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HOME > Short Stories > The Sunken Isthmus > CHAPTER VII. A SERIOUS CATASTROPHE.
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The curious fish passed several times around the Diver. Then it drew off with an apparent air of offended dignity and aroused jealousy.

What right had this unknown creature to venture into these waters? It looked as if this was the reasoning of the huge fish.

Whether it was or not, one thing was certain. The creature had made up its mind to attack the submarine boat.

Steadily it drew back, flopping its huge flukes, until finally it stopped and was motionless a moment.

Then it darted forward.

Barney was in the midst of a beautiful dream of home when suddenly he felt himself flying through space. Then it seemed as if he was coming in contact with a legion of hard objects and sharp corners.

In an instant he was wide awake. It required a moment for him to collect his scattered senses.

Then he realized that the boat was moving. It was flying upward like a rocket and suddenly popped up onto the surface of the sea.

The Celt, astounded beyond measure, rushed into the pilot-house. There he saw that things were thrown all about.

There was a dent in the wall of the structure large enough to force the electric keyboard from its post. The wires were all tangled up or disconnected and the tank-lever had been closed by the shock.

“Mither presarve us!” muttered the Celt. “Phwat the divil happened?”

At that moment Frank and Pomp and Wade came rushing in.

“For mercy’s sake, what struck us, Barney?” cried the young inventor. “What’s the matter?”

“Shure, sor—I—that is—it must have been an airthquake, sor!”

“More likely an avalanche,” declared Wade. “Heigho! how came we on the surface?”

“Golly, look at dat keyb’d!” ejaculated Pomp.

Frank gazed at Barney.

“What was the cause of this, sir?” he asked, sternly. “Why don’t you speak?”

Poor Barney!

Cold sweat stood out upon his brow. He knew that he 26had been guilty of a serious misdemeanor. A culpable act of negligence.

“Shure, sor—I—I—don’t know,” he stammered.

“You don’t know?” exclaimed Frank, severely. “Were you not on guard?”

“Yis, sor.”

“And you don’t know what caused all this wreckage?”

“Well, sor, somethin’ must av sthruck the boat, sor—an’—I didn’t see phwat it was, sor.”

Frank looked keenly at the Celt.

“Tell me truly,” he said; “were you asleep?”

It was against Barney’s principle to lie.

“Yis, sor,” he replied.

Frank turned away.

“That is enough!” he said, reproachfully. “I thought I could trust you.”

With his nerves tingling with shame, Barney slunk away. But Frank uttered no further words of censure, for he knew that the poor fellow was wellnigh warranted in his negligence, for he was extremely exhausted.

Still, he should have kept awake.

The Diver rocked in the rolling waves of the sea. The night was as dark as a pocket.

Frank would have sent the boat to the bottom again, but he soon found that he was unable to do this. The lever was out of order.

In order to locate the break he would be obliged to put hours of hard work into the task. He decided to wait for daylight.

So he put Pomp on watch and then all retired again to their slumbers. The coon was not in danger of sleeping after what had happened to Barney.

He paced the deck of the Diver and kept a close watch of the sea. It was in that interval of darkness just before the dawn that he saw a light off the port bow.

It seemed to come from the masthead of a distant vessel and was a colored light. The coon watched it.

When he saw it was drawing nearer he started to call Frank, but he changed his mind a moment later.

The unknown craft passed to windward and the light suddenly vanished and was not seen again.

Morning came and brought a surprise. The first thing Pomp’s eager eyes rested on was a dark hull off to the southward.

It was a small vessel bearing down toward the Diver.

Pomp gave a sharp look at it and then muttered:

“Fo’ de lan’s sake, I done beliebe dat am dat piratical schooner. Reckon Frank bettah see ‘bout dat.”

But Frank was already coming on deck.

27He met the excited darky, and seeing his trepidation, asked:

“What’s the matter now, Pomp?”

“A heap de mattah, sah. I reckon dat ole schooner am comin’ fo’ us again.”

Frank gave a violent start.

“Is that so?” he ejaculated. “Why, we seem fated to be followed by her. It will hardly be safe to fall in with her in our present condition, either.”

