Chapter XVII. Bad for the Sea Creatures
 

As Ned spoke there came another upheaval of water, and a louder roar from the sea. The Shark and the Sea Lion both swayed perilously. Ned and Frank closed their hatch and clung to the railing around the conning tower platform.

"Those are torpedoes, all right," Frank said.

"But I don't understand--"

Ned cut the sentence short as a third reverberation came from beneath the water.

"They think we are down there yet!" Frank said. "I wonder how the man who went down came to make such a mistake?"

"Cheerful sort of people to fight!" Ned said. "Every man on that boat is a murderer at heart."

A pounding on the under side of the hatch was now heard, and Jimmie's face showed when it was lifted.

"Say," the little fellow said, "Captain Moore wants to speak to you, Ned. These here earthquake shocks have got him goin'. He acts like a crazy man."

Ned paid no attention to the request.

"He wants to say that he told me so," Ned said to Jimmie. "Go back and tell him that he ought not to be afraid of his friends on board the Shark."

"Gee!" the little fellow replied. "If he don't behave himself, I'll turn the hose on him. He ought to have a salt water bath, anyway. For a long time he's been tryin' to give us one!"

"Let him alone," Ned ordered.

This second upheaval of the water had swung the Shark around so that the door to the water chamber was in view from the Sea Lion. The boys saw that it was open, probably left in that way for the return of the man who had gone down in the water suit.

The light, shining from the main cabin, filtered through the chamber, which was, of course, under water, only a few inches of the conning tower of the submarine now being above the surface.

"Can they shut that door from the cabin?" Frank asked.

"I presume so," Ned replied. "They ought to be able to shut the door and empty the room as well."

"That can't be done on the Sea Lion," Frank said.

"No, but that is a detail that was overlooked in the construction of the boat. I was just learning to run the craft, and did not observe the deficiency."

"Well," Frank went on, "they are closing the door, but they are not doing a good job at it. Say," he added, grasping Ned's arm, "I'll bet the machinery connecting with the door from the cabin is broken!"

"Then the man who is down below will have to come up and do the opening after he gets up, and after he shuts the outer door and exhausts the water."

"I don't believe the outer door can be closed."

"What I'm interested in just now," Ned said, "is whether the diver is still alive. If he was anywhere near where the torpedoes exploded he is dead."

"And the Shark can't close her water chamber! I see a chance, Ned," Frank exclaimed. "Suppose I drop out and enter that water chamber?"

"What for?" asked Ned.

"Why, they would think I was the other fellow and let me in."

"With your line and hose unconnected with the mechanism inside?" asked Ned.

"Never thought of that."

"The only way for us to get into that boat," Ned went on, "is to get in from the top."

"But how?"

"That's just what I'm trying to study out."

"I presume the man who went down is there for good," Frank suggested.

"He probably went down to see why the torpedoes didn't go off and got caught," Ned replied.

"Perhaps the Shark will go down to see about it directly," the other ventured.

"I hardly think she could lift again with that water chamber door open and the chamber full of water," Ned went on. "It is my opinion that they will remain on top."

"I should think she'd be afraid of the traps she set for us, anyway. I wish she would get caught in one of them."

"Not while she has that mysterious packet on board," smiled Ned. "We have traveled a long way to get that."

No more submarine explosions came, and the boys sat on the dark conning tower until nearly midnight, watching the people on the Shark flying about, evidently laboring under great excitement.

The diver had not returned. The machinery was evidently out of order and the Shark might as well have tied to the bottom for all the speed she could make.

"I'm afraid some ship friendly to these pirates will come along," Ned said, after a long silence. "I think I'd better go aboard the Shark and find out what she intends doing."

"I see you doing it!"

"I can only try."

"And try only once," Frank muttered.

"I think they are ready for a compromise by this time."

"Well, then, I'll go with you," Frank decided.

"Get up the boat, then."

Jack and Jimmie were not inclined to favor the scheme, but they assisted in launching the boat and stood with half-frightened faces while Ned and Frank stepped into her.

Just as they were pushing off, Hans made his appearance on the little platform, his china-blue eyes filled with excitement.

"Mine friendts," he said, "vot iss if I goes py the poat?"

"No more room," said Frank.

"Now, you hold on," Jimmie called out. "You know what sort of a left hand punch this baby has? Well, then, you may need him when you get over to the Shark. See?"

"That might be," Frank muttered, looking inquiringly at Ned.

"Then let him come along," the latter said, so Hans entered the boat and took up the oars. "Rows like a steam engine!" Jimmie observed as the boat sped away. "That Dutchman is stronger than a mule."

