"That motion, if anything, will disentangle us from the nets," said the captain, addressing the sub-lieutenant. The latter did not reply, but turned on the captain with a frown.
"Your opinion is not requested!" he said in a terse manner.
The captain made a quiet bow and moved toward their small room, the boys following.
"I am sorry that fellow is in command," said Alfred. "I never liked him from the first."
"I'll bet we were locked up by that fellow's orders, for I don't believe the lieutenant had anything to do with it," remarked Ralph. The captain nodded his head, as he replied: "I knew that from the first day."
"I'd like to get ahead of him some way," said Alfred.
The captain looked at the boys for a few moments, then quietly put his hands on their arms, as he said: "Getting ahead, or getting even, doesn't pay, as a rule; but I have known where a few have been able to overcome a great many, as a duty, for that is what makes men strong."
Alfred's eyes fairly bulged, as he gazed at the captain. "Isn't it a duty to capture this submarine?"
The captain leaned forward and held up a warning hand. Ralph rose up and glanced around. "Why can't we do it?" he asked.
"There is only one thing lacking; yes, it has been in my mind from the first moment we came aboard, but we cannot do it without weapons. With them in our possession we might succeed. Why, if we could have had them this afternoon it would have been an ideal time to make the attempt," said the captain.
"I have something to tell you," said Alfred, as he lowered his voice.
"What is it?" asked the captain.
"I know where there is a box of revolvers," he replied.
"Where?" asked the captain, agitated visibly.
"Do you remember the two big upright drums which I was pinned against when the ship went up?" asked Alfred.
"Yes," replied the captain.
"Well, one of the boxes broke open when it came down the passageway, and when I saw what was in it I pushed it way under the base of the tank on the left side," said Alfred.
"The revolvers are all right, but we may have some trouble in getting cartridges," replied the captain. "But wait," he continued, "I am sure I carried cases of them down the passageway."
"If I am not mistaken, there are several boxes near there,—rather long, slim boxes, are they not?" asked Alfred.
"Yes; with a red label on the corner," interrupted Ralph. "I can put my hands on a box any minute."
"Then you are with me and will carefully follow out my instructions?" inquired the captain, looking at them intently.
"We will follow you in whatever you ask us to do," replied Ralph.
"You must remember that the business we are about to engage in means life or death. Once begun we cannot go back. We have no line of retreat. While it is most hazardous, the feat would be a wonderful one," said the captain.
"No; we are not afraid. Both of us have been in some dangerous places and have come out all right. We have confidence in you," said Alfred slowly and deliberately.
"Thank you for that," replied the captain. "We must begin the preparations at once, for at the present time when all is confusion we can get the opportunities that may not be offered later on."
"The boat seems to move," said Alfred.
A perceptible swaying motion was now observed. The vessel was still lying at the inclined position heretofore described. As they were about to crawl out of their cabin, they heard the voice of the sub-lieutenant:
"Connect the forward motor!"
They drew back into the room. "What is that for?" asked Ralph.
Before the captain could reply came the second order:
The motor buzzed, but no effect was produced on the boat.
"That seems singular," observed Alfred.
"Not at all," answered the captain.
"Why not?" asked Ralph.
"The stern of the submarine is out of the water," answered the captain.
The power was shut off, and again turned on. It was now obvious that they were dangling in the water with the prow of the boat held fast in the entangling nets. As they glanced out the door they could see the faces of the seamen moving to and fro with terror depicted on their countenances.
"They may well fear the results," said the captain. "But we have a duty to perform, and I might as well advise you of several things which we should do and observe. We must try to obtain the weapons and ammunition. That will be the first duty. Does either of you know where the electric switches are?"
"Yes," answered both of the boys in one breath.
"I mean the switch in the hold," said the captain.
"Yes," said Alfred. "The one I mean is close to the dynamo on the switchboard, behind the steps leading to the conning tower."
"That is correct," answered the captain. "The control switch for the lighting is in the conning tower, however, and I call your attention to this, as it may be of service to us in our work."
"I can see, now, that to keep that in our control would be the main thing," said Ralph.
"The officer has not yet given any orders to put the boxes in the passageways aside, and he will not do so, probably, until they are able to ascertain whether or not the ship will free itself; under the circumstances, Alfred, I must delegate you to secure a half-dozen of the revolvers, or remove them from the box so that we can secrete them later," said the captain.
As Ralph crawled from the cabin and moved toward the main gangway, the captain added: "If you remember where one of the ammunition boxes is you might smuggle it into this room, but proceed very cautiously."
Ralph soon made his way back, carrying with him one of the revolvers. "There are a dozen in the box," he said, "and I brought one over to show you. You see, it is the kind from which the cylinder can be removed. Wouldn't it be a good idea to take the cylinders out of all that we can't use?"
"Capital idea," said the captain. "If you can find any wire, put it where you can quickly place your hands on it."
"I found a box of ammunition also," continued Ralph, "but I haven't tried whether it would fit the revolvers."
An examination revealed the fact that the cartridges were not of the same calibre. It was, indeed, a terrible disappointment.
"Here it is," said Alfred, as he slipped into the door of the room.
"Ah, this is a different size; you have the right ones, fortunately," said the captain.
"Now, let me give you a few words as to the next,——"
A pronounced lurch in the vessel's position interrupted the captain. The seamen were now rushing around frantically, and talking excitedly.
"Hold your tongues!" shouted the sub-lieutenant.
The vessel was, evidently, moving. Occasionally, there would be a heavy, rasping sound, and the rear end of the boat would seem to settle down a few feet.
"It's coming all right," said Ralph in excitement.
"Connect forward motor!" again shouted the sub-lieutenant.
The motor turned smoothly without producing a disturbing influence on the ship, indicating that the propeller was still in the air.
"I fear that the sub-lieutenant does not know his business any too well," remarked the captain.
THE NIGHT'S STRUGGLE TO FREE THE VESSEL
The boys wondered at the remark which the captain had made, and were about to ask him for an explanation, when the electric lights suddenly died out, and all were left in total darkness. The captain crawled past the boys and felt his way toward the stern of the vessel.
"The storage batteries!" was all he said.
That there was confusion on the part of the crew of the vessel, was apparent, for the sub-lieutenant shouted one order after the other, until he seemed to be incoherent, and, as a result, no one knew what was expected of him or what to do.
Evidently, the captain knew the trouble and how to remedy it, for within a minute the lights were again in commission, and the captain was noticed at the main switch. From that point he shouted to the sub-lieutenant:
"I found a box on the switchboard. It had slipped down and thrown out the switch bar at the time the boat made the last lurch."
"Thank you for the service," said the sub-lieutenant, to the surprise of the captain and boys.
As the captain returned to their room he remarked: "The sub-lieutenant was very polite; probably he would not be so likely to thank me for some other things I have done."
"What! since you left us two minutes ago?" asked Ralph.
The captain nodded. "But I started to say a few minutes ago," he continued, "that we ought to have our work planned out ahead and thoroughly understand each other. There is one thing I must impress on you, and that is, we must not again be locked up in this room. I have no faith in the present commander, and would be very much mistaken if he permits us to have our freedom after we once get free of the nets."
"What must be done if he again orders us locked up?" asked Alfred.
"That brings us to the point where we must make a canvass of the situation as it confronts us. Let me see; there are three men in addition to the commander, who need not be reckoned with in a contest. Fortunately, one of the men is a machinist, and the only other man except the sub-lieutenant, of any intelligence, is the doctor. I doubt if he would be a strong factor against us," said the captain.
"The fellow who had charge of the men carrying the boxes is nothing but a chump," said Ralph. "I wouldn't be afraid of him."
"I am considering more the character of the men who are able to handle the boat, and who know the intricacies of the mechanism. I can see where men of that sort will be able to make it very interesting for us if we should attempt to capture the officers and crew," said the captain thoughtfully.
It was evident that the vessel was slowly righting itself, for every minute or two there would be a slight sinking movement, which was very gratifying.
"Where are the revolvers?" asked the captain.
"I found a dandy place for them, and can get them in a minute, if wanted," said Ralph.
"Captain, I wanted to ask you some time ago what you meant by saying that the sub-lieutenant didn't know any more about submarining than he ought to. What did you mean by that?" asked Alfred.
"One of the things I had in mind was, when he was trying to start the propellers, that he could have found an easier way to learn whether they were in the water or not," was the answer.
"How so?" asked Ralph.
"The indicator board in the conning tower shows just how far the vessel is under water," replied the captain.
"But," said Alfred, "would that tell it correctly if one end of the vessel should be up and the other down, as this is?"
"Why not? It would indicate how far down in the water the hull would be amidship, and it would not require much involved calculating to figure out where the stern of the vessel would be if he knew the angle at which the hull was resting," answered the captain.
