Chapter X. The Conspirators
 

"You remember Lieutenant Woodward, the inventor of trodite?" I asked Elaine one day after I had been out for a ride through the country.

"Very well indeed," she nodded with a look of wistfulness as the mention of his name recalled Kennedy. "Why?"

"He's stationed at Fort Dale, not very far from here, at the entrance of the Sound," I answered.

"Then let's have him over at my garden party to-night," she exclaimed, sitting down and writing.

DEAR LIEUTENANT,

I have just learned that you are stationed at Fort Dale and would like to have you meet some of my friends at a little garden party I am holding to-night.

Sincerely, ELAINE DODGE.

Thus it was that a few hours afterward, in the officers' quarters at the Fort, an orderly entered with the mail and handed a letter to Lieutenant Woodward. He opened it and read the invitation with pleasure. He had scarcely finished reading and was hastening to write a reply when the orderly entered again and saluted.

"A Professor Arnold to see you, Lieutenant," he announced.

"Professor Arnold?" repeated Woodward. "I don't know any Professor Arnold. Well, show him in, anyhow."

The orderly ushered in a well-dressed man with a dark, heavy beard and large horn spectacles. Woodward eyed him curiously and a bit suspiciously, as the stranger seated himself and made a few remarks.

The moment the orderly left the room, however, the professor lowered his voice to a whisper. Woodward listened in amazement, looked at him more closely, then laughed and shook hands cordially.

The professor leaned over again. Whatever it was that he said, it made a great impression on the Lieutenant.

"You know this fellow Del Mar?" asked Professor Arnold finally.

"No," replied Woodward.

"Well, he's hanging around Miss Dodge all the time," went on Arnold. "There's something queer about his presence here at this time."

"I've an invitation to a garden party at her house to-night," remarked Woodward.

"Accept," urged the professor, "and tell her you are bringing a friend."

Woodward resumed writing and when he had finished handed the note to the stranger, who read:

DEAR MISS DODGE,

I shall be charmed to be with you to-night and with your permission will bring my friend, Professor Arnold.

Truly yours, EDWARD WOODWARD.

"Good," nodded the professor, handing the note back.

Woodward summoned an orderly. "See that that is delivered at Dodge Hall to Miss Dodge herself as soon as possible," he directed, as the orderly took the note and saluted.

Elaine, Aunt Josephine and I were in the garden when Lieut. Woodward's orderly rode up and delivered the letter.

Elaine opened it and read. "That's all right," she thanked the orderly. "Oh, Walter, he's coming to the garden party, and is going to bring a friend of his, a Professor Arnold."

We chatted a few moments about the party.

"Oh," exclaimed Elaine suddenly, "I have an idea."

"What is it?" we asked, smiling at her enthusiasm.

"We'll have a fortune teller," she cried. "Aunt Josephine, you shall play the part."

"All right, if you really want me," consented Aunt Josephine smiling indulgently as we urged her.

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Down in the submarine harbor that afternoon, Del Mar and his men were seated about the conference table.

"I've traced out the course and the landing points of the great Atlantic cable," he said. "We must cut it."

Del Mar turned to one of the men. "Take these plans to the captain of the steamer and tell him to get ready," he went on. "Find out and send me word when the cutting can be done best."

The man saluted and went out.

Leaving the submarine harbor in the usual manner, he made his way to a dock on the shore around the promontory and near the village. Tied to it was a small tramp steamer. The man walked down the dock and climbed aboard the boat. There several rough looking sailors were lolling and standing about. The emissary selected the captain, a more than ordinarily tough looking individual.

"Mr. Del Mar sends you the location of the Atlantic cable and the place where he thinks it best to pick it up and cut it," he said.

The captain nodded. "I understand," he replied. "I'll send him word later when it can be done best."

A few minutes after dispatching his messenger, Del Mar left the submarine harbor himself and entered his bungalow by way of the secret entrance. There he went immediately to his desk and picked up the mail that had accumulated in his absence. One letter he read:

DEAR MR. DEL MAR,

We shall be pleased to see you at a little garden party we are holding to-night.

Sincerely,

ELAINE DODGE.

As he finished reading, he pushed the letter carelessly aside as though he had no time for such frivolity. Then an idea seemed to occur to him. He picked it up again and read it over.

