Bert Wilson at Panamaскачать книгу бесплатно
"Dream not of defeat," protested Namoto. "Let not that word of evil omen pass your lips. To doubt may draw down on us the frown of the gods."
"But America is a great country, and her people, too, are brave.
Besides, they are as the sands of the seashore for number."
"So was Russia great, and yet we beat her to her knees. We hurled back her armies and we crushed her fleets. So will we do to this haughty country, that sneers at us as an inferior race. America has had no real war for fifty years. She has no veterans left. We have hundreds of thousands who have had their baptism of fire on the field of battle. Can their raw volunteers face the seasoned warriors of Japan? Their regular troops are but a handful and are scattered all over the country. Before any real force can be brought against us, we will have subdued all the country west of the Rocky Mountains. Then will come negotiations. As the price of peace, we will wrest from her Hawaii and the Philippines, and Japan will be the unquestioned mistress of the Pacific."
"But before this can be done," objected Togi, "will not the Canal be repaired, so that the rest of the American fleet can pass through and attack us?"
"No," replied Namoto. "Our first care will be to seize the Canal at the Pacific end and blockade it. The ships can only come out one by one, and they would be an easy prey to our vessels awaiting them in overwhelming force. We would be like cats waiting at the door of a mouse trap. If, on the other hand, they abandoned this and sailed around the Horn, it would be a matter of many weeks before they would reach us, and then they would be strained and weather tossed and uncoaled. Then, too, the Pacific squadron will have been destroyed, and we will have the advantage in ships and guns. If, on the way, they attacked Japan in retaliation, our fortifications, backed by our land forces, would hold them off." "They could land no troops and would have to content themselves with a harrying of the coast that would amount to nothing."
"Our plan is perfect," he went on; "everything has been provided for. But all depends on the blocking of the Canal. If, by any chance, it should fail, the campaign would be abandoned. Our navy is not yet large enough to match itself against the combined naval strength of America. We can only win by dividing the enemy, and beating his squadrons, one at a time. If the Atlantic fleet gets through to the Pacific, at the opening of the Canal, our labor of years will vanish into nothingness. The ships will return quietly to Japan by various, routes, and the government will be ready to deny that any such plot ever existed. If you and I are charged with the plot, our country will calmly disown us and leave us to our fate.
"And we would gladly meet that fate for Nippon's sake, would we not, Togi? We would go to our death with banzais on our lips. It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country."
"We are prepared in any event," said Togi.
"If we succeed, your yacht is waiting in the harbor ready to carry us home more swiftly than any can hope to follow. If we fail – " He made across his breast the sign of hari-kari – the Japanese form of suicide.
"If we fail," agreed Namoto, solemnly, "our home will be with the immortal gods."
He reached out his hand, and Togi grasped it firmly. For a moment they looked into each other's eyes. Then with a murmured word of farewell, the elder man turned and glided from the room.
Left alone, Namoto rose and strolled restlessly about. Then he approached the window, beneath which Bert lay hidden.
For a while he stood there motionless. Then he leaned out to catch the refreshing breeze. Bert tried to make himself as small as possible, and pressed close against the house. Namoto's eyes, glancing carelessly about, suddenly fell on the crouching figure.
Startled, he drew back, a cry shrilling from his lips. Like a flash, Bert straightened up, leaped through the open window, and the next instant his hands had closed about Namoto's throat. Down to the floor they went with a crash.
But the mischief had been done. The cry of Namoto had carried beyond the room. The door burst open and a horde of retainers rushed in. There was a stunning blow on the head, a shower of sparks streamed before his eyes, his grasp relaxed, and Bert felt himself sinking, sinking into a fathomless abyss.
SNATCHED FROM THE SEA
When he came back to consciousness, he found himself tightly bound and gagged. His head swam, and objects danced giddily before him.
Gradually he accustomed himself to the light and looked about him. A score of men stood leaning against the walls, while Namoto and Togi, seated at the desk, were conversing in low tones. They spoke in Japanese, but he had no doubt that they were deciding for him the issues of life and death. He had no delusions as to what probably awaited him. He had learned too much to be allowed to live.
But the conspirators seemed perplexed. To kill him, then and there, would be awkward. There is nothing in the world harder to dispose of than a dead body. Burial, burning, destruction by acids – all left traces. And this was not Japanese but American soil. There might be a hue and cry, a search, exposure, arrest. Still, he must vanish from the land of the living.
