Chapter III. Thinking It Over
 

"FATHER, is that you?" asked Tom. "Father hasn't been feeling well, of late," he said to the assembled company, "and I told him to go to lie down. But he's hard to manage, and he won't rest more than ten minutes at a time. My father, I might explain, Mr. Hardley," Tom went on, "is actively associated with me in business."

"So I have understood," said the man who had been introduced by Mr. Damon.

"Dis Koku!" came the guttural voice of the giant from the other side of the door. "Koku want more work. Hall, him all clean. Maybe I help dat no-good Rad now."

"No you don't, Koku!" exclaimed the young inventor, with a laugh. "You keep away from Rad. You'll get to disputing again and interrupt me, and I have business on hand. Here, wait a minute. I'll find something for you to do," he went on, opening the door to disclose the immense man standing outside, a broom in his hand seeming like a toy.

"Excuse me one moment," went on Tom to his friends. Taking up his desk telephone he called one of the shops, asking: "Have you any heavy work on hand this morning; lifting big castings, or anything like that? You have? Good! I'll send Koku right over."

Turning to the giant who apparently had not paid much attention to the talk over the wire, Tom said:

"Koku, go over to shop number ten, ask for the foreman, and he'll keep you busy. There are some five-hundred-pound castings that need assembling, and you can help him."

"Good!" exclaimed the giant, with a cheerful grin. "Koku like big work--no like sweep. Good for women and Rad, but not for Koku!"

"He spoke the truth there," remarked Ned Newton, as the giant stalked down the hall. "I never saw such a strong man. I'm afraid to shake hands with him, for fear I'll be minus a couple of fingers in the operation."

"Well, he's disposed of," remarked Tom, as he closed the door. "And now, Mr. Hardley, I'm at your service, as far as listening to your proposition is concerned."

"Thank you. I shall endeavor to be brief," remarked the visitor. "Am I correct in assuming that you have had some experience in submarine work? I believe Mr. Damon mentioned something of that sort."

"Submarine work? Bless my hydrometer, I should say so!" exclaimed the eccentric man. "And not only in submarine, but in aeroplane! but you don't need any aeroplanes, my dear Mr. Hardley. It's the submarine end of it that you are interested in, as far as Tom Swift is concerned. Now go ahead and tell him what you told me, and how many millions there are in it."

"Very well," assented the visitor. "Have you ever had any experience in recovering treasure from sunken wrecks?" he asked Tom.

"Yes," was the answer. "And it is curious that you should ask me that, for my friend here, Ned Newton, and I were just talking about that very matter. Here's what brought it up," and Tom showed the page from the Sunday paper.

"Hum! Yes!" musingly remarked Mr. Hardley. "That's all very well. Part of it is true; but I imagine most of it is the work of imagination of some enterprising reporter. Of course there is no question but that there are untold millions on the bottom of the ocean. The only trouble, as I think you will agree with me, Mr. Swift, is in coming at the money."

"Exactly," said Tom.

"And will you bear me out when I say that if the wreck of a treasure ship could be exactly located in water that is not too deep, half the trouble would be solved?" asked Mr. Hardley.

"A good share of it would," answered Tom. "That is usually the chief difficulty--locating the wreck. Nearly always they are anywhere from one to five miles from where the persons seeking them think they are. And five miles, or even half a mile, is a good distance on the bottom of the ocean."

"Exactly," echoed Mr. Hardley. "Then if I could give you the exact location of a sunken treasure ship, and prove to you that the owners had given up the search for it, leaving it open to salvage on the part of whoever wished to try--would that be any inducement to you to make an attempt, Mr. Swift?"

"I should want to hear more about it before I gave an answer," replied Tom. "As perhaps Mr. Damon has told you, I once went on a hunt for treasure in my submarine. We found it, but only after considerable trouble, and then I declared I'd never again engage in such a search. There wasn't enough net profit in it."

"But there are millions in this, Tom! Bless my gold tooth, but there are millions!" cried the excitable Mr. Damon. "Hurry up and tell him!" he urged his friend.

