Chapter IX. The Submarine Harbor
 

It was not long after the almost miraculous escape of Elaine and myself from the blowing up of the bridge on the shore road that Del Mar returned from his mysterious mission which had, apparently, taken him actually down to the bottom of the sea.

The panel in the wall of his library opened and in the still dripping submarine suit, holding under his arm the weird helmet, Del Mar entered. No sooner had he begun to remove his wet diving- suit than the man who had signalled with the heliograph that we had found Del Mar's message from "below," whatever that might mean, entered the house and was announced by the valet.

"Let him come in immediately," ordered Del Mar, placing his suit in a closet. Then to the man, as he entered, he said, "Well, what's new?"

"Quite a bit," returned the man, frowning still over Elaine's accidental discovery of the under-water communication. "The Dodge girl happened to pick up one of the tubes with a message just after you went down. I tried to get her by blowing up the bridge, but it didn't work, somehow."

"We'll have to silence her," remarked Del Mar angrily with a sinister frown. "You stay here and wait for orders."

A moment later he made his way down to a private dock on his grounds and jumped aboard a trim little speed boat moored there. He started the motor and off the boat feathered in a cloud of spray.

It was only a moment by water before he reached the Dodge dock. There he tied his boat and hurried up the dock.

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Elaine and I arrived home without any further experiences after our hairbreadth escape from the explosion at the bridge.

We were in doubt at first, however, just what to do about the mysterious message which we had picked up in the harbor.

"Really, Walter," remarked Elaine, after we had considered the matter for some time, "I think we ought to send that message to the government at Washington."

Already she had seated herself at her desk and began to write, while I examined the metal tube and the note again.

"There," she said at length, handing me the note she had written. "How does that sound?"

I read it while she addressed the envelope. "Very good," I replied, handing it back.

She folded it and shoved it into the envelope on which she had written:

  Chief,
     Secret Service,
        Washington, D. C.

I was studying the address, wondering whether this was just the thing to do, when Elaine decided the matter by energetically ringing the bell for Jennings.

"Post that, Jennings, please," she directed.

The butler bowed just as the door-bell rang. He turned to go.

"Just a minute," I interrupted. "I think perhaps I'd better mail it myself, after all."

He handed me the letter and went out.

"Yes, Walter," agreed Elaine, "that would be better. Register it, too."

"How do you do?" greeted a suave voice.

It was Del Mar. As he passed me to speak to Elaine, apparently by accident, he knocked the letter from my hand.

"I beg your pardon," he apologized, quickly stooping and picking it up.

Though he managed to read the address, he maintained his composure and handed the letter back to me. I started to go out, when Elaine called to me.

"Excuse me just a moment, Mr. Del Mar?" she queried, accompanying me out on the porch.

Already a saddle horse had been brought around for me.

"Perhaps you'd better put a special delivery stamp on it, too, Walter," she added, walking along with me. "And be very careful."

"I will," I promised, as I rode off.

Del Mar, alone, seized the opportunity to go over quietly to the telephone. It was the work of only a moment to call up his bungalow where the emissary who had placed the submarine bell was waiting for orders. Quickly Del Mar whispered his instructions which the man took, and hung up the receiver.

"I hope you'll pardon me," said Elaine, entering just as Del Mar left the telephone. "Mr. Jameson was going into town and I had a number of little things I wanted him to do. Won't you sit down?"

They chatted for a few moments, but Del Mar did not stay very long. He excused himself shortly and Elaine bade him good-bye at the door as he walked off, apparently, down the road I had taken.

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Del Mar's emissary hurried from the bungalow and almost ran down the road until he came to a spot where two men were hiding.

"Jameson is coming with a letter which the Dodge girl has written to the Secret Service," he cried pointing excitedly up the road. "You've got to get it, see?"

I was cantering along nicely down the road by the shore, when suddenly, from behind some rocks and bushes, three men leaped out at me. One of them seized the horse's bridle, while the other two quickly dragged me out of the saddle.

It was very unexpected, but I had time enough to draw my gun and fire once. I hit one of the men, too, in the arm, and he staggered back, the blood spurting all over the road.

But before I could fire at the others, they knocked the gun from my hand. Frightened, the horse turned and bolted, riderless.

Together, they dragged me off the road and into the thicket where I was tied and gagged and laid on the ground while one of them bound up the wounded arm of the man I had hit. It was not long before one of them began searching me.

