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might well be. Should the Rhinds boat carry away the honors on that
day and on the subsequent days of the present tests, then Farnum and
Pollard, who had their entire fortunes invested in this business, would
have on their hands only so much scrap steel, brass and iron.

Nor would Jack and his comrades fare any better. If the boys were
vanquished, Farnum and Pollard would have no more work for them. No
other submarine company would want the services of losers.

"Keep your nerve to-day, won't you, Benson?" asked Lieutenant Danvers,
in a low tone.

"Why?" queried Jack, with the ghost of a smile, as he glanced into the
naval officer's face. "Have I been showing any nervousness?"

"Not yet, and I don't want you to."

"Are you as interested as that in us, Mr. Danvers?"

"I like you, Benson - like you from the deck up, and I don't want to
see you lose a single point in the game. That's all."

Eph Somers came on deck, presently.

"Hal says he doesn't need me below for the present, Jack, so I came up
to relieve you at the wheel. I don't want to see your steering wrist
going stale when the race starts, so you'd better let me have the wheel,
while you keep yourself fresh for the real work."

"As the race hasn't begun yet," broke in Lieutenant Danvers, "there is
no impropriety in my taking the wheel out to the start, if you'll trust
me to handle your boat."

"Trust a naval officer?" laughed Jack Benson, flashing a smile of
gratitude at the lieutenant. "That's a funny idea to suggest."

Danvers took the wheel silently, then devoted his whole thought,
apparently, to the - for him - simple task that he had in hand.

Outside the bay the "Chelsea" signaled to the submarine boats to slow up.
Then the gunboat moved over to temporary anchorage. A line between the
gunboat's bow and the lighthouse on Groton Point, to the northward, was
to furnish the imaginary starting line. This line the five competing
submarine torpedo boats must, at second gunfire, cross as nearly together
as possible. There were penalties, of course, for any one boat trying
to steal a lead over the rest.

By this time the fast gunboat "Oakland," which had a safe speed of
twenty-four knots an hour, under forced draught, lay to, some two miles
further out. The "Oakland's" task was to stick close to the leaders,
and, at the end, to decide which craft had won.

_Boom!_ The first gun sounded over the starboard side of the "Chelsea."
In five minutes' time the second gun would thunder out - and the racers
would be off!

Such a scurrying as there was then among these five little craft of war!

Captain Jack Benson had the wheel again. Henceforth, Lieutenant Danvers
was to be but a spectator - a judge, at need, and on his honor, as an
officer of the United States Navy, to show no partiality to those on
whose boat he found himself.

As Eph might be needed on deck, at any instant, he stood leaning against
the conning tower.

David Pollard was missing. He had gone below, had taken off his coat,
and was standing in shirt-sleeves, ready to render any possible aid to
Hal Hastings, the young chief engineer on whom so much depended in the
six hours to come.

Now that one of the supreme moments in his career had come, Jacob Farnum
hardly dared breathe. He said not a word to Eph, who, just as anxious,
stood at his elbow.

As the submarine craft scurried over the waves, each seeking its best
place for a start over the line, the "Zelda" came up within sixty yards,
running alongside for a moment or two.

John C. Rhinds, standing at the rail of his own craft, with what was
intended to be a smile his face, waved his hat wildly at Jacob Farnum.

"Good luck to you, Farnum - and to us!" bellowed Rhinds. "Of course,
I'd like to win today, but if you've the better boat, go ahead and
leave us at the finish. May the best craft win, no hard feelings!
Fair sport all the way through, Farnum, old and to you, Benson - may
you never be in fitter shape than to-day!"

"The old hypocrite!" gasped Jack, vengefully "I'm mighty sorry I can't
head this boat around and run it straight down his lying throat!"

"Then he'd surely gobble you up!" laughed Lieutenant Danvers. "But be
careful, lad! Don't let vengeful thoughts get into your head and stick
to-day. You've got to keep yourself cool and your nerve steady. Look
out, now, for the second gun!"

All five of the submarines were manoeuvering for the starting line.

Boom! The second gun roared out, and the six hours' speed and endurance
test was on!



First over the line passed the "Zelda," but it was a fair get-away. How
her propellers churned the foam now!

Just as it happened, and through no fault of handling, Jack Benson got
the Pollard craft over the line third. At the outset, therefore, his
boat was distanced some twenty-four seconds by the leader.

"Steady, now!" called Jacob Farnum, in low tones. "We've six hours in
which to make up a few seconds."