"I'll go," he said to himself, simply.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

That night Dodge Hall was a blaze of lights and life, overflowing to the wide verandas and the garden. Guests in evening clothes were arriving from all parts of the summer colony and were being received by Elaine. Already some of them were dancing on the veranda.

Among the late arrivals were Woodward and his friend, Professor Arnold.

"I'm so glad to know that you are stationed at Fort Dale," greeted Elaine. "I hope it will be for all summer."

"I can't say how long it will be, but I shall make every effort to make it all summer," he replied gallantly. "Let me present my friend, Professor Arnold."

The professor bowed low and unprofessionally over Elaine's hand and a moment later followed Woodward out into the next room as the other guests arrived to be greeted by Elaine. For a moment, however, she looked after him curiously. Once she started to follow as though to speak to him. Just then, however, Del Mar entered.

"Good evening," he interrupted, suavely.

He stood for a moment with Elaine and talked.

One doorway in the house was draped and a tent had been erected in the room. Over the door was a sign which read: "The past and the future are an open book to Ancient Anna." There Aunt Josephine held forth in a most effective disguise as a fortune teller.

Aunt Josephine had always had a curious desire to play the old hag in amateur dramatics and now she had gratified her desire to the utmost. Probably none of the guests knew that Ancient Anna was in reality Elaine's guardian.

Elaine being otherwise occupied, I had selected one of the prettiest of the girls and we were strolling through the house, seeking a quiet spot for a chat.

"Why don't you have your fortune told by Ancient Anna?" laughed my companion as we approached the tent.

"Do you tell a good fortune reasonably?" I joked, entering.

"Only the true fortunes, young man," returned Ancient Anna severely, starting in to read my palm. "You are very much in love," she went on, "but the lady is not in this tent."

Very much embarrassed, I pulled my hand away.

"How shocking!" mocked my companion, making believe to be very much annoyed. "I don't think I'll have my fortune told," she decided as we left the room.

We sauntered along to the veranda where another friend claimed my companion for a dance which she had promised. As I strolled on alone, Del Mar and Elaine were already finishing a dance. He left her a moment later and I hurried over, glad of the opportunity to see her at last.

Del Mar made his way alone among the guests and passed Aunt Josephine disguised as the old hag seated before her tent. Just then a waiter came through with a tray of ices. As he passed, Del Mar stopped him, reached out and took an ice.

Under the ice, as he had known, was a note. He took the note surreptitiously, turned and presented the ice to Ancient Anna with a bow.

"Thank you, kind sir," she curtsied, taking it.

Del Mar stepped aside and glanced at the little slip of paper. Then he crumpled it up and threw it aside, walking away.

No sooner had he gone than Aunt Josephine reached out and picked up the paper. She straightened it and looked at it. There was nothing on the paper but a crude drawing of a sunrise on the ocean.

"What's that?" asked Aunt Josephine, in surprise.

Just then Elaine and Lieutenant Woodward came in and stopped before the tent. Aunt Josephine motioned to Elaine to come in and Elaine followed. Lieutenant Woodward started after her.

"No, no, young man," laughed Ancient Anna, shaking her forefinger at him, "I don't want you. It's the pretty young lady I want."

Woodward stood outside, though he did not know quite what it was all about. While he was standing there, Professor Arnold came up. He had not exactly made a hit with the guests. At least, he seemed to make little effort to do so. He and Woodward walked away, talking earnestly.

In the tent Aunt Josephine handed Elaine the piece of paper she had picked up.

"What does it mean?" asked Elaine, studying the curious drawing in surprise.

"I'm sure I don't know," confessed Aunt Josephine.

"Nor I."

Meanwhile Lieutenant Woodward and his friend had moved to a corner of the veranda and stood looking intently into the moonlight. There was Del Mar deep in conversation with a man who had slipped out, at a quiet signal, from his hiding-place in the shrubbery.

"That fellow is up to something, mark my words," muttered Arnold under his breath. "I'd like to make an arrest, but I've got to have some proof."

They continued watching Del Mar but, so far at least, he did nothing that would have furnished them any evidence of anything.

So the party went on, most merrily until, long after the guests had left, Elaine sat in her dressing-gown up in her room, about to retire.

Her maid had left her and she picked up the slip of paper from her dresser, looking at it thoughtfully.

"What can a crude drawing of a sunrise on the sea mean?" she asked herself.

