Chapter I. Lost on an Ocean Floor
 

The handsome clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol, Boy Scouts of America, in the City of New York, was ablaze with light, and as noisy as healthy, happy boys could well make it.

"Over in the Chinese Sea!" shouted Jimmie McGraw from a table which stood by an open window overlooking the brilliantly illuminated city. "Do we go to the washee-washee land this time?"

"Only to the tub!" Jack Bosworth put in.

"What's the answer?" asked Frank Shaw, sitting down on the edge of the table and rumpling Jimmie's red hair with both hands.

Jimmie broke away and, after bouncing a football off his tormentor's back, perched himself on the back of a great easy chair.

"The answer?" Jack said, after peace had been in a measure restored, "I thought everybody knew that the Chinks wash their clothes in the Gulf of Tong King and hang them out to dry on the mountains of Kwang Tung! Are we going there, Ned?" he added, turning to Ned Nestor, who sat by a nearby window, looking out over the city. "Are we going to the gulf of Tong King?"

Ned left his chair by the window and walked over to the table.

"I hardly know," he said, taking a roll of maps and drawings from his breast pocket and spreading them out on the table. "When Captain Moore arrives we shall know more about it."

"Who's Captain Moore?"

This from Jimmie, still sitting on the back of the chair, elbows on knees, chin on palms.

"Is he going to be the big noise?"

This from Jack Bosworth, who was reaching out with his foot in a vain effort to tip Jimmie's chair and send him sprawling.

"Is Captain Moore going with us?"

This question was asked by Frank Shaw with a show of anxiety. When out on their trips the Boy Scouts did not relish having older men about to show authority.

"One question at a time!" laughed Ned. "To answer the first query first, Captain Moore is the Secret Service officer who is to post us with regard to our mission to Chinese waters. Second he will, to use the slang adopted by Jack, be the 'Big Noise' as long as he is with us. Third, I don't know whether he is going on the journey with us or not."

"Here's hopin' he don't!" cried Jimmie.

"He'll want us to sit in baby chairs at tables and object to our takin' moonlight walks on the bottom of the sea! Is he covered all over with brass buttons, an' does he strut like this?"

Jimmie bounded to the floor and walked up and down the room with a mock military stride which set his companions into roars of laughter.

"I have never seen him," Ned replied. "He is coming here tonight, and you must judge for yourself what kind of a man he is."

"Here?" asked Frank. "Here to this club-room? The boys won't do a thing to him if he puts on dog!"

"Is he a submarine expert?" asked Frank.

"Sure!" replied Jack. "He wouldn't be sent here to post us if he wasn't, would he?"

"I don't believe he knows any more about a submarine, right now, than Ned does," Jimmie exclaimed. "Ned's been taking walks on the bottom of the Bay every mornin' for a week!"

Jack and Frank turned to Ned with amazement showing on their faces.

"Have you, Ned?" they asked, in chorus.

"Have you been out training without letting us know about it?"

"You bet he has!" Jimmie grinned. "I've been with him most of the time too. This Captain Moore, whoever he is, hain't got nothin' on Ned when it comes to makin' the wheels go round under the water."

"Oh, you!" laughed Jack, pointing a finger at Jimmie. "You can't run a submarine, even if Ned can."

"You wait an' see!" retorted the boy, indignantly. "You wait until we get into the Chinese sea, then you'll see what I know about boats that travel on ocean beds!"

"Can he run a submarine, Ned?" asked Jack.

"Well," was the laughing reply, "he did pretty well on the last trip. If some one hadn't interfered with his steering I reckon he would have tipped the Statue of Liberty into the Atlantic!"

Jimmie winked when the others roared at him and then looked reproachfully at Ned.

"You promised not to tell about that!" he said, accusingly.

At that moment a knock came on the door of the clubroom, which was on the top of the palatial residence of Jack Bosworth's father, and a moment later a tall, military-looking man with a white, stern face, thin straight lips and cold blue eyes was shown in. He paused just outside the doorway, and the boy who did not catch the sneer on his chalky face as he looked superciliously over the group must have been very unobservant indeed.

"Gee! He don't seem to like the looks of us!" Jimmie whispered to Frank Shaw, as Ned stepped forward to greet the newcomer.

"Looks like a false alarm!" Frank replied, in an aside. "I hope we don't have to lug him along with us."

"We won't need any cold storage arrangement on the submarine if he does go!" Jimmie went on. "That face of his would freeze hot steel."

Captain Moore of the United States Secret Service remained standing near the door until Ned reached his side. Then he lifted a single glass, inserted it in his eye-orbit and stood gazing at the boy who had advanced to welcome him.

Ned stepped back, coldly, and Jimmie nudged Jack delightedly when he saw the lad's face harden into bare civility.

"Aw," began the visitor, "I'm looking for--ah!--Mr. Nestor!"

"I'm Ned Nestor," said the boy, shortly.

"Fawncy!"

Ned pointed toward the table where the other boys were sitting and moved away.

"Fawncy!" repeated the visitor.

Ned made no reply. Instead, he marched to the table, drew a chair forward, and motioned Captain Moore to be seated.

