Victor G. Durham.

The Submarine Boys' Lightning Cruise The Young Kings of the Deep online

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"What can it be, I wonder?" pondered John Rhinds, as they hurried
through a street that led to the pier.

"Probably some test in which the board wants us to start without any
preparation," replied Radwin.

"I wish I knew what it was," muttered Rhinds.

"That's just the way every man-jack aboard the submarine boats is
feeling about it," jeered Radwin. "Jove, I hope the test, to-day, is
one in which we stand a chance to beat the Pollard crowd!"

Jacob Farnum had just started from the "Hastings," in a shore boat, when
the first gun boomed forth. The shipbuilder had been on his way to see
his friend, at the hospital, when he heard the first gun. Stopping the
rowers, he quickly comprehended when the whistle blasts started. He
accordingly directed that he be put back alongside the "Hastings."

Jack, Hal and Eph had come tumbling up on deck at the first realization
of the signal. Grant Andrews and his men were no longer on board,
having gone, at daylight, to their boarding house on shore.

"What do you suppose is in the air, Jack?" called Mr. Farnum.

"I don't know, sir. But whatever it is, we're ready. We can start, on
anything, at the drop of a handkerchief. Gasoline tanks full,
compressed air by the cubic yard, storage batteries charged."

"It would be hard to catch you youngsters unprepared," laughed the
shipbuilder, appreciatively.

They were still on deck, waiting and wondering, when they saw the
president and secretary of the Rhinds company put off from shore in

"They don't mean to be left," sneered Eph.

"They're pretty badly left already," muttered Captain Jack, bitterly.
"They haven't beaten us, so far, by a single point."

"I suppose they're hoping they will to-day, whatever the test is to
be," muttered Hal Hastings.

Fifteen minutes more passed. Then a little flock of six-oared cutters
left the side of the gunboat "Oakland." In the stern-sheets of each
cutter sat a naval officer in uniform.

"There's Lieutenant Danvers," cried Jack, eagerly. "He brings us our
instructions, whatever they are."

In a few moments more Danvers was along side, making his way up to the
platform deck. In his right hand Danvers carried an official looking
sealed envelope.

In his eager curiosity Jacob Farnum extended a hand to take the envelope,
but Danvers drew it back.

"Pardon me," murmured the shipbuilder, confusedly. "I should have known
better. The communication is, of course, for the captain."

Danvers turned the envelope over to Captain Jack Benson, who broke the
seal, drawing out the paper enclosed. This is a part of what the
submarine boy read aloud:

_"'The Navy Department has just reported, by wireless, that a
semi-submerged derelict, evidently that of a three-master schooner, is
drifting in the paths of navigation at a point 385 miles southwest by
south of this present station. The Department suggests that it would
afford an example of practical use for submarines, if those now on this
station would accompany a gunboat, at full speed for cruising, and
attempt to discover and blow up this derelict.'"_

"Great!" glowed Eph. "I vote for it."

"So do those on the other boats, if the observable excitement is to be
taken as an indication," laughed Mr. Farnum.

"This letter goes on to request," announced Benson, "that the commander
of each submarine willing to enter this affair signal to the 'Oakland'
by hoisting the signal 'Ready.' Do you hear that, Eph?"

Somers made a dash for the signal chest. In another moment the
appropriate bit of bunting was fluttering on the halliard at the top of
the signal mast.

"We are directed," Jack read on, "to be ready within thirty minutes. We
must follow the 'Oakland' down the bay at a cruising speed of sixteen
miles an hour. Once out of the bay, the 'Oakland' will signal our
formation to us."

"Do you see the boat the Rhinds signal is going up on?" laughed Hal
Hastings. "It is going up on the submarine 'Thor.' According to the old
Norsemen tales Thor was The Thunderer - also the fellow who struck with
the big hammer. It looks like a Rhinds boast that they are to do big
things on this lightning cruise."

"Yes; Thor was an old Norse god," muttered Captain Jack. "And the early
Norsemen were very largely pirates. Perhaps we are to take the signal
on the 'Thor' as an intimation that Rhinds is out to play pirate in
earnest on this cruise."

As Benson uttered these words he felt an odd little shiver run over him.
Yet he gave it no more thought. Little idea had he, at that moment, how
prophetic his words were likely to be!

In half an hour, as planned, the "Oakland," after firing a warning gun,
steamed away from her moorings. Gradually the gunboat's speed
increased, until the full sixteen miles were being made - miles, instead
of knots, since gasoline boats, like these submarines, are usually rated
by miles instead of by the longer "knot."

