Chapter XIII. The Searchlight Gun
 

"I don't understand it," remarked Elaine one day as, with Aunt Josephine and myself, she was discussing the strange events that had occurred since the disappearance of Kennedy, "but, somehow, it is as if a strange Providence seems to be watching over us."

"Nor do I," I agreed. "It does seem that, although we do not see it, a mysterious power for good is about us. It's uncanny."

"A package for you, Miss Dodge," announced Marie, coming in with a small parcel which had been delivered by a messenger who did not wait for an answer.

Elaine took it, looked at it, turned it over, and then looked at the written address again.

"It's not the handwriting of any one which I recognize," she mused. "Now, I suppose I ought to be suspicious of it Yet, I'm going to open it."

She did so. Inside, the paper wrapping covered a pasteboard box. She opened that. There lay a revolver, which she picked up and turned over. It was a curious looking weapon.

"I never knew so much about firearms as I have learned in the past few weeks," remarked Elaine. "But what do you suppose this is--and who sent it to me--and why?"

She held the gun up. From the barrel stuck out a little rolled-up piece of paper. "See," she cried, reading and handing the paper to me, "there it is again--that mysterious power."

Aunt Josephine and I read the note:

DEAR MISS DODGE:

This weapon shoots exactly into the center of the light disc. Keep it by you.--A FRIEND.

"Let me see it," I asked, taking the gun. Sure enough, along the barrel was a peculiar tube. "A searchlight gun," I exclaimed, puzzled, though still my suspicions were not entirely at rest. "Suppose it's sighted wrong," I could not help considering. "It might be a plant to save some one from being shot."

"That's easily settled," returned Elaine. "Let's try it."

"Oh, mercy no,--not here," remonstrated Aunt Josephine.

"Why not--down cellar?" persisted Elaine. "It can't hurt anything there."

"I think it would be a good plan," I agreed, "just to make sure that it is all right."

Accordingly we three went down cellar. There, Elaine found the light switch and turned it. Eagerly I hunted about for a mark. There, in some rubbish that had not yet been carted away, was a small china plate. I set it up on a small shelf across the room and took the gun. But Elaine playfully wrenched it from my hand.

"No," she insisted, "it was sent to me. Let me try it first."

Reluctantly I consented.

"Switch off the light, Walter, please," she directed, standing a few paces from the plate.

I did so. In the darkness Elaine pointed the gun and pulled a little ratchet. Instantly a spot of light showed on the wall. She moved the revolver and the spot of light moved with it. As it rested on a little decorative figure in the center of the plate, she pulled the trigger. The gun exploded with a report, deafening, in the confined cellar.

I switched on the light and we ran forward. There was the plate-- smashed into a hundred bits. The bullet had struck exactly in the centre of the little bull's-eye of light.

"Splendid," cried Elaine enthusiastically, as we looked at each other in surprise.

Though none of us guessed it, half an hour before, in the seclusion of his yacht, Woodward's friend, Professor Arnold, had been standing with the long barrelled gun in his hand, adjusting the tube which ran beneath the barrel.

In one hand he held the gun; in the other was a piece of paper. As he brought the paper before the muzzle and pressed a ratchet by gripping the revolver handle, a distinct light appeared on the paper, thrown out from the tube under the barrel.

Having adjusted the tube and sighted it, Arnold wrote a hasty note on another piece of paper and inserted it into the barrel of the gun, with the end sticking out just a bit. Then he wrapped the whole thing up in a box, rang a bell, and handed the package to a servant with explicit instructions as to its delivery to the right person and only to that person.

Down in the submarine harbor, Del Mar was in conference with his board of strategy and advice, laying the plan for the attack on America.

"Ever since we have been at work," he remarked, "Elaine Dodge has been busy hindering and frustrating us. That girl must go!"

Before him, on the table, he placed a square package. "It must stop," he added ominously, tapping the package.

"But how?" asked one of the men. "We've done our best."

"This is a bomb," replied Del Mar, continuing to tap the package. "When our man--let me see, X had better do it,--arrives, have him look in the secret cavern by the landing-place. There I will leave it. I want him to put it in her house to-night."

He handed the bomb to one of his men who took it gingerly. Then with a few more words of admonition, he took up his diving helmet and left the headquarters, followed by the man.

Several minutes later, Del Mar, alone, emerged from the water just outside the submarine harbor and took off his helmet.

