Chapter XV. A Desperate Prisoner
 

Just as the attention of Frank and Jimmie was called to the Captain and the natives advancing upon Ned and Jack from the thicket, they heard a great beating on a door or wall below. There was only one person in the submarine save themselves, and so they knew that it was the captive who was kicking up the row.

"He knows something unusual has been going on," Jimmie observed, "and wants to turn whatever takes place to his own advantage. Suppose we go below and see what he's doing."

"He's frightened half to death, I take it," Frank surmised. "The two bumps the Sea Lion got from the Shark must have given him the impression that we had collided with a rock or reef."

"Serves him right," Jimmie replied. "He ought to be willing to take a little of his own medicine occasionally. He tried to kill us when he came on board."

The pounding below continued, and the boys went down to the door of the room where young Moore was held captive. The noise came from within, sure enough.

"What do you want?" demanded Frank, calling loudly so that his voice might penetrate the thick door.

"Let me out!"

"You've got your nerve!" answered Jimmie.

"Let me out, please!" continued the prisoner.

"Why?" asked Frank.

"Open the door and you'll see," was the reply.

Jimmie sniffed at the air in the larger apartment and pulled Frank by the arm.

"Smell anything?" he asked.

"Something does seem queer," the latter replied.

In a second there was an unmistakable odor of burning cloth in the room, and the boys began hunting about for the source of it. The pounding on the door continued.

"Open up!" young Moore shouted. "Open up if you don't want to lose your ship."

"I'll bet the fire's in there," Jimmie ventured. "I'm goin' to open the door and find out."

He turned the key, which was in the lock on the outside, and in a second the door was open. A burst of smoke shot out into the larger apartment.

Through the thick veil of the smoke, in a corner of the room, the boys saw a spurt of flame. It was running along the floor, nipping at the fringe on an expensive rug.

When the door was opened young Moore dashed out, as if desiring to pass the two boys before they got the smoke out of their eyes. Frank caught him by the arm and held him fast.

By this time the large room where the boys stood was well filled with smoke, and Jimmie opened every avenue by which it might travel to the main hatch in the conning tower. In a few moments the interior of the submarine was comparatively free from smoke.

Jimmie took a pail of water from the tap and tossed it on the creeping flame in the little room. It served its purpose and the danger was over. Frank, still holding Moore by the arm, pointed to a chair. The young fellow seemed to have no notion of taking the seat, however, for he made a dash for the hatch, which was wide open.

In order to gain the staircase it was necessary for him to pass the place where Jimmie stood. As he came up to the boy he struck out with all his force and continued his flight--for a second.

When the boy saw him getting by, he dropped to the floor and seized him by the ankles, with the result that both were rolling about in the rich rug in no time.

"Go to it!" shouted Jimmie, as Moore tried to break away from him. "Catch him, Frank!" he continued, as the stronger man pulled away.

It was quite a neat little battle, but in the end numbers won, and Moore was ornamented with the irons once more.

"Why didn't you say the boat was on fire?" asked Frank. "You might have smothered in there."

"Wish I had!" gritted Moore.

"Go back and do it over again," Jimmie suggested. "You can have all the time you want!"

"Why didn't you let us know at first?" insisted Frank.

"Well, if you must know," the captive replied, "I was afraid you would extinguish the fire by flooding the room, if I told what the trouble was. Besides, I thought I could get away if you opened the door."

"Did you set the fire?"

"I was lighting a cigarette, and--"

"That's enough," Frank said. "Any one who will smoke cigarettes deserves to be burned alive. Wish we had flooded the room after you got well scorched and left you in it."

"You may wish so before you have done with me," threatened the other. "I'll get you yet--both of you."

"Well, get back into the den," Frank commanded. "We have had about all the lip we can stand from you. You tried to murder Lieutenant Scott at Mare Island Navy Yard, you attempted our lives when you came to this boat, and now you set us on fire and attempt to run away. You've got a long account to settle, young man."

"You can bluff now," Moore retorted, "but that is all you can do. My father is on the lookout for you and that wise guy you call Ned Nestor. When you go back, without the gold, he'll get you good and plenty. You know it! Now lock me up and go away, for I'm sick of the sight of your impudent faces."

Jimmie forced the prisoner into his room and closed the door.

"You'll have to make a supper off that smoke!" he called out through the keyhole. "You're too fly a guy to take food to."

"I'll charge it up to you!" came back from the den.

"Nervy chap!" Frank said, as the two boys hastened back to the conning tower to see what had become of Ned and Jack.

"Cheekiest fellow I ever saw!" Jimmie added. "He really thinks he's goin' to give us the slip. He really believes we daren't do a thing to him. I'll show him!"

When the boys came in sight of the beach again they saw Captain Moore threatening Ned with a revolver. Then they saw the Captain tumble over on the sand, with the German standing over him.

"Gee!" Jimmie shouted. "Prize fight!"

"Looks like it."

There was silence in the conning tower for a second, then both boys shouted out their joy as they saw Ned and Jack getting the upper hand of Moore and the natives.

"Now they'll soon be on board," Frank observed, "and we'll find out what they've been up to."

"Bet they didn't find out any more than I did," Jimmie cried. "I'll bet they had a scrap too, and that's the only thing I wanted that I didn't get."

"Wonder who that Dutch-looking fellow is?" Frank mused. "I believe Ned is putting him into the boat!"

"I'll go a dollar to a doughnut that it's a Boy Scout!" laughed Jimmie. "Don't look the part, though, does he?"

"Why do you think it is a Boy Scout?"

