Chapter I. Untold Millions
 

"Tom, this is certainly wonderful reading! Over a hundred million dollars' worth of silver at the bottom of the ocean! More than two hundred million dollars in gold! To say nothing of fifty millions in copper, ten millions in--"

"Say, hold on there, Ned! Hold on! Where do you get that stuff; as the boys say? Has something gone wrong with one of the adding machines, or is it just on account of the heat? What's the big idea, anyhow? How many millions did you say?" and Tom Swift, the talented young inventor, looked at Ned Newton, his financial manager, with a quizzical smile.

"It's all right, Tom! It's all right!" declared Ned, and it needed but a glance to show that he was more serious than was his companion. "I'm not suffering from the heat, though the thermometer is getting close to ninety-five in the shade. And if you want to know where I get 'that stuff' read this!"

He tossed over to his chum, employer, and friend--for Tom Swift assumed all three relations toward Ned Newton--part of a Sunday newspaper. It was turned to a page containing a big illustration of a diver attired in the usual rubber suit and big helmet, moving about on the floor of the ocean and digging out boxes of what was supposed to be gold from a sunken wreck.

"Oh, that stuff!" exclaimed Tom, with a smile of disbelief as he saw the source of Ned's information. "Seems to me I've read something like that before, Ned!"

"Of course you have!" agreed the young financial manager of the newly organized Swift Construction Company. "It isn't anything new. This wealth of untold millions has been at the bottom of the sea for many years--always increasing with nobody ever spending a cent of it. And since the Great War this wealth has been enormously added to because of the sinking of so many ships by German submarines."

"Well, what's that got to do with us, Ned?" asked Tom, as he looked over some blue prints and other papers on his desk, for the talk was taking place in his office. "You and I did our part in the war, but I don't see what all this undersea wealth has to do with us. We've got our work cut out for us if we take care of all the new contracts that came in this week."

"Yes, I know," admitted Ned. "But I couldn't help calling your attention to this article, Tom. It's authentic!"

"Authentic? What do you mean

"Well, the man who wrote it went to the trouble of getting from the ship insurance companies a list of all the wrecks and lost vessels carrying gold and silver coin, bullion, and other valuables. He has gone back a hundred years, and he brings it right down to just before the war. Hasn't had time to compile that list, the article says. But without counting the vessels the Germans sank, there is, in various places on the bottom of the ocean today, wrecks of ships that carried, when they went down, gold, silver, copper and other metals to the value of at least ten billions of dollars!"

Tom Swift did not seem to be at all surprised by the explosive emphasis with which Ned Newton conveyed this information. He gazed calmly at his friend and manager, and then handed the paper back.

"I haven't time to look at it now," said Tom. "But is there anything new in the story? I mean has any of the wealth been recovered lately--or is it in a way to be?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Ned. "It is! A company has been formed in Japan for the purpose of using a new kind of diving bell, invented by an American, it seems. The inventor claims that in his machine he can go down deeper than ever man went before, and bring up a lot of this lost ocean wealth."

"Well, every so often an inventor, or some one who calls himself that, crops up with a new proposal for cleaning up the untold millions on the floor of the Atlantic or the Pacific," replied Tom. "Mind you, I'm not saying it isn't there. Everybody knows that hundreds of ships carrying gold and silver have gone down in storms or been sunk in war. And some of the gold and silver has been recovered by divers--I admit that. In fact, if you recall, my father and I perfected a new style diving dress a few years ago that was successfully used in getting down to a wreck off the Cuban coast. A treasure ship went down there, and I believe they recovered a large part of the gold bullion--or perhaps it was silver.

"But this diving bell stunt isn't new, and it hasn't been successful. Of course a man can go down to a greater depth in a thick iron diving bell than he can in a diving suit. That's common knowledge. But the trouble with a diving bell is that it can't be moved about as a man can move about in a diving suit. The man in the bell can't get inside the wreck, and it's there where the gold or silver is usually to be found."

"Can't they blow the wreck apart with dynamite, and scatter the gold on the bottom of the ocean?" asked Ned.

"Yes, they could do that, but usually they scatter it so far, and the ocean currents so cover it with sand, that it is impossible ever to get it again. I admit that if a wreck is blown apart a man in a diving bell can perhaps get a small part of it. But the limitations of a diving bell are so well recognized that several inventors have tried adjusting movable arms to the bell, to be operated by the man inside."

"Did they work?" asked Ned.