"I would just like to know how far we are down," said Ralph, looking up the stairway into the conning tower.
"Do you think you could spot the right dial face if you went up?" asked the captain.
"I think I could," said Ralph, rather doubtingly, it must be admitted.
"Then I'll give you a little hint, if you'd like to try to make an investigation," said the captain. "Directly forward of the table, which contains the chart, and below the three levers, you will see a glass column with red colored liquid in it,——"
"I know what you mean now," said Ralph, interrupting.
"Well, simply get the number on the card on the right side of the glass column. Do you understand?" remarked the captain.
"Yes; but why not take the numbers on the left side also?" asked Ralph.
"They merely indicate the pressure. Depth below the surface is all we want," rejoined the captain.
"Well, here goes; and I hope they won't catch me at it," said Ralph, as he slowly moved out.
"One moment," said the captain, as he put forth a restraining hand. "What will you do, or how will you act if some one should catch you in the tower?" he asked.
Ralph hesitated: "I hadn't thought of that; why,—well,—I suppose I should try to explain it in some way or other," he said.
"I am afraid that would not do. Allow me to make a suggestion. Go up boldly, as though you had a perfect right to, or that you did not suspect it was a forbidden place; if some one accosts you look at him in a surprised way, make an apology, and retire; I give you this pointer because you may be flustrated and unable to make a prompt reply, and that would show guilt of some kind," said the captain.
Ralph went out and loitered about, gazing at the various pieces of machinery, and finally stood on the steps of the conning tower, which, at the angle of the boat in its inclined position, were almost horizontal. He stretched himself out on the stairs, and turned his head. From that point he could see the red liquid in the glass column, but it was difficult to read the figures.
The glare from the electric light interfered with his sight, and before he had an opportunity to get a glimpse of the figures from his new position, one of the petty officers crawled along the passageway, and, noticing him lying on the stairs, peremptorily ordered him to get down.
Ralph glanced at the man, smiled at him, and promptly complied, chagrined at his failure. As he entered the little room the captain eagerly questioned him: "What did it say?" he asked.
"That fellow ordered me away before I could make out the figures," said Ralph, "but I'm going to try it again."
"How near was the liquid from the top of the glass tube?" asked the captain.
"Well, I should say about so far," replied Ralph, indicating space between his thumb and finger. "I guess it was about an inch."
"How long do you think the tube is?" asked the captain.
"I think it must be a foot long; probably more," was the answer.
"I asked you to give me an estimate of the length of the entire tube so as to give me some assurance that you knew the value of an inch. You were right; those tubes are twelve inches long. Now let me see; I ought to know what figures are an inch from the top!" remarked the captain thoughtfully.
"Pardon me, Captain, but how does it come that you know all about these boats?" asked Alfred.
"I used to be an officer on a French submarine," he replied in a quiet tone, and immediately proceeded to make certain mental calculations. Then he continued: "One inch below the top! That is twenty."
"Twenty what?" asked Ralph.
"Twenty feet; the Germans have the English foot on all their boats. I wonder they didn't think about that, and make a change before starting out."
"Maybe it's twenty meters," said Alfred, with a slight laugh.
"Oh, no," replied the captain. "That would be too Frenchy for the Germans. Besides, it would be too much by all odds. I am sure the conning tower is not more than twenty feet below the surface of the water."
"Then the stern of the submarine must be sticking out of the water," remarked Alfred.
"Unquestionably," replied the captain.
"How far, do you suppose?" asked Ralph.
"We can easily figure that out," said the captain. "Let me see; we must first get the angle at which the boat is lying."
After looking about for some time he continued: "The door jamb is built in vertically; that is sure. A string, or piece of thread will make a plumb-bob; here it is: now let us see; according to the plumb line the boat is at an angle of 33 degrees, as nearly as our imperfect device indicates. There, now this line A shows the top of the boat and B the base of the conning tower. A line C, from the top of the water to the center of the conning tower, measuring 20 feet, shows where the water line is. Do you understand how I am doing it?"
"That is very plain," said Alfred, "and it is an interesting way to get at it, too. Then how far is the tail of the boat out of the water?"
"I should say it is about nine feet," replied the captain.
"No wonder the propellers didn't do any good when they sent them spinning!"
"There is one thing I forgot about," said the captain, as he shook his head. "Why didn't I tell you to note the time. We are in the greatest danger, I fear."
"Why, what makes you think so?" asked Ralph.
"This accident happened during the night, and we have now been in this condition for at least four hours. If we are caught here at daylight it is all up with us," remarked the captain.
"Why, is it any more dangerous then than now?" asked Alfred.
"Because the patrol boats and submarine chasers will spy us, and then a shot, and all will be over," replied the captain with a solemn voice.
"Then I think we ought to do something right away," said Ralph, as he half rose and glanced out.
"I am afraid that will put the burden of getting out of the nets on our shoulders," replied the captain. "No, let them work at it, as long as they care to, but we must try by some means to determine the time."
"Do you think the seamen would object to telling us?" inquired Alfred. "Just let me alone; I am going to try it on, anyway," he said, as he slipped out of the door, picked up a box and stowed it away snugly at one side out of the way of a young fellow who was making his way up the incline toward the stern.
Alfred struck up a conversation, and asked: "Can I help you in any way? Tell me what to do."
The request seemed to warm up the fellow, and the information was given that the officer had instructed him to remove the stray boxes from the machinery. The two engaged in this work for more than fifteen minutes. Finally Alfred said: "How are you, pretty tired? You haven't had much sleep so far?"
"Oh, no; but we're used to that," he replied, "why, in the last run we had hardly an hour's sleep in the last four days before reaching port."
"That must be very trying," rejoined Alfred. "But it must be near daylight."
"It is just about an hour off; and when the day comes I don't know what will happen," remarked the seaman.
"Why, what are you afraid of?" asked Alfred, appearing to be greatly alarmed.
"They have caught us this time for good, as I heard the lieutenant,——"
The sentence was never finished, for at that moment there was another rasping sound, and the stern of the boat came down with a sudden spring, then rebounded, and after two or three oscillations, rested quietly in the water, still at quite an angle.
The sub-lieutenant sprang toward the conning tower as fast as he could scramble. The signal was given to reverse, the motors began to hum and the ship vibrated. It was a glorious feeling, and the captain grasped the hands of the boys in an ecstacy of joy.
THE CAPTURE OF THE SUBMERGED VESSEL
"Why does it still keep at this angle?" asked Ralph.
"Have you forgotten the stuff we carried back into the stern?" replied Alfred.
"Do you think that really is the trouble?" asked Ralph.
"Yes; it is out of balance, and I suppose we may look out for another job," said the captain. "That may be the opportunity we are seeking. Furthermore, what is to be done must be done just as soon as possible."
"What makes you think so?" eagerly inquired Alfred.
"Several things. The first is, that we are now in the English Channel under the guidance of a man much less skilful than the lieutenant; and, secondly, the lieutenant, although badly wounded, may recover sufficiently to be able to direct affairs," replied the captain.
"When I was out there talking with the seaman," said Alfred, "I learned that the lieutenant was in a very low state."
"I should judge so, too," rejoined the captain, "for the reason that the doctor has not left the room once since the lieutenant was taken there. In making a calculation of the forces against us I have considered that the lieutenant, the cook and the doctor are disposed of, so far as being of any aid to the crew. Three others are also so badly injured that they do not need to cause us much worry. I am not certain in my mind, however, where they are at this time."
"Do you mean the men who were injured?" asked Ralph.
"Two of them are in the bunks behind the compressed air tanks," answered Ralph.
"Are you quite sure of that?" queried the captain.
"I know it," was the answer.
"Well, that makes six accounted for, so that there are twenty-one we must meet. Now I shall give a few general instructions before we proceed. The sub-lieutenant has gone into the conning tower. As he entered I tried to get a glimpse to ascertain whether or not the sun had risen, but was unable to decide, but I should judge that it is not yet daylight or he would not be running on the surface. As a precautionary measure we must have the weapons ready, and have the revolvers put away so as not to expose them before we are ready."
"Here they are," said Ralph, who cautiously brought them to the room.
"Shall we load them?" asked Alfred.
"By all means; and let me warn you of one thing: when you aim be sure to hit. There must be no pretense about it. The matter is too serious for anything but strict business. I hope we shall not have the opportunity or necessity for using the revolvers. Now pay attention to the details: the sub-lieutenant must be the first one captured, and he must be taken into the conning tower. I suggest that you, Ralph, take your place beneath the stairway, hiding, as much as possible, behind the amidship tank, while you, Alfred, remain at the door of our room here."
"Shall I stay here so I can be seen or keep out of sight?" asked Alfred.
"Remain under cover inside the room, but in sight of the stairway. You have probably noticed that the under officer makes frequent trips to the conning tower, and that on returning each time he turns a short lever below the hinge," said the captain.