"Because we've always found one. If we should go to the North Pole, we'd find one there--always busy an' ready to do a fellow a good turn, too. You know it!"

"And that big fellow, with the paunch and the important look seems familiar to me," mused Frank. "Don't you recognize him?"

"Sure," was the reply. "That is Captain Moore. Don't you remember the bluff he put up in the Black Bear clubroom before we left little old New York?"

"I believe you are right."

"Well, we'll soon know all about it," said the boy. "Ned is bringin' the Captain an' the Dutch guy off to us. Funny you'll see so many rare specimens when you hain't got no gun!"

Hans grinned delightedly when he set foot on the conning tower of the submarine and glanced inquisitively into the interior. His round, baby blue eyes protruded in wonder as they fell on the comfortably furnished apartment below.

"Jump down, Dutch!" Jimmie laughed. "There is where they make men out of Dutchmen. Don't be afraid."

"Iss dot so?" grunted Hans. "Vell, if mens iss madt dere, vy dondt you go pelow?"

"Good for you, Dutch!" cried Frank. "Hit him again. He's too fresh, anyway."

"Where did you get it, Ned?" asked Jimmie. "You'll have to bake it when we get back to New York."

"Better look out, lad," Ned replied, "this boy has the kick of a mule in his left. Let him alone."

During this short by-play Captain Moore stood scowling on the conning tower, crowded close against the boys, for the platform was a small one. He now faced Ned angrily.

"What is the proposition?" he demanded.

"I have brought you here to see your son," Ned replied. "If you'll step down the stairs I'll show you where he is."

"He ought to be at the bottom of the sea," Frank said, "for he tried to fire the boat."

"I have no doubt that he resents his treatment," said Moore. "I, myself, would sink your craft this moment if it lay in my power."

"No doubt of it," Ned said. "You've come to the end of your rope, though. All the mischief you can do now is to yourself."

Moore snarled out some reply intended to be exasperating, but which made no impression on the boys, and set his feet to the stairs. The boys followed him, but the ex-naval officer reached the floor first, and, with a bound, reached the mechanism which gave forward motion to the submarine, the prow of which was turned toward the beach.

Ned sprang forward, but the boat was already under motion. It was unquestionably the intention of the prisoner to wreck her on the beach, hoping to rescue his son and make his own escape in the confusion.

Moore struck savagely at Ned as he attempted to draw him away from the lever, but missed. In a second Jimmie had his arms about those of the Captain and they went down together.

Ned leaped to the lever and shut off the power. In three minutes more the Sea Lion must have been wrecked on the shelving shore. As it was she stopped within a few yards of the danger line.

"You're a pair of murderers!" said Ned, coolly, as he seized Moore by the throat and flung him into the room where his son was incarcerated.

Young Moore's face appeared at the door as his father was forced in, and angry words between the two followed as the door was closed.

"There'll be a social session in there now," laughed Ned. "Each one will blame the other for the predicament they are in!"

"Let 'em fight it out," Jimmie advised, rubbing a bruise on his arm, which had been somewhat injured in the fall.

Hans was now gazing about the boat with something more than curiosity in his eyes. He had observed how quickly the submarine had responded to a touch of the lever, and was actually wondering if he wasn't on board one of the magic ships he had read of in the nursery.

"Sit down outside this door and see that nothing more happens in the kick line," Ned directed, thinking to give the uneasy youth something to occupy his mind. "If they get the door open, give them one of those left-hand jolts."

With another glance about the German sat down contentedly. Then Ned went to the stern and looked out of the glass panel.

"Is the Shark still in sight?" asked Frank. "Look out to the east and you'll see her if she's anywhere about."

"I'm afraid she's too far away by this time," Ned replied.

"Then we'd better be moving!" Frank said. "I'll take the boat and go after Jack, then we'll be off."

"Don't lose any time," advised Ned.

Frank, accompanied by Jimmie, was off in the rowboat in short order, and before long Jack was on board.

"Hamblin, the trader, wants to talk with you, Ned," he said as he came down into the cabin.

"He'll have to wait until we catch the Shark," Ned said. "I'm afraid we have lost too much time now."

Jack's report had shown him that the sealed packet was still on the Shark, and it was his purpose to keep after the submarine until he caught up with her. Just what would take place then he did not know, but he was willing to take great risks in order to get hold of the packet.

He did not know what it contained, but he did know that it was claimed by the enemies of his government, that it held papers which, if brought out, might smash several international treaties. His own belief was that the packet would establish the fair dealing of the Washington officials, but this was only a matter of opinion.

While the Sea Lion was dropping down and getting under way he talked the matter over with Frank. That young man was inclined to be rather pessimistic over the matter.

"If the papers in the packet are of the sort you think they are," he declared, "they will destroy them before they will permit you to get hold of them."

"They might do so only for the fact that this is a money-loving world we are living in," Ned declared, with a smile. "Those papers, whatever they are, are worth a lot of cash to some one, and they will not be destroyed."

The submarine was soon moving swiftly through the water, only a few yards from the sandy bottom. The general direction was east, toward the harbor of Hongkong.

Just before the night fell Jack, who was on the lookout in front, peering through the glass panel, declared that the Shark, or some other submarine, was in sight.

"She's crippled, too," he cried. "She advances a few paces and then stops. They are having all kinds of trouble with her. Just lie still a short time, and you'll see her mounting to the surface."

The Sea Lion was brought to a halt, and the boys watched the dark bulk ahead with all their eyes. Their own boat was dark, but directly lights flared out ahead.

"There she goes to the top!" Jimmie cried.

"And there," exclaimed Frank, "is a signal from Hans which shows that there's something doing with the prisoners!"