Yule Logs/A Fighting Mermaid
|Yule Logs edited by George Alfred Henty
A Fighting Mermaid by Kirk Munroe
|The Venture of the "Bertha" Whaler→|
A FIGHTING MERMAID
BY KIRK MUNROE
It was a grand success. Every one said so; and moreover, every one who witnessed the experiment predicted that the Mermaid would revolutionize naval warfare as completely as did the world-famous Monitor. Professor Rivers, who had devoted the best years of his life to perfecting his wonderful invention, struggling bravely on through innumerable disappointments and failures, undaunted by the sneers of those who scoffed, or the significant pity of his friends, was so overcome by his signal triumph that he fled from the congratulations of those who sought to do him honour, leaving to his young assistants the responsibility of restoring the marvellous craft to her berth in the great ship-house that had witnessed her construction.
These assistants were two lads, eighteen and nineteen years of age, who were not only the Professor's most promising pupils, but his firm friends and ardent admirers. The younger, Carlos West Moranza, was the only son of a Cuban sugar-planter, and an American mother who had died while he was still too young to remember her. From earliest childhood he had exhibited so great a taste for machinery that, when he was sixteen, his father had sent him to the United States to be educated as a mechanical engineer in one of the best technical schools of that country.
There his dearest chum was his class-mate, Carl Baldwin, son of the famous American shipbuilder, John Baldwin, and heir to the latter's vast fortune. The elder Baldwin had founded the school in which his own son was now being educated, and placed at its head his lifelong friend, Professor Alpheus Rivers, who, upon his patron's death, had also become Carl's sole guardian.
In appearance and disposition young Baldwin was the exact opposite of Carlos Moranza, and it was this as well as the similarity of their names that had first attracted the lads to each other. While the young Cuban was a handsome fellow, slight of figure, with a clear olive complexion, impulsive and rash almost to recklessness, the other was a typical Anglo-Saxon American, big, fair, and blue-eyed, rugged in feature, and slow to act, but clinging with bulldog tenacity to any idea or plan that met with his favour. He invariably addressed his chum as "West," while the latter generally called him "Carol."
The Rivers submarine boat, finally christened Mermaid, had been evolved during long years in the great Baldwin shipyard located on the Delaware, less than a mile distant from the Baldwin technical school, and during his lifetime John Baldwin had taken a deep interest in its construction. Thus Carl had been familiar with its every detail from the time that he could remember anything, and had grown up with an abiding faith in its possibilities. That his chum was also enthusiastic concerning it constituted one of the strongest bonds of sympathy between them. Now that its complete success had been demonstrated by four hours of trial, during most of which time it had been manœuvred under water with a party of six distinguished engineers on board, Carl's elation was only little less than that of the inventor, whose very life was bound up in it. Like him, however, the lad was slow to express his deepest feelings; but the enthusiasm of the day found ample vent through the young Cuban, who had been permitted to share in the glorious result, and who poured forth his exultation in a torrent of words as the two lads left the shipyard and wended their way homeward.
"It is the crowning triumph of the century, my Carol, and will make immortal the name of our honoured instructor. To have lived until this day and to be allowed a share in such glory is a vast privilege. Of war, what a revolution will be made! Oh, if my poor country possessed but one of these marvels, how quickly would she be free! To destroy the ships of Spain and open to the world every Cuban port! What an achievement! what honour! Carol, why may it not be done? Why may we not take this Mermaid, and with her liberate Cuba from her centuries of slavery?"
"Because," answered Carl Baldwin slowly, "she is not ours to take, and even if she were, we would not be allowed to use her in any such fashion. The Government would not permit us."
"But if she were ours. If the Professor would consent to allow us to attempt the experiment. If we could escape the vigilance of the American cruisers, and manage to convey our marvel of marvels to the scene of action, would you not join in the enterprise, my Carol? Would you not aid in striking the blow for freedom?"
"It would certainly be most interesting to test the little craft in actual service," replied the young American cautiously.
"Interesting, say you? It is of vital importance. What she has done is nothing. Who knows what she may accomplish? When will there come another such chance for trying her in warfare? Where in the world is there a prize to be gained equal in value to that of a free Cuba? That my father has sacrificed all but life itself for her is my proudest boast; that I may soon fight by his side, my fondest hope. Oh, if you cold-blooded Americans could but witness the cruelty, the oppression, the despair, the horror of it all. But, if I cannot win over my dearest friend among them, how may I hope to persuade others? Ah, Dios! it is hard, it is bitter, it is pitiful, that but for want of a single helping hand all should be lost."
At this point the young Cuban's feelings so overpowered him that words failed to express them, and as Carl Baldwin's policy was to remain silent during these outbursts, the lads reached the school building in which they lodged without further conversation.
Since Carlos Moranza had left home, the affairs of his native land had come to a sorry pass. The struggle for freedom had begun. Spanish armies devastated the fair island, killing its inhabitants, laying waste their fields, and destroying their homes, while Spanish war-ships patrolled its coasts to cut off all outside aid from the insurgents.
The latter, devoid of nearly everything necessary for carrying on a war, save a desperate determination to resist to the death, occupied the interior of the island, where they found impregnable strongholds amid its rugged mountains and dense forests. The sympathies of the American people vere with them, and expeditions for their relief were constantly fitting out in the southern ports of the United States. Many of these failed to reach their destination, since international law compelled the Government to prevent them from sailing, if possible. Thus, in addition to the Spanish fleet patrolling the Cuban coasts, the southern waters of the United States were guarded by an equally numerous fleet of American men- of-war and vessels of its revenue marine.
