "We must get her up before she comes to."
"Yes, but we'll try to save her," replied the captain.
The ship was slowly sinking. The motion of a vessel as it loses its buoyancy gives a most peculiar feeling to those on board, independently of the knowledge that danger is lurking very near. The sinking motion is not a smooth and steady going down, but the movement is accompanied by successive throbs, as it seems,—it almost appears as though the ship were a living thing, sobbing away, until the final plunge takes place.
Aided by the captain and the officer, the woman was quickly brought to the deck, where it was learned that her husband had lost his life on a torpedoed vessel a month before. She opened her eyes as they were placing her in the boat, and instantly recognized Ralph.
"Did I resist and try to injure you?" she asked. "Forgive me!" she said pleadingly. "But I have had so much trouble. You must be a brave boy to act as you did."
"Don't mind that for a minute," replied Ralph. "We were bound to get you out; we didn't think of anything else."
"Come on, boys; take the boat at the next davit," said the captain. "I will be with you in a moment."
The boys entered the little dory and sat down. The navigating officer was the last one to step in. He stood there with his instruments in his hands, and cast a gloomy look along the deck. "Too bad, too bad!" he said reflectively.
"Say, Ralph, I have an idea that we are hoodoos!" said Alfred, with a serious air.
"Who is a hoodoo?" asked the captain, approaching and overhearing the conversation.
"Hoodoo, nothing!" answered Ralph.
"Well, it begins to look like it," responded Alfred. "There is some sort of deviltry around wherever we have happened to be ever since the war began."
Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, the captain could not repress a smile, which he quickly suppressed, as he answered:
"Then what would you call me? They have sunk four ships under me by torpedoes, and one by a mine. You have seen and experienced some of the other adventures I have had within the past ten days, and now this is another vessel to go down under me on account of a mine," said the captain.
"A mine! a mine, did you say?" almost shrieked Alfred.
"Yes; one of the floating mines that the Germans are strewing about in open defiance of all the laws," answered the captain with a bitter voice.
A FRIGHTFUL MINE EXPLOSION
The order was given. There was no hope for the ship. "Lower the boats!" Everything was done with precision and in order, indicating that there was no panic on shipboard. Up to the last moment the wireless S. O. S., St. Duneen, 48, 50 N., 10 E., repeated and repeated the message of the disaster.
At a signal the wireless operator obeyed the commander's orders, and emerged from the little room high up aft of the main stacks. He sprang into the boat, as it was moving down.
"Pull away! pull away!" shouted the commander, as the boats reached the surface of the water. The order and its execution did not come too soon. Like a giant, in a death struggle, there were a few spasmodic movements, and more pronounced ones as the bulkheads gave way.
They were fully two hundred feet from the ship, when suddenly it seemed to roll around half-way, and they could look over the entire deck, so fully was it exposed to those on board of the dory in which the boys had taken refuge.
The vessel rested on its side for a moment only, then it slowly staggered back, the bow quickly dipped, and failed to come back again. Then it seemed actually to slide forward into the depths, the stern rising higher and higher, as the bow moved under. More than fifty feet of the stern of the ship was still out of the water, when a peculiar thing happened. The hull ceased to move. It remained at an angle in the air for a quarter of a minute, while every one stared at it in silence.
"What is the matter with it?" asked Alfred, who was the first to break the silence.
"The bow is on the bottom of the ocean," said the captain.
That was, indeed, true. Soon it began to sink, by falling back, and it quietly sank beneath the waves, leaving scarcely a ripple above the surface.
"That would have been different if she had been struck amidship, for the hull would have gone down on an even keel," remarked the commander.
The nine boats were now afloat near each other. In the distance could be seen smoke in two directions, evidence that vessels were not far away. Then, almost like an apparition, from the east came two of the speedy little ships, which act like spit-fires and lie so low in the water that they are able to creep up unawares. They do not give forth any smoke to warn an enemy, or indicate their presence to friends.
Long before the ships, which had announced their positions by the smoke on the horizon, came into sight, the saucy chasers were sailing around and about the fleet of St. Duneen's boats.
"It rather makes me feel good to think that we didn't get caught by either of the submarines," said Alfred. "I would hate to give them that satisfaction."
"But what's the difference, after all?" replied Ralph. "So long as they sink the ships, what matter does it make whether they do it by mines or submarines?"
"Yes; one is as bad as the other, both done against all law," answered Alfred.
The first boat to answer the signal was a French cruiser, which came up rapidly after the chasers arrived. There was ample room on board for the passengers, but it took fully an hour before all were safe on board and orders were given to start. As the cruiser turned, a great, gray British battleship came up to port, saluted, and passed on, followed by another far in the distance, those two great vessels with their black smoke trailing out in the distance and moving along majestically seeming to be the acme of power.