If Captain Jack heard, he gave no sign.

For the next few minutes the youthful commander seemed to forget
everything but the wheel under his hand, and the course and speed of the
craft he commanded.

That the "Benson" was slowly losing was not, at first, clear to anyone
on board. It took time to draw out the increasing lead of the other
craft, but, after a while, it became more and more evident.

True, the "Benson" was second in the line - but the "Zelda" was first.

At the end of an hour there were drops of clammy ooze on Captain Jack's
forehead. He was steering as well as he had ever steered in his life.
Hal had sent up word that the "Benson's" engines were doing all that
could fairly be required of them.

That troublesome hour up, Captain Jack called to Eph to take the helm.

A few moments later the youthful commander appeared again on the platform
deck, carrying a range-finder on a tripod. Through the telescope he took
some rapid sights, then did some quick figuring. When he looked up
Benson saw Jacob Farnum standing within four feet of him. The
shipbuilder's face looked gray and haggard.

"How much?" asked Jacob Farnum.

"Shade more than a quarter of a mile in the lead of us, sir," Jack

"Have you been down to talk to Hal?"

"What's the use, sir?" demanded Jack. "Hal Hastings knows how much
depends on speed. He's doing everything that his engineer's conscience
will allow. Besides, David Pollard is there with him, sir."

"I've no orders to give," Jacob Farnum sighed, stepping back. "You
youngsters know what you're about, and how much depends upon our success

Indeed, Jack Benson knew! As he silently took his place at the wheel
again deep lines appeared in his youthful face. He knew, this forenoon,
what it meant to suffer.

At the end of the second hour, Jack again called Eph to take a short
relief trick at the wheel. But Jack, instead of resting, promptly
placed the range-finder. As he tried to adjust the telescope the
submarine boy's hands shook. Jack glanced over at Lieutenant Danvers,
cool and impassive. Danvers knew all about working that range-finder.
But the naval officer was aboard as an official spectator. If the
lieutenant aided in any way, then the Pollard submarine would be

Jack's work was more slow, this time. It was some moments before he had
the new range figured out.

"How far astern of the 'Zelda' are we now?" called Jacob Farnum.

"A shade over a half a mile."

"Whew! And the race only a third run."

"In other words," went on the young captain, "the Rhinds boat is gaining
steadily on us at the rate of a quarter of a mile an hour. Not much,
yet enough to win the race beyond any dispute."

"Can't we catch up over that distance?" asked Jacob Farnum.

"Not now, anyway, sir."

Jack went back beside the wheel. Somehow, he did not feel like taking
the spokes into his own hands. Instead, he wheeled, silently, going
back, through the conning tower, and down to the engine room.

"How do we stand with the Rhinds craft?" asked David Pollard, who sat
on one of the cushioned seats in the engine room.

"Half a mile behind, sir."

Pollard got up slowly, then went through and up the stairs to the deck.

For some moments Hal and Jack talked together, in low tones. Both
looked rather glum, until Hal suggested something that sent a little
ray of hope into Benson's eyes.

"We'll see," muttered the young captain. "It looks like a forlorn hope,
though, Hal."

At the end of the third hour the "Zelda" had added another quarter mile
to the lead, while the "Oakland" showing the way, was a good mile ahead
of the foremost racer.

When four hours had gone by the Rhinds boat was discovered to be just
about a mile ahead of her nearest competitor. The Seawold boat, third
in line, was half a mile behind the "Benson," and the Blackson boat, last
of all, was two miles behind the Pollard boat's stern. But Jack and
his friends had long ago ceased to feel any interest in the tail-enders.

The race was to be over at five o'clock. At half-past three, or four
hours and a half after the start, Jack found, by the help of the
rangefinder, that the Rhinds boat led by a mile and an eighth.

"Keep the wheel, Eph!" called the Young commander. "Steer as straight
as you can. I'll be up soon."

Then Jack Benson darted below, though his legs trembled a bit under him.

"All ready, Hal!" shouted the youthful commander. "Play our one trump
card, and play it as hard as you can! Though I'm afraid Rhinds has just
such a card in his own pack."

Then up to the platform deck hastened Jack Benson. He moved quietly to
the wheel, taking it from Eph. The young captain did not propose to
leave again until the race was over.

Soon after this something happened that must have made those aboard the
Rhinds boat feel uneasy. The "Benson" began to crawl up on the "Zelda."

"What are you doing now, Jack?" called Jacob Farnum sharply, as he and
Pollard moved forward to stand by the young captain.