At last, Togi seemed to have an inspiration. He bent over eagerly and disclosed his idea. Namoto pondered and found it good. He beckoned to an officer in a naval uniform, and gave him his instructions.
At a signal, four men advanced, and, taking Bert by the legs and shoulders, carried him through a secret passage into the grounds. As silently as so many ghosts, they followed a road that led through the estate to the river's brink. There lay the swift sea-going yacht that Togi had mentioned. Bert was carried on board, the vessel slipped its moorings, and like a wraith passed down the Bay of Limon and out to sea.
It was with a sinking heart that Bert saw the lights of Colon grow more and more indistinct, until they looked to be little more than a nebulous haze rising above the water. His first thought had been that the Japanese were taking him to Japan, for some reason of their own, and as they steamed on mile after mile this idea gained strength.
After his capture he had expected nothing better than instant death, and when he found that his captors had other plans he had a gleam of hope. Perhaps, after all, he could make his escape in some way, or get a message to the authorities. But when he was taken to the yacht hope died within him, and he almost wished he had been killed at the moment of capture. Knowing what he did, the possibility of his own life being spared brought him but little comfort. Once fairly at sea, and he felt that nothing could stop the awful catastrophe hanging over his country.
Filled with these melancholy reflections, he hardly noticed what was going on around him, and only looked up when two sturdy Japanese seamen approached him. They untied his bonds, removed the gag, and motioned him to follow them. Bert, seeing no sense in useless resistance, did as directed.
As he approached the port rail, he saw that a group of sailors gathered there were lowering some object over the side. As he reached the rail and looked down, he saw that it was a large, flat bottomed rowboat, with nothing in it except a wooden bailer shaped like an ordinary shovel.
This boat was quickly lowered until it touched the water, and then Bert saw what had previously escaped his notice – namely, that several holes, each about as large as a five-cent piece, had been bored in the bottom of the boat, and through these the water was rushing in a dozen little fountains.
Then he realized what were the intentions of his captors, and his heart, which at sight of the boat had begun to beat hopefully, seemed to turn to lead. This, then, was to be his end! With fiendish ingenuity, the Japs had prepared this death-trap for him, knowing that he would fight up to the last moment from the instinct of self preservation. The enemy of Japan should not die too easily. His agony must be prolonged. According to their calculations, the water would continue coming in faster than Bert could possibly bail it out, and eventually he would sink, and his perilous knowledge with him.
Well, at any rate, he resolved to make his enemies sorry that they had ever seen him. As the sailors came toward him with the evident intention of forcing him into the boat, he grasped a camp chair that was standing near the rail, and swinging it in a mighty circle about his head, brought it crashing down on the head of the foremost seaman. The man dropped as though struck by lightning, and for a second his comrades hesitated, looking about them for weapons.
At a crisp command from an officer, who was standing a little to one side, they came on again with a rush. Bert felled the first of his antagonists with the stout chair, and then, as they were too close upon him for further use of this weapon, dropped it and resorted to his fists. He struck out right and left with all the strength of his powerful muscles, and for a few seconds actually held his swarming assailants at bay. Three men dropped before his hammer-like blows, before he was finally forced over the railing by sheer force of numbers and hurled into the rowboat.
As he struck it, the water spurted through the holes in the boat, and a shrill cackling laugh came from the row of slant-eyed faces peering down over the rail. The little craft was by now a quarter full of water, and as the Japanese yacht took on speed and swung away on its course Bert started bailing desperately. He realized that there was hardly one chance in a thousand of his being picked up before, in spite of all he could do, the little boat would fill with water and sink.
However, he resolved to keep afloat as long as he could on the bare chance of some vessel passing in his neighborhood. Accordingly he set to work with the wooden scoop, sending sheet after sheet over the side. He worked desperately, and at first almost thought that he was gaining on the incoming water. His exertions were excessive, and before long he was forced to bail more slowly. He kept watching a deep scratch in the side of the boat to see if the water was gaining. With a sinking heart he realized that it was. In spite of all he could do, it crept up and up until finally it was over the scratch and the boat was nearly half full. Luckily for him, the sea was unusually calm, or he must soon have been swamped.