He made his way over the rocks, carrying the bomb, until he came to a little fissure in the rocks, like a cavern. There he hid the bomb carefully. Still carrying the helmet, he hurried along until he came to the cave entrance that led to the secret passage to the panel in his bungalow library. Up through the secret passage he went, reaching the panel and opening it by a spring.

In the library Del Mar changed his wet clothes and hid them, then set to work on an accumulation of papers on his desk.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

That afternoon, Elaine decided to go for a little ride through the country in her runabout.

As she started to leave her room, dressed for the trip, it was as though a premonition of danger came to her. She paused, then turned back and took from the drawer the searchlight gun which had been sent to her. She slipped it into the pocket of her skirt and went out.

Off she drove at a fast clip, thoroughly enjoying the ride until, near a bend in the road, as it swept down toward the shore, she stopped and got out, attracted by some wild flowers. They grew in such profusion that it seemed no time before she had a bunch of them. On she wandered, down to the rocks, watching the restless waters of the Sound. Finally she found herself walking alone along the shore, one arm full of flowers, while with her free hand she amused herself by skimming flat stones over the water.

As she turned to pick up one, her eye caught something in the rocks and she stared at it. There in a crevice, as though it had been hidden, was a strange square package. She reached down and picked it up. What could it be?

While she was examining it, back of her, another of those strange be-helmeted figures came up out of the water. It watched her for an instant, then sank back into the water again.

Elaine, holding the package in her hand, walked up the shore, oblivious to the strange eye that had been fixed on her.

"I must show this to Lieutenant Woodward," she said to herself.

In the car she placed the package, then jumped in herself carefully and started off.

A moment after she had gone, the diver reappeared, looking about cautiously. This time the coast was clear and he came all the way out, taking off his helmet and placed it in the secret hiding- place which Del Mar and his men used. Then, with another glance, now of anger, in the direction of Elaine, he hurried up the shore.

Meanwhile, as fast as her light runabout would carry her, Elaine whizzed over to Fort Dale.

As she entered the grounds, the sentry saluted her, though that part of the formalities of admission was purely perfunctory, for every one at the Fort knew her now.

"Is Lieutenant Woodward in?" she inquired.

"Yes ma'am," returned the sentry. "I will send for him."

A corporal appeared and took a message for her to Woodward. It was only a few minutes before Lieutenant Woodward himself appeared.

"What is the trouble, Miss Dodge?" he asked solicitously, noting the look on her face.

"I don't know what it is," she replied dubiously. "I've found something among the rocks. Perhaps it is a bomb."

Woodward looked at the package, studying it. "Professor Arnold is investigating this affair for us," he remarked. "Perhaps you'd better take the package to him on his yacht. I'm sorry I can't go with you, but just now I'm on duty."

"That's a good idea," she agreed. "Only I'm sorry you can't go along with me."

She started up the car and drove off as Woodward turned back to the Fort with a lingering look.

Del Mar was hard at work in the library when, suddenly, he heard a sound at the panel. He reached over and pressed a button on his desk, and the panel opened. Through it came the diver still wearing his dripping suit and carrying the weird helmet under his arm.

"That Dodge girl has crossed us again!" he exclaimed excitedly.

"How?" demanded Del Mar, with an oath.

"I saw her on the rocks just now. She happened to stumble on the bomb which you left there to be placed."

"And then?" demanded Del Mar.

"She took it with her in her car."

"The deuce!" ejaculated the foreign agent, furiously. "You must get the men out and hunt the country thoroughly. She must not escape now at any cost."

The diving man dove back into the panel to escape Del Mar's wrath, while Del Mar hurried out, leaving his valet in the library.

Quickly, Del Mar made his way to a secret hiding-place in the hills back of the bay. There he found his picked band of men armed with rifles.

As briefly as he could he told them of what had happened. "We must get her this time--dead or alive," he ordered. "Now scatter about the country. Keep in touch with each other and when you find her, close in on her at any cost."

The men saluted and left in various directions to scour the country. Del Mar himself picked up a rifle and followed shortly, passing down a secret trail to the road where he had a car with a chauffeur waiting. Still carrying the rifle, he climbed in and the man shot the car along down the road.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

On the top of a hill one of the men was posted as a sort of lookout. Gazing over the country carefully, his eye was finally arrested by something at which he stared eagerly. Far away, on the road, he could see a car in which was a girl, alone. Waving in the breeze was a red feather in her hat. He looked more sharply. It was Elaine Dodge.

