The Submarine Bell by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature

Kennedy groped about for a light, stumbling over boxes and bags.

“For heaven’s sake, Craig,” I entreated. “Be careful. Those packages are full of the devilish things!”

He said nothing.

At least we had a little more freedom to move and I managed to find my way over to a little round porthole and open it.

As I looked out, I almost fainted at the realization. The Furious was under way! We were locked in the hold–virtual prisoners–our only company those dastardly infernal machines, whose very nature we did not know!

Helplessly I gazed around me. There seemed to be only this one porthole, open, looking out over the dark and turbulent water, which slipped ominously past as we gained speed.

Why had Kennedy not foreseen this risk? I glanced at him. He had found an electric light, connected with the yacht’s dynamo, and, before turning it on, closed and covered the port so that it threw no reflection out.

Far from being disconcerted, on the contrary, he seemed rather pleased than otherwise at the unexpected turn of events.

As I looked at our scant and cramped quarters I could see absolutely no way of getting word to anyone off the Furious who might help us.

What he was working on I did not know, but if it was some sort of wireless, even if we were able to send a message, what hope was there that it would get past the delicate wireless detector which this criminal must have somewhere near for tapping messages that were being flashed through the air? Had we not heard him say that the signal was to be an S O S sent, as it were, from the fleet far out on the ocean?

I could well have believed that Kennedy could rig up some means of communication. But, if the possessor of this terrible infra-red ray, or wireless wave, secret should learn that we, too, knew it, the only result that he would accomplish would be to insure our destruction immediately.

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It was a foggy night and a drizzle had set in. The Furious could not under such circumstances make such good speed as she was accustomed to make. Fortunately, also, the waves were not running high.

Craig had taken a desperate chance. How would he meet it? I watched him at work, fascinated by our peril.

Finishing as quickly as he could, he put out our sole electric light, unscrewed the bulb and attached to the socket a wire which he had connected with the instrument over which he had spent so many precious moments.

Through the little porthole he cast a peculiar disk, heavy, such as I had seen him place so carefully aboard the Uncas.

It sank in the water with a splash and trailed along beside the yacht, held by a wire, submerged, perhaps, ten or twelve feet.

He made a final inspection of the thing as well as he could by the light of a match, then pressed a key which seemed to close a circuit.

I could feel a dull, metallic vibration, as it were.

“What are you doing?” I asked, looking curiously also at an arrangement, like a microphone, which he had placed over his ears.

“It works!” he cried excitedly.

“What works?” I reiterated.

“This Fessenden oscillator,” he explained. “It’s a system for the employment of sound for submarine signals. I don’t know whether you realize it, but great advance has been made recently since it was suggested to use water instead of air as the medium for transmitting signals. I can’t stop to explain this apparatus just now, but it is composed of a ring magnet, a copper tube which lies in an air gap of a magnetic field, and a stationary central armature. The magnetic field is much stronger than that in the ordinary dynamo.

“The copper tube, which has an alternating current induced in it, is attached to solid disks of steel which in turn are attached to a steel diaphragm an inch thick. In the Uncas I had a chance to make that diaphragm practically a part of the side of the ship. Here I have had to hang it overboard, with a large water-tight diaphragm attached to the oscillator.”

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I listened eagerly, even if I were not an electrical engineer.

“The same oscillator,” he went on, “is used for sending and receiving, for, like the ordinary electric motor it is also capable of acting as a generator, and a very efficient one, too. All I have to do is to throw a switch in one direction when I want to telegraph or telephone under water, and in the other direction when I want to listen in.”

I could scarcely credit what I heard. Craig had circumvented even the spectacular wireless. He was actually talking through water. Craig had virtually endowed himself with a sixth sense!

I watched him spellbound. Would he succeed in whatever it was that he was planning? I waited anxiously.

“There’s the answer!” he exclaimed in sudden exultation. “Burke is on the Uncas. He tells me that he went to see Mrs. Petzka and she is with him–insisted on going, when she heard that her husband had been engaged by the Furious.”

He waited a moment.

“You see, Walter,” he resumed, “what I am doing is to send out signals by which the Uncas can locate and follow us. She is fast, but, thank heaven, this yacht has to go slow tonight. Sound travels in water at a velocity of about four thousand feet a second. For instance, I find that I get an echo in about one-twentieth of a second. That is the reflected sound wave from the bottom, and indicates that we are in water of about one hundred feet depth. Then I get another echo in something over two seconds. That is the waves reflected from the Uncas, which has been hovering about, waiting for something to happen. They can’t be much more than a mile and a half away, now. I had expected to signal them from the shore, a dock or something of the sort, using this oscillator to get around that fellow’s wireless. But we’re much better off on the boat.”