“Yo’ am right, sah.”

Wade was just behind Frank.

“Eh, what’s that?” he asked. “You don’t mean to say that that accursed schooner has overtaken us again?”

“Dat am so, sah,” replied Pomp.

“That is very bad.”

Frank and Wade went to the rail with their glasses. It did not require much of a scrutiny to determine that Pomp was right.

It was the Meta, and she had evidently sighted the Diver. She was coming on with all sails spread.

“By Jove!” exclaimed Frank, “she will be down onto us in a jiffy. We must get out of here right away.”

“For a fact!” agreed Wade. “What shall we do, Frank? We cannot sink the boat, can we?”

“No,” replied the young inventor. “Our only hope is to run away from her until we can get our tank machinery repaired.”

“But is not the other machinery out of order, too? Have you tried the motor-lever yet?”

Frank’s face paled.

“No,” he admitted, “but I think it will be all right. We will soon know the truth now!”

It must be confessed that with some feeling of trepidation and doubt Frank now entered the pilot-house. He tried to adjust the shattered keyboard.

And now he saw that a great peril threatened! The motor-lever would not work. The electric lights even could not be shut off.

There was no way to start the machinery of the boat without restoring the keyboard connection. This would require some hours of hard work.

In the meantime the Meta was rapidly coming down upon them. Frank shivered as he thought of this.

He regretted now that he had not at once set about repairing the machinery the night before. But it was of no use to cry over spilled milk.

Something must be done, and that at once.

Wade came into the pilot-house white as chalk.

“They mean to sink us!” he gasped; “they have just 28fired a shot across our stern. When they get our range they will certainly hit us!”

“Run up a signal,” replied Frank, hastily. “You must temporize with them. Partly accede to their terms. Anything to gain time.”

And Frank began work at once upon the keyboard. Wade took the tip and rushed out on deck.

The Meta was now within easy cannon shot. She was training her gun again when Wade ran up a signal flag.

It implied a parley, and at once the Meta answered it.

“Begorra, I only wish we had our electric gun wid us!” cried Barney. “Shure, we’d jist play wid thim, yez kin be sure!”

But Wade knew well that their only hope was a shrewd game of policy. He went back to the pilot-house.

“How much time do you want, Frank?” he asked.

“At least two hours,” replied the young inventor. “Send Barney here to me.”

Barney came, and together they worked at repairing the keyboard. Wade went back to the deck.

The Meta had signaled again. Wade answered the signal.

Then the schooner drew within hailing distance. Wade had resolved upon a daring and diplomatic move.

“Ahoy, the Diver!” came across the water in Poole’s voice.

“Ahoy, the Meta!” replied Wade.

“You signaled us for a parley?”


“Well, what is it?”

“We have considered your terms,” replied Wade. “Send a boat over and I’ll come and talk with you.”

There was a thrill of exultation in Poole’s voice as he replied:

“I thought you would reach a sensible decision. I will send a boat.”

A few moments later a boat put off from the schooner. Wade went into the cabin.

His purpose was wholly to gain time. It required fifteen minutes for the boat to cross the intervening distance.

Then Wade kept them waiting at the gangway fifteen minutes. When he appeared he managed to squander some time getting into the boat.

Then it required fully twenty minutes to pull back to the schooner against the strong wind. Nearly an hour was thus consumed.

Mounting to the deck Wade met Poole politely, but he did not fail to see the cunning and treacherous light in the villain’s eye.

29“Where is Mr. Reade?” asked the treasure-hunter, in surprise.

“He is indisposed, and has authorized me to act in his place,” said Wade, wincing a little at this white lie. It seemed to satisfy Poole, however.

“Come into the cabin,” he said.

Wade leisurely followed him. He affected a desire to smoke and proffered Poole a cigar. Some time was thus consumed, and fully a quarter of an hour was passed before Poole was able to say:

“Well, have you decided to come to my terms?”

“We have talked the matter all over,” said Wade, shrewdly; “and we have decided to accept your story as the truth, though you will pardon me if I say that this was not the case when we first heard you tell it.”

The villain looked astonished.

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