Chapter XVI. A Bluff That Didn't Work
 

Leaving the prow, Ned hastened down a little passage and came out in the room where Hans sat, grinning, before a door behind which there was a great commotion. The pounding was incessant, and the voices of the prisoners came clearly through the solid panels.

"Open!" cried the voice of Captain Moore. "There's danger ahead for you. Open the door."

"Little he cares for our hides!" Jimmie commented. "If there was any danger he'd be the last one to warn us."

"Just a crack," pleaded Moore. "Just a crack, and I'll tell you what you are facing."

Ned opened the door a trifle and saw Moore's face there, looking almost frantic in the strong light.

"Well?" Ned asked.

"There's death for us all if you go ahead," the Captain declared. "Stop where you are."

"Soh!" grunted the German.

"Oh, I'm not pretending that I care for your rascally lives," Moore went on, vindictively. "I'd kill you all this moment if it lay in my power to do so. I'm thinking of my own safety."

"Well?" repeated Ned. "What is it?"

"The boat you are chasing has dynamite on board, and a tube gun. If you go nearer, she'll blow you out of the water."

"That's cheerful," Jimmie grinned. "Why didn't she do it before?"

"Probably because she thought to get away. I've been watching her through the little port and I know that she is now waiting for you to come up and receive a dynamite ball."

"It strikes me," Ned replied, "that she is halting because her running gear is out of whack. She rammed us not long ago and got the worst of it."

Captain Moore thrust his head close to the little opening between the casing and the door and almost screamed:

"Do you mean that she is crippled so that she can't get away from you?"

"I said that I thought she had injured herself in trying to destroy the Sea Lion," was the reply.

"Well, even if she can't get away," the Captain went on, with a change of expression, "she can blow you out of the water."

"We'll have to take our chances on that," Ned replied.

After some further talk, the boy entered the room where the prisoners were and closed the door, leaving Hans on guard outside. Captain Moore frowned as he seated himself by the port.

"It is bad enough to be confined here without being obliged to endure your company," he said.

"What a snake you would have made!" commented Ned. "I never saw a fellow loaded to the guards with venom as you are. Will you answer a few questions?"

"Depends on what they are," was the reply.

"If they will aid you, you will answer them, eh?"

"Of course."

"And if they will assist me, you won't?"

The Captain nodded.

"All right," laughed Ned. "Suppose the correct answers would help us both? What then?"

"Oh, what's the use of all this nagging?" demanded the son. "If you have anything to say, say it, and get out."

"And you're a pretty good imitation of this other snake," Ned said, glancing at the young fellow. "If you interfere in the talk again I'll put you in the dungeon and forget to feed you."

Captain Moore motioned to his son to remain quiet.

"This cheap Bowery boy has the upper hand now," he said. "Wait until conditions are reversed."

"Captain," began Ned, paying no attention to the venom of the other, "will you tell me what the packet that was rescued from the wreck by the pirates under your command contained?"

"What packet?" demanded the Captain, surprise showing on his drawn features. "What packet do you refer to?"

"The mysterious packet you came to this part of the world to obtain. You know very well what I mean."

"We came, under contract, for the gold," was the reply.

"Yet your boat went away and left most of it on the bottom after the packet was discovered."

"She came to this harbor after supplies."

"And neglected to secure them!"

"Well, there was trouble with the trader."

"You met a Shark man, on the island?"

"Of course. I came here to meet him, to receive a report as to the success of the expedition."

"You received such a report?"

"Yes."

"You were told that the gold had been found intact?"

"That is not for discussion here."

"You were astonished when your son did not make his appearance?"

"Frankly, yes."

"You expected that he would bring you the report?"

"Yes; he was in charge of the Shark."

"If he had been in charge when the man landed, he would have given you the packet?"

"If he had had a packet, or anything else taken from the wreck, he would have turned it over to me."

"But the man you met refused to do so?"

"How do you know what took place?"

"That is immaterial, so long as I do know. Tell, me, what was the difficulty at the store--money?"

The Captain did not answer.

"Now," Ned went on, "you stated a moment ago that you came here under contract to get the gold. Who are your principals?"

No reply was received.

"What will the man now in charge of the Shark do with the packet he refused to deliver to you?" was the next question.

"He will transfer it to me as soon as we meet again."

"You are sure of that?"

"Reasonably sure."

"Then what will you do with it?"

"Anything given to me will be turned over to my principals."

"But, suppose the contents of the packet are not favorable to your side of the case? Suppose they clear the United States Government of suspicion?"

Captain Moore gave a quick start of amazement.

"I don't know what you are talking about," he said.

"In that case," Ned went on, "I presume you will destroy the papers? If you can't entangle the Government that fed you so long in some trouble, you won't play."

"You've been reading some of the red-covered detective stories, and think you're a sleuth!" snarled the Captain.

"You may as well tell me all about it," Ned urged.

"I have told you all I know about the condition of the wreck."

"And the packet?"

"There was a long envelope, but I did not see what it contained."

