Chapter X. A Chase on the Ocean Floor
 

Jimmie listened for an instant. There certainly was something the matter with the air machine.

"Get a move on!" shouted the captive, "or we'll all be food for the sharks directly."

"Remain quietly where you are, then," Jimmie said, with a significant flourish at the gun which he had no intention of using, except in a case of the direst necessity.

"Go!" shouted the other.

Jimmie did not know what to do. While he had learned a good deal about the submarine, he was by no means an expert in the handling of her. His experience with the air machines had been very slight, as the boys had made little use of them.

"It's getting close in here already!" cried the captive in alarm. "Why don't you do something?"

"What is there for me to do?" asked the boy.

"Release me and I'll fix it," suggested the other.

Before Jimmie could explain the foolishness of this proposition, he heard a pounding at the outer door of the water chamber. He bounded through the open doorway and looked out.

There was a helmeted face against the pane. The boy was motioning for the door to be opened.

"Now," mused Jimmie, "I wonder how he got up there? The lifting lines haven't moved. Why didn't he let me know he was coming up?"

"Hurry!" called the captive.

Jimmie knew, from the flounderings on the floor, that the fellow was again trying to get rid of the rope. He stepped to the door and lifted a hand in warning, then slid the bolts and guards so the water chamber door would open from the outside, then stepped back into the larger apartment and closed the door.

He heard a rush of water and knew that some one was entering. Then, satisfied that all was well, he turned to his prisoner.

The fellow was half out of the rope, and one hand was sneaking toward a heavy ax which lay not far off.

"Cut that!" cried the boy.

He stood guarding the man while the water chamber filled and emptied. Then the door opened and Ned came in, helmet in hand. First, he turned a screw and the trouble at the air machine ceased.

"What the dickens!"

Ned stopped short in the middle of the room as he turned and gazed in amazement at the prisoner.

"I've been fishin'," Jimmie explained, with a chuckle.

"What is it you caught?" asked Ned.

"This," said Jimmie, "is the original sea serpent!"

"Looks to me like Moore, Jr.," Ned said.

"No?" exclaimed the boy.

"Are you the son of Captain Moore?" asked Ned.

The other nodded.

"I thought you'd recognize me," he grunted. "I was a fool to come here."

"That's about the only true word you've said since you came on board, I take it," Ned went on.

Young Moore scowled and bent his eyes to the floor.

Ned now turned to Jimmie and asked:

"Why didn't you draw us up?"

"Why," replied the little fellow, "I never got the signal."

"Guess you were too busy getting your sea serpent," smiled Ned.

"Did you pull?" asked Jimmie.

"Sure. Jack and Frank are out there now, ready to beat you up for keeping them out so long."

The prisoner turned his face away from the two and sulked.

"There's the boys now," Jimmie said. "Let them in."

In ten minutes Jack and Frank were in the large room, busily engaged in taking off their deep-sea clothes.

As Frank threw his helmet into a corner he held up the end of a line.

"You see," he said, glancing angrily at the prisoner, who had moved as far away as possible. "The line was cut."

"Aw, it would have come away in your hand when you pulled, then," said Jimmie. "You'd have found that out quick enough."

"I tell you it was cut," Frank insisted. "It was cut and tied to a rock that lies at the bottom. When we pulled we pulled at the big old boulder we saw lying there on the sand. Now, what do you think of that?"

"Why did you do it?" asked Ned, turning to Moore.

"I didn't," was the reply.

"Who did?"

"I don't know."

"I don't believe you."

"There were others besides me," insisted Moore.

Ned made an examination of the end of the three cords. All had been cut. All had been tied to something, for the ends were frayed as if by being twisted about in the hands.

"I presume you thought you were cutting the air-hose?" asked Ned, tentatively.

"I reckon I know a line from a hose," was the reply.

"So you did cut them?"

Frank sprang toward the prisoner with flashing eyes. "I'll show you what such sneaks get here."

Ned drew the enraged boy away.

"He'll get what's coming to him at some other time," he said. "Let him alone for the present."

"But he did attempt to cut the hose!" Jack exclaimed. "We ought to throw him out to the sharks."

"Not now," said Ned, coolly.

"Anyway," Frank said, a smile showing on his face, "he made us swim to the boat."

"He did that himself," laughed Jimmie, "and lost his weights."

"That's the worst of it," Jack remarked, "we've lost our weights, and there's no knowing how we are to get more."

Jimmie now pointed to the air machine.

"Was there something wrong with it?" he asked.

Ned shook his head.

"Working perfectly," he said. "There wasn't a screw loose."