"Aha!" he growled, pulling the letter from my pocket and looking at it with satisfaction. "Here it is."

He tore the letter open, throwing the envelope on the ground, and read it.

"There, confound you," he muttered. "The government 'll never get that. Come on, men. Bring him this way."

He shoved the letter into his pocket and led the way through the underbrush, while the others half-dragged, half-pushed me along. We had not gone very far before one of the three men, who appeared to be the leader, paused.

"Take him to the hang-out," he ordered gruffly. "I'll have to report to the Chief."

He disappeared down toward the shore of the harbor while the others prodded me along.

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Down near the Dodge dock, along the shore, walked a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a plain suit of duck. His prim collar and tie comported well with his smoked glasses. Instinctively one would have called him "Professor", though whether naturalist, geologist, or plain "bugologist", one would have had difficulty in determining.

He seemed, as a matter-of-fact, to be a naturalist, for he was engrossed in picking up specimens. But he was not so much engrossed as to fail to hear the approach of footsteps down the gravel walk from Dodge Hall to the dock. He looked up in time to see Del Mar coming, and quietly slipped into the shrubbery up on the shore.

On the dock, Del Mar stood for some minutes, waiting. Finally, along the shore came another figure. It was the emissary to whom Del Mar had telephoned and who had searched me. The naturalist drew back into his hiding-place, peering out keenly.

"Well?" demanded Del Mar. "What luck?"

"We've got him," returned the man with brief satisfaction. "Here's the letter she was sending to the Secret Service."

Del Mar seized the note which the man handed to him and read it eagerly. "Good," he exclaimed. "That would have put an end to the whole operations about here. Come on. Get into the boat."

For some reason best known to himself, the naturalist seemed to have lost all interest in his specimens and to have a sudden curiosity about Del Mar's affairs. As the motor-boat sped off, he came slowly and cautiously out of his hiding-place and gazed fixedly at Del Mar.

No sooner had Del Mar's boat got a little distance out into the harbor than the naturalist hurried down the Dodge dock. There was tied Elaine's own fast little runabout. He jumped into it and started the engine, following quickly in Del Mar's wake.

"Look," called the emissary to Del Mar, spying the Dodge boat with the naturalist in it, skimming rapidly after them.

Del Mar strained his eyes back through his glass at the pursuing boat. But the naturalist, in spite of his smoked glasses, seemed not to have impaired his eyesight by his studies. He caught the glint of the sun on the lens at Del Mar's eye and dropped down into the bottom of his own boat where he was at least safe from scrutiny, if his boat were not.

Del Mar lowered his glass. "That's the Dodge boat," he said thoughtfully. "I don't like the looks of that fellow. Give her more speed."

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Del Mar had not been gone long before Elaine decided to take a ride herself. She ordered her horse around from the stables while she donned her neat little riding-habit. A few minutes later, as the groom held the horse, she mounted and rode away, choosing the road by which I had gone, expecting to meet me on the return from town.

She was galloping along at a good clip when suddenly her horse shied at something.

"Whoa, Buster," pacified Elaine.

But it was of no use. Buster still reared up.

"Why, what is the matter?" she asked. "What do you see?"

She looked down at the ground. There was a spot of blood in the dust. Buster was one of those horses to whom the sight of blood is terrifying.

Elaine pulled up beside the road. There was a revolver lying in the grass. She dismounted and picked it up. No sooner had she looked at it than she discovered the initials "W. J." carved on the butt.

"Walter Jameson!" she exclaimed, realizing suddenly that it was mine. "It's been fired, too!"

Her eye fell again on the blood spots. "Blood and--footprints-- into the brush! "she gasped in horror, following the trail." What could have happened to Walter?"

With the revolver, Elaine followed where the bushes were trampled down until she came to the place where I had been bound. There she spied some pieces of paper lying on the ground and picked them up.

She put them together. They were pieces of the envelope of the letter which we had decided to send to Washington.

"Which way did they take him?" she asked, looking all about but discovering no trail.

She was plainly at a loss what course to pursue.

"What would Craig do?" she asked herself.

Finding no answer, she stood thinking a moment, slowly tearing the envelope to pieces. If she were to do anything at all, it must be done quickly. Suddenly an idea seemed to occur to her. She threw the pieces of paper into the air and let them blow away. It was unscientific detection, perhaps, but the wind actually took them and carried them in the direction in which the men had forced me to walk.