"After a fashion, yes. But I never heard of any case where the gold and silver recovered paid for the expenses of making the bell and sending men down in it. For it takes the same sort of outfit to aid the man in the diving bell as it does the diver in his usual rubber or steel suit. Air has to be pumped to him, and he has to be lowered and raised."

"Well, isn't there any way of getting at this gold on the floor of the ocean?" asked Ned, his enthusiasm a little cooled by the practical "cold water" Tom had thrown.

"Oh, yes, of course there is, in a way," was the answer of the young inventor. "Don't you remember how my father and I, with Mr. Damon and Captain Weston, went in our submarine, the Advance, and discovered the wreck of the Boldero?"

"I do recall that," admitted Ned.

"Well," resumed Tom, "there was a case of showing how much trouble we had. An ordinary diving outfit never would have answered. We had to locate the wreck, and a hard time we had doing it. Then, when we found it, we had to ram the old ship and blow it apart before we could get inside. Even after that we just happened to discover the gold, as it were. I'm only mentioning this to show you it isn't so easy to get at the wealth under the sea as writers in Sunday newspaper supplements think it is."

"I believe you, Tom. And yet it seems a shame to have all those millions going to waste, doesn't it?" And Ned spoke as a banker and financial man, who is not happy unless money is earning interest all the while.

"Well, a billion of dollars is a lot," Tom admitted. "And when you think of all that have been sunk, say even in the last hundred years, it amazes one. But still, all the gold and silver was hidden in the earth before it was dug out, and now it's only gone back where it came from, in a way. We got along before men dug it out and coined it into money, and I guess we'll get along when it's under water. No use worrying over the ocean treasures, as far as I'm concerned."

"You're a hopeless proposition!" laughed Ned. "You'd never make a banker, or a Napoleon of finance."

"That's why my father and I got you to look after our financial affairs," and Tom smiled. "You're just the one--with your interest-bearing mind--to keep us off the shoals of business trouble."

"Yes, I suppose I can do that, while you and your father go on inventing giant cannons, great searchlights, submarines, and airships," conceded Ned. "But this, to me, did look like an easy way of making money."

"How's that, Ned?" asked Tom, a new note coming into his voice. "Were you thinking of going to Japan and taking a hand in the undersea search?"

"No. But stock in this company is being sold, and shareholders stand to win big returns--if the wrecks are come upon."

"That's just it!" exclaimed Tom. "If they find the wrecks! And let me tell you, Ned, that there's a mighty big 'if' in it all. Do you realize how hard it is to find anything on the ocean, to say nothing of something under it?"

"I hadn't thought of it."

"Well, you'd better think of it. You know on the ocean sailors have to locate a certain imaginary position by calculation, using the sun and stars as guides. Of course, they have navigation down pretty fine, and a good pilot can get to a place on the surface of the ocean and meet another craft there almost as well as you and I can make an appointment to meet at Main and Broad streets at a certain hour.

"But lots of times there are errors in calculations or a storm comes up hiding the sun and stars, and, instead of a captain getting to where he wants to, he's anywhere from one to a hundred miles out. Now the location of Broad and Main Streets doesn't change even in a storm.

"And I'm not saying that a location on an ocean changes. I'm only saying that the least disturbance or error in calculation makes it almost impossible to find the exact spot. And if it's that hard on the surface, where you can see what you're doing, how much harder is it in regard to something on the bottom of the sea? So don't take any stock in these ocean treasure recovering companies. They may not be fakes, but they're mighty uncertain."

"Oh, I don't know that I was really going to buy any stock in this Japanese concern, Tom. I only thought it would be interesting to think about. And perhaps you might sell them a submarine or some of your diving apparatus."

"Nothing doing, Ned. We've got other plans, my father and I. There's that new tractor for use in the big wheat-growing belt, to say nothing of--"

Tom's remarks were interrupted by voices outside his office door. One voice, in particular, rose above the others. It said:

"No can go in! The Master he am busily! No can go in!"

"Nonsense, Koku!" exclaimed a man, and at the sound of his voice Tom and Ned smiled. "Nonsense! Of course I can go in! Why, bless my watch fob, I must go in! I've got the greatest proposition to lay before Tom Swift that he ever heard of! There's at least a million in it! Let me pass, Koku!"

"Mr. Damon!" murmured Tom Swift. "I wonder what he has on his mind now

As he spoke the door opened rather violently and a short, stout man, evidently much excited, fairly burst into the room, followed, more sedately, by a stranger.