Chapter LIV
 

The horse tenders in the other holds were summoned and informed that for the present the Narcissus would not be bombed. Quickly two of them, with Mike Murphy and Sam Daniels, donned the dungarees and caps of the prisoners and strapped on their belts containing the automatics in their holsters. In the interim Terence had descended to the collapsible boat bumping at the gangway and fended her off until Sam Daniels, the two cowboys and Mike Murphy joined him; whereupon Terence took one pair of oars, while Murphy handled the other, and the boat crept out from the steamer and headed directly for the submarine, which had been ratching backward and forward under a dead-slow bell, watching the towering black hulk of the Narcissus rolling idly. A light showed on the turret of the submarine, outlining vaguely the figures of half a dozen men on her small deck.

The disposition of Mike Murphy's forces was such that the chances of the enemy detecting the substitution of the boarding party before it should reach the submersible were reduced to a minimum. In the bow of the collapsible one of the cowboys sat, facing the stern; Terence and Mike also faced the stern, by reason of the fact that they were rowing; and Sam Daniels and the other cowboy, seated in the stern sheets, were under orders to turn and look back at the Narcissus as the boat came within the radius of the meager light from the submarine's turret. Thus they ran little risk of premature discovery.

"For," as Cappy Ricks sagely reminded them just before they pulled away from the Narcissus, "the German is both cautious and cocksure. The capture of his bombing party has been effected without a sound; the commander saw our men leave the steamer in the boats; he sees the Narcissus now not under command and wallowing; he figures that all is lovely and the goose honks high. Therefore, he will be off his guard, since his suspicions have not been roused. His deck is very dimly lighted by that single light on the turret, and he knows that light is sufficient to guide the boat party back to the submarine. There is no sea running to speak of; so it will not be necessary for him to turn his searchlight on you to light the way for you.

"Moreover, he will not care to use his searchlight, because it may guide a patrol boat to this spot, and Terence has very carefully turned out all the lights on the ship which might be visible from a distance, because that is precisely what that lieutenant would or should have done if we had given him time. And when you row toward that submarine, row like the devil, because that's the way the bombing party would row in their hurry to board the submarine and steam clear of the explosion. It is my guess that the instant you heave alongside you will be snagged with boat hooks by the men on her deck. In the excitement of making a quick get-away nobody will be looking into your faces, anyhow; they'll see your familiar dungaree suits and caps; some of them may even give you a hand to help you when you leap aboard. Do not despise such help; just extend your left hands and before you let go the enemy's right bend your guns--and you, Terry, your monkey wrench--over their heads. You'll have the deck in a pig's whisper! Then, Mike, the rest is up to you. I've made the ball; now you fire it.

"I take it the submarine will be in such a hurry to get away that all the men on her deck will reach down and snake the boat in; once out of danger, they'll plan on knocking that collapsible down and storing it away at their leisure. Tackle 'em while they're busy with the boat--provided you get aboard unsuspected. Terence, remember to shout the minute you go into action--and I'll give you fighting light."

Following these instructions, Cappy had very solemnly shaken hands all round and departed for the bridge, where he removed the canvas covering from the searchlight, bent the reflector toward the submarine, and waited, with his nervous old finger on the switch.

In pursuance of Cappy Ricks' instructions, Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon rowed furiously toward the submarine--so furiously, indeed, that the harsh grating of their oars in the rowlocks apprised Captain Emil Bechtel of their approach some seconds before the boat was visible. At his brisk command the men on deck stepped down to the low pipe railing on the port side of the deck, prepared to snag the boat the instant she drew alongside. When he could hear the sound of the commander's voice, Mike Murphy chanced a quick look over his shoulder, noted the position of the submarine, and turned his head again.

"Four more strokes, Terry; then ship your oars," he cautioned the engineer in a low voice.

At the fourth stroke Terence obediently shipped his oars; with a deft twist of one oar, Murphy straightened the boat and shot neatly in alongside the submarine, the deck of which was less than three feet above the water. As Cappy Ricks had anticipated, the men on that deck promptly snagged the boat at bow and stern with boat hooks--and on the instant Cappy Ricks' bully boys leaped for their prey.

As luck would have it, Terence P. Reardon was the only one offered a helping hand--and he did not despise it; neither did he forget Cappy's last instructions. With neatness and ample force he brought his monkey wrench down on the German's skull; and then to Cappy Ricks, waiting on the bridge of the Narcissus, came the ancient Irish battlecry of Faugh-a-ballagh! For the benefit of those not versed in the ways of the fighting Celt, be it known that Faugh-a-ballagh means Clear the Road. And history records but few instances when Irish soldiery have raised that cry and rushed without clearing a pathway.

The fight was too short and savage for description. Suffice it to say that not a shot was fired--the work was too close for that, for the surprise had been complete. Even before Cappy Ricks could focus the steamer's searchlight on the fracas, it was over. Terence P. Reardon got two in two strokes of his trusty monkey wrench; Sam Daniels and his two fellow-bronco-busters each laid open a German scalp with the long barrels of their forty-fives; and Michael J. Murphy, plain lunatic-crazy with rage, disdaining all but Nature's weapons, tied into the amazed Captain Emil Bechtel under the rules of the Longshoremen's Union--which is to state that Michael J. Murphy clinched Emil Bechtel, lifted him, set him down hard on his plump back, crawled him, knelt on his arms, and addressed him in these words:

"Hah! (A right jab to the face.) You would, would you? (Left jab to face.) You pig-iron polisher! (Bending the nose back forcibly with the heel of his fist.) When I get (smash) through with your (smash) head (smash) it'll be long (smash) before you'll block (smash) your hat again (smash) on the Samson post, you--"

"Out av me way, Michael, lad, till I get a kick at his slats!" crooned Terence P. Reardon, heaving alongside.