"That's it!" cried Elaine to herself. "I'll follow that direction."

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Meanwhile, the men had hurried me off along a trail that led to the foot of a cliff. Then the trail wound up the cliff. We climbed it until we reached the top.

There in the rock was a rude stairway. I drew back. But one man drew a gun and the other preceded me down. Along the steep stone steps cut out in the face of the rock, they forced me.

Below, in a rift in the very wall of the cliff, was a cave in which already were two more of Del Mar's men, talking in low tones, in the dim light.

As we made our way down the breakneck stairway, the foremost of my captors stepped on a large flat rock. As he did so, it gave way slightly under his foot.

A light in the cave flashed up. Under the rock was a secret electric connection which operated a lamp.

"Some one coming," muttered the two men, on guard instantly.

It was a somewhat precarious footing as we descended and for the moment I was more concerned for my safety from a fall than anything else. Once my foot did slip and a shower of pebbles and small pieces of rock started down the face of the cliff.

As we passed down, the man behind me, still keeping me covered, raised the flat stone on the top step. Carefully, he reset the connection of the alarm rock, a series of metal points that bent under the weight of a person and made a contact which signalled down in the cavern the approach of any one who did not know the secret.

As he did so, the light in the cavern went out. "It's all right," said one of the men down there, with a look of relief.

We now went down the perilous stairway until we came to the cave.

"I've got a prisoner--orders of the Chief," growled one of my captors, thrusting me in roughly.

They forced me into a corner where they tied me again, hand and foot. Then they began debating in low, sinister tones, what was to be done with me next. Once in a while I could catch a word. Fear made my senses hypersensitive.

They were arguing whether they should make away with me now or later!

Finally the leader rose. "It's three to one," I heard him mutter. "He dies now."

He turned and took a menacing step toward me.

"Hands up!"

It was a shrill, firm voice that rang out at the mouth of the cave as a figure cut off what little light there was.

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Elaine passed along, hunting for the trail. Suddenly a shower of pebbles came falling down from a cliff above her. Some of them hit her and she looked up quickly.

There she could see me being led along by my captors. She hid in the brush and watched. During all the operations of the descent of the rock stairway and the resetting of the alarm, she continued to watch, straining her eyes to see what they were doing.

As we entered the cave, she stepped out from her concealment and looked sharply up at us, as we disappeared. Then she climbed the path up the cliff until she came to the flight of stone steps leading downward again.

Already she had seen the man behind me doing something with the stone that formed the top step. She stooped down and examined the stone. Carefully she raised it and looked underneath before stepping on it. There she could see the electric connection. She set the stone aside and looked again down the dangerous stairway.

It made her shudder. "I must get him," she murmured to herself. "Yes, I must. Even now it may be too late."

With a supreme effort of determination she got herself together, drew my gun which she had picked up, and started down the cliff, stepping noiselessly.

At last Elaine came to the cave. She stood just aside from the door, gun in hand, and listened, aghast.

Inside she could hear voices of four men, and they were arguing whether they should kill me or not. It was four against one woman, but she did not falter.

They had just decided to make away with me immediately and the leader had turned toward me with the threat still on his lips. It was now or never. Resolutely she took a step forward and into the cave.

"Hands up!" she demanded, firmly.

The thing was so unexpected in the security of their secret hiding-place protected by the rock alarm that, before they knew it, Elaine had them all lined up against the wall.

Keeping them carefully covered, she moved over toward me. She picked up a knife that lay near-by and started to cut the ropes which held me.

As she did so, one of the men, with an oath, leaped forward to rush her. But Elaine was not to be caught off her guard. Instantly she fired. The man staggered back, and fell.

That cooled the ardor of the other three considerably, especially now as I was free, too. While she held them up still, with their hands in the air, I went through their pockets, taking out their weapons.

Then, still keeping them covered, we backed out of the cave. Backward we made our way up the dangerous flight of steps again with guns levelled at the cave entrance, Elaine going up first.

Once a head stuck itself out of the cave entrance. I fired instantly and it jerked itself back in again just in time. That was the only trouble we had, apparently.

Cautiously and slowly we made our way toward the top of the cliff.