The boys were on the upper deck and watched the scene with admiration. Before the cruiser had proceeded far the smoke of more than a dozen ships were visible, and the boys could not help but be impressed at the tremendous power of the Allies on the water, notwithstanding the calamity which had just befallen their ship. After all, the ships had been sunk by an enemy which dared not show his face above the surface of the water.
"Submarine sunk near the harbor of Brest and one off Cherburg," was the startling announcement of the wireless operator. "Five American ships have arrived at the Loire," was another message. "America is aflame with excitement, and demands action," came later.
"Is it possible that the United States will go to war?" asked Ralph.
"The United States is now at war," replied the captain.
"What? do you mean to say that the President has declared war?" asked Alfred in astonishment.
"No; it is not necessary that America should declare war. Germany has done so by torpedoing your ships, and killing your citizens; that is an act of war; for every nation, and Germany itself, knows that its submarine war is illegal, and without any standing in International Law. It is no justification to say that to give notice makes it legal. If a man wished to commit murder it would not make him less a murderer if he had given notice of his intention beforehand," said the captain.
"Then I'm not going back to New York," said Alfred.
"Nor I; we've been in it from the first, and we might as well stick it out;—if I only knew that mother was safe," concluded Ralph with a shadow across his face.
Within an hour the boys saw a faint streak of peculiar gray to the left, far ahead.
"That must be land," said Alfred.
"And that looks like a town, away in the distance," remarked Ralph.
"You are right; that is the coast of France, and the houses you see belong to the town of Fecamp, a seaport and watering place, 22 miles from Havre," said the navigating officer.
Every minute brought them nearer the city of Havre. How they longed to hear some news of their parents, now that all excitement had died away, and they were permitted to think of home and those dear to them.
Vessels began to accumulate on all sides of them, indications that they were now within the safety zone. For a period of eight days they had not known what absolute quiet and rest meant. First, the terrible suspense within the hull of a submarine, the trying experience attending the capture of the vessel, the unquiet feeling that they had desperate men below who might do anything to gain their liberty, the explosion and sinking of the submarine, their rescue, and then the last sinking, seemed to form a chapter of misadventures which constantly kept them on the alert.
It was such a different feeling now, and, as such things generally do, caused a reaction. They actually felt ill, and Alfred, especially, after the last accident, felt too weak to remain on deck.
They retired to the cabin assigned to them in the officers' quarters, and were soon asleep. The captain, missing them, made a search and soon found them. He smiled, and, turning to the officers, said:
"They are fine fellows; the experiences have been most trying, and would test the mettle of most men; but they went through with it, obeyed all orders, without asking why, and never showed the white feather."
"Who are they?" asked one of the cruiser's officers.
"American boys, caught in the war, where they helped the fighting until two months ago, and were just returning to the United States on my ship. That is how I happened to meet them and learned to love them," replied the captain with pride in his voice.
As they were leaving the cabin, Alfred awoke. "Are we near Havre?" he asked anxiously.
"We are now turning the point; we expect to reach the dock in a half-hour," answered the officer.
Every one crowded the rails and watched the ever-changing panorama, for Havre is the second seaport in France, has the largest foreign trade, especially with America, and is noted for its great docks, and ship-building facilities.
"Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes!" shouted Ralph, as he pointed to the banner above the mast on a ship, which was just being warped out of the dock.
The passengers, as well as officers and seamen of the cruiser, took off their hats and cheered. Ralph blushed at the hearty response, but he knew that it was a tribute which they were paying to America, about to become a new ally. The seamen on board the American ship gave a hearty response to the salute, and this swelled the pride of the boys beyond measure.
How slowly the ship moved, now that they were nearing the end of their journey from the perils of the sea. How anxiously they awaited the time they could step ashore and visit the consul's office, there to learn, if possible, the fate of their parents.
"They are going to take us to the main foreign dock," said the captain, as he approached. "And I want to say that you must not get away from me in your eagerness. There are some people who want to talk to you and tell you how they appreciate your bravery and good work."
"Thank you, Captain," said Alfred. "We had no cause to fear, as long as you commanded."
"Indeed not," chimed in Ralph. "Even if we knew other perils that might come to us, we would be glad to follow you again wherever you ordered us to go; that's the way we feel about it."
"That is, indeed, a compliment," replied the captain.
"We have never felt the slightest fear or doubt," said Alfred, "but, of course, we have been sad many times, to think that our parents were separated from us, after we had not seen them for over two years."
