Chapter II. A Conflict of Authority
 

The Captain gazed at Jimmie for a moment without answering. Then he parted his thin lips and uttered the old, familiar word:

"Fawncy!"

"The Cutaria went down as the result of a collision?" Ned hastened to ask, observing that Jimmie was growing flushed and angry.

"Yes," was the reply, "and it is asserted in the diplomatic circles of foreign governments that she was rammed by the orders of a power alleged to be friendly to our Government, and that our department of state does not dare remonstrate and ask for reparation for the reason that an investigation would reveal the fact that the $10,000,000 in gold which was lost was not really, as alleged, on its way from the sub-treasury in New York to the treasurer of the Chinese Empire."

"But why should Uncle Sam be sending money over there?" asked Ned.

"It is asserted that the money was sent at the command of men high in influence in Washington who understood that it was to be seized while in transit, after reaching Chinese soil, and used to assist the radical fomentation now going on in China."

"An indirect way, a sly and underhand way, of assisting the revolutionary party in China to get control of the government, eh?" asked Ned.

"Aw, that is what is claimed," was the reply.

"And you are to have charge of the expedition?" asked Ned, quietly, his eyes fixed keenly on the face of the visitor.

"Orders," was the slow reply.

"And the Diver has been chosen as the boat?"

"At my request, yes."

"But," Ned then said, by way of protest, "I have made all my trial trips in the Sea Lion."

"You will soon learn to help handle the Diver," was the lofty reply.

"The Diver is no more like the Sea Lion than she is like the Ark," was Ned's reply. "It will take me another fortnight to learn to run her, I'm afraid."

"You can take lessons from my son on the way over," was the unsatisfactory reply.

"Why, the submarine is not going to sail across the Pacific," said the boy. "As I understand it, we are to take passage in a mail steamer at San Francisco and find the submarine in some harbor of the island of Hainan, after she arrives on the other side in a man-of-war which will be detailed to carry her over."

"I have changed all that," said the Captain.

Ned said no more on that phase of the matter at that time, but the boys knew that he had not given up his original intention of making the explorations in the Sea Lion, the submarine which the Secret Service chief at New York had placed at his disposal soon after his return from South America.

"You will be permitted to take one of your--ah, Boy Scouts with you," the Captain went on. "Baby bunch, the Boy Scouts, what?" he added, lifting his glass and surveying the boys grouped about in a manner which brought the hot blood to their cheeks.

"I'm afraid you have never investigated the Boy--"

Ned's conciliatory remark was cut short by Jimmie.

"Will the Boy Scout who goes with him be allowed to breathe?" the boy asked.

Captain Moore eyed the lad critically through his glass.

"You needn't concern yourself about that, bub," he said, after an exasperating silence, "for you won't be the one to go, don't you know--not the Boy Scout to go."

Jimmie was about to make some angry reply, but Frank seized him by the arm and marched him to a distant part of the large room.

"You'll queer the whole thing!" Frank said.

Jimmie shook himself free of the detaining hand and faced the Captain with flashing eyes.

"I don't care if I do!" he said. "That thing is not going to make ugly remarks about the Boy Scouts without bein' called for it. He's an old false alarm, anyway. I'll bet he never heard a real gun go off!"

Captain Moore heard the insulting words and arose.

"If you'll, aw, come to my office tomorrow morning," he said, to Ned, "we'll discuss the, aw, mattah. I cawn't remain here and quarrel with boys who ought to be, aw, spanked and put, aw, to bed as soon as the sun goes down."

Ned did not rise from his chair to escort the Captain to the door. His face was pale and there was a dangerous light in his eyes.

"It won't be necessary for me to visit you in the morning," he said.

The Captain fixed his glass.

"Fawncy!" he exclaimed.

"Anything you like!" Ned said.

"Fawncy!" repeated the Captain.

"As you please," Ned smiled. "Fawncy anything you like--anything agreeable, you know."

"And why won't you come to my office in the morning?" asked the Captain, with a tightening of his thin lips.

"I have decided to withdraw from the enterprise," was the quiet reply. "I'm out of it."

The boys gathered about Ned with cheers and words of encouragement.

"Go it, old boy!" cried one.

"Don't let him bluff you!" cried another.

"Dad will buy you a submarine!" Frank Shaw put in.