For a long time she studied the paper, thinking it over. At last an idea came to her.

"I'll bet I have it," she exclaimed to herself. "Something is going to happen on the water at sunrise."

She took a pretty little alarm clock from the table, set it, and placed it near her bed.

Returning from the party to his library, Del Mar entered. Except for the moonlight streaming in through the windows the room was dark. He turned on the lights and crossed to the panel in the wall. As he touched a button the panel opened. Del Mar switched off the lights and went through the panel, closing it.

Outside, at the other end of the passageway, was one of his men, waiting in the shadows as Del Mar came up. For a moment they talked. "I'll be there, at sunrise," agreed Del Mar, as the man left and he reentered the secret passage.

While he was conferring, at the library window appeared a face. It was Professor Arnold's. Cautiously he opened the window and listened. Then he entered.

First he went over to the door and set a chair under the knob. Next he drew an electric pocket bull's-eye and flashed it about the room. He glanced about and finally went over to Del Mar's desk where he examined a batch of letters, his back to the secret panel.

Arnold was running rapidly through the papers on the desk, as he flashed his electric bull's-eye on them, when the panel in the wall opened slowly and Del Mar stepped into the room noiselessly. To his surprise he saw a round spot of light from an electric flashlight focussed on his desk. Some one was there! He drew a gun.

Arnold started suddenly. He heard the cocking of a revolver. But he did not look around. He merely thought an instant, quicker than lightning, then pulled out a spool of black thread with one hand, while with the other he switched off the light, and dived down on his stomach on the floor in the shadow.

"Who's that?" demanded Del Mar. "Confound it! I should have fired at sight."

The room was so dark now that it was impossible to see Arnold. Del Mar gazed intently. Suddenly Arnold's electric torch glowed forth in a spot across the room.

Del Mar blazed at it, firing every chamber of his revolver, then switched on the lights.

No one was in the room. But the door was open. Del Mar gazed about, vexed, then ran to the open door.

For a second or two he peered out in rage, finally turning back into the empty room. On the mantlepiece lay the torch of the intruder. It was one in which the connection is made by a ring falling on a piece of metal. The ring had been left up by Arnold. Connection had been made as he was leaving the room by pulling the thread which he had fastened to the ring. Del Mar followed the thread as it led around the room to the doorway.

"Curse him!" swore Del Mar, smashing down the innocent torch on the floor in fury, as he rushed to the desk and saw his papers all disturbed.

Outside, Arnold had made good his escape. He paused in the moonlight and listened. No one was pursuing. He drew out two or three of the letters which he had taken from Del Mar's desk, and hastily ran through them.

"Not a thing in them," he exclaimed, tearing them up in disgust and hurrying away.

At the first break of dawn the little alarm dock awakened Elaine. She started up and rubbed her eyes at the suddenness of the awakening, then quickly reached out and stopped the bell so that it would not disturb others in the house. She jumped out of bed hurriedly and dressed.

Armed with a spy glass, Elaine let herself out of the house quietly. Directly to the shore she went, walking along the beach. Suddenly she paused. There were three men. Before she could level her glass at them, however, they disappeared.

"That's strange," she said to herself, looking through the glass. "There's a steamer at the dock that seems to be getting ready for something. I wonder what it can be doing so early."

She moved along in the direction of the dock. At the dock the disreputable steamer to which Del Mar had dispatched his emissary was still tied, the sailors now working under the gruff orders of the rough captain. About a capstan were wound the turns of a long wire rope at the end of which was a three-pronged drag-hook.

"You see," the captain was explaining, "we'll lower this hook and drag it along the bottom. When it catches anything we'll just pull it up. I have the location of the cable. It ought to be easy to grapple."

Already, on the shore, at an old deserted shack of a fisherman, two of Del Mar's men had been waiting since before sun-up, having come in a dirty, dingy fishing smack anchored offshore.

"Is everything ready?" asked Del Mar, coming up.

"Everything, sir," returned the two, following him along the shore.

"Who's that?" cautioned one of the men, looking ahead.

They hid hastily, for there was Elaine. She had seen the three and was about to level her glass in their direction as they hid. Finally she turned and discovered the steamer. As she moved toward it, Del Mar and the others came out from behind a rock and stole after her.