"I have noticed that several times and wondered what it was for," said Ralph.
"That is for the purpose of holding the hatch door so that it can be opened by him when he again ascends the stairway. Now, when the under officer opens the hatch and comes down the hatch stairs, will be the time for you to come out of the room and take up your position at the forward corner of the room; that will completely hide you from the eyes of the officer. I shall then go into the room, the moment he reaches the last step, and thus he will not suspect me. The moment he reaches the passageway opposite the door, I will hold him up with my revolver, and compel him to enter the room. The moment that is done you will push the door shut, as you will see that it has a spring lock. Do you fully understand the instructions so far?" asked the captain.
"I think so," answered Alfred, "although I don't exactly understand why I am to go into the room first, and then come out the moment the hatch is being opened."
"For the reason that we must not be suspected by the others, some of whom are at all times not far away, and if, while we are waiting, some of the crew should pass the end of our room they would be sure to see you and consider that a peculiar place for you to be in. Do you understand it now?" replied the captain.
"Then, after that what will take place?" asked Ralph, his breath coming thick and fast.
"I shall go up the stairway, followed by Alfred. While this is going on it will be your duty, Ralph, to watch the workers at the dynamo and the aft tank. They are the only ones who will be able to see the stairway clearly. If you see any look of alarm on their faces, or see that they notice what is going on, move around into the opening, and level both revolvers at them, without, however, making any sound. Hold them in that position until I raise the trap-door and warn the sub-lieutenant. Alfred will follow close and hold the trap-door from being sprung. Then move up the companionway as fast as you can. There, he is going up now. Take your place, Ralph."
The crucial time had come. Alfred retreated into the little room as the captain leisurely moved along the narrow passageway toward the dynamos. Thus they waited and waited, five, ten minutes. Ages seemed to pass. Then the hatch door opened slowly. Alfred came out quietly without looking around, moved forward, and then walked back and slid into the corner of the room.
The petty officer closed the hatch and moved down the steps, brushing past the captain. As he did so the captain entered the door and immediately turned with the revolver pointing at the officer's breast.
"Not a sound, or I fire," said the captain in a voice which could not be heard a dozen feet away. The captain stepped aside, and pointed to the open doorway, at the same time indicating by motions that the German should enter it. The officer gritted his teeth and finally obeyed. As the captain stood there with the revolver at his side, but pointed at the man, Alfred slowly closed the door.
The captain now turned and moved up the stairway. With his revolver drawn he pushed open the trap-door quietly, and, in a quiet voice, said: "Hands up!"
The sub-lieutenant turned quickly, to look into the muzzle of the revolver. His hands reached out to seize a lever.
"Stop!" said the captain, and the officer quickly raised his hands.
Alfred was now in the tower, and Ralph, walking up backwards, had his head through the hatch opening, when a shot was fired. He dropped one of his revolvers, and Alfred quickly seized him by the shoulders and drew him up. The hatch cover came down with a bang.
"Are you hurt?" asked Alfred, as Ralph dropped down, but he was reassured as the latter arose. For the moment the captain's gaze was averted, when, quick as thought, the officer's hand touched a lever.
The captain smiled, as he said: "I am afraid the valve of the submerging tank will not work; I prefer running on the surface. But, in the meantime, as I am commander of this vessel, and I notice that you are trying to interfere, I shall have to restrict your movements somewhat."
Saying this he drew a small cord from his pocket and instructed Alfred to bind the arms at the wrists. The hands of the officer were then carried around to the back and the cord fastened to a stanchion at one side, where he was out of reach of the instrument board.
This gave the captain an opportunity to examine Ralph's wound. The latter had quickly rallied. It was the shot, coupled with the extreme tension, which caused him momentarily to collapse, for it was found that the wound had passed through the fleshy part of the arm above the elbow.
"I suppose you want the destroyers to sink us," said the officer.
"Not at all," replied the captain. "Unscrew the bolts of the door, Alfred. And now a word more, Mr. Officer. Where are your flags?"
"I refuse to inform you," said the officer, with a look of determination in his face.
"I expect a shot every minute," said the captain, "for I know as well as you do that there is a cruiser on our port side. I shall give you another opportunity; where are the flags?"
"You must open the hatch for them," said the officer.
"All the bolts are out," said Alfred, turning to the captain.
"Guard the officer while I go out and signal," said the captain.
Before the captain reached the door there was an ominous boom in the distance. Alfred could see the officer's face grow pale. A shower of sea water sprayed over the deck, and some of the water entered the open door. Looking out he saw the captain, who had thrown off his coat and vest, and was now drawing off his white shirt, which he held up and waved to and fro, just as the second shot boomed.
Fortunately, the shot was too far away to be at all dangerous, as Alfred thought, but the voice of the captain explained it.
"Signal to stop!"
"Which lever?" inquired Alfred.
The latter hesitated. He glanced out the door and then at the boy. To refuse meant that the ship was doomed and his companions below without hope of rescue.
The captain, with the white signal in his hand, stepped to the door, and with the revolver pointing full into the face of the officer, said: "Stop the ship or you will never have an opportunity to save yourselves or your companions."
"Pull the second lever," he said, and Alfred did as directed.
"Reverse!" demanded the captain.
"The lever below," said the officer.
A mile away was a small, speedy craft, sailing around the submarine. It seemed fairly to skim over the surface of the water, and cast the spray astern like a mist. It had come up unnoticed by the captain.
"Look at the little boat," shouted Ralph, who had now recovered and had moved to the open door.
The captain turned quickly toward the stern, waving the white flag in a frenzy. It must have been regarded as a remarkable thing to those on board the little cutter to see a German submarine hoisting a surrender flag. It seemed too good to be true. They evidently supposed the white flag was a ruse of some kind, for they did not venture nearer.
Meanwhile, the cruiser, which had fired the two shots, came up behind the little craft, and the latter cautiously steamed up. The small vessel was one of the speedy torpedo boat chasers, carrying two three-inch guns, and drawing less than six feet of water. The safety of these boats lies in their great speed and in the shallow draft, which prevents the submarine from reaching them with their torpedoes.
Once abreast the commander called out: "I am sending a boat for your officers."
"I have only one here, that we can get at, at present," shouted the captain.
"What is that?" asked the commander of the chaser.
"I have one of the chief officers in the conning tower, and the others are below," said the captain.
"Who are you?" asked the commander.
"Captain Leclere, of the French service," replied the captain.
"Captain Leclere!" almost shouted the German officer in the conning tower.
"That's the man," said Alfred.
"Then I am not surprised," said the officer in a low voice.
"Surprised?" said Ralph. "Did you say 'surprised?'"
The officer sighed, turned his head away, and was silent.
A lieutenant and four seamen reached the side of the submarine, and were drawn aboard.
"Ah! it was your ship that went down in the bay last Wednesday," said the chaser's lieutenant.
"Yes; we were picked up by the submarine, together with my two young friends here," said the captain.
"And how does it happen that you are in command of this vessel?" he asked in surprise.
"We captured it about a half an hour ago, and have the chief officer and the crew below," replied the captain.
"That is certainly a remarkable exploit," replied the lieutenant. "I suppose you will be glad to meet the commander of l'Orient?" said the lieutenant.
"Ah! Captain Tournai, you mean! I recognized the French colors. But I supposed he was in the Mediterranean; it will be quite a pleasure, indeed. Do me the honor to signal him," said the captain.
The lieutenant gave the necessary instructions, and the flags wig-wagged from the bridge of the little vessel.
The sub-lieutenant was called out of the conning tower, and Alfred directed to unloosen the cords.
"I suppose you will take charge of the prisoners," said the captain.
"I should be glad to do so, with your permission, although you have a right, of course, to turn them over to l'Orient," said the lieutenant.
"No; it is sufficient gratification to know that we have the vessel," said the captain, "and I shall be glad to leave to you the disposition of the men and the vessel."
"What procedure would you suggest?" asked the lieutenant.
"I shall give an order to the sub-lieutenant directing the men to come out of the hold," said the captain. Then, turning to the sub-lieutenant, he said:
"You will inform the men below that they are to present themselves at the hatch."
The officer bowed, and entered the conning tower He immediately descended. Before he had, reached the bottom the captain said:
"Halt! Notify them from where you are. I shall not permit you to go any farther."
All the men were found to be stationed near the hatchway steps. One by one they appeared, and were escorted out, a dozen marines in the meantime having appeared in two boats. As they emerged from the door they were escorted to the side and directed to take their places in the ship's boats.
"That makes twenty-one," said Alfred.
THE SECRET KEY TO THE BOMB FUSE
"Shall I go down and assist in bringing up the lieutenant?" said the sub-lieutenant, as the doctor of the submarine passed out.