The Captain stood in the middle of the group, gazing in perplexity from face to face.

"My word!" he said, presently.

"What about it?" asked Jimmie, edging closer.

"Not going?" continued the Captain; "why?"

"I've changed my mind," was the unsatisfactory reply.

"But the submarine is waiting," urged the Captain.

"I shall never go to the bottom in the Diver," Ned replied.

"My word!"

The Captain loitered, as if anxious to reopen the whole matter, but Ned turned his back and seemed inclined to consider the case closed.

"And so we're not going?" asked Frank.

"Rotten shame!" declared Jack.

"So fades me happy, happy dream!" chanted Jimmie.

The Captain stuck his glass in his eye and moved toward the door, an expression of satisfaction on his stern face.

No one opened the door for him, and when he opened it for himself, he found a slender, middle-aged man with a pleasant face and brilliant eyes confronting him. His supercilious manner vanished instantly, and the military cap he had already donned came off with a jerk.

"Admiral!" he exclaimed.

The boys gathered about the doorway, all excitement. A real, live admiral in the Boy Scout clubroom! That was almost too much to expect.

The admiral saluted and stepped inside the room.

"Pardon me," he said, addressing Ned rather than the Captain, "but I must confess that I have been doing a discourteous thing. I have been listening at your door."

"I sincerely hope you heard all that was said," the Captain ventured. "I have been shamefully insulted here."

"Did you hear all that was said?" asked Nestor.

The Admiral bowed.

"I think so," he said.

"I'm glad of that," Frank said, "for this Captain does not tell the truth."

Captain Moore frowned in the direction of the speaker but said not a word.

"When I reached the door," the Admiral said, "I heard Captain Moore saying that the trip was to be made in the Diver, and that he was to have charge."

"That is the way I understand it," Captain Moore hastened to say. "And," continued the Admiral, "he said, further, that only one Boy Scout would be permitted to accompany Mr. Nestor."

"That will be quite enough, judging from the samples we see here," the Captain observed, with a vicious glance toward Jimmie, whose face was now set in a broad grin.

"Those are the statements made by Captain Moore," Ned said. "I refused to accept them."

"Quite right!" said the Admiral.

Captain Moore stuck his glass in his eye again and, saluting, turned toward the door.

"Wait!" commanded the Admiral.

The angry Captain turned back, a scowl on his face.

"Mr. Nestor," the Admiral continued, "goes in charge of the expedition, and in the Sea Lion, the submarine he has been experimenting with. He will be permitted to take three of his companions with him. Any officer who goes in the Sea Lion will necessarily remain under Mr. Nestor's orders."

"Then I ask for a transfer," scowled the Captain.

"Granted," answered the Admiral. "You may go now."

Captain Moore lost no time getting out of the door, and then the Admiral seated himself and motioned Ned to do likewise. The boys gathered about, but Ned asked them to proceed with their sports, and only the ex-newsboy remained at the table.

"I'm sorry to say," the Admiral began, "that there are hints of the most despicable disloyalty and treachery in this matter. I don't like to cast suspicions on Captain Moore, who really is an expert submarine officer, but it appears to me that he went beyond his authority in changing the plans for the cruise."

"He had no authority for changing from the Sea Lion to the Diver?" asked Ned.

"Not the slightest."

"Or for changing from a steamer ride to China to a long journey on the submarine?"

"Not at all."

"But he was sent here by the Secret Service department to instruct me," Ned said.

"Exactly, and that is all he was expected to do in the case. I don't understand his conduct."

Jimmie, who had been looking over an afternoon newspaper which lay on the table, now broke into the conversation.

"Just look here," he said. "This tells why Captain Moore butted into the game wrong. Just read that."

The Admiral took the newspaper into his hand and read, aloud:

"The Diver, the famous submarine boat invented by Arthur Moore, the talented son of Captain Henry Moore, of the United States navy, is soon to be put in commission for a most extraordinary voyage. Under the command of Captain Moore, who will be accompanied by the inventor, his son, the Diver will make the trip from San Francisco to China, almost entirely under water. It is understood that the submarine goes on secret service for the Government."

"There you are!" cried Jimmie.

"I rather think that does explain a lot," laughed Ned.

"The Diver," said the Admiral, thoughtfully, "has not yet been accepted by the Government, and I see trouble ahead for the Sea Lion."