Elaine wandered on until she came to the dock. No one paid any attention to her, apparently, and she made her way along the dock and even aboard the boat without being observed.

No sooner had she got on the boat, however, than Del Mar and his men appeared on the dock and also boarded the steamer.

The captain was still explaining to the men just how the drag-hook worked when Elaine came up quietly on the deck. She stood spellbound as she heard him outline the details of the plot. Scarcely knowing what she did, she crouched back of a deckhouse and listened.

Behind her, Del Mar and his men came along, cat-like. A glance was sufficient to tell them that she had overheard what the captain was saying.

"Confound that girl!" ground out Del Mar. "Will she always cross my path? We'll get her this time!"

The men scattered as he directed them. Sneaking up quietly, they made a sudden rush and seized her. As she struggled and screamed, they dragged her off. thrusting her into the captain's cabin and locking the door.

"Cast off!" ordered Del Mar.

A few moments later, out in the harbor, Del Mar was busy directing the dragging for the Atlantic cable at a spot where it was known to run. They let the drag-hook down over the side and pulled it along slowly on the bottom.

In the cabin, Elaine beat on the door and shouted in vain for help.

I had decided to do some early morning fishing the day after the party, and knowing that Elaine and the others were usually late risers, I said nothing about it, determined to try my luck alone.

So it happened that only a few minutes after Elaine let herself out quietly, I did the same, carrying my fishing-tackle. I made my way toward the shore, undecided whether to fish from a dock or boat. Finally I determined to do some casting from the shore.

I had cast once or twice before I was aware that I was not alone in the immediate neighborhood. Some distance away I saw a little steamer at a wharf. A couple of men ran along the deck, apparently cautioning the captain against something.

Then I saw them run to one side and drag out a girl, screaming and struggling as they hurried her below. I could scarcely believe my eyes. It was Elaine!

Only a second I looked. They were certainly too many for me. I dropped my rod and line and ran toward the dock, however. As I came down it, I saw that I was too late. The little steamer had cast off and was now some distance from the dock. I looked about for a motor-boat in desperation--anything to follow them in. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a rowboat.

I ran back along the dock as I had come and struck out down the shore.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Out at the parade grounds at Fort Dale, in spite of the early hour, there was some activity, for the army is composed of early risers.

Lieutenant Woodward and Professor Arnold left the house in which the Lieutenant was quartered, where he had invited Arnold to spend the night. Already an orderly had brought around two horses. They mounted for an early morning ride through the country.

Off they clattered, naturally bending their course toward the shore. They came soon to a point in the road where it emerged from the hills and gave them a panoramic view of the harbor and sound.

"Wait a minute," called the professor.

Woodward reined up and they gazed off over the water.

"What's that--an oyster boat?" asked Woodward, looking in the direction Arnold indicated.

"I don't think so, so early," replied Arnold, pulling out his pocket glass and looking carefully.

Through it he could see that something like a hook was being cast over the steamer's side and drawn back again.

"They're dragging for something," he remarked as they brought up an object dark and covered with seagrowth, then threw it overboard as though it was not what they wanted. "By George--the Atlantic cable lands here--they're going to cut it!"

Woodward took the glasses himself and looked in in surprise. "That's right," he cried, his surprise changed to alarm in an instant. "Here, take the glass again and watch. I must get back to the Fort."

He swung his horse about and galloped off, leaving Arnold sitting in the saddle gazing at the strange boat through his glass.

By the time Woodward reached the parade ground again, a field-gun and its company were at drill. He dashed furiously across the field.

"What's the trouble?" demanded the officer in charge of the gun.

Woodward blurted out what he had just seen. "We must stop it--at any cost," he added, breathlessly.

The officer turned to the company. A moment later the order to follow Woodward rang out, the horses were wheeled about, and off the party galloped. On they went, along the road which Woodward and Arnold had already traversed.

Arnold was still gazing, impatiently now, through the glass. He could see the fore-deck of the ship where Del Mar, muffled up, and his men had succeeded in dragging the cable to the proper position on the deck. They laid it down and Del Mar was directing the preparations for cutting it. Arnold lowered his glass and looked about helplessly.

Just then Lieutenant Woodward dashed up with the officer and company and the field-gun. They wheeled it about and began pointing it and finding the range.

Would they never get it? Arnold was almost beside himself. One of Del Mar's men seized an axe and was about to deliver the fatal blow. He swung it and for a moment held it poised over his head.