"I'll tell you, in a few minutes, if our move seems to be any good, sir,"
Jack answered.

By four o'clock half the space between the Rhinds boat and the Pollard
craft had been covered. By this time two men were observed aft on the
"Zelda," their gaze turned steadily on the "Benson."

"Take the wheel for two or three minutes, Eph," begged the young captain,
on whom the strain was beginning to tell.

Then, turning to his employers, Jack went on:

"The way Hal and I figured it out, sir, the 'Benson' is really the
faster boat. But the Rhinds people may have been overheating their
engines - slightly, systematically, and using a lot of water to cool
the metal. Now, if that is the case, they may be doing their best at
forced speed. Hal and I determined, if we didn't lose more than a
quarter of a mile an hour, we'd rather let the 'Zelda' keep the lead,
and go on slowly overheating her engines. But now, in the last hour and
a half of the race, Hal is up to the same trick. If that has been the
case with the 'Zelda,' and they now, at this late hour, go to any
greater lengths in overheating, they're likely to blow the engines out
of their hull. But we can stand the present speed, with its gradual
overheating, up to the finish time for the race. If both boats keep
going at the speed they're using now, and neither has an accident, we
stand to come in half a mile in the lead."

"Good strategy, that, Jack!" cried Jacob Farnum, his eyes gleaming. "To
let the other fellow take the risk of overheating his machinery all day,
while we do it only in the last part of the race. My boy, I'm hopeful
we may win yet."

"So am I, sir," muttered Benson. "Still, there's the risk that John C.
Rhinds may have something more up his sleeve. We'll know before long,

By twenty minutes past four the "Benson" was almost close enough to the
other submarine to throw a biscuit across the intervening space, had
any on board the Pollard craft been inclined that way.

John C. Rhinds stood by the starboard rail of his own craft, regarding
the rival with anxious eyes. But Jack knew the rascal to be so wily
that the look of anxiety might be feigned.

Up, nearer and nearer! Jack was moving to the starboard of the "Zelda,"
as the "Oakland" was on that same side of the course.

"The old wretch isn't shouting out anything about fair play and good
luck to us, now," muttered Jack, vengefully, as, at half-past four, the
two craft ran neck and neck, but little over a hundred yards apart.

Then the "Benson" began to forge ahead. The "Zelda" still hung on, but
she was plainly in second place.

David Pollard hurried below, to see what he could do to help Hal Hastings
in this supreme crisis.

"We're leaving her right behind," rang Jack Benson's voice, exultantly.
"The 'Zelda's' old speed was her best, even at overheating. If nothing
happens, now, we'll go in first!"

Interest, now, led those on the "Benson's" deck aft. Eph, being at the
wheel, could be trusted not to look around, but to keep his eyes straight
on the gunboat mark ahead.

John C. Rhinds could be seen, hanging limply over the rail of the
"Zelda," his straining vision turned ahead. But he was being left more
and more to the rear.

Boom! The sound came suddenly over the water, at last. All hands aft
on the "Benson" ran forward, to find the "Oakland" swinging around so
that her bow pointed the path for the leading submarine.

Eph remained at the wheel, steering steadily. He carried the "Benson"
past the gunboat's bow, some seventy yards away. A cheer went up from
the sailors crowding forward on the gunboat's spar deck. The cheer
would have sounded, no matter which submarine had won.

Then Eph cut a wide circle, coming back close to the gunboat.

"You win!" shouted an officer at the "Oakland's" rail.

"Of course," nodded Lieutenant Danvers, "But what distance?"

"The board allows you half a mile and a furlong."

Captain Jack Benson, now that the strain was over, felt as though the
platform deck were sinking under him.

"Let me have that wheel," commanded Jacob Farnum, stepping forward.
"Jack, you and Eph, below with you! Coffee, steak - and anything
else - for all three of you youngsters!"



It was after midnight when the "Benson," first in, went to her moorings.
Grant Andrews and two of his men came on board, to stand guard over the
little sea-terror.

It was after one in the morning when the Seawold craft strayed into port.
A little later came the "Chelsea" and the remaining submarine rivals,
for the gunboat had stood by the slower ones in case aid of any sort was

As the "Zelda" came to her moorings in the inky blackness John C. Rhinds
stepped out upon her platform deck. Rhinds, after his disappointment,
looked like a very old man. He paced back and forth, moodily, until his
captain and crew had gone below. Then Rhinds turned, with a half snarl,
when Fred Radwin, after lighting a cigar, stepped outside.

