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´╗┐Title: The Cruise of the Dry Dock
Author: Stribling, T. S. (Thomas Sigismund), 1881-1965
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Cruise of the Dry Dock" ***

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[Illustration: They Were at Last Under the Overhang of the Mysterious
Schooner.]



The Cruise of the Dry Dock

By T.S. Stribling



Illustrated by Herbert Morton Stoops



1917


_The Cruise of the Dry Dock_

_Lovingly Dedicated to My Mother_



CONTENTS

  I      The Dry Dock
  II     Adventure Begins
  III    The Last of the _Vulcan_
  IV     An Interrupted Meeting
  V      Sail Ho!
  VI     The Cul de Sac
  VII    Trapped
  VIII   The Mystery Ship
  IX     A Modern Columbus
  X      The Strange End of the _Minnie B_
  XI     Caradoc Shows His Mettle
  XII    The Return of the _Vulcan_
  XIII   The Sea Serpent
  XIV    Caradoc Wins His Fight
  XV     Towed!
  XVI    Caradoc Takes Command
  XVII   The Get-Away
  XVIII  Nerve Versus Gunpowder
  XIX    Chased by a Submarine
  XX     The Lone Chance
  XXI    The Battle
  XXII   The Victoria Cross



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  They Were at Last Under the Overhang of the Mysterious Schooner

  Out There Lay Adventure, Mystery--More Than Either Dreamed

  Caradoc Stands the Acid Test

  The Battle



CHAPTER I

THE DRY DOCK


"She's movin'!" cried a voice from the crowd on the wharf side. "Watch
'er! Watch 'er!"

A dull English cheer rippled over the waterfront.

"Blarst if I see _why_ she moves!" marveled an onlooker. "That tug
looks like a water bug 'itched to a 'ouse-boat--it's hunreasonable!"

"Aye, but they're tur'ble stout, them tugs be," argued a companion.

"It's hunreasonable, just the same, 'Enry!"

"Everything's hunreasonable at sea, 'Arry. W'y w'en chaps put to sea
they tell we're they're at by lookin' at th' _sun_."

"Aw! An' not by lookin' at th' map?"

"By lookin' at th' sun, 'pon honor!"

"Don't try to jolly me like that, 'Enry, me lad; that's more
hunreasonable than this."

By this time the cheers had become general and the conversation broke
off. An enormous floating dry dock, towed by an ocean-going tug, slowly
drew away from the ship yards on the south bank of the Thames, just
below London. The men on the immense metal structure, hauling in ropes,
looked like spiders with gossamers. A hundred foot bridge which could be
lifted for the entrance of ocean liners, spanned the open stern of the
dock and braced her high side walls. These walls rose fifty or sixty
feet, were some forty feet thick and housed the machinery which pumped
out the pontoons and raised the two bridges, one at each end. The tug,
the _Vulcan_, which stood some two hundred yards down stream,
puffing monotonously at the end of a cable, did seem utterly inadequate
to tow such a mass of metal. Nevertheless, to the admiration of the
crowd, the speed of the convoy slowly increased.

Tug and dock were well under way when the onlooking line was suddenly
disrupted by a well-dressed youth who came bundling a large suit case
through the press and did not pause until on the edge of the green
moulded wharf.

"Boat!" he hailed in sharp Yankee accent, gesticulating at a public
dory. "Here, put me aboard that dry dock, will you? Hustle! the thing's
gathering way!"

"A little late," observed a voice at the newcomer's elbow.

"Yes, I hung around London Tower trying to see the crown jewels, then I
broke for St. Paul's for a glimpse of Nelson's Monument, then I ran down
to Marshalsea, where Little Dorrit's father--make haste there, you
slowpoke water-rat! Rotton London bus service threw me six minutes
late!" he concluded.

The American's explosive energy quickly made him a focus of interest.

"What are you trying to do?" smiled the Englishman, "jump out of a
Cook's tour into a floating dock?"

The American turned on the joker and saw a tall, well-set-up young
fellow with extraordinarily broad shoulders, long brown face, stubby
blond mustache, who looked down on him with amused gray eyes.

"In a way," grinned the man with the suit case. "I'm knocking about all
over the map, trying to see if the world is really round. Got a job
aboard that dock--going with her to Buenos Aires--Say, slow-boy, is that
dory of yours anchored, or is it really coming this way?"

"Coomin' that way, sor!" wheezed the waterman from below.

"That's a coincidence," observed the stranger, twirling his pale
mustache. "I had a berth on her, too." He indicated a huge English kit
bag at his feet.

"Then you'd better get a move on if you're going!" snapped the American,
instantly taking charge of the whole affair. "Shoot your grip here!" He
stood ready to receive and deliver it to the boatman who had landed
below.

"Had about decided not to go," frowned the Briton with an odd change of
manner. "It looks--er--so nasty over there--still, if you can endure it
I suppose I--" the final phrase was lost in the swing at his big kit
bag.

The American followed the luggage hurriedly; the tall fellow lowered
himself calmly and with a certain precision into the stern of the dory.
The boatman set out toward the gliding mass of iron.

The blond youth surveyed their distance from the great dock and marked
its deliberate but deceptive speed.

"I doubt whether we catch it after all," he remarked with slight
interest in his voice.

"Then we'll take a train to Gravesend and get aboard boat there,"
planned the American promptly.

A smile glimmered on the long brown face for a moment. "That's very
Yankee-like, I believe," he said complimentarily.

With the brisk friendliness of his nation, the Yankee drew a morocco
case from his pocket. "Leonard Madden is my name," he said as he offered
a bit of engraved card.

The Englishman started to reach inside his coat but paused. "I am
Caradoc Smith," he replied gravely. Then, as an afterthought, he drew a
small silver-mounted flask from his pocket, unscrewed the cap, poured it
full of a liquor and offered it.

"To a pleasant acquaintance and a profitable journey, Mr. Madden," he
began ceremoniously.

A slight flush reddened the white skin at Madden's collar, but did not
show on his tanned face. It always embarrassed him to be forced to
reject friendly overtures.

"Sorry," he shook his head; "don't use it. But the wish goes."

The Englishman looked his surprise. "Then, if you don't object--" he
lifted pale brows.

"Certainly not; do as you like."

Smith tossed the capful down his throat. "You know, I've met several
Americans," he commented more warmly, "and half of them don't use
alcoholics. Strange thing--can't fancy why."

Madden went into no explanation. They were nearing the dock by this time
and their boatman began a hoarse calling for some one on board to toss a
line.

It was like shouting for a man in a city block. The basal pontoon rose
twelve feet above their heads; beyond this towered the thick side walls
spanned by the bridge. The waterline of the whole dock was painted a
bright red, some four feet high, and above this rose an expanse of raw
black iron, punctuated with long rows of shining rivet heads.

The boatman was rowing at top speed and bellowing like an asthmatic fog
horn. "We'll never git nobody," he wheezed. "Nobody seems to stay around
this section of th' dock, sor."

Madden raised a lusty shout; the great structure was slowly increasing
her speed.

"Yell, Smith, yell!" he counseled between shouts. "We may not be able to
get a train to Gravesend in time!"

"I'm not that eager to go," observed the Englishman with a shrug.

The dory was falling behind. Madden leaped up, ran to the oars and began
pushing as the boatman pulled. Their united efforts just kept the blunt
little dory in the hissing wake of the dock.

"Help! Line! Aboard dock! Lend a line!" the two of them roared
discordantly.

"We're not going to make it!" cried Madden desperately. "Lend a hand
here, Smith!"

At that moment a dark head with sharp black mustaches popped over the
stern of the dock.

"Ah-ha! A race!" cried the man above in a French accent. "Come, Mike,
zee the English sporting speerit! Voila! What a race--a dory and a dry
dock!"

"Throw us a line!" shrieked Madden, "you blithering--think this is fun?"

"Ah, pardon, a thousand pardons! I hasten!"

He disappeared and a few seconds later a coil of rope came hurtling
down. Madden caught it and his toil was over. A moment later another
sailor, of distinct Irish physiognomy, dropped down a rope ladder to the
boat. They paid the sweating boatman a double fare, climbed up and
hoisted their bags with the line.

Only when on board did the lads appreciate the enormous size of the
dock. It would have been impossible to throw a baseball from one end to
the other. The black sides rose above them like an iron canyon. Ranging
down these precipices were innumerable huge iron stanchions for the
shoring of ocean liners. Toward the forward end of the dock was a two
hundred ton pile of coal, for the use of the tug, but it was dwarfed to
the size of a kitchen supply by the black expanse around it. On the
other side there were erected a few temporary wooden houses to serve as
kitchen, dining room, and quarters for the crew on the voyage. There
were a group of men loitering about these cabins.

The newcomers still stared at their gigantic surroundings when the
interested Frenchman said politely:

"It ees large, beeg, yes?"

"Where's the boss?" inquired Leonard. "We've got jobs aboard this
craft."

"He is making out the papers now, I think, and ees in a bad temper,
too."

With this discouraging information, the two young men started for the
officers' cabin. As they entered the place they met a crew of typical
London longshoresmen coming out. Inside, a stocky purple-cheeked cockney
stood at a little desk and glowered at them with small red eyes.

"'Ow's this?" he growled sharply, and in some surprise. "You are not in
th' crew Hi picked hup."

"No, we applied at the office--"

"Hoffice, hoffice," snarled the man. "W'ot do they know about men,
settin' hup there with their legs cocked hup? W'ot is it ye want
anyway?"

Leonard silently offered a paper he had received from the British Towing
and Shipping Company. The mate wrinkled his half inch of knobbly brow as
he read the paper in a low undertone, after the manner of illiterate
men.

"And by the way, my man," began Caradoc in stiff condescension, "we
would like one of those cabins to ourselves."

The mate flung up a club-like head and threw back his blocky shoulders.
"_My man!_" he gasped. "Ye call me _my man_, ye little cigarette-suckin'
silk-hatted Johnny--orderin' private cabins! W'ot ye think this is--a
floatin' 'otel?"

Madden bit his lip to keep from smiling at the odd play of anger and
surprise on Smith's long expressive face.

"No harm meant, Mr. ----" began the American soothingly.

"Malone--Mate Malone!" stormed the angry officer by way of introduction.

"You understand how friends prefer to bunk together instead of with
strangers. We thought we would ask you about it."

This soothed the irascible fellow somewhat. Still glowering, he
spraddled out of the cabin with the boys after him, and presently
indicated one of the small temporary cabins with a jerk of his thumb. As
to whether his intentions were kindly or cruel, Madden could not
determine, but their lodgment was a low kennel-like place, the smallest
in the row. Nevertheless it was very clean and smelled of new lumber. It
held four bunks, two on a side. The boys dropped their luggage inside
with the pleasure of travelers reaching their destination.

"Got no fire arms nor whiskey?" growled the mate, looking through the
door at his new men.

Both answered in the negative.

"All right; step lively now. We want to raise that waterline 'igh enough
to work in the waves before we reach th' Channel."

The lads shut the door after them, then started under Malone's direction
for whatever work he had.

They found the whole crew swinging along the hundred foot front of the
dock, broadening the brilliant red waterline with all possible dispatch.
The reason for attacking the front first was obvious. In case of rough
weather, the way of the dock would pile the waves higher ahead than
anywhere else. Leonard and his new friend lowered themselves on a
swinging platform over the twelve-foot pontoon and joined in the work.

Tug and dock were now passing through the congested traffic of the lower
Thames and the enormous English shipping spread in a panorama before
them. Here were barges, smacks, scows, sailing vessels; big liners
plowing through the press with hoarse whistles; rusty English tramps,
that carried the Union Jack to the uttermost ends of the earth. Even a
few dreadnoughts lay castled on the broadening waters. On both sides of
the river, dull warehouses and factories stretched out rusty wharves,
like myriad fingers, to receive the tonnage that converged on this
center of the world's activities.

American curiosity almost prevented Madden from working at all. He
painted intermittently, between wonders, so to speak. As for Caradoc, he
made no pretense to labor, but propped a broad shoulder against the
supporting rope, stuck a cigarette under his white mustache and fell to
regarding the waterscape in a serious, preoccupied fashion.

"Say, old man," warned Leonard in an undertone, briskly plying his
brush, "that mate looked down at us then. He'll raise a rough house if
we don't get a move on and keep our section up."

Caradoc came out of his muse, tossed his cigarette into the swirling
water a few feet below him. "Impudent chap!" he snapped.

Madden laughed. "His trade is to get work out of men and it requires
impudence."

Caradoc grunted something, perhaps an assent. The two fell briskly to
work and soon made an impression on the blank iron wall. At first the
American chatted of this and that, rehearsing his own aimless ramblings
as men will, but presently he observed that Smith was painting away and
paying no attention to his partner's chatter.

"What's the worry, old man?" queried Madden lightly. "'Fraid the
paint'll give out?"

"I presume they have sufficient paint," answered Smith stiffly, as he
flapped his brush across the bright head of a big rivet.

"Why--yes," agreed Madden, a little taken aback, "but you look like you
might be getting up a grouch at something--"

"About time to pull up, isn't it?" interrupted Smith.

The brusqueness in the speech grated on Madden, but they hauled up their
platform without further remarks on either side. The Englishman seemed
to work slower than the American, but somehow covered as much ground.

The coat of red paint had risen considerably on the dock when the
bosun's whistle gave a faint shrill from the deck. The whole string of
painters facing the pontoon's bow began hauling up their platforms. The
lads followed their example.

Malone was hastily pulling his crew together in the mess room on the
middle pontoon. He came by waving his short heavy arms in the direction
of the long eating room.

"Get along aft; you're to sign the ship's papers!" he bawled
monotonously. "Get along!"

Most of the men walked faster when the mate flung his arms at them.
Leonard felt the impulse to step livelier but held himself to Caradoc's
deliberate stride.

In the mess room the boys found a compact, black-haired, serious-faced
young man of unknown nationality reading the ship's articles in an
expressionless tone. Nobody listened, although various penalties were
prescribed for desertion, quitting ship without leave, disobedience of
orders, each with its particular fine or punishment. When the reader
finished, the men walked around one by one and signed the register.
Then a copy of the articles was pointed out on the side of the mess
room, and again no one observed.

The performance was hardly completed when the gong rang for supper.
There were not more than a dozen men at mess. Most were of stolid
English navvy type, dirty uncouth men whose gross irregular features
told of low birth and evil life. The foreign element comprised an
Irishman named Mike Hogan and the Frenchman whom the boys had met when
they first came aboard. The crowd called him Dashalong. Upon inquiry,
Leonard found it to be Deschaillon. The young man who read the articles
was named Farnol Greer. However, he proved a silent, taciturn youth, who
seemed to converse with no one and to have no friends.

In the long narrow eating cabin mingled the clean smell of newly sawed
lumber and the odor of poor cookery. The meal proved rather worse than
ordinary steerage food. After the first taste Smith put it by,
grumbling. Leonard, who was hungry, consumed about half of his.

Beef stew and boiled white fish formed the menu. Perhaps there is
nothing quite so slippery and disheartening as boiled white fish grown
luke warm or cold. The navvies ate ravenously enough, but Hogan and
Deschaillon were not so wolfish.

Mike speared a bit on his fork and regarded it sadly. "This fish reminds
me uv a fun'ril," he observed, "an' yonder lad looks to be chief
mourner," he nodded toward Farnol Greer.

"He ees not mourning over the feesh," declared Deschaillon gayly. "He
ees struck on heemself, and found his affection ees misplaced."

Madden laughed. The spirits of the Celt and the Gaul seemed to improve
as their fare grew worse.

"Oh, av course a frog-atin' Frinchman loike you, Dashalong, would think
any kind av fish a reg'lar feast."

Deschaillon leaned over to inspect his portion. "Now eet does very
well--to wax zee mustache, Mike." He twirled his own.

Caradoc grunted disapproval of such doubtful table talk, arose and left
the rough company and rough fare with supercilious condemnation.

"Your friend's appetite sames as dilicate as his wor-rkin' powers,"
observed Hogan as he watched the Englishman stoop and disappear through
the doorway.

Madden smiled. "We didn't work any too hard this afternoon, did we?"

Mike and Pierre proved droll companions, ready to jibe at anyone or
anything in perfect good nature, so that it was an hour before Leonard
strolled outside. As he had no further duty, he climbed a long ladder to
the top of the high dock wall and walked forward toward the bridge.

By this time the sun had set and left the world filled with a luminous
yellow afterglow. The estuary of the Thames had widened abruptly off
Sheerness, and far to the south was the dim line of chalk cliffs that
England thrusts toward France. Overhead stretched a translucent
yellow-green sky with the long black line of the _Vulcan's_ smoke
marking it.

Leonard moved across the bridge slowly.

There was almost perfect silence over the great structure below him,
save for the slow creaking of new joints in the iron plates, the
softened chough-choughing of the tug ahead.

There were several paint barrels piled up on the bridge, slung there no
doubt by machinery, to prevent the men having to toil up with it from
below. The boy leaned against one of these barrels, gazing into the
yellow flood of light that bathed everything in its own saffron. His
heart beat high with a feeling of the hazard of the ocean. He tried
to fancy what would happen to the huge dock as it adventured through
tropic seas. His imagination readily conjured up a kaleidoscope of
incidents--cannibal proas, shark fights, sea serpents, typhoons,
mutinies, what not.

And at every turn of the tug's propeller all this bright dashing world
of adventure drew nearer and nearer. For some reason he recalled what
the bystander on the dock had said--"Everything is unreasonable at sea,"
and he laughed aloud.

As a sort of gloomy echo of his laugh, his ear caught a groan from the
other side of the paint barrels. With the utmost surprise and curiosity,
he straightened up and moved silently around the pile.

Then he saw the tall Englishman leaning across the bridge rail, face in
hands, staring at the line of land silhouetted in black between the
brazen sky and the reflecting water. Smith's whole attitude was so
suggestive of trouble that Madden moved forward in generous sympathy.

The Englishman heard the movement, straightened, looked around; his long
face wore a look of suffering in the colored light.

"Sorry you're so blue, old man," sympathized the American, making a
guess at the cause of his bad spirits. "Let's have a turn around this
old tub and forget homesickness."

"Home!" echoed Caradoc gruffly. "It's--it's all England I'm leaving.
It's England and honor and--" he stiffened suddenly and snarled out: "Do
you think I climbed away up here on this bridge hunting your company?"

Leonard was utterly nonplussed by this shift. "I'm sure I meant no
harm--"

"Certainly not," sneered Caradoc. "You Americans have the undesired
friendliness of stray puppies--you have no conception of personal
reserve--you turn your souls into moral vaudevilles."

A flush of indignation swept over Madden. "That's no decent return for a
friendly approach!" he declared hotly, "and I'd rather be a puppy than a
hedgehog any day!"

Caradoc made no reply, but seemed to erase Madden from his mind and
shifted slowly around to his staring and his thoughts.

This last bit of impudence fairly clanged on Madden's temper. He felt a
desire to tell this coxcomb just what he thought of him. If Caradoc had
remained facing the American, Madden might have done so, but it feels
foolish to rail at a profile. Madden wheeled angrily, tramped across the
bridge, then down the high side of the dock toward the ladder. From far
below him came Hogan's voice, a concertina, and the sound of clacking
feet. Apparently the Irishman had induced someone to dance a jig.



CHAPTER II

ADVENTURE BEGINS


Fortunately for the British Towing and Shipping Company, the next few
days were glassy calm, and as the _Vulcan_ coughed along the South
England coast, the crew had fair opportunity to raise the coat of paint
out of danger.

They had finished the ends by this time and were now working on the high
exterior sides of the dock. The labor was distasteful to Leonard, not
within itself, but it is disagreeable to dangle in midair over a huge
iron wall, blue water gurgling below, and sit beside a man who has
affronted one by calling one's manners puppyish and one's soul a
vaudeville. Even if one really be fond of puppies and enjoy vaudeville,
the implication is unpleasant.

On the third morning after, Caradoc wielded his brush listlessly and
looked sick. His fine shoulders sagged and his eyes were hollow in his
long face. Leonard, whose spirits naturally mounted with the sun, found
it hard to continue the three days' silence. He wanted to talk about the
splendid English coast with its gemlike villages set in green, the
red-sailed fishing smacks, the social gulls feeding in the long trail
behind the dock. It is difficult to be reserved under such conditions.
Then, too, Caradoc was so obviously ill, Madden felt sorry for the
fellow.

As for the Englishman, he paid little attention to his working mate, but
languidly splashed the iron wall, and himself, with red paint. After
some two hours' work, he stood up on the platform as if sore, made an
irresolute start, finally climbing the rope ladder to the top. Madden
wondered about the queer fellow, but was rather relieved by his absence.
Within twenty or thirty minutes, however, he was back, but in
perceptibly better spirits. He worked briskly for a few minutes, then
dropped brush in pail and turned to Leonard as if no shadow had crossed
their acquaintance.

"Well, Madden, we can hardly blame the old Phoenicians for guarding the
secret of the Cassiterides, can we?"

The American almost fell off the platform in surprise.

"Why--er--no, I don't blame 'em," he blurted, not having a ghost of a
notion what the Englishman was talking about. "No, I--I never blamed 'em
a bit--never did."

"Those were poetic days, Madden."

The American stared, his mind as much at sea as his body.

"Think of that Phoenician sailing his galley for the Isles of Tin. The
Romans follow him, day after day, week after week. But does he betray
the secret of Tyre's wealth?" Caradoc made a gesture. Madden was about
to answer that he didn't know, when the orator went on.

"He does not. Rather than expose the rich mines of Cornwall, he dashes
his galley upon a reef and risks his life among the early English
barbarians."

"Was it here where that happened?" asked Madden interestedly, fishing
some such tale from the bottom of his recollection.

Caradoc stood upright on the swinging platform, hands thrust in jacket
pockets, thumbs out, Oxford fashion. His tall form swayed slowly with
the steady rise and fall of the dock.

"Certainly, the Cassiterides is Cornwall, and that point of land just
ahead is the spot where the Tyrian wrecked his ship, so the legend
goes."

Madden's eyes followed Caradoc's gesture. "I've read that story, but I
never thought of seeing the place."

"Cornwall is entrancing if you care for antiquities," went on Smith in
the polished style of a collegiate. "Four or five miles up that cape are
the Boskednan Circles and the Dawns-un, old Druidic stone temples. Just
across the peninsula is St. Ives, where the virgin Hya appeared
miraculously. It is really regrettable, Madden, that you are leaving
England before you tour Cornwall. A wonderful little island, England. A
land to live for--or to die for, God willing."

Caradoc stared toward the coast, frowning, with the old familiar look of
pain coming into his eyes. His hearer and his extemporaneous lecture
plainly slipped out of his mind.

"You've been along here before," suggested Madden with a hope of
diverting Smith's mind.

"Oh, yes," replied the Englishman gloomily.

"Sailor, perhaps?"

"Yes."

"Not another dry dock, I trust," laughed Madden, turning to work.

"No."

"Windjammer?"

"Yes."

Leonard nodded at his painting. "Fishing smack, I'll bet."

The cross-questioning was interrupted by a raucous voice overhead, and
both boys looked up to see the mate's thick torso hanging over the rail.
He was shaking his fist at the tall Englishman.

"W'ot you think we brought you along for?" he bawled savagely. "To give
lectures? If you don't paint and quit blowin', you win' bag, I'll ship
you at Penzance!"

Caradoc's face went white, leaving threadlike purple veins showing on
nose and cheeks. "I'm willing to do my duty," he said with a quiver in
his tone. He glanced at his empty paint bucket. "If I'm to work, bring
me paint--I'm out!"

Caradoc seemed to be able to make the mate madder and do it quicker than
anyone else.

"Paint! Bring you paint!" roared Malone, apoplectic. "Git out an' git
your paint, or I'll put a longer, uglier head than that on your
shoulders."

Caradoc gave a shrug, stooped for the bucket, then began composedly
climbing the ladder straight at the sputtering officer.

"Be careful there, Smith," warned Madden in an undertone; "he'd as soon
as not slug you without giving you a dog's chance."

Caradoc said nothing but continued his climbing. The men on the platform
fore and aft ceased work, watching the mate and the climbing man
intently. The silence following the usual drone of conversation was
noticeable.

Caradoc was just reaching up to climb into Malone, when at that moment
something happened that drew and held everybody's attention.

The whole face of the sea around the dock broke into a sort of
sputtering. The ocean seemed to boil. To his astonishment, Madden saw
the commotion was caused by millions of small fishes leaping and running
along the surface.

Cries came from all over the dock at once: "Pilchards! Pilchards are
shoaling! Pilchards are shoaling!"

The few gulls in the sky now seemed to multiply and settled in a
fluttering cloud to strike such easily captured food. Among the press of
little fish leaped cod, hake, dog fish, all feasting on the annual
migration of the pilchards. The crew on the dock scrambled up and over
the sides, flung down boxes, buckets, anything and scooped the fish from
the sea.

The diversion saved the Englishman from any bellicose intention of the
mate, who hurried off to take a hand in the sport. Madden sat on his
platform watching the fun, for it was a remarkable sight. Caradoc swung
around on the ladder facing Leonard.

"There, Madden," he cried, "is a sight characteristic of no other sea.
Every season Cornish fisheries capture millions of these fish. They
pickle 'em, can 'em. They even sell them to you Yankees for sardines.
You are fortunate to have seen this phenomenon."

Leonard studied the novel sight. Hundreds of fishing smacks converged on
the area where the pilchards were breaking, their red sails glowing
warmly against the green of the land and the blue of the sea. Gulls
whirled about the tall dock, filling the air with thin creakings. Madden
admired the sudden picturesque activity. Some of the smacks were so
close now that he could see their long trawls stringing out behind, and
little figures running about their decks, winding in nets, bringing in a
flood of silver fishes.

The metallic noise of the gulls grew so loud as to blanket all else. In
the midst of this fluttering and shrieking, Leonard heard the shouting
of human voices. He paid little attention. Then some of the men on top
of the dock's side began yelling. At that moment, Caradoc shouted down
Madden's name. Madden looked up. On the instant the swinging platform
under him tipped violently.

Next moment, Madden saw right beneath him a smack. The vessel was
floating by, and the peak of its boom scraped the high iron wall of the
dock. This boom had struck his platform.

Madden clutched impotently at the blank iron wall, then flung an arm for
one of the supporting ropes and missed.

"Jump to me!" yelled Smith. The Englishman was still on the rope ladder,
but had climbed down rapidly when he saw his mate in distress. The boom
was tilting the platform straight up and down. The deck of the smack
below promised to mash the American into a pulp. The fishermen were
shouting. Leonard made a falling leap toward Caradoc's extended hand. He
caught it in both his own. The Englishman's other hand gripped the rope
rung. Unfortunately Madden's body flung out with a twisting motion, and
he could feel Smith's arm grow tense in an effort to keep from being
wrenched.

Madden was scrambling with his legs for a foothold on the ladder when
the boom dragged past the platform and the whole thing swung back on the
distressed boys. A flying end caught Madden in the side. The blow
sickened him. He clung desperately to Caradoc's hand, his grip
weakening, his senses swimming with the feeling of an awful void beneath
him. The strength in his fingers gave way, and he felt a chill sensation
before the coming downward plunge. But even in his twisted, straining
position, the Englishman's long fingers did not loose Madden's wrist. A
moment later, Leonard had lost consciousness completely, swung in
midair, limp as a bag.

The American had a dim impression of being drawn to the top of the side
wall, and the crew clustering about him. Someone splashed water in his
face and the world cleared up before his eyes. The young fellow called
Greer was whisking on the water, but when Madden opened his eyes, he set
the bucket down and returned silently to his work.

"There, ye're bether now," grinned Hogan stooping over the wounded man.
"That platform caught yez a little love lick in the slats--break any of
'em?"

Leonard reached across and felt his side. "How came the smack there?" he
inquired weakly. "Why didn't I see it?"

"Ye was lookin' astern, an' th' vissil barely turned the bow of th' dock
an' her boom kissed us all th' way down. I yilled at ye, so did
Dashalong an' th' silent man. Thin I got so interested in l'arnin' he
could say a worrd, I quit lookin' at you complately."

"I couldn't hear for the gulls--I'll be all right in a minute."

Leonard looked around and saw Caradoc massaging his twisted arm. He had
an impulse to thank the Briton, but he changed it to, "I hope your arm
isn't badly wrenched, Smith."

"Quite all right," assured the tall fellow cheerfully.

The men began to scatter to work again.

That day at lunch the ship's fare was garnished with an abundance of
delicious pilchards. The whole crew wore a holiday air. During the
afternoon the men sang at their work and labored so merrily and so well
that a broad wash of paint was added to the outside wall.

Leonard, whose side was sore enough from the thump, did not work. Even
the mate suggested that he take a leave of absence, and stay in his bunk
if he would.

The boy went at once to his cabin and began hunting in his suit case for
a little medicine chest which he always carried. He wanted arnica for
his bruised side. To his surprise he could not find it. He gave his bag
a thorough search, tumbling garments, trinkets, souvenirs, curiosities,
helter skelter over his bunk, but failed to find his case.

The loss of the medical carry-all distressed Madden. It had proved
useful in the past. However, he hunted up the mate and begged a
liniment, which must have had a wonderful virtue if a powerful odor was
any indication.

Leonard rubbed the stuff on his side and turned into his bunk. His side
grew so sore he wondered whether or not his ribs really were broken
after all. In his dark den he could still hear the gulls wailing,
although the tug had passed the major portion of the shoaling pilchards.
There also came to him the constant creaking of the dock, the slow dull
recurrence of the ground swell against her bow. The boy's mind centered
fretfully on his lost medicine chest. No doubt it was stolen, and he
began wondering which of the crew had taken it. His suspicion played
idly over the crew, and then settled on the youth called Greer. His
reason for this was that Greer said very little. Madden thought this
must be the sign of a guilty conscience.

He did not brood long, however, as the monotonous sounds exerted a
hypnotic effect on his senses. Once or twice as he was almost falling
asleep, he felt himself clinging desperately to Caradoc's hand, his grip
weakening, the fearsome void gaping under him, then he would awake with
a start that sent a knife of pain through his bruised ribs. After that
he would be forced to feel once more to test his costal region for
broken bones. Finally the vision failed to paint itself, or did not
rouse him, and he slept.

After an indeterminate interval, he was awakened by someone entering the
room. It was fairly dark now and by lifting a head over the side of his
berth, he saw the outline of the Frenchman standing by the door. Madden
thought of the stolen medicine chest and remained silent.

The Gaul was about to withdraw when Madden called out.

"What is it, Deschaillon?"

"I just came by to say your frien' ees in trouble. Zay play cards in zee
salon. Smeeth he win _beaucoup_. Zay quarrel, perhaps zay fight. He
ees your frien', and--"

Leonard smiled when he heard the mess hall dignified into a salon; but
at the latter end of the sentence he sat up suddenly in his bunk and
began pulling on his jacket despite the twinges in his side.

"Eh, how's that--fight?"

At that instant Hogan lolled against the jamb and announced his entrance
with a laugh.

"What's this Deschaillon's telling me, Mike--the men fighting over
cards?"

"Sure now I heard him and told him not to be wakin' a sick man up for
sich trifles. They was a few raymarks ixchanged, but nawthin' ser'us."
He turned reproachfully on the Gaul. "Nixt time be advised by me and
don't be wakin' a sick man for nawthin'."

The two walked away and Leonard leaned back in his bunk, quite sleepless
now. He stared into the blackness, his mind a moving picture show of the
last three days. The Englishman was chief actor on this stage, and his
disagreeably mixed character puzzled and disturbed the American.
Caradoc's language and manners showed him to be a man of breeding, but
he was full of contradictory habits. His uncosmopolitan moodiness, his
vulgar quarreling over cards, were typical instances.

Leonard almost regretted that he had formed an uncomfortable intimacy
with the fellow, but he could not very well break it off now since Smith
had saved him from a fall that might easily have proved fatal.

Just then the Englishman entered the cabin silently. He lighted the
bracket lamp quietly and looked about to satisfy himself that his mate
was asleep. Later Madden heard him open his big kit bag and take
something out. A moment after, the odor of alcohol scented the little
cabin.

Leonard lifted his head and saw the fellow under the lamp, just lifting
the silver cap to his lips. A disagreeable smile moulded the long face,
wrinkled the nostrils and slid away under the choppy blond mustache. The
strong light from the overhead lamp brought out an almost sinister
countenance.

The thought that such a man had probably saved his life filled Madden
with a kind of repulsion. He turned in his bunk with a little disgusted
grunt.

Caradoc dropped the little cap and came to the bunk.

"Side hurt, old man?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes--no--nothing the matter."

"Oh, maybe you don't like this odor--forgot you didn't drink." He
stepped quickly to the kit bag, replaced the bottle and cap inside and
closed it. Like many alcohol users he labored under the delusion that
alcohol was not offensive on his _breath_.

"Nervous shock you received seemed to upset you more than the punch," he
diagnosed in a concerned voice. "You Americans are a high-strung
nation." He paused a moment philosophically. "I daresay you're right
about not drinking spirits. With your nervous organism, it would set you
on fire. But our foggy English climate and stodgy people call for it.
Sets our pulses going. A thought just here--Climate and Alcoholism. Not
a bad subject for a scientific investigation, is it?"

Madden grunted.

"I'll blow out the light unless you'll have me rub some more of that
villainous stuff on your ribs?"

The patient declined this.

"Need water or medicine during the night throw your boots at me--I'm
hard to wake,"

Then he puffed out the light.

[Illustration: Out There Lay Adventure, Mystery--More Than Either
Dreamed.]



CHAPTER III

THE LAST OF THE _VULCAN_


A temporary rudder had been installed on the unwieldy dry dock, and each
twenty-four hours Mate Malone detailed seven men to stand watch, which
gave the regulation dog watch, although there was no need of it with a
double complement of men. Thanks to his bruised ribs, the American had
thus far escaped duty at the wheel. About a week after the pilchard
incident, he reported ready for this service, when a twist of
circumstance rendered it unnecessary.

A long stretch of fair weather had been enjoyed by the dock painters on
a steadily dropping barometer. On this particular day a cold puffy wind
developed out of the northeast, bringing with it a rack of clouds and
spreading a choppy sea below.

From where Madden painted on the corner of the dock, he had a good view
of these chasing waves that rose a moment in the gray seascape, nodded a
white cap, then dropped back into the waste of water.

"Wonder if a storm would affect this old box much?" he queried of
Caradoc.

"Probably have a chance to see," opined Smith, looking out with a
speculative eye. "By the by, what's that?"

Caradoc pointed toward the _Vulcan_, which already exhibited the
motion of the rollers.

Madden looked. A sailor stood on the tug's round stern waving two flags
toward the dock.

The American arose from his work, funneled his hands before his lips and
called to the man, but the spitting wind whisked away his words, and the
sailor went on with his flag.

Madden regarded it attentively a few moments. "He's wig-wagging--wants
to speak to the mate. I'll go for him." He trotted aft.

Leonard found the officer in his cabin and told his mission. The mate
arose at once and came out with the lad. "Don't know w'ot 'e wants, do
you?" he inquired.

"I only spelled his message till I found he wanted you."

"Huh--understand flag signals, do ye?" grunted Malone, shifting his
inflamed eyes to Madden's face.

"Learned it in my engineering course," explained the lad.

The two passed on to the bow, when the sailor on the tug starting waving
once more. Mate Malone watched the man until he had finished spelling
out the message, then he turned to Leonard and asked:

"Know w'ot 'e said?"

"Parker's sick and they need you," translated the American.

"Good," grinned the mate with more fellowship than he had ever shown
before. "Now, lookee here, young chap. They're going to send a cutter
for me to come and take Parker's place. You strike me as a decent sort,
so I'll leave you in my berth till I get back. You won't have nothin' to
do hexcept tell off th' watches an' keep th' boys paintin'. Softer'n
your fo'cs'l job, though you won't git no hextra pay--wot about it?"