At the thought of all that it would mean to his country if he drowned with his secret, Bert fell to with the scoop with furious energy, but was not able to hold his terrible pace long, and finally flung down the bailer in despair.
"Perhaps I can plug up the holes," he thought, and ripped off his coat. He tore great pieces from it and tried to stuff up the holes, but to no effect. Such crude plugs as he could make were inadequate to stay the inrush of water, and he would hardly have time to insert one in one opening before that in another gave way.
So he was forced to give up this plan, and had recourse once more to the bailer. His only hope now was to keep afloat until he might be seen and picked up by a passing boat. He strained his eyes over the surrounding sea, but there was no sign of help in sight.
Slowly but surely the water crept up the sides of the boat until it was only a few inches from the gunwales. As the boat sank deeper, the water rushed in with ever-increasing force, and finally the conviction was forced in upon Bert that he had really come to the end of his resources. Of course, even after the boat sank, he could swim a little while, but after his fierce fight on the deck of the Japanese yacht and his terrific exertions afterward, he knew he would have little strength left.
Nevertheless he stripped off his outer clothing and resolved to do the best he could. Suddenly he was startled by a splashing, gurgling noise behind him, and, looking around, was surprised and puzzled to see what looked like the back of a huge whale floating within fifty feet of the stern of his little craft. In a second he understood, and a great wave of joy surged over him.
"It's a submarine," he thought, "and an American one at that," as he recognized the design.
Even as he looked, a hatch was thrown open in the deck of the submarine, and the head and shoulders of a man emerged from the aperture. Almost at the same instant Bert's rowboat gave a gentle lurch and disappeared beneath the surface. As he felt it sinking, Bert gave a great shout, and the man on the submarine whirled around in his direction, surprise written large on his countenance.
"By thunder!" he exclaimed, "what in the name of – " But here he dived below and in a few seconds reappeared with a life preserver attached to a long cord. This he cast toward Bert, who in the meantime had been swimming steadily toward the submarine. Bert grasped the preserver and was rapidly drawn on board by the first man who had appeared, and by two others who by now had joined him. Bert was soon safe on the sloping deck, and was besieged by a thousand questions.
The man who had first espied Bert was evidently an officer, and he soon quitted the others and took the cross-examination in his own hands. It was some time before Bert was able to answer, and probably at no time in his strenuous career had he come nearer complete exhaustion.
Finally, however, his strength began to return, and he staggered to his feet.
"For Heaven's sake!" he exclaimed, "take me to the captain and let me give him a message I have for him. Never mind anything else just now – I can tell you all about that after we get started."
The officer saw that he was in deadly earnest, and although he was rather inclined to think this young fellow's experiences had unbalanced his mind, he led him below without further loss of time.
They descended a steep ladder, and presently entered the room in which were kept the machinery controls, gauges, and other apparatus relating to the operation of the submarine. There was a solidly built table in the center of this room, and at this, carefully examining a chart spread out in front of him, sat a sturdy, thick-set man of perhaps fifty years of age. As the officer entered, followed by Bert, the captain rose and waited for the officer's report.
He gave Bert only one glance, but it was such a keen, searching one, that our hero felt there was little in his appearance that the other had overlooked. Then the captain turned his eyes back to the officer, and returned the latter's salute.
"Well, Mr. Warren, what have you to report?" he asked.
"Why, sir," replied the officer, "I don't exactly know myself. When we ascended to the surface and I went up on deck, the first thing I saw was a foundering rowboat with this young man in it. A few seconds later it sank, and he swam toward the ship. I threw him a life preserver, and we hauled him aboard. He wouldn't answer any questions, though, and insisted on speaking with you personally, so I thought it best to bring him along."
"Very good," responded the captain, and turned slightly toward Bert.
"Now, young man," he said, "you wished to speak to me, and here I am.
What is it you wanted to tell me?"
Thereupon Bert poured out the whole story of the Japanese plot as fast as he could speak, and the captain and his officer listened attentively, once in a while asking a terse question. The commander's eyes were riveted on Bert during his whole speech, and when he had finished he sat a few moments immersed in deep thought.
Then he sprang to his feet and gave crisp orders to get the submarine under way. "See that the lad is clothed and well taken care of, Mr. Warren," he ordered, as his commands were being carried out. "He's evidently had some rather strenuous experiences, during the last few hours, and a little food and rest will do him a lot of good. We can wake him up when we need him."