It was a rattling rate of speed to exact from these little craft, when
it was considered that the gait would have to be continued, without
break, for at least twenty-four hours.

Eph was at the wheel, at the start, and Jack standing back by the
conning tower. Mr. Farnum had gone below, for a nap, as he intended to
relieve Hal in the engine room after a few hours.

"Benson," remarked Danvers, approaching the submarine boy, "I guess your
remark of a few minutes ago exactly defines this trip."

"What remark?" asked Jack.

"You spoke of it as a lightning cruise. It is going to be one, indeed,
for these little submarine craft."

"Our boat can stand it, I think," smiled the submarine skipper.

"And so can the Rhinds boat, probably. But some of the others will find
themselves sorely put to to keep up the speed for twenty-four hours."

"And, if they don't?" queried Jack.

Danvers shrugged his shoulders.

"Then I guess they'll have to be satisfied with being left far behind,
unless they signal that they're in actual distress."

"This speed," mused Captain Jack, "must be part of the government's
plans for another test. The Navy Department must have planned to see
whether any of these boats could stand such a gait for twenty-four long

"I couldn't tell you if I knew," remarked Lieutenant Danvers, with a
quizzical look, then turned and strolled away.

"And I guess," muttered the submarine boy to himself, "that that's about
as near as a fellow can go to giving a tip, once he has had the Navy
muzzle padlocked to his jaws."

Some of the submarines in this long race - for such it was - were better
equipped as to the number of the crew. The Rhinds had this advantage,
carrying a captain and four men, in addition to Rhinds himself and his
secretary. Yet Jack and Eph relieved each other regularly at the wheel,
catching long naps between. Hal and Mr. Farnum did the same thing with
the engine room, and the "Hastings" kept well in the van through the
day, and also through the long night that followed.

Two hours after daylight the "Oakland" signaled to the submarines to run
up close to this "parent vessel," the gunboat.

"Further orders, of course," muttered Jack, who was at the wheel at the
time. "Well, we're not such a very long run, now, from the reported
location of that derelict."

The fleet was wholly out of sight of land. The wind was fresh and the
sea lively with short, choppy waves, crested by white-caps. Yet, for
boats as staunch as these submarines, sea was not a difficult one for
boat handling.

One after another, while still going at full speed, the submarines drew
close to the "Oakland." One after another, as signaled, the boats put
in within easy hailing distance of the gunboat.

"The 'Hastings' will keep to the same South West, by South course, but
at a distance of two miles off this vessel's port bow," came the order.
"The 'Thor' will take up similar position, two miles off the port side
of the 'Hastings.'"

The three remaining torpedo boats were assigned to positions
corresponding on the starboard side of the "Oakland."

In this order the boats went ahead at a speed reduced to fourteen miles.
The front of the line extended over some ten miles; in reality the line
of vision extended much further than that. Unless the semi-submerged
derelict had moved much faster than such derelicts usually do, it was
difficult to see how the wreck could get through this line of

Jack Benson pressed a signal that brought Hal Hastings up on deck.

"Rouse Eph and Mr. Farnum," ordered the young skipper. "We've got to
have all hands on, now. And call Lieutenant Danvers, also. He's not
allowed to help us, but he'll be anxious to see what is going on."

As soon as Eph Somers reached deck Jack Benson turned the wheel over to
him. Then the young captain got his marine glasses, stationing himself,
most of the time, beside the deck wheel.

"If it's in any way possible," muttered Jack, "I want to be the first to
sight that derelict. I want the honor of sinking her to come to us.
It will all be points in the game we are fighting for."

As Benson spoke he swung his glass around to cover the deck of the
"Thor," that craft being, now, her full two miles away off the port beam.

"Rhinds has his whole crowd on deck, too," growled young Benson, using
his powerful marine glass with interest. "Yes; everyone on deck, except
two men for the engine room."

At this moment Lieutenant Danvers stepped on deck, looking as though he
had slept well. The naval officer carried a glass very much like the
submarine skipper's.

"It's almost mean of me to bring a glass on deck with me," laughed
Danvers. "Under the rules I'm forbidden to give you any information
I may find for myself."

Jack nodded pleasantly, then turned to sweep the sea ahead. At a
distance of a few miles it would be easy enough to miss the
half-submerged derelict.

