Chapter III. "The Dandy Submarine"
 

The Sea Lion was a United States submarine, yet she was not constructed along the usual naval lines. It was said of her that she looked more like a pleasure yacht built for under-surface work than anything else.

It is not the purpose of the writer to enter into a minute description of the craft. She was provided with a gasoline engine and an electric motor. She was not very roomy, but her appointments were very handsome and costly.

There were machines for manufacturing pure air, as is common with all submarines of her class, and the apparatus for the production of electricity was modern and efficient. Every compartment could be closed against every other chamber in case of damage to the shell.

The pumps designed to expel the water taken into the hold for the purpose of bringing the craft to the bottom were powerful, so that she seemed to sink and rise as easily as does a bird on the wing. At top speed she would make about twenty miles an hour.

On a trial trip taken by Ned on the day before the visit of Captain Moore to the Black Bear clubroom, the double doors and closet which enabled one to leave or enter the boat while under water had been thoroughly tested and found to work perfectly.

The diving suits--which had been manufactured to fit Ned and Frank, Jack and Jimmie--were also found to be in perfect condition.

On the whole, the Sea Lion and her appurtenances were in as perfect condition as science and experience could make them on the day the four boys, accompanied by a naval officer, left the train at Oakland and proceeded to the navy yard up the bay.

By the middle of the afternoon the boys were on board, receiving their final instructions from Lieutenant Scott, who had arranged for the transportation of the Sea Lion from New York and attended to all other details connected with the trip.

After a long talk regarding the perils to be encountered, Lieutenant Scott drew forth a map of peculiar appearance and laid it on the table in the chamber which was to serve as a general living room.

"I have retained possession of this map until the last moment," the officer said, "because it is most important that no eyes but those of the occupants of the Sea Lion should rest upon it. It shows where the lost vessel went down, shows the drift there, the depths, and various other details of great moment.

"The Cutaria, as you doubtless know, went down off the Taya Islands, a small group to the east of the large island of Hainan, which, in turn, is off the coast of China, being separated, if that is a good word to use in this connection, from the eastern coast by the Gulf of Tong King.

"Immediately following the sinking of the ship divers were sent down. They found the lost ship resting easily in about sixty feet of water. A few days later, however, when other divers went down, the wreck was not at the place described by the first operators.

"There are drift currents there, but it is remarkable that so heavy a wreck should have been shifted so suddenly. There are no indications that the vessel has been buried in the sands of the bottom. Your duty is to search the ocean floor then and locate the wreck. Having done this you are to secure the treasure, if possible. In case you cannot do this, you are to steam to Hongkong and report what assistance you require.

"And remember this: You are not to destroy or mislay any documents you may find in the gold room. You are not to reveal the purpose of your mission at any port you may touch on the way out, or at any port you may visit for the purpose of reporting progress.

"If at any time you have reason to believe that another submarine is working or loitering about in the vicinity of the wreck, you are to report the fact without delay and a man-of-war will be sent to you."

"And that means--"

Ned did not complete the sentence, for the officer hastened to explain the meaning of the warning.

"The Diver," he said, "is somewhere on this coast."

Ned gave a quick start of surprise.

"I knew it!" shouted Jimmie. "I just knew we were in for somethin' of the kind! There'll be doin's."

"I reckon we can take care of the Diver," said Frank, "and Mr. Arthur Moore, son of Captain Henry Moore, with it."

"Don't underestimate the Diver," warned Lieutenant Scott. "She is a peach of a submarine, and Mr. Arthur Moore knows how to operate her. She is almost the latest thing in submarines."

"Why didn't the Government buy her, then?" demanded Jack.

"Principally because she was withdrawn from the market," was the reply.

"I begin to understand," Ned said.

"Then that son of Captain Moore is after the gold?" asked Jack.

"That is what we suspect."

"Well," Frank said, then, "it wouldn't be any fun to go after the old wreck if all was clear sailing."

"Right you are!" cried Jimmie.

"But how did they get the Diver here so quickly?" asked Ned.

"The same way I got the Sea Lion here," was the Lieutenant's reply. "They engaged a special train, took the boat to pieces as far as practicable and sent her over."

"But she is something of a whale as compared with the little Sea Lion," urged Ned. "It was easy enough to get our boat across the continent."