"That goes with me," agreed Madden readily.

"All right, you signal me about anything you don't understand. Make the
men step, lively, same as if you was me."

By this time the tug had slowed down a trifle and a boat put out from
her. While it came bobbing over the water, Malone bawled his men
together and briefly explained his transfer of authority.

"Be back jest as soon as Parker's all right," he said as he climbed from
dock to dancing boat below. "And, by the way, Mr. Madden, you will bunk
in my cabin."

That "Mister Madden" from the mate was the great seal of authority. The
men looked at him with new eyes.

Somehow, Malone's confidence pleased Madden. That uncouth, bullet-headed
officer had not spent his whole life on the high seas, belaboring all
classes of men into serviceableness, without being able to judge the
genus homo pretty shrewdly.

The navvies accepted the new officer in stolid submission, but Hogan
clapped his hands. "Hey, a spache fr-rom th' new boss!" he grinned.

Leonard laughed. "My speech is to get back to work, and I'll do the
same," said the boy, returning to his bucket.

This appealed to the cockneys, who gave a dull English cheer, and then
everybody settled back to their tasks once more.

"What's the use in your painting, Madden?" asked Caradoc, "You don't
have to."

Leonard was amused, "They tell me a chap whose work is no bigger than
his contract, never gets a contract for bigger work."

"What's that?" frowned Smith. "That sounds like Yankee smartness to
me--seems to make a great deal more sense than it really does."

"Anyway, I don't want to rat on you fellows, just because Malone left me
in charge for a day or so."

Caradoc made no answer, but stared after the rowboat which was just
rounding into the tug. "If I'd played up to that officer a bit," he
smiled dourly, "I could have had the mate's berth, Madden."

The American glanced up. The Englishman's smile recalled the look
Leonard had seen under the bracket lamp.

"Well, there's very little in it for anyone, I'm thinking."

"Certainly, certainly," Smith shrugged a broad shoulder and the subject
was dismissed.

The blustery weather increased steadily, and by lunch time the wind was
blowing half a gale. Regiments of waves marched against the dock and
snapped spray high up the red sides. Their constant blows rang through
the big iron structure. A feeling of security came to Madden as he saw
the gray-green waves break white, and yet not shake the huge barge
sufficiently to tip the paint from the men's buckets. Certainly the dock
was monstrous.

The sea grew rougher as evening wore on and finally the boy went to the
mate's cabin to pick out his men for the night's work. After his own
cramped quarters, Malone's room proved delightful. Three glass ports
admitted light. A table in the center of the room spread over with a
Mercator's projection showed that Malone dutifully pricked the
_Vulcan's_ course on the chart, although it was not required of
him. A sextant and quadrant told the American that the stolid Briton
worked out his own reckonings. The sight of these things filled the boy
with a respect for the uncouth fellow. He understood how doggedly Malone
must have labored to acquire mastery over the instruments of navigation.
Beyond this there were a number of flaring chromos on the walls, a
decanter of wine and glasses in a chest. He found what he was looking for
in the desk drawer, a roll of men checked off for watches. The coming
night was arranged for, but for morning, the names of Heck Mulcher, Ben
Galton and Caradoc Smith stood in order. Madden was just marking these
men when there was a tap at the door.

Upon call, Gaskin, the cook, entered, bearing a big tray of dishes, "Yer
dinner, sir," he said, very respectfully.

Madden had not anticipated having the mate's meals served to him, and
for a moment he came near asking the cook if he had not made a mistake;
but the steaming tray and the pleasant odors kept the question unspoken.
Only with this diet before him did he realize that he had been fairly
starving on the poor ship's rations.

When Gaskin placed the soup on the table, Madden became aware that the
dock was rolling rather heavily, for the liquid spilled over the side of
the plate, while dishes and tureens went coasting up and down the
boards.

"Getting rough outside," remarked the lad to the servant, who was
lighting a lamp.

"A bit 'eavier, sir," replied Gaskin self effacingly.

Madden held the soup plate in his hand for steadiness, and sipped the
hot, satisfying liquid while the great dock rose and fell. The fact that
he was really in command of the vast iron fabric put the American in a
serious humor. He ate dinner slowly, listening to the heavy clang of the
waves against the iron hull, and to the wind whining and sobbing over
the great metal sides.

When he had finished his meal, the youth arose with the intention of
going to the sailors' mess house to see about the watches. He had no
sooner stuck his head out of the door, however, than a whisk of spray
leaped at him out of the darkness and drove him inside. He was preparing
to venture out again, when Gaskin opened a locker and brought out an
oilskin.

"Hit'll 'elp you keep dry, sir," holding up the garment.

Swathed in its folds, Madden made a new start and walked out on the
heaving, shifting pontoon.

Outside a renewed noise smote his ears. The air was full of flying spume
that whipped in through the stern of the dock. Malone had planked up
this open gateway to a height of thirty feet, which made it forty-two
feet above the salt water line, but the spray already leaped this
barrier and pelted throughout the dark heavy iron canyon.

The dock was made in three huge sections, in order that it might be
self-docking when fouled. Now in the darkness, the groaning of these
joints smote the blustering gale in a sort of vast distress. The many
iron stanchions for the shoring of vessels began thrumming a devil's
tattoo against the high iron walls, like a myriad giant fingers.

In the corners of the bow pontoon, Madden could see the signal lights
heaving and dropping with the motion of the vast fabric. Now and then he
caught a glimmer of the tug's light, and its erratic motions told how
the staunch little vessel fared.

There was a faint radiance around the shut door of the mess hall, and
Madden walked toward it rather unsteadily, with the spumy brine dashing
into his face.

A signal lantern was attached to one of the shoring stanchions near the
mess hall, and as Madden moved into its dull glow, another bundled form
entered from the other side. The figure stopped and saluted.

"If you please, sor," he bawled in Madden's ear, "th' nixt watch is
sick."

"Sick! The whole watch sick? What do you mean, Mike?"

The Irishman grinned in the dim light, "Yis, sor, they're in their bunks
wishin' to die. They've niver been in a blow before. It's say-sick they
ar-re."

Both men were holding to the stanchion.

"Seasick!" ejaculated Madden. "How about Heck Mulcher and Ben Galton?"
he recalled the names on the list.

"The whole sit of navvies, sor, ar-re down on their backs, not carin' at
all, at all, whether we float, sink, swim, or go to Davy Jones' locker."

"Well, Caradoc's next--come with me."

They took hold of each other and went sliding and slipping along the
iron deck, now skating down hill, now climbing a sharp tilt, shoulders
hunched against the gusty spume, until they reached Smith's little cabin
past the mess hall. Here they paused and rapped on the door. As this
could not have been heard inside for the wind and the waves and the
groaning of the dock, they pushed open the shutter.

Madden no sooner entered than his nostrils caught a pervading odor of
alcohol. The Englishman's long figure lounged fully dressed on a bunk; a
demijohn was jammed behind his kit bag to keep it from rolling.

"Smith!" called Madden, "I'll have to ask you to stand watch to-night;
nearly all the navvies are sick."

Caradoc lifted his head from the bunk and blinked at the two men in the
door. "What?" he asked vacantly.

"You're to stand watch to-night," Madden raised his voice.

"Stand watch!" cried the Englishman, sitting up, his face flushing
darkly under the bracket lamp. "You _have_ turned master, haven't
you--bootlicker ordering me to stand watch!"

"It's your turn on the list!" commanded Madden brusquely, with
ill-concealed disgust that Smith should be maudlin just when needed.

"My turn--Bah! I'd have been mate myself if I had toadied and flattered
that upstart Malone as you did!" He laughed sarcastically. "Then I could
have had decent dinners, been wearing the mate's sou'wester, been--"

"Cut it out!" snapped Madden. "Will you do your duty or not?"

The dock gave a great lurch that flattened both men against the door,
juggled Caradoc in his berth and sent kit bag and demijohn sliding
toward the visitors.

"Not!" bawled Smith. "I, Caradoc Smith-Wentworth, can't think of going
to stand watch for a gang of siz-seasick navvies an' a t-toady American
Yankee--Not!" he reiterated and laughed in tipsy irony.

A flush of anger went over Madden. He reached down suddenly and caught
up the demijohn.

"You--you bet' not drink th-that, y-you little bossy Yankee; it-it'll
m-make _you_ d-drunk."

"You sot!" trembled Madden. "Whiskey will not be your excuse next time!"
He caught the Irishman's arm, "Come on!" And before Smith realized what
had happened, the two men and his liquor were out of the door and gone.

Madden slammed the shutter viciously, and the tilt of a wave helped give
it a loud bang. Then he gave the jug a wrathful swing and smashed it
against the nearest stanchion.

"Smith'll have some sense when he can't get any more," he shouted in
Hogan's ear. Then after a moment, "Is there nobody else to take the
watch?"

"There's Dashalong, sir," bellowed Mike, "but he stood last night."

"How about you?" inquired Leonard.

"All roight." The Celt was about to turn for the high bridge at the
stern, when Madden stopped him.

"When was your last watch, Mike?"

"This afternoon, sor."

"When did Greer stand watch?"

"He's niver told anywan, sor; I think it must be a saycret."

"Get to your cabin and turn in," directed Madden. "I'll take it myself
till midnight, eight bells. Then send Greer."

Hogan saluted in the darkness and turned about for his cabin. Madden
began a careful journey aft toward the wheel.

He fought his way to the ladder and climbed up into the night, sometimes
clinging like a fly to the underside of the reeling wall, sometimes
going up a steep slant. Gusts of spume and foam whipped him all the way
up. Once on top of the wall, he clung to the inside rail and began
pulling himself carefully around toward the rear bridge. At this height
the full force of the wind almost tore him from his reeling anchorage.
At last he turned onto the bridge and moved toward the binnacle light.

"You'll find 'er a little 'ard, sir," remarked the steersman as he
turned over the wheel to Madden. "Good night, sir."

"Good night," returned the American, and he watched the fellow's form
disappear in the darkness.

Madden gripped the spokes of the wheel and fell to watching the signal
light in the center of the forward bridge and the stern lantern of the
distant tug. These two plunging spots in the black void of night he must
keep aligned.

The enormous dock leaped and shivered under his feet. Huge waves roared
by, of such vastness that Madden could hear their crests crashing and
thundering high above the level of the bridge. These moving mountains
shook tons of black water into dim, ghostlike spray, and sent it hissing
down into cavernous troughs. The weight of the wind-swept spume flashing
out of darkness through the binnacle light almost took the boy off his
feet. It pounded his oilskin, stung his face. The enormous iron dock
groaned and clanged under the mad bastinado. The long arms of the
shoring stanchions smote the walls in a kind of terrific anvil chorus to
the blaring orchestra of the tempest. The joints of the three huge
pontoons sounded as if they were being rent asunder every moment. One
minute the great structure would rise dizzily, high into the black
blast, a skyscraper flung up on a mountain Madden could look far below
on the lights of the struggling _Vulcan_. Up there the storm yelled
and screamed at every corner and brace of the weltering dock, and
wrenched at the midget helmsman. Then came the sickening drop, down,
down, down, into the profound, and the _Vulcan_ would swing far
above her towering consort. For the instant the storm would be blanketed
by the prodigious waves. Wild, formless ghosts of foam would stretch
wide arms about the falling dock as if they were clasping it into the
lowest crypts of the dead, and the night would be filled with a vast and
dreadful whispering.

For hours it seemed that every ascent, every descent, must mark the end.
But the storm was so terrific, Madden's sense of personal fear was
blotted out in the tremendous conflict about him. Indeed, there was
something deeply moving, almost gratifying in this elemental rage. Then
he discovered that he was taking a part in it. Mechanically he had been
straining and pulling at the wheel to hold those signal lights in line.
Now he realized that his tiny human force formed a third contender in
this vast battle. As he eased the great dock down the rushing sheer of a
wave so the shock would not break the straining cable, he had won a
point over two violent antagonists. His puny arm, that could raise
perhaps two hundred pounds, was lifted against enemies that could fling
about billions of tons. Without his force, tug and dock would part
company instantly. Each watery mountain that he climbed, each gulf that
he fathomed, was a victory over infinite odds.

However, if the man worked with subtlety, the sea likewise worked with
subtlety. As the long hours of Madden's watch roared by, one thing was
borne in on the youth: the rudder gradually was becoming harder to
manage. Madden thought this was caused by the rising storm and strained
more rigidly against the wheel.

Then, in the latter part of his vigil, an odd thing happened. A blast of
spray struck Madden with some slimy thing that whipped about his neck
and chest and almost tore him from the wheel. With convulsive
repugnance, he jerked it loose and held the clammy stuff toward the
binnacle light. He saw it was seaweed. Presently more strands came
beating down on the spume to sting him.

The youth was crouching in his oilskins for protection, when he was
surprised by a hand laid on his arm. He looked around and saw it was
Deschaillon and the silent Farnol Greer.

"Eet makes bad weather," remarked the Frenchman, peering at the dark
rolling Alps about the dock.

"Good thing both of you came," shouted Madden, turning the tiller over
to the men. "It's as stiff as cold molasses--how are the sick ones?"

The boy saw Deschaillon grin and twirl his pointed mustache in the faint
illumination. "Zay are very numerous," he laughed. But the Gaul had no
sooner swung his weight against the wheel than his grimace vanished.

"Parbleu! Here, Greer, pull zis wheel with me!"

The two men caught the spokes and set their weight to it. Greer remained
silent.

"Zis ees bad!" exclaimed Deschaillon. "Zis wheel will not go around!"

"What's the matter, do you think?" cried Leonard.

"Zee gear ees clogged, I think me."

"Go get a lantern and some men, Hogan--anybody who isn't lifeless. We've
got to do something!"

The Frenchman obeyed, hurrying off into the darkness. Leonard resumed
his place at the wheel with Greer to aid him. But both men could not
swing the big dock around. The tiller was growing utterly unmanageable.
Nearly every dash of foam brought with it biting bits of seaweed now.
The silent Greer endured the whipping without wincing or speaking. Even
in the midst of their work, Leonard found time to wonder why this fellow
had stolen his medicine chest.

Presently the two helmsmen could barely turn the wheel. Madden could
feel the jerking of the cable even through the great mass of pitching
iron. Then the wheel clamped viselike. The dock's headlight and the
intermittent glow of the tug teetered, swung out of line, crossed each
other, like dancing fires. In a sort of panic, the two strained at the
solid wheel. A huger wave came roaring by, flung the enormous square
prow high in air. As it fell off with a shock, Madden felt a little
quiver pass over the lumbering pontoons. The dock ceased taking the
upheaved water with her slow, constant, aggressive movement.

The cable had parted!

Madden wondered dully what sort of cataclysm had occurred on the little
tug at that tremendous strain.

Both men still hung to the hand-grips on the useless wheel as the dock
rose and dropped, thundered and groaned. Now and then from the
storm-swept wave tops Madden could catch the glimmer of the
_Vulcan's_ light. This slipped farther and farther into the void,
heaving night, then he saw it no more.

A sense of vast desolation swept over the American, and he was still
staring into the black pandemonium ahead when Deschaillon, Hogan and a
third man came struggling toward him.

"You may go back!" he yelled wearily above the uproar. "Go back--there's
nothing to do. The cable's broke--the _Vulcan_ is gone."



CHAPTER IV

AN INTERRUPTED MEETING


Convinced that there was nothing else to be done on the big dock, Madden
went to his cabin, threw himself on the bunk, and there tumbled and
tossed through the stormy night, sleeping brokenly and dreaming of the
missing _Vulcan_.

Finally a bleary dawn whitened his cabin ports and the lad scrambled
into damp clothes, picked up the mate's battered telescope and went on
deck.

He fully expected to see the _Vulcan_ lying close by, but as he
glanced around in the dull light, an extraordinary scene shunted all
thoughts of the tug from his mind. The wind had lulled, but there still
rolled high a most unusual ocean. As far as he could see moved a long
solemn procession of hills covered with splotches and serpentine lines
of grays, olives, yellows--an ocean in motley. The great waves wove
these sinuous markings up and down, in and out, confusing the eye with
changing mazes.

Madden went forward and studied the nearer formations under the dock's
prow. This astonishing effect was caused by seaweed. It was the seaweed
spray of this seaweed ocean that had whipped him during the night.

A glance toward the stern of the dock solved the mystery of the balky
steering gear. The temporary sheathing was choked with the slimy stuff.
Tons of it had beaten over into the dock so that there was a week's work
of cleaning ahead. The whole interior of the pontoons looked gutted;
empty kegs, barrels had gone overboard, boats had been washed away, the
big coal pile was scattered like pebbles and some half of it lost. And
one odd trifle gripped Madden's heart--the fresh paint over which the
crew had toiled so patiently looked old and dingy.

As he studied the scene, two seasick navvies tottered out on deck to
sniff the clean air. They dismally surveyed the traces of the storm.
Then they moved weakly toward the boy, who was now scrutinizing the
horizon with his glass.

"See any sign of 'er, sir?" asked Galton saluting.

Madden took down the binoculars. "Not a trace--feel better?"

"Some better, sir, but my stomach is still like th' hocean, sir, a bit
unsettled. May I arsk where we are, sir? I never saw such streaky water
before."

"Sargasso Sea," replied Leonard.

Galton grunted and stared at the spangled waves. Under its load of
seaweed, the sea was falling rapidly, and presently other seasick
navvies came on deck. A dismal lot they made, pasty and sick and
draggled.

"You fellows that are able," Madden addressed the group, "get buckets
and shovels and pile up that scattered coal. The exercise will make you
feel better. When the sea is smoother, we'll rig a jury mast on the
forward bridge for a signal."

A few of the men were still too sick, but most of the crowd shuffled off
to work. Some of the laborers drew off their pea jackets as they went,
for the murky day was filled with a rising humid warmth.

Coal piling was just getting under way in the heaving dock, when the
door to Caradoc's cabin swung open and the Englishman stepped out.

A glance at the tall fellow told Madden how he fared. The narrow-set
eyes were inflamed, the long bronze face had lost firmness and seemed
inclined to sag in lines.

"Smith," called Madden friendlily, "you may help pile coal if you feel
like it."

"I--that demijohn that you took last night," began the Briton nervously.

"Yes," Madden became serious.

"I want it, if you please."

Madden looked at the unstrung fellow. "Can't get it, Smith; you've had
too much already."

"Can't get my own property?" demanded Caradoc, raising his voice so all
the men could hear.

"No," snapped Madden, "you know sailors are not allowed to keep liquor
in their dunnage."

"That's my demijohn and I'll----"

"I smashed it, and the pieces washed overboard long ago."

"Overboard!" cried the big fellow. He turned hot eyes seaward as if
searching the waters, then for the first time noticed the fantastic
ocean around him. He stared at it with a strange expression.

"What--what is that--where are we, Madden?" he asked with a catch in
his breath.

The fellow's tremulous condition touched the American. "Tug broke away
last night--we're adrift in the Sargasso."

A look of relief came over the long face, but he still gazed at the
serpentine patternings. "I--I thought I was seeing--ugh, isn't it
horrible!"

"You're unstrung, Caradoc; better go lie down," suggested Madden in
considerate tones.

The mood of the Briton underwent a characteristic quick shift. "Me lie
down?" he rasped. "I'll have my property. You're grabbing authority fast
enough, but you'll learn Englishmen don't submit to impositions. Threw
it overboard!" he laughed with sour incredulity. "Bet you have it in
your cabin."

The men stopped work, gaping at the insubordination. Madden flushed
under the implication. He stepped forward to smash the long insolent
face and white mustache, but it was plain the Englishman was on the
verge of a nervous breakdown.

Madden caught himself, stood drawing short breaths through expanded
nostrils. "Go to your bunk, Caradoc, and wait till you're sane," he
ordered in fairly even tones, then turned abruptly, leaving the big
fellow scowling and biting his choppy mustache.

The navvies turned back to their work, distinctly disappointed; they had
expected a fight.

Within the next few days the crew dropped into the routine of derelict
life. When the sky cleared and the sea flattened, it left the big dock
amid breathless heat beneath a molten tropical sky.

As far as the eye could reach, the castaways saw no signs of life, not a
sail, not a smoke, not a gull, not even the ripple of a wave; nothing
but gaudy, motionless markings from one flat horizon to the other, dead
traceries that swiftly became uninteresting, then monotonous, then
disagreeable, then maddening in the aching eyes of the crew.

As much for the mental health of the men as anything else, Leonard
worked them steadily. The day's work was divided into morning and
evening watches, because during the midday the iron barge reached a
temperature where labor was impossible. During the cooler watches, the
men painted desperately to cover the black expanse of the dock with red
in order to reflect part of the palpitating heat rays.

Through the idle noon periods, the crew lay about on gunny sacks under
improvised awnings, with a man posted on the forward bridge as lookout.

The colorful mazes of the Sargasso were as irritating as flowered wall
paper in a sickroom. Even Hogan's and Deschaillon's spirits sagged under
the brilliant sweltering sameness. The navvies moved about half naked,
and burned brown as nuts. The men fought over trifles. Caradoc became a
raw mass of nerves. Once or twice Madden attempted to make things
pleasanter for his former friend, but was repulsed rabidly.

Near sunset one day, the American was in the mate's cabin trying to work
out his daily reckoning. According to the lad's inexpert calculations,
the dock was drifting southeast at the rate of some six or seven miles
each day. The dock was a prisoner in that vast central swirl between the
North and South Atlantic, that was swinging in stagnating circles when
Columbus sailed for the new world; it lay exactly the same when the
Norsemen beat down the coasts of Europe; it would continue as long as
Africa, Europe, and the Americas deflected ocean currents to produce its
motion. Its vast flaring dial was the clock of the world, marking the
passing ages. In all that stretch of time the Sargasso must have
received strange prey, triremes, caravels, galleons, schooners, men o'
war, derelicts ancient and modern, but certainly never before had the
art of man placed such a colossal and extraordinary fabric within its
swing.

Some such thoughts as these passed through Madden's mind as he pursued
his reckoning through trigonometric tables. The light fell redder and
dimmer through the ports and he hurried to finish his work before
darkness required a lamp in the steamy cabin. A furnace-like breath,
laden with malodorous ship smells, drifted in upon him. Madden's thin
undershirt clung sweatily to the muscular ridges down his back and
moulded the graceful deltoid at the shoulder.

Madden pushed back his figures as Gaskin entered with a tray. The cook's
face was scarlet and dripping.

"How much provisions have we on board, Gaskin?"

"Another month's supplies, sir--most of the stores was on the
_Vulcan_, sir." Gaskin was dignified even in the heat.

Leonard turned to his map showing the drift of the dock; she was
swinging farther and farther out of the trade routes every day. The
probability of a rescue steadily decreased.

"In the future, Gaskin, cut rations one third."

The cook covertly swabbed his fat jowl. "Yes, sir--are we about to--" he
checked his question. "Yes, sir," he agreed instead.

"Yes," said Leonard, answering the half question, "it's a very necessary
precaution, and I hope this small reduction will be sufficient."

"Thankee very much, sir." Gaskin made a little bob and withdrew
ceremoniously. Madden knew that Gaskin would continue to bob and thank
as long as he had strength to do either.

Reducing the rations was not a sudden impulse with Madden. Ever since
the first expectation of the _Vulcan's_ return had lost its
immediate edge, the American knew that the hope of final rescue depended
upon conserving their food supply.

The Sargasso Sea is a great oblong whorl in the Atlantic some four
hundred miles wide and fifteen hundred long. Trade routes cut along its
northern boundaries, and skirt its southwestern boundary. The dock might
very well traverse two thousand miles without seeing a sail. At a rate
of six miles a day, it would take eleven months to reach waters in which
a rescue might be hoped.

In the meantime, the men grew more and more intractable and
insubordinate. That day, when Madden had ordered Heck Mulcher to paint
in a certain place, the navvy had grumbled out a "That's all very well
for you, sir," and the rest was lost in a mutter.

The uncertain discipline of his men made Madden hesitate to cut the
rations more decidedly. He felt that his command was questioned by the
sailors.

As the boy gloomily dispatched his own supper, his ear caught a faint
persistent tapping on the iron wall which faced the mate's cabin. At
first he paid no attention to it, assuming it was the contraction of the
iron in the cooling temperature of the oncoming night that made the
popping. But as he ate it was at last borne in that these taps came in
the irregular but orderly sequence of a telegraphic code.

With this thought in mind, he listened attentively. In his work as
engineer he had had occasion to study up Morse in heliographing.

It proved one of the most senseless messages the boy had ever
translated:

"Tiny arm, men plan mu." Then it was repeated, "Tiny arm, men plan mu."
This odd sentence was retapped four or five times and at last ceased. It
was perhaps some beginner learning the code, but who in that crew could
be working out the telegraphic code? Leonard thought over the men, one
by one, but struck nobody who appealed to him as an incipient
telegrapher.

The American continued thinking over the incident idly, the odd time the
telegrapher had chosen to practice his art, the queer message he had
rapped out, when suddenly the message whirled around in his mind, and he
perceived he had begun listening in the middle of a very alarming
sentence, and had been reading from one middle to the next. The message
was: "Men plan mutiny--Arm!" "Men plan mutiny--Arm!"

Madden got to his feet with nervous quickness, and stood listening
intently. The question of who sent the message now became of sharp
importance. If the men planned mutiny, he could rely upon the
telegrapher--perhaps.

There was still enough light in the steamy cabin to discern objects. The
American began rummaging through table drawers, lockers and racks for
some effective weapon, preferably a revolver.

At that moment he heard footsteps approaching his cabin door. An instant
later the shutter swung open without the formality of a knock and two
dark figures entered.

"Well?" inquired the American sharply.

"It's us!" put in two voices at once.

"What do you want?"

"It's a bit of a disthurbance, Mister Madden, that's----"

"Zat Smeeth," put in a pinched French accent excitedly, "he says zare
ees no mate, zat you----"

"Be quiet, Dashalong; th' gintilman can't understhand yer brogue. Smith
siz ye have no authority by rights; that we should run things as we
plaze; that th' bhoys should have all they want to ate; that we should
have rum with aitch male, sor."

"And have you two fellows come to get these things?" inquired Leonard in
a hard voice.

"No, no, no," trilled out Deschaillon. "Eem-possible!"

"We sthrolled around to till ye, and bide wid ye a bit, and whiniver th'
romp starts, me and Dash here ar-re going to swing partners, eh, Dash?"

"Oh, beg pardon," apologized Leonard frankly, "but I had just been
warned and I was looking for trouble--"

"Thot's all r-right, Misther Madden. We ar-re wid ye. I am always for
law and ordher, Misther Madden, aven whin I am most disordherly,"

"That ees true, he ees," nodded Deschaillon.

"And I always fight on th' wakest side no matther whether it's roight or
wrong."

"Hogan ees a chevalier, no matter eef he does have to paint,"
corroborated the Frenchman.

"Are all the other boys in with Smith?"

"In with him, sor? Fr-rum th' way they stick around him ye'd think he
was a long-lost rilitive come back wid a million pounds."

"I'm glad you fellows are with me, Mike. I was just looking for a gun,
but if you'll stand by me--"

"Oh, don't pull a pistol, Misther Madden. A man who would pull a gun in
a free-for-all--why he would smash th' fiddles at a dance."

"As you deed not fight zee day Smeeth said you stole zee whiskey, zee
men--"

"Think ye'll be aisy," finished Hogan.

"I've just ordered a change in diet," observed Madden dryly.

"Oh, thin ye're goin' to give in to th' spalpeens?"

"No, I've cut rations one-third--and that goes!" There was a finality
about the dictum that reassured his allies.

"Uh-huh, Dashalong, I towld ye Misther Madden wasn't no----"

The sentence was interrupted by more feet approaching outside, then a
heavy knocking at the door. The two men automatically moved over to
Madden's side and faced the entrance.

"Light a lamp, Deschaillon," directed Madden crisply,

"Yis, two of 'em--I want to watch 'em fall out o' th' tail o' me eye."

The Frenchman struck a match for his task. Madden invited the men to
enter.

The whole crew came through the door in an orderly but somewhat
embarrassed manner. A few of the men had on shirts, some undershirts,
others were stripped to the waist, their torsos shining with moisture,
Deschaillon's hand trembled slightly as he lighted two bracket lamps,
Hogan's little eyes sparkled in anticipation.

"What is it, Galton?" Madden picked out the nearest man bruskly.

Gallon shuffled his bare feet on the hot boards. "We hev been thinkin',"
he began in a throaty cockney voice, "that since ye was not mate to
begin with----" he looked back over the crowd toward the real leader,
Caradoc, for moral support.

The men gave Smith an opening toward the American. In the oppressive
heat of the crowded, lamp-lit room everyone was crimson and dripping
except Caradoc, whose face was curiously bloodless beneath its sunburn.

"If you are spokesman, Smith, what do you want?" demanded Leonard with
rising inflection.

"We are all workmen together," began Caradoc with an obvious effort,
panting in the heat. "We're working together, living together, roasting
together in this awful furnace. Your authority was only meant for a few
days. Now the _Vulcan_ is gone. Nobody knows for how long. We think
all men should share and share alike."

"All this demonstration to tell me you want me to eat at the regular
mess?"

"No," quivered Caradoc, "it's not just eating. We are not pigs. We want
a hand in running things, and we want a portion of rum served at meals,
as every decent ship allows. We want--"

"Oh, so it's drink, not eating," satirized Madden.

"Rum's our right as sailormen," mumbled Galton.

"Rum in this climate?" Ridicule tinctured the American's tone. "Smith, I
believe you once proposed to write an article on Climate and
Alcoholism." He turned to the men. "Do you fellows want to build a fire
inside yourselves when your lungs and hearts are strained to breaking
already?"

"It cools you off in hot weather," answered a voice in the crowd.

"Cools nothing! It heats you up." He leaned forward and tapped the table
decisively at each word, "It won't be served, y'understand!" His last
tap was a thump. "I'm boss here--no rum! And I'll tell you right now,
I'm going to cut your rations one-third, too--hear? Now, get out, all
of you--move out o' my cabin!"

There was a shuffling among the navvies toward the arrowy lad who
confronted them. Deschaillon balanced himself on one leg, French boxing
fashion, ready to kick out with the deadly accuracy of an ostrich. Hogan
gave a brief happy laugh, broken by his jump, the crack of his fist
against some jaw and the stumbling of a man.

As the fight flamed down the sweating line, Farnol Greer suddenly rushed
through the door. "This is mutiny!" he shouted aloud. "Every man-jack
will hang for it by the ship's articles! I'm for you, Mr. Madden!" and
he made a surprising assault from the rear.

Madden and Caradoc squared away at each other. The Englishman headed his
men, his long face sinister in the lamplight. But he had hardly taken a
step when an absolute pallor whitened his countenance, he halted,
shaking, gasping, then flung back an arm to Galton.

"I--I'm fizzled out!" he stammered with twitching lips. "Go
ahead--fight!"

"You'll hang--you'll hang for it!" bawled Greer, mauling at the men
behind.

Caradoc crumpled down on the floor. The navvies, with an English dread
of legal authority, hesitated, thinking perhaps Caradoc had deserted
them purposely to clear his own skirts in the mutiny.

Madden instantly caught up the loose ends of his raveling authority.

"Lay him on the bunk, Galton!" he commanded.

Galton obeyed instinctively, half carrying the long sagging form to the
bunk.

"Hogan!" he thundered at the cyclone on his right, "you and Mulcher stop
that! Stop it, Mulcher!" he turned to some of the men. "Part 'em there!
Stop 'em!"

Six navvies, three to the man, jumped and grabbed the combatants.

"Just look, will you?" Madden pointed to Caradoc on the bunk. "You fools
have followed a man half mad with a sunstroke! He has blown his nerves
all to pieces with a rum bottle, and you bunch of mush-heads have
mutinied to give him more rum so he could finish the job!"

The leaderless insurgents stared at Caradoc's still form, then began
filing out of the cabin.

"Deschaillon, get that medicine chest out of my bag!"

The Frenchman moved toward the bag indicated, when Madden remembered.

"Here, come back, every one of you!" he cried.

The mutineers flowed in again, entirely subdued now.

Madden was loosening what few clothes Smith wore. He twisted about,
facing the crew.

"Some of you fellows stole my medicine chest," he accused boldly. "I
want it! The man who has it bring it here!"

The men stood very still, looking from one to the other uneasily.

"Listen, men," repeated Leonard intensely, "I've got to have
it--understand? I don't mind your stealing it. I won't say a word to you
about that, but I'll manhandle the scoundrel that's keeping it now!"

There was a growled chorus of protests. Madden quivered at his impotence
to put his hand on the thief in the crowd.

One of the navvies caught the expression on Madden's face, and blurted,
"If I 'ad it, I'd bring it back--'onest!"

Leonard suddenly recalled his suspicions. He looked at Farnol Greer,
whose timely shouting and attack had practically quelled the rising. For
a moment Madden's old friendship for Smith and his new gratitude for
this silent unknown youth struggled, then he said:

"Greer, do you know anything about that chest?"

A look of blank surprise, then indignation went over Greer's heavy
serious face, then he said bitingly:

"You sure stand by your pal, all right," and moved out of the cabin
without another word.

Caradoc lay dry and burning on the hot bunk, his big hands pressed to
his forehead, eyes clenched shut.

"I don't know what to do!" cried Madden miserably. "Hogan, Deschaillon,
for God's sake, if you know anything about that medicine chest, tell
me--I'm not accusing anybody!"

"Sure, sure," cried Hogan sympathetically, "Oi'm sorry Oi ain't got it.
If Oi only had me chance again I'd stole it long ago!"

"I'm sorree, but I never stole eet either, Meester Madden."

"If I only had bromide!" growled the American, watching Smith's broad
hairy chest lift and drop in short breaths.

The Englishman opened his hot red eyes. "What's that to you, Madden?" he
asked thickly. The choppy white mustache pulled down in a sneer. "I
might as well die now--I'm nothing but a remittance man. A remittance
man," he repeated the term with mingled self contempt and bravado. "My
people have shipped me--flung me away, broken, no use," he flung out a
long hot hand at Madden. "Why do you try to pick up the pieces?" He
laughed thickly, which sent wild pains through his head and stopped him
suddenly.

Madden stared penetratingly at this outbreak.

"Pour water over him, Deschaillon, Hogan," commanded the American
briefly.

As his two helpers hurried out after buckets, Leonard came close to the
sufferer.

"Where is it?" he asked shortly.

"Where--what?"

Madden stooped over him. "Where's that medicine chest? What did you do
with it? You wouldn't have started that tirade unless you had it."

"You Americans--very keen," panted Caradoc in the midst of his rackings.
"Think you're d-deuced smart--it's in my bag's lining--there was some
alcohol in it, so I took it--let it go--don't do anything--for--me."

Deschaillon entered with a bucket of seawater. They stretched the sick
man on the floor, and a moment later, the Englishman shuddered under the
deluge.

"This ought to be an ice pack," observed Madden, then: "I believe I
remember laying that medicine case in my old cabin; I'll see," and he
walked out of the mate's room into the darkness.



CHAPTER V

SAIL HO!


Caradoc lay stretched out in a deck chair, on top of the broad wall of
the dock, a cool dawn breeze playing over him. He looked across the
motley sea toward an opalescent sky reddening in the east.

"No," replied Madden without great interest, from his seat on the rail,
"I've no idea what you mean by a 'remittance man.'"

The Englishman's eyes strayed wearily from the limpid dawn to the tiny
image of a lion couchant on a small blue enameled shield which he used
as a watch fob.

"Among the English--" He paused and began again: "Among a certain class
of English families," he proceeded in an impersonal tone, "when a member
goes hopelessly astray, that member is sent abroad to travel
indefinitely. Remittances are forwarded to him from place to place,
wherever he wishes to go, but--" there was a scarcely noticeable
pause--"he can't come back to England any more."

"O-o-h!" dragged out Madden in a low voice, comprehending the man before
him for the first time.