"Yet you came here to make sure that it should not get out of your hands unless it would aid you in your treachery?"

The prisoner was silent.

"Why didn't you obtain a knowledge of its contents?"

"The man who held it refused to make delivery."

"In other words, he demanded more money than you were authorized to pay him?"

"I have nothing to say about that."

"He took the packet back to the Shark?"

"Of course."

"And made an appointment to meet you at Hongkong?"

"It does not matter to you what our arrangement is."

"Oh, yes it does, for I'm telling you now that the appointment will never be kept."

"You don't know what peril you are in this minute," snarled the other. "There are bombs under your keel now!"

Ned did not like the tone of satisfaction in which the words were spoken. The Shark had passed slowly over the spot where the Sea Lion now lay, and torpedoes and bombs might have been laid.

"Thank you for the hint," he finally said. "I'll go out and see about it."

"When you want further information," frowned the Captain, with a scornful laugh, "come in and I'll give it to you--just as I have on this occasion."

"No trouble to show goods!" broke in the son.

Ned opened the door and motioned to Hans and Jack, who were just outside, watching and listening to such few words as came through the heavy panels of the door.

"Take this impertinent young murderer to the den," he said, as Hans and Jack stepped up, "and leave him there in darkness. Don't feed him until I give the word."

The young man's struggles only increased the violence which was used in his removal. The boys would have killed the man who had attempted the lives of all the crew if they had been directed to do so.

Then Ned turned back to the Captain, now foaming with rage and calling to his son to remain docile until his turn should come.

"You pride yourself on having put me off without any information whatever," the boy said. "You advise me to come again and meet with the same treatment. Now, let me tell you, for your information, that I came in here to get answers to only two questions."

"Did you get them?"

"Indeed I did," was the reply.

The Captain looked disgusted.

"What were they?" he asked.

"I wanted to know if the man who landed from the Shark had the packet, and if he took it back on board with him. You gave me the information I sought. You even told me that the packet had not been opened when you saw it."

The Captain stormed up and down the little room in a towering rage.

"If I could turn a lever now and blow us all into eternity," he shouted, "I would do it!"

"Your mind seems to run on blowing up somebody."

Moore gritted his teeth and made no reply.

Ned locked him in again and went out to Frank, who was in charge of the boat.

"Get her over to the west a few yards," he said. "Our friend the Captain says the Shark is sowing torpedoes along here, and we can't afford to be blown up just now."

"The Shark is at the surface now," Frank said. "Anybody on the bottom?"

"Not so far as I can see, but it is pretty thick down here."

"Why not go to the surface?" asked Jack.

"Yes; she knows we are here, all right," Frank added.

"Well, keep to the bottom until you change position, then come to the top and keep dark. Not a light in sight, understand, and the tower up just high enough to keep out the water."

"What are you going to do?" asked Frank.

"I want to get aboard the Shark," was the cool reply.

"Yes; I see you doing it," Frank said.

"I can only try," was the reply. "The boat is headed for Hongkong, where she is to deliver the packet we want. She is to deliver it to Captain Moore on the payment of a certain sum of money, but if the Captain is not there she will turn it over to whoever has the price. We can't allow that."

"Of course not; but how are you going to get on board the Shark? If you don't watch out you'll be served as you served young Moore."

"The minute the Shark strikes Hongkong," Ned replied, "we will have a thousand places to search for those papers. Before she lands, we have only one."

"You are always right!" cried Frank. "When are you going to make the attempt?"

"That depends. In the meantime, we must get to the surface and in a position where we cannot be seen. If she thinks we have gone away, so much the better."

"I guess our little picnic isn't over with yet!" laughed Frank. "Are you going to take me on board with you?"

"I'll be lucky if I can take myself on board," was the reply.

By this time the Sea Lion was some distance from the Shark, and the hatch in the conning tower was open. It was a clear, starlit night, and there would be a moon later on.

There seemed to be great confusion on board the Shark. The boat was brilliantly lighted, and the conning tower stood high above the water. The ports on the side toward the Sea Lion were open, as if to admit the pure, cool air of the night.

"I believe there's something the matter with her air supply," Ned said to Frank as the two stood together on the tower. "The ramming she gave us must have done her a lot of mischief. Looks like she was stuck there until help comes."

"The help she ought to have is right here," Frank replied. "I'd like to get that crew on board a man-of-war."

"We have the real criminals," Ned replied.

The boys watched the Shark for a long time. They could see people moving about on the inside, and occasionally a group assembled on the conning platform, which was much larger than that of the Sea Lion.

"I believe some one is going down in a water suit," Ned said, presently. "The water chamber is on the other side, but she lists as if a weight was pulling at her."

"Listen!" Frank cautioned. "There's the machinery working. That would be the lowering apparatus. Some one is going down, all right. Now, what for?"

Ten minutes passed, and then the waters surged about the Sea Lion, and a great roar and rumble came with the waves which swept into the open hatch. The Shark, too, rocked on the crest of a great wave.

"Dynamite below!" Ned said. "Will there be more than one?"