The man turned and waved a signal with a handkerchief to another man far off. Down the valley another of Del Mar's men was waiting and watching. As soon as he saw the signal, he waved back and ran along the road.

As Del Mar whizzed along, he could see one of his men approaching over the road, waving to him. "Stop!" he ordered his driver.

The man hurried forward. "I've got the signal," he panted. "They have seen her car over the hill."

"Good," exclaimed Del Mar, pulling a black silk mask over his eyes. "Now, get off quickly. We've got to catch her."

They sped away again in a cloud of dust.

But even while Del Mar was speeding toward her, another of his men had discovered her presence, so vigilant were they.

He had been keeping a sharp watch on the road, when he was suddenly all attention. He saw a car, through the foliage. Quickly, his rifle went to his shoulder. Through the sight he could just cover Elaine's head, for her hat, with a bright red feather in it, showed plainly just over the bushes.

He aimed carefully and fired.

I had been out for a tramp over the hills with no destination in particular. As I swung along the road, I heard the throbbing of a car coming up the hill, the cut-out open. I turned, for cars make walking on country roads somewhat hazardous nowadays.

As I did so, some one in the car waved to me. I looked again. It was Elaine.

"Where are you going?" she called.

"Where are you going?" I returned, laughing.

"I've just had a very queer experience--found something down on the rocks," she replied seriously, pointing to the square package on the floor of the car. "I took it to Lieutenant Woodward and he advised me to take it to Professor Arnold on his yacht. I think it is a bomb. I wish you'd go with me."

Before I could answer, up the hill a rifle shot cracked. There was a whirr in the air and a bullet sang past us, cutting the red feather off Elaine's hat.

"Duck!" I cried, jumping into the car, "And drive like the dickens!"

She turned and we fairly ricocheted down that road back again.

Behind us, a man, a stranger whom we did not pause to observe, rushed from the bushes and fired after us again.

Suddenly another rifle shot cracked. It was from another car that had stealthily sneaked up on us--coming fast, recklessly.

"There's her car," pointed one of the occupants to a man who was masked in black.

"Yes," he nodded. "Give her a little more gas!"'

"Crouch down," I muttered, "as low as you can."

We did so, racing for life, the more powerful motor behind us overhauling us every instant.

We were coming to a very narrow part of the road where it turned, on one side a sheer hill, on the other a stream several feet down.

If we had an accident, I thought, it might be ticklish for us, supposing the square package really to be a bomb. What if it should go off? The idea suggested another, instantly. The car behind was only a few feet off.

As we reached the narrow road by the stream, I rose up. As far as I could, back of me, I hurled the infernal machine. It fell. We received a shower of dirt and small stones, but the cover of the car protected us. Where the bomb landed, however, it cut a deep hole in the roadway.

On came Del Mar's car, the driver frantically tugging at the emergency brake. But it was of no use. There was not room to turn aside. The car crashed into the hole, like a gigantic plow.

It took one header over the side of the road and down several feet into the stream, just as the masked man and the driver jumped far ahead into the water.

Safe now in our car which was slackening its terrific speed, I looked back. "They've been thrown!" I cried. "We're all right."

On the edge of the water, just covered by some wreckage, the chauffeur lay motionless. The masked man crawled from under the wreckage and looked at him a moment.

"Dead!" he exclaimed, still mechanically gripping a rifle in his hand.

Angrily he raised it at us and fired.

A moment later, some other men gathered from all directions about him, each armed.

"Don't mind the wreck," he cried, exasperated. "Fire!"

A volley was delivered at us. But the distance was now apparently too great.

We were just congratulating ourselves on our escape, when a stray shot whizzed past, striking a piece directly out of the head of the steering-post, almost under Elaine's hands.

Naturally she lost control, though fortunately we were not going so fast now. Crazily, our car swerved from side to side of the road, as she vainly tried to control both its speed and direction. On the very edge of the ditch, however, it stopped.

We looked back. There we could see a group of men who seemed to spring out of the woods, as if from nowhere, at the sound of the shots. A shout went up at the sight of the bullet taking effect, and they ran forward at us.

One of their number, I could see, masked, who had been in the wrecked car, stumbled forward weakly, until finally he sank down.

A couple of the others ran to him. "Go on," he must have urged vehemently. "One of you is enough to stay with me. I'm going back to the submarine harbor. The rest--go on--report to me there."