Suddenly a low, deep rumble of a reverberation echoed and reechoed from the hills over the water. The field-gun had bellowed defiance.

A solid shot crashed through the cabin, smashing the door. Astounded, the men jumped back. As they did so, in their fear, the cable, released, slipped back over the rail in a great splash of safety into the water and sank.

"The deuce take you--you fools," swore Del Mar, springing forward in rage, and looking furiously toward the shore.

Two of the men had been hit by splinters. It was impossible to drag again. Besides, again the gun crew loaded and fired.

The first shot had dismantled the doorway of the cabin. Elaine crouched fearfully in the furthest corner, not knowing what to expect next. Suddenly another shot tore through just beside the door, smashing the woodwork terrifically. She shrank back further, in fright.

Anything was better than this hidden terror. Nerved up, she ran through the broken door.

Arnold was gazing through his glass at the effect of the shots. He could now see Del Mar and the others leaping into a swift little motor-boat alongside the steamer which they had been using to help them in dragging for the cable.

Just then he saw Elaine run, screaming, out from the cabin and leap overboard.

"Stop!" shouted Arnold in a fever of excitement, lowering his glass. "There's a girl--by Jove--it's Miss Dodge!"

"Impossible!" exclaimed Woodward.

"I tell you, it is," reiterated Arnold, thrusting the glass into the Lieutenant's hand.

The motor-boat had started when Del Mar saw Elaine in the water. "Look," he growled, pointing, "There's the Dodge girl."

Elaine was swimming frantically away from the boat. "Get her," he ordered, shielding his face so that she could not see it.

They turned the boat and headed toward her. She struck out harder than ever for the shore. On came the motor-boat.

Arnold and Woodward looked at each other in despair. What could they do?

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Somehow, by a sort of instinct, I suppose, I made my way as quickly as I could along the shore toward Fort Dale, thinking perhaps of Lieutenant Woodward.

As I came upon the part of the grounds of the Fort that sloped down to the beach, I saw a group of young officers standing about a peculiar affair on the shore in the shallow water--half bird, half boat.

As I came closer, I recognized it as a Thomas hydroaeroplane.

It suggested an idea and I hurried, shouting.

One of the men, seated in it, was evidently explaining its working to the others.

"Wait," he said, as he saw me running down the shore, waving and shouting at them. "Let's see what this fellow wants."

It was, as I soon learned, the famous Captain Burnside, of the United States Aerial Corps. Breathless, I told him what I had seen and that we were all friends of Woodward's.

Burnside thought a moment, and quickly made up his mind.

"Come--quick--jump up here with me," he called. Then to the other men, "I'll be back soon. Wait here. Let her go!"

I had jumped up and they spun the propeller. The hydroaeroplane feathered along the water, throwing a cloud of white spray, then slowly rose in the air.

The sensation of flying was delightful, as the fresh morning wind cut our faces. We seemed to be hardly moving. It was the earth or rather the water that rushed past under us. But I forgot all about my sensations in my anxiety for Elaine.

As we rose we could see over the curve in the shore.

"Look!" I exclaimed, straining my eyes. "She's overboard. There's a motor-boat after her. Faster--over that way!"

"Yes, yes," shouted Burnside above the roar of the engine which almost made conversation impossible.

He shifted the planes a bit and crowded on more speed.

The men in the boat saw us. One figure, tall, muffled, had a familiar look, but I could not place it and in the excitement of the chase had no chance to try. But I could see that he saw us and was angry. Apparently the man gave orders to turn, for the boat swung around just as we swooped down and ran along the water.

Elaine was exhausted. Would we be in time?

We planed along the water, while the motor-boat sped off with its baffled passengers. Finally we stopped, in a cloud of spray.

Together, Burnside and I reached down and caught Elaine, not a moment too soon, dragging her into the boat of the hydroaeroplane.

If we had not had all we could do, we might have heard a shout of encouragement and relief from the hill where Woodward and Arnold and the rest were watching anxiously.

I threw my coat about her, as the brave girl heroically clung to us, half conscious.

"Oh--Walter," she murmured, "you were just in time."

"I wish I could have been sooner," I apologized.

"They--they didn't cut the cable--did they?" she asked, as we rose from the water again, bearing her now to safety. "I did my best."