"No; I have decided that he shall not be removed until this evening," said the captain. "In the meantime the doctor may return, and give him such aid as is necessary."
The sub-lieutenant's face turned pale, and he trembled. This was the first show of weakness that he exhibited. The boys looked at the captain, and turned their glances toward the officer of the chaser. They could not understand it. The captain continued:
"I believe the chief machinist is also injured, as well as two of the machine tenders. They may also remain until after the lieutenant is brought up."
All present noticed the wrought-up condition of the sub-lieutenant, and the latter soon exhibited evidence that he was breaking down. At last he remarked with trembling voice:
"At what time can they be brought up?"
"I cannot tell at this time; possibly not until tomorrow," said the captain, directing a searching glance at the officer.
"He is very ill," said the doctor.
"I have no doubt of it," replied the captain. "The length of their stay in the submarine will depend on the length of the fuse attached to the time explosive in the hold."
The sub-lieutenant almost dropped as the captain uttered these words, and the boys exchanged significant glances, while the lieutenant of the chaser smiled.
"You did not think," continued the captain, "that I would be so lax in my duty as to permit you to plant a mine under our feet?"
The sub-lieutenant dropped his eyes without answering. The captain gazed at him intently, as he continued: "For the present you will be detained, and the time of the removal of the lieutenant with his companions will be decided within the next two hours."
With this decision the sub-lieutenant was put in charge of the marines, while he descended to enter the boat. As he was about to step aboard, he turned to the captain and said: "It will be too late if you defer the decision for two hours."
"Ah!" said the captain with a faint smile, "you have thought better of it. Will the fuse last an hour?"
The sub-lieutenant nodded. The captain waved his arms and directed the officer to proceed. The latter unceremoniously pushed the sub-lieutenant into the boat.
"I will see to it that the fuses are taken out," said the sub-lieutenant, recovering from his sullen attitude.
The captain paid no attention to the remarks of the officer. As soon as the sub-lieutenant was well out of hearing, the captain turned to the boys and said: "It may be a difficult and trying duty to you to perform, but it is the only safe thing to do. As you know almost every part of the submarine from the investigation you have made, I would ask you to follow me, and I will tell you what to do."
The boys nodded their heads, and entered the conning tower with the captain. The latter turned, before descending, and said:
"You will have observed, no doubt, that the scheme was to turn over the submarine to us as soon as possible, leaving a time fuse, which, within a specified time, would have blown the ship to atoms. By so doing they would accomplish two purposes, namely, destroy the ship, and save their own lives. We must not put confidence in any statement they may make."
"But wouldn't it be a good idea to let the sub-lieutenant remove the fuses, as he said he would do?" asked Ralph.
"Would you be willing to rely on that?"
"Well, I wouldn't," replied Alfred. "I could tell by the way the sub-lieutenant acted that he would play a trick if he could."
"That is just why I want you to assist me in check-mating," said the captain.
"Tell us just what to do, and you may depend on us," replied Ralph.
"As you know many of the dark places below I want you to go down with me and find several where you can secrete yourselves. I will then send the sub-lieutenant down, and order him to remove the fuses. I want you to be particular to observe every step he takes, and, as far as possible, note what he does at each place; do you understand?" said the captain.
"Perfectly," replied Ralph.
Together they descended. All were well aware that the lieutenant, the doctor, and the three wounded men were still in the dining galley, the door of which had been closed and locked by orders of the captain, after the last of the submarine crew reached the upper deck.
"I know one good place where a fellow can hide and still see what is going on," said Alfred.
"Where is that?" asked the captain.
"At that tank by the side of the dining galley," replied Alfred.
"That would be a good vantage point," answered the captain. "It is the aft trimming tank, and if you can find a place of concealment it would, at the same time, enable you to overhear any conversation that might possibly take place, when the sub-lieutenant is performing his unwelcome duty."
"Then maybe I ought to get somewhere forward of the main hatch?" proposed Ralph.
"I suppose you have your revolvers with you?" said the captain.
"I know mine is all right," replied Ralph.
"So is mine, I think," said Alfred, "although I haven't had an opportunity to try it so far."
"I hope there will be no necessity for anything of that kind," said the captain. "However, we are dealing with men who are desperate, and who have been taught that they must do desperate things to accomplish their purposes, hence the safe rule, in all cases, in dealing with them, is to do the very opposite of that which they wish you to do."
"Is that the reason why you refused to let him remove the fuse?" asked Alfred.
The captain laughed quietly, as he replied: "He thinks I have refused to let him do so, but he will be surprised to get the order to remove the fuses, and be permitted to go down into the vessel unaccompanied."
"Then he is to come down here without you?" said Ralph in surprise.
"Why, certainly; and that is why I want some one here to watch proceedings," said the captain.
"Oh! I understand now," replied Alfred. "That's a good idea. If anything happens we'll find out what it is if any one can."
"I believe it," answered the captain. "And now select your places. I will go up and send him down within the next fifteen minutes."
Alfred took up his station at one side of the aft trimming tank, and Ralph, after some investigation, upturned one of the boxes which was still lying in the passageway directly to one side of the steps leading to the conning tower, and after a little search, found two more, which were drawn together, thus forming a retreat which enabled him to observe the movements of any one on three sides.
All this was done in silence, and all preparation having been made, the captain ascended. After reaching the deck-house of the chaser, he requested the sub-lieutenant's presence. As he approached, between the two guards, the captain said: "I have concluded that you may go down and remove the fuses, and I shall depend on your honor to do it effectually."
The sub-lieutenant bowed stiffly, and was led to the boat, followed by the captain. As they reached the conning tower, the captain continued: "I will remain here. I shall give you ten minutes' time to do the work."
The sub-lieutenant descended, and was somewhat surprised to find himself alone in the interior. The electric lights were burning brightly. Ralph was the first to view his movements. The officer first moved to a point directly opposite, and with a key opened a door, which Ralph had never theretofore noticed. In a moment the door was again closed and Ralph saw a short section of a fuse, which the officer quickly pushed into a dark recess below.
From that point he moved toward the stern, stopping at the motors; then he quickly turned around and glanced about in a suspicious manner. As he stooped down, Ralph made a slight noise on one of the boxes, and the officer straightened up like a shot. The movement indicated a guilty act, and Ralph divined that the purpose was to injure the motors.
The sub-lieutenant moved cautiously to the rear, and in a few moments was abreast of the dining galley. Here he was within hearing of Alfred behind the aft trimming tanks. He saw the officer go to the door, and give three quick knocks. "Herr Schwoger!" he said in a subdued voice. In another moment a voice within replied: "The fuses; you must not forget them."
To this the sub-lieutenant answered: "I have been ordered to remove them; what shall I do?"
"Take out all but the forward fuse, and report," said the voice. "Tell us what has happened," continued the voice, which was now recognized as the doctor's.
"They have complete command, and two warships are outside," was the reply.
From this point the officer crossed over to the starboard side of the vessel and at a large stand-pipe stooped down. Alfred tried to ascertain what he was doing, but was unable to detect the nature of his work. The sub-lieutenant then crossed back to the other side, and, working his way quickly to the motors, stooped down. Ralph could no longer restrain himself. He quickly and quietly moved toward the officer, as he saw him with a long tool of some kind in his hand reach down to the base of the motor.
"Hands up!" shouted Ralph.
The tool dropped from the hands of the officer with a click.
Alfred was at the side of the sub-lieutenant in an instant. "You may go on deck," said Ralph.
The officer glanced at Alfred, whom he had seen emerge from the aft hiding place, and then turned a look of contempt on Ralph.
"Move!" said Ralph, pointing to the gangway.
Alfred cocked his revolver and menacingly pointed it at him.
There was only one thing to do and he did it. He was met by the captain at the head of the stairway.
The boys followed quickly. The captain looked on at the leveled revolvers and appeared to be surprised.
"What does all this mean?" he asked.
"It means that he tried to destroy the motors, and we caught him at it in time," said Ralph.
"That is not so," replied the officer.
"What is this for?" asked Alfred, as he held up the tool which the officer had dropped.
"But you have removed all the fuses, of course?" said the captain, apparently not heeding the tool referred to.
"I have," said the officer, straightening up.
"All but the one at the forward part of the vessel," replied Alfred.
The officer turned, with a look of surprise and chagrin on his face. "He does not know what he is talking about," said the officer.
"Then you are lying to me as you are to the captain," said Alfred. "You told the doctor in the galley that you had removed all but the forward one. Did you lie to him?" asked Alfred.
A blush seemed to suffuse the officer's face, as the captain said:
"We will go down together. There may be some more work to do; come on," said the captain, as he indicated the way. "You may go first, Ralph, the sub-lieutenant will follow."