Lieut. Warren saluted, and motioned to Bert to follow him. He led him through a long passage to the officers' dining room, and when a place was set for him at the table Bert fell to with a good appetite. The officers were naturally very much interested in his adventures, and he told them as much of his recent experiences as he thought fit, of course not mentioning details of the plot. Before very long they asked him his name, and when they learned that he was actually the man who had won the Marathon race at the last Olympic games, they would gladly have made him a present of the ship had they been able.
It was with the greatest difficulty that he finally broke away and made an attempt to get a little sleep. He was so excited that he found this impossible, however, and soon returned to the company of the officers. The electric motors driving the ship were humming at top speed, and the registering apparatus indicated a rate of fifteen knots an hour. This was good speed for a submarine, but Bert figured that, as the yacht on which he had been carried out was unusually swift, it must have traveled at least one hundred and fifty miles from the Colon harbor. At the rate of fifteen knots an hour, then, it would take them a little over ten hours to get back into the harbor, and he did not know how much longer to get up the canal to the mined gate of the lock. There was always the chance of accidents or delay, and he must reach the city before the morrow dawned.
CUTTING THE WIRES
It seemed as though the time would never pass, and he tried to divert his mind by looking out of the glass windows or portholes, set in near the bow of the submarine. The boat was equipped with a powerful searchlight, which threw its brilliant rays far ahead, and lit up the ocean for a considerable distance all around. Even in his agitated state of mind, he found time to wonder at the dense and active life of the sea. Fishes, large and small and of every conceivable shape and coloring, swam close up to the porthole and seemed to be trying to look in. Some, attracted by the beams of light, followed the course of the submarine, never seeming to tire or fall back.
Every once in a while, some larger fish, engaged on a foraging expedition, would cross the path of light, and there would be a general scattering of the smaller fry, as they darted hither and thither in a frenzied search for safety. Some, indeed, the majority, were beautifully striped and spotted, and most of them Bert had never seen before. As he watched this teeming life, he grew more and more interested, and almost forgot his present surroundings. He was recalled to them by a light tap on the shoulder, and, turning around, he saw the officer, Lieutenant Warren, who had thrown him the life preserver.
"Quite an interesting study, isn't it, Mr. Wilson?" he asked, with a pleasant smile.
"I should say it was," exclaimed Bert, enthusiastically. "I never dreamed of being able to see a sight like this. It's almost worth having lived a lifetime just to have had this experience."
The other smiled at his earnestness.
"Yes," he said, "we all felt the same way you do, when we took our first few trips. There used to be hot arguments as to whose turn it was at the port hole, and we had to arrange regular times between us. The novelty soon wore off, though, and now, as you see, there isn't much competition."
"Well, it's new to me, yet, and I certainly find it very interesting," replied Bert. "These fishes seem to be every color of the rainbow, and the way they keep darting in and out reminds me of a kaleidoscope on a large scale.
"It does, rather," the lieutenant assented, "and, believe me, we see lots of things besides fishes, too. Why, I've come across all kinds of wrecked ships, from rowboats to big four-mast-ers. In tropic waters, we've seen many a ship that I'm sure was an old Spanish galleon, and I'll wager there's many a fortune in gold and silver pieces that we've had to pass over in the performance of duty. There are uncounted riches lying at the bottom of this old ocean, my boy."
"I don't doubt it in the least," answered Bert, and then Mr. Warren went on to tell him various yarns of strange adventures he had undergone and marvelous things that he had seen. Bert listened, fascinated, for the officer was a man who had not only been all over the world, but knew how to tell a story. The time passed more quickly than he had dared to hope, and just before dawn, he was told that they were almost at the entrance of the Canal.
The little submarine flew into the great new waterway, and hesitated no more than the brave hearts guiding its course. Its powerful searchlight illuminated the Canal from side to side, and they were able to get an idea of the immensity of the completed enterprise. Mile after mile, the smooth concrete wall slipped away back of them, thick, ponderous, designed to last as long as civilization lasted, and perhaps longer. As Bert gazed, his heart thrilled with a great pride at what his country had accomplished, and this feeling was succeeded by a fierce hatred of those who were plotting to set the great work at naught.скачать книгу бесплатно
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