"Not quite so easy as you think," laughed the officer. "Still," he added, "here she is, all ready for the trip. There are plenty of provisions, and everything is in fine working order. You, Mr. Nestor, took a hand in taking the submarine to pieces, and you ought to know all about her."

"I think I do," was the reply, "still, I should have liked the chance of putting her together again."

"It is all right as it is," was the reply. "You doubtless had a good time in New York while the work was being done here. When I left for the big city to ride over with you she was nearly ready, and now, on our arrival, she is, as you see, right and fit."

"But I thought we were to cross the Pacific in a steamer and pick up the Sea Lion over there," Ned observed.

"Right you are," the Lieutenant answered, "but the Sea Lion is to be taken over by the big steamer, too."

"Then they've got to take her to pieces again," wailed Jimmie, "and it will be weeks before we get started."

"You are wrong there," the officer replied. "The Sea Lion will be picked up by something like a floating dock and towed over. How does that strike you?"

"Out of water?" asked Frank.

"Of course. Novel way of carrying a submarine, eh?"

"I should say so."

"Over there," the Lieutenant went on, "there would be no facilities for assembling the parts. That is why the work was done here."

"Of course," laughed Frank.

"And this floating dry dock," continued the officer, "will be roofed over and its contents kept secret. A short distance from the Taya Islands, she will be shucked of her shell and take to the water. No one will know what her mission is."

"It seems to me that everything is pretty cleverly planned," Ned remarked. "I hope all my plans will come together as nicely as the plans of the Government have."

"That will be a big tow for a steamer," Jimmie suggested.

"Yes, it is awkward, but there seemed to be no other way. The Diver will be far in the rear and you take water off the Taya Islands."

"And on the way over," Ned said, "I can live in the Sea Lion and continue my studies of the machinery."

"That is the idea," said the Lieutenant.

"When are we to be picked up?" asked Jack.

The Lieutenant lifted a hand for silence.

From outside, seemingly from underneath the keel of the Sea Lion, came a grating sound, which was followed by a slight, though steady, lifting of the vessel.

"Gee!" cried Jimmie, springing to his feet. "I guess we're up against an earthquake!"

The boys were all moving about now, but Lieutenant Scott remained in his chair, a smile on his face.

The Sea Lion rose steadily, and there was a slight tip to port. Ned sat down with a shamed look on his face.

"I should have known," he said.

"Say," Jack exclaimed, "was the submarine put together on the float that is going to carry her across?"

"Of course she was," laughed the Lieutenant. "The pieces brought on from New York were assembled on the float. Some of the larger pieces, the ones most difficult to handle, were made here from patterns sent on from the east. Then, when all was ready, the float was dropped out of sight so the submarine would lie on the surface, as we found her."

"And now they're lifting the float?" asked Jimmie.

"Exactly," was the reply. "Suppose you go outside, on the conning tower, and look about."

"You bet," cried Jack, and then there was a rush for the stairway, or half-ladder, rather, leading to the tower.

The Sea Lion was still lifting, though where the power came from no one could determine. While Ned studied over the problem Lieutenant Scott laid a hand on his shoulder.

"You want to know what makes the wheels go round?" laughed the officer. "Well, I'll tell you. The bottom of the float forms a tank. Now do you see?"

"And there's a large hose laid from the tank to the shore, and the water is being pumped out! I see."

"That's it," replied the Lieutenant. "Now that we are getting up high and dry, you boys can step down on the floor of the float and look about. I don't think there was ever a contrivance exactly like this. Go and look it over."

Night was falling, and a chill October wind was blowing in from the Pacific. There were banks of clouds, too, and all signs portended rain. It would be a dismal night.

Leaving Lieutenant Scott in the conning tower, the boys all clambered down to the floor of the float to examine the blockings which kept the submarine on a level keel. They were gone only a short time, but when they climbed up the rope ladder to the conning tower again the light was dim, and a slow, cold rain was falling. The Lieutenant was not on the conning tower, and Ned at once descended to the general living room of the submarine. Before he reached the middle of the stairs the lights, which had been burning brightly a moment before, suddenly went out, and the interior of the submarine yawned under his feet like a deep, impenetrable pit.

Fearful that something was amiss, Ned dropped down and reached for his electric searchlight, which he had left on a shelf not far from the stairs. Something passed him in the darkness and he called out to the Lieutenant, but there was no answer. Then, out of the darkness above, came a mingled chorus of anger and alarm.