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HOME > Classical Novels > Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish > Chapter IV VANDALS OF THE HIGH SEAS
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 An hour later, Charlie sat aboard Bill’s amphibian which now lay moored to a sea-anchor a quarter of a mile to leeward of the Merrymaid. A hundred yards from the plane, the gray submarine rocked gently to a long Atlantic ground swell. Charlie, a pair of field glasses glued to his eyes, focussed them alternately on the yacht and on the deck of the submarine which was crowded with men.  
The object of all this interest was a group of three aboard the Merrymaid—three men and a youth. Left on board the vessel with a boat wherewith to make their escape, these men were to open the seacocks of the fated ship.
In the side of every vessel, somewhat below the waterline is a large circular manhole, two or more feet in diameter into which fits a steel plate or plug. The plate is fastened to the reinforced sides of the ship by means of bolts arranged at intervals of a few inches around the circumference of the hole. Into this plate fit large pipes which, communicating with the sea, form an intake for salt water. This plug and its manhole are together called the ship’s seacocks.
Opening a ship’s seacocks is a feat of not a little skill and danger. The nuts of the bolts which fasten the plate to its manhole must be unscrewed in such a manner that the plate loosens suddenly and not gradually, so that the sailor who opens it may work until the last minute and then escape from the inrushing water. To do this, special strategy is necessary.
The men from the submarine went about the operation in the following way: Early that morning when the Merrymaid was first captured, some men were sent down into her hold to begin preliminary work on the seacocks. Two of these men carefully unscrewed one rusty nut at a time, thoroughly greased its threads, and then screwed it back into place again before loosening the next. While this was being done, the other men unbolted the pipes leading into the seacock and removed all obstructions in the way of hasty escape from its neighborhood.
This preliminary work of greasing and loosening was done merely in order that the seacocks might be in readiness for immediate opening without loss of time should an enemy appear or other emergency require hasty action. The seacocks thus greased and disencumbered of pipes and impediments were then left in place, and the men returned to the submarine.
The men who had accomplished this work were now aboard the fated yacht once more to finish the opening of her seacocks. With them were Bill Bolton and the Baron. Bill, who had had never witnessed this particular operation before, though heartily condoning the act, was deeply interested. Knowing that he was a midshipman on summer leave from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Baron von Hiemskirk permitted him to remain as a responsible party.
The Baron, a sailor and Bill stood on deck while another seaman named Muller, a strong, heavy-faced fellow who made a specialty of this work, climbed down to the seacock, equipped with a monkey wrench and a sledge hammer. Around his waist was tied a rope, the other end of which was held by the three above for use in emergency.
Muller, under direction of the Baron, took off the nuts from every second bolt in the circle. Being recently loosened and greased, this was easily done. After he had gone completely around the circumference of the plate, the plug was being held by only half its former number of bolts. Beginning once more, the adroit seaman again removed every second nut, from the remaining bolts. The plate was now held by only one-fourth the original number of bolts. This process of halving was continued until the plug was finally being held by only two bolts on diametrically opposite sides of the circumference of the seacock. By this time, the pressure of the water outside was meeting with so little resistance that the plate was bending slightly inward, letting water spurt between the rubber packing and the steel plate up into the hold.
Muller, sweating in every pore, now thrust his wrench into his overalls pocket, picked up his sledge, and called out: “Ready!”
At his signal, the men on deck took in the slack of the rope so that if necessary they could hoist the imperilled seaman up out of danger.
Muller now lifted his sledge hammer, took accurate aim, and with a single vigorous blow, smashed one of the two protruding bolts through its nut and hole. As the plate did not fly loose, he let the heavy hammer fall again, throwing all his strength into the blow, this time upon the remaining bolt. With a dull explosion, the whole two-foot plate flew loose, and a geyser of sea water gushed upward into the hold.
Muller at once leaped for the ladder and, still holding the sledge, clambered to safety. Had he slipped, or been washed away by the force of the water, his comrades on deck would have fished him up by means of the rope.
By this time the yacht was rapidly filling. As the doors through all compartments had previously been opened, the water coming through this one seacock at once began flowing to all parts of the hold. The men on deck were now in real danger, for a sudden listing of the vessel, or its unexpectedly rapid sinking might mean their death.
All, therefore, at once scrambled overside to their boat, the Baron last of all, and pulled away as quickly as possible, lest they be sucked into the vortex of the sinking ship.
For a short space the Merrymaid settled rapidly, giving the watchers reason to expect her to go to the bottom within fifteen or twenty minutes. Their expectations, however, were not realized, for the ship soon began to rest at the same level.
The Baron turned to Bill. “Doubtless air has lodged in the tops of compartments and is imprisoned elsewhere. She must ultimately go down, of course, but there is no telling how long it will take—and I am in a hurry to get away.”
“What are you going to do, use dynamite?”
“Yes. We’ve got sufficient here in the boat, for such an emergency. We’ll row back now, and get busy.”
Dynamite was presently placed at the base of the ship’s two masts and amidships, and the fuses lit. They then rowed swiftly away, and had hardly reached a position where they would be out of danger, when the explosion came. Three crashes, one after the other, shattered the sides and decks of the vessel. The Merrymaid was sinking rapidly. First her bow filled; then the gallant yacht stood perpendicularly on her prow, and slid with a rush out of sight.
