Bert Wilson at Panama
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But now, the submarine had almost reached the mined gate of the Lock, and its speed was gradually reduced three-fourths. It nosed cautiously along, until the searchlight revealed a vast structure directly ahead. Instantly the motors were reversed, and by the time the boat's speed had been checked, it was not more than thirty feet from the gate.
In the meantime one of the crew had been encased in a diver's suit and now made ready to leave. He was conducted into an air-tight room near the bottom of the submarine, and, after the door had been securely fastened, water was admitted. When the room was full, the diver opened a door in the hull and stepped out of the boat, which had previously been lowered until it rested on the Canal bottom.
From the porthole in the submarine's bow he could be seen slowly making his way, following the luminous path made by the searchlight. In a short time he reached the gate of the lock, and began to follow its course toward the bank. He was soon out of the range of vision of those at the porthole, but, in a few minutes, returned; and it could be seen, by the way in which he still scanned the walls, that he had not yet found the wires leading to the explosives.
He had traversed perhaps half the distance from the center to the other bank, when he was seen to stop suddenly and carefully examine something near the lock.
"I'll bet he's found the wires," exclaimed Bert, excitedly.
"Very likely he has," replied Mr. Warren. "I was beginning to be afraid that the plotters had buried the wires so cunningly that it would be almost impossible to get at them."
But here, all doubts on the subject were set at rest, as they saw the sailor draw a pair of wire cutters from his belt and ply them on something near the wall. Immediately afterward he straightened up and waved his hand, as a signal that everything was all right.
"By Jove," cried the lieutenant, drawing a long breath, "I guess now we've spoiled those fellows' plans for good. But, believe me, that was rather ticklish work. I expected almost every minute to be wafted heavenward by a charge of dynamite. None of us would have had the slightest chance in the world, if that explosion had taken place."
"I rather think you're right," agreed Bert. "But why doesn't the man come back? He seems to be continuing his search along the Lock gate."
"Oh, that's because the captain gave him orders before he went out to examine the wall from end to end for traces of a second set of wires. But I guess that the Japs had such confidence in their handiwork that they had no doubt of the success of their one set. I must confess that I haven't much doubt regarding them, either, if we hadn't happened along to spoil the whole show for them."
"Yes, the whole country owes Mr. Wilson a debt of gratitude it can never repay," broke in Captain Clendenin, who had come up and overheard the lieutenant's last remark. "It would have been a heavy blow, and one that would have required the expenditure of thousands of lives to recover from.The value of your services cannot be rated too highly, sir."
"I'm grateful for your high opinion of me, I'm sure," replied Bert, much confused by such high praise, "but it was as much by luck as anything else that I first got wind of the plan, and after that, of course, there was only one thing for me to do."
"That's all very well," responded the captain, "but nevertheless not many men I know would have done it, and I abide by my statement. It is no light thing for a young man to attempt, singlehanded, to thwart the plans of a great and powerful nation."
The diver had by this time completed a very thorough inspection of every inch of the gate, and in a short time returned to the submarine. He entered the water-filled room from which he had stepped forth, and, after he had closed the door in the vessel's hull, pulled a signal rope, and in a very few minutes the powerful pumps had emptied the room of water. Then the man was admitted to the body of the boat and relieved of his cumbersome suit.
This done, he immediately reported to the captain, and gave him a detailed account of what he had found.
"There were two sets of wires, sir," he said, "so that if one had not worked, the other would. I looked very carefully along the walls for other wires, but didn't find any."
The captain dismissed him, with a word of approbation, and then gave orders for the submarine to get under way. This was done, but Captain Clendenin had no intention of rising directly to the surface. The water chambers were pumped out very slowly, and, as the boat gradually rose, it was steered slowly back and forth across the face of the gates, and men were stationed at the portholes to look for any indication of other wires. They found none, but were able to see where the dynamite charges had been placed. Evidently the walls had been charged with enough of high explosives not only to derange the machinery but possibly to blow it into fragments.