"So they are called remittance men--always remitted to." Caradoc's long
fever-worn face, that was filling out in convalescence, colored
momentarily.

"So that's what you were," said the American after a pause; "a
remittance man, simply drifting over the face of the earth, supported by
your family, boozing your life away, and always longing to see England
again?"

"You can put things so raw, Madden," responded Caradoc with a ghost of a
smile. "I _am_, not _were_."

"_Were_," insisted the American quickly. "Before your collapse you
were a confirmed alcoholic, but you are slightly different now. Your
eight days of fever, when Hogan and I had to hold you in bed, must have
burned you out, cleaned up your whole system. You are nearer normal now
than you were. You have a fresh start. It's up to you what you do with
it."

The Englishman looked at his friend with a sort of slow surprise on his
face. "I hadn't noticed it, but I don't believe I do crave drink as
keenly."

"No, sickness is often not so bad a thing as folks think. It is nature's
way of putting us right. Sometimes," he added thoughtfully, "we crumple
up in the process, but we can hardly blame the old lady for that."

"You're an odd fellow, Madden," laughed Caradoc, getting slowly out of
his chair and stretching his arms. "Well, for some reason or other, I
feel fine this morning--let's take a constitutional around the dock."

The young men walked off, side by side, and began the circuit of the
dock's quarter-mile outline. The breeze was such a rarity in the
becalmed region that the two paused now and then to take long grateful
breaths, and to watch the little wind waves ripple the glassy Sargasso
lanes.

As they walked, navvies came out with buckets brushes and set to work
painting the maze of iron stanchions that lined the long interior of the
dock.

"I'm afraid I'll have to stop that painting," remarked Leonard after
watching them a moment.

"They'll be very glad of it--but why?"

"It consumes too much energy. The men can live on less if they quit
work."

"Oh, I see."

"I think I shall have to cut their food down to half rations. We've been
adrift nearly sixteen days now and not a smoke plume from the
_Vulcan_. She has lost us--if she didn't founder."

"Any chance of meeting some other vessel?"

"Here in the ocean's graveyard?"

"Are we far in?" inquired Smith with rising concern.

"Close to three hundred miles, and getting deeper every day."

The two walked on mechanically, with the precise step of those who seek
exercise. The rim of the sun cut the edge of the ocean and a long trail
of light made the east difficult for their eyes.

"Any danger of starving?" questioned Caradoc, staring moth-like at the
blinding disc of flame.

"Perhaps not," meditated Madden. "I've been thinking about it. As a last
resort this seaweed is edible, at any rate certain species of it. The
Chinese and Japanese eat it, but that isn't much of a recommendation to
a European. Then the water is full of fish that come to nibble at the
stuff."

Caradoc was obviously inattentive to this consoling information. "Yes,"
he murmured politely, "Japanese do nibble at the fish."

Madden looked around at his abstracted friend, who was still staring
into the molten sunrise.

"When the Japanese come to nibble at the fish, we might get some food
from them," suggested Madden with American delight in the ridiculous.

"Perhaps so."

"And fans, parasols, and little ivory curios--souvenirs of the Sargasso,
when we roll up the dock and take it home."

Smith nodded soberly, still gazing.

"What are you looking at, Caradoc?" laughed the American.

"I say, Madden, just look at that sun, will you? I thought I saw a
little black fleck against it straightaway to the east right down on the
horizon."

"You're injuring your sight, that's all," the American was still
smiling. "You know black specks will dance before your eyes if you stare
at the sun too long."

"But this was shaped like a sail," persisted Smith, staring again.

"Illusion," diagnosed Madden promptly, but his eyes followed Caradoc's
eastward nevertheless.

As far as his sight could reach up the golden path, he saw the black
markings of seaweed; then his vision became lost in a mist of
illumination. However, in this region, he could distinguish things dimly
and in flashes.

Presently, in one of these clear instants, he saw flashed, like the
single film of a moving picture, the tiny black silhouette of a ship's
sail against the dazzling east. Next moment it was lost in light.

"I told you!" cried Caradoc, getting his friend's expression. "It's
there! We've both seen it! A ship, Madden!"

Then he turned with more strength than Madden thought was in him. "Sail
ho, men!" he sang out. "A sail!"

"Come up, fellows, and take a look!" chimed in Madden just as eagerly.
"We believe we see a sail!"

The crew dropped work at once, and came climbing the ladder up the deep
side of the canyon like a string of monkeys; then they came running
across the red decking.

"Where?" "Wot direction?" "Where ees eet?" came a chorus of inquiries.

The two were pointing and soon the whole crew was lined up staring into
the brilliance. Their fresh eyes caught the glimpse immediately and held
it long enough to make sure.

"A sail!" "There she is!" "Oi see her!" bellowed half a dozen voices.

The whole crew fell into tense, happy confusion, laughing, staring,
yelling, speculating, slapping backs.

"Will she see us?" cried someone.

"Do ye think she'd overlook the whole west half o' th' sea, Galton?"

"She weel run against us eef she cooms thees way."

"But she might not know we are in distress?"

"Disthress, is it ye're sayin'? We're not in disthress, ye loon. This is
th' happiest day o' me loife."

Leonard turned to the Irishman. "Hogan, go dip that flag on the jury
mast--wiggle it up and down--let 'em know something is wrong--make 'em
think we have the rickets if nothing else."

Two men ran off with Hogan to the forward bridge; the others stared,
waved, shouted and let their excitement bubble down.

"But I don't understand a sailing vessel in these waters," speculated
Leonard.

"Maybe it's a derelick?" surmised Galton. "I've 'card as 'ow this was a
great place for derelicks."

"'Ow could she be a derelick," argued Mulcher, "w'en she 'as so much
canvas aloft? You run up on derelicks an' git sunk, ever' cove knows
that."

"I carn't think of hall these things at once!" retorted Galton.

"Perhaps she ees the _Vulcan_ under sail with deesabled engines?"
suggested Deschaillon.

This explanation was accepted unanimously and joy broke out afresh.

"Why sure, th' _Vulcan_, th' good old _Vulcan_! Now, lads,
let's give three cheers and maybe it'll reach 'er!"

Madden left the men trying to reach her with their bellows and went
below after the mate's binoculars. When he returned the sun had swung up
above the rim of the ocean and the sail was plainly discernible. He
leveled his glasses and his eyes went searching among the distant
markings of seaweed, until it finally rested on the sail. The vessel was
hull down. There was nothing to see except a little canvas stretched
neatly aloft and ship-shape masts and spars. He observed her attentively
for some time. She seemed to be making very little headway. All in all,
Madden made little of the craft, so he handed the glass to Smith. The
Englishman was likewise puzzled, and the binoculars went down the line
of curious men.

There was something in the way the youth named Farnol Greer handled the
instrument that caused Madden to ask:

"What do you make out, Greer?"

"She is lying to, sir. She's backing her tops'ls flat against the
breeze, and her mains'l's reefed and drawing with it."

"Lying to!" cried three or four voices. "W'ot does she mean by that?
Looks as if she'd be bloomin' glad to get out o' such a bally place as
this!"

"Let me have another look." Madden resumed the binoculars.

Now that Madden's attention was called to this unusual disposition of
the sails, he could make out their position for himself.

This started another tide of speculation buzzing among the castaways.
Was the _Vulcan_ crippled? Had she run short of coal? But why
should she voluntarily lay-to in the very sight of her quarry?

"They're fishin'," surmised Deschaillon, "off in th' boats fishin';
they're weethout food also."

This wild surmise was the only reasonable hypothesis that had been
struck on. Another group of men rushed for the jury mast to show the
fishermen that their presence was desired. At any rate the faint breeze
was very slowly bringing the two vessels together.

If the men had been heretofore anxious that the cool breeze continue,
now their anxiety was redoubled. At any moment it might die away and
leave the _Vulcan_ stranded beyond communication. In painful
uncertainty, they watched the tug drag her hull slowly into sight, then
slowly eat her way down the long mazy lanes of the Sargasso.

Then, when she was well in view, Farnol Greer said:

"She is not the _Vulcan_, sir."

By this time all the men had their brown faces wrinkled up against the
glare of the sunshine. Now they redoubled their gaze on the distant
vessel.

"Faith, and sure enough she isn't!" cried Hogan.

Greer was right; the strange vessel was not the tug. She had a funnel
amidship and two masts, but there her resemblance to the _Vulcan_
ceased.

The crew stared, talked, speculated, until the sun swung up like a
white-hot metal ball in the sky, and the quivering heat drove them below
under the awnings. From here they could still view the stranger, but not
to so good advantage. The breeze, by good fortune lasted till deep in
the morning, but finally dropped down in the blanketing heat, with the
unknown craft a good three miles distant.

The dock's crew could make out no sign of life as they strained their
eyes through the glare of tropical brilliance. The high-lights of the
schooner's reversed topsails and the luminous shadows of her mainsail
stood out vividly against the hot copper sky. The multi-colored markings
of the ocean and the sharp line of the horizon finished a very picture
of pitiless heat.

The men stood beneath the awning, legs apart, arms held away from
bodies, and stared from under dripping brows for some signs of
recognition from the stranger.

"'Asn't she got up a single rag to show us she sees us?" puffed Galton,
swiping his hand across his forehead and flinging drops on the iron
deck, where they evaporated the moment they hit.

"Don't see none," replied the navvy who possessed the binoculars at that
moment.

"'Ave they any boats?"

"One cleated down for'ard, one slung on the midship davits, and I think
I make hout one on t'other side past the booby hatch."

"And not a soul on deck?"

"Not unless they're settin' on th' fur side o' th' superstructure."

"Wot would they want to be settin' in th' sun for?" demanded Galton
brusquely.

"'Ow do I know? If they was Eth'opians, wouldn't they set in th' sun?"

"This is as clost as we'll ever git," surmised another voice. "The night
breeze'll blow 'er back where she come from."

"Well, w'ere's that?" demanded Mulcher savagely.

"Why, Eth'opia, I reckon, if she's got a crew of Eth'opians settin' on
t'other side of 'er superstructure."

"They ain't a man-jack aboard; and you know it," snarled Galton, "or
'e'd be poppin' 'is eyes hout at such a 'orrible big sight as we must
be."

"Anyway, I'll bet she blows back w'ere she come from, to-night,"
persisted the advocate of this theory.

The men caviled on at each other endlessly, disputing, denying,
upbraiding, and once in a while coming to blows.

In order to keep any sort of discipline, Leonard and Caradoc kept to
themselves under a separate awning, for all sea-faring experience has
shown that a separation of officers and men is necessary for the
management of sailors.

However, Madden heard most of the arguments that went on under the men's
canvas, and he became convinced that the sailor was right; the evening
breeze would carry the schooner away from the dock. He measured the long
distance through the sea lanes from dock to schooner with his eyes.

"Caradoc," he said to his friend, "if we ever reach that vessel now's
our time."

"How do you hope to do it?"

For answer Madden turned to the men. "Mulcher, bring me a life buoy,
will you?"

Mulcher arose and started on his errand.

Caradoc stared. "You don't intend to _swim_ that distance--through
this heat?"

"There's a boat over there, and provisions, perhaps."

"And the crew?"

"It is quite possible that they sleep through the day which is utterly
becalmed and make some little headway at night with the slight evening
and morning breezes--it would be a task for a sailing vessel to work
herself out of the Sargasso."

"Why I never thought of that. I suppose it is possible."

Mulcher was returning with a buoy. The crew came forward behind the
navvy, on the _qui vive_ over this new undertaking.

"Faith, and hadn't ye betther sind one o' th' min, sir," suggested
Hogan, "an if he drowns, sir, Oi would take it to be a sign that it's a
dangerous swim."

"An' the sharks, Meester Madden," warned Deschaillon.

As Madden kicked off his clothes, he observed Caradoc stripping
likewise. Then Farnol Greer came running down the deck with another buoy
and a big clasp knife.

The American looked at these fellows. "Caradoc, you can't possibly hold
out that distance; you're weak."

"I've done ten miles in--at home."

Greer said nothing, but rapidly undressed.

All three kept on their hats and undershirts as protection against
sunburn. As Madden walked from the awning through the stinging sun rays,
crimping up his naked feet from the blistering deck, Galton called to
him.

"If we git a lot of grub, sir, couldn't it be hextra, and carn't we 'ave
a spread to-night, sir?"

"Something like that," agreed Madden, tossing his buoy into the water.
The two other swimmers followed example, then all three dived off the
twelve foot pontoon toward their floats. They came up shaking the water
from ears and eyes. Madden was immersed in tepid water. His men were
cheering stolidly. The schooner looked very, very far away now that he
was at the surface of the water. Between him and his goal streaked mazes
of sargassum. It suddenly struck the American that he might have trouble
getting through those barriers.

However, the three swimmers were progressing boldly.



CHAPTER VI

THE CUL DE SAC


Madden thrust head and shoulders into his float, a round canvas-covered
hoop of cork, and set off at an easy stroke. Now that he was flat on the
water, he could no longer see the lanes of seaweed, and he would be
forced to depend entirely upon signals from the dock.

Alongside Madden came Greer, and after them Caradoc. Like all Americans,
Leonard gradually increased his energy, and forged ahead at a rate
considerably faster than that required for long distance swimming. Once
or twice Caradoc warned the swimmers to go more slowly, and at each
monition Madden slowed up a trifle, but within a few minutes he would
again speed up unconsciously.

The three swimmers could form little idea of the rate they were making
in the lifeless sea. At the end of half an hour, when Leonard looked
back at Hogan on the wall for signals, the dock still loomed above him,
a vast glare of red in the dazzling sunshine. It seemed impossible to
get away from it; the featureless red flare followed him as a mountain
peak seems to follow a traveler.

The sun beat oppressively on his head and blistered his shoulders
through his net undershirt. The warm water soaked the energy out of
limbs and arms. He changed from breast to over-arm stroke, then he
shifted to the crawl and trudgen stroke.

"Perhaps we'd better rest awhile, sir," suggested Greer, who came
puffing close behind.

"Beastly hot, this sun," Leonard ducked head and shoulders under water
for relief. His hat floated off and he grudged the slight effort to
retrieve it.

"How far are we?"

"Dock looks as close as ever--where's Smith?"

Greer nodded toward a small head and shoulders bobbing behind a little
white buoy.

At that moment, they heard the Englishman's voice calling, "To the
right!"

The boys turned and struck out ahead once more. They regretted having to
leave the straight line. As far as they could see there was no algae in
sight, the water was one glassy blue. And the mysterious schooner, with
its lights and shadows exaggerated in the tropical glare, seemed to the
tired swimmers to be as remote as ever.

As Madden pressed on and on, changing strokes after the fashion of
tiring swimmers, the constant beat of the sun made his eyeballs ache;
the ocean felt like a Turkish bath; the muscles in his shoulders, back
and legs grew numb, with an occasional cramping twinge. And what
irritated him as much as anything else was the fact that he was swimming
toward the right quarter of the schooner, throwing away his energy.

Just then Caradoc gave a distant call, "To the left."

With deep relief, Madden rounded back toward his goal. He had swung
about some unseen cape of algae. He looked back toward the dock. Hogan,
a very tiny figure, held his flag straight up; that meant "dead ahead."

In relief Madden turned over on his back, laid his hat across his face,
then with hands resting on chest, he began sculling along with knees and
feet.

He did not know how long he swam in this fashion. Queer ideas drifted
through the lad's mind. He recalled standing on the bridge of the dock
as it went out of the Thames and wondering what would happen. He had
never anticipated anything like this. It seemed that he had been
swimming for days and weeks. He reminded himself of those little kicking
toys that never get anywhere. He felt as if he were a June bug buzzing
helplessly at the end of a string. He kicked, kicked, kicked under the
broiling sun, in the hot water. The sweaty smell of his hat band
disgusted his nostrils. The crown of his hat seemed to coop the heat
over his face, sweat seeped into his closed eyelids and stung his eyes.
He gave his head a little shake. The buoy slipped out and he bobbed
under the tepid water head and ears.

This jerked him out of his dreamy state. He whirled over, struck to the
surface, spat out brine, blinked his eyes. Somebody was shouting
something in an urgent voice. The noise buzzed in his waterlogged ears.

"Hey, hello! What is it?" he cried, giving his head a shake and putting
on his hat.

"School of sharks!" shouted Greer, coming toward his leader at a foamy
speed.

"School of sharks!" echoed Madden with a sharp thrill. "Where? Which
way?"

"Must be toward the dock, sir!" panted Greer driving up.

"Where's Caradoc?"

"Yonder." He pointed toward a distant twinkle in the water.

"We must get together--yell to him, warn him!"

The two lads began a strenuous chorus that further used up their
exhausted strength. Caradoc responded by a wave of his hand. Then when
he understood "sharks" he gathered speed in their direction.

By this time the dock seemed as far away as the schooner, and was in
reality probably farther. On the wall of the dock, they could see
Hogan's microscopic figure apparently having a fit, against the coppery
sky. No doubt from his height he could make out the monsters. Perhaps
Hogan could see the great fish shooting along with sinister,
exertionless ease toward these clumsy adventurers--a school of trout
striking at three awkward beetles.

"Hey, Caradoc! Caradoc!" screamed Madden. "Straight for the schooner!"
The American stared around with tense nerves for the little swishes on
the surface that betray the attack of a shark.

From something near middle distance, the Englishman raised a hand toward
his comrades and motioned them forward.

"Go on! Go on!" he gasped in a tired voice. "I'll catch you!"

Indeed, there was little to be gained from waiting. Caradoc moved toward
his friends with a long overhand stroke that gave him the queer
appearance of some huge water bug striding along. Madden and Greer
propelled themselves slowly toward the schooner, waiting for their
friend to close up. They could not keep their eyes off the Englishman.
Every moment they expected to see him jerked under, or they expected to
see a huge shadowy form strike at themselves through the clear green
water.

Once Madden looked at the dock. Hogan on the rim of the red flaring wall
was flinging out all kinds of despairing gestures.

By this time Caradoc was in hailing distance.

"Did you say sharks?" he called out in a dull voice.

"Yes, sharks!"

"Where a way?"

"Don't know!"

At that moment a trickling thrill went through the American. A long dark
motionless shadow lay in the water straight in front of him. He stopped
swimming suddenly.

"Stop, Greer! Straight ahead!" he warned in a low tone, easing himself
carefully up on his buoy for a better look.

By this time the swimmers were nearly together and all three stared
ahead with painful intentness.

"That dark thing?" inquired Greer in an undertone,

"Yes, we ought to have a knife apiece."

"I never saw a shark lying still," panted Caradoc straining his eyes.

"Say, that's a little streak of seaweed," decided Farnol, beginning to
move toward it.

Then all three perceived it was merely seaweed. The shark-like illusion
disappeared completely the moment someone doubted it.

"Who cried out sharks anyway?" demanded Smith of Madden.

"Greer there warned me--he yelled 'school of sharks.'"

"Where did you see them?" inquired Caradoc of Farnol.

"You shouted school of sharks to me yourself," defended Greer.

"I! I!" puffed Caradoc, whose spurt had blown him badly. "I said nothing
about sharks!"

"Well, what did you say?" demanded Greer.

Caradoc thought back fretfully. "I said we were running into a _cul de
sac_."

"A cool de sock!" repeated Greer with irritation. "What did you want to
say 'cool de sock' for?"

"I was calling to a gentleman," panted Smith with an edge of temper in
his tone, "and here you've swung us clear off our bearings because you
didn't know a common French phrase----"

"French! I'm no Frenchman! Why don't you talk English!"

The two tired, worried, overheated men were rapidly brewing a quarrel,
when Madden interrupted.

"Look how close we are to that schooner! If somebody would raise another
shark alarm, we'd land plump on her decks."

"Yes, but this Zulu here has run us straight into a loop of seaweed
it'll take two hours' swimming to get out of--_cul de sac_, school
of sharks! Why the two phrases scarcely resemble each other!"

Madden turned longing eyes toward the motionless schooner that was not
more than three-quarters of a mile distant. "Say, it's too bad to turn
around and swim away from that vessel!" he lamented wearily, "and this
sun is fierce!"

"I say let's try going through!" encouraged Greer.

"It'll be--difficult," warned Caradoc.

"Won't swimming clear around the earth be difficult?" demanded Greer
hotly.

"Proceed," agreed Caradoc tersely. "It's all one to me."

The boys adjusted their floats and once more began their weary labor,
all three disgruntled at the false alarm. As they worked their way
forward, clumps of seaweed, similar to the first they had seen,
thickened in their path. After a long swim in and out, they reached a
point where these floating masses coalesced into an island, or a
continent, that swung far back toward the barge in the segment of a
great semicircle. Fortunately there were still open channels in this
main field, and one of them led toward the schooner. They struck out up
this estuary, which presently became so narrow that they were forced to
travel single file. Occasionally their kicking feet would strike slimy
filaments in the water, but for a while the channel cheered the
swimmers, for they could now see they were making progress toward the
ship.

Ten minutes later, however, they reached the end, and an inexorable
continent of slime lay between them and their goal. Madden paused in the
last yard of clear water, hung to his buoy, his big biceps flattened on
the canvas cover and slowly blistering in the sun.

"All right, boys, close up," he panted; "let's stay in helping distance
of each other."

"Shall we try to take our buoys through, sir?" inquired Greer.

"We'll start with them."

"Don't try to use your legs in the weed," warned Caradoc. "Don't kick;
you'll get tangled."

"We'll experiment and work through the best way we can. If it turns out
too bad, we can turn back, that's one consolation."

Just then, under Madden's astonished eyes, a queer thing happened. The
long open tongue of the sea which they had just entered, silently closed
up. It seemed to close very slowly, and yet it was accomplished in an
amazingly brief time. Some dull movement in the Sargasso current had
blocked the adventurers with sinister precision. Madden felt the hot
slimy mass close softly around him.

It was now as easy to go forward as to return.



CHAPTER VII

TRAPPED


There was something so sinister in this silent closing of all avenue of
retreat that for a moment Madden was dismayed, then he struck out toward
the schooner with a certain bold weariness.

As an experiment he threw his buoy ahead of him by a snap of wrist and
forearm, then tried to swim to it. The long yielding growth slid under
and around him, but it took all the dash out of his stroke. He pawed his
way forward with his arms, legs stretched out idle. A thousand wet
sticky fingers dragged their length over his body, retarding, clogging,
holding him. It left him stranded like a bug in gelatine. His flesh
crawled at this slimy swimming, he shrank from it, and it sapped his
heart and strength.

The only stroke possible was the overarm, and his hands fell with a
gummy plop instead of the heartsome splash of open water. By the time he
reached his buoy and threw it again, he regretted miserably that he had
not swum the clean water route if it were five miles farther.

By the time he had thrown his buoy twice, he could hardly advance it a
yard beyond his reach; finally it simply slushed along the surface. The
sun seemed much hotter in this congestion than in the open sea.

Behind him came his two men in a queer snakelike procession of plopping
buoys and wriggling bodies. Ahead of them the seaweed stretched,
apparently all the way to the schooner. As they worked their way through
the scum of many seas, the noon sun broiled their backs into thin water
blisters, and stewed saline odors out of the clammy life about them.

Once Madden's hand struck a yellowish line of algae and a score or two
of little jelly-like insects writhed into the grass below. One of these
things touched the swimmer's arm and gave the boy a stinging sensation.
He knocked it off desperately and pushed on.

Presently his shoulder muscles ached and burned so keenly, he could no
longer continue the overarm. Then he took the buoy in both hands, held
it straight out, thrust it edge down into the oozy substance, used it as
a kind of anchor and drew it to him. At first this technique seemed to
advance him somewhat, but presently he appeared merely to disturb the
viscous mass without going forward. He grew acutely discouraged; his
back, shoulders, cramped, ached and burned. The brilliantly lighted
schooner seemed to regress as he progressed. The sun was like an auger
boring into the back of his head. His mind began to wander again, and a
sudden fear came on him lest he should go insane out in this horrible
slime.

A fiery burning on his right foot jerked him back out of his half
delirium, and he knew that an insect of the same kind he had seen a few
minutes before had stung him. He kicked it off convulsively, but the
thrust of his foot brought a wash of new stings.

All of a sudden, his patience, endurance, pluck seemed to give out. This
new torture made him as unreasonably frantic as a baby. He kicked
furiously. He scraped the toe nails of one foot against the flesh of the
other leg. As he did so the animalculae settled on the abraded skin,
like streaks of melted steel. The boy doubled up, like a grub worm
covered with ants, fighting, scraping, twisting, squirming. He writhed,
beat, scratched, this great hundred and sixty pound animal fighting an
enemy that would weigh about twenty to the gram.

He heard a shout from Caradoc, a question from Greer, then his insane
struggles carried him under the surface of the clammy seaweed. The
seaweed, infested with stinging insects, closed over his form like a
wave of fire.

Only lack of breath stopped Leonard's mad struggles. Bursting lungs and
the mere necessity to live at last made him disregard the attacks of
these wasps of the Sargasso. He struck out for the surface again like a
diver, reaching up arms, spreading legs with a stroke and a kick. But
the gelatinous stuff simply quivered with his struggles and held him
firm. He stuck like a fly in mucilage.

The sliminess of the element utterly destroyed the mechanics of
swimming. A forward stroke in pure water displaces portions of the water
and the return stroke sends the body forward. In this mass the forward
stroke merely compressed the weed in front of the arm, and left a cavity
through which the return stroke received no power.

Madden dared not open his eyes. In fiery blackness he kicked and struck
in useless froglike movements. His heart was beating like a trip-hammer
in his ears. Streaks of red fire played against the blackness of his
eyelids. He knew that in a few more seconds his straining lungs would
gulp in the stinging ooze, he knew his will could not prevent his
drawing in some sort of breath.

He clung desperately to the control of his diaphragm, as a falling man
clings to a ledge of rock. His great chest muscles gave convulsive
jerks. His control was going, going.

Suddenly a human hand gripped his wrist. He was jerked upwards, perhaps
a foot. A moment later he was gulping in great lungfuls of air.

He had been suffocating ten or twelve inches beneath that repulsive
slime, as securely captured as if he had been a thousand feet deep.

It had taken Greer and Smith that length of time to wriggle a yard or
two and fish him out.

"Steady! Steady!" said Caradoc in a lifeless voice. "Steady there,
Madden! Hold him tightly, Greer!"

Greer made some sort of groaning reply, when Caradoc snarled, "Let 'em
sting, you scullion! What if they do kill you! Is there any better way
to die?"

Madden felt a great pushing and jostling at his body. He raked the
seaweed from his face and opened his eyes. The Englishman was shoving
fiercely at the American's shoulder, Greer, ahead, pulling at an elbow.
The burning insects had swarmed on both his rescuers. Caradoc's
sun-baked face had a yellowish, bloodless hue, his lean jaws clenched
under his choppy white mustache. In the midst of his burning pain he
held his legs rigid, pushed Leonard with one hand and pawed furiously
through the viscid tangle with the other.

The constancy of his companions braced Madden like a dash of ice water.
His own weakness had brought about this dangerous plight. The American
caught up his buoy, and between great gasps of the blessed air, rapped
out that he could go by himself, and began making his own way forward.

So the three worked themselves over the oozy bed of fire. The
Englishman's arms shot into the slime with the regularity of pistons. He
appeared to make no haste, yet he made remarkable speed. Only his
distended nostrils, pain-tightened mouth, grim eyes, showed that he was
in torture.

Even amid his own suffering Leonard felt a thrill of admiration for
Smith's endurance and working power. He even found time to wonder dimly
if Smith's people, that rich, cold, proud family, if they could see
their remittance man now, would not stoop to claim him as a kinsman.

All at once the poignant and disgusting attack of the insects ceased. A
flood of ecstatic relief swept over the adventurers. Without a word, all
three quit squirming, caught their floats under their armpits and swung
down in a limp luxurious rest.

Then they saw a marvelous thing had happened. The same slow swirl of the
Sargasso current that had closed up their avenue on the west side, had
opened another on the east. Their way toward the schooner lay
unobstructed.

The clean delightful seawater soothed the pain of their stinging flesh.

"We'll be there in fifteen minutes," murmured Leonard weakly.

"When you're ready, say so," said Greer with a frown still lingering on
his heavy face.

At that moment Madden heard a groan from Caradoc.

"What's the matter?" aspirated the American.

"Nothing--weak--don't bother." He closed his eyes, blew out his breath
like a sick man. His face was bloodlessly sallow, and Madden could see
his grip slipping on the canvas buoy.

"You're all in!" gasped Madden in exhausted staccato, "I knew you
oughtn't to--aren't you about to faint again?"

The Englishman shook his head slightly. "Don't worry," he murmured, then
his eyes closed, his hands slipped loose.

With brusque directness, Madden caught the shock of tawny hair, jammed
Caradoc's chin against the buoy and held him tight with little exertion
for himself. Smith swung out as awkwardly as a turkey on a chopping
block. The water was level with his lips, but his nose did not go under.

"Petered at last," grunted Madden, staring at the corpselike face in
dull speculation. "How in the world are we going to get him out of
here?"

"I guess we can tow him out, sir," growled Greer with dull indifference.
"Mighty puny chap--always flopping over when he's in a tight place."

"Come here, stick his arms through our buoys, put his own under his
head!"

The plan was quickly carried out and Smith's unconscious form was placed
beyond immediate danger.

The two youths took up their long swim once more. As they moved down the
opening, they could see what slow progress they were making. Presently
Madden explained in a low whispering tone:

"His heart's bad... can't stand much... poisoned with alcohol."

Another pause filled with slow weary swimming, then Greer said:

"Said I was no gentleman... didn't know a French word... I keep sober."

Madden made no defense to this reflection on the unconscious Englishman,
but after a while he said:

"We ought to overlook lots in him, Greer--unfortunate fellow... there's
good in him, Greer... bad too."

"I've got no call to please you," growled the sailor with astonishing
frankness.

"Then why did you come with us?" inquired Madden amazed.

"Wanted to see the schooner."

"And what have _I_ done to _you_?"

"Called me a thief!" the sailor elevated his dull tone. "After I
telegraphed ye about th' men... fought for ye... called me a thief!"

"Was that you tapping on the dock?"

Greer nodded resentfully. "And ye insulted me for it."

"I'm sorry... I was almost wild that night. I'll apologize... before the
crew."

"I don't care nothing about that dull English crew." This strange
fellow's tone carried in it an illiterate man's undying resentment.

"Since you feel that way," panted Madden at last, "I think I ought to
tell you--he took the medicine chest," Leonard nodded at the finely
carved motionless face that lay on the float before them.

"Him!" gasped Greer.

Leonard nodded. "He wanted the alcohol in it."

"And you call him a _gentleman_?"

Leonard nodded again. "Somehow I still call him a gentleman. He's hurt,
sick, bruised, but he's a gentleman."

"Well I don't!"

At that moment, the buoy under Caradoc's head bumped into a wooden wall
and upset their swimming arrangements.

They were under the overhang of the mysterious schooner.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MYSTERY SHIP


Waves from the exhausted swimmers sent bright streaks of watershine
wavering up the green hull over Madden's head. Utter silence pervaded
the vessel. There was no creaking of spar or block. Hot tar stood in her
seams in the beating sunshine.

The boys kicked wearily through the tepid water to the schooner's prow,
where Greer succeeded in catching the bobstays and climbing aboard. A
little later he lowered a rope to Madden with a double bight in it. The
Yankee made the Englishman fast in the loops, climbed on deck himself
and helped haul the unconscious fellow aboard.

The two boys lugged the senseless man wearily across deck into the shade
of the superstructure, then in default of any better restorative,
Leonard began slapping the bottom of the Englishman's feet to revive
him. Presently Caradoc groaned, drew up his legs.

"He's coming around all right," said Greer, then he looked about him.
"What do you make out of this anyway, Mr. Madden?"

Leonard glanced around and did see a remarkable derelict. The schooner
was as newly painted and trig as if fresh from the ways. Her deck was
holystoned to man-o'-war cleanliness; every sheet, hawser, stay, tackle,
pin, spike, was in place. Three small boats, her full complement, hung
in davits. On the bow of these boats, on their oars and buoys, was
painted the name of the schooner, "Minnie B."

From the port side of the vessel there stretched a long cable patently
leading to a sea anchor. All sails were brailed except mains'l and
tops'l, which were reefed and set against each other to hold her steady
in case of a blow. The funnel was freshly painted black with a red band
at the top. Judging from her appearance, the desertion of the _Minnie
B_ had been carefully planned. Yet why desert a new vessel? By what
means did the crew leave the schooner, since all her small boats
remained?

What was their motive in anchoring the _Minnie B_ in the middle of
the Sargasso?

There appeared to be no easy answer to these questions.

"I don't understand this," said Greer, in answer to Madden's unspoken
perplexity. "Where did the crew go, sir, and how did they go?"

"They might have deserted her for her insurance," suggested Madden
tentatively.

"Then why didn't they scuttle her--besides, a new vessel like this is
worth more than her insurance."

"Maybe it was her cargo. Perhaps they faked it, rated it away above its
value."

"Why she has no cargo, sir. She's riding light as a skiff; I noticed
that as I climbed up."

"Then what is your idea?" inquired the American.

Greer glanced around with a trace of uneasiness. "The crew went by the
board, sir, I'm thinking."

"Overboard--all washed overboard! Why there isn't one chance in a
million of such a thing hap--"

"I didn't say 'washed overboard,' sir," corrected Greer heavily. "I
think they got throwed overboard, one by one, sir."

"One by one!" Madden stared at the solemn faced fellow.

Farnol nodded stolidly. "Just so, sir."

"You mean--?"

"The plague, sir."

"O-oh!" The American stared around the deck with new eyes. Greer's
explanation struck home with a certain convincingness. The mere thought
of disease-laden surroundings filled him with alarm. Could they have
unwittingly wandered into a deserted pest-ship? A focus of death in
these rotting seas? The very air he breathed, the wood he touched, might
inoculate him with malignant germs. Then he began reasoning on it.

"Even if it were the plague, there ought to be someone left aboard,
Greer, a last corpse." The American sniffed the hot, breathless,
tar-scented air.

"He could well have gone crazy, sir, in this heat and followed his mates
overboard--but we can look and see."

At this moment, Caradoc stirred and pulled himself to a sitting posture
on the burning deck.

"You--you pulled me aboard?" he murmured weakly, looking about with the
face of a corpse.

"How do you feel--anything I can do?"

"If I had a dr--" he broke off, drew a long breath. "Nobody aboard?"

"If you're all right, Greer and I will take a turn below and see what we
can find," suggested Madden.

Caradoc nodded apathetically and stared seaward toward the cable sagging
into the dead ocean.

The two boys moved gingerly up to the hatchway that led down to the
forecastle. If disease had smitten the _Minnie B_ they hoped to get
some clew from the taint of the sailors' quarters. Greer stuck a nose
down the ladder first. Beyond the usual close ship smells there seemed
to be nothing wrong. Then they climbed down.

Here again they found order. The bunks against the bulkheads and the
curve of the prow were clean with neatly rolled blankets. The lockers
were open and empty. The two searchers climbed out and walked aft to the
lazaret. They were rapidly getting over their fright of the plague.
Again Greer entered first, and this time Madden heard a loud snort of
disgust.

Half expecting some sinister sight, Madden ran down the three steps and
entered the storeroom. But what had roused the sailor's dislike was that
the lazaret contained no provisions. It was as empty as the forecastle;
not a chest, not a canister, not even a spice box remained. Here again
the lockers were open and empty. From one of the keyholes hung a bunch
of keys. The steward had deserted his ring, knowing it could never be of
service to him again.

The little metal bunch hung straight down without the slightest
oscillation. Such lack of motion and life amid the close stewing heat of
the lazaret threw a glamor of unreality over the whole affair. The
schooner might well have been warped to a dock in some port of the dead.
The very newness of everything accentuated its amazing loneliness.

"Doesn't seem real, does it?" said Greer in a low tone, drawing a long
breath in the heat. "I keep listening."