Before complying with this gracious invitation the Captain glanced around the apartment with the supercilious sneer he had shown on entering. The boys watched him with heavy frowns on their faces.

"If we've got to take this along in the submarine," Jimmie whispered to Jack, "I hope the boat will drop down into a deep hole and stay there. Look at it!"

"Hush!" whispered the other. "It has ears!"

Those who have read the first and second volumes of this series will understand without being told here that it was a very fine clubroom upon which the frosty blue eyes of the Secret Service man looked.

The walls were adorned with all manner of hunting and fishing paraphernalia, together with many trophies of the chase. Foils, gloves, ball bats, paddles and many other athletic aids were scattered about the large room.

This clubroom, that of the Black Bear Patrol, as has been said, was the handsomest in New York, the members of the Patrol being sons of very wealthy men. The father of Frank Shaw was editor and owner of one of the important daily newspapers of the metropolis. Jack Bosworth's father was a prominent corporation lawyer, while Harry Stevens, a lad with a historical hobby, was a prominent automobile manufacturer.

Ned Nestor, the boy just now trying to entertain the very formal Captain Moore, was a member of the Wolf Patrol, also of New York, as was also Jimmie McGraw, who had been a Bowery newsboy before joining fortunes with Ned.

As is well known to most of our readers, Ned had, at one time and another, undertaken and successfully accomplished delicate and hazardous enterprises for the United States Government. Accompanied by Frank, Jack, Jimmie, Harry, and other members of the Boy Scout Patrols of the United States, he had visited Mexico, the Canal Zone, the Philippines, the Great Northwest, had navigated the Columbia river in a motor boat, and had covered the continent of South America in an aeroplane.

He was now about to enter upon, perhaps, the most important mission ever assigned to him by the Secret Service department. The story of the quest upon which he was about to enter will best be told in the conversation which now took place in the clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol on this evening of the 11th of September.

Presently Captain Moore transferred his gaze from the apartment to the boys gathered about the table and grouped about the place. As a matter of course all conversation in the room had ceased on the arrival of the Captain. While the boys who were not fortunate enough to be planning on the trip in the submarine were too courteous to openly stare at their guest of the moment, it may well be believed that his every look and word was closely noted.

Concluding his rather rude observations, Captain Moore dropped his glass, shrugged his shoulders, which were heavily padded, and gave utterance to his feelings in the one word of comments which he had twice used before:

"Fawncy!"

Ned said not a word, but waited for the visitor to lead out in the talk. Captain Moore was in no haste to begin, but he finally broke the silence by asking:

"You are Ned Nestor?"

Ned bowed stiffly. He did not like the man he was supposed to do business with, and did not try to conceal the fact.

"The Ned Nestor who undertook the Secret Service work in the Canal Zone and South America?"

Ned nodded again.

"Fawncy!"

"You said that before?" broke in Jimmie, who was fuming under the idea that the Captain was not treating his chum with proper courtesy.

The Captain brought his glass into use again and looked the boy over, much as he would have inspected a curio in a museum. Jimmie glared back, and the eyes of the two fenced for a moment before a twinkle of humor appeared in those of the Captain.

"You are Jimmie, eh?" the latter demanded.

Jimmie would have made some discourteous reply only for the tug Ned gave at his sleeve. As it was he only nodded.

"Aw, I've heard of you!" the Captain said, then. "Quite remarkable--quite extraordinary!"

"You came to deliver instructions regarding the submarine trip?" Ned asked, feeling revolt in the air of the room.

Unless something was done, the boys, all resenting the manner of the Captain, would be beyond control, and then the Secret Service man would be likely to leave the place in anger.

This, in turn, might endanger the adventure already planned and prepared for, for the chief of the department might see fit to adopt whatever recommendations Captain Moore made in the matter.

The visitor might have sensed the hostility, for he hastened to take from a pocket a sheaf of papers and place them on the table. The next moment the boys all saw that they had not gained a correct estimate of the Secret Service man.

The instant he began talking of the matter which had brought him to the clubroom his manner changed. He was no longer the drawling, supercilious naval officer in resplendent uniform. He was a keen- brained mechanical expert, questioning Ned regarding his knowledge of submarines.

"You are fairly well up in the matter," the Captain said, going back to his old drawl, in a few moments. "I shall not object to your going on the Diver with me."

The boys all gasped. So their worst fears were coming true! The Captain was indeed going with them! He would be the commander, and Ned would be obliged to work under his orders if he went at all!

Would Ned do this? Would he submit to the authority of another while practically responsible for the results of the trip? Frank, Jack, and Jimmie saw their cherished plans go glimmering.

Ned made no reply whatever. Instead he began asking questions concerning the Diver as the submarine the Captain had in view was named, and also about the object of the expedition.

"A short time ago," the Captain said, "the Cutaria, a fast mail boat, went down in the Gulf of Tong King, carrying with her many passengers, the United States mails, and $10,000,000 in gold consigned to the Chinese Government. We are to search the ocean floor for the gold, and also for information sought by the Department of State."

"Who got careless and dropped $10,000,000 on an ocean floor?" asked Jimmie.