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One look backward from his motor-boat was enough for Del Mar. He must evade that inquisitive naturalist. He turned to his man.

"Get out that apparatus," he ordered.

The man opened a locker and brought out the curious submarine rescue helmet and suit. Del Mar took them up and began to put the suit on, stooping down in the shelter of the boat so that his actions could not be seen by the naturalist in the pursuing boat.

The naturalist was all this time peering ahead keenly at Del Mar's boat, trying to make it out. He bent over and adjusted the engine to get up more speed and the boat shot ahead faster.

By this time, Del Mar had put on the submarine apparatus, all except the helmet, and was crouching low in the boat. Hastily, he rolled a piece of canvas into the semblance of a body, put his coat and hat on it and set it on the seat which he had occupied before.

Just then Del Mar's boat ran around the promontory where Wu Fang had met the submarine that had brought Del Mar into the country and landed him so strangely.

The boat slowed down under shelter of the rocks and Del Mar added a pair of heavy lead-soled shoes to his outfit in order to weight himself down. Finally he put on the helmet, let himself over the side of the boat, and disappeared into the water.

His aide started the motor and the boat shot ahead again, with the dummy still occupying Del Mar's seat. As the boat swung out and made a wide sweeping curve away from the point at which Del Mar had gone overboard, the naturalist in the Dodge boat came around the promontory and saw it, changing his course accordingly, and gaining somewhat.

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Del Mar sank, upright and rapidly, down in the shallow water to the bottom. Once having his feet on something approaching firm ground, he gazed about through the window-like eye of the helmet until he got his bearings. Then he began to walk heavily along the bottom of the harbor, over sand and rocks.

It was a strange walk that he took, half stumbling, slowly and cumbersomely groping his way like a queer under-water animal.

If any one could have seen him, he would have noted that Del Mar was going toward the base of a huge Focky cliff that jutted far out into the harbor, where the water was deep, a dangerous point, avoided by craft of all kinds. Far over his head the waves beat on the rocks angrily. But down there, concealed beneath the surface of the harbor, was a sort of huge arch of stone, through which a comparatively rapid current ran as the tide ebbed and flowed.

Del Mar let himself be carried along with the current which was now running in and thus with comparative ease made his way, still groping, through the arch. Once under it and a few feet beyond, he deliberately kicked off the leaden-soled shoes and, thus lightened, rose rapidly to the surface of the water.

As he bobbed up, a strange sight met his eyes--not strange however, to Del Mar. Above, the rocks formed a huge dome over the water which the tides forced in and out through the secret entrance through which he came. No other entrance, apparently, except that from the waters of the harbor led to this peculiar den.

Lying quietly moored to the rocky piers lay three submarine boats. Further back, on a ledge of rocks, blasted out, stood a little building, a sort of office or headquarters. Near-by was a shed where were kept gas and oil, supplies and ammunition, in fact everything that a submarine might need.

This was the reason for Del Mar's presence in the neighborhood. It was the secret submarine harbor of the foreign agents who were operating in America!

Already a sentry, pacing up and down, had seen the bubbles in the water that indicated that some one had come through the archway and was down "below," as Del Mar and his men called it.

Gazing down the sentry saw the queer helmeted figure float up from the bottom of the pool. He reached out and helped the figure clamber up out of the water to the ledge on which he stood. Del Mar saluted, and the sentry returned the secret salute, helping him remove the dripping helmet and suit.

A moment later, in the queer little submarine office, Del Mar had evidently planned to take up the nefarious secret work on which he was engaged. Several men of a naval and military bearing were seated about a table, already, studying maps and plans and documents of all descriptions. They did not seem to belong to any nation in particular. In fact their uniforms, if such they might be called, were of a character to disguise their nationality. But that they were hostile to the country under which they literally had their hidden retreat, of that there could be no doubt.

How high Del Mar stood in their counsels could have been seen at a glance from the instant deference exhibited at the mere mention of his name by the sentry who entered with the submarine suit while Del Mar got himself together after his remarkable trip.

The men at the council table rose and saluted as Del Mar himself entered. He returned the salute and quietly made his way to the head of the table where he took a seat, naturally.

"This is the area in which we must work first of all," he began, drawing toward him a book and opening it. "And we must strike quickly, for if they heed the advice in this book, it may be too late for us to take advantage of their foolish unpreparedness."