For some three hours the flotilla swept on, with active officers on
every deck. The naval board had ordered this new formation ere reaching
the probable location of the derelict.

"We haven't passed the thing, anyway," Jack muttered to Eph. "The sea
isn't rough enough for that to be possible."

Part of the time young Benson had surrendered his glass to his first
officer, while the captain himself stood by the wheel.

But now, Jack was again pacing the deck, while Eph, his eyes mostly on
the compass, steered steadily by course.

Suddenly, Jack Benson started. Quickly he wiped the outer lenses of his
glass, then looked again.

"See anything?" demanded Eph.

"Yes, sirree! And the 'Thor' is almost a mile nearer than we are! It's
the derelict - not a doubt of it!"

Like a flash Jack sprang to the wheel, ringing the bell for full speed.

"Eph, hustle below! Tell Hal we've sighted the derelict. Tell him to
hump the engines. Tell him I don't care how much we overheat the
machinery so that we don't blow the craft up. Jump!"

Eph collided with Jacob Farnum, who had started up from below, but he
brushed the shipbuilder aside, rushing below as though death pursued him.



The naval officer, too, had made out a bobbing something on the sea,
ahead, over at port, which he took to be the long sought derelict.

The lieutenant could not say anything, but, with glass still at his eyes,
he leaned back against the conning tower, drawing in his breath sharply.

"Want me to take the wheel?" called out Eph, as he reached deck again.

"Yes. I want to keep the glass to my eyes."

Just one look did Benson take at the supposed derelict. Then he swung
his gaze around upon the "Thor."

"They've seen our speed-burst," cried the young submarine skipper. "I
don't believe they had spotted the derelict, but now they see us shooting
ahead, to cross their course, and that has told them the secret. Yes!
There they go ahead, and pointing straight. They've caught up the old
wreck - through our glasses!"

It was provoking, but the rival boat, besides being nearer at the start,
had also started forward at greater speed.

"This is the 'Thor's' trick," thought Lieutenant Danvers to himself.
"Too bad, too. I'd like to have seen the boys take it."

Jacob Farnum's private view, not expressed, agreed with the naval

But Jack Benson? He simply couldn't admit any victory for the
rival - not until it was actually won.

"Swing a half-point off port bow, Eph - steady, now!" breathed the young
skipper, intensely.

Down below, Hal Hastings was performing as near to wonders as was
possible with a gasoline engine. Jacob Farnum stood just inside the
conning tower, prepared to rush below with any other orders.

"Yes, it's the derelict!" shouted Benson, presently. "I can make out
the stumps of two masts now. We'll be there in a few minutes."

"We'll be lucky if we don't get there too late," grumbled Somers. "Shall
I steer direct for the old wreck, or take the course from you?"

"Better take it from me for a time," Benson replied. "My glass will be
more dependable than your naked eye."

The "Thor," also, was heading straight for the derelict. So far, the
Rhinds boat was still nearer.

It began to look, however, as if the "Thor's" engines were not quite as
fast as those of the other Rhinds boat, the "Zelda."

"Are we going to make it?" breathed Eph, the perspiration of sheer strain
standing out on his forehead.

"Yes!" almost barked Jack Benson.

"Sure thing, is it?" persisted Somers.

"Sure - only don't talk too much," growled young Benson.

It was the grit, the dogged determination of the born commander - the
natural leader of men.

A moment later Jack turned a white face toward the shipbuilder.

"Mr. Farnum, tell Hal he'll have to pour the oil in faster. We've got
to have more speed."

Farnum did not even wait for the second sentence. He dived below. All
of a sudden the "Hastings" was seen to take a notable leap forward. Then
she settled down to a more rapid, steady gait.

Just inside the conning tower Jacob Farnum stood again. In his right
hand he clutched a doubled-up handkerchief, with which he made frequent
dabs at his face.

The shipbuilder knew that the present speed, with its dangerous
overheating of the engines, spelled blank disaster if continued for long.

Hal Hastings, down below, standing like a white wraith beside his
engines, realized the same thing.

So, too, did Jack Benson, the young skipper, for whom, in this mad
moment, there was but one word in the language - "win!"

Eph didn't stop to realize it. He was worrying about straight steering,
and he couldn't worry about more than one thing at a time.

Lieutenant Danvers must have known what was patent to every other mind
but he neither said nor did anything. He was a Navy officer, trained
not to display emotion.