"There is the dock. We will be off within fifteen minutes now. You must allow me to conduct you to the consul's office; I know him very well," said the captain.
As the vessel touched the dock the captain turned to the boys, and said with a wicked grin on his face: "Get your luggage, boys, and come on."
The boys laughed at the remark. "For my part," answered Ralph, "I had forgotten that there was such a thing as luggage, or baggage, or anything of that sort."
"Ralph! Ralph! who is that coming across the dock? Look! it is just like father! I believe it is!" almost shrieked Alfred.
"It is! yes; I am sure of it; and there is mother, too," replied Ralph, now all excitement.
"Of course, they are there; I knew it; I told you it would be all right," said the captain with a jubilant voice.
The boys glanced at the captain, and Ralph turned his head slyly, as he said: "And did you know they were here?"
"Well, I think they got my message this morning," replied the captain with a laugh. "Where is your father; point him out," said the captain to Alfred.
"The tall man with the gray overcoat; do you see him coming?—and there is mother, too," shouted Alfred.
The boys were the first ones down the plank, closely followed by the captain, the passengers standing by and witnessing the reunion of the families.
The captain came forward and shook hands with Mr. Elton. "Thank you for the wireless; we had about despaired, when it came to the hotel."
"I didn't tell the boys," replied the captain. "I left that pleasure for their own eyes; and here are the mothers; how I must congratulate you on having such sons. I know their worth."
"And is it true what they say about your doings with our boys, that you captured the submarine, while it was under the water?" asked Mrs. Elton.
"Yes, that was true, and much more," answered the captain.
"We felt so proud about it," replied Mr. Elton, "and it was some compensation for having been twice torpedoed within a week."
"What? did you say that you were torpedoed the second time?" asked Ralph.
"Yes," replied Mr. Elton. "We were picked up by a ship, the next morning, which was bound for New York. Two days afterwards, when out of the danger zone, our ship went down, and we had to take to the boats. This time we were picked up by a ship that landed us in Havre, three days ago. Then we heard of your exploits, of which the French papers were full, and we determined to remain here until we heard from you."
"But I cannot understand how it was that the captain happened to reach you by wireless?" asked Ralph.
"The cruiser wireless telegraphed the fact of our rescue to the U. S. consul, and I wired the commander of the cruiser," replied Mr. Elton.
"I answered Mr. Elton's message," said the captain with a smile. "But are you going back to America now?" continued the captain.
"Why, what has happened?" asked Alfred.
"America is at war with Germany," was the reply.
We shall now take leave of our young friends, but we do so with the feeling that before long we shall hear more about them, and be able to follow their adventures enlisted under the banner of their own beloved land in the fight against oppression and savagery.
THE MOTION PICTURE COMRADES SERIES
By ELMER TRACEY BARNES
The object of these books is to place before the reader the unusual experiences of a party of boys who succeed in filming a number of interesting scenes.
The stories are replete with striking incidents on land and sea, and above all they describe with remarkable accuracy the methods employed to obtain many of the wonderful pictures which may be seen on the screen.
The Motion Picture Comrades' Great Venture; or, On the Road with the Big Round Top
The Motion Picture Comrades Through African Jungles; or, The Camera Boys in Wild Animal Land
The Motion Picture Comrades Along the Orinoco; or, Facing Perils in the Tropics
=The Motion Picture Comrades Aboard a Submarine; or, Searching for Treasure Under the Sea=4836
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The Hilltop Boys; A Story of School Life
Jack Sheldon, a clean-minded and popular student in the academy, gains the enmity of several of the boys, but their efforts to injure him fail. A mystery, connected with Jack's earlier life, is used against him, but he comes off with flying colors.
The Hilltop Boys in Camp; or, The Rebellion at the Academy
A strange situation arises in which an airship figures as the bearer of an important letter. The head-master acts without investigating all the facts, but matters are all finally adjusted to the satisfaction of all concerned.
The Hilltop Boys on Lost Island; or, An Unusual Adventure
The scene now shifts to the West Indies and Jack figures as the hero of a daring rescue. Their experiences in tropical waters form a most stirring narrative, and the young reader is assured of a tale of gripping interest from first to last.
The Hilltop Boys on the River
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By SILAS K. BOONE
These books describe, with interesting detail, the experiences of a party of boys among the mountain pines.
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A series of wholesome stories for boys told in an interesting way and appealing to their love of the open.
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- Transcriber's Note: Typographical errors corrected in the text: Page 39 ofcer changed to officer Page 46 possed changed to possessed Page 73 missing word "get" inserted Page 76 personnal changed to personnel Page 77 personnal changed to personnel Page 119 blow changed to below -