"Well, he," pointing to the prisoner, "said there was something wrong, and I began to think he was right."

"Imagination!" laughed Jack.

Ned now faced Moore and asked:

"Have you taken the gold out of the wreck?"

A shake of the head was the answer.

"Have you discovered any important papers? You know what I mean by 'important.'"

"We have not."

"You came in the Diver?"

"Yes."

"Run her across?"

"No; came on a tow-line."

"I thought so. What steamer towed you over?"

"I can't answer that."

"Why?"

"I'm not permitted to."

"It was a Japanese boat?"

"Well, yes, it was."

"And she kept you out of sight all the way over and dropped you here to do this dirty work?"

"She didn't put a brass band on board of us," replied the captive, sullenly. "What is the meaning of this third degree business? Who do you think you are?"

"Your people know that we are here, of course?"

"Oh, yes, we're not fools. We saw you from the first."

"And they know where you started for?"

"Sure."

"Is your father in the Diver?"

"I refuse to answer any more questions," Moore stormed. "You've got the upper hand now, but the time will come when things will be reversed. Release me!"

"Of course," replied Ned, "we'll release you and give you the run of the boat! You came here to murder us, and so are entitled to the most courteous treatment!"

"Well, quit asking impertinent questions, then," snarled the other. "You can at least do that."

Ned hunted up two pairs of handcuffs, ironed the prisoner, and then conveyed him to a little room used for storage purposes. Moore did not appear to like this program.

"If anything should happen," he declared, "I'd be left here to die like a dog."

"And serve you good an' right!" Jimmie consoled.

"What do you expect is going to happen?" asked Jack.

"Oh, I don't know," was the hesitating reply. "Something might, you know."

The boys went out and shut the door, leaving young Moore protesting against the treatment he was receiving.

"Now," Ned said, when the boys were assembled in the large room, "it is plain that the rascals on board the Diver are preparing to attack us, or do something to imperil our lives. You saw how frightened Moore was when he was locked in that room."

"Yes, he seems to fear that he will be brought to death by his own friends," Frank said.

"What do you suggest?" asked Ned.

"Stay an' fight!" urged Jimmie.

"Hide away from them!" Frank proposed.

"Wait here until we see what they propose doing," Jack ventured.

"I think," laughed Ned, "that we'll bunch your advice and utilize it all. We'll hide in some deep spot until we see what they're up to, and then we'll fight."

"I reckon they are about five to one."

This from Frank, who preferred meeting the enemy on dry land.

"Oh, we can't come to a hand-to-hand battle," Ned replied. "We've got to fight submarine fashion."

Without attempting any explanation of this observation Ned proceeded to make a careful inspection of the boat. There was a torpedo tube at the prow, and this he studied over for a long time.

"Goin' to blow 'em up?" asked Jimmie.

"I was thinking," was the reply, "that we might use this as a bluff if we come to a tight place."

"Aw, what's the use?" demanded Jimmie. "You don't make bluffs! You get the winning hand before you call! If I had my way, I'd blow 'em out of the water!"

"Yes, you would!" Frank said. "You'd be the first one to kick if we should attempt to put that thief in there out of the boat. You're the tender-hearted little child of the bunch!"

All the boys laughed, including Jimmie, for they knew that what Frank said was the truth. Jimmie liked to talk of merciless measures, but he was not inclined to put them into practice.

"Well," Ned said, presently, "the Diver people will soon understand that something has happened to Moore, and will be after us. We may as well take a moonlight stroll."

The water tanks were filled, the power turned on, and the Sea Lion, with no lights in sight, save the one at the prow from which Frank watched the level ahead, began feeling her way to the south.

"The charts show a deep pit not far off," Ned said, "and we'll hide there for a time and see if they give up the job of looting the wreck. The loss of young Moore may scare them out."

"Why not go to the surface and air out the boat?" asked Jack. "Our air apparatus is all right, of course, but I like the real thing better. We can drop down again in a few minutes."

"That's a good idea," Ned replied, and in a moment the Sea Lion was lifting to the surface.

In half an hour she was down again, dark and silent, in the pit of which Ned had spoken. Occasionally the submarine was lifted a few fathoms in order that anything unusual in the vicinity of the wreck might be observed.

Sometime near morning the Diver was seen making her way to the north as if setting out for a long voyage. The lights of the craft showed plainly--that is, as plainly as lights ever show at that depth--and the Sea Lion had no difficulty in following her.

"She's steamin' up!" Jimmie cried, presently. "I believe she knows we're after her."

But the Sea Lion was equal to the task set for her, and all the remainder of the night the chase went on.