"Good!" came from Captain Jack's lips. Yet, in the intensity of his
strain it was a groan, rather than a note of exultation. "We're cutting
into the 'Thor's' water."

A few moments more, and Benson found his craft slantingly across the
Rhinds boat's course, well ahead.

"Now, we'll show you!" quavered Jack Benson, as he briefly shook his fist
back at the wicked rivals.

"If we don't blow the lid off this sea-turtle!" muttered young Somers,
to himself.

At the youthful captain's sharp order Eph swung the course around.

"Now, drive straight toward the derelict, Eph!" breathed the young
commander, his eyes glittering. "I leave the deck in your hands for a
minute. You're broadside on, now. Keep driving, steady, as you are!"

As Farnum saw young Benson dashing his way the shipbuilder understood
and darted down the stairs.

After him plunged Jack Benson. Below, both became cooler, for the task
in hand must not be bungled. On one of the trucks they dragged a torpedo
forward, fitting it in the tube.

As he closed the after port behind the torpedo, Jack bent over to place
Jacob Farnum's hand on the firing lever.

"Stand there, sir, till you've done it!" quavered Captain Jack.

"Will you signal the order?"

"No, sir! You'll get it by voice."

As Benson wheeled, dashing away, he had an instant's glimpse, sideways,
of Hal Hastings's face. Great as Jack's haste was, that look at his
chum's face haunted him.

There was no time for sentiment, now, though. It was literally do or

The "Thor" was now three hundred yards astern, making frantic efforts to
lessen the distance, yet actually losing time.

Ahead, the derelict was now some fifteen hundred yards away. The
half-sunken wreck still presented a broadside, as shown by the positions
of two stumps of masts.

"What range are you going to fire at?" asked Eph Somers.

"The torpedo is set for six hundred yards; we'll fire at three hundred."

Captain Jack's voice was cooler, steadier, now. The first great strain
had subsided. He was cool, tense, now - though not a whit less
determined to win at all hazards.

As there was still some time to spare, and Eph could handle the
"Hastings" as well as any other helmsman on earth, Jack stepped back to
the conning tower.

Lieutenant Danvers was there, though with his gaze astern.

"I can just picture old Rhinds," laughed Captain Jack, a bit harshly.
"He's saying hard things about us, for cutting in on his course and
getting the derelict away from him."

Danvers laughed.

"The old fellow is swearing a blue streak, and threatening himself with
an apoplectic stroke every instant."

"You don't seem to love Mr. Rhinds very noticeably," grimaced the naval

"If I don't," voiced Jack, "neither do any of our crowd. And the reason
is more than mere business rivalry, too."

Lieutenant Danvers knew nothing whatever of the dastardly attempts
against the Pollard crowd that Rhinds and Radwin had engineered.

It was not a time, however, in which to waste precious moments looking
back at the more tardy rival boat.

Jack wheeled, bracing himself against the conning tower. They were now
within eight hundred yards of the derelict's broadside-on.

How the "Hastings" seemed to crawl over the last of the intervening water
space! Yet Hal realized, if Jack did not, how swiftly the submarine was

"Five hundred yards!" clicked Jack, and stepped inside the conning tower,
snatching up a megaphone.

Four hundred and fifty - four hundred - three-fifty - three-twenty-five!

That last word was bellowed below through the megaphone. Jack, his eyes
staring forward, saw something leap near the bow, and saw an upward dash
of spray. The torpedo had left the tube.

"Hard-aport, Eph! Swing her right over. So!"

From his own post in the conning tower Benson signaled for slow speed,
now. It would never do to stop the overheated engines utterly. Besides,
seaway was needed, with the rival craft coming up behind.

His work in the conning tower done, Captain Jack sprang out on the
platform deck, bounding beside Lieutenant Danvers at the starboard rail.
Through the manhole opening of, the tower the shipbuilder soon thrust
his uncovered head.

Was the torpedo, so carefully aimed, going to strike and do its work?



"Is it a hit, do you think?" gasped Jack.

"I think - " began the naval officer.

Boom! It came suddenly, sullenly. A column of spray shot up between
the two mast-stumps of the derelict. The rising water reached a height
of eighty or ninety feet, then came down again like a heavy rain.

But the wreck itself?

One of the mast-stumps tottered, then the other. In an instant more
nothing of the derelict was to be seen, saving some floating wreckage
made up of less water-logged wood.

"A fair hit, I'll wager my commission!" cried Danvers, eagerly.