There was no help for it. Once below the captain said: "You will save yourself considerable trouble by removing the fuse from the forward bomb, and that without further waste of words."
The officer knew that the manner in which the words were uttered meant business. Without waiting for the second warning, he led the way, opened another secret door, and removed the tell-tale fuse.
"Ah, ha! cut for two hours! Now, while we are about it you might as well start the motor; we have some use for it," said the captain.
"I cannot do that," replied the officer.
"So you succeeded in injuring it," said the captain.
"No," was the reply.
The captain picked up the tool, which Alfred was so particular to carry along. "And what was this used for?" he asked.
"Yes; I have disarranged the motor fields so that they are useless; and I don't deny it," said the officer, straightening up and looking at the captain defiantly.
"There; that is something like it; but you haven't deceived me in the least. I have brought a very useful article with me," continued the captain, drawing from his pocket a paper and presenting it to the officer. "It contains instructions, which I expect you to follow, for your own safety. I shall see to it that the fuses you removed are again put into place and the mechanism set for one hour. Of course, I shall hold the keys. Under those conditions you may remain locked below, and I shall expect you to obey my signals, as we intend to navigate the vessel to port, which will, as you know, occupy about fifty minutes of time. Do you know where the fuse boxes are?" said the captain, turning to the boys.
Ralph marched to the side wall and pointed to the place where the sub-lieutenant opened the first box.
"Open it!" ordered the captain, turning to the sub-lieutenant.
The latter hesitated. The captain stared at him sternly and repeated the order. As he made no motion, the captain continued: "Why do you hesitate?"
OPERATING THE SUBMARINE WITH A CAPTIVE CREW
The officer now saw that he was dealing with a man who understood the motives of those aboard the submarine, and it was also evident that the sympathy of the boys was turned from the young man. The latter had played his part to the ultimate.
"You have now done all and more than is required of you," said the captain, as he altered his tone of voice. "You have set the automatic device, which, in due time, would have sent this vessel to the bottom. I understand all these devices, and they will not avail you. I understand, as well as you do, that to open that box will cause an explosion; but it is necessary to make an example of you." Then, turning to the boys, he said: "You may go on deck. As for you, Mr. Officer, I shall detain you below a sufficient length of time to be sure that the automatic device gets in its work. We really have no use for the submarine."
He turned and started up the stairway, when the sub-lieutenant, with trembling voice, said: "I am powerless to prevent the explosion,——"
"Unless," interrupted the captain.
The officer nodded his head. "I supposed so!" continued the captain. "The lieutenant in the galley has the key which controls the automatic device. You may open the door and get the key, and from this time forward, if I find that you deceive me in the slightest degree, or make any attempt to injure the vessel, I will make it your grave without a moment's hesitation, and without the least compunction."
The sub-lieutenant moved toward the galley, and opened the door. In a moment he reappeared with the key and followed the captain to the conning tower.
Below the switchboard was a tiny slot. Into this the key neatly fitted, and upon giving a turn, a set of switches was exposed.
"These are the control circuits," he said.
"Turn them off and open the boxes below!" ordered the captain. This was done.
"Who are the men that operate the trimming tanks?" asked the captain.
"The machinist Scholer and his assistant Bracher," was the reply.
"Lieutenant," said the captain, addressing the commander of the chaser; "send those men on board."
When they appeared the captain continued: "You will go below with these men, and obey my signals, as we take the vessel to port, and remember, that if any part of the machinery is destroyed I will not guarantee to deliver you safely on shore."
As they disappeared, the trap-door was closed, and the boys were free, for the first time since the eventful morning, five days previous to this time, when they stepped aboard the submarine.
They now realized, in a particularly pointed manner, that while the air in a submarine seems to be fairly pure, it is filled with the most noxious fumes, due to the petroleum and lubricants, as well as to the odors due to cooking, all of which cannot be gotten rid of, however constantly the air-circulating apparatus of the ship is in operation.
The greatest efforts have been made to automatically discharge these odors, but the hundreds of dead corners within a hull of this character make it impossible to effect a thorough discharge, and when the trap-door finally closes down there is a peculiar feeling, not unlike seasickness, which seemed to attack one.
"I understand your feelings," said the captain, as he noticed the pale faces of the boys. "It is wonderful how you have been able to keep up, and not exhibit symptoms before this. I will have two seamen come over to assist me in the conning tower."
"I wish you wouldn't do that," said Alfred, as he placed his hand on his temples. "I am sure we will get over this in time."
"No, no; we want to stay with you, if you don't mind," insisted Ralph. "I am all right now," and he tried to smile, but it was not a very successful effort.
"Then I suppose I shall have to accede; yes, lieutenant, we can take care of the boat, but I shall expect you to act as our convoy," replied the captain.
The lieutenant directed his men to pull for the chaser, and the captain turned to the operating board. "Forward," the word was plain. The signal was made by two distinct rings. The propellers turned. The captain, with his hands on the wheel, turned to starboard and made a short turn. This brought the vessel alongside the chaser. A slight turn to port, then forward, and they glided alongside l'Orient.
The crew had been lined up on the port side, and the captain at the end of the bridge raised his cap in salute as they passed by.
"Where are we going?" asked Ralph, as he saw the prow pointing to the south. "Are we going to France?"
"What are those funny things bobbing up there for,—that whole line?" asked Alfred.
"They are the floats for the torpedo nets," replied the captain. "We are now on our way to go through the gates, and thus avoid the nets."
"Is that why we are following the torpedo chaser?" asked Ralph.
"Yes, and when once inside the lane, we will change our course and reach the English base for craft of this kind," said the captain.
The submarine followed the wake of the chaser for fully a half hour, when, for some reason, that boat stopped. As they neared it they noticed the sailors and marines aboard on the port side, and intently engaged in looking forward.
"What's up now, I wonder?" said Alfred, as he opened the door of the conning tower and stepped on the deck.
"Look at the floats ahead," said the captain.
On investigation two of them were noticed moving back and forth, and occasionally dipping in an unaccountable manner.
"Look at those fellows with the guns on the deck of the chaser," said Ralph.
Alfred looked up. He saw the gun crews at their stations, with the officers in charge of the guns standing at one side in attitudes of expectancy.
"I know," said Alfred. "They have caught one of them."
"Yes; and they are making the same efforts to get away that we were engaged in only a few hours ago," said the captain.
The chaser steamed back and forth in a quiet, determined way, the men never for a moment relaxing their watch.
"What are they trying to do with that funny-looking, big, fat gun on the side near the front end of the deck?" asked Ralph.
"That is a howitzer," answered the captain.
"What in the world do they want a howitzer for?" asked Alfred.
"To use it on the boat if it should get free from the net," replied the captain.
"Why don't they use it now?" asked Ralph.
"Because they do not want to destroy the boat unless it is absolutely necessary," answered the captain.
"But how will they know whether the boat gets away?" asked Alfred.
"By the condition of the floats," answered the captain. "You will notice that the two floats within range of the submarine's action are being dragged down. If the floats should be in a normal condition, or float on their true water line, which you can readily observe by glasses, it is evident that the submarine is free."
"And then that would be the time they would use the howitzers?" suggested Alfred.
"But how could they reach the submarine?" asked Ralph. "Do they know just where the vessel is now?"
"Yes, they can locate it within a hundred feet; but that would be near enough for their purpose," replied the captain.
"Do you mean," asked Alfred, "that they would send the shell from the howitzer anywhere near them, and that it would destroy the submarine even though it didn't hit it?"
"Yes; the detonating or rupturing effect of the high explosive in the shells is such that even though the explosion would take place a hundred feet from the hull, it would put it out of commission at once, and, in all probability, crush in the sides like an egg shell," said the captain.
"Why are they signaling?" asked Ralph, as the wig-wagging began.
"I think that's l'Orient in sight on the port side," replied the captain, after gazing in the direction indicated.
"Then the cruiser will take the position of the chaser?" said Alfred.
"Quite likely," answered the captain.
"Look at the smoke; she's coming this way," shouted Ralph.
The captain waved his hand to the lieutenant on the chaser, as he shouted: "They have responded to your signals."
As l'Orient approached and took up position, the chaser, with a parting salute, turned and started for its former course along the line of buoys. The boys looked back and kept their eyes on the moving buoys as far as they could see them.
"It will never get away," said the captain.
The chaser described a long curve, and changed its course due east, and, following it, they were at the entrance which had been left free. Beyond were several other small vessels, two of which dashed up and steamed alongside. The crews cheered as the boys emerged from the conning tower and waved their caps.
The lieutenant quickly informed the officers aboard the other boats of the prize, which had been taken by those aboard of her, and the news redoubled their noisy welcome. The tell-tale number on the side of the conning tower, U-96, was sufficient to inform the crews of the passing vessels that another of the dreaded boats was out of action.