As the rest ran toward us, there was nothing for us to do but to abandon the car ourselves and run for it. We left the road and struck into the trackless woods, followed closely now by two of the men who had outdistanced the rest. Through the woods we fled, taking advantage of such shelter as we could find.

"Look, here's a cave," cried Elaine, as we plunged, exhausted and about ready to drop, down into a ravine.

We hurried in and the bushes swung over the cave entrance. Inside we stopped short and gazed about. It was dark and gloomy. We looked back. There was no hope there. They had been overtaking us. On down a passageway, we went.

The two men who were pursuing us plunged down the ravine also. As ill-luck would have it, they saw the cave entrance and dashed in, then halted. Crouching in the shadow we could see their figures silhoutted in the dim light of the entrance of the cavern. One stopped at the entrance while the other advanced. He was a big fellow and powerfully built and the other fellow was equally burly. I made up my mind to fight to the last though I knew it was hopeless. It was dark. I could not even see the man advancing now.

Quickly Elaine reached into her pocket and drew out something.

"Here, Walter, take this," she cried. I seized the object. It was the searchlight gun.

Hastily I aimed it, the spot of light glowing brightly. Indeed, I doubt whether I could have shot very accurately otherwise. As the man approached cautiously down the passageway the bright disc of light danced about until finally it fell full on his breast. I fired. The man fell forward instantly.

Again I fired, this time at the man in the cave entrance. He jumped back, dropping his gun which exploded harmlessly. His hand was wounded. Quickly he drew back and disappeared among the trees.

We waited in tense silence, and then cautiously looked out of the mouth of the cave. No one seemed to be about.

"Come--let's make a dash for it," urged Elaine.

We ran out and hurried on down the ravine, apparently not followed.

Back among the trees, however, the man had picked up a rifle which he had hidden. While he was binding up his hand with a handkerchief, he saw us. Painfully he tried to aim his gun. But it was too heavy for his weakened arm and the pain was too great. He had to lower it. With a muttered imprecation, he followed us at a distance.

Evidently, to us, we had eluded the pursuers, for no one seemed now to be following, at least as far as we could determine. We kept on, however, until we came to the water's edge. There, down the bay, we could see Professor Arnold's yacht.

"Let us see Professor Arnold, anyhow," said Elaine, leading the way along the shore.

We came at last, without being molested, to a little dock. A sailor was standing beside it and moored to it was a swift motor- boat. Out at anchor was the yacht.

"You are Professor Arnold's man?" asked Elaine.

"Yes'm," he replied, remembering her.

"Is the Professor out on his boat?" we asked.

He nodded. "Did you want to see him?"

"Very much," answered Elaine.

"I'll take you out," he offered.

We jumped into the motor-boat, he started the engine and we planed out over the water.

Though we did not see him, the man whom I had wounded was still watching us from the shore, noting every move. He had followed us at a distance across the woods and fields and down along the shore to the dock, had seen us talking to Arnold's man, and get into the boat.

From the shore he continued to watch us skim across the bay and pull up alongside the yacht. As we climbed the ladder, he turned and hurried back the way he had come.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Elaine and I climbed aboard the yacht where we could see the Professor sitting in a wicker deck chair.

"Why, how do you do?" he welcomed us, adjusting his glasses so that his eyes seemed, if anything, more opaque than before.

I could not help thinking that, although he was glad to see us, there was a certain air of restraint about him.

Quickly Elaine related the story of finding the bomb in the rocks and the peculiar events and our escape which followed. Once, at the mention of the searchlight gun, Professor Arnold raised his hand and coughed back of it. I felt sure that it was to hide an involuntary expression of satisfaction and that it must be he who had sent the gun to Elaine.

He was listening attentively to her, while I stood by the rail, now and then looking out over the water. Far away I noted something moving over the surface, like a rod, followed by a thin wake of foam.

"Look!" I exclaimed, "What's that?"

Elaine turned to me, as Arnold seized his glasses.

"Why, it seems to be moving directly at us," exclaimed Elaine.

"By George, it's the periscope of a submarine," cried Arnold a moment later, lowering his glasses.

He did not hesitate an instant.

"Get the yacht under way," he ordered the captain, who immediately shouted his orders to the rest.

Quickly the engine started and we plowed ahead, that ominous looking periscope following.

In the submarine harbor to which he had been taken, Del Mar found that he had been pretty badly shaken up by the accident to his car. His clothes were torn and his face and body scratched. No bones were broken, however, though the shock had been great. Several of his men were endeavoring to fix him up in the little submarine office, but he was angry, very angry.