"Yes," nodded Jacob Farnum. "That's the last of the derelict. She's
removed from the paths of navigation."

There could be no doubt of the completeness of the work done by the
torpedo from the "Hastings." A broad grin now appeared on the
shipbuilder's lately white face.

"Mr. Farnum, will you tell Hal, whenever he thinks best, to slow down to
mere headway?"

"Aye, aye, Captain," sang the shipbuilder, jovially, and disappeared
from view.

"Benson, I congratulate you on your nerve," spoke Lieutenant Danvers, as
he turned, his eyes glowing, to the youthful submarine commander.

"I don't know as I deserve that good word," muttered Jack, slowly,
shaking his head. "It was win or die with us."

"I realize that."

"And I took a big chance of blowing our engines out."

"I thought so, at the time."

"Then, Lieutenant, you must realize that I risked your life, as well
as ours."

"I knew it," nodded Danvers, coolly.

Then he rested a hand half affectionately on young Benson's nearer

"My boy, what is risking a life or two, when there's such a prize to
win - such a naval lesson to be learned and taught? American naval
history is full of the names of officers and men who have thrown away
their lives in learning something new for the benefit of the service."

"I like that way of putting it," replied Captain Jack, though he spoke
soberly. "I had a notion I was pretty wicked when I took such chances."

"It would have been criminal, if it hadn't been your purpose to show
what a craft of this type can do when pushed in emergencies. But I have
learned much to-day that will stand me in great stead, should I ever be
in command of a flotilla of submarines in war time."

"Then I suppose I ought to forgive myself for my recklessness," laughed

"You want to forget it, Benson. The thing you want to remember is that
men who serve in navies sign their lives away when they enter the
service. All must be sacrificed, at the first instant of need, to the
service and to the Flag!"

"That idea would frighten some mothers, wouldn't it?" smiled Captain
Jack Benson.

"Fighting battles is not a woman's business," replied Danvers, soberly
and reverently. "Her task is to rear sons who shall be unafraid, and
to leave the rest to the God of Battles."

The "Hastings" now drifted so lazily over the waters that Eph stood by
the wheel, one hand resting indolently against the uppermost spokes.

The "Thor" had headed off, after watching the explosion of the torpedo,
and was now considerably off the "Hastings's" port beam. The "Oakland,"
on the other hand, was heading up for an official view of what wasn't
there in the shape of a derelict.

As she came in close the gunboat sounded three long, hoarse whistles.

"There are your congratulations from the board, Benson," laughed the
naval lieutenant, then walked over to port. Jacob Farnum slipped out
on the platform deck to hear any hail that might come from Uncle Sam's

Danvers was no longer interested in the scene. Whatever was to come, he
felt, would be tame compared with what he had recently seen.

So he stood, looking out dreamily over the waters at port. He saw the
"Thor" head for the "Hastings," as though intending to come up. Then
she veered off, heading eastward. At this instant the naval officer
happened to have his glass to his eyes. He had just counted the number
of people in sight on the Rhinds craft.

"All but one of the Rhinds crowd on deck," thought Mr. Danvers. "I
don't make out that fellow, Radwin. He must be taking the engine trick."

Jack Benson also sauntered over to port side, though not with any
intention of addressing the naval officer. Benson was not thinking of
anything in particular as he glanced out over the waves.

Then, all of a sudden, the young submarine commander sprang alert with
suspicion - next, certainty and horror!

Out there on the water something was moving - something headed toward
the "Hastings." It came on with a swift, cleaving movement. There was
a suspicion of a fin throwing up a little spray in the path of motion.

It was horrible - unbelievable!

The mere suspicion galvanized him into action.

Captain Jack's feet barely seemed to touch the deck as he leaped forward.

Eph was at the wheel, but there was no time to shout a frenzied order
that might be misunderstood.

Besides, in the instant that he was in the air, young Benson had no
sharply defined plan of what he was going to do.

But that fin over to port was the half-visible upper part of a moving
torpedo! It was headed so as to intercept the "Hastings" on her slow,
forward course.

If he rang for speed ahead, Captain Jack knew it might not come swiftly
enough to carry his boat and its human load ahead to safety.

In any case, it must be a job of seconds. If Hal responded slowly to
the signal - then destruction!

All this seemed to flash like lightning through the young commander's

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Online LibraryVictor G. DurhamThe Submarine Boys' Lightning Cruise The Young Kings of the Deep → online text (page 8 of 12)