Madden shook himself. "It seems as if someone ought to be aboard." He
broke away from the spell: "I wish they had left us some provisions--we
need 'em."

The hot heavy silence fell immediately after the remark, like a curtain
that was heavy to lift.

"Let's look through the hold and see if there _isn't_ someone
here!" suggested Greer uneasily.

With a feeling that they were likely to encounter some being, human or
spectral, at every turn, they went below. The farther they went the more
inexplicable became the _Minnie B's_ desertion. Her engines were in
perfect order, her furnace so new that the grate bars were still
unsealed from heat; the maker's name-plate was still bright on the
boilers; her hull was quite dry, with less than six inches of water in
her bilge. She had no cargo, except four or five tons of raw metal
ingots used as ballast. The coal in her bunkers was nearly exhausted.
Indeed she was riding so light that heavy weather would upset her like a
chip. It seemed as if the crew had looted the _Minnie B_ in a
thorough and extraordinary manner, and then had simply vanished. Every
now and then in their search the two would find themselves standing
motionless, open-mouthed, listening intently to the brooding silence.

More puzzled than ever by these explorations, the two adventurers
climbed into the chart room. Here, also, everything was intact, and in
order. In a desk they found the ship's log and clearance papers. The
captain's and the mate's licenses hung in frames against the wall. Near
these was tacked the picture of a sunny-haired little girl and
underneath it was written the name "Minnie." So the schooner was the
little smiling-faced girl's namesake, this tragedy-haunted abandoned
vessel. A Mercator's projection lay thumb-tacked on a table, and the
last position of the schooner was indicated by a pin sticking in the
map.

Madden moved over to it eagerly, hoping this pin would give him some
inkling as to where the disaster, if there had been one, occurred. He
noted the latitude and longitude indicated by the marker, then turned
excitedly to Greer.

"Look here!" he cried, "this pin marks our position at this moment. We
are right here!" he touched the point on the map.

"How do you know it does?"

"I calculated the dock's position this morning."

"Well, what of that? She will probably lie here till she rots in this
stagnant sea."

"That's the point: This is not a stagnant sea. There is a current of
about six miles a day in the Sargasso, very slow, but it will change a
ship's reckoning."

Greer remained unimpressed. "What do you make of that?"

"Make of that! Why, man, the person who took this reckoning, took it
_this morning_! That's the only way he could have got it. There was
somebody on this schooner this morning when we sighted her."

"This morning! This _morning_! Where in Davy Jones' locker----"

Madden was leaning over the chart scrutinizing it with careful eyes. At
last he raised up in complete bewilderment.

"Farnol," he said in a queer tone, "the crew meant to come here! Meant
to sail through the Sargasso--clear away from all trade
routes--incomprehensible but--just look!"

Both boys bent above the chart, and Madden silently pointed out a row of
pin holes that marked the daily reckonings of the _Minnie B_. She
had sailed from Portland, Maine, had swung up the northern route past
Newfoundland Banks as if going to England. On this portion of her voyage
her average run was a little less than two hundred knots a day. On the
fifth day out, the _Minnie B_ inexplicably deserted the normal
trade course, turned from "E. NE." and sailed directly "S. SW." At the
same time her speed was accelerated to a trifle over three hundred knots
a day. Her last reckoning left the pin sticking in the exact longitude
and latitude which Leonard had worked out for the dock that morning.

"They got in a hurry when they did turn south," said Greer vacuously.

"They certainly burned coal from there to here."

"But what could have put her in such a rush, sir?"

"She must have sailed somewhere after a cargo, and later received a
cancellation of the order. With that cancellation there must have come a
new commission with a time limit, from some of the South American ports,
I should judge by her course, say Caracas, or Paramaribo."

"But she has no wireless, sir. She couldn't have changed her
destination."

"That would be fairly easy to explain. There are so many fast liners
with wireless between New York and Liverpool, it would be a simple
matter to get a message signaled to a sailing vessel in the trade
route."

"But I can't see why she sailed through the Sargasso?"

"If the time factor had been urgent enough, she might have tried to
shorten her journey by coming this way instead of following the usual
course by Cuba and through the Caribbean."

"That doesn't tell what happened to the men."

Madden shook his head and wiped the sweat from his face on his
undershirt sleeve. "Let's read the log. That ought to clear up things a
bit."

Both lads hurried over to the desk, drew out the greasy, well-thumbed
book. In their excitement, they forgot rank and tried to read together.

"Let me read it aloud," compromised Madden.

Dripping with sweat, they leaned on the hot desk and went carefully over
the log of the _Minnie B_.

The record was simple. The _Minnie B_, of Leeds, England, sailed
from Portland, Maine, for Liverpool on July thirtieth with a cargo of
lake copper in bulk bound for Liverpool. For the first five days, her
log was written in two heavy unscholarly hands, which alternated with
each other, and were evidently those of the mate and the captain. These
two handwritings were quite distinct from each other and contained the
usual notes of prevailing winds, state of weather, speed, distance
indicated by patent log, dead reckonings, vessels sighted and such like.

From the sixth to the twentieth day, the log of the _Minnie B_ was
written in a sharp, pointed, scholarly hand, and this record was
confined to the mere relation of distances and reckonings. Then on
the twenty-first day of August there appeared the following entry:

"46 degrees 57' W. Long. 27 degrees 24' 11" N. Lat. No wind. Sargasso
Sea. Current 9.463 kilometers per 24 hrs. W. SW. Cast sea anchor. Five
hundred tons ingots reshipped."

At this statement, Leonard turned and stared at Greer.

"Reshipped! Reshipped! Holy cats, Farnol! Reshipped from here--right
here!" He jabbed a finger downward to indicate the spot in the dead
Sargasso Sea occupied by the _Minnie B_.

Greer shook his head dully. "But this is all the wildest--" he made a
helpless motion. "You oughtn't to think about it, sir, or you'll be
going overboard, too. Reshipped!... This heat will get anybody in
time.... The man who wrote that went and jumped overboard the next
minute no doubt. Reshipped..... It ain't good for us to read it, sir."

"But something's gone with her cargo, Greer!" declared Madden
vehemently. "Something's gone with it. I don't care how crazy the crew
became they surely wouldn't have dumped a hold full of copper into the
sea. This log says 'reshipped' and blessed if I don't believe--"

At this moment the boys seemed to hear the sound in the deathly silent
vessel for which their ears had been all the time straining. Madden
broke off abruptly and both stood listening with palpitating hearts. It
was repeated. A repressed half groan, inarticulate, as if some human
being were in distress. It was in the main cabin below them.

Hardly daring to guess at what they would see, the adventurers crept
silently out of the chart room, down a short hot passageway to a door.
Leonard caught a breath, then opened it without noise.

In the brilliant westering light that flooded the main cabin through the
port holes, Madden saw a dining table, disordered as from a recent
feast. On the floor around it were fragments of smashed glasses and
bloody stains. A cut glass decanter, half full of wine, sat on the
table, and in a corner of the cabin shrank the figure of a man.



CHAPTER IX

A MODERN COLUMBUS


Hardly knowing what to expect the two advanced into the cabin, when the
figure turned and looked at them with pallid countenance.

"It's Caradoc!" cried Madden in great astonishment and relief. "Scots,
Smith, you gave us a jolt! We thought--what's the matter, old chap? Heat
again?"

The Englishman's long face was strained. "Would you--take that decanter
away, please!" he begged unsteadily.

Instantly Leonard understood the temptation into which Caradoc had
unwittingly wandered. A strong odor of wine pervaded the cabin, and
Smith's knock-out had given his nerves a great craving for a stimulant.

Without a word, Leonard walked to the table, took the wine bottle by its
neck and heaved it through the open port. The three men in their half
costumes stood listening intently until it chucked into the sea below.
All three seemed to feel relief at the sound.

"That's all right, Caradoc," said Madden with a note of comfort in his
voice, "all right, old chap. It won't be like this always."

"I was unstrung--rotten heat," grumbled the Englishman in acute
self-disgust. "I thought I was getting over all--" he shifted the topic
suddenly: "What do you make out of all this?"

"Completest mystery I ever ran into--the crew deserted for some
reason----"

"And they had a feast and a celebration before they went. What cause of
rejoicing they discovered in this place is more than I can fancy."

An inspection showed Smith was correct. What the boys had taken for
bloodstains in their first excitement were splashes of wine. The table
was still laden with dishes and eatables. Broken glass around the table
showed that the diners had followed the old custom of breaking their
goblets after toasts.

"They were having a last square meal before taking to their boats,"
speculated Leonard.

"But the boats are still here, sir," objected Greer.

"There seems to be no explanation," gloomed Caradoc.

"If we gathered this up and took it to the men, they would thank us
heartily," suggested Greer.

"That's a fact," agreed Madden, setting to work at once. "Here, pile
these plates on trays and we'll load 'em in the small boat."

The three adventurers set to work busily, carrying the provisions, which
were still fresh and wholesome, to the port dinghy which lay toward the
dock.

As they worked they speculated further on what could have brought about
such an extraordinary situation. Their guesses ranged from water spouts
to savages. Presently Caradoc cut in with:

"It's not so much how the _Minnie B_ got here, as it is how we are
going to handle her."

"We'll man her and sail home," said Greer.

"We'll have to ballast her first," declared Leonard. "She won't run this
way."

"We have enough coal on the dock for that, sir."

"In a flat sea like this," suggested Caradoc, "we can warp the schooner
to the front of the barge and load the coal directly in her hold."

By this time the dinghy was loaded and the three swung her out of the
davits into the sea below. Then they threw down a rope ladder and
climbed below. Greer went back to the stern, picked up an oar and began
to scull.

The sun sank as the little boat worked her way through the lanes of
seaweed, and the great dock threw long purple shadows across the highly
colored ocean. Caradoc looked at the great structure intently. The
setting sun rimmed its great shape in brilliant red, but the bulk of it
lay in deep wine-like shadow. The boys gazed at it musingly.

"A fine structure to desert, isn't it?" said Caradoc in a low tone.

"Just what I was thinking," sympathized Madden. "I suppose we could send
a tug back and find her?"

"Doubtful, in this fantastic place."

"The current is fairly well charted; still, it may take us some time to
reach port----" Both men fell into a musing silence as Greer nibbled the
boat forward with the single oar.

"The thing's worth over a million pounds," appraised Caradoc.

Suddenly Madden straightened with an idea. "How about hitching that
schooner to the dock and towing her?"

"What an American idea!" Caradoc lifted his voice slightly.

"Would we--make any--headway, sir, with the schooner's--light
machinery?" asked Greer, his sentence punctuated by shoves at his oar.

"We would have to try and see. Besides, we would have to do little else
than help the current we are in. The Atlantic eddy sweeps through the
Caribbean close to the South American coast. If we could control our
direction slightly, we would perhaps make La Guayra or the Port of
Spain."

"With a seven or eight mile current that would take us months--years....
What is the distance to La Guayra?" this from Smith.

"Something around fifteen hundred miles. But that isn't the point. It
isn't how long it takes us, it's can we _do_ it. Had you thought of
the salvage end of this thing?"

"Salvage, no. We'll get salvage on the schooner--a bagatelle."

Madden shook his head, "No, I believe we ought to get salvage on the
whole dock."

"Salvage on the dock!" Caradoc opened his eyes. "We'd be jolly well near
millionaires. No, that's impossible. A crew can't salve their own
vessel."

"Yes, but we are not the crew of the dock," insisted Madden, "at least
not the navigating crew. The men of the _Vulcan_ were that. We are
nothing but painters----"

"Oh, that's a quibble--nothing but a quibble!" objected Caradoc.

"Well, anyway, I think there is a rule that if a crew rescue their own
craft under circumstances of extreme peril, they come in as salvors.
I'll look it up in Malone's books when we get back."

At that moment their ears caught a cheering from the dock, which came to
them as a small sound almost lost over the immense flat sea. Greer
paused in his work to wave a hand, which was extremely sociable for him.
The men bunched on the forward pontoon, waved and shouted at the little
boat. As the noise grew louder, questions shaped themselves in the
uproar.

"W'ot did ye make of 'er?" "Was there anywan aboard?" "W'ot ship is
she?" "Can we git a berth hoff this bloomin' dock?"

Madden held up his hands for silence and shouted a reply.

"We have a meal for you--a dinner!"

A great shouting and cheering broke out at this. It is strange how much
more pressing is the small need of a dinner than the large need of a
rescue. The mystery of the schooner was overlooked in a sight of the
plates and victuals.

"Oh, look, there it is--bread and meat!" "And, say, ain't that fish?"
"And that goose or something!"

Eager hands reached down as Madden and Caradoc handed up the platters.
"To the mess room, to the mess room!" directed Leonard.

"Sure, sure, we wouldn't touch a mouthful for hanything!" cried Mulcher
earnestly.

"Misther Madden, you're a wonder!" extolled Hogan.

Then the three men climbed up and were received clamorously. Even the
silent Greer found himself beset with a temporary bunch of admirers. All
began talking of the _Minnie B_, asking questions. Caradoc unbent
his dignity and explained what he had observed.

Leonard went straight to the officer's cabin, eager to satisfy his
curiosity about salvage. A whole fortune shimmered before his vision if
law allowed the crew to salve the dock. He turned into the hot cabin,
struck a light and ran his eyes over the mate's shelf of books. He soon
found what he was hunting, "Abbot's Law of Merchant's Ships and Seamen."

Leonard sat down at his desk, placed the light close by and began a
sweating search for the legal rule applicable to salvage. It was
Madden's intention to attempt to get the dock to port no matter what the
law said, but he knew his best chance of getting the crew to cooperate
was through possible prize money.

Like all legal works, Abbott gave shading decisions on both sides of the
topic. As the lad read on he discovered many questions were involved.

What constitutes the crew of a vessel? Can a towed vessel have a
navigating crew? Could a lawful crew be composed of ordinary laborers,
or would it be necessary for them to be able seamen?

All these points and many others were involved, but Leonard plodded
patiently through the legal labyrinth, and finally decided that he and
his crew were eligible for prize money. He then fell to estimating the
probable amount the crew would receive. The dock was easily worth a
million pounds, or say five million dollars. It would lack one or two
hundred thousand totting up a full five million, but Leonard's
imagination was in no mood to balk at a paltry two hundred thousand more
or less. Say five million! The share of the salvors would amount to--say
fifty per cent, two and a half million. Distribute this among twelve
men. There he was, two hundred and eight thousand, three hundred and
thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents. Or say two hundred thousand
dollars.

Madden drew a long breath and opened his eyes at his own figures. Was it
possible? He doubted it! He believed it!

He stared out of his open port onto the fantastic sea, amazed that a
great fortune should drift in to him from such a place. What would he
do? How should he live? He could go anywhere, do anything. There came to
him suddenly the precepts of his old teacher in economics at college: "A
fortune is a great moral responsibility. A rich man is a trustee of
society." Did he have the brains to wield this money and make it mean
something to the world? The thought of wealth always comes with a
question. A man's answer to that question determines whether he is a man
or a thing.

Before Leonard could reach any sort of decision, Gaskin rang his gong
for dinner. The boy arose and walked buoyantly towards the mess hall. He
was hungry, too. Ever since he had cut rations, he had been eating the
same fare as the men.

The tropical night was falling as the men joyously entered to a
full-fledged, satisfying, if secondhand, meal. They came in laughing,
joking boisterously, wondering about the schooner.

When the men had strung around the long table, Mike Hogan arose and the
men became quiet as if at some preconcerted signal. The Irishman gave a
slightly embarrassed bob toward Leonard and began in an extra rich
brogue:

"Misther Madden, sir----"

Leonard glanced up in surprise. "What's worrying you, Mike?"

"Th' bhoys, sir, have been thinkin' as how we would loike to ixpress our
appreciation av what ye've done for us, sir, in a little spache,
something loike a little spache av wilcome, sir, an' asked me to do it,
if ye don't moind."

"Go ahead," nodded Madden, "but don't expect much of a response from me.
I'm no speaker and----"

"Go on, Mike!" "Go to it, Mike!" "Take a sip of water, Mike, like a
reg'lar one, and cut loose."

With this encouragement, the Celt moistened his dry lips, thrust out his
chest, and after a momentary fumble, stuck three fingers in his shirt
front.

"It's me pr-roud privilege, ladies and gintilmin, to wilcome to our
midst, a gintilmin bearin' in wan hand a distinguished ancistry, a
spirit av enterprise and a hear-rt av courage, while wid his other, he
snatches a dinner for his starvin' min out o' th' middle av th' Sargasso
Sea. Oi rayfer to our distinguished commander, Captain Leonard Madden of
America."

A burst of applause followed this period. Hogan beamed, bowed deeply to
left and right; his voice went up an octave and he proceeded:

"Ladies an' gintilmin, me mind runs back through th' pages av histh'ry,
lookin' for a name fit to be compared with him but I don't find none.
There is Columbus and Peary and Stanley and Amundsen, all av thim
gr-reat min, but whin you come to compare thim with our hero, phwat have
they done?

"Look at Columbus. What is his claim to glory? Did Columbus iver swim
out into th' stinkin' Sargasso and come back with a good dinner for his
star-r-vin' min? Histh'ry does not say so. He discovered America,
Columbus did. What is America? A whole continint. Anybody that was
sailin' by would have noticed it. But, gintilmin, a dinner is a very
small thing and they are har-rd to discover, as ivry wan of you lads
very will know. Columbus wint out in thray ships, our gallant captain
wint out in his undhershirt and a straw hat. I say thray cheers for our
gallant captain!"

The cheers were given with a hearty good will and the orator sat down
smiling broadly and moistening his dry lips with his tongue. Then the
diners desired a response.

It struck Madden to propose salving the dock while the crowd was mellow.
He arose when the noise subsided somewhat.

"I thank you fellows very much for the kind opinion you entertain of me,
and now I want to lay a proposition before you."

"Hear! Hear the captain!" called two or three cockneys in hoarse good
humor.

"I want to say that to-morrow we are going to man the schooner and sail
for home."

The men were in a bubbling mood, and cheered this with cries of "Good!
Good!"

"What I wish you to decide is, whether we shall tow the dock, or sail
with the schooner alone?"

"With the schooner alone, sor!" "Schooner alone!" "We 'ave enough of th'
dock!" came an instant chorus.

Leonard held up a hand, "One moment. I want you to have a voice in this
decision. An attempt to tow the dock will be highly adventurous, no
doubt dangerous. You were not hired for any such service, and I wish to
leave it to a vote."

"Good, very good, sor! Let's 'ave th' question!"

"Just one moment. You must consider the salvage involved in this matter.
If we save the schooner, we will receive as prize money about one-half
her value. If we save the dock, we will receive about half _her_
value. The dock is worth a million pounds, about five million dollars.
So each man would receive for his portion, in event we salved the dock
about... two hundred thousand dollars... a fortune."

A profound silence fell over the diners. They hunched forward, staring
fixedly out of sunburned, gross, dissipated faces. Longshores-men, the
scum of London, who had worked all their lives for half a pound a week,
gaped at the idea of two hundred thousand dollars.

Somebody repeated the sum hoarsely. Suddenly they raised an uproar.

"We'll take 'er, sir!" "We'll tow th' dock, sor!" "We weel tow zee dock
to zee moon for zat!" "Sphend our loives and die rich min!"

The strong imagination of wealth ran around the table like wine.
Deschaillon responded first.

"Voila! One meellion francs! I weel buy a pond near Paris and raise bull
frogs. I weel buy a decoration and be a knight. I weel----"

"I'll start an undertaker shop!" glowed Galton, "and my old mother shall
have a bit of ground to raise flowers."

"Glory be!" chanted Hogan, "Oi'll wear a tall hat, a long-tailed coat
and carry a silver-headed cane, and thin Susie Maloney and Bridget
O'Malley and Peggy O'Brien will be sorry they iver tossed up their saucy
noses at th' love o' an honest lad!"

"I'll own a kennel of bulldogs," growled Mulcher, "and 'ave a fight
hev'ry day."

All this was given in chorus and much of it lost. Those who didn't speak
aloud their heart's desires thought them. Fortune had shown her golden
form to these crude men for a fleeting instant, and dreams, long hidden
in their hearts, suddenly leaped to life. They were poor dreams, selfish
dreams, foolish dreams, but for the moment they poised, like liberated
fairies, for a flight to the land where dreams come true.

"We sail in the morning," explained Madden, "for a South American port.
Is there anyone in this crew who knows anything about running a marine
engine?"

The men fell silent and looked inquiringly at each other. Fortune was
beginning to show herself elusive, even in the Sargasso, save to those
who _know_.

"I b'lieve not," said Mulcher.

"We could raise steam, sir," suggested Galton, "and then pull all the
levers and twist th' w'eels, sir and see w'ot'd 'appen."

"W'ot 'ud 'appen!" cried two or three voices. "W'y, we'd hall be blowed
galley west, 'at's w'ot'd 'appen!"

"Sure Misther Madden can figger it out!" suggested Hogan cheerfully.

"We might leave th' dock and run 'er 'ome by sail," suggested Galton.

"No! No! Take th' dock!" "We'll run'er by steam!" "Steam's th' word!"
A storm of determination cried down any such suggestion.

"D'ye mean a dozin str-rong min can't run one little engine!" shouted
Hogan; "r-rich min, too! It's a shame, lads, we haven't a dhrop o'
something to dhrink the health av th' ixpedition."

"Yes, Mister Madden, a drop o' something!" urged another voice.

At that moment, Gaskin entered the door with suppressed excitement
showing through his usually imperturbable manner.

"Hi--Hi beg pardon, Mister Madden. Hi, don't want to interrupt, but--"
he rubbed his hands with a little bob--"but would you 'ave th' goodness
to step outside for a look, sir. Hi think th' _Minnie B_ is on
fire."

And the fairy dreams, evoked by a wave of Fortune's wand, crept silently
back into the hearts of their owners.



CHAPTER X

THE STRANGE END OF THE _MINNIE B_


At Gaskin's announcement, bedlam broke loose among the diners. They
leaped to their feet and rushed headlong from the messroom.

"Get th' buckets!" "Man th' boat!" "We'll niver get there in toime!"
"_Allons! Allons_!" "W'y didn't we put a guard on 'er!" "Hurry!
Hurry! Hurry!" "Yes, 'urry! 'urry!"

Out into the darkness to the forward pontoon rushed the howling mob.
Some gave inarticulate cries, others bewailed their lost riches to the
vast empty night.

A strange sight met their eyes. The spars and sails of the _Minnie
B_ stood out against the black heavens in a flickering brilliance
that danced up through the rigging, but presently all saw it was a mere
light shining from beneath.

"Th' fire's in th' hold!" cried Galton hoarsely. "Did you men drop a
match?"

"'Ow could they drop a match, wearin' nothin' but undershirts?" flared
back another navvy.

"We could do no good in a small boat!" cried Galton.

'She's afire from stem to stern!"

"But smoke--w'ere's th' smoke?"

Then, quite surprisingly, the light wavered out, leaving the schooner in
stony blackness. A vague blur of complementary color swam in Madden's
eyes. A gasp went up from the watchers.

"Bhoys," faltered Hogan in an awed tone, "th' banshees ar-re dancin'
to-night!"

"Banshees!" sneered Mulcher. "Th' deck's caved in--it'll break out
again!"

"Th' engines must be ruint complately."

"Wot do ye make of it, Mister Madden?" asked Galton, bewildered.
"Look--there it is again!"

Sure enough the mysterious light flamed up once more as suddenly as it
disappeared. It flickered and wavered over hull and spars.

"It might possibly be a phosphorescent display," hazarded Leonard,
completely mystified.

"Tropical seas grow very luminous when disturbed... a school of
dolphins or sharks on the other side the schooner might----"

"This must be a reg'lar fire!" cried Mulcher. "Nothin' but a furnace in
th' hold----"

"W'y don't hit smoke?"

"'Ow do I know?"

"Hit ain't a fire!"

"W'ot is hit?"

"Phosphescence, didn't you 'ear Mister Madden say!"

"Will hit sink 'er?"

Deschaillon gave a sharp laugh. "What _sauvages_!"

By this time it became clear to everyone that it was not a fire. As the
weird illumination continued its fantastic gambols, little points of
light began moving about the deck.

Just then Caradoc's grave voice hazarded: "That must be an extraordinary
display of St. Elmo's fire. I should say a storm was brewing."

"Would St. Elmo's fire 'urt th' vessel, sir?" asked a cockney.

"Not at all," replied the Englishman.

As Leonard stared a queer thought came into his head. He looked around
at his companions. In the faint radiance from the mysterious schooner,
he could make out their faces, pale blurs all fixed on the strange
spectacle. He picked out the heavy form of Farnol Greer and moved over
to his friend. Under the cover of excited talking and exclamations, he
asked in a low tone.

"There was somebody on that schooner this morning, Farnol?"

"Just what I was thinking, sir."

"He could have hidden from us. You thought he must be crazy--a crazy man
would probably have secreted himself."

"I had it in mind, sir, the very thing."

"Now could he possibly make a light like this?"

Greer remained silent. The queer fellow never said anything when he had
nothing to say.

"I'd like to go over and see," went on Leonard. "I want one man to row
with me. We want to go light and fast."

"That's me, sir."

Greer moved instantly to the rope ladder where the dinghy was tied.
Madden followed him. Caradoc was still explaining the theory of St.
Elmo's fire to the listening men. Madden broke in on it.

"Fellows," he called, "Greer and I are going to row over there. We'll
let you know what we find."

Amid warning protests the two climbed down the ladder for the small
boat.

"I wouldn't do it, sir." "Leckricity's liable to strike you, sir."
"There's a storm comin', sir, and you won't get back, like th' mate
did." "You can see just as well from 'ere."

But the two clambered into the half-seen dinghy and pushed off. The
moment they dipped oars into water, the mystery was partially explained.
Every stroke they made created bright phosphorescent rings in the
lifeless sea. Their blades drove through the water in a flame. The
navvies cried out at this phenomenon. A sufficient disturbance of the
sea beyond the schooner would almost explain the strange light dancing
through the rigging. But what made that disturbance?

Reflections of the shining spars made a wavering path over the
weed-strewn water, and up this path the dinghy moved amid its own
flashing fires. It formed a queer spectacle, a glowworm creeping up on a
bonfire.

The fact that the two boys had just traversed the Sargasso lanes a few
hours before aided them greatly now in finding their way to the
schooner. Presently they were skirting the drift of seaweed where Madden
had come so near losing his life. As they rowed, the flashing of the
water about their oars only half convinced Madden that a similar cause
underlay the bizarre illumination on the schooner. The American's mind
clung to the idea that there was somebody on board the _Minnie B_,
a madman, possibly, who in some unknown way produced this amazing light.

He groped for some theory to account for a maniac on a deserted schooner
in these desolate seas. No doubt if a solitary man were left in these
terrible painted seas he would go insane. Madden regretted that he had
not searched the _Minnie B_ more thoroughly when he had the
opportunity.

Similar thoughts evidenly played in Greer's mind, for presently he
puffed out, between oar strokes: "Did you bring along a pistol, sir?"

"No, but there are two of us."

"They say they are tremendously stout, sir."

"We can use our oars; they'd made good clubs."

"I'm with you, sir."

By this time they had entered a long S-shaped rift that Madden recalled
led straight to the schooner. By glancing over his shoulder, the
American saw its two curving strokes drawn in pale light against the
dark field of seaweed. As they drew nearer, wild notions of what they
might encounter played through Madden's mind. What would be the outcome
of this fantastic adventure?

The dinghy was moving down the middle of the long "S" when a dull noise
from the schooner caused both oarsmen to look around. Such an
extraordinary sight met their eyes that they ceased rowing completely,
and stood up in the boat to stare at their goal.

The _Minnie B_ no longer lay at rest. Some strange and mighty
convulsion was taking place in the schooner. The lights still played
about the vessel, but her whole prow rose slowly out of the sea, while
she settled heavily by the stern. The most unexpected thing in the world
was happening.

The _Minnie B_ was foundering!

In the ghastly light, her masts and rigging swung in a slow drunken
reel. Presently she settled back to normal with a heavy crushing sound
as the water in her hold rushed forward. She seemed some mighty
leviathan weltering in agony. She lay on even keel for four or five
minutes while a hissing and spewing of air compressed in her hull told
she was slowly settling.

In the ghostly light the foundering vessel gave a strange impression of
clinging desperately to her life. She seemed striving to remain upright.
Her hissing and sucking might have been a living gasp for breath. Very
slowly she rolled over, and came the noise of many waters cascading down
over her upflung keel. Her masts crashed, yards broke, rigging popped in
the wildest confusion as they dashed into the sea. Great phosphorescent
waves dashed through the prone rigging and over the hull in liquid fire.
A sea of quicksilver leaped up to lick her down. With great bubbling and
sucking and groaning, the _Minnie B_ fought for her last gasp of
life. For several minutes she lay thus, on her side, every detail
clearly delineated as liquid fire roared down her open hatches. At last,
as she filled with water, the schooner straightened with a mighty
effort, a last stand between sea and sky, then sank slowly out of sight
in a scene of wild and ill-starred beauty. Her mainpeak disappeared in a
shining maelstrom. The convulsed water flashed and hissed, and the
circling waves here torches into the dead seaweed and moved the black
fields to a whispered sighing.

Toward the south the waves moved with great velocity and brilliance.
Indeed something seemed to be rushing away from the wreck, clad in long
winding sheets of flame. It might have been a continuation of the waves
in that direction, or it might have been some dolphin or shark flying
from the roaring vessel.

In ghastly mystification, the two watchers stared at the last weird
gleams that marked the foundered schooner. The waves reached the dinghy,
raised it and dropped it with a slow gurgling, then died away in firefly
glimmers. The sea presented once more a dim gray surface. To Madden's
mind there came, with a sharp sense of pathos, the picture of the little
sunny-haired girl he had seen in the chart room.

"Sunk," murmured Greer in a strange tone, "sunk--when she was as dry as
a chip."

"Heeled over," shivered Madden, "heeled over in a dead calm--God have
mercy on us!"



CHAPTER XI

CARADOC SHOWS HIS METTLE


Heat, that grew more terrific as the dock drifted southward; hunger,
that gnawed like rats at the empty stomachs of the crew; withering heat,
aching hunger, growing despair--that was life on the floating dock.

Of all the crew only Gaskin remained in good condition. It would have
required more than a hero to cook food and go hungry, but the crew made
no such allowances. They berated the dignified Gaskin, they eyed each
other's scant portions jealously. Their quarrels over food at last
forced Madden to weigh each man's allowance to the fraction of an ounce.

The nerves of the crew frayed out in the heat. By night they slept amid
tantalizing dreams of food; by day they sprawled in dreary silences
under awnings which held heat like sweat boxes. The high metal walls of
the dock caught the sun's rays and threw out a furnace heat. The men
endured it in net undershirts clinging to dripping bodies; their eyes
ached against the glare, their stomachs rebelled, their brains sickened
with monotony and despair.

The men developed little personal traits that exasperated their mates
unreasonably. Mulcher had a way of breathing aloud through his coarse
lips that chafed Hogan's temper. For hours at a time the Irishman would
stare at those flabby spewing lips, filled with a desire to maul them.
Yet before this isolation, he had never observed that Mulcher breathed
aloud.

The only occupation the men had now was to stare at, listen to and
criticise each other. All painting had ceased, for work consumes energy,
and energy consumes food.

Caradoc Smith found peculiar and private grievance in the fact that
Greer often whistled to himself in a windy undertone. The tune Farnol
chose for these unfortunate performances was an American ragtime, that
repeated the same strain over and over.

Caradoc strove not to listen to this dry whistling. Sometimes he left
his awning and climbed up the walls through the sapping sun's rays to
escape it, but his ears caught the faintly aspirated air at remarkable
distances.

One day he said to Madden: "I don't see how you stand that Greer
fellow's eternal whistling," and Leonard answered:

"Does Greer whistle?"

"Whistle! He whistles everlastingly, abominably--one of those confounded
American rags. He's at it now--what is that thing?"

Madden had to listen very carefully before he caught the faint blowing
between Farnol's lips. Presently he identified it.

"That's 'Winona, Sweet Indian Maid.'"

This reply seemed to arouse an irrational anger in the Briton.

"'Winona, Sweet Indian Maid'--_sweet_ Indian Maid!" he snorted.
"Did an Indian write such a nightmare? Is it a war song? Do they murder
each other by it, or with it?"

Madden grinned with fagged appreciation, thinking the remark meant for
humor, but Caradoc grimly chewed his blond mustache.

It was noon, three days later when Caradoc's endurance broke down.

"Greer!" he snapped with all his pent-up irritation in his voice, "will
you never stop mouthing that beastly tune?"

The stolid fellow looked around in the blankest surprise. "Tune?"

"No, groaning, wheezing! You spew it out all day long! What do you think
you are? A tree frog, a locust, a katydid? Doesn't your mouth get tired?
Does that hideous tinkle go through your hollow head all day long?"

The Englishman's long face was a dusky red. He had not intended to be
insulting when he first spoke, but all the sarcastic and abusive
epithets that he had _thought_ during the long super-heated days of
nerve-racked listening, now rushed out like steam from a boiler.

Farnol stared straight at the nervous fellow. "Are you insane?" he asked
in wondering contempt,

"A wonder I'm not--with that diabolical wheezy spewing boring in my
brain--you never stop a minute--over and over----"

"Have you run out of stolen whiskey again?" interrupted Greer with cool
malice.

The whole crew came to hushed attention.

Caradoc seemed to collect himself with a great effort. The blood ebbed
from his face, leaving it the color of clay.

"Stolen?" he asked in a contained voice. "Yes, isn't there another
medicine case for you to steal?"

"Greer!" cried Madden reproachfully. The American knew it was hunger,
heat and nerves that were nagging these two miserable men to quarrel.

"I believe he said I was no gentleman," pronounced Greer sarcastically,
"because I didn't know a little French. I say _he's_ a thief."

Caradoc was drawing long breaths through dilated nostrils. "Mr. Greer,"
he said with cold evenness, "it is impossible to obtain swords or
pistols on this dock. We will have to fight with our hands. Choose a
second!"

Greer nodded shortly. Both men got to their feet and both glanced at
Madden.

The American shook his head. "I can't serve for either of you. I'm in
command here. I'm impartial."

"Will you oblige me, Mr. Deschaillon?" asked Smith with a set face.

The Gaul arose, saluted, military fashion, with a clicking of heels.
"Eet ees an honor, M'sieu!"

Greer stared around dourly. "Hogan?"

The Irishman leaped to his feet joyfully. "Oi'm wid ye, Misther Greer,
and we'll bate th' long face off th' spalpeen, though I hate to hit
Frinchy Dashalong, who is a good frind o' mine."

All the men were up now circling about the principals.

"You don't have to do no fightin', 'Ogan," explained Galton, "you simply
stand by and 'old up for your man, an' 'elp fan 'im 'twixt rounds."

"Rounds!" exclaimed the disgusted Irishman. "I thought they were
choosin' sides for a free-for-all."

Caradoc began methodically stripping to the waist and Greer followed
suit. The Englishman presented his watch to Madden with a slight bow.

"If you'll be so kind as to keep time," he suggested, "that's a neutral
position. We fight four minutes and rest one."

Madden considered the warlike preparations askance. He wondered if he
ought not to stop it. The Englishman might suffer another sunstroke.
However, he took his station at the ringside, and glanced at the watch,
which had a coat of arms carved on the inside of its hunting case.

There was a striking contrast between the two fighters. The Englishman
was a beautiful taper from his great shoulders to his small aristocratic
feet. His muscles were long, graceful and knitted across his arms,
chest, and stomach like lace leather. He was built for swift enduring
action and could only have sprung from a race of men who had spent their
lives in play and luxury.

Farnol Greer, on the other hand, was as heavily moulded as a bulldog.
His arms were short and blocky; his shoulders welted with brawn; his
chest was two hairy hills, like a gorilla's, while across his stomach
muscles lay ridged like ropes. His waist was thick with pones of sinew
bulging over the hips, as one sees in the statue of Discobolus. It was
plain that Greer had labored tremendously all his life and that his
strength was simply wonderful.