It was a book entitled "Defenseless America", written by a great American inventor, Hudson Maxim.

Del Mar turned the pages until he came to and pointed out a map. The others gathered about him, leaning forward eagerly as he talked to them. There, on the map, with a radius of some one hundred and seventy miles, was drawn a big segment of a circle, with Peekskill, New York, as a centre.

"That is the heart of America," said Del Mar, earnestly. "It embraces New York, Boston, Philadelphia. But that is not the point. Here are the great majority of the gun and armor factories, the powder and cartridge works, together with the principal coal fields of Pennsylvania."

He brought his fist down decisively on the table. "If we hold this section," he declared, "we practically hold America!"

Eagerly the other emissaries listened as Del Mar laid before them the detailed facts which he was collecting, the greater mission than the mere capture of Kennedy's wireless torpedo which had brought him into the country. Detail after detail of their plans they discussed as they worked out the gigantic scheme.

It was a war council of a secret advance guard of the enemies of America!

       .       .       .       .       .       .       .

Meanwhile, Del Mar's man in his boat, cutting a wide circle and avoiding the Dodge boat carrying the naturalist, made his way across the harbor until he came to the shore.

There he landed and proceeded up the beach to the foot of a rocky cliff, where he turned and followed a trail up it to the top. It was the same path already travelled by my captors with me and later followed by Elaine.

As he came stealthily out from under cover, Del Mar's man gazed down the stairway. He drew back at what he saw. Slowly he pulled a gun from his pocket, watching down the steps with tense interest. There he could see Elaine and myself wearily climbing toward the top, our backs toward him, as we covered the men in the cave.

So surprised was he at what he saw that he forgot that his boat below had been followed by the mysterious naturalist, who, the moment Del Mar's man had landed, put on the last burst of speed and ran the Dodge boat close to the spot where the aide had left Del Mar's.

A glance into the boat sufficed to tell the naturalist that the figure in it was only a dummy. He did not pause, but followed the trail up the hill, until he was close after the emissary ahead, going more slowly.

Only a few feet further along the cliff, the naturalist paused, too, keeping well under cover, for the man was now just ahead of him. He looked fixedly at him and saw him gaze down the cliff. Then he saw him slowly draw a gun.

Who could be below? Quickly the naturalist's mind seemed to work. He crouched down, as if ready to spring.

The emissary slowly raised his revolver and took careful aim at the backs of Elaine and myself, as we came up the steps.

But before he could pull the trigger, the naturalist, more like one of the wild animals which he studied than like a human being, sprang from his concealment in the bushes and pounced on the man from behind, seizing him firmly.

Over and over they rolled, struggling almost to the brink of the precipice.

Elaine and I had got almost to the top of the flight of steps, when suddenly we heard a shout above us and sounds of a terrific struggle. We turned, to see two men, neither of whom we knew, fighting. One seemed to be a professor of natural history from his dress and general appearance. The other had a sinister nondescript look.

Nearer and nearer the edge of the cliff they rolled. We crouched closer to the rocky wall, gazing up at the death grapple of the two. Who they were we did not know but that one was fighting for and the other against us we could readily see.

The more vicious of the two seemed to be forcing the naturalist slowly back, when, with a superhuman effort, the naturalist braced himself. His foot was actually on a small ledge of rock directly at the edge of the cliff.

He swung around quickly and struck the other man. The vicious looking man pitched headlong over the cliff.

We shrank back closer to the rock as the man hurtled through the air only a few feet from us. Down below, we could hear him land with a sickening thud.

Far over the edge Elaine leaned in a sort of fascination at the awful sight. For a moment, I thought the very imp of the perverse had got possession of her and that she herself would fall over. She brushed her hand unsteadily over her eyes and staggered. I caught her just in time.

It was only an instant before the brave girl recovered control of herself. Then, together, we started again to climb up.

As we did so the naturalist looked down and caught sight of us approaching. Hastily he hid in the bushes. We reached the top of the stairway and gazed about for the victor in the contest. To our surprise he was gone.

"Come," I urged. "We had better get away, quickly."

As Elaine and I disappeared, the naturalist slowly emerged again from the bushes and looked after us. Then he gave a hasty glance over the edge of the cliff at the man, twisted and motionless, far below.

If we had looked back we might have seen the naturalist shake his head in a manner strangely reminiscent as he turned and gazed again after us.