"Feeling glum?" asked Radwin, stupidly, as he gazed at his chief.

"A fool question that!" snapped the older man.

"It is, rather," admitted the younger man.

"Radwin, you're an idiot!"

"Thank you!"

"You told me you had those three Pollard boys taken care of - 'canned'
was the word you used. Yet, the first thing we saw, when we me out on
the harbor, was those same boys, looking their finest. And they went
into today's affair and beat us. We've lost the speed and endurance

"Those boys were trapped, all right," protested Radwin, in a low tone.
"I can't begin to imagine how they ever got loose again."

"They got loose because you're a fool!" raged the older man.

"I'm good-natured, Mr. Rhinds" cried Radwin, an ugly gleam coming into
his eyes, "but I don't stand everything. You'll need me yet so you'll
do well to keep a civil tongue behind your teeth!"

"Stop that! Don't try any mighty airs on me!" quivered Rhinds.

"Oh, blow off your steam, quietly, and then become reasonable," yawned
Fred Radwin. "First thing you know, you'll really make an enemy of me,
and then the trick will be done, Rhinds. For you need me. Just now,
you need me worse than you ever did in your life before."

"Need you?" sneered the other. "What for?"

"Well, for one thing, there are other tests ahead of the submarine

"Can you win any of those tests?" jeered Rhinds, harshly.

"No; but I can do what will, perhaps, be the next best thing. I can
stop the boys aboard the Pollard craft from being on hand to put their
boat through all its paces. All you need is to have the Pollard end
blocked. You can more than hold your end against the other submarines."

"Well, what can you do to stop the boys on the Pollard boats?" demanded
Rhinds, unbelievingly.

"I can stop them from being on hand at the next tests. Or else I can
attend to them so that they'll be of very little use, anyway."

"Bah! You're dreaming, Fred! The boys were too smart for you last time;
Now that they're on their guard, don't you realize they'd be harder
than ever to catch."

"Jack Benson and his friends don't know that I was behind what happened
last night," retorted Radwin. "Besides, if they're on their guard, now,
so am I. I know them to be smarter than I first thought, so I shall
spread a deeper, tighter net for them. John Rhinds, you shall win the
rest of the submarine tests. At least, the Pollard boats won't win!"

Radwin talked so confidently that John Rhinds began to look at him more

"What are you going to do, Fred?" the wretch inquired, at last.

"I'm going on shore - now."

"Everybody will know, if you call a boat at this hour of the night."

"Bosh! You and I are both going on shore - back to the Somerset House.
Anything very strange about that?" demanded Radwin. "We're tired out
from the day's cruise, and want to be off the water. So we're going to
the Somerset. We'll drift in, get something to eat, and then start
upstairs. You can hardly go to sleep, Rhinds, but I shall start out
again, on the sly, and go to find some handy people I know in the little
city of Colfax. So that's settled, and I'll signal for the boat now."

Jack and his comrades slept on the "Benson" that night. For one thing,
they felt so tired, after the day's long strain, that they really
lacked the desire even to go to larger, softer beds on shore. So they
awoke in the morning feeling as fresh as sea-larks should.

"There are no tests on for to-day, and nothing to be done on board,
except to clean the engines," spoke Jacob Farnum over the breakfast
table in the little cabin. "So, youngsters, we'll go ashore and refresh
ourselves. Grant's men will clean the engines. That's what they're
really here for."

"Don't you think it would be wiser, sir, to remain on board?" smiled
Captain Jack. "As you will remember, we found the shore rather too
lively the last time we were there."

"Things happened because you boys got out of our sight," chuckled the
shipbuilder, quietly. "That's the point. What you youngsters need is
a brace of guardians. So, while you're to go on shore, Dave and I will
go along, and you're not to get out of our sight. Remember that."

"We'll be safe, then," nodded Eph, sagely. "I surely do want to stretch
my legs, and take a yawn or two where a sea-gull won't flap down my

Of course, the idea of going on shore really appealed to all hands. So,
half an hour later, a shore boat put off with them all, leaving Grant
and his men still in charge.

"I wonder what the next test is going to be?" asked Jack.

"I shall have to refer you to the members of the naval board, and they
won't tell until this evening," replied Mr. Farnum. "That's one of
their rules - no news until the evening before. That prevents too much
time being spent in preparation. One of the objects of these tests is
to find out how well the different types of submarines can do things on
short notice."