It struck Madden as a strange coincidence that these two extreme types
of luxury and labor should meet in this furnace on the Sargasso and
fight for the trivial reason that one offended the other's sense of
music.

"All ready!" called Leonard.

The two men squared away at each other, Caradoc smiling sarcastically,
Greer grim as a gallows. Utter silence fell over the crowd. The fighters
crouched, bare fists up, staring at each other over the tips of their
guards.

For a moment Smith shifted around his man on his toes. He seemed as
light as a cat. Greer stood solid and merely turned on his flat feet.
Suddenly Caradoc's long right whipped out with a crack against the
shorter man's forehead. Greer made no sign of having received a blow,
although a dull red splotch slowly formed on his frontal. Caradoc led
another right, which Greer blocked, then the Englishman bored through
with a stinging left to the hairy chest.

"Go afther him! Kill him!" cried Hogan to his principal. "Nixt toime he
thries to hit ye, knock off his head for his impidence!"

"Aye, 'it 'im! Don't take nothin' off of 'im!" advised two of the
cockneys. Sympathy lay with the smaller man.

Smith continued his tiptoe dance and led a straight right. Instantly his
massive enemy ducked, leaped in under his guard, and there came the dull
thud of in-fighting; Greer's black head jammed up against Caradoc's
chin, his great muscular back bent half double, his tremendous arms
working like pistons.

The crew howled at this sharp unexpected attack. Caradoc rescued himself
by shoving open palms against the big bulging shoulders, and pushing
himself away from this battering ram. Smith bumped into some onlookers,
and got behind his guard some ten feet away from Greer. The Englishman's
fine-grained stomach was covered with pink welts from his punishment. He
had ceased smiling and was watching his man carefully. As a matter of
fact, he had expected to dispose of Greer easily--as a gentleman
disposes of a clod-hopper. But the heavy-set boy's method of fighting
was new and effective. Likewise there seemed to be a certain grim system
about it.

"First round is over!" called Madden.

"Phwat a shame!" cried Hogan.

With English love of fair fight, the cockneys divided themselves
impartially between the battlers and converted themselves into impromptu
rubbers and handlers. There was perhaps not a man in the crowd who liked
Caradoc; nevertheless they hustled him to his awning, put him down on a
box, procured towels, water, sponges from somewhere, and set up a
vigorous fanning and rubbing, all out of a desire to see fair play. At
the end of a minute they carried their champions back and set them
facing each other like human game cocks.

Farnol dashed in at once, whipping right and left hooks to Smith's
sides. Caradoc tore himself away and played for distance, stabbing at
Farnol's head at long range. The short youth accepted with indifference
punishment that cut cheeks and lips. He made rush after rush, driving
Caradoc into the crowd, who immediately shifted back and made room. Time
and again he landed terrific short arm jolts over heart and kidneys.

The sweating bodies of the fighters glistened in the roasting sunshine.
Both were bruised, Smith's body, Greer's head and shoulders. Caradoc's
mouth felt slimy and he spit at nothing.

The fighting went in spurts, Greer rushing Land Smith dancing away and
stabbing. The two gangs of rubbers bawled encouragement to their men.

"Land on 'is nose there, Smith!" shouted Mulcher. "Don't let 'im to ye!
Play away, play away, me boy! Now huppercut 'im! Huppercut 'im, I say!"

On the other side, Galton was shrieking hoarsely, "Bore in, Greer! Bore
in, me lad!" and Hogan, "G'wan and mash the spalpeen's ribs! Br-reak his
long nick! Cr-rush him! Why don't ye hit him on th' head and lay him
out?"

"Time's up!" announced Madden.

During the following rounds, Caradoc stuck to the long range English
method of fighting, but over and over Farnol broke through his guard and
his short-arm jabs spread a sick numb feeling over Caradoc's sides and
chest.

The Briton deliberately worked for Greer's eyes. His first round with
the silent man convinced him that he would never be able to stop that
massive steel body with a knock-out. On the other hand Greer covered up
tightly and lunged like a tiger after Smith's stomach and endurance.

Two or three weeks before, Caradoc could never have withstood that
terrific bombardment, but his hard life on the dock, his abstinence from
alcohol, and the fact that tobacco had long ago run out, all this had
armored his body with hard flesh.

The opening of the twelfth round found both fighters blown, bleeding and
filled with a desperate determination to end the contest. They formed a
ghastly sight when they were pitted in what proved to be the final
clash. Greer's face was chopped and bleeding, while Caradoc's ribs were
a mass of bruises, as mottled as a leopard's skin.

To Caradoc, the whole dock seemed unsteady. The sun bored into the back
of his head. The men had ceased yelling, and the circle silently swayed
back and forth to give the battlers room. The whole scene was hazy and
fantastic.

The Englishman put up his hands automatically when he faced his enemy,
and the next moment black-haired blocky bull of a fellow charged
furiously. Smith tried to stop him with a heavy right hand smash, but
his fist glanced off the man's sweaty shoulder. The next moment, Greer's
right landed in a fierce solid jolt on Smith's hip bone. A sickening
pain went through the Englishman. He sagged away and went down on a
knee, hunched forward, trying to protect his face with his gloves. Greer
Started another rush, when Madden jumped in, put a hand on his shoulder.

"You can't hit him while he's down!" he shouted in the bull's ear, and
then the American began counting: "One, two, three..."

Caradoc rested with his broad chest panting convulsively up and down
till the count of eight. Then he sprang backwards away from his enemy.
Curiously enough, Greer did not press his advantage home. The heavy
lad came forward but stood away from Caradoc, attempting nothing but
left-hand jabs.

In an instant Smith saw what was the matter. That blow on the hip had
ruined Greer's right hand, strained it, perhaps broken it. Greer's
rushes had stopped, and Smith, who was a boxer, not a fighter, could
stand off and peck at his man's eyes or jaw without danger to himself.

He hitched wearily up to his enemy, blocked Greer's left hand and let
his right have a full swing at his exposed body. Farnol went through the
motion of striking, but his blow was a mere tap and caused the heavy
fellow to cringe with pain.

[Illustration: Caradoc Stands the Acid Test.]

Caradoc swung a light blow to the neck. Greer countered fiercely with
his left, but it was parried easily.

Suddenly the crowd understood what had happened.

"Put 'im out!" "Finish 'im!" "Put 'im to sleep!" bawled a chorus. "He
hit you below th' belt w'en 'e broke 'is 'and!"

Farnol continued his chopping one-armed fight. "Put me out! Put me out!"
he bubbled furiously. "I said ye was a thief! You _are_ a thief!
You're a thief!" and he accented his charges with stabs.

Smith side-stepped the harmless attack, letting it slide first to one
side then the other, men were so tired they could hardly keep their
feet. The Englishman looked down on the stubborn fellow, with his
chopped, bleeding face and blackened, defiant eyes. A hard swing at
unprotected jaw would stretch him out in broiling heat, but he did not
make the blow. Instead he pushed the frothing fellow away from him.

"Go to your corner and cool off," he panted. "Yes, I'm a thief. Go on
away; I don't want knock you out."

He turned his back deliberately and walked to his own awning. The crowd
stared, absolutely dumfounded by this unexpected turn of affairs. Greer
himself stared, then moved forward automatically to continue his
onslaught, when Hogan grabbed him.

"Come on back," cried the Irishman. "Th' scoundrel has lift ye no ixcuse
to fight him any more. He says he's a thafe, but I don't belave Come git
a wash and let's wrap up yer hand."

At that moment the dignified voice of Gaskin came from the forward
pontoon. The crew hushed their hot comments on the fight to listen.

"A sail," called the cook. "A sail to th' sou'west, sir!"

Instantly every man moved forward. The fight was forgot in the great
hope of a rescue. Even the gory looking principals hurried forward to
see if such welcome news could be true.



CHAPTER XII

THE RETURN OF THE _VULCAN_


Etched against the horizon lay a stumpy masted vessel that seemed as
still and dead as ocean that rotted around it. She had not a sail aloft
nor a plume of smoke in her funnel. For the moment this lifelessness was
not observed by the hungry castaways. A joyous medley arose from the
dock.

"Th' _Vulcan_! Hit's th' _Vulcan_! Th' good _Vulcan_!
We'll 'ave full rations t'night, 'at will! Hurrah!"

They fell to cheering. Voices arose in confusion.

"_Vulcan_ ahoy! _Vulcan_ ah-o-oy!" they bellowed in an effort
to span the miles with human ices.

"Say, lads, she ain't movin'!" cried someone making the surprising
discovery.

"Faith and phwat's th' matter with _her_ now?" exclaimed Hogan in
exasperated wonder.

A silence fell over the boisterous group.

"Out o' coal," hazarded Galton, "that's w'y she harsn't got back no
sooner."

"W'ere's 'er sails, then?"

"A tug couldn't do nothin' with sails--she isn't made for sails!"

"It ain't w'ot ye're made for, hit's w'ot ye can git in this blarsted
sea!"

"Maybe 'er machin'ry's broke?"

"Maybe they're hall sick?"

"Or dead?"

"Maybe----"

Madden hurried to his cabin and returned with binoculars. The men
foregathered curiously about him as he scanned the vessel. He ran his
eyes over the tub from stem to poop. She stood out with absolute
distinctness in the glaring light. He could see her high prow, the
swinging buffers along her side, the wide-mouthed ventilators. He could
even make out her name in rusty letters under the wheel-house. Her small
boats were in place, but he saw neither life nor movement aboard. She
appeared as deserted as a pile of scrap iron.

"W'ot are they doin'?" queried Galton.

"Nothing." Madden was puzzled over the strange condition of the tug.

"Ain't they crowdin' to th' side, sir, lookin' at us and fixin' to come
to us?"

"Nobody's on her," replied Madden. "At least I don't see anyone."

"W'ot! W'ot! Nobody on 'er! Is she deserted, too? Just like the
_Minnie B_!" chorused apprehensive voices.

"Seems so," frowned Madden, then he made up his mind quickly and moved
over to the small boat which had been hauled up on the forward pontoon.

"Fall to, men, lower that dinghy. We'll go over and see what's the
trouble."

The crew went about their task with a sudden slump of enthusiasm.

"If the crew's gone, sir," mumbled one of the men, as he paid out the
rope, "w'ot's the use goin' across?"

"To get to the tug, of course."

"An'w'ot'll we do?"

Madden looked hard at the cockney. "Get the provisions aboard if nothing
else."

"There wasn't none on the _Minnie B_, sir."

"What's the _Minnie B_ got to do with the _Vulcan_? We're
going to run the tug and dock out of this sea, crew or no crew--ease
away on that rope, Mulcher. Let go! Now climb down, Galton, loose the
tackle and swing her in alongside the ladder."

When the cockneys obeyed, Madden ordered the whole crew into the small
boat. They climbed down the ladder one by one with a reluctance Madden
did not quite understand at the time.

Fifteen minutes later, the little boat, loaded down to her gunwales,
set out for the tug. Four oarsmen rowed, one man to the oar. The slow
clacking of shafts in tholes echoed sharply from the huge walls of the
dock as the dinghy drew away through the burning sunshine.

At some half-mile distance, the harsh outlines of the walls and pontoons
changed subtly into a great wine-red castle, that lay on a colorful
tapestry of seaweed, with a background of blue ocean and bronze sky.

As he drew away, Madden had a premonition that the dock was vanishing
out of his life and sight, that never again would he live in its great
walls. Like all crafts in this mysterious sea, it seemed completely
forsaken, deserted. With a shake of his shoulders he put the thought
from him and turned to face the future in the motionless tug that lay
ahead.

Half an hour later the dinghy drew alongside the silent _Vulcan_
and the crew clambered aboard. As they had suspected, there was no sign
of the tug's crew aboard.

Although the binoculars had forewarned them of this, the adventurers
bunched together on the deck with a qualmish feeling and began talking
in low tones, as men converse in the presence of mystery, or death.

"We'll search her first," directed Madden, in a tone he tried to make
natural.

"Yes," agreed Greer, "and, men, keep a sharp eye out for lunatics. Don't
let anything jump on you----"

"Lunatics!" gasped Mulcher.

"Greer and I fancied someone scuttled the _Minnie B_," explained
Madden with a frown, "but that's no sign such a person is aboard the
_Vulcan_."

"They are wonderful like, sir," observed Gaskin.

"Anyway we'll look her over."

The men agreed and began scattering away, two by two for companionship.
Presently from the port side Hogan raised his voice guardedly.

"Oh, Misther Madden, just stip this way a moment, if you plaze."

The call instantly attracted several other men. They moved across deck.
Hogan was pointing. "Jist th' same as th' other wan," he said gloomily
and significantly. "We knew it would be this way, sir. It was th' same
hand as done it"

Leonard looked with rising dismay at the sinister parallel.

The _Vulcan_ also was lying at sea anchor.

In brief, here was conclusive proof that the tug had been abandoned
deliberately and with forethought by Malone, Captain Black and the whole
_Vulcan_ crew. Moreover, as in the case of the _Minnie B_, they
had deserted their ship without taking a boat or even so much as a
life buoy.

The amazed group of men collected about them other members of the
searching party, who stuck their heads out of ports and doors now and
then to see that no evil magic had set the rigging in flames.

"They all go th' same way," mumbled Hogan, staring at the anchor and
wetting his dry lips. "Oi'm thinkin' it'll be our toime nixt."

"Piffle," derided the American half-heartedly.

"It makes no difference what happens," put in Caradoc, "we'll see the
thing through."

For some reason the men thought better of Smith since the fight and his
crisp announcement cheered them somewhat.

"She's got plenty o' coal," volunteered Galton.

"'Er engines look all right," contributed Mulcher, "though I know
bloomin' little about hengines."

"I weesh I knew what happened to the men," worried Deschaillon in his
filed-down accent.

"My quistion ixactly, Frinchy," nodded Hogan emphatically. "Misther
Madden says 'Piffle,' but Oi say where are they piffled to? Did they go
over in a storm, or die of fever, or run crazy with heat?"

"They didn't starve," declared Mulcher, "for some of th' fellows are in
th' cook's galley now eatin'."

Madden lifted his hand for attention, "There's no use speculating on
what has happened. It's our job to get dock and tug to the nearest
port."

"But suppose--suppose----"

"Suppose what?"

"Suppose th' thing gits arfter us, sir?"

Madden stared, "Thing--what thing?"

The cockney frowned, looked glumly across deck. Galton answered,

"W'y, sir, th' thing that run th' crew hoff the _Minnie B_ an' hoff
th' _Vulcan_. Crews don't 'op hoff in th' hocean for amoosement,
sir. Some'n' done hit an' that's sure."

"Do you mean you object to sailing this tug on account of some imaginary
_thing_?" demanded Madden in utter surprise.

"Imaginary, sir!" protested Mulcher, "If you please, us lads on th'
dock, the night th' _Minnie B_ sunk, saw something swim off to th'
south wrapped hall over in fire, sir. Imaginary thing! It bit a 'ole in
th' _Minnie B_ an' sunk 'er, sir!"

This recalled to Leonard's mind the peculiar phenomenon he had witnessed
at the sinking of the _Minnie B_.

"What do you think the thing is?" he temporized.

"A--A sea sorpint, sir," stammered a cockney embarrassed.

"Sea serpent! Sea serpent!" scouted the American. "There is no such
thing as a sea serpent!"

"That's w'ot th' hofficers always say," growled Mulcher.

"But it is a scientific fact--there's no such thing."

The well-fed Gaskin, who formed one of the group, made a bob. "That may
well be, sor," he said in solemn deference, "but w'ether there is or
isn't such a thing, sor, it's 'orrible to see, either way."

From the banding of the men against him, Madden became aware that they
had decided on the real cause of the mystery behind his back, and he
would have hard work to argue them out of the sea serpent idea.

"You boys saw a shark or porpoise swimming away from that schooner," he
began patiently. "I saw it myself. You recall, on that night anything
that moved in the water burned like fire. The ship was brilliant, the
oars of the dinghy shone. The thing you saw had nothing to do with the
schooner."

"Then w'ot sunk 'er, sor?"

"Aye, an' w'ot come of 'er men, sor?"

"Aye, an w'ot come of th' _Vulcan's_ crew?"

"Could a sea serpent put out a sea anchor?" retorted Leonard.

The men stared doggedly at their chief. "We don't know, sor."

"You do know that it is impossible!"

"If there ain't no such thing, sor, 'ow do we know w'ot it can do?"
questioned Gaskin.

"Then do you want to go back and stay on the dock and starve?" cried
Madden at the end of his patience.

There was a silence at the anger in his tone, then Gaskin began very
placatingly, "Hi'm not wishin' to chafe ye, sor, but th' dock is so big
th' lads 'ave decided the sorpint is afraid o' th' dock."

At Leonard's impatient gesture he added hastily, "Not that Hi believe in
such things, sor, but Hi carn't 'elp but notice that hever'body on th'
dock is alive, an' hever'body on th' other two wessels is dead an' gone,
sor."

Madden turned sharply on his heel. "Anybody who knows anything about
marine engines, follow me," he snapped. "We must study out a way to
start the _Vulcan's_ machinery. We're going!"

As he moved down to the doorway amidship that led below, he heard Galton
mumble: "Yes, _we'll_ be going, Hi think, down some sea sorpint's
scaly throat, but th' tug an' th' dock'll stay 'ere."

If a view of the _Minnie B's_ auxiliary engines had put hopeful
notions in Madden's head of puzzling out their control by mere
inspection, a single glance at the huge machinery of the _Vulcan_
filled him with despair.

The tug's hull was practically filled with a maze of machinery. Her
engines arose in a tower of bracings, wheels, gearing, pistons, steam
pipes, steam valves, with a multitude of the eccentrics and trip
gearings used on quadruple expansion engines.

Although he had seen hundreds of steam engines, never before had Madden
realized their complication until he faced the problem of running this
difficult fabric. His proposed task made him realize that the engineer's
apprentice, who serves four years amid oil and iron black, learning all
the details of these mechanical monsters, is probably just as well
educated, just as capable of exact and sustained thought, as the lad who
spends four years in college construing dead tongues.

Madden could construe dead tongues, or at least could when he left
college a few months back, but now his life, the life of his crew, the
salving of the dock, and the winning of a possible fortune, depended
upon his answering the riddle of this Twentieth Century Sphinx. It was
like attempting to understand all mathematics, from addition to
celestial mechanics, at a glance.

Nevertheless, Madden's training as a civil engineer gave him a certain
aptitude for his formidable undertaking and he set about it with
rat-like patience.

He picked out the main steam pipe, larger than his body, covered with
painted white canvas, and followed this till he discovered the throttle,
a steel wheel with hand grips with which he could choke the breath out
of the monster engines. Beside this were control levers. On the steam
chest lay a half-smoked cigarette, as if the engineer had been called
suddenly away from his post.

Madden turned the throttle, pushed the levers back and forth, and
listened to clicking sounds high up in the complexity of the engines. He
knew that every lever threw long systems of vents and valves in and out
of play. A wrong combination would easily wreck all this powerful
machinery. He was tackling a delicate job--like juggling a car-load of
dynamite.

An oil can sat under the throttle. The amateur engineer picked up this
and a handful of greasy tow. Engines require constant oiling. Madden had
never watched an engineer ten minutes but that he went about poking a
long crooked-necked oil can into all sorts of hidden inaccessible
places.

Madden thought if he tried to oil the engine, he might learn something
about it. He glanced around for the usual myriad little shining brass
oil cups stuck, one on each bearing. To his surprise, he saw none. The
machinery of the _Vulcan_ was lubricated by a circulatory
compression system, which used the same oil over and over. Madden did
not know this, so it threw him off the track at his first step.

No one had followed the boy into the engine room, so now he was about to
go on deck and commandeer a squad, when, to his surprise, Galton
appeared at the top of the circular stairs, whistling a rather cheerful
tune. He leaned over the rail and called down heartily:

"Do you want me, Mr. Madden?"

"Yes, come along. I wish you knew something about machinery."

Galton laughed buoyantly. "I'm not such a chump at hit, sor," he
recommended.

"You know something about it?" inquired Madden in surprise.

"A bit, a bit, Mr. Madden. My brother Charley is chief engineer on the
_Rajah_ in the P & O, sor."

"Ever work under him?" asked the American hopefully.

"Two years, only two years, sor. Never did finish my term an' get my
papers. Often's the time 'e's begged me to do it, Mr. Madden. 'E'd say,
''Enry, me boy, w'y don't ye finish your term and git a screw o' sixteen
pun' per, but I was allus a----"

"That's all right!" cried Leonard delightedly. "I don't care whether
you're a full-fledged engineer or not. You're hired for this job.
Understand? You'll get full wages, and then some. I'll----"

"Oh! I can 'andle a little hengine like this, sor. That's th'
inspirator, sor," he pointed. "That's th' steam chist. In th' other end
is th' condensing chamber. That little hegg-shaped thing is----"

"That's all right; I'm no examining board. Just so you can run it and
keep it running. Now I'll get a gang at the furnace, if the boys have
got over their sea-serpent scare by this time."

"They're jolly well over that, sor. Me and Mulcher 'ave decided as 'ow
we're goin' to kill that sea sorpint, if it comes a-bitin' into our tug,
sor."

Madden looked at his willing helper curiously. "Kill it--how are you
going to kill it?"

"Dead, sor, yes, kill it dead, sor." Galton nodded solemnly, "My brother
Charley, cap'n o' th' _Cambria_, sir, in th' 'Amburg-American Line,
'e learned me to kill sea sorpints, w'en I was jest a l-little bit of
a--a piker, sor. An' I n-never forgot 'ow 'e told me to do it. You climb
up th' mainmast, sor, w'ere you can git at their 'eads, cross your
fingers for luck, an' blow tobacco smoke in their eyes. They 'ate
tobacco smoke an----"

Leonard stared at the fellow, with a sinking heart. He was drunk. As to
whether he knew anything about marine engines or not, there was no way
to find out.

The effect of the long strain of heat, hunger and anxiety now told on
Madden in a wave of unreasonable exasperation.

"You boozy fool!" snapped the officer, "you haven't sense enough to run
a go-cart. Go down and start a fire in the furnace--can you do that?"

"Shertainly," nodded Galton gravely, "Mr. Madden, I can do anything. Go
bring me th' furnace, and I'll put a fire in it _that_ quick. I'll
start it now."

Here he stooped unsteadily, picked up a piece of oily tow, and before
Madden knew what he was about, drew out a match and set fire to the
greasy mass.

Leonard made a jump, planted a cracking blow between Galton's eyes. The
fellow went down like a tenpin and lay still. The American stamped out
the blazing tow before the fire spread on the oily floor.

Just then he heard a yelling from the upper deck. Hardly knowing what to
expect, he dived for the circular stairway and rushed up three steps at
a jump.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SEA SERPENT


When a new crew is shipped on an old vessel, the mate's first duty is to
search the sailors' dunnage for whiskey; when an old crew is shipped on
a new vessel, that officer would do well to search the vessel for rum.

Madden had neglected this. While the American was in the engine room,
the cockneys in the cook's galley had found intoxicants, had poured raw
whiskey into their empty stomachs and the result was the quickest and
most complete intoxication. When Madden regained the deck he found his
crew singing, laughing, fighting, quarreling in an absurd medley.

Deschaillon roared out a French song. Two cockneys quarreled bitterly
over what words he was saying. Mike Hogan jigged to the Frenchman's
tune, but shouted as he danced that he was spoiling for a fight. The
smell of spirits reeked over the tug as if someone had sprinkled her
deck with liquor.

Madden looked with anxious eyes for Caradoc, but did not see him. Smith
was probably stuck away in some hole, senseless with poison, his effort
at sobriety frustrated, his moral courage shattered, his weeks of
painful reform smashed.

Whatever humor there might have been in the ill-starred situation was
destroyed for Madden by his friend's moral relapse. It was much as if
some invalid, nursing a broken leg, should fall and break it over again.

Gaskin was the first man who came in reach of the wrathful American.
Madden caught his arm, whirled him about.

"You ladle rum out to these hogs?" he blazed.

Gaskin revolved with dignity and considered his accuser. "You wouldn't
think Hi'd do such a thing, sor!"

"Then how did they get it?" Leonard shook the fat arm sharply.

"In spite o' me, sor! In spite o' me!" defended the cook, shaking his
fat jowls earnestly. "Hi rebooked 'em, sor. Says Hi, 'Gents, this is
lootin', it is piratin', it is----'"

"You should have refused them a drop!"

"Refuse--Hi did refuse, sor! Hi did more. Hi blocked 'em! Hi--Hi fought
hout, like a demon, sor! There were too many! Hoverpowered me, sor, they
did! I was fightin' and blockin', fightin' and blockin', like a d-demon,
sor, b-but--b-but----"

Here Gaskin's utterance grew thicker, his fat head bobbed, then he
slithered down by the rail in the hot sunshine; his face stared skyward
and stewed sweat in the terrific heat. Madden gave a grunt of disgust.
Gaskin was fast asleep.

There was nothing to be done. The men were drunk and he would have to
wait till they became sober before making an attempt to run the
_Vulcan_. He stood a moment, staring disgustedly at his useless
crew, then finally stooped and dragged Gaskin to the shady side of the
superstructure. As he passed with his burden some of the men made clumsy
tangle-footed efforts to salute.

In the shade Leonard found a deck chair, perched himself on its arm so
as not to touch its hot canvas, and sat brooding glumly. He banished the
drunken uproar from his brain and began totting up his prospects for
escape from this foully beautiful sea. His mind jumped from topic to
topic in an exhausted fashion. He wondered whether or not Galton really
knew anything of marine engines? If the dock would be discovered by a
passing ship? If the tug's crew had really gone demented and leaped
overboard? If there were any connection between the fate of the
_Minnie B_ and the _Vulcan_?

It seemed to Madden that he had been in the heat and brilliant
garishness of the Sargasso for centuries. He wondered if the men would
become so starved that they would draw lots to see who should be killed
and eaten.

Anything, everything, was possible in this isolated sea. Its normal
happenings were unreasonable. It was a place of madness. He recalled the
words of the navvy on the London dock, "Everything is unreasonable at
sea." Certainly that was true of the vast stewing labyrinth of the
Sargasso. He had lived abnormally so long that it seemed strange to him
now to think that there were comfortable, well-ordered places on the
face of the earth. Just as one cannot imagine snow and ice in the depth
of summer, so Madden could not imagine the simple comforts of life. It
seemed to him the whole world shriveled under a furnace heat.

Such heat, such congestion, he thought, might well breed sea-monsters.
After all, why should there not be a sea monster? Who could be sure that
the old megalosauri, and megalichthys were extinct? Those monsters
existed once upon a time, certainly. He was half persuaded that they
still existed.

A sea serpent!

He wondered what a sea serpent would look like? One might well drive a
man insane, cause him to leap overboard in utter horror.

His feverish brooding was interrupted by a wild flood of abuse from the
starboard deck. It was Galton's voice bellowing:

"Were is 'e? Were is that bloody Hamerican? 'E 'it me! 'It me in th' eye
for trying to 'elp 'im! You lads goin' to see me murdered for nothin'?"

Came a medley of drunken questions:

"W'ot's th' matter? Who bloodied your bloomin' eyes? W'ot 'appened?"

"That Hamerican chap!" bawled Galton savagely. "'E 'it me for 'elpin'
'im make a fire! Goin' to see me run over an' killed?"

"Faith Oi didn't see nawthin'," panted Malone, fresh from his dance

"Won't you stan' by a Hinglishman?" shouted the battered one.

"Sure we will!"

"We're Hinglish!"

"Le's 'lect 'nother hofficer an' court martial 'im!" bawled the sailor
venomously.

"Sure, make 'im walk a plank!"

"Son of a shark!"

"Man-killin' crimp!"

The whole crew came lurching around toward Madden, filled with the wordy
anger of intoxicated men.

The American arose to his feet with little emotion save a return of his
old disgust. He knew he could defend himself from any assault the crew
might make in that condition. But they made none. They stopped a little
way from him, some drunkenly grave, others winking or leering, some
abusive and threatening.

"Go'n' tuh 'lect 'nother captain," announced Mulcher thickly. "You no
reg'lar hofficer!"

"You 'it a man for 'elpin' you, and 'urt 'is eye!"

"Make 'im walk a plank!" flared out Galton, shaking a big fist at
Leonard. "Make 'im walk a plank!" Leonard observed that the fellow's
nose and forehead were badly bruised, and dark circles had settled under
his eyes. He started for Madden, when Hogan caught him under the arms.

"Phwat you talkin' about, old scout? Walk a plank--you have to court
martial him first."

"I don't b'lieve 'e can walk a plank," surmised a cockney gravely.
"'E's too drunk; 'e'd fall hoff."

"Where's Farnol Greer, Mulcher?" snapped Madden disgustedly. "Is he
drunk, too?"

"D-drunk--you don't think we're drunk, sor?"

"We 'ave been drinkin' a little, sor, but we're not drunk."

"Oi am," nodded Hogan, resting his chin on Galton's shoulder as if from
deep affection.

"Oi don't a--ack loike it, you--hic--you couldn't tell it on me, b-but
Oi--Oi--Oi'm drunk, aw roight."

"I theenk Greer ees in the cook's galley," smiled Deschaillon, who
appeared to be rational; then he added coolly: "Eef there ees any
fighting, I weel help you, Meester Madden."

"Cook's galley!" sputtered Mulcher. "'E's drinkin' hit ever' drop, lads;
come on!"

"An' th' grub, too!" added Hogan.

This news completely disorganized the court martial and election
committee. Galton himself forgot his revenge in his thirst. They
started aft pellmell in confused haste to help Greer finish the rum.

Leonard made no objection. They were already drunk. They might as well
dispose of the liquor once for all, and then it would trouble discipline
no more.

When the men and their turmoil had disappeared, Madden remained on deck,
filled with a dull, heavy feeling of lassitude and bitterness. It was
one of those moments when a man's hope is swamped in present
difficulties.

The sun swung slowly down into the western sea, and its reflections made
long blinding streaks in the Sargasso. Its yellow light transformed the
great red dock into an orange structure that rested on the sea as
lightly as the pavilions of the evening clouds.

The perpetual bizarre beauty of the scene was tiring to the youth. For
some reason he thought again of the sea serpent. It occurred to Madden
that an enormous scaly thing, in vivid spangling colors, embossed with
sword-like spines, with a long convoluted tail, huge red-fanged mouth,
would be in keeping with the scene before him, would indeed produce a
gorgeously decorative effect, such as he had seen in Chinese pictures.

His thoughts took all sorts of queer turns. He wondered what he would do
if he should see such a creature? He walked over and stood by the rail,
staring intently into the colorful west, half expecting to see some wild
dragon of his imagination. If it should come, he wished for a camera--a
moving picture camera. A moving picture of a dragon attacking a ship!

Just then he caught a strange noise that seemed to emanate from the air
above his head. He stood quite still, hands on rail, listening. It was
repeated. It was a human noise. It seemed to come from the vacant
bronze-colored sky above his head. He wondered if he were going insane?
Just then he caught sight of Caradoc's torso thrust out from a barrel up
in the shrouding of the foremast. The crew of the _Vulcan_ had run
up the barrel like a whaler's lookout to post a watch. Into this barrel
Caradoc had climbed.

The face of Smith wore a strained, desperate look. Madden stared at him
for several seconds, quite taken aback by finding him in such an
unexpected place. One thing, however, filled the American with deep
gratification. The man was not drunk.

"What you doing up there?" called Madden in surprise.

Caradoc's broad shoulders sagged drearily. "I don't know," he said
dully. "I fancy I might as well jump overboard and be done with it."

Madden became instantly alert. "Jump overboard! What for?" A sudden
thought hit him. Maybe this was the way they all went? Then another fear
entered his heart.

"Say, have you seen anything up there, Smith?... A dragon, or... sea
serpent, or..." Madden stared dumbfounded at his friend, marveling what
manner of sight had put suicidal thoughts into Smith's head.

"Heavens, yes... dragons, dragons, dragons!"

A weak, watery feeling went through Madden's legs. He felt doddery.
"Many dragons!" All idea of beauty was lost in grisly horror.

"W-wait a m-minute!" he chattered. "D-don't j-jump--I'm coming up
th-there!"



CHAPTER XIV

CARADOC WINS HIS FIGHT


Trembling all over, Madden gained the barrel and stepped through a niche
in its side. He stared through the brilliant, hot colors, but no rushing
horde of monsters met his eyes.

"Which way?" he asked breathlessly.

Caradoc looked around at him in uncomprehending misery. There was just
room for the two in the barrel. Smith seemed to put his mind to Madden's
question with an effort.

"Which--what did you say?"

"Which way?"

"What do you mean?"

"The dragons, man, the dragons!"

"Dragons--right here!" Smith beat his broad chest, then waved his long
arms about. "Everywhere--don't you smell it?"

The idea of smelling dragons confused the American. "Smell what?"

"The whiskey!" shivered Caradoc. "I came up here to get away from it."

"Oh--so you didn't see--I understand!"

"It's tantalizing--horrible!" he shivered again, as if the superheated
air chilled him.

The American's own foolish fancies vanished in the face of his friend's
real trouble. Caradoc had met a dragon more terrible than the Sargasso
could conjure up, and its fangs were in his heart. His flight to the
crow's nest had been an effort to escape its fury, but it had followed
him there. Leonard put a hand on his friend's shoulder. He was at a loss
what to say. Indeed there was nothing to say.

"Habit--queer thing, Leonard--I thought I was all right."

"Yes?"

"You see, in college I used to take an alcohol rub-down after my bouts,
and a drink. And now, after my fight at noon--smelling this--you don't
know how it brings it back, appetite, recollections, everything----" he
waved his hands hopelessly again.

"Don't think of it. Put your mind on something else."

Caradoc gave a short mirthless laugh. "Stand in a fire--and consider the
lilies?"

"We've got to consider how we'll ever get out of here, if we can't run
this tug's engines..."

"We're stuck! We're stuck!" declared the Englishman miserably. "I don't
see why I don't go down and be a hog again... we'll finally starve...
Somehow I had a mind to die sober... God knows why I ever came on such a
junket."

"Starve nothing. We'll get out somehow. We can fish and eat seaweed and
distill our own water. I can make a still. And you'll get over that
appetite. Bound to--can't last always."

Smith relapsed into silence, staring over the dying colors of the sea.
Madden tried to think of simple remedies to abate a drunkard's appetite
for alcohol. He had heard of apples, lemon juice, but both were as
unobtainable as the gold cure itself.

"How long have you been like this?" he asked at last.

"Been bad two or three years. Drank some all my life. My governor taught
it to me when I was a baby. Then when I got older if I went too far he
kicked. Naturally I intended to stop in time, till I slipped in deep."

Leonard nodded understandingly. "It always gets a nervous high-strung
fellow. The better stuff you are the harder it hits you."

Caradoc stared moodily seaward as he continued his recollections.

"The governor kept warning me. I don't believe he'd ever have kicked me
out, but he died. Then they cashiered me--took my commission--and my
family let me go, too... Well, I can't blame 'em."

"Your commission--in the army?"

"Navy."

"What were you?"

"Second lieutenant."

Madden looked at his friend curiously. Here was a queer pass for an
English naval officer. This revelation explained a good deal about
Smith, his autocratic manner, his many-sided education, his emotion at
leaving England. It even explained why he had expected Malone to place
him in charge of the dock.

"Is there any hope of getting back in?" asked Leonard sympathetically.

"Instauration! Never knew of such a thing in our navy. If I ever get out
of here I'll go in trade somewhere."

"In South America?"

"I had British Honduras in mind, or Canada. I'd like to keep in the
Empire."

A noise below interrupted the conversation. The two youths looked down.
The deck plan of the tug lay flat and empty save for the inert form of
Gaskin. The noise came from inside the cabin and arose to a shouting. It
was a drunken ribald sound. A suspicion flashed on Leonard's mind.