The men in the submarine shuddered as they thought of the awful catastrophe that would have occurred, and thanked the Providence that had enabled them to avert it. Bert became a veritable hero to all on board. Of course, by this time, the crew had gained a pretty good idea of how matters stood, and had as strong an admiration for him as had the officers. They were all picked men, chosen for their intelligence and bravery, and were therefore well fitted to appreciate these qualities when found in others. And Bert's exploit was after their own heart.
He had free run of the ship, and had learned the uses of most of the ingenious devices that were scattered everywhere about the boat. Accordingly, as he now stepped into the control room, he saw at a glance that they were nearing the surface of the water, being at this moment only twenty feet beneath it.
The gauge indicated less and less depth, and suddenly a burst of sunshine entering the porthole told Bert that they were at the surface. The hatchway was thrown open and he ascended to the deck. The pure, sweet air was very grateful after the somewhat confined atmosphere of the submarine, and Bert drew in great breaths of it. Pretty soon Lieutenant Warren joined him on the little platform and shared with him the beauty of the morning.
"It certainly gets pretty close in here at times," he remarked. "Once we got stuck on the bottom and had all sorts of a time getting off. Our reserve supply of air was used up and we all thought we'd suffocate, sure. But we managed to get loose from the wreck we were mixed up with, just in time, and I don't believe that I ever enjoyed the sight of the blue sky as I did then. It was a narrow squeak, and no mistake."
"I should say it was," answered Bert, and then, after a pause, he asked: "But where are we bound for, now, Lieutenant? What's the next move in the game?"
"Why, we'll get news of this plot to the Canal authorities and the War Department, as soon as possible, and then it will be up to them to act as they see fit. You've done your part and we've done ours, and they in their wisdom can decide the future policy of the nation."
"But what do you think that will be?" queried Bert. "They'll declare war, now, won't they?"
"That's a hard question to answer," mused the other, "but it's my private opinion that the whole matter will be hushed up. You may be sure that those engaged in this affair have covered their tracks very skillfully, and it would be practically impossible to prove that they were accredited agents of the Japanese Government. And in a case of that kind, the world requires more than mere suspicion, you know."
"Yes, I guess you're right," said Bert, thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I'm the only one who overheard the plotters, and my evidence probably wouldn't be sufficient to prove a connection between them and the Japanese Government. I hadn't thought of that before."
"Well, I rather think that is the way it will work out," said the lieutenant. "However, you never can tell which way the cat will jump at Washington, and this may be the first move in a great war. We won't have many days to wait to find out, anyway."
The submarine made all haste to the nearest cable station at Colon, and from there ciphers in the navy code were sent to the authorities, narrating all the events connected with the plot.
Bert was put ashore, as soon as the submarine reached harbor, and parted from her officers with warm expressions of mutual esteem. The morning was well advanced, as he hurried toward his hotel. There was a hum of preparation apparent, the streets were crowded with throngs hastening to secure a point of vantage for the coming spectacle, and flags and bunting floated everywhere. And just then, as he turned a corner, Dick and Tom, with a wild yell pounced upon him. The anxiety and fear written on their haggard faces were replaced by a look of inexpressible delight. They grabbed his hands and pounded him on the back and otherwise acted as though suddenly deranged.
"You old rascal," shouted Tom. "Where on earth have you been?"
"Glory, hallelujah," cried Dick. "We've searched high and low and have nearly gone crazy."
Their queries rained on him without stint, but not till they had reached the hotel and he had bathed and dressed did he pour out the details of the astounding plot. The boys were thunderstruck at the peril, missed only by a hair's breadth, and their pride in Bert's achievement and joy at his return were beyond all words.
They were sitting on the upper veranda, as they talked, and the huge American flag that flew over the hotel, floated past them, just brushing them, as though in a caress.
"Old Glory," murmured Bert.
"The flag still waves," added Tom.
"Yes," exulted Dick, "and not at half-mast, either."