Chapter IX. "Jimmie's Foolish--Like a Fox"
 

Left alone in the Sea Lion, Jimmie spent most of his time watching from a darkened window. He could distinguish little in the faint sifting of moonlight which dropped down from the sparkling surface of the sea, but there was companionship even in that.

He had been instructed by Ned to keep the interior dark, and so he watched the ocean floor for the lights which his chums might be obliged to turn on. As the reader knows, however, the exploring party showed no lights at all until the interior of the wreck had been gained.

Listening and waiting, half inclined to admit that he was just a little bit lonesome, the boy stood at his post for about a quarter of an hour. Then he saw an opaque object moving toward the submarine.

It was not a shark or other monster of the sea, for it walked upright and seemed to move up and down as it came to the little undulations in the ocean floor. When it came nearer Jimmie moved toward the door of the water chamber.

"That must be Ned," he thought, "comin' back alone. Now, I wonder if anythin' has happened to Frank an' Jack?"

For a moment the heart of the lad throbbed wildly, then he calmed himself with the thought that in case of accident he would have been notified by the lifting lines. The air machine was working perfectly, too, and this indicated that all was well below.

Finally the moving object came to a position about ten yards distant from the submarine and stopped. He was now about fifty feet below the window out of which Jimmie looked, for the Sea Lion, as has been said, lay well up from the bottom, not exactly over the wreck but not far from it.

In a moment the boy saw the glimmer of a lamp down where the man was, and saw that it was moving about on the bottom. Lights, of course, do not show in water as they do in air, and so it was only a faint illumination that Jimmie observed.

Still, he could see that whoever was carrying the light was fumbling about on the bottom. He watched intently for a moment and then saw the man coming toward him, swimming straight up.

"I guess it's one of the boys," Jimmie mused. "He must have lost his line, and when I saw him fumbling he must have been removing the weights designed to hold him down in spite of the air in the helmet."

This appeared to be a good explanation, and the boy stood with his face pressed against the glass panel of the water chamber door, waiting for whoever it was to enter, close the apartment, and push the lever that controlled the exhaust which emptied the chamber.

At last the swimmer clambered into the chamber, and the waiting boy was about to switch on a light when a suspicious action on the part of the other caused him to hesitate. He could observe the actions of the man in the water on the other side of the glass panel quite clearly now, and was alarmed at what he saw him doing.

Instead of drawing his air-hose in with him and coiling it carefully so as to clear the doorway and still leave free passage for the air which was being pumped into it, he laid the hose carefully in a slide- covered groove in the edge of the door. The hose did not seem to be quite large enough to fill the groove, and the fellow took something soft and pliable from a pocket and wrapped around it.

Then he closed the door and pushed the lever which released the power that forced the water out of the chamber. Only one inference was to be drawn from the scene which Jimmie had witnessed.

The man in the water chamber was a stranger. This was merely an attempt to get possession of the Sea Lion.

The fellow was breathing air pumped into his hose by some other boat than the Sea Lion. He had cast off his weights in order to gain the chamber, which neither one of the boys would have found necessary, as they would have been carried up by the machinery which worked the lifting and descending lines.

Another thing the boy realized, as he waited with anxiety for the next move. The man, whoever he was, was thoroughly familiar with the plan of the Sea Lion.

The grooves in the edge of the door had been planned so as to give entrance to visitors who were not receiving their air from the Sea Lion. No one was believed to know anything about this arrangement--no one save the builders and the Secret Service men.

While Jimmie watched, the intruder moved the lever and the water in the chamber began to lower. When the water was forced out fresh air was automatically forced in.

Before long the intruder disconnected his hose with his helmet and threw the end over a hook provided for that purpose. When the water was all out he knocked heavily on the door leading to the room where Jimmie stood.

"There'll be doings here directly," the boy thought.

Again and again the visitor beat upon the door, but Jimmie gave no sign. He could not well observe the man now, for, with the water out of the chamber, the light carried by the man inside shone brightly against the glass panel, and the boy would have been observed had he stood close to it.

Jimmie grew more anxious as the seconds passed. He was trying to put away the thought that the intruder had cut the air-hose attached to the helmets of his friends.

For all he knew all three boys might be lying drowned, on the floor of the ocean. The thought was unbearable, and he resolved to banish it in action.

His first impulse was to disconnect the exhaust and fill the chamber with water. The man in there had disconnected his air-hose and would soon drown.

But the brutality of such a course soon presented itself, and Jimmie cast about for some other method of meeting the dangerous situation. He could hear the visitor fumbling at the door, and wondered if he knew the secret of opening it.