At the instant her funnel plunged under, a final tremendous explosion took place, throwing a cloud of steam and water high into the air. A moment later, only a vortex of oily, tossing water gave evidence that a million dollar yacht had gone to the bottom.
“It’s a dirty shame!” Bill spat the words without caring whether the Baron took umbrage or not.
“It is indeed,” that blond giant answered seriously. “But this is war, remember. I cannot use her, still less can I afford to have her discovered. Yes, it is a shame. Vandalism, if you like, but none the less, a necessity.” The Baron shook his head, then went on pompously: “An hour ago that splendid little ship might have been of great service to mankind. Now she is no more. Let it be her epitaph that she was fulfilling her destiny, with work well done. May the world say the same of me when I have gone to the eternal reward.”
Bill kept silent and managed to conceal his disgust. He did not appreciate such philosophizing. Neither could he agree with the Baron’s estimate of his own worth. His work might be well done, but in itself piracy on the high seas could hardly be called more than a disgraceful profession. Bill began to realize that the commander’s brain, although active enough, was more than slightly warped.
They rowed over the spot where the Merrymaid had gone down, and looked about for any stray bits of wreckage which might have floated to the surface. They found none, so made for the amphibian at once.
“You will wait until you see us take off before you do the same, Mr. Bolton,” directed the Baron with a return of his superior-officer manner, as Bill boarded the plane.
“Aye, aye, sir. Any further orders?” Bill returned the military manner with interest.
“Yes. You will follow my craft as though you were number two of a patrol. Land when I land, and taxi over for further instructions.”
“Very good, sir.”
“A pleasant flight, Bolton.”
“Thank you, Baron. The same to you, sir.”
The boat moved off in the direction of the submarine and Bill climbed into his fore cockpit. Charlie was already in his place in the rear cockpit, and Bill noticed that he seemed strangely quiet, almost sullen.
“What’s eating you, old boy?” Bill turned round to face him, then added kindly, “I don’t blame you for feeling low. It’s hard lines about the Merrymaid. Made me feel rotten myself. Nastier piece of vandalism was never committed. But you mustn’t take it out on me.”
“Well, I thought you and the chief were my friends,” began Charlie aggrievedly.
“But we are—what makes you think we’re not?”
“Oh, I know you saved me a hiding—and risked your life for that pirate. That was a bully thing to do, but now you and Chief Osceola have joined up with them and—”
“How come—joined up with them?”
“Why, didn’t I hear you, myself, tell the Baron you would work for him—do exactly what he told you to do?”
“So that’s it.” Bill’s laugh was without humor. “There’s no good reason why I should explain my actions to you, but I like you, Charlie, and I’m sorry for you into the bargain. Now, pin back your ears—”
“Well, I’m listening!”
“But, before I tell you what’s what, I want your promise to keep your mouth shut!”
Charlie produced a packet of gum. He tossed Bill a stick and began to munch another. “Okay,” he said earnestly, his eyes on the older lad’s, “let’s have it.”
“I should think you might have guessed it—but neither Osceola nor myself have gone in with these pirates. I gave the Baron my word to obey orders—but only so far as they have to do with driving his planes. It was either that or being locked up—and cutting out any chance there might be to escape. It’s the same with Osceola. He saw my scheme quick as winking—which is more than you did—but then, you’re just a kid, of course.” Bill’s eyes twinkled as he saw the boy’s discomfiture, but he went on more seriously. “The Baron is so sure of himself and his strong organization that he has no fear that we two can do anything to hinder his plans. But unless we’re allowed some freedom, don’t you see, Osceola and I might just as well have given up before we started?”
Charlie was profoundly interested and ashamed of himself. “Gee, I was a pill, all right. But, Bill—do you really think the three of us could break up the gang?”
“Well, you never can tell till you try,” Bill answered. “First of all, we must pretend to work in with this bunch of sea bandits—do our best not to arouse their suspicions, you know. Then, when we learn more about them and their ways of doing business, it will be time enough to start planning on our own account.”
“That’s right. And don’t you worry. I’ll keep quiet. I wouldn’t breathe a word!”
“You mustn’t, kid—not even to your dad and mother when you see them.”
“Cross my heart—hope to die if I do, Bill.”
“That’s all right, then. And always remember that it’s the three of us against a great big organization. A single slip on our part—and well, so far as we’re concerned, it would be just too bad.”
“I’ll keep my promise, Bill. Any idea where these pirates have their hangout? Where we are bound for now?”
“I have not. Why?”
“Some hideout on the coast, I suppose. Shouldn’t wonder if maybe it was somewhere in Pamlico or Albemarle Sound. There used to be lots of pirates in those waters long ago, before the Revolution, I mean. There’s a book at home, tells all about them.”
“Times have changed a lot since then,” mused Bill, “and piracy, too, I reckon.”
“Then you don’t think they’ve a base of some kind over there?”
Bill was facing forward now, staring steadily out over the water. “Something quite different, Charlie,” he muttered; and then in a sharp tone that made the boy start—“So that’s the way they work it!”
“Gee whiz!” Charlie craned his neck and gazed in the same direction. “The submarine’s sprouting wings!”

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