It was still and lonely on the Sea Lion after the departure of the boys. The lights of the Shark were in sight, but they did not bring cheerful thoughts. The boys sat on the railing of the conning tower and waited in no little anxiety.

Occasionally the pounding of the prisoners reached their ears, but they paid little attention to it.

"They are suffering the tortures of the lost," Jack said. "Every minute they think they're going to the bottom. Let them take their medicine!"

"I wish they were going to the bottom," Jimmie responded. "When we see snakes like they are we ought never to let them get away from us. If we don't get bitten, some one else will."

Jack rested his chin on his palms and regarded the boy quizzically for a moment.

"How do you like it, as far as you've got?" he asked, then.

Jimmie looked down into the interior of the submarine, out over the sea, sparkling in the moonlight, then up to the heavens, bright with stars. Presently he answered:

"I don't like it."

"Why not?" "We ain't havin' any fun. We've been down in that old hold for a long time, and haven't got anywhere. I'd rather take a trip through South America, or through China. I want the ground under my feet part of the time, anyway."

"It seems to me that it is getting stale and unprofitable," Jack admitted. "Suppose we get up power and drift up closer to the Shark. Then we can at least see what's going on."

"All right, 'bo!" cried Jimmie, starting down the stairs.

"Well," called Jack, "don't be in such a hurry! We want to make sure that Ned has attracted the attention of the Shark people before we move. If they see us moving up on them before Ned gets a chance to talk with them, they may do something rash to the boys."

"Guess you are right," Jimmie admitted.

"So far as I can see," Jack continued, "they are over there now. Do you hear that voice?"

"Ned's, all right."

The boys listened, but the voice came no more.

"They've pulled him into the boat!" cried Jimmie. "Hurry up and get started!"

When Jack went below to handle the motive power machinery he heard Captain Moore thumping on the door of his prison.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"Come to the door."

Jack did as requested, but did not open the door.

"Now, what is it?" he asked.

"Is that Nestor?"

"It's Jack," was the reply.

"Well, ask Nestor if he'll let both of us go if well give up the whole scheme. Will you?"

"And the papers?"

"I'll help him get the papers."

"I'll tell him," said Jack.

"Send for him at once," urged the Captain. "If we remain here much longer, we'll be blown out of water. You heard those explosions?"

"They harmed no one but the sea creatures," Jack replied. "They were bad for them."

"Where is Nestor?" was then asked.

"Visiting on the Shark," was the reply.

"If they've got him, he'll never come back," gritted the Captain.

"But they haven't," said the boy. "We're going to run the Sea Lion over to the Shark now and help them entertain him."

"You're a fool!" roared Moore. "Don't you tell them that we are on board--my son and myself."

"Don't they know it?"

"How should they know it? Don't you tell them. If you do they will raid your ship and get us."

"So you've been playing some dirty trick on them, have you?" asked Jack. "Well, what about your meeting them at Hongkong?"

"That was a lie."

"You are out with them?"

"They are out with me. They claim I am keeping them out of a lot of money. Don't tell them I am here."

"In all your life"--asked Jack--"in all your life, did you ever do business with any man, woman, or child you didn't cheat and betray? You ought to be hanged."

"If Nestor comes back, you send him here and I'll tell him the whole story if he'll let us go. And I'll tell him how to get the papers he is after. Will you see that he comes--if he gets back?"

"I think it would do you more good," laughed Jack, "to have a talk with the people on the Shark."

Ignoring the prisoner's further demands, Jack turned on the power and directed the Sea Lion toward the Shark. In a moment Jimmie called down through the hatchway:

"Slow up, now, unless you want to bunt the other boat."

Jack, accordingly, shut off the power and went up to the platform. The boat was still drifting ahead a trifle, and the boy went below again and dropped an anchor.

If the advance of the submarine had attracted the attention of those on the Shark's conning tower they gave no evidence of the fact. The boat Ned had taken lay swinging on the easy sea close to the tower, with Frank and Hans sitting near the stern.

Directly voices came from the other submarine. The first speaker was Ned, then a heavier voice exclaimed, angrily:

"You have no right to suppose anything of the kind. We are here on legitimate business, and must not be interfered with."

"What did you take from the wreck?" asked Ned.

"What is it to you?" came the stronger voice. "You can't make any bluff work with me."

"Then I may as well go back to my ship," Ned said.

"Go back to your ship!" snapped the other. "Not if I know myself. You have come aboard without leave or license, and you'll stay until we get good and ready to let you go."

The boys saw Hans and Frank spring for the platform, and then a shout of triumph came from half a dozen throats. Ned surely was in trouble.