At such a juncture, a man in a dripping diving-suit entered and pulled off his helmet, after what had evidently been a hasty trip from the land through the entrance and up again into the harbor. As he approached, Del Mar saw that the man's hand was bound up.

"What's the matter?" demanded Del Mar. "How did you get that?"

"That fellow Jameson and the girl did it," he replied, telling what had happened in the cave. "Some one must have given them one of those new searchlight guns."

Del Mar, already ugly, was beside himself with rage now.

"Where are they?" he asked.

"I saw them go out to the yacht of that Professor Arnold."

"He's the fellow that gave her the gun," almost hissed Del Mar. "On the yacht, are they?"

An evil smile seemed to spread over his face. "Then we'll get them all, this time. Man the submarine--the Z99."

All left the office on the run, hurrying around the ledge and down into the open hatch of the submarine. Del Mar came along a moment later, giving orders sharply and quickly.

The hatch was closed and the vessel sealed. On all sides were electrical devices and machines to operate the craft and the torpedoes--an intricate system of things which it seemed as if no human mind could possibly understand.

Del Mar threw on a switch. The submarine hummed and trembled. Slowly she sank in the harbor until she was at the level of the underwater entrance through the rocks. Carefully she was guided out through this entrance into the waters of the larger, real harbor.

Del Mar took his place at the periscope, the eye of the submarine. Anxiously he turned it about and bent over the image which it projected.

"There it is," he muttered, picking out Arnold's yacht and changing the course of the submarine so that it was headed directly at it, the planes turned so that they kept the boat just under the surface with only the periscope showing above.

Forward, about the torpedo discharge tubes men were busy, testing the doors, and getting ready the big automobile torpedoes.

"They must have seen us," muttered Del Mar. "They've started the yacht. But we can beat them, easily. Are you ready?"

"Yes," called back the men forward, pushing a torpedo into the lock-like compartment from which it was launched.

"Let it go, then," bellowed Del Mar.

The torpedo shot out into the water, travelling under her own power, straight at the yacht.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Elaine and I looked back. The periscope was much nearer than before. "Can we outdistance the submarine?" I asked of Arnold.

Arnold shook his head, his face grave. On came the thin line of foam. "I'm afraid we'll have to leave the yacht," he said warningly. "My little motor-boat is much faster."

Arnold shouted his orders as he led us down the ladder to the motor-boat into which we jumped, followed by as many of the crew as could get in, while the others leaped into the water from the rail of the yacht and struck out for the shore which was not very distant.

"What's that?" cried Elaine, horrified, pointing back.

The water seemed to be all churned up. A long cigar-shaped affair was slipping along near enough to the surface so that we could just make it out--murderous, deadly, aimed right at the heart of the yacht.

"A torpedo!" exclaimed Arnold. "Cast off!"

We moved off from the yacht as swiftly as the speedy little open motor-boat would carry us, not a minute too soon.

The torpedo struck the yacht almost exactly amidships. A huge column of water spurted up into the air as though a gigantic whale were blowing off. The yacht itself seemed lifted from the water and literally broken in half like a brittle rod of glass and dropped back into the water.

Below in the submarine, Del Mar was still at the periscope directing things.

"A hit!" he cried exultingly. "We got the whole bunch this time!"

He turned to the men to congratulate them, a smile on his evil face. But as he looked again, he caught sight of our little motor- boat skimming safely away on the other side of the wreck.

"The deuce!" he muttered. "Try another. Here's the direction."

Furiously he swore as the men guided the submarine and loaded another torpedo into a tube. As the tube came into position, they let the torpedo go. An instant later it was hissing its way at us.

"See, there's another!" I cried, catching sight of it.

All looked. Sure enough, through the water could be seen another of those murderous messengers dashing at us.

Arnold ran forward and seized the wheel himself, swinging the boat around hard to starboard and the land. We turned just in time. The torpedo, brainless but deadly, dashed past us harmlessly.

As fast as we could now we made for the shore. No one could catch us with such a start, not even the swiftest torpedo. We had been rescued by Arnold's quick wit from a most desperate situation.

Somewhere below the water, I could imagine a man consumed with fury over our escape, as the periscope disappeared and the submarine made off.

We were safe. But, looking out over the water, we could not help shuddering at the perils beneath its apparently peaceful surface.