"Those pigs below are wasting the stores," he declared.

"They ought to be stopped."

"I couldn't stop them without a fight. They were about to court martial
me when they happened to think of something else."

Caradoc stared down in the direction of the noise, "I might talk them
into sense if Greer isn't drunk and wanting to fight again."

"He said he never drank--I don't know."

Caradoc nodded, "I'll go down and send them forward," he asserted with
conviction, and started to climb out of the barrel.

Madden looked at the Englishman with a certain apprehension, "Caradoc,
if you go down there where they are drinking, won't you----"

"No, I'm not going to drink."

"It will be a temptation."

"I have myself in hand now. This talk has done me good. No, I'm all
right." He swung out of the barrel and started down the ratlines.

Leonard watched him anxiously, not at all sure of the outcome of his
mission, not at all sure that the hot smell of rum in the galley would
not again overcome his resistance.

The sun was just dipping into the sea and its last light spread out of
the west to the zenith like a huge red-gold fan. Purplish shadows had
already begun to dim the tug and dock and ocean.

Fifteen or twenty degrees above the sunset shone a pale crescent moon in
the burnished sky. The sight of the moon somehow cheered Madden. He
recalled a childish superstition that it was good luck to see the new
moon clear. At any rate, as the sky darkened, the clear new moon brought
Leonard comfort and renewed hope.

With a grateful feeling of the providence of an Almighty that hung out
moon and stars, the youth glanced around the darkening horizon and
presently observed a tiny light far to the south. He stared at it quite
surprised, and then he chanced to see a star just above it. It was the
reflection of Sirius in Canis Major.

The beam of a star must lead any thoughtful soul into endless reveries.
Beneath its calm and infinite light, all human troubles fade to the
brief complaining of a child in the night. Death becomes a small,
unfeared thing, and life itself, the trail of a finger writing an
unknown message upon water.

Filled with such musings, the American noted with surprise that the
light on the sea which he had fancied to be the reflection of Sirius was
moving. It was not the reflection of a star.

It was a light moving in the gathering darkness.

What sort of light could it be? A Will o' the Wisp? A Jack o' Lantern,
some phosphoric phenomenon rising in the exhalations of rotting seaweed?

Ten minutes before, his excited imagination would have conjured up
hydras and dragons; now he scrutinized the mysterious illumination
unexcitedly. It winked out occasionally, then presently reappeared. But
it did not move in an aimless fashion, after the manner of gaseous or
electrical phenomena. It pursued a straight line toward the
_Vulcan_. That was why Madden had not observed its movement sooner.

Although it had crept only a little way down from the horizon, the
wondering boy could discern its progress plainly among the dark masses
of seaweed that blotched the graying water. The light was moving toward
the _Vulcan_ and at a high rate of speed.

As he watched it, the enigmatical light suddenly disappeared. The youth
blinked his eyes, looked again. It was gone. Then he became a little
uncertain whether or not he had ever observed any such phenomenon. He
glanced down on the dark deck and could faintly discern the form of the
cook.

"Gaskin!" he called sharply, "Gaskin!"

To his surprise the drunken fellow stirred and made some mumbling reply.

"Get up. I want to know whether or not you can see anything."

Came a sluggish stirring from below, and then Gaskin's voice, in which
deference struggled with a bad headache, "Yes, sor, I can see
hever'thing as usual, sor."

"I thought I saw a light to the south. Just take a look in that quarter,
will you?"

The dopy cook scuffled to his feet and stumbled over to the rail, hung
there, peering intently southward. At that moment, there burst out of
the sea a brilliant illumination that fairly blinded Madden. Shocked
into spasmodic action, the American jumped from barrel to ratlines.

He hardly knew how he got down, as much of a fall as a climb. Strange
fearsome thoughts chased through his head. The men were right about
something attacking the _Minnie B_. Now the same thing had attacked
the _Vulcan_. The _Vulcan_ would be sunk. He must rush the men
out of the galley into the small boat. He must race back to the dock.
The dock apparently was safe. What the startling apparition was, he had
no time to speculate. When he touched the deck he sprinted for the
cabin.

As he passed Gaskin the light vanished as mysteriously as it had
appeared, and left the tug in inky darkness.

Madden heard the cook give a deferential cough and then say, "Yes, sor,
Hi saw it, Mr. Madden, saw it quite plainly, sor."

A moment before Leonard reached the cabin door, someone flung the
shutter open violently and shouted his name in the utmost alarm.

"Mister Madden! Mister Madden! Come quick, sir!"

The American lunged through the dark aperture straight into the fellow's
arms. In the darkness he could not make out who it was.

"Don't be afraid! Did you see it? Where are the rest of the men?"

"In the galley, sir, with him!" stammered the sailor,

"Are they in a funk?" gasped Madden, feeling that he himself was in one.

"Oh, they are that, sir."

"Why don't they come on out? We must get 'em out!"

"They're with him, sir, 'fraid to touch 'im!"

"With who?"

"Mr. Caradoc, sir."

"Afraid to touch him--why, what's the matter?"

"'E's dead, sir."

A feeling as if ice water had been dashed over his body shivered through
Leonard. The black cabin seemed to swing under his feet. His arms
dropped down and he stood perfectly still staring into the blackness
from whence came the sailor's voice.

"You--you don't mean he's _dead_?" he asked in a shocking whisper.

"That I do, sir, dead as a lump o' seaweed."

Madden turned and walked with a queer light feeling toward the galley.
He was in no hurry now. If that strange light sank them, drowned them,
it made little difference. An idea came into his mind.

"Did--did you fellows kill him--murder, him?" he asked in a hard
undertone.

The tenseness of his voice seemed to scare the sailor, "No, sir, no,
sir, no, sir!" repeated the cockney over and over.

"For I'll shoot the man down like a dog! I'll hang him! I'll--I'll----"

"We--we didn't touch 'im!" cried the sailor in hoarse alarm. "'E done
it 'isself, sir. Went clean crazy, kilt hisself--'orrible!" As the
sailor gasped out "horrible" they entered the cook's galley where a dim
light burned and a group of silent, sobering men stood in a knot over
some object.

Madden shoved through to where two men stooped over a long body, dimly
seen on the decking. The two men were Hogan and Deschaillon.

With his strange feeling still strong upon him, Madden knelt between the
two. Caradoc lay limp and motionless, with a dark stain slowly spreading
on the boards under his head.

"Tell me about this," commanded Leonard, thrusting a hand under the
prostrate man's shirt and feeling for his heart. The request set loose a
babble.

"'E did it 'isself, sor!" "Split hopen 'is own 'ead, right enough!"
"W'ack, 'e took 'isself, w'ack!" "Aye, that 'e did, sor!" "It sounds
queer, an' it looked queerer, but 'e did, sor!"

Madden made a sharp angry gesture for silence, "One at a time. Mulcher,
what happened?"

"'E comes in, Mr. Madden," began the cockney more composedly, "an' says,
'Forward, men, lively now,' an' Galton 'e turns an' says, 'Ye may take
that, ye--'"

Again came the irrepressible chorus, "Aye, that 'e did, sor!"

"If a man speaks before I address him, I'll brain him!" shouted Madden.
"Hogan, what happened?"

"If you plaze, Misther Madden, Misther Smith came in and asked iv'rybody
to stip forward and quit atin' up th' grub. Galton was mad innyway, an'
had a glass o' whiskey in his hand. 'Quit atin'!' yills Galton. 'A
officer niver wants nobody to ate but himself.' Then, 'Take thot!' he
yills, and flings his whiskey straight into Smith's face.

"Av cour-rse, we ixpected to see him smash Galton to smithereens, him
being dhrunk--Galton, I mane--but he stood still as a post, sir, and
tur-rned white as a sheet. I filt sorry for th' gintilmin--him putting
up sich a good foight this avening--so Oi thought if he didn't want to
fight, I'd help him pass it off aisy. I had a glass o' liquor in me own
hand. I offers it to him. Says I, 'Pay no attention to th' spalpeen at
all, Misther Smith,' says I; 'he's a fool to be throwin' away good
liquor loike that; and have this dhrink on me, and if he does it again
Oi'll pitch him out o' the port.' With that I handed him me glass.

"Well, sir, he took it, an' I belave there was niver another face on
earth loike his, whin he hild up that glass to th' lamp. His hand shook
so some of the sthuff shpilled. His face was loike a corpse. He shtarted
to dhrink. Put it to his lips. Thin of a suddint, loike it had shtung
him, he yills out, 'God 'a' mercy!' flings down th' glass, which smashes
all over th' floor, lowers his head an' plunges loike a football tackle,
head fir-rst, roight into th' sharp edge o' that locker there where ye
see th' blood an' hairs stickin'. Down he wint, loike he's hit wid an
axe, wid his skull broke in siv'ral pieces no doubt. Mad as a hatter,
sir, fr-rom th' hate. Though it's sich an onrasonable tale, sir, I won't
raysint it if ye call me a liar to me teeth."

Madden had found the Englishman's heart still beating. He pressed his
fingers in the long bloody wound on his head and the skull appeared
sound enough under the long gash.

"Get him out on deck," he ordered sharply, in an effort to keep his
voice from choking in his throat.

"Out on deck! He's not dead! Get him in fresh air!"

Hogan, Deschaillon, and two navvies caught him by the legs and arms.
Madden lifted the bleeding head from which the blood still ran in a
steady trickle. The crowd gave back and the five men with their grewsome
burden passed through the galley's door into the dark passage.

Just then a sudden vibration went through the whole ship, as if the
_Vulcan_ had been struck by some enormous force. The men carrying
Smith staggered. There burst out a blare of confusion, amazed cries,
shouts of terror. There was a stampede in the narrow passage. Flying men
bumped into the bearers of the sick man. They were shrieking, "We're
struck! We're foundering! Th' sea sorpint's got us!"

"Launch the small boat and stand by till we get there!" bellowed Madden.

All the carriers dropped Smith's body and bolted in the panic. Madden
braced himself against the rush of the crew and held up the senseless
man lest he be trampled on in the blackness. The uproar in the passage
was terrific as the men tried to squeeze through all together. Every
moment Madden expected a rush of sea water down the passageway. Just
then, he felt someone else lift at Caradoc.

"Go on," said Farnol Greer's voice. "Let's get him out, sir."



CHAPTER XV

TOWED!


When the American pushed outside with his burden, a breeze swept the
deck of the _Vulcan_ with an unexpected coolness. The vibrations
had almost ceased, but there was a slight hissing of water from
somewhere, and a feeling of movement. The men were in a hubbub on the
port side where the small boat lay tied.

Filled with the idea that the ship was about to founder, Madden stared
about. To his vast astonishment, he discovered the tug was not sinking,
but moving. The _Vulcan_ was under way. The noise he heard was the
swift displacement of water. For some unaccountable reason, the vessel
glided southward at a speed of eight or ten knots.

In the uproar forward, Madden heard the cries: "Th' dinghy's swamped!"
"We carn't reach 'er!" "Cut 'er loose and jump!" "We couldn't right 'er
in th' water!" "Cut 'er and jump! Quick! 'Eaven knows w'ot's got us!"

"Steady! Steady, men!" bawled Madden, laying Caradoc down on the deck
and hurrying across to his panicky crew. "What's moving us?"

"We don't know, sir! Th' sea sorpint! Grabbed our cable and made off!"

"Can you see it?"

"Just make it out, sir, ahead!"

"Cut th' cable!" cried another voice; "that'll get us loose!"

"Yes, get an axe--Quick!"

A dim figure came running aft past Madden for the axe. The American
shouted at him: "Come back! Don't touch that towing line! Let things
alone!"

"Yes, but this'll drag us to the bottom!" chattered one of the men
forward.

"We'll get in the dinghy when the ship goes down!"

"We might row to the dock from here!"

The men stood in a string along the rail, below them in the hissing
water the dinghy tossing topsy turvy.

"What's towing us? I don't see it?" cried Madden.

Several arms pointed forward. Leonard peered through the gloom. The
crescent moon and the stars filtered down a tinsel light. The faint
shine merely made the darkness more evident Madden seemed to catch a
glimmer of a bulk at the end of the anchor line some hundred yards
distant. He listened but heard only the gurgle of the _Vulcan's_
wake and the creak of her plates.

When the sheer panic of surprise had worn away somewhat, the weirdness
of the uncanny voyage came upon the crew with tenfold force. They stood
gripping the rail, staring ahead with the feeling of condemned prisoners
on their way to the gallows.

"We're 'eaded for the 'ole in th' sea!" muttered Mulcher.

"We'll go down tug an' hall," mumbled Galton unsteadily. "Fish bait,
that's w'ot we are!"

"I've heard sea serpents can sting a man and numb him so he won't live
or die," shivered Hogan, "like a spider stings a fly."

They spoke in half whispers under the influence of the unknown terror.

"If anything happens, I shall keel myself," declared Deschaillon, with
nervous intensity, "but I shall see it first."

"That's w'ot went with the other two crews--killed theirselves,"
chattered Mulcher.

Another silence fell. The cool breeze came as a sort of mockery of their
unknown peril. For the first time since the storm every man was
thoroughly comfortable physically.

"Boys," planned Hogan, "whin th' thing comes aboard, we'll put up th'
best foight we can!"

"It don't come aboard--it bites a 'ole in th' 'ull."

"Aye, like th' _Minnie B_."

Just then a figure approached the men unsteadily, and Madden saw that
Caradoc had recovered consciousness and was able to walk. As the tall,
gaunt figure approached, the crew eyed him as if he were some new
danger, then he asked.

"What is this? Are we moving?"

"Yes we're off," replied Madden.

"Under our own power?" he inquired, turning around and staring at the
smokeless funnel.

"No, we're being towed."

"Towed! Towed!" exclaimed Smith in a weak voice. "What's towing us?"

"We don't know, sor," replied a cockney.

There was a silence in which Caradoc stood tall and cadaverous as a
ghost. "Am I dreaming this, Madden?" he muttered finally. "Did you say
we were being _towed_?"

"That's right."

"What's towing us--not--not the dry dock--don't say the dry dock's
towing us!"

"We don't know, sor," repeated the cockney.

"Where are we going?"

"To be killed, sor."

Caradoc moved slowly over to the rail and sat against it near Madden.

"A cool breeze," he murmured gratefully.

The American was lost amid the wildest speculations as to the mysterious
agent that had the _Vulcan_ in tow. He was trying to think
logically, but found it hard in that atmosphere of terror. The utter
weirdness of the whole affair defied analysis. The towing of the
_Vulcan_ by an unknown power was the very climax of the fantastic.
No hypothesis he could form even remotely approached an explanation.

It could not be some sea monster surging steadily at the tow line of
the _Vulcan_. That theory was untenable. A monster might attack;
it would never tow.

But any other, attempt to account for the strange predicament fell
equally as flat. What human agency would operate so mysteriously in this
hot, stagnant sea? Why should any group of men entrap the helpless crew
of the _Vulcan_ with such a display of mystery and power? It was
useless. It was ridiculous. It was shooting a mosquito with a field gun.

All his thoughts ended in utter absurdity. He felt that he had run up
against some vast power. The schooner _Minnie B_, the tug
_Vulcan_, were but trifling units in the enigma of this deserted,
weed-clogged sea. It must be some power whose operations were
ocean-wide.

Why such a spot should be chosen?--Why a power that sank one ship out of
hand and towed another mile after mile?--Why it operated only at
night?--What lay at the heart of this brooding fabric of terror--he
could not form the slightest conception. Outlawry, piracy, smugglery,
were all goals too small for such operations.

His thoughts seemed to be physical things trying to clamber up the
smooth polished side of an enormous steel plate. They made not the
slightest progress. The more he thought, the more unaccountable all
phases of the question became.

In absolute perplexity, he turned to the Englishman at his side. He
could just make out the blur of Caradoc's face.

"Have you a theory about this, Smith?" he asked in a low voice.

The Englishman nodded in silence.

"What is it?"

"I--I got my head hurt awhile ago. I believe I'm delirious--dreaming."

Leonard thought this over without any feeling of amusement. "That
doesn't explain why I see it too," he objected gravely. "Nothing wrong
with my head--that I know of." He tried the time honored experiment of
pinching himself.

"I shall assume that I am awake," he decided after he had felt his
pinch. "I may not be, but I'm going to act as if I were."

Madden had an impression that Caradoc was smiling in the darkness. Just
then Gaskin began laughing shrilly in a queer metallic voice.

"Quit that!" snapped half a dozen thick voices at once, as if his
laughter had violently shocked their tense nerves.

Gaskin pointed a stumpy arm off the starboard bow, "Look! Look!" he
gasped. "It's that rotten whiskey! Whiskey done it! Whiskey made me see
that! Look w'ot whiskey done!"

Leonard had no idea that anything could be added to the nightmarish
quality of the adventure, but there off the starboard arose a great
bulk, blotting out the stars. It was not a ship; it was not a barge;
there was not a light on it, but it seemed somehow dimly illuminated. It
was as shapeless as death.

"The Flyin' Dutchman!" shuddered Galton.

"It burns a blue light!" corrected Hogan with chattering teeth.

"Th' ship o' the dead!" shivered Mulcher.

A sudden explanation flashed into Madden's head. "You fools are afraid
of our own dry dock," he whispered briefly. "We've traveled in a circle
and reached the dock again."

"Oh, no, sor, it ain't that! Tain't th' dry-dock, sor!" aspirated
several fear-struck voices.

The crew held their breaths as if the apparition might vanish as
suddenly as it appeared.

By this time the moon lay flat on the sea, throwing a faint shining
streak across the dark Sargasso. This vague light was enough to show
Madden, when he took a close look, that it was not the dock.

The thing he saw was an enormous mass without the severe angular shape
of the great dock. Its outline rose crude and shapeless, as well as he
could trace it among the canopy of stars, and gave not the slightest
intimation as to what use it could be.

As they stared, the speed of the _Vulcan_ slackened sensibly. The
faint rippling of water under the prow ceased. The breeze fell away into
a dead blanket of heat. It was as if a sweatbox had been cooped over the
crew.

"The thing's cut loose from us," said a weary voice.

Hogan laughed shortly: "Everybody out--fifteen minutes for
refrishmints."

"Yonder goes that thing!" cried Galton. "Hi can see it!"

Indeed, by peering carefully, Madden could follow the slender outline of
the mysterious craft that had towed the _Vulcan_ to this uncanny
spot. It had now left the tug and was gliding away to the great
misshapen fabric that sprawled on the sea.

Every eye strained to see the outcome of this strange maneuver, when
suddenly from the gliding vessel there shot a dazzling light that spread
over the bulky mass. Under the beating illumination every detail of the
huge vessel stood out garishly. She was immense, with a broad flat prow
like a railway ferryboat. She stood high in the water and seemed to have
three promenade decks around her.

There was no mast, no rigging, no outside gearing. One squat funnel
amidship told that she used steam for some purpose, and out of this
funnel black masses of smoke rose slowly in the motionless air. She
resembled no craft Madden had ever seen.

Notwithstanding her enormous size, everything about the vessel impressed
Madden that she was built for secrecy. She was squat, considering her
length and breadth. It was as if her designer were trying to make a
craft invisible at sea. As near as Madden could determine in the strange
light, she was painted a pale sky-blue. During the day, no doubt, she
melted into the sky like a chameleon.

As the smaller craft approached its huge mate, its circle of light
contracted until it finally concentrated into a dazzling white spot
centered on the prow of the monster. This spot diminished to an intense
point, like an electric arc between carbons. A sharp reflection of this
point streaked the water between the tug and the mysterious vessels.

Then, under the unbelieving eyes of the crew, the little vessel ran
completely into the larger one and was gone. The light vanished
instantly. Utter blackness fell over the dazzled eyes of the watchers.

There were gasps, explosive curses of bewilderment, amazement. The
little boat had disappeared into the larger. Impossible! Gaskin began
his shrill laughter again. Then he gurgled in the darkness as if
somebody's fingers had clamped his windpipe.

Madden's mind attacked more violently than ever the incomprehensible
motives behind this inscrutable mystery. What was the key to this
incredible affair? In the midst of his mental struggle, he felt a hand
on his arm, Caradoc said in his ear,

"What do you say we get in the small boat and pay them a visit?"

"It's a big risk. I daresay we'll get our heads blown off."

"I had thought of that," agreed Caradoc.

"Come on," said the American, and the two moved across the deck to see
if they could still use the dinghy, which had been trailing along all
this time.

Nearly an hour later, the two boys in the dinghy approached the puzzling
craft with muffled oars. As Madden and Caradoc drew near, the vast size
of the strange ship grew more striking. The faint impression of light
which they had first received grew stronger and Madden saw that the
decks were illuminated by long bands of diffused light, although he
could not guess its origin.

On the lowest deck, the American made out the small figure of a man
marching back and forth with a gun.

At this sight, both boys stopped rowing, lifted the oars from tholes and
began paddling noiselessly, canoe-fashion.

"That must be the accommodation ladder," whispered Madden, "where the
guard is."

"Who are they afraid will board them?" queried Caradoc. "Mermaids?"

"It is a strange precaution to take in the Sargasso," agreed the
American. "It is going to make our entrance difficult."

They ceased paddling now and drifted silently toward the monster.

"I wonder if they aren't smugglers," hazarded Caradoc,

"Must be up-to-date, to use submarines--a submarine would defy
detection, wouldn't it?"

"And rich--nobody but millionaire smugglers could get together all this
paraphernalia."

"I'll venture insurance is at the bottom of this fraud, Caradoc,"
hazarded Madden. "These swindlers insure a cargo, bring it to this
place, reship it, sink the vessel, or repaint and rebuild it, then
collect the insurance money--do you remember the log of the _Minnie
B_?"

"No, I didn't read it."

"It stated her cargo had been reshipped--reshipped from the Sargasso.
The entry may have been for the benefit of Davy Jones. Anyway, they are
methodical scoundrels."

The lads fell silent as the hugeness of this nefarious business
gradually dawned on them. For insurance swindlers and smugglers to work
on such a large scale, very probably the organization branched over the
whole civilized world. This vast shapeless vessel was a spider at the
center of a great network of criminality.

"Say, the Camorras are mere infants in crime compared to these men,"
shuddered Leonard. "I suppose they murder the crews--drown 'em."

"They would have to get 'em out of the way somehow."

"Then Malone and all the tug's crew are..."

There was an expressive silence.

After a while Caradoc whispered, "Well, shall we try to get aboard?"

"Wouldn't do any good."

"It won't do any good to stay here."

"No, we can't hide on the tug always, and we can't run her engines.
_You_ don't know anything about marine engines, do you, Caradoc?"

"Very little. I couldn't run one."

For several minutes, the two adventurers sat in silence, watching the
small erect figure of the guard pace and repace his short path.
Presently Madden said:

"I've thought of one chance, Caradoc, to escape being starved or
murdered."

"Yes, what's that?"

"It--it's almost too wild to propose, but it's all I can think of. As
far as I know it's absolutely our last chance."

"Go on, go on," urged the Englishman impatiently. "I don't know of any
way out whatever."

"If we could slip aboard there and--and--well, kidnap somebody who knows
how to run our engines, bring him back to the tug, fire up and make a
race to South America--but there's no sense to a scheme like that.
Captain Kidd himself wouldn't be up to it."

A long silence followed this ultimatum, then Caradoc said, "Oh, it's
possible, I suppose. The mathematical formula of possibility would work
out about ten million chances to one that we lose."

"Yes, I know it's risky."

"And how do you hope to get in past that guard?"

"We'll have to climb up the ladder right under him, hang there until he
is on his up-deck walk, then swing inside and when he turns around we
could be simply strolling up the deck toward him. There must be a lot of
fellows on such a big ship. Maybe he doesn't know them all."

"Why do you want to stroll _toward_ him?"

"Because if he saw us walking off in the other direction, he would know
we had not passed him, and so we must have come up the ladder."

Caradoc shook his head in the darkness. "I'm going to try to jump on
that guard when he turns his back, and down him."

"He'd give an alarm sure. We mustn't disturb him till we get ready to
leave, then let him yell."

"What you are planning, Madden, is simply impossible. I like to be as
conservative as possible."

"We can turn around and row back to the _Vulcan_--and starve."

"Go ahead to the accommodation ladder. However, it's impossible."

As the two moved silently nearer a murmur of machinery in the vast
fabric came to them. As their tiny boat swung in beside the high hull,
they could hear this noise quite plainly, and they trusted to this
rumble to screen their operations somewhat. They ceased paddling and
allowed the dinghy to drift against the iron side of the vessel. They
could no longer see the deck and the guard, owing to the swell in the
high metal wall. But presently they came to the rope ladder which they
anticipated hung below the guard's station.

Madden caught this and tied the dinghy to it with the crawly feeling of
a man who expects to have a gun fired at him the next moment.

Caradoc came up and the two adventurers stood in the boat's prow, both
holding to the ladder.

"I'll bet that scoundrel shoots down," whispered Leonard, "before we get
halfway up."

"Don't talk so loud--are you ready to try it?"

"What are you going to do--jump on him?" breathed Leonard.

"No, your plan. If you see he is going to shoot you before you get
inside, jump backwards and dive."

"And remember to go far enough out not to hit the dinghy."

"Good."

Madden stared up into the mysterious vessel, caught the ladder and swung
himself silently onto the rungs. Caradoc mounted close behind him. They
had mounted only two or three steps, when a sudden terrific report
thundered above their heads.

It was so unexpected, so violent, that the two boys almost tumbled into
the sea. The next instant they found themselves wrapped in an atmosphere
of hot, stifling steam. They clung to the rungs in a veritable
steam-bath that roared and plunged around them. When Madden collected
his senses, he realized that it was merely a safety discharge from the
boilers. The main steam pressure did not strike them, but they swung in
the hot wet fringe of the exhaust. Had they been ten feet farther aft,
they would surely have been boiled to death. As it was they were
immersed in uncomfortably hot vapor.

They clung, rather unnerved by the uproar, enduring the heat for four or
five minutes, when suddenly an idea occurred to Madden. He leaned down
to Caradoc and shouted in his ear.

"How about going up now? Couldn't see us in this steam."

For reply, Caradoc shoved his friend upward, and so they scrambled aloft
like two monkeys.

Fortunately for them, the night was windless and the white steam drifted
straight up and as it rose, it spread out in an impenetrable fog.
Cloaked in this vapor, the two adventurers scrambled up some thirty-five
feet to the first deck. The steam was thick inside the rail. Covered by
the noisy shriek of the exhaust, they jumped inside the promenade
without being heard or seen, and a moment later, they dropped arm in
arm, like two casual strollers, and moved up deck.

Two minutes later, when the roaring exhaust had ceased and the vapor had
cleared away, the guard with the gun could never have guessed that the
two men he saw slowly promenading the deck had drifted over the rail,
out of the night, with the clouds of the noisy exhaust.

Neither of the lads so much as glanced at the sentinel as they strolled
past him. Caradoc was saying in the low tones men use when conversing in
the darkness:

"Do you suppose that fellow knows anything about engines?"

And Madden replied just as confidentially, as he sized the gun man up
out of the tail of his eye, "No, I'm sure he doesn't. An engineer never
has to stand guard."

"How are we ever going to spot an engineer?"

For the first time since starting, a little thrill of the joy of
adventure crept into Madden's heart. He felt like a ferret venturing
into a rat's den.

"Why you can tell an engineer easily," he murmured. "You've seen 'em,
oily fellows, with black smudges."

"That describes a fireman, too."

"No, a fireman's not so oily and is more cindery--then we'll know one by
his cap."

"Certainly," breathed Smith. "I hadn't thought of that."

Notwithstanding his danger, Madden could not help smiling as he moved
along after the fashion of a careless stroller, when he was really
keenly alert for a man with an engineer's cap.

The two youths were walking up a long deck, dimly lighted by small
incandescent bulbs placed on the inner surface of the outside stanchions
about thirty feet apart. Each bulb was carefully blinded from the ocean
by a sheath, which confined its glowworm radiance exclusively to the
promenade. On the inboard side were a long series of port holes,
likewise hooded from observation. Some were aglow, others dark.

The deck, rails, cabin walls, ports, hoods, joists of the top-deck were
newly washed and scrupulously clean. Fifty yards up-deck, where
perspective and the sheer of the ship gave the promenade the appearance
of a long, up-curved tunnel, the boys caught sight of a gang of men
scrubbing down deck. A little beyond the scrubbing gang, some garments
fluttered on a line drying in the night air.

As they drew nearer, Madden perceived they were muscular men, with faces
bronzed by tropic sunshine. Some of their necks and cheeks were peeling,
as if from sunburn. On the whole they had a healthy, hearty appearance
that fitted in badly with Madden's theory of murderers and thieves.
Instead of a piratical aspect, the promenade bore a strong resemblance
to a deck scene on some crack transatlantic liner, except for the
blinded lights and ports and the armed guard.

The wanderers passed the scrub gang without trouble and came to the
drying laundry. The number of these shirts and trousers and under
clothing suggested the hulk must contain a large number of men. If these
men _were_ smugglers and insurance swindlers, they had systematized
their life after rigid military discipline.

They moved through the laundry with fading hopes of kidnapping an
engineer from such a formidable institution, when they were startled by
a human laugh. It sounded in their ears and was as unexpected as a
shriek in church. For an instant they thought they were apprehended.
Then they understood the sound came from one of the lighted ports.

They moved softly among the shirts and trousers until they reached the
suspected port. Inside they heard a very trivial conversation in
English.

"I'm after that jack of yours, Captain Cleghorne," declared a thick
voice with a laugh.

"I played low, remember that,"

A silence, then a burst of laughter.

"He ran that jick over your king!"

Leonard stood beside the port blind making a tantalizing effort to
recall something. Where had he heard the name "Cleghorne?" He repeated
it mentally several times.

"Cleghorne, Cleghorne----" of a sudden it came to him. He had never
heard it, but had seen it framed in the license that hung in the chart
room of the schooner, _Minnie B_.

With a heart thumping against his ribs at this strange and amazing
coincidence, the American ducked his head carefully under the port hood
and looked in.

For a moment his eyes were blinded by electric lights. Then he observed
a group of men sitting around a table playing cards. They were in
obviously comfortable spirits, nothing criminal or warlike. One was a
long cadaverous figure that suggested to Madden, Cleghorne, the Yankee
commander of the _Minnie B_.

When his eyes strayed across the table to Cleghorne's partner, Leonard's
knees almost crumpled in surprise. He was looking at the old commander
of the floating dock, Mate Malone.



CHAPTER XVI

CARADOC TAKES COMMAND


Notwithstanding that Madden's head was under the hood, Caradoc sensed
the fact that his friend had experienced some profound shock.

"What's the matter? What's wrong?," he whispered from the outside.

"The mate--the mate of the _Vulcan_ is in there!" gasped the
American.

"Impossible!" Smith dived under the hood for himself.

Both heads just managed to squeeze in and the two men stared at Malone
as if he were raised from the grave. The mate, however, was not
funereal. He seemed in the pink of condition, rather fatter than he had
been on the dock, and he wore the pleased expression of a man well
content with life.

As men will do when under a fixed stare, he presently glanced about and
his eyes fell on the porthole. He looked at the dim port for several
seconds intently, as if he could not quite make out their faces. Madden
frowned, jerked his head up and down in a signal for Malone to approach.

The mate's little eyes went round at the request. He made a surprised
gesture to his partner, scrambled to his feet and drew near. The whole
cabin followed his motions.

"W'ot is it?" he whispered, still peering into the half-faces seen in
the round hole.

"Madden and Smith."

"_W'ot_!"

"Yes."

"Great sharks! W'ot you lads doin' 'ere?"

"Came off the tug--what is this?"

"W'ot is w'ot?"

"This ship we're on?"

It seemed as if Malone's little eyes would pop out of his head.

"W'ot--didn't they ketch you? You don't mean to say you--you jest
straggled aboard?"

"Sure we did. Catch us? Who is there to catch us?"

Malone stared as if at two ghosts. "Say! Say!" he said hoarsely. "You
don't mean to say you ain't caught? You don't mean you run th' tug up
'ere an' boarded us! You don't mean----" He turned and whispered
hoarsely inside: "It's th' lads off th' dock, though 'ow they got 'ere,
an' w'ot they're--douse th' light, some o' you fellows."

A stifled consternation seized the card players, who crowded up to the
port. A moment later all the lights were snapped out one after another.

"Tell us who there was to catch us," begged Leonard in a whisper.

"Who? W'y a German warship, that's who! One caught us--an' Cap
Cleghorne. Caught th' Cap away hup on th' Newfoundland Banks. Caught us
first day----"

"Why should a German warship capture _us_!" demanded Leonard in a
voice that threatened to rise in excitement.

"Quiet! Quiet! 'Eavens, lad! Don't you know? Ain't you 'eard? W'y it's
war! War! War's broke out all over th' world! Everyw'ere! Ever'body!"

"War!" gasped Madden.

"War! What countries?" demanded Smith in an excited whisper.

"Hall countries! Hingland, France, Rooshia, Japan, that's one side, an'
Germany and Austria on th' other."

"America in it?" demanded Madden.

"Right enough. Canada is sendin' troops and----"

"America! America! The United States of America!"

"Oh, no, she's the only nootral in th' whole world among th' big powers!
But she'll be in soon enough!"

"What's this we're on?" inquired Caradoc. "It isn't a warship?"

"Kind o' warship. It's a mother ship for submarines--sort of floatin'
dry dock for the little sneakers. She takes 'em aboard, over'auls 'em,
gives 'em new stores and torpedoes."

"England at war!" repeated Caradoc in a maze. "I must get out of here!"

"That's th' word, war!" whispered Malone thickly. "They say Hingland's
got a tight blockade aroun' th' German ports, so th' German cruisers
bring their prizes here in th' Sargasso, load all the prize stores they
capture out o' Hinglish bottoms into submarines an' run it into Germany
_under_ th' blockade. See? That's w'y this mother ship is 'ere. She
fixes 'em up at this end for their run back."

Malone told all this in a hoarse breath.

"What do they do with their prisoners--keep them here?"

"No, ship 'em to German East Africa an' intern 'em. The _Prince
Eitel_ is due 'ere tomorrow to ship us."

So that was the explanation of all this mystery--War!

Madden fell silent with the sensation of a man who had lost his footing
on earth. All his life he had been accustomed to peace. He thought of
wars as small affairs that broke out now and then in South America or
when the American Indians got hold of whiskey. But for Germany, France,
England to fight, to hurl millions of men at each other! It was
inconceivable!

The boy's brain felt numb as if crushed beneath an enormous horror. The
world was at war!

Unless a person actually witness a murder, he cannot imagine the shock
and dreadfulness of seeing one man shot down, writhe, gasp, grow pale
and cease struggling. To picture ten men murdered simply stuns the mind.
An effort to realize hundreds, thousands, millions of men mangled,
wounded, bayoneted, crushed, blown to atoms by shells and mine--all this
becomes vague, formless, a dim, dreadful picture that is as unreal as a
dream, or history.

"What caused it?" asked Madden in a strained tone.

"I don't know," whispered the mate huskily. "They say it all started
because an anarchist killed an Austrian prince, but I don't believe
it--that sounds too onreasonable for me."

"What has an Austrian prince to do with the rest of the nations?"

"I told you I don't believe it!" repeated the mate.

Madden felt impotent at the conclusion of the narrative. As long as he
had conceived himself to be attacking a force of pirates and thieves, he
was ready to board this great vessel, hunt for an engineer, or attempt
any desperate scheme. But now when he learned that men were being
murdered, goods stolen, ships scuttled, in accordance with a kind of
wild law, called rules of war, he no longer knew what to do. The world
was mad. Its people were murdering each other.

He finally said aloud to Caradoc: "I suppose we may as well hunt up the
commanding officer, surrender ourselves and sail for Africa with the
others."

"No," interrupted Smith, "don't do that." Then he called softly inside,
"Malone!"