After a time it seemed to the listening boy that the fellow was feeling in the right locality for the hidden spring which would open the door from the other side, and sprang for the bar which secured it against such entrance. Then he dropped the bar and stood wiping the sweat from his forehead.

"If I bar the door," he mused, "that robber will cut the air-hose protecting the boys outside, if he has not already done so. I've just got to let him in here an' take chances."

He hastened to the back of the room and brought a long coil of rope. Making a running noose in one end, he released several loops from the big coil and held them loosely in his hand.

"I wonder if I can assist him into our princely apartments?" thought the boy, whimsically. "If I can get this rope around his body and over his arms, I'll be the boss of the precinct! I expect he'll tumble around a good deal, but I guess I can quell him!"

The boy waited in the darkness until a faint click told him that the intruder had discovered the spring. This was followed by a slam as the sliding door fell back.

Then all was still. Jimmie, hidden in the shadows, prepared to throw his lasso as soon as the visitor left the doorway.

"Hello!"

The voice carried a hoarse challenge.

"Any one here?"

The man was still in the doorway, and was swinging his light about so as to give him a better view of the room.

"If he would only drop his arms!" Jimmie mused. "I'd like to hit him with a ballclub!"

Directly the fellow did drop his arms, and at the same moment stepped out of the shelter of the doorway. This was what Jimmie had been waiting for, and he lost no time in acting.

The rope cut the air and descended over the intruder's head and arms. The lad's hours of practice while playing cowboy now proved to be of great worth.

Jimmie gave a quick jerk as the rope landed and he ran to the back of the room. He heard the other fall, and knew by the weight that he was dragging him.

When he gained the wall he switched on the light and reached to a shelf for a weapon. When he faced his captive he held an automatic revolver in his hand.

By this time a torrent of expletives was coming through the helmet opening where the air-hose had entered. The prisoner rolled about on the floor, trying to get to his feet.

"Whoo-pee!" shouted the boy. "Look what one can catch out of the ocean!"

A roar of rage was the only answer.

"Take off that helmet!" commanded the boy.

A muffled challenge came from the interior.

"All right," said the boy, "then I'll take it off for you. But I'll have this gun handy, and if you try any foolishness you won't hold water when I get done shootin'."

Before long the helmet was off, and Jimmie was looking into as evil a face as he had ever seen. It was the face of a stranger, and yet there seemed something familiar about it.

"What sort of a game is this?" demanded the captive. "If you know what's good for you, you'll quit this cowboy business."

"Who are you?" asked Jimmie.

A snarl was the only reply. The enraged man was tugging fiercely at the rope.

"Quit it!" warned Jimmie. "I'll have to put you to sleep if you try that."

"You don't dare!"

"Don't four-flush!" the boy advised.

"Release me!"

Jimmie sat down and leveled the weapon at the struggling man.

"I guess I'd better shoot," he said, calmly. "I suppose you've cut the boys' air-hose, and I'll have to get back to New York the best way I can--alone. So, you see, I can't be bothered with you."

The captive ceased his struggles and managed to rise to a sitting position. His eyes were not so threatening as before.

"No," he declared, "I didn't cut the hose."

"Why? You're equal to such a trick."

"I was told not to."

Jimmie hesitated a moment. He wished devoutly that he could believe what the fellow said.

"Who told you not to?" he then asked.

The captive shook his head.

"I don't know his name," he said.

"And you are sailing with him?"

"All I know is that he is called the Captain."

"I see," said the boy. "Now, how comes it that you know so much of the plans of the Sea Lion?"

"What makes you think I do?"

"You found the groove in the door, and also the spring that opens the door to the water chamber."

"Oh, that!"

"Well?" the boy flourished his weapon, though nothing could have induced him to fire on the unarmed man.

"I was told what to do when I got here," was the reply.

"Did you see my chums on the way here?" The captive nodded.

"Where?"

"At the wreck."

"Where is your boat?" was the next question.

"On the other side of the wreck."

"And you are after the gold?"

"Of course."

"And important papers?"

"I know nothing about that."

"What is the name of your boat?"

"The Shark."

"Appropriate name that!" laughed Jimmie. "Used to be the Diver, didn't she?"

"I don't know."

"What did you come here for?"

"To get the boat."

"And remove it?"

"Of course."

"That would have meant death to the boys who are out in the water at this time?"

"I suppose so. Say, there's something wrong with your air machine. I know something about such contrivances, and this one acts as if a hose out in the sea had been cut!"