Once within the lane, as the path between the two lines of buoyed nets is called, they turned and steamed north. Vessels were passing and repassing; transport and hospital ships; immense freight carriers, and saucy little tugs drawing barge-like flat-boats; innumerable fast launches and large war vessels, going to and fro between the shores of England and France.
Within a half-hour they again approached the place where l'Orient was watching the struggles of the entangled submarine. The boys thought of the trying hours when they, too, were thus imperilled, and could hardly refrain from shuddering at the thought of the human beings in the narrow prison house below the waves.
Evidently, something exciting was taking place, for the cruiser was constantly manoeuvering, and the men at the howitzers were keenly alive. Occasionally, there would be a lull in the movement of the buoys and it was during those moments that the most intense activity was shown on board the guarding vessel.
"I don't understand how it is that the submarine can get fastened to the nets," said Ralph to the captain, as they leaned over the rail of their vessel.
"The meshes of the nets are very large,—that is, of sufficient diameters to permit the ends of the submarines to pass into them," replied the captain.
"But, if that is the case why cannot the submarines back out in the same way that they went in?"
"They can, if the mesh is too small to take more than the bow of the vessel; but, in the event the mesh is large enough to permit the bow to enter, and the net once gets behind the fins of the submarine, that is the end of them, for the vessel cannot, in that case, free itself," responded the captain.
"How was it in our case?" asked Ralph. "Do you think the fins of our ship got caught?"
"I did not explain it to you at the time, as I did not wish to alarm you; but this vessel had one of its fins through the net. Evidently we struck the nets at an angle, and the tide helped us in keeping the hull against the net at the proper angle. The lieutenant knew this, for he adopted the only method known to free the ship under those circumstances," said the captain.
"So you think the lieutenant knew that only one fin had caught, and for that reason he tried to up-end the ship?" inquired Alfred.
"Yes; but not that alone. I observed one thing that you may have overlooked," remarked the Captain. "He was particular to store all the boxes which we helped to carry aft, on the starboard side."
"I noticed that," said Ralph hurriedly, "and that wasn't all. Every time a box was brought in he would ask: 'Heavy or light,' and I have many times wondered why he did so."
"I did notice one thing, though," said Alfred, "and that was, when the rear end of the submarine shot upward, and the boxes came tumbling down, that the hull seemed to roll around to the left."
"That was our salvation," replied the captain. "I then knew we had a chance."
THE DEATH BLOW TO THE SUBMARINE
Let us try to get some idea of the situation. Ahead of the boat on which the boys were watching the scene, and probably not more than eight hundred feet distant, was l'Orient. Between them was the row of buoys, as far as the eye could see, stretching from the shore of England to the coast of France. To their right, and not two hundred feet distant was the saucy little chaser, which acted as their convoy.
At a point which might be termed midway between the three vessels thus described, were the two buoys, which moved with spasmodic jerks, due to the action of the imprisoned vessel below. As they looked along the bobbing buoys in either direction, small vessels were observed, patrolling to and fro, in the tiny mast, or lookout of each, being two or more men, with glasses, constantly scrutinizing the floats as the ships slowly moved past.
Apparently, at regular intervals, were large ships of war, all of them in motion. Sailing vessels and steamers, carrying freight, were coming up the channel, convoyed to the open doors in this giant network which guarded the channel.
The lieutenant on the chaser backed his vessel toward the submarine and hailed the captain:
"Do you wish to remain?" he asked.
"The chances of that fellow seem to be pretty slim. I would like to see the finish of the game; but I suppose we ought to get into port as soon as possible," answered the captain.
"Then I will give the order to proceed," replied the lieutenant.
The captain nodded, and the boys started for the door.
"One moment!" said the captain. "We may still be able to see an interesting sight."
The boys rushed out of the door. Glancing up at the deck of the chaser they could see the marines aboard rushing to the side of the vessel. As they looked at the buoys it was noticed that they were silent. L'Orient was slowly backing away from the obvious location of the submerged vessel.
"They are about to throw a shell," observed the captain.
The remark had hardly left his mouth when an explosion was heard and the shell could be observed moving upward at a very high angle, and descending into the water with a vicious plunge.
No sooner had it struck the sea than it seemed to raise the surface of the water like the foaming mass in a boiling pot. The explosion was dull, vibrant, ominous.
"They are shooting another one," shouted Alfred, although he tried to suppress his voice.
"Boom!" came the sound, as he uttered the words.
The second shot struck the water not fifty feet distant from the first one.
"Do you think they will fire another?" asked Alfred.
"Probably not," answered the captain.
"What is that little boat going over there for?" asked Ralph, as one of the torpedo boats boldly advanced over the spot where the two shells had entered the water.
The captain nodded his head for a few moments before speaking.
"The shots were successful."
"I can see that now," said Ralph. "Look at the oil coming up and covering the sea."
It was, indeed, a sad sight to witness, knowing that the shots meant the death of thirty or more human beings.
"Well, I am awfully sorry for them, even if they had no sympathy for us, and didn't wait to see whether or not we were put into safety before they sent our ship down," said Alfred reflectively, as he turned and entered the conning tower.
The scene had its fascination for Ralph, although he felt the horror of it all as he stood leaning over the railing, gazing at the patrol boats which were sailing back and forth in and around the spot where the petroleum was fast covering the surface of the water in all directions.
"You can understand now, can't you, why flying machines are such good spotters for submarines?" remarked the captain.
"Do you mean the oil that comes on top of the water?" asked Ralph.
"Yes," was the reply.
"But does oil arise at all times when a submarine is submerged?" asked Ralph.
"More or less oil is constantly detaching itself from the body of the hull, at the discharge ports, and it can't be helped because all of the gas discharge ports are under water at all times, whether the vessel is running on or under the water, hence, as it moves along it will leave a trail of oil which can be easily detected by a machine in flight above the surface of the water," said the captain.
"But doesn't a machine, when it is under the water, leave a ripple that is easily seen by a flying machine?" asked Ralph.
"Yes; I was going to refer to that," replied the captain. "An aviator has a great advantage over an observer on a vessel, for the reason that the slightest movement of the surface of the sea, even though there may be pronounced waves, can be noted. If the submarine is moving along near the surface, the ripple is very pronounced, and the streak of oil which follows is very narrow. Should the submarine stop, the oil it discharges accumulates on top of the water at one place, and begins to spread out over the surface of the water and this makes it a mark for the watchful eye of the airmen of the sea patrols," answered the captain.
"I heard one of the officers at the aviation camp say that a submarine could be seen easily through fifty feet of water by an airman," remarked Alfred. "Do you think that is so?" he asked.
"I know it is possible," replied the captain.
"But why is it that when you are on a ship it is impossible to see through the water that depth?"
"For this reason," answered the captain: "if you are on a ship, and you are looking even from the topmast of the vessel, the line of vision from the eye strikes the surface of the water at an angle. The result is that the surface of the water acts as a reflector, exactly the same as when the line of sight strikes a pane of glass."
"Do you mean that the sight is reflected just as it is when you are outside of a house and try to look into the window at an angle?" asked Ralph.
"Exactly; that is one explanation. The other is this: sea water is clear and transparent. By looking down directly on the water, a dark object, unless too far below the surface, will be noted for the reason that it makes a change in the coloring from the area surrounding it, and a cigar-shaped object at fifty feet below, whether it should be black or white, would quickly be detected," explained the captain.
"I remember that Lieutenant Winston, who has flown across the channel many times, told me that he could tell when he was nearing land, in a fog, by sailing close to the water, even though the land couldn't be seen. Do you know how he was able to do that?" asked Ralph.
"That is one of the simplest problems," replied the captain. "The shallower the water the lighter the appearance to an observer in an airship. As the water grows deeper the color seems to grow greener and bluer, the bluest being at the greatest depth."
The chaser was now under way, and described a circle to the right. The captain, after saluting the officer on the bridge of l'Orient, gave the signal "Forward," and slowly the submarine sheered about and followed.
The second line of buoys appeared a quarter of a mile to the east of the one they had just left. In a half-hour the two vessels passed through the gateway and turned to the north.
"We can't be very far from England," remarked Alfred.
"I judge we are fifteen miles from Dover," replied the captain.
"Do you intend to go to Dover?" asked Ralph.
"No; there are no stations there that can receive crafts of this kind. I do not know to what point they may take us; possibly to the mouth of the Thames, and from there to some point where the vessel will be interned," answered the captain.
"How deep is the channel here?" asked Ralph.
"Probably not to exceed 120 feet," was the reply.
"Not more than that in the middle of the Channel,—half way between England and France?" asked Alfred in surprise.
"No; the Channel is very shallow," answered the captain.
"No wonder then," said Alfred, "that the submarines are having such a hard time getting through, even though they don't have the nets!"