"I will," assented Mr. Hardley. "I can readily believe," he went on, "that the cost of hunting for undersea treasure is great. I have taken that into consideration. Now, in brief, my plan is this. I will join forces with you, and bear half the expense if I am allowed to share half the proceeds. That's fair, isn't it?" he asked Tom.

"So far, yes," replied the young inventor.

"Now then, to business!" exclaimed the visitor. "Will you join with me in searching for some of the wealth-laden wrecks that are rotting at the bottom of the sea, Mr. Swift?"

"Do you mean make an indiscriminate search for any one of a number of wrecks?" Tom wanted to know.

"I should want the understanding broad enough to include all wrecks we might discover," was the answer, "but I have in mind one in particular now. It is the wreck of the steamer Pandora which was sunk off the coast of one of the West Indian Islands about a year ago."

Ned Newton quickly caught up the page of the Sunday supplement and scanned the list of wrecks given there.

"No mention of the Pandora here," he said.

"No," agreed Mr. Hardley, "the story of this wreck is not generally known, and the story of the treasure she carried is hardly known at all. As a matter of fact, this money, mostly in gold, was to finance a South American revolution, and such matters are generally kept quiet. That is why nothing much appeared in the papers about the Pandora. But I happen to know that she carried over two million dollars in gold, and I know--"

"Think of that, Tom! Think of that!" cried Mr. Damon. "Two million dollars in gold! Why bless my--bless my--"

But the eccentric man could think of nothing adequate to bless under the circumstances, and he subsided with a murmur.

"Excuse me for interrupting you," he said to his new friend. "But I just couldn't help it."

"That's all right," Mr. Hardley remarked, with a smile that showed two rows of very even, white teeth. "I don't blame you for getting excited. Does that interest you?" he asked Tom. "Two million dollars in gold, besides a quantity of silver --just how much I don't know."

"It certainly sounds interesting," replied Tom, with a smile. "But are you sure of your facts?"

"Absolutely," was the answer. "I was a passenger on the Pandora when she was wrecked in a storm. I saw the gold put on board. It was not taken off, and is on her now as she lies at the bottom of the sea."

"And the location?" queried Tom.

"I know that, too!" said Mr. Hardley eagerly. "I was with the captain just before we had to abandon ship, and I heard the exact nautical location given him by an officer who made the calculation. I have it written down to the second--latitude and longitude. That will be a help in locating the wreck, won't it?"

"Why, yes," Tom had to agree, "it will be. but if you know it, then the captain and others must know it. And what is to prevent them from making a search for the Pandora if they have not already done so

"The best reason in the world," was the answer. "The boat containing the captain and the officer who gave him the ship's position was sunk, and all on board lost. The boat I was in was the only one picked up, and I believe I am the only one who knows exactly where the Pandora lies.

"Now, here is my offer, Mr. Swift," went on the seeker after the ocean's hidden wealth. "I will bear half the expense of fitting out a submarine, or for any other kind of expedition to go in search of the wreck of the Pandora. I will furnish you with the exact nautical location, as I have it. And when the wealth is found and brought to the surface, I will give you half--in other words at least a million dollars! Does that appeal to you?"

"I must say it is a fair, though perhaps strange, offer," conceded Tom. "And a million dollars is not made every day nor every year. But what about the title to this money? After we have recovered it--provided we are successful--will not some person or some government lay claim to it?"

"None can successfully," declared Mr. Hardley. "As I told you, the money was to finance a revolution. It was raised for an unlawful purpose, so to speak, and no one has a valid claim to it under the circumstances, so lawyers whom I have consulted have told me. But if that is not enough, I have papers to prove that those who might be called the owners have given up the search for it. More than a year has elapsed, and though I don't know just how long it takes to outlaw an under-ocean claim, I feel sure that we would have a legal and moral right to take this gold if we could find it."

"I should want to be satisfied on that point before I undertook the search," said Tom.

"Then you will undertake it?" eagerly exclaimed Mr. Hardley.

"I will think it over," Tom answered quietly--so quietly that distinct disappointment showed on the face of the visitor.