"You gossoon! Take care of the scuttle; don't let them close it down, or they'll submerge and drown us. Leave this lad to me, I tell you. He's the captain, and why shouldn't he be killed by one of his own rank?"

Thus rebuked, Terence curbed his blood-thirsty proclivities. Leaving his countryman to beat his devil's tattoo on the submarine commander, Terence leaped to the open scuttle just in time to bang another head as it appeared on a level with the deck.

"Let that be a lesson to you!" he called as the unconscious man slid back down the companion into the interior of the vessel.

Then he sat on the lid of the scuttle, poised his monkey wrench on high over the scuttle, and awaited developments, the while he tossed an order over his shoulder to Sam Daniels:

"Bring me the bum!"

"Which one?" Mr. Daniels queried.

"The German bum, av coorse," Terence retorted waspishly.

"But all these bums are Germans--"

"Not that kind av a bum!" howled Terence. "I mean the bum in the boat."

Thus enlightened, Sam brought a bomb from the boat and handed it to the engineer. In the interim Mike Murphy had polished off his man to his entire satisfaction and joined Terence at the scuttle, while one of the horse wranglers, a cool individual and a firm believer in safety first, collected the weapons from the fallen.

Mike Murphy approached the scuttle and bawled down it to the amazed and puzzled crew below. As a linguist Mike was no great shakes, particularly when called upon to juggle German; but he was a resolute fellow and not afraid to do his best at all times. Consequently his hail took the form of "Hey! Landsmann!"

Something told Terence Reardon that Michael was through; so he added his mite to the store and bellowed:

"Spreckels die deutsch, ye blackguards?"

Then both sat back to await developments. Presently a voice at the foot of the companion said:

"Hello dere! Vat iss?"

"Vat iss? Hell iss! Dot's vat! Listen to me, you Dutchy. I'm the skipper of that horse transport your commander tried to sink without warning, and I'm in command of the deck of this craft, with the scuttle open; and you can't submerge and wash me off, either. When I give the word I want you and your men to come up, one at a time and no crowding. And if you're not up five minutes after I order you up I'll not wait; I'll set a bomb in your turret, back off in the small boat and kill with revolvers any man that tries to come up and see where the fuse is burning in order to put it out. Do you surrender, or would you rather die?"

"Vait a minute und I find oud," the German answered promptly.

It required five minutes for a council of war below decks; then the interpreter came to the foot of the companion and informed Mike Murphy that, considering the circumstances, they had decided to live. In the interim the skipper of the Narcissus had arrived, with re-enforcements, in the cruiser, and reported that his crew was getting back aboard the steamer as fast as possible and would have her under command again in a minute. At Murphy's order the unconscious Germans were put aboard the cruiser; later, when the remainder of the submersible's crew came up, one at a time, they were disarmed and lined up on the little deck; whereupon Michael J. Murphy addressed their spokesman thus:

"Listen--you! It would be just like you to have set a time bomb somewhere in this submarine to blow her up after you were all safely out of her. If you did you made a grave tactical error. You're not going to leave her for quite a while yet. You're going to sit quietly here on deck, under guard, while the steamer hooks on to this submarine and tows her; and if my prize crew is blown up, remember, you--"

The spokesman--he was the chief engineer, by the way--yelled "Ach, Gott!" and leaped for the scuttle. Mike Murphy followed him into the engine room in time to see him stamp out a long length of slow-burning fuse.

"Any more?" Murphy queried.

"Dot von vas sufficient, if it goes off," the German answered simply.

"All right!" Mike Murphy replied. "I'll take a chance and so will you. You'll stay aboard and run those oil engines."

Half an hour later with the submarine's crew safely under lock and key on the Narcissus, the big freighter continued on her course, followed by the captured submarine, with Michael J. Murphy in her turret and a quartermaster from the Narcissus at her helm. In the engine room her own engineer grudgingly explained to Terence P. Reardon the workings of an oil engine and the ramifications of the electric-light system--and during all of that period the deadly monkey wrench never left the port engineer's hand.

Sam Daniels and his comrades were once more back aboard the Narcissus, attending to the horses; and Cappy Ricks, his heart so filled with pride that it was like to burst, occupied the submarine's turret with the doughty Michael J. For an hour they discussed the marvelous coup until there was no angle of it left undiscussed; whereupon fell a silence, with Michael J.'s eyes fixed on the dark bulk ahead that marked the Narcissus, and Cappy's thoughts on what Matt Peasley and Mr. Skinner would say when they heard the glorious news.

For nearly an hour not a word passed between the pair.

Presently Cappy's regular breathing drew Murphy's attention to him. He had fallen asleep in his seat, his chin bent on his old breast, a little half-smile on his lips. And as Murphy looked at him pridefully Cappy spoke in his sleep:

"Holy sailor! How Mike Murphy can swear!"

Terence P. Reardon came to the foot of the little spiral staircase leading to the turret.

"Michael, me lad," he announced, "the internal-combustion ile ingin' is the marine ingin' av the future. They're as simple as two an' two is four. Listen, avic! Does she not run like a twenty-four-jewel watch? An' this man that invinted thim was a Ger-r-man--more power to him! Faith, I'm thinkin' if the Ger-r-mans were as great in war as they are in peace 'twould need more nor the Irish to take the measure av thim!"

"Irish?" Mike Murphy answered irritably. "Terence, quit your bragging! God knows the Irish are great--"

"The greatest in the wide, wide wur-rld!" Terence declared, with all the egotism of his race.

"Whist, Terry! There's a little old Yankee man aboard; if you wake him up he'll call you a liar."

"The darlin' ould fox!" Terry murmured affectionately, and went back to his engines.