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I looked at him in amazement. “Surrounded by all this junk that may blow us to kingdom come any second?” I demanded.

“Burke says steam is still up on all the ships tied up in the harbor so that they can make a dash for it. They are evidently waiting for that S O S signal.”

“That’s all right,” I said in desperation, “But suppose they blow us up, first?”

“Blow us up first?” he repeated. “Why, don’t you understand? It is not the Furious that they are after. The whole war fleet that is hanging around in this part of the Atlantic is to be blown up in mid-ocean, as part of the plan to aid the escape of the interned ships in New York.”

“Oh,” I breathed, with a sigh of relief, “that’s it, is it?”

“Yes. We’ll get in bad all around if we can’t stop it–Burke with the Secret Service and ourselves with Gaskell, who doesn’t dream that his yacht is being used for the exact opposite of the purpose for which he thinks he has lent it–to say nothing of the mess that our government will have to face for letting these precious schemers play ducks and drakes with our neutrality.”

We waited eagerly, Kennedy sending out and receiving the submarine signals, and I peering out anxiously into the almost impenetrable fog.

Suddenly, apparently from nowhere in the shifting mist, lights seemed to loom up. Instead of stopping, however, the Furious put on a sudden burst of reckless speed.

The Uncas was no match for her at that game. Would she escape finally, after all?

A sharp report rang out. The Uncas had sent a shot across our bows, so dangerously close that it snapped one of the cables that held the mast.

The vibration of our engine slowed, and ceased, and we lay, idly wallowing in the waves as the revenue cutter, bearing our friend Burke and help, came up.

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A couple of boats put out from the cutter and in almost no time we could hear the tread of feet and the exchange of harsh words as the government officers swarmed up the ladder to our deck.

It was only a moment later that the hatch was broken open and we heard the welcome brogue of Burke, calling, “Kennedy–are you and Jameson all right?”

“Right here,” sang out Craig, detaching the oscillator and replacing the electric bulb, which he lighted.

The commotion on deck was too great for anyone to make much of finding us, two stowaways. The Countess was surprised, however, and, I felt, rather glad to see us at a time when we might, possibly exert some influence in her favor if matters came to a more serious pass.

There was scarcely time for a word. Burke’s men were working quickly. They had entered the hold, after a word from Kennedy, and far out into the ocean they were casting the boxes and bags overboard, one at a time, as fast as they could. They worked feverishly, as Burke spurred them on, and I must say that it was with the utmost relief that I saw the things thrown over.

The boxes sank, but rose again and floated, bobbing up and down, at least some of them, perhaps a third above water and two-thirds below.

It was not for several minutes that I noticed that with those who had come aboard the Furious from the cutter stood Bettina Petzka. A moment later she caught sight of Kennedy.

“Where is my husband?” she demanded, running to him.

Kennedy had no chance to reply.

Suddenly a series of flashes shattered the darkness. A terrific roar seemed to rise from the very ocean, while a rain of sparks lighted up great spurts of water and then fell back, to perish in the dark waves. The Furious trembled from end to end.

We looked, startled, at each other. But we were all safe. The things had been detonated in the water.

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“Only the fact that he would have blown himself up prevented him from blowing up the yacht and all the evidence against him, now that we have discovered his plot,” cried Burke, excitedly, dashing down the deck.

Recovered scarcely from our surprise at the explosion and the queer actions of the Secret Service man, we rushed after him as best we could, Craig leading.

He led the way to the little wireless room. The door was bolted on the inside, but we managed soon to burst it open.

I shall never forget the surprise which greeted us. In a chair, bound and gagged, as though he had been overcome only after a struggle, sat Petzka.

Mrs. Petzka threw herself frantically on him, tearing at the stout cords that held him.

“Nikola–what is the matter?” she cried. “What has happened?”

Through his gag, which she had loosened a bit, he made a peculiar, gurgling noise. As nearly as I could make out, he was struggling to say, “He came in–surprised me–seized me–locked the door.”

Julia Rovigno stood rooted to the spot–utterly speechless.

There, surrounded by electric batteries, condensers, projectors, regulators, resonators, reflectors, voltmeters, and ammeters, queer apparatus which he had smuggled secretly on the Furious, before a strange sort of device, with a wireless headgear still over his ears, stood the owner of at least two of the liners of the belligerents which were to have made the dash for the ocean after he had succeeded by his new wireless ray device in removing the hostile fleet–Count Rovigno himself.

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