"Well, w'ot is it?" inquired the mate gruffly, for he persevered in his
dislike of Smith.

"Look sharp, Malone! I am an officer in the English navy--it is my right
and duty to assume command of all English seamen in case of war!"

A blank silence followed this remarkable assumption of authority. The
tone in which it was whispered prevented any doubts in the minds of his
hearers.

"Do you understand?" inquired Caradoc in a sharp undertone.

"Yes, sir," replied the mate doggedly.

"How many men have you in there?"

"Eleven Hinglishmen, sir."

"I assume responsibility for those men. From now on accept orders from
me!"

"Yes, sir."

"Pass the word around. I am going to hand in some German uniforms
through this port. Let every man put on a uniform!"

"Very well, sir!" came the dismayed reply.

Caradoc withdrew his head from the hood. In the faint gleam from the
outside incandescents, he fell to untying the strings by which the suits
were leashed to the lines. He handed eleven suits to Madden, who passed
them under the hood and Malone received them inside. Then Smith
deliberately stripped off his own clothes and drew on a pair of German
trousers.

"Get on a pair, Madden," he advised. "Civilian trousers will be
conspicuous in a bright light. You are going to see this thing through,
aren't you?"

Madden nodded and followed his companion's example. Five minutes later
the two, transformed into German sailors, walked out of the hanging
laundry.

"Don't seem, to observe anything," whispered Caradoc. "Appear to be
going somewhere, on an errand. Walk just as if you belonged aboard."

A moment later the Briton turned down a stairway that led to a shadowy
deck, which was hung with long rows of hammocks with men sleeping in
them. The air down here was remarkably cool, although Madden did not
have time to give much thought to this. Caradoc pursued his way
unhesitatingly among the sleeping sailors, and presently came to another
hatchway, out of which poured the rumble of machinery and a stream of
light.

Down this flight of steps, Smith moved with certainty, and a moment
later Madden saw they were entering a great machine shop. A full
complement of men worked at every lathe, table, drill or saw. The clang
of hammers, the guttering of drills, the whine of steel planes smote his
ears in a cheerful din of labor. The laborers worked at their tasks with
that peculiar flexibility of forearms, wrists, fingers that mark skilled
machinists. The scent of lubricating oil the faint tang of metal dust
filled the air. Strange to say, the air down here was even cooler than
that in the sleeping deck above.

All sorts of queer tasks were progressing. Here, men were working on
gyroscopes that fitted into the shells of torpedoes; there, they
fabricated little hot-air engines which propelled those instruments of
destruction. They were repairing gauges, steam connections, electrical
fittings, what not.

Madden was tempted to pause and stare about this wondershop, when it
occurred to him that if he and Caradoc were discovered they would be
executed as spies. He had not thought of this before, and the mere
suggestion somehow made him feel stiff and wooden. He was not
frightened, but he felt clumsy, as a schoolboy does when he makes his
first public speech. His arms and legs felt wooden; his head did not
seem to sit in a natural manner on his neck. He felt that if anyone
glanced at him, he would immediately betray himself. His walk, his looks
showed it. He could not imagine why some workman did not leap out, seize
his arm and yell "Spy!"

After a long stage-frightened walk, Caradoc turned down another flight
of stairs. Here Madden discovered the secret of the cool air. On this
deck was a big refrigerating plant, with frost-covered pipes leading in
all directions. The sight of this plant gave Madden some faint insight
into the thorough preparation made by the German government to carry on
their struggle by sea. Long before war was declared, Germany must have
planned a naval base in the Sargasso, and have foreseen the use of her
submarines in evading the blockade. She had chosen these untraveled seas
as a depot, then established a refrigerated machine shop in order that
the full-blooded German might work comfortably in the tropics. The plan
seemed to have been worked out with infinite detail.

From the refrigeration deck, they descended to still another deck into
the very bowels of the ship. This descent brought them to a long gallery
that was formed by a bulkhead running down the center of the ship. As
they entered this passage, three workmen came out of a small steel door
that opened into this central wall. One of the workmen carefully
rebolted the door, yawned sleepily and followed his comrades toward the
companionway. As he passed he grunted something to Caradoc. Madden's
heart beat faster lest they should be discovered at this last hour. He
had no idea what mission moved the Englishman, but he sensed that here
was his destination. Smith made some reply in German, moved briskly
ahead until he came to the small steel door. He laid his hand familiarly
upon the bolts, shot them back, swung open the door. One of the men
whirled about and stared back at this assured intruder. Smith stood
aside and with a curt military gesture motioned Madden to enter. The
American drew an uncertain breath, glanced at the three Germans out of
the tail of his eye and stepped into the dark square. Caradoc followed
him. The laborers went on updeck apparently satisfied.

An electric wire was let in through the door. Caradoc reached for it,
followed it with his hand and presently turned a switch. Next moment a
bright flood of light bathed the tubular chamber in which they stood.

Madden glanced about. He stood in a room whose roof formed a half circle
over his head. The place seemed as full of machinery as a watch case.
Fore and aft were circular partitions of steel, like drumheads. These
were penetrated with sliding shutters, which stood open. Through the
after shutter, Madden saw a large Deisel oil engine, flanked by a
compact heavy dynamo. Looking forward, he could see steel cylinders
trimmed in shining brass, and a maze of levers, gauges, dials, valves.

The central compartment in which the two stood was dominated by a little
spiral stairway leading up into a steel dome. On a shelf set in the
bulkhead was a chart, a telephone receiver, speaking tubes, dials with
red and black hands, an array of electrometers, pressure gauges.

Glancing up the stairway into the little dome, Madden saw a pilot wheel,
more levers and speaking tubes and telephone receivers, and a square of
ground glass, that was lined off with delicate cross-lines.

"Where are we?" asked Madden, amazed. "What do they do here? I never saw
so much machinery before in so small a space."

Caradoc was stooping over a heavy metal box down at the floor level at
the side of the desk. It was one of a series of such boxes. "We're
inside of that submarine you saw enter a few hours ago," explained the
Englishman shortly.

Leonard stared around with new eyes. "So this is a submarine! Do you
know anything about them? What's that spirit level for?" He pointed at a
horizontal gauge.

"Measures air pressure--it's not a level."

"What's in these steel tanks overhead?"

"Compressed air."

"What's that you are getting into?" Here Caradoc lifted the lid, and
Madden got a view. "Say, that's a torpedo, isn't it?" he asked quickly
as he saw a long needle-pointed steel cigar with propeller and rudder on
the aft end.

The Englishman made no reply. He leaned over and selected a small steel
crowbar from a tool locker, drew it out with a quick nervous movement.

"Say!" cried Madden catching the strange expression on the face of his
friend, "are you going to try to launch this and escape on it--escape on
a torpedo?"

A mirthless smile flickered over the Englishman's gray face. "Nothing so
fanciful."

A sixteen foot torpedo lay in a steel frame on a runway, just ready to
slide forward into the big expulsion tube that was the salient feature
of the forward compartment. Caradoc walked quickly to the nose of the
terrific missile. He looked at his friend and said in a strange voice:
"Madden, I'm going to wipe this German ship-trap off the map!"

A sort of spasm clutched the American's diaphragm. "You don't mean----"
he managed to gasp.

"Yes, this is for----" He swung up his crowbar.

Madden on the other side the gasoline-scented chamber had a sensation as
if someone had jabbed keen needles into his throat, breast, stomach.

"Caradoc! Don't! Don't!" he screamed and leaped toward the desperate
man.

It was all done at once.

"For England!" completed Caradoc Smith, and fetched down a furious
doubled-handed blow on the primer of the big steel chamber packed with
guncotton.

The crowbar landed with a crash!



CHAPTER XVII

THE GET-AWAY


Both lads leaned against the machinery, limp, dripping cold
perspiration. Caradoc was the first to speak.

"Didn't have its war head in!"

Leonard mumbled something through the slime in his mouth.

"I ought to find the connection and explode it," repeated Caradoc
doggedly.

Madden moved weakly over beside him. "No you won't. You aren't going to
murder us all... not going to do it!"

Caradoc remained motionless, his long face gray under the electric
lights. "I fail--at everything," he mumbled.

Leonard sat down on the edge of the torpedo case and looked at the long,
slender destroyer. He had a watery feeling, as if just arising from a
long illness.

"Let's get out of here," he breathed.

"Wait... we must seem normal. You--you look blue--spotted."

"I feel blue and spotted. I was scared--never was so scared in all my
life."

"Sit here till you get over your j-jolt."

"What are you going to do?" asked the American apprehensively as Smith
arose.

"I must disable this machinery and give the tug a chance to escape."

"Still got that in your head?"

"I must do _something_--I ought to explode that torpedo!"

"You're not going to do that, Caradoc. You're not! I have no--no
appetite to be a martyr."

The Englishman made no reply, but began moving around among the
machinery with the crowbar. Leonard stirred himself to follow.

"You--you're not up to anything--not going to blow us up?"

"No, I'm not going to blow you up. That's my word."

Oddly enough, Madden accepted it very simply, and went back and sat on
the torpedo case. He fell to stroking the smooth steel flank of the
thing as if it were some animal. The thing had, as it were, refused to
blow him to bits at Smith's request.

The Englishman walked about busily, thrusting his bar in among dial
connections, snapping brass pipes, wrecking the telephone connections.
He laid about him viciously, knocking, crashing, smashing. Then he
hurried back into the rear compartment, knocked to pieces the bearings
and valves of the Deisel engine, tangled up the wiring of the storage
batteries and the dynamo, beat off her brushes, disrupted the clutch on
the crank shaft.

It was shocking to Madden to see Caradoc smash and destroy such delicate
and costly machinery. He went about his task with a kind of bottled
ferocity, and in a short time the submarine looked as if it had let
loose a cyclone. Presently the youth paused in his vandalism and glanced
about with satisfaction.

"All right," he said in a more normal tone, "if you are ready to go, get
a wrench and a cold-chisel, smudge your face with a little oil and iron
black, and we'll get away from here."

Madden saw the importance of completing his disguise in this manner. He
splotched his face, found the tools indicated by Smith in the locker,
then walked out through the manhole into the passageway once more.

There was no one in sight as they came out. They passed up through the
cool refrigerating room and through the machine shop with its contented
workmen. Madden wondered how those men would feel if they knew that a
few minutes past, they were hanging on the fringe of eternity.

The two smudged tool-bearers, who walked rather shakily to the upper
deck, did not even provoke a questioning glance from the workmen. A few
minutes later the boys emerged once more from the sleeping deck onto the
boat deck. It was still deserted save for the solitary guard who paced
back and forth in stiff military fashion.

Caradoc moved down to the hanging laundry and paused under the port
hood. He tapped it gently. From the interior came Malone's thick
whisper. Smith passed in the tools and whispered.

"Force the door open gently. Walk out as if you were sailors. Close the
door and pretend to lock it. Meet me out here at the head of the ship's
ladder, where the guard is stationed."

"Very well, sir," came a whisper.

Then Madden and Smith strolled on down toward the man with the gun. As
they walked, Smith whispered:

"When you hear me clear my throat, get within striking distance. When I
cough, silence him. I'll help you."

Madden nodded slightly, and the two drew near the pacing guard. Caradoc
lifted hand to forehead as they passed and a little later seated
themselves on the rail near the ladder. Madden looked down curiously and
thought he could make out the shape of the dinghy below, but was not
certain.

The American's nerves still tingled from the torpedo incident, and now
he glanced out of the tail of his eye at the guard, whom he would
probably have to fight.

The fellow was a broad-chested, short-necked German, armed with rifle
and bayonet. The bayonet had a bluish gleam under the incandescent.

It was a queer thought to Madden to know that within the next fifteen
minutes, he would perhaps be under rifle fire, rowing or swimming away
through the black night, or he might be dead. Dead, and the world would
end for him, and the war of the world or the peace of the world would be
all the same for him.

Madden shrugged his shoulders, drew a long breath and stared out in the
direction of the _Vulcan_. He could see nothing of the tug. The
moon had sunk and the stars burned with a more vivid fire. The musing
boy noted the position of the Hydra, and fancied it might be somewhere
near midnight. Just then his guess was confirmed by four double strokes
of the bell. There would be a change of guards. Perhaps the next man
would not be so unsuspecting.

Just then Madden observed another deck gang coming up the promenade. He
wondered how often they scrubbed deck on this vessel. He hoped this crew
would soon pass, as it would make escape impossible if their men made a
break while the sweepers were in hearing. Their slow approach made him
nervous. Suppose one of them suspected something wrong?

Just then Caradoc yawned and cleared his throat. Madden looked around at
his friend with a slight start. The Englishman did not see the
approaching sailors. Madden frowned conspicuously, but Smith's long face
was placid, and he cleared his throat again.

The guard was now about to pass Madden. The American shifted his legs
slightly for a position to jump, nevertheless frowning warningly at
Caradoc. The scrubbers were fairly close now. Caradoc arose negligently
and coughed.

In the teeth of the scrub gang, Madden leaped headlong at the guard and
his fingers gripped the man's throat. At the same instant, Caradoc
ducked under his legs. As the foremost of the scrub gang wrenched the
rifle from the guard's hands, Madden saw with joy that they were Malone
and his men. The three fell with a dull thumping on the deck. The guard
tore at Madden's fingers which crushed in his throat. From underneath,
Caradoc panted in sharp whispers:

"Overboard! Down the ladder! Quick!"

As he snapped out his orders, the Englishman was working his hold up
past the floundering guard's waist. Madden's grip was about to break
under the strain the Teuton put on it, but his fingers clung desperately
to the fellow's throat, for one shout would bring a hornet's nest around
the fugitives. Just then Malone whispered hoarsely:

"They're all overboard, sir."

Leonard caught the soft stir of oars in the water below.

"Shall Hi stick 'im, sir?" whispered Malone, grabbing the guard's
bayoneted rifle. "Yonder, comes the new guard!"

Caradoc, who had been willing to blow up a whole shipful of men, panted
out a sharp "No!" Just then the Englishman's long fingers slipped up on
the tendons that ran down the guard's neck from his ears. He pinched
them sharply. The struggling man suddenly gasped and lay still. Caradoc
leaped to his feet. Madden scrambled up. Both were dripping with sweat.
A man with a rifle was running down the deck toward them. The fellow
raised his rifle.

"Overboard!" gasped Caradoc and took a sudden leap over the rail into
the night. Madden followed, trusting not to hit the dinghy and kill
himself. Malone was already scrambling down the rope ladder as fast as
he could go.

While a dive of one or two hundred feet is not uncommon, still Madden's
thirty-five foot drop sent chill tickly sensations through his chest and
throat. It seemed as if he would never stop falling through the
darkness, but at last he struck the water and went down, down, down.

When he finally kicked himself back to the surface and thrust his head
out, he heard a violent whispering among the excited boatmen. A moment
later an oar struck him under the armpit. Madden seized it, whispered
his own name and scuttled in over the gunwale. The men were shoving
desperately at the ship's side in an effort to get the dinghy under way.

From the deck overhead came guttural shouts in German and fainter
answers. Fortunately the guard did not take upon himself the
responsibility of shooting down into the boat, and in a minute or two
the refugees had assembled the oars and were rowing furiously from the
mother ship.

In the dim zone of light that belted the promenade, Madden could see a
number of hurrying figures. Then came a sharp command, and a rifle
stabbed the darkness with a knife of fire and a keen report.

Immediately came another, then another, then several. Bullets chucked
viciously into the water about the dinghy.

Under the straining arms of four oarsmen the little boat moved briskly
out of its perilous position. Jammed between two sailors, the boy sat
staring back at the men gathering on the promenade. The flashing of many
rifles kept a constant streak of light along a considerable section of
the deck. Bullets seemed to whine within an inch of his ears. The dinghy
appeared to be retreating at a snail's pace, and the frightened boy
gripped furiously at the gunwale in an absurd effort to speed it up. He
twisted about, trying to keep his shoulders in a line with the flashing
rifles so as to offer the thinnest target. A man in the stern of the
dinghy groaned, and slumped down into the bottom.

Just then a searchlight leaped into play from the top deck of the ship.
Its long ray shot out in a trembling cone through the darkness. It
switched here and there with appalling swiftness. The crew in the little
boat stared at it, holding their breaths. When that leaping ray fell on
the dinghy it would be followed by a rain of steel.

The firing on the promenade deck ceased, Waiting for the searchlight to
direct their aim. Just then the beam fell on the _Vulcan_ with
dazzling brilliance. The tug stood out sharply against the night, and
she proved to be much closer than Leonard had fancied. The little
rowboat had been traveling faster than he thought.

Then the brilliant circle left the tug and, began crawling carefully
over the water toward the dinghy.

The crew stared at the approaching light as stricken birds in a snake's
cage. Just then Caradoc said in a low tone. "Let every man slide into
the water and swim for the _Vulcan_."

The men in the stern slipped into the sea first with muffled splashes.
The men amidship climbed over the side and went in headfirst. The
oarsmen shipped their oars and took the water. Madden made a long dive
over the side and shot well away from the little boat. When he came up,
he looked around. The fringe of light was just playing on the bow when
Caradoc leaped. According to English traditions, he was the last man to
leave his vessel, even though it were only a dinghy.

An instant later, a queer metallic ripping sound broke out in the mother
ship. Madden looked back quickly. From the top deck there was a jet of
fire, as if someone were turning a hose of flame in the direction of the
small boat. Leonard looked back at the dinghy. It appeared as if the ray
of light were beating the little vessel into splinters. It seemed to
crumble into itself, to wither, to go to dust, and the water beneath it
beat up in a froth through its shattered hull.

A head bobbed up near Madden, and Caradoc's voice observed collectedly.

"They're chewing it up with a machine gun. You'd better dive
again--travel most of the way to the tug under water. They'll be picking
us up, one at a time, in a moment, with the same stream of steel."



CHAPTER XVIII

NERVE VERSUS GUNPOWDER


Fifteen minutes later a dozen men were kicking exhaustedly in the water
on the port side of the _Vulcan_, shouting in urgent voices for
ropes. A few were already clambering up the bobstays. There was no reply
from the utterly terrorized men on the tug, then came the whiz of
missiles thrown through the air.

"Hogan! Mulcher! Galton! Ropes! Give us your ladder!" bawled Madden at
the top of his authority.

"Is--is that you, Misther Madden?" chattered Hogan.

"Yes, yes, ropes, before we drown!"

"Was that you shootin' at us over there?"

"They were shooting at _us_! They hit two or three of us! Hurry!"

"And who's all that wid ye? Faith, the wather's alive wid min!"

"We're the crew of th' _Vukan_!" "Throw down ropes!" "Shut up and
throw down ropes, ye bloody Irishman!" howled an angry chorus.

"Th' crew o' th' _Vulcan_, and thim all dead, these weeks ago! Sure
if it's a lot o' ghosts----"

But others of the crew summoned enough courage to fling down aid to
their old comrades, and soon the men came crawling up the dark sides of
the tug and dropped limply inboard.

The utmost excitement played over the crew of the dock when they
identified the former crew of the _Vulcan_. The air was full of
excited questions and tired answers, but presently the word got out. It
was "War." The news passed from mouth to mouth and grew in
portentousness. War! Nations were at war! These men had escaped from a
German warship!

It was unbelievable. It was stunning. Presently Caradoc shouted out in
the darkness for Malone, Mate Malone. The cockney answered.

"Put your firemen at the furnace! Set your engineers to work on the
engines. We must have steam up and be away in an hour!"

The two crews fell into silence, and Malone ordered his men below. Some
of the dock's crew hurried off with the others to cut down coal in the
bunkers. Another gang fell to work; pulling in the sea anchor. But over
all their various activities hovered the vast consternation of war.

Caradoc had climbed to the bridge of the _Vulcan_ and stood staring
silently at the bulk of the mother ship that was barely discernible
through the night. The searchlight had been switched off. Neither ship
showed a signal. From below came the muffled sounds of men working at
the furnace, and in five or ten minutes a film of smoke trickled out of
the _Vulcan's_ great funnel.

Madden climbed up on the bridge beside Caradoc.

"How long before the submarine will be out?" he asked in a low tone.

"Small boats will come first," replied Smith. "That's why they shunted
off the searchlight--to surprise us."

"Will they try to board us?"

"Certainly. We'll have to defend ourselves with anything we can pick up,
sticks, knives, hand spikes--"

At that moment Malone appeared from the other end of the bridge.

"We'll have steam up in an hour," he announced, glancing up at the
funnel.

"An hour?" thought Madden. "That's time enough for us all to be killed."

Caradoc said to the mate: "Go forward and tell the men to arm
themselves, then take position along the rail to repel boarders. Tell
them to look sharp for grappling hooks and throw them down."

"And what will they arm with, sir?"

"Use anything you can find, hand spikes, knives, sticks. They might
throw lumps of coal. A cricket player ought to give a good account with
a lump of coal."

"Very well, sir," grunted Malone and he hurried down on deck.

A few minutes later the men were scurrying around to their positions.
One or two men had gone down for a sack of coal, a queer ammunition that
might possibly effect something. On the other hand, Leonard knew the
attacking force would come armed with mausers, rapid fire guns,
grappling hooks, swords. A onesided fight was brewing.

The American looked anxiously at the funnel; a ribbon of black smoke
filtered out into the air.

"Madden," said Caradoc, "they will make the hardest fight around the
anchor ports and amidships. Which position do you prefer to defend?"

"I believe I'll take the forecastle."

"Good, I wish you luck."

"Same to you."

As Madden moved down the ladder to the deck, he heard, above the murmur
of the busy men, the strong measured beat of a ship's cutter approaching
the tug with deliberate swiftness.

There were some good men stationed to defend the forecastle, Hogan,
Mulcher, Greer and two or three of the _Vulcan's_ former crew whom
Madden did not know. As the American approached in the gloom, two men
came up, laden with sacks, and poured out a pile of coal on deck. Every
lump was about the size of a baseball.

Hogan recognized Madden in the darkness. He was exuberant now that he
had learned his enemies were human beings and not ghouls.

"Do ye think those Dutchmen will be able to put up a daycent foight,
Misther Madden?" he inquired hopefully.

"They have plenty of arms, Hogan."

"Sure, that'll hilp 'em some. But Oi'm going to knock th' head off the
spalpeen that firrust sticks his mug over that rail."

"Your chance is coming," said Madden soberly, as he listened to the
increasing noise of the oars.

"Now, men," directed the American, "lie flat down behind the rail and
use your sticks and hand pikes to prize off grapnels. They will shoot
your hands."

"Very well, sor," breathed several voices.

The noise of the oars grew louder until it sounded immediately beneath
the defenders. Hogan stood up suddenly, leaned over the rail with a lump
of coal in each hand, and threw down viciously. There was a whack as one
lump hit the boat, and a grunt as the other struck some man. In return
came a terrific crash of rifles, and bullets spattered the iron plates
of the _Vulcan_. Fortunately Hogan had flopped down on deck in
time.

At that instant, the searchlight of the mother ship swept the
_Vulcan's_ deck with startling brilliance. The first volley had
perhaps been the signal, and the fight was on.

There came a clanging of grapnels on the rail over the crouching
defenders. Madden flung down the one nearest him, but others came flying
through the air to take its place. The prostrate men worked busily
dislodging the flukes. The fusillade from below prevented their getting
on their knees, and they were forced to lie on their backs as they
worked at the hooks. It seemed some sort of queer game: the attackers
flinging up scaling irons, the defenders flipping them down. Madden had
dislodged two or three, when Mulcher cried out for help.

The enemy had succeeded in catching a fluke on the rail, and putting so
much weight on it that the cockney could not prize it off. Immediately
Hogan and another defender crawled to Mulcher's aid like big lizards.
They thrust in sticks and spikes and prized vigorously, while the
bullets were drumming on the plates outside.

It stuck and Leonard started to their aid, when a hook in his own
territory demanded his attention. Just then a head came up over the rail
just above Hogan and Mulcher. The German had turned his automatic on the
defenders when Hogan's shillalah caught him on the temple. He reeled
backwards, his pistol spitting into the air. He knocked down the whole
line of men below him amid crashings, shoutings and splashings in the
water below. The moment the weight was off, Mulcher loosed the grapnel
and flung it down into the confusion.

The hail of bullets was immediately renewed, and more hooks came flying
over. The iron rails rang like a boiler shop, and the steel missiles
glanced off whining like enormous mosquitoes. Madden whirled his head
for a glance aft.

The same sort of drama was taking place amidship, boarders were climbing
over the rail and arms, sticks, and iron spikes snapped out of the inky
shadows and smote them. The invaders fired blindly into the darkness
that rimmed the deck. As to whether they were killing or maiming
Caradoc's crew, Madden could not tell.

One thing, however, he did observe, that aroused an anxious hope in the
boy's heart. A heavy column of smoke ascended from the tug's funnel, and
a tongue of steam played in its edge.

A frenzy of impatience seized Madden. If the _Vulcan_ could only
get under way and escape the fight! Why didn't they start at once! In
the vivid light, he saw the steering wheel turning, apparently of its
own accord, and he knew that someone was manipulating the hand grips
from the bottom side.

From those slight signs of preparation, Madden's attention was suddenly
whipped back to his business, by the sight of two figures climbing on
over the prow of the _Vulcan_. These men had no doubt caught a hook
in the anchor port and had climbed up without opposition.

The invaders stood clearly limned by the searchlight, trying to pick out
a target for their fire, when Madden reached for the coal pile. The
American had once been pitcher for his college team, and the lump of
coal crashed under the first man's jaw and he dropped backwards as if
hit by a piece of shrapnel. The second gunman banged at the shadow where
Madden was hid. The bullets sang about the American's ears, when
Deschaillon's ostrich-like kick flashed through the light and caught the
sailor in the pit of the stomach. The automatic dropped from his hand,
and he crimped up like a stuck grubworm.

But while the defenders were occupied with this little flank attack,
half a dozen hooks were firmly lodged on the rail, and at least eight
men were mounting swiftly. At their head came an officer waving a sword.
The firing from below suddenly ceased, lest they hit their own men. In
the silence that followed, Madden heard the hiss of rising steam, and
from somewhere the tinkle of a bell.

Suddenly out of the shadows, the whole force of the defenders leaped at
the Germans and attacked them as they strode over the rail. There was a
clattering of revolvers, a thwacking of sticks and iron pins, and the
smashing of thrown coal.

Then the combatants grappled hand to hand on the rail of the tug,
swinging eerily in and out like wrestlers, a strange sight in the
beating searchlight.

Madden closed with the officer, and by good fortune caught his right
wrist, so the fellow could not shorten his sword and stab him. The
American kept trying to twist the German's arm and make him drop his
blade, but the fellow had thrust his left hand under Madden's arm pit
and reached up and caught him about the forehead. The result was a back
half nelson, and put Madden's neck under a terrific strain.

In return he choked his adversary, but Madden's mastoid muscles slowly
gave way before the German's punishing hold. His head bent back, while
he clung desperately to the sword hand and crushed in the fellow's
gullet. There was a roaring in Madden's ears that was not from the
fighting men. His neck and back slowly curved backward under the strain.
Had it not been for the menace of the sword, he could have wriggled out
with a wrestler's shift, but if he loosed the right hand... Madden
wondered if he could fall backwards and still maintain his hold on the
sword. If he could ever get down without being stunned by his fall, his
strangle hold would give him an immediate advantage. He swung backwards,
but the fellow did not go with him, but began a furious struggle to
loose his weapon. Madden clung grimly. His whole body dripped with
sweat, as he held away the sword and tried to choke the fat neck of his
antagonist. He shoved the fellow's throat with all his power, trying to
break the nelson, but the pressure jammed his own head back till a hot
pain streaked through the base of his skull.

At that moment a tremor ran through the tug, and there came a
chough-choughing in her stack. Immediately followed a great shouting and
a frantic pelting of grapnels from the sea below. Madden knew that the
_Vulcan_ had at last got under steam, and would probably escape.
This came to him dimly as his left hand, which had been struggling to
fend off the sword, gradually lost its grip on the German's sweaty
slippery wrist.

Along up and down the rail, he knew that the men battled with varying
results. Came dimly to his roaring ears shouts, groans and blows. In
another minute the sword would split his ribs.

A breeze sprang up. The _Vulcan_ was gathering headway.

He was bracing his last efforts against the force that was bending him
double, when a long-legged figure rushed from amidship, seized the
swordsman around the waist, and with a mighty heave, flung the fellow
upward and outward into the sea, falling end over end--a grotesque
gyrating figure in the searchlight, still waving his sword.

"Down! Down! Everybody!" yelled Caradoc, as he waded up the rail,
overthrowing the last of the boarders.

Madden and the defenders fell prone on the deck, and it was not too
soon. The moment the boarding party was definitely repulsed, there broke
out a crashing volley from the long boat, and their bullets played a
ringing tattoo over the ironwork. Then the tug drew steadily away from
their assailants.

The searchlight played over the steamer for several minutes in order to
afford a target for the small boats, but the crew lay close, only
trusting an eye over the sheer strake now and then for a glimpse of the
enemy. Up on the bridge, Leonard could see the steering wheel still
turning of its own accord this way and that as the _Vulcan_
gathered speed.

Presently the searchlight was switched off, leaving the deck in utter
darkness. The cutters had given up the chase. Leonard sat up on deck and
wriggled his sore neck this way and that. He could see nothing now save
the stream of sparks that leaped out of the funnel and flowed aft into
the black sea.

"Men!" cried Caradoc's voice, "is anyone hurt?"

"A few of us 'ave 'oles punched in us, sor!" came a reply.

"All the wounded will report to Captain Black in the main cabin!" called
Smith.

There was a shuffling of feet on deck, as the men passed aft through the
darkness.

At that moment, out of the mother ship there flared another bright light
that wavered about the horizon for a moment and finally settled on the
_Vulcan_. The wounded men dodged below the rail again, but no
bullets came.

This light was not stationary. It crept down through the inky sea toward
the fugitives and grew larger and brighter in their eyes.

"W'ot is that?" cried several apprehensive voices.

Caradoc stood erect by the rail, watching this new development.

"Malone," he called to the man hidden on the bridge, "what speed can
this boat make?"

"Hi've got as 'igh as eighteen knots out of 'er, sir."

"Signal 'full speed ahead' and call down to the firemen for all the
steam we can carry."

"Very well, sir."

Caradoc looked at the light for a minute or two longer and then remarked
to Madden.

"They couldn't have repaired that submarine for several hours longer.
They must have had two."



CHAPTER XIX

CHASED BY A SUBMARINE


Wheezing, coughing, shaking in every plate, vomiting into the sky a
trail of smoke that extended clear to the eastern horizon, the
_Vulcan_ shouldered her way at top speed across the mazy lanes of
the Sargasso. The tug had come a queer crooked path across that sea, and
the lay of her smoke trail down the pearly glow of dawn still marked her
tortuous course.

Not a breath of air stirred, but the speed of the vessel sent a breeze
whipping over the poop of the steamer where a group of battered men
stared fixedly over the long frothing path of the screw. Several of the
group wore bandages, two, unable to stand, sat in steamer chairs, all
had the pale faces of all-night watchers, but every eye in the crowd
scanned with feverish intensity the spangled ocean over which they fled.

The wind snatched at the clothes and bandages of the intent men. Masses
of seaweed swept like gray blurs down the sheer of the tug's wake. Just
beneath them the propeller rushed with watery thunder.

"Yonder she rises!" cried one of the watchers, pointing at two wireless
masts that rose like the fins of a racing shark above the green surface
of the Sargasso.

"Yonder she rises!" repeated a voice amidship, and more faintly still
came the repetition from the bridge, "Yonder she rises--hard a-port!"

A sudden shift of the rudder shook the _Vulcan_ from peak to
keelson. Next moment the tug was speeding squarely across a seaweed
field, and another crook was added to the smoke mark in the sky. The
_Vulcan's_ blunt prow drove through the seaweed at a great rate,
while the clammy mass swung back together not sixty yards behind the
churning screw.

A strange race had developed between the tug and submarine. When both
crafts were on the surface in open water, the submarine had a knot or
two advantage of the _Vulcan_ and could have picked her up in four
or five hours. But early in the night Caradoc had discovered that the
powerful screw of the steamer, designed, as it was, to propel vast
loads, could make the higher speed across the algae beds.

On the other hand, if the submarine dived to escape the drag of the
weed, she again became the faster craft. But, in this instance, when the
submarine dived, the _Vulcan_ would immediately take to the open
lanes and do more than preserve her distance. These constant shifts and
turns explained the ricocheting course that was marked in smoke across
the whitening dawn.

The submarine stood well out of water and skimmed along in the pink
gleam like a long, slender missile. Its flat deck, wireless masts and
conning tower stood etched in black against the morning light. She was
consuming a fairish stretch of open water at a high speed.

"She's game for a long chase," observed Hogan, gently shifting a wounded
arm in its sling.

Leonard Madden replied without removing his eyes from the rushing boat,
"She has to be. All of Germany's naval plans depend on her destroying
us."

"It does--and, faith, may Oi ask why?"

"If we get to Antigua and report this to the British admiralty, how long
would this Sargasso reshipping arrangement last?"

"Right you are there, Misther Madden," agreed Hogan at once. "We'd woipe
'em out, wouldn't we? We'll make it, too. If we stood off th' little
didapper all night, you know we can all day."

Madden considered the fleet little vessel. "No, I rather think she will
capture us."

"And how's that?"

"The Sargasso doesn't extend indefinitely. In fact we are nearing the
southern limit. Have you taken a look forward?"

"No, I haven't," said Hogan, taking vague alarm at Madden's tone.
"What's wrong?"

"I don't see many more big seaweed fields ahead. If she gets us in open
water----"

"Why bad luck to it! Bad luck to it, Oi say!" cried Hogan as the wind
whistled about him; "running us out o' the bushes loike a swamp rabbit."

Just then the submarine veered off her straight course somewhat to
extend her open water run for two or three miles up the edge of the
field. A length view showed her to be a delicate looking craft. Her
sharp prow cut the water with hardly a ripple, in sharp contrast to the
_Vulcan_, which shouldered up a waterfall as she lunged forward.

Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, the submarine porpoised. There was a
swash of foam, and she was gone.

The men on the poop stepped around to the side of the tug and stared
anxiously southward. Bits of flotsam mottled the blue expanse, but it
really appeared as if the saving drift weed were thinning to nothing.
Hogan glanced back over the way he had come.

"Sure it'll be a fair field and no favor, sweet Peggy O'Neal!" he hummed
nonchalantly under his breath.

At that moment a violent shaking went over the _Vulcan_, and the
short boat swung her prow about with tug-like promptness. It was as if
the stout little craft had swung around on her heel.

"Faith and would ye shake a man's arrum off!" shouted Hogan at nobody in
particular. "And are ye going back to meet the friendly little wasp?"

That was exactly what Caradoc was doing. He had swung the _Vulcan_
about in less than a hundred yard circle and was plowing straight back
the way they had come.

The crowd on the poop held their breath at the daring maneuver. Tug and
submarine were now rushing at each other full tilt, only one ran under
water, the other on the surface. Suppose the submarine should thrust up
a periscope for an instant--a cough of the torpedo tube and the
_Vulcan_ would be blown to scrap iron.

The men on the poop ran forward, staring with frightened eyes over the
gray-green soggy field through which the _Vulcan_ ripped her way.

It seemed fantastic to think that somewhere under that lifeless weed
human beings spun swiftly along, freighted with the most terrific engine
of destruction. What strange warfare! Who could have fancied that when
savages began to use clubs to maul each other it would end in this
diabolical refinement! Weapons, weapons, weapons--the history of man's
undying savagery working under new forms of civilization! The war
submarine--what a monstrous offspring of genius!

The sun rose like a white-hot ball in the brazen sky and the men held to
the rails, mouths open, and stared ahead into the safe open water,
expecting every moment for the _Vulcan_ to spatter skyward in a
volcano of fire and steel.