Having passed the cordon of nets the chaser turned and slowly steamed past the submarine. The lieutenant stepped to the side of the bridge and said:
"I suppose, Captain, you can now make the pier-head at Ramsgate, where you will get a ship to convoy you to the harbor. Good luck to you! Adieu!"
The boys waved their caps in salute, as the chaser began to move, and the crew lined up to give the final goodbye.
The captain smiled and replied: "I think I have ample assistance on board; give my regards to the admiral."
"How far is it to Ramsgate?" asked Ralph.
"It cannot be more than twenty-five miles, and at the rate we are now going we should reach the head at five this evening. That will be the end of our troubles, as the naval officials will take care of this vessel from that point," said the captain.
"Well, I shall be glad of it," replied Alfred.
It was a glorious day, the sun was shining brightly, and the air, although somewhat cool, was not at all disagreeable. The boys insisted on taking their turns at the wheel, the course being given by the captain as west by north. Everything was moving along in fine shape, and Alfred was at the wheel, while Ralph was peering through the periscope, for this interested them from the moment they boarded the ship.
"Where is that steamer bound?" asked Ralph, who noticed a large two-funnel steamer crossing the field of the periscope.
"It belongs to the Australian line," replied the captain.
"Aren't we in the barred zone?" asked Alfred.
"I was about to remark a moment ago that it does not seem as though the German edict of a restricted zone makes much difference in the sailing of vessels," replied the captain.
While speaking, the submarine seemed to slow down, and the captain turned toward the conning tower. "I wonder what is up now?" he asked.
Alfred's head appeared at the door and shouted: "They don't seem to answer my signals."
The captain entered the tower, and pulled the lever, Attention! There was no response to the signal below the word. He again rang, with the same result.
"I will open the hatch," said the captain.
It was quickly swung open. The sub-lieutenant appeared at the hatch with haggard face and staring eyes. "The captain has gone mad!" he shouted.
"I will go down if you want me to; I am not afraid," said Ralph.
The captain looked at him for a moment, and glanced down into the hatchway. "Why do you not obey my signals?" he asked.
The sub-lieutenant stared at the captain, but did not make a reply. "Answer my question!" shouted the captain.
The officer raised his face, threw up his hands, and fell back across the low railing, which served as a guard at the foot of the stairs.
"You may go down, and ascertain what is the matter, but use caution," said the captain.
Ralph stepped into the open hatch, and, as he did so, the captain laid his hand on his shoulder, and said: "Take out your revolver; do not trust those men for a moment, under any consideration; we know them too well."
Ralph quickly drew the weapon and held it in his hand, then cautiously descended. He passed the inert form of the officer on the rail, and not until he reached the last step did he see the doctor and the chief machinist by the side of the dynamo.
The doctor held a revolver, which he pointed straight at Ralph. "Drop that revolver!" shouted the doctor. "The lieutenant is dead, and the time fuse will soon send this ship to the bottom."
The moment he saw the revolver and heard the voice, Ralph dropped behind the stanchions to which the stairway was attached. The doctor's revolver was fired. Instantly the captain divined the cause. Without waiting for a warning cry from Ralph, he leaped into the open hatch, and saw the two men with their weapons. He covered them with his revolver.
"Come up!" he shouted to Ralph.
The latter raised up from his crouching position, with his revolver now leveled full in the faces of the two frenzied men. Before Ralph had reached the upper step both men in the hold fired, fortunately, without doing any damage.
The moment Ralph gained the deck the captain jumped out of the hatch and slammed it down.
"Now, quickly, boys; tie this rope to the railing close to the periscope tube, and arm yourself with the life preservers; there, you will find them under that couch," said the captain, as he quickly threw back the cover from the couch and handed out four preservers.
"Why do you want four?" asked Ralph, as he hastily buckled one of them around himself.
"To attach to the end of the line that you have just fastened to the rail," replied the captain.
The captain sprang out through the open door, and attached one of the life belts to the end of the line. The boys now noticed the coil of rope, which must have been more than a hundred feet in length.
"I wonder what that is for?" asked Alfred, as the captain disappeared.
"There," said the captain, as he again appeared at the door. "If she goes down that preserver will tell them where to fish for her."
"Do you think there is any danger?" asked Ralph.
"I do not know; I am not taking any chances. I have my opinion, though," replied the captain thoughtfully.
"Do you think they are going to blow up the vessel?" asked Alfred.
"No; but I am inclined to think that they have not been able to disconnect the automatic fuse, or, that the death of the lieutenant, if such should be the case, has prevented them from finding the secret key, and,——"
"That the sub-lieutenant has actually gone mad," interrupted Ralph.
The captain nodded, and continued: "Although they deserve death, still, I am not a barbarian, and shall give them a chance for their lives," and, saying this, he moved through the door, and, sighting a large steamer, gave a signal. Once, twice, three times he moved the flag from right to left. Almost immediately there was a response and two short whistles responded.
Before the great ship had time to stop, the forward end of the submarine moved upward with a violent heave, followed by an explosion that seemed to tear everything to pieces. Ralph was thrown clear of the top, and landed fully twenty feet from the side of the hull. Alfred and the captain seemed to be propelled to the stern of the ship and dashed into the waves at least fifty feet from the spot where Ralph had landed.
Ralph did not appear to be even stunned, but Alfred's head dropped lifeless on the side of the life preserver, and the captain was prompt to reach his side and support him so that his head was kept free from the water.
Ralph was bewildered at the suddenness of the affair, and, while splashing in the water, glanced first at the captain and Alfred, and then swung around to get a view of the big ship, which they had signalled. The submarine had vanished. The sea around appeared to be a mass of bubbles, and he could plainly see the petroleum which was oozing up.
Nothing was visible where the submarine floated but a single belt,—the life preserver which the captain had used as a buoy, to mark the location of the sunken vessel.
THE RESCUE IN THE CHANNEL
"The boat is on the way," shouted the captain, as Ralph tried to direct himself toward the captain and Alfred.
"We were just in time," said Ralph. "How is Alfred?" he asked.
"Only stunned," replied the captain. "I think he hit the conning tower as the vessel up-ended."
"Poor fellows," said Ralph, "I suppose it's all up with them."
"They are gone beyond all help. But we did the best we could," answered the captain. "Here, take this fellow first," continued the captain, addressing the officer in charge of the boat.
The boys were soon dragged in, and the officer gazed at the captain most earnestly, as he said: "Why, Captain, we heard just before we left the dock about you and two boys capturing a submarine; was that the submarine? What has happened?"
"That is a long story, but you shall hear it as soon as we get aboard. Where are you bound?" asked the captain.
"For the Mediterranean," replied the officer.
"Where is your first port?" asked the captain.
"Havre," was the answer.
"Couldn't be better," replied the captain. "Ah! I see Alfred is coming around all right."
"He seems to be breathing all right now," said Ralph.
"So they heard about our exploit?" asked the captain.
"Why, yes; the papers made quite an item about it; I think we have a copy on board," replied the officer.
As the boys ascended the ship's ladder they saw two torpedo boat destroyers crowd up alongside the ship. The captain leaned over the taff-rail and said:
"The buoy yonder marks the resting place of the U-96, late in the service of the Imperial German Navy. Please report same, with my compliments."
Alfred was taken aboard and the ship's doctor was soon in attendance. Every one crowded around and the names of the boys and the captain were soon known to all the passengers. The Evening Mail gave the most interesting account of the affair, and Ralph read and re-read the item.
An hour afterwards, when everything had time to quiet down, and Alfred had recovered sufficiently to sit up, Ralph drew out the newspaper, and, to the surprise of Alfred, read the following:
"AN EXTRAORDINARY FEAT
"A SUBMARINE CAPTURED BY THREE PRISONERS
"The war is a never-ending series of startling and remarkable events, the latest being the capture of a German submarine by the captain of one of the transatlantic liners and two American boys who were passengers on the captain's ship when she was torpedoed. The commander of the submarine took the captain and the two boys from the boat in which they had sought refuge, after their vessel went down in the Bay of Biscay.
"It was learned from the first officer of one of the torpedo-boats that the submarine while on its way to Germany was caught in the nets in mid-channel. While trying to disentangle itself, the chief officer of the submarine met with an accident, and, taking advantage of the situation, the captain and his two boy companions, having found a case of revolvers, held up the second officer and the crew, and imprisoned them below.
"They are now bringing the submarine to England, and we hope to be able to give more details tomorrow."
"There, what do you think of that?" ejaculated Ralph.
Alfred smiled, but a shadow came over his face, as he looked at Ralph. The latter, seeing the change, jumped up, and cried: "Are you sick?"
"No," replied Alfred wearily; "but I have been thinking of father and mother; I had a dream that I saw them standing on a dock; I wonder where they are?"