"That's right," nodded Captain Jack, thoughtfully. "Really, when you
come to think of it, submarine torpedo boats are short notice craft

"And, best of all, with no notice whatever to the enemy," broke in Eph.
"In future wars it's going to give a good deal of comfort to a fellow
to think that he serves on a submarine, instead of on a battleship."

"Where are you going to stop on shore, Jake?" inquired Pollard.

"At the Somerset," responded Mr. Farnum.

"Then we're likely to run into that Rhinds-Radwin crowd."

"We can stand it, if they can," replied Farnum, compressing his lips
grimly. "Our consciences are cleaner than theirs."

Indeed, in passing from the lobby to the breakfast room, where the
Pollard party intended to take coffee, Messrs. Rhinds and Radwin were
encountered just as they were coming out.

"Ah, good morning, gentlemen," hailed John C. Rhinds, halting and holding
out his hand. Fred Radwin, too, beamed cordially upon the enemy.

"'Morning," replied Jacob Farnum, ignoring the outstretched hand of
Rhinds. Radwin's ready-made smile, too, was overlooked, as the Pollard
submarine party filed by into the breakfast room.

"I don't believe they'll waste any make-believe cordiality on us, after
that," grimaced Mr. Pollard, as he dropped into a chair at a table.

Fifteen minutes later a stout, rather short, middle-aged man entered the
breakfast room in haste. He spoke to the head waiter, who pointed out
the table at which the submarine party sat.

Then the head waiter came over with a card and a letter which he handed
to Farnum.

"'Mr. Walter C. Hodges,'" read Farnum, from the card. Then, glancing at
the envelope "'Introducing Mr. Hodges.' It's from Judson, proprietor
of the hotel where I stop when in Washington," continued the shipbuilder,
as he glanced through the letter. "He asks me to extend any possible
courtesies to Mr. and Miss Hodges, for whom he vouches cordially."

Rising, Mr. Farnum stepped over to meet Mr. Hodges, shaking hands with
the stranger. Then the pair walked back to the table. Farnum quickly
presented Mr. Hodges to the others.

"Judson asks me to extend to you any possible courtesies," pursued the
shipbuilder. "I shall be very glad. Now, what can I do that will be
most agreeable to you?"

"Why - er - er - " began Mr. Hodges, hesitatingly, "the thing that my
daughter and I are most interested in is your line of boats. In fact,
we came over to Colfax to see what we could of the boats and the tests.
Now, my daughter and I would both like very much to go aboard one of
your boats. Yet, if this would be at all irregular, or cause you any
inconvenience, I beg you to refuse us, and we shall understand your

None the less, the shipbuilder did feel and look embarrassed.

"I wish it were anything else on earth," Farnum replied, frankly. "For,
though it gives me more pain than you can understand, my dear Mr. Hodges,
it will be absolutely impossible for us to admit anyone to the submarine
boats during the present tests."

"Then say no more about it," replied Mr. Hodges, pleasantly. "I can
quite understand your position."

"There is just a bare chance, though," mused the shipbuilder, "that I
might manage to obtain an invitation for your daughter and yourself to
go out on one of the gunboats, and watch the submarine craft at their

"Fine!" cried Hodges, with enthusiasm. "Yet, if it will inconvenience
you in the least, Mr. Farnum, I beg you to give no further thought to
it. Will you all, as soon as you are finished, come to the ladies'
parlor with me? My daughter will be most delighted at meeting real
submarine people."

"We are finished, now," replied Mr. Farnum, laying down his cigar, "and
it will give us great pleasure to have the privilege of meeting Miss

Though Hodges himself appeared a very common type of business man, and
was plainly dressed, Miss Elinor Hodges proved to be a beautiful girl of
about nineteen, and attired in the height of fashion.

She was, however, most charming and gracious, and evidently greatly
interested in everything that had to do with submarine boats.

An hour's very pleasant chat followed in the ladies' parlor. Then
Hodges, seeing an automobile pass one of the windows and halt before
the ladies' entrance of the hotel, suddenly drew out his watch.

"Elinor, my dear, do you see the time?" demanded her father, holding out
his watch. Then, as the submarine party rose, prepared to take their
leave, Hodges turned to Farnum, explaining rapidly:

"Yes; unfortunately, we have an appointment, and must defer the further

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Online LibraryVictor G. DurhamThe Submarine Boys' Lightning Cruise The Young Kings of the Deep → online text (page 6 of 12)