The boat itself rattled along with that insensibility of mechanism that
sometimes astounds an apprehensive man. Twenty minutes later, she turned
into the open lane, and was rushing westward again at full steam.

An immense relief spread over the crew. Galton, who stood on the bridge
at the wheel beside Caradoc, blew out a long breath and wiped the sweat
from his face, Farnol Greer began a windy whistling of "Winona, Sweet
Indian Maid." Madden felt as if a weight had been lifted off his brain.
Hogan was humming a tune. But all eyes turned anxiously seaward, to see
where the submarine would "blow."

Ten minutes later, a distant ripple in the water caught their watchful
eyes and the wireless masts popped up, on the opposite side of the great
weed field, four or five miles distant.

A spontaneous cheering broke out on the _Vulcan's_ decks.

"Double crossed! Double crossed!" bellowed Hogan.

"Back track! We put one over! Hurrah for Cap'n Smith!" they shouted
above the pounding of the engines.

Everyone but Caradoc wore the fixed exultant grin of the man who outwits
his rival. The submarine had been thoroughly outgeneraled. North and
west of the _Vulcan_ lay the whole Sargasso for an endless chase.
The diving boat had lost the great advantage of having the steamer
cornered.

As the crew whistled and sang the _Vulcan_ kicked a frothy course
down the long westward lane. To every one's surprise, the submarine did
not dive immediately, but straightened herself on the other side of the
seaweed field on a course parallel with her quarry.

Madden climbed up on the bridge and found a pair of binoculars in the
chart room. He took these outside and trained them on the little vessel.
Apparently the submarine intended to remain at the surface for some
time, for she had opened her hatches and an officer had come out on the
slender deck, and stood looking at the _Vulcan_ through a
telescope.

At the distance, Madden could see the fellow plainly, and even the inky
shadow he threw on the deck. The officer perused the tug for several
minutes, then allowed his glass to wander around the horizon.

"They've come up for air," observed Caradoc, who had approached his
friend from behind. "I believe we'd best stop that. Good air is a luxury
with those fellows." He turned to Galton, who was steering. "Swing her
into the northwest, my man."

The tug answered to her helm with a quiver, and in twenty minutes more
was nosing her way again through the ooze of weed. The German officer
calmly completed his survey, folded his telescope, then disappeared down
the hatch. A few minutes later the submarine dived and the ocean lay
empty in the burning sunshine.

From below came the clanging of Gaskin's gong announcing dinner. It was
odd how the little details of life went calmly on even when life itself
was threatened with extinction. As Madden went below to his meal, he met
Malone who came from below, looking as black as an Ethiopian. The mate
had been directing the firing in this extreme necessity.

The two fell in together as they walked to the wash room.

"I daresay those fellows wish they had sunk the _Vulcan_ when they
had her," observed the American.

"They needed 'er theirselves," explained the mate in a matter-of-fact
way. "Those German cruisers 'ave captured a whole flotilla of prizes
lately, and they needed th' tug to 'andle 'em for 'em."

"And they didn't need the _Minnie B_?"

"Oh, no, not at all."

"Why didn't they sink her at once?"

"Her cap'n told me she carried more copper than one submarine could
reship, so they 'ad to wait for another, as they didn't want to throw no
copper away."

Madden nodded. "It was the second submarine I saw on the night she
foundered." He began smiling when he thought what a bewildering mystery
the vessel had been, and how very simple was the explanation.

By this time Caradoc had joined the two men, hoping to snatch a sandwich
and a cup of coffee before he was needed again.

"Have we plenty of coal, mate?"

"Bunkers are 'arf full, sir."

"What's she turning over now?"

"Six, seventy-five to th' minute, sir." There was a pause, then Malone
asked, "Is there any 'opes of _them_ running out o' fuel?"

"Not likely; they make the trip to Hamburg, you know."

They were just turning into the smelly galley, when a startled voice
sang out forward:

"Sail ahoy!"

This stopped the trio instantly.

"Where away?" called Caradoc.

"Dead ahead, sor!"

All three turned and went running back updeck. When they regained the
bridge, Madden stared in the direction indicated. At first the western
horizon looked empty, then along its level line his eye caught two tiny
marks against the brilliant sky. As it was too small for his naked eyes,
he resorted to the binoculars once more. Caradoc was doing the same
thing.

"W'ot is it, sir?" inquired Malone anxiously.

When he had focused his glasses, Madden made out two fighting
tops--steel baskets circling steel masts, thrust up menacingly over
the slope of the world.

"W'ot is it, sir?" repeated Malone uneasily.

Just then Madden's eye caught the flag at the peak, as it fluttered
under the drive of the distant ship. It was the black cross on the white
ground, with the dark upper left quarter of the German navy.

Caradoc took down his glass at the same time.

"They've been using the wireless," he stated evenly, "to run us in a
_cul de sac_. I might have known German cruisers were close
around." He looked steadily at the distant fighting tops, then turned to
Galton.

"Steer due north, quartermaster."

After a moment, he said to Malone:

"When you go below, send me up coffee and a biscuit."



CHAPTER XX

THE LONE CHANCE


Rushing up the slope of the world in a battle line that covered a wide
sector of the southwestern horizon, steamed four German battle cruisers.
They were four sea eagles dashing at a little water beetle of a tug--the
hammer of Thor swinging forward to crush an insect. The submarine had
signaled by wireless the whole German South Atlantic fleet to destroy
the tug.

Only in the face of this demonstration did Madden realize that a great
German naval stratagem hinged upon the fate of the little English boat.
The slow, clumsy little _Vulcan_ would decide the fate of millions
of dollars worth of English shipping. The little vessel was freighted
with huge consequences.

At first glimpse of the battle line, the _Vulcan_ had sheered
about, and now rushed northward, stringing her black smoke flat behind
her. Up from the south, the submarine followed on the surface, although
she could not make as good time through the weed as did the
_Vulcan_. However, the burden of destroying the English craft had
been transferred to the cruisers that came rushing forward at at least
twenty-five knots an hour.

As Madden stood on the bridge in the skirling wind, the little
_Vulcan_, the seaweed drifts and the cruisers reminded him of
nothing so much as a rabbit flying across cotton rows in front of four
greyhounds; only here there were no friendly briar patches or fence
corners in which to double or hide. Never had the Sargasso appeared so
vast, so empty, so brilliant, so hot.

"Any chance?" he shouted to Caradoc above the rumble of machinery and
the whistling of the wind.

"There's always a chance! They might foul in these weeds!" he nodded
aft.

"Improbable."

"Lloyds would hardly insure us," admitted the commander dryly.

At that moment, as if to lend point to the remark, came a sharp clap of
thunder off their port bow. Madden whirled quickly. A ball of white
smoke, the size of a balloon, drifted up in the air a quarter of a mile
distant.

The American stared at the smoke quite wonderstruck, then looked around
at the distant ships that had not yet topped the horizon.

"Did they shoot this far?"

"A request to heave to."

"Are you going to do it?"

At the bursting of the shell, the men on deck came walking aft to the
superstructure, with the apprehensive gait of men getting under shelter
from blasting operations.

Caradoc leaned over the rail of the bridge. "Greer!" he shouted, "go to
the flag locker, get out a union jack and show our colors on the peak!"

The men pulled up at this, and half a dozen men, two or three of them
crippled, hurried to carry out the order. In a few minutes they came
running back on deck with the flag. They tangled the sheets after the
manner of landsmen, but finally the red pennant traveled skyward. There
was a brief hoarse cheering from the cockneys.

The flag was scarcely at the peak, when above the throb and rumble of
the machinery, Madden's ear caught a queer droning noise, and a moment
later came a deafening crash about two hundred yards to the starboard.
The water beneath it was beaten to a foam, while another balloon of
smoke slowly expanded and thinned in the breathless air. A long time
after the bursting of the shell, Leonard heard the grumble of the cannon
that had fired it."

"Now, lads," shouted Caradoc, "go below and bring up some rockets!"

The men set off with a will, but Madden viewed the situation without any
thrill of patriotism to gild a death under the union jack. The cruisers
were slowly coming into full view. Through his glasses he could now see
their turrets and the black gun ports.

"What's the idea, Smith? You can't fight with rockets?"

"Some English vessel may see us," answered Caradoc shortly.

Madden was still more astonished. "What good would that do?" he called
above the wind. "She'd be captured, too."

"Certainly," agreed the Englishman brusquely, "but if she had a
wireless, she might report the situation to the Admiralty before they
sank us."

Madden removed his binoculars and stared at his friend. "Are you staking
your life on as long a chance as _that_?"

"My boy," said Smith, in an oddly matured tone, "when the safety of
one's country is at stake, one man's life doesn't amount to
_that_!" he snapped his fingers. "If there's a point to be gained,
you accept any chance automatically--or no chance at all."

The American returned no answer, but there flashed into his mind the
legend of the Tyrian who beached his galley in order to save the secret
of Cornwall. Caradoc's narrative was oddly prophetic of the fate of the
_Vulcan_. And Madden wondered with a quirk of grim humor if there
were a foreigner aboard that Tyrian's galley, and what _he_ thought
about the sacrifice.

There was another jagged report as a shell burst just aft the tug, then
a missile of some thousands of pounds shrieked through the air just
above the stumpy masts and filled the sky with fire and thunder a
hundred yards ahead.

Out of the cabin came the rocket bearers, quite over their fright by
now, and acting with the nervous steadiness which acute danger brings.
One of the sailors from the regular crew of the tug moved along the
rail, mounting the fire signals one after the other for shooting.
Immediately behind him came Hogan, using his one good hand to fish
matches from his watch pocket and light the fuses.

The first rocket lit with a sputter, for a moment its fiery blowing
filled the deck with smoke, then it darted skyward, with a tremendous
swis-s-sh! Up, in a long black column it went, into the very heart of
the hot brazen sky, then it exploded with a faint pop, and a black head
of smoke expanded at a prodigious height. In the midst of the
smoke-filled deck, Hogan was applying his match to another. So as the
tug plowed forward, tall slender pillars of smoke, crowned with swelling
palm-like heads, arose to dizzy heights out of her path.

By this time huge shells were bursting about the _Vulcan_ with
crashing monotony. Sometimes the dodging little vessel ran through the
pungent gases of the shells that were sent to destroy her. Now and then
the giant missiles exploded under water and sent furious waterspouts
leaping over her decks. Something touched the top of her steel mainmast
and snapped it off as if it were a straw. A few minutes later the crew
had cleared the union jack from the wreckage and had it flaunting
defiantly from the forepeak.

It was an odd defiance, a tugboat's challenge to a German battle line.
The nibbling of a mouse once set a lion free. Here was a mouse
endeavoring to net a whole herd of lions.

The cruisers did not overhaul the little vessel as rapidly as Madden had
anticipated. The _Vulcan_ skurried through the seaweed fields,
dodging this way and that in order to take advantage of every lane of
open water, but the unwieldy battleships could not accept small
advantages, and were forced to plow straight ahead, through weed or wave
as it came.

Thus the cruisers still fired at extreme range, and the tug escaped
destruction as a gnat might jiggle between raindrops and survive a
summer's shower.

Amid steady crashes, Madden awaited stoically for the shot that would
erase the _Vulcan_ from the face of the sea. There came another
splintering shock; the upper half of the foremast made a curious jump,
and came down with its rigging and plunged overboard in the rushing
water. The obstruction instantly choked down the tug's speed. Every man
in the crew seized axe, saw, anything, and rushed forward in a fury of
impatience, hacking, chopping, sawing, working through the wreckage and
cutting the ropes with jackknives, in an effort to clear the tug of
debris. After an intolerable while, the last ratlines snapped like
pistol shots, the whizzing end of a rope struck a sailor and laid him
out as if clubbed, then the foremast fell away and the _Vulcan_
rushed forward again.

"Look ahead, Madden!" shouted Caradoc in the uproar. "We've got to run
among thicker fields than these!"

By this time the tug's rockets were spent and the German cruisers were
rushing down a line of gigantic smoke-palms that were planted by the
little vessel.

"You might as well surrender," called the American coolly. "You won't
find a merchantman if you go in thicker fields--you know that."

"Surrender!" bawled Smith. "Do you think they shall have this tug to
haul their prizes? Let 'em sink us, and then pick us up in boats! Look
ahead!"

The American turned his binoculars obediently and scanned the west and
north. His eyes traversed skein after skein of the brilliant colorful
patternings, but he was unable to find a very closely netted region. He
was about to announce his discovery to Caradoc when his lense focussed
on another grim menace almost dead ahead.

He stared at it with a curious dropping of hopes that he had not
suspected were in his breast.

What he saw was another fighting top. That pertinacious submarine had
apparently surrounded the elusive _Vulcan_ with German fighting
ships.

Leonard removed his field glasses and stood for a full minute filled
with a keen frustration. The splitting din about him roared on
uninterruptedly, and yet somehow he had been hoping the _Vulcan_
would escape.

"What do you make of it?" bawled Smith, who had been watching the
submarine, which was once more drawing dangerously close.

"We can't go in this direction, Smith!" shouted Leonard hopelessly.
"There are more ships in that direction."

"Warships?" demanded Caradoc swinging his spyglass around.

"Yes, fighting tops!"

Both lads focused in the new direction.

"Those Germans do everything thoroughly," shouted Leonard, "even to
sinking a tug!"

But instead of despairing, Caradoc, after a single glance, rushed over
to the speaking tube to the boilers. He blew the whistle shrilly, then
folded it back and screamed down.

"Malone! Malone! Malone!"

"Very well, sir!" came back the muffled voice through the pipe.

"Give her all steam possible! Blow her up! Speed her, man, speed her!"

"Very well, sir!" returned the same voice.

"Caradoc! Caradoc! Are you insane!" bawled Leonard. "Do you imagine you
can outrun two squadrons of German cruisers?"

"German cruisers! That's England's line of battle, Madden! England! Old
England! God let me get to them and tell 'em what I know, then I don't
care what happens!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE BATTLE


"Th' signal book! Get the signal book!" bawled Greer amid the uproar.

"W'ere is it?"

"In the flag locker! Chuck the flags out, too! Scatter 'em out!"

"W'ot you want to signal?"

"Submarine--tell 'em to look out for submarines!"

Hogan, who held the volume in the crook of his bandaged arm, licked his
thumb and jabbed through the leaves in distracted attention. "There
aren't no code letters for submarine!" he cried at last--"not in here!"

"No," shouted Black, the _Vulcan's_ former captain, "that's an old
code--wasn't any submarines then!"

"Spell it out!" commanded Caradoc from the bridge. "Sharp about it!"

The men worked in a clutter of buntings, assembling the flags in nervous
haste. Black laid out the nine letters and the crew hurriedly hooked
them together. Ten minutes later, they strung the signal between the two
splintered masts with a queer drunken gala effect.

The _Vulcan_ was no longer the German squadron's sole target. Down
on the Teuton battle line thundered five English cruisers, filling the
north with rolling smoke, their turrets spangled with cannon flashes,
prows shearing white walls of foam.

The sky above the _Vulcan_ was filled with the drone of hurtling
shells. They sounded as thick as swarming bees. The cannon fire of the
approaching English ships mounted to a ragged roar. When the on-coming
line was less than five miles distant, Caradoc shouted an order to
Galton and the little tug swung around broadside on, displaying her
warning signal like a billboard. Through the battle smoke, Madden saw an
answering flag go up on the nearest ship. A cheer broke out from the
crew at this recognition of their work.

"They'll pass it around among the fleet by wireless!" shouted Caradoc in
Madden's ear.

"Do you know that ship, Smith?" called Madden excitedly.

"The _Panther_--held a commission on her once."

"Is it possible?" Madden peered at her through his glasses with renewed
scrutiny.

They were so close now that the American could pick out the crew of
range finders working in the fighting tops; he could glimpse the huge
guns in the forward turrets as they flashed and roared amid shrouds of
smokeless powder haze. Madden realized he was seeing what every landsman
dreams of seeing: a naval battle. For some inscrutable reason, Caradoc
had headed the _Vulcan_ clear around and now faced the enemy, like
a rat terrier amid a battle of mastiffs.

Madden turned aft as the tug swung around to follow the fortunes of the
_Panther_. He could see German shells exploding now and then on her
decks; sometimes they would strike the sea and send up typhoons of water
and weed. As he gazed a small-calibre gun was struck, and there was
nothing but a ragged smoking hole where the port had been. An instant
later, the mizzen top was shrouded in an emerald flame, and when the
smoke cleared, only a jagged stump of iron thrust skyward. The crew of
range finders had been wiped out in an instant. Several hours later,
Leonard learned that the whole German gunfire had been focussed for
several minutes on the _Panther_.

But now that gray, smoke-wreathed cruiser rushed on indomitably, flanked
by her thundering consorts. The half-naked men on the _Panther's_
decks looked curiously small in their huge rushing fortress. German
shells battered her decks amid spangling green flames but could not stop
her. As she overtook the _Vulcan_, the concussion of cannon fire
and bursting shells grew so terrific it ceased to be noise. It resolved
itself into blows, terrific air movements that smote Madden all over. It
pounded his ear drums with physical blows; it tore at the bridge of his
nose, jarred his teeth, sent shooting pains through his head, for he was
not wise enough to stuff his ears with cotton and hold his mouth open.
It shook the pit of his stomach and nauseated him. It was a sound
cyclone. Added to this the sickening acrid smell of niter explosives
filled the atmosphere.

On came the _Panther_ through the green foam of German fire,
mingling the mighty vibrations of her engines, the hiss of leaping walls
of water, tempests of cannon fire and vindictive shriek of leaping
shells.

Caradoc leaned over to Madden and yelled something at the top of his
voice. Madden shook his head as a signal that he could not hear. Smith
repeated so loudly that his long face grew red with the strain. It was
impossible to catch a word. Besides, Leonard's ears ached as if the
drums were ruptured.

Caradoc caught up a speaking trumpet and held it to his friend's ear.

"Don't look at the _Panther_!" cried a drowned voice. "Watch ahead
for the submarine!"

The submarine! Sure enough, there was the submarine, silent stiletto,
waiting beneath the sea to stab this fiery monster. Madden's heart
leaped into his throat. Was it possible so slight an antagonist could
engulf the battle cruiser?

The American turned and stared ahead over the shell-beaten sea with all
his eyes. The little _Vulcan_ was now racing along some half-mile
in front of the English battle line, her warning signal still stretched
between her splintered masts. She rushed at top speed, vibrating under
the stress of her engines. Five or six miles ahead the German squadron
had turned and was flying southward before the superior English force.
Flashes of fire and dull thunder still belched from their after turrets.

Leonard tried to confine his attention to the adjacent waters in careful
search for the diving boat's periscope, but the terrific spectacle
across the smoky spangled sea gripped his eyes beyond his control.

The ship on the eastern wing of the Teuton line was in flames. The fire
burst out of the gun deck ports, lapping up over the boat decks in long
red curling tongues. Her cannon fire had ceased, and from what Leonard
could see, he thought the English ships had quit firing at her. She
still fled southward, however. Smoke began to roll out of her turrets,
and her crew came swarming out on her deck like a disturbed ant's nest.
Through his glasses, Madden saw them hunched against the fire, working
to launch a boat, when of a sudden there was a blinding flare; a huge
cloud of smoke leaped from the sea, and after four or five minutes, a
thunder heavily audible even amid the roar of battle rumbled in Madden's
ears. It was the solemn note of a battleship destroyed by its own
magazines. When the smoke cleared away there was left nothing save
tossing waves and bits of flotsam here and there.

The horror of the tragedy was lost for Leonard in another, more
appalling scene. The right central battleship had lost control of her
steering gear, and now she ran wildly amuck in the fleeing line like a
drunken giant of steel.

Through accident, or by the last shift of seamanship, she veered about
broadside on, her huge guns still belching defiance. In crazy flight,
she barely missed one of her own squadron, then rounded back in a great
circle for the English line. No doubt her crew did not try to stop her,
hoping that her unguided charge might work some damage to the enemy.

On she came, against the focussed storm of English cannon, her prow,
forward turrets, bridge, masts, fairly disintegrated under a bastinado
of twelve and fourteen-inch shells. Yet it seemed as if she would
survive it all and ram some English cruiser, when a cloud of steam broke
out of her hold. A lucky shot had exploded her boilers. Her wild charge
ceased instantly, but her sub-calibre guns still chattered defiance at
the crushing odds. Giant shells were now pounding her at point-blank
range. At some stroke of a cruiser to the right of the _Panther_,
the German ship heeled heavily on her starboard side.

Through his glasses, Madden could see the
sailors still struggling to work the guns, though
scores of them were wiped from the deck at
every English shell. Amid clouds of smoke the
black cross of the German battle flag fluttered
undaunted.

In a few minutes the enemy listed until her guns were at such a high
angle they could no longer be trained against the enemy. Her forward
turret was completely blown away. Bursting shells kept a constant glare
around her. Her boiler and furnace rendered her hold untenable, for her
crew came out of the smoke and formed orderly platoons on her crippled
deck. Shells swept gaps through their files, but they closed again in
regular formation, standing oddly erect on the up-tilted deck. There
was not a gun they could man, not a blow could they strike, yet the men
stood firm in the steel cyclone sweeping across their shattered deck.
Then Madden turned his lens on a group a little to one side of the main
formation, and his eye caught the gleam of silver horns, the rise and
fall of a drummer's arm, the fierce beating of a director with a baton.
It was the ship's musicians. The band was playing, the men were chanting
the battle hymn of the empire; out of the heart of the foundering
cruiser, out of the souls of the passing warriors rose triumphantly,
"_Die Wacht am Rhein_."

Sudden tears filled the eyes of the American and dimmed the splendid
sight. He turned impulsively to his friend.

"Caradoc! My God!" he screamed in his ear, "why don't they quit firing!"

"Their flag is still flying--no doubt the halyards are shot away!"

Even while Smith screamed, a sudden and startling attack was launched
from the _Panther's_ rapid fire and machine guns. They sounded
a shrill treble amid the profound shaking bass of the giant cannon.
The boys looked sharply about to see the object of this abrupt attack,
when they suddenly heard the shrill whistling of steel all about their
ears.

With the utmost horror, Madden saw every tiny port spouting continuous
flame in his direction. Steel frothed the sea all around the
_Vulcan_. Missiles struck the little tug and glanced off with sharp
musical twangs. The crew of the little boat, who swarmed on deck,
wonderstruck at the battle of the giants, suddenly darted to cover with
wild yells.

"They're crazy! They're daft!" screamed Madden. "Shooting at us! What's
the matter with 'em?"

Caradoc, also, seemed to share the madness. He suddenly spun his wheel
to the left, veered in a sharp circle, and dashed straight toward the
course of the _Panther_ into the thickest of the hail. Leonard
stood beside him, frozen stiff, when straight ahead, he suddenly saw a
periscope show for an instant, then disappear in a little swirl of
water. The submarine had come into the action.

The tug rushed straight through the bullet-rumpled water to the point
where the metal fin had disappeared, like a terrier dashing at a
rathole.

With the disappearance of the submarine's "eye," the fusillade ceased
abruptly. The great cannon were firing more slowly now and there came
short intervals of comparative silence in the battle.

From the bridge Caradoc bellowed fiercely at his men: "Spread around the
rail--keep a sharp lookout for the submarine!" The crew came back with a
will now that they learned the bombardment had not been intended for
them.

In the meantime the tiny David had put the great Goliath to flight. The
_Panther_ was endeavoring to save herself. She veered out of the
thundering battle line and zigzagged easterly, in full flight from any
enemy that she could almost drop down one of her smokestacks.

And the little _Vulcan_ swung about in an effort to keep up with
her principal. On she rushed, shaking and puffing like a locomotive, her
bright flags flying the submarine warning, as if the speeding giant
ahead of her were likely to forget it.

Suddenly Hogan bawled out: "By th' port! By th' port, sir! There she
rises!"

Another shrill storm from the giant showed that the gunners aboard the
_Panther_ also saw the periscope.

Again the _Vulcan_ dashed at the diving terror as it disappeared
and the cruiser swung clear around in a northerly tack. Her commander
was trying to outguess the man under the sea.

A strange game of blind-man's-buff the three dissimilar crafts were
playing. Caradoc assumed the submarine pilot would guess that the
_Panther_ had fled north, and he sent the tug spitting along a
course that would lie between the cruiser and her enemy. The
_Panther_ was forced to repass the _Vulcan_ in the new maneuver.
The giant and pygmy were flying along at top speed, fairly abreast,
scarcely five hundred yards apart.

Leonard took his eyes off the starboard sea a moment to look at the lion
which this mouse was trying to nibble free, when suddenly, not thirty
yards on the _inside_ of the tug popped up the periscope.

The American rushed to the wheel, jerked it to the starboard. "Yonder!
Yonder!" he bellowed in Caradoc's ear, pointing.

[Illustration: The Battle.]

Again the guns shrilled forth; a steel sleet wailed about the
_Vulcan_. Into the teeth of this blast, the tug circled and lunged.

With fascinated eyes, Madden watched the periscope cut a swirling circle
on the midst of the beaten water and straighten on the _Panther_.

Now the metal eye was directly under their swaying starboard. A moment
they sped side by side, toward the imperiled cruiser. Madden could
almost have touched the wireless masts. A whine of bullets ripped one of
their lifeboats like a saw and sputtered through the superstructure.

The periscope, which thrust six or seven feet out of water, disappeared
under the swell of the _Vulcan's_ hull. Suddenly the tug swung her
blunt beak around with the sidelong blow of an angry swine. Madden went
flying to the right rail of the bridge to stare down at the imminent
tragedy.

A dim shadowy bulk was hurtling through the blue water. Suddenly, just
as the tug's prow swung athwart her course, the submarine lined up
straight with the _Panther_. A great belching of bubbles wallowed
up through the turbulent sea as a sign that the torpedo was launched.

A heart-stopping moment, in which the diving boat, the darting shadow of
the torpedo, the blocking prow of the _Vulcan_ was clear.

A titanic upheaval of water; volcanic fires leaping out of the heart of
the deep; a roar so absolutely appalling that it reduced the battle to a
whisper!

The prow of the _Vulcan_ reared up and bent back over the main
deck. In the same instant, out of the cauldron sea, an enormous
cigar-shaped object was flung end-over-end, as a child flings a spindle.
There was one flashing glimpse of conning tower, smashed plates. Then a
clap of surging air that seemed as solid as oak picked Madden up as if
he had been thistledown. He felt himself whirling through space.
Somehow, he caught a glimpse of a string of signals that had been blown
from the wrecked masts of the shattered _Vulcan_. Then he felt a
stinging blow of water as he hit the sea.

The submarine had destroyed both herself and the tug with her first
torpedo.



CHAPTER XXII

THE VICTORIA CROSS


Shocked, stunned, half blinded, Madden found himself kicking in the
water amidst a wreckage of spars, planks, buoys, with here and there a
swimmer struggling to stay on the surface. The whole mass of flotsam
swung slowly around the whirlpool where tug and submarine had sunk.

The circling water was filmed with oil, the life-blood of the stricken
submarine. Presently the concavity in the ocean mounted to level, and
its rotation slowly died away. The American found that his arms had
unwittingly clasped something which proved to be an empty tin canister
with a screw top. He hung to it apathetically. His ears bled from the
concussion of the torpedo, and it was with difficulty that he focussed
his eyes on anything.

Presently he became aware of a voice calling his name. It seemed a long
way off, but when he looked around he saw Farnol Greer quite close to
him. The thick-set black-headed fellow motioned for Madden to approach,
and the American kicked himself and his float in that direction. A
little later he saw that Malone was with Farnol, and that the two were
supporting a third man.

"Lend us a 'and, 'ere, Madden," called Malone; "our chap's knocked out."

"Who is it? Oh, it's Caradoc!" Madden stared down into the still,
upturned face with a dull emotionless feeling. He was too numb to feel
or sympathize. "Is he dead?" he finally asked.

"Wounded, sir," replied Greer.

At that moment, the Englishman moved slightly, opened his eyes.
"We--stopped it, Madden."

"Are you badly hurt?" inquired the American, becoming more nearly normal
himself.

"Punch through my shoulder."

"Were you hit in the explosion?"

"One of the _Panther's_ machine guns--ricocheted, I think."

"What rotten luck!" growled Madden.

Smith reached his good arm to the float. "Had it all my life in little
things, Madden, but the _Panther_--that torpedo----"

"Boat ahoy!" called Farnol Greer suddenly.

Leonard looked about and saw that the _Panther_ had laid to, a good
two miles distant, and two of her cutters were coming back to pick up
the survivors. A blue-jacket on the sharp bow of the little vessel waved
an arm at Farnol's cry, and presently the rescuing party was alongside.
Caradoc went up first, then Farnol, Malone and Madden, who automatically
clung to his tin canister.

The sailors from the warship were chattering excitedly over the
miraculous preservation of the _Panther_.

"If that tug had been 'arf a second later," declared one, "she'd 'ave
'ad us, Sniper, sure--to th' port, there, Bobby, there's another chap
kickin' in th' water."

One of the sailors had a roll of bandages, and he now moved over to
Caradoc and stooped over the wounded man.

"You're pinked," he said in a tone of authority. "I'll take a turn o'
this linen around your shoulder." Suddenly he paused as he glanced into
the sufferer's face. "Why--why, hit's the Lieut'nant!" he stammered.
Then he stood erect and saluted properly. "Would you 'ave a bandage,
sir?" he asked in a different one.

Caradoc assented wearily and shifted his shoulder for the band of linen.
The fellow must have been a surgeon's helper, for he applied the strip
rather dexterously as the cutter steamed about picking up the rest of
the _Vulcan's_ crew who had survived the catastrophe.

Half an hour later friendly hands helped the waifs up the
_Panther's_ accommodation ladder, where a group of officers and men
waited to be of service to the _Vulcan's_ crew.

The deck of the cruiser was torn and blackened from the German fire;
here and there were sailors in bandages. Stretchers were placed at the
head of the ladder for the tug's wounded.

The crew, of the _Panther_ showed the utmost cordiality and also
the utmost curiosity toward their visitors. A dapper young midshipman
gripped Madden's hand as he stepped on the broad deck.

"Where did that tug come from?" he inquired at once. "Most extraordinary
sight--whole fleet pounding away at a tug--Ponsonby is my name."

Madden mentioned his own, and several brother officers, seeing that here
was an intelligent fellow, gathered about the American. Two or three
were introduced with English formality.

"If you are not too bowled over, old chap," begged a middy named
Gridson, "explain to us how a tug ever happened in the middle of the
Sargasso in full flight from a hostile fleet."

Some of the wounded were still coming up from the cutter, as Madden made
a beginning of the tug's story. Just then he was interrupted by
Ponsonby.

"Pardon, Madden, but who is that chap coming up--Say, Gridson, that
isn't--why that's Wentworth!" The middy suddenly dropped his voice.
"That's Wentworth or his ghost, fellows--off of a _tug_!"

Madden looked. Smith was coming on the deck under the solicitous escort
of a surgeon.

"That's Caradoc Smith," said Madden. "He assumed command of the tug when
he found out war was declared."

"Smith was part of his name," explained Gridson. "Caradoc
Smith-Wentworth was the way he signed the register. He's of the Sussex
Smith-Wentworths. His brother took the title, you know."

"Just fancy!" marveled Ponsonby. "Cashiered six months ago, comes back
chasing submarines on a tug, a hero, from boot strap to helmet--a bloody
hero----"

"Hold there, Ponsonby," cautioned another officer named Appleby. "The
chap may be hurt seriously--you oughtn't to laugh."

"Just look at the old man shaking his hand!" ejaculated Gridson, as a
very erect gray-headed officer came down off the bridge and extended his
hand. "You wouldn't think he had cashiered him six months ago."

"I hope he gets his commission back," said Ponsonby, "but he will likely
lose it again from tippling."

"I believe he is cured," said Madden.

Appleby made some reply as the little group moved forward to meet the
wounded man. However, the surgeon and three senior officers were walking
with him below to the ship's hospital.

It required two full days to get the _Panther_ into shipshape
condition, and during that time the entire fleet kept a sharp lookout
for the German mother ship, but that huge mysterious vessel had
disappeared as utterly as if the Sargasso had swallowed her up.

Perhaps she did destroy herself to prevent capture, or perhaps her
sky-blue hue allowed the fleet to sail under her very prow while she
remained invisible. No doubt the two German warships which escaped had
warned their consort of her danger, and she had sailed for some port in
German Africa. At any rate she was never captured or destroyed.

However, on the evening of the third day, the looming red walls of the
floating dock appeared on the eastern horizon. It was so huge and vast
that even the crew of the battleship burst into a cheer.

Captain Ames of the _Panther_ immediately communicated with the
admiralty and arrangements were made to tow the dock to Antigua, where
she would be kept as a naval reserve until the end of the war and then
allowed to proceed to Buenos Aires.

The British Towing and Shipping Company was repaid for the loss of the
_Vulcan_, and a prize of five hundred thousand dollars distributed
among the tug's crew for sinking the submarine. Thus the dreams of
wealth aroused by the ill-fated _Minnie B_ were realized in a small
way by the dock's crew. No doubt Deschaillon has his frog pond, old Mrs.
Galton her plot of flowers, and Hogan a tall hat, a long-tailed coat and
a silver-headed cane.

One week after the Battle of the Sargasso, a formal dinner was given in
the officers' mess. At this affair two civilians were present, Leonard
Madden and Caradoc Smith-Wentworth.

Under the radiance of many electric lights, Caradoc appeared rather weak
and bloodless. However, everyone seemed quite cheerful. The talk was
naturally of the war. The officers were speculating upon the entrance of
Italy and Turkey into the struggle.

Presently Captain Ames touched an electric button and Gaskin, serene,
deferential and wearing an added dignity along with his new uniform,
entered the cabin with a basket full of ice and bottles on his arm.

When his helpers had cleared the table, the fat fellow moved decorously
from diner to diner, announcing each port of call by the subdued pop of
a champagne cork muffled in his napkin. Madden shook his head when the
solemn fellow bent solicitously over him. "Make mine water, Gaskin," he
requested in an undertone, laying three fingers over his goblet.

The cook changed almost imperceptibly from a straw colored bottle to a
glittering carafe of water; then he moved to Caradoc.

The Englishman hesitated a moment, glanced at Madden and said, "Same
thing, Gaskin."

Captain Ames must have observed his action, and showed his silent
approval by requesting water for himself. A few moments later the
captain arose.

"Gentlemen," he began in his crisp military voice, "His Majesty, and all
England, are greatly pleased at the work of the South Atlantic fleet. In
the report of our recent victory, the commander of the _Panther_
had an extremely cogent reason to commend very heartily the action of a
former officer of this vessel. To be exact and fair, it was an act upon
which the safety of this vessel and her crew depended."

A little polite applause filled the slight interval in the speech.
Caradoc colored somewhat and the captain continued.

"It is pleasant to me to announce that His Majesty, through the
Admiralty, has seen fit to reward this act by tendering Caradoc
Smith-Wentworth his commission as first lieutenant in His Majesty's
navy."

A real outburst of applause greeted this announcement, but the captain
held up his glass and raised his voice for silence.

"And I have the further pleasure to tender to Mr. Smith-Wentworth, at
his Majesty, George the Fifth's, express command, the Victoria Cross for
conspicuous bravery upon the field of battle."

"Let us drink his health!" he finished above the congratulatory uproar
that broke out on the announcement.

The men held their goblets at arm's length.

"Here's to you, Wentworth!" "To your deserved honor, my boy!" "To your
well-earned promotion, Wentworth!" they chorused heartily.

In the lull of drinking, Madden lifted his water to his friend.

"Here's to the _remittance_ man," he proposed solemnly, "who
vanishes to-night and leaves a _Man_."

Caradoc's long face was deeply moved as he looked into the eyes of the
youth whose life Providence had so intimately entwined with his own.
After a moment he responded steadily enough, "With all my heart, Madden.
And here's to the land which you taught me how to serve, my country--my
home--Old England!"





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