"I have some interesting news for you," said the captain, as he entered the cabin, holding a French paper in his hand.
"What is it?" asked the boys in unison.
"Boats three, four and five of our ship have reached port all right," said the captain.
"Have you heard about No. 1?" asked Alfred, as he leaned forward, and anxiously awaited the reply.
"No; but it is likely that the other boats may have been picked up by a west bound vessel, and it is not time yet to hear from the other side," replied the captain.
"But do you think they are safe?" asked Ralph.
"I do not see that they were in any great danger, as there was calm weather for at least forty-eight hours after the ship went down," answered the captain. "I understand that all but three of the boats have been accounted for."
"Have the submarines been doing much damage?" asked Alfred.
"Yes; they have sunk a great many ships," was the answer.
"Any American ships?" asked Ralph.
"No; but a number of Americans have lost their lives on vessels that have been sunk."
"Where are we going?" asked Alfred.
"To Havre," was the reply.
"I wouldn't worry about father and mother now," said Ralph soothingly.
"No, indeed; the boats were perfectly safe, and I have no doubt but we shall hear from them by the time we reach port," reassured the captain.
Ralph waited until Alfred dropped off to sleep, and then strolled up on deck and mixed with the passengers. He was kept busy telling them about the terrible hours on board the submarine, until he was tired and sleepy. Then he wended his way to the cabin and was soon asleep.
The distance from the point where they boarded the ship to Havre was about two hundred miles. Ordinarily, they would have reached port at six in the morning, but the route during the night was a slow and tedious one, for the reason that all ships along the channel route were permitted to pass only during certain hours when the war vessels acted as guides and convoys through the open lane.
Once near the zone of the nets no lights were permitted, and each ship had to be taken through by special vessels designated for this work, and, when once clear of the nets, extra precautions were taken to convoy them to relative points of safety beyond.
When Ralph awoke the next morning, and saw that it was past six, he hurriedly dressed himself, and, taking a look at Alfred, who was quietly sleeping, ascended the deck. He was surprised to see nothing but the open sea on all sides. Addressing a seaman, he asked:
"Haven't we reached Havre yet?"
"No; we may not get there until nine o'clock. We have had reports of many submarines in the mouth of the channel, and they are, probably, lying in wait to intercept steamers going to or coming from Havre," replied the man.
Pacing the deck he found many of the passengers excited at the news, although it was the policy of the officers to keep the most alarming information from them. Meeting the second officer he inquired about the captain, and was informed that he had just gone down to see Alfred. Nearing the companionway he met the captain and Alfred, the latter looking somewhat pale, and rather weak or unsteady in his walk.
"I am glad to see you looking so well," said Ralph. "Where are you hurt the most?"
"Look at the back of my head," replied Alfred. "I suppose I must have struck the railing as the thing heaved up."
The captain suddenly sprang forward and the boys followed in wonderment. Before they had time to ask any questions they were startled by a shot.
"That was a pretty big gun to make such a racket," remarked Ralph.
"It's one of the four-inch forward guns," said a seaman, standing near.
"But what are they shooting at?" asked Alfred.
"Submarine, I suppose," was the reply.
"But where?" asked Alfred.
"Don't know; haven't seen one; but I suppose the lookouts spotted the fellow," was the reply.
Every one now crowded forward, and gazed in the direction of the pointed glasses in the hands of the officers. In the distance nothing was visible but the conning tower and the two periscope tubes, but that was enough.
The boys moved forward, and the captain noticing them, spoke a word to the commander on the bridge.
"Come up, boys," said the captain.
Once on the bridge the captain said: "I take pleasure in introducing my companions on our little jaunt; they are brave fellows, and are made of the right kind of stuff. I think you will hear from them if America gets into the fight."
"And America is bound to get in, for we have just learned that the first American ship has been sunk without warning," said the navigating officer, as he pressed the hands of the boys.
The captain took up the receiver, which communicated with the topmast. After listening awhile, he turned to the group and said: "The sub has disappeared."
"That will mean an interesting time for us," said the captain. "I have had the same experience, but was not fortunate enough to be armed when they attacked us. Are all the vessels from England now armed?" he asked the captain commanding the vessel.
"Yes; fore and aft. We have found that but a small percentage of armed vessels have been sunk, and those which have guns at both ends are surely doubly armed," answered the commander.
The boom of the guns had brought every passenger on deck. The officers could not conceal the real state of affairs, but there was no sign of a panic. The officers did not even take the precaution to warn the passengers that they should apply or keep the life belts close at hand.
"That is the policy I suggested from the first," said the captain. "That boat must have been three miles away, at least, and a careful gunner would come pretty close to hitting the mark at that distance, and those fellows know it."
"Then why do you think the interesting or dangerous time is now coming?" asked Alfred.
"Because the safety of the ship now depends on the ability of the observers to report the moment a periscope appears in sight. If the submarine is close enough to fire a torpedo, it is near enough to be a fine target for the gunners aboard, and, as the submarine would not be likely to attempt a shot unless it had a broadside to aim at, you can see that such a position would expose her to the fire of the guns both fore and aft," responded the captain.
TEN HOURS IN THE DANGER ZONE
"What do you make the reckoning?" asked the captain, as the navigating officer lowered his instrument, and turned to the book.
"Fifty, ten north," was the reply.
"On the line?" asked the captain.
"Twelve minutes east," answered the officer.
"Then we are forty miles due north of Havre," responded the captain.
"What did you mean by being 'on the line?'" asked Ralph, addressing the captain.
"The zero line, or the point where all calculations east and west are reckoned from, runs north and south through Greenwich, in England, a place a little east of London. We are about fifteen miles east of that line," replied the captain, "and one hundred and eighty miles south of London."
But all were now interested in the further developments which might be expected. The wireless was constantly receiving messages, and occasionally the commander received messages which were, evidently, interesting reading, judging from the comments made. Most of the information related to the activities of the undersea boats, and only in that region where they were now approaching.
The vessel was proceeding slowly, when suddenly the officer in the crow's nest sent down a signal that vitalized the gunners. The guns swung around instantly. Away off to starboard was the faintest ripple, for the water was comparatively smooth.
Two shots rang out almost simultaneously from the fore and aft guns. It was a thrilling sight to see the streaks of glistening water, which the two shells brought up to be reflected by the brilliant sun. A shout from the gunner at the bow caused a chorus of answering shouts.
"Did they hit it?" asked Alfred.
"Well, there is one less periscope, if I know anything," replied the navigating officer.
Ralph had descended the stairs leading down from the bridge, and quickly made his way to the bow.
"I want to congratulate you on that shot," he said, as he approached.
The gunner, with glowing face, turned, and, seeing Ralph, replied: "Thank you, lad! Coming from you it's a compliment. Lor', but we like to spot 'em."
"That fellow's as good as useless," remarked the officer in charge.
"But suppose the submarine has any torpedoes left?" queried Ralph.
"That wouldn't do him any good; he would have to use that to sight by," replied the officer.
"Yes; I can see that now," replied Ralph. "If he came to the top in order to fire the torpedo he wouldn't last very long with these guns pointing at him."
As Ralph was ascending the stairway leading to the bridge on his return a half-hour later, the watch shouted out a warning: "Five points to starboard!"
Every one was now keyed up to the highest pitch. The guns were quickly swung to the angle indicated, and another tense moment arrived.
The captain walked over to the commander, and said: "It seems to me that the best policy is to bear down on him with all speed possible. That will give the gunners the best chance, and at the same time present the smallest target for the submarine."
The commander nodded and gave the necessary order, but before the helmsman had time to execute the turning movement the forward gun was heard, quickly followed by the second gun. The aft gun also responded, making three shots that were fired, striking the water in such close proximity to each other that the aim must have been very accurate.
"Gunners from the Royal Navy," remarked the captain, as he lowered his glasses. "And they have hit the mark."
"Do you think so?" asked Alfred.
"I am sure of it, for this reason," said the captain, as the officers on the bridge crowded around; "neither of the periscopes is visible, and I can plainly see the boiling that follows a sinking submarine."
The ship was now at full speed, sailing directly over the course where the submarine was sighted. It did not take long for the vessel to cover the mile, and, as they neared the tell-tale spot, the ship was veered slightly out of its course, so that a good view could be obtained of the surface of the water.
"How deep do you suppose that submarine is now?" asked Alfred.
"It is in less than two hundred feet of water; see, the air bubbles are still coming up, although it went down fully fifteen minutes ago."
The steamer slowed down as it came abreast, and the passengers leaned over the side in intense excitement, watching the signs which indicated the death of another sea terror. Even while they were watching one immense boiling zone appeared and settled down, indicating that another air tank had given way, or that the pressure of the sea water had forced the air from one of the innumerable pockets in the interior of the submarine.