From the very outset of the war Don Cæsar Moranza, after placing his only daughter, Catina, who was two years younger than Carlos, in what he conceived to be a safe retreat, had linked his fortunes with those who fought for liberty. He had quickly risen to the command of a Cuban army, and, as General Moranza, the dashing cavalry leader, proved such a terror to the Spaniards, that to capture him became an important object of their campaigns.
With all the impetuosity of his nature Carlos longed to take part in the glorious struggle, and, in every letter that he found means of transmitting to his father, pleaded to be allowed to join him. Thus far his petitions had been denied on the ground that he would still have ample opportunity for fighting after he had become a skilled engineer. In the meantime he could do much for the cause where he was, and must remember that to perfect himself in his chosen profession would be of greater value to Cuba than the winning of a battle. This stimulant was what made young Moranza one of the most brilliant scholars in the Baldwin Polytechnic; for he felt that every problem solved was a blow struck for his country. At the time of the Mermaid's successful trial trip, in which the young Cuban had been allowed to participate as a distinguished reward of merit, he had received no word from his father or sister for many weeks, and so was filled with anxiety concerning them.
As the lads reached the school they separated, Carlos proceeding directly to his room, and the other going in search of Professor Rivers to report the safe housing of the Mermaid. The Professor was so buried in thought that for a few moments he apparently took no notice of Carl's entrance. Suddenly, lifting his head and looking squarely at the lad, he exclaimed—
"Yes, yes, my boy, all is well so far as we have gone, but what will she do in actual service? How will she behave in face of an enemy? Is she capable of single-handed and successful attack against a fleet? Until these questions are answered how may I know whether my lifework is a success or a failure? To solve them I would willingly engage a navy in single combat; but where may I find one willing to accept my challenge?"
"Why not in Cuba, sir?" suggested Carl with a sudden inspiration.
"Cuba! Cuba!" repeated the Professor slowly, as though bewildered by the idea thus presented, and then he plunged once more into abstracted thought.
After waiting a few moments longer, and seeing that his guardian was disinclined for further conversation just then, Carl Baldwin departed to tell his friend of the seed he had planted. To his dismay he found Carlos standing as though petrified, and staring with bloodshot eyes at a telegram evidently just received.
"What is it, West? What has happened?" inquired young Baldwin anxiously.
"Read that," replied the other huskily.
With this he extended the message, which was signed by the president of the Cuban Junta or War Committee, whose headquarters were in New York City.
"General Moranza captured by treachery and shot by order of Weyler. His daughter seized, imprisoned, and held for transportation to a penal colony. May God help you in this hour of your affliction!"
"For my father's death I grieve not," cried the young Cuban. " He died for the cause he loved, and may be avenged. But for my sister, my own little Catina, in prison, at the mercy of those brutes, and consigned to the living death of a convict! How may I bear it? What can I do? Tell me, my friend, for I am going mad."
"No," cried Carl Baldwin, "you shall not go mad, nor even yield to despair, for we will yet save her. The Professor shall go with us, and we will take the Mermaid. Even now he is inclined to consider some such undertaking. And when he reads this message he will be as ready to set forth as you or I. Oh yes, my dear fellow, we can rescue her and we will. Instead of going to a penal colony, she shall come to this country, and be as free as you are at this moment." As he spoke the young American seized his friend's hand, and the latter looking into the brave blue eyes, now blazing with excitement, believed that Catina would be saved.
The submarine boat Mermaid was a cigar-shaped shell of aluminium bronze, extremely light and strong, about forty feet in length and eight in greatest diameter. On its upper side was a small railed platform or deck, from the centre of which rose a low turret provided with four bull's-eyes, from which an observer might glance out ahead, astern, or on either side. Another bull's-eye was fitted into the hinged and water-tight cap that closed the turret when the boat was submerged.
The interior of the boat was divided into three compartments. Of these, the one farthest forward was fitted with an air-lock, through which a person wearing a diver's suit might leave the vessel while she was under water and return to her at will. This hold was also pierced for a bull's-eye through which could be made to shine an electric search light of intense power.The central compartment was the living and operating room. It also contained a dynamo, an air compressor, and a small condenser, by means of which sea-water could be made drinkable. In the after compartment was located a compact but powerful gasoline engine. This furnished the motive power for running on the surface, and also stored electricity by which the screw could be turned when surface air was no longer available. Beneath the floor of the central compartment was a tank for water ballast, which could be filled or emptied at will of the operator. In all parts of the boat were hundreds of tubes, wires, cocks, valves, and other devices of amazing ingenuity for ensuring the safety of her crew and the discomfiture of an enemy.
She was indeed, as Carlos Moranza had said, one of the crowning scientific marvels of the century. On the day succeeding that of her trial trip, the young Cuban was full of hope and courage, for Professor Rivers had been won to his cause by the enticing prospect of achieving the rescue of a young girl from a dreadful fate, and at the same time testing under most trying conditions the powers of his beloved boat. He had only stipulated that she should not be used for the destruction of either life or property.
Thus it happened that in less than a week one of the most powerful tugs on the Delaware cleared for Havana. She had in tow a great dumping scow, such as is used in New York harbour for conveying the city garbage far out to sea. This scow was built with a long central pocket, the bottom of which was longitudinally divided into two parts. Each of these was hung on massive hinges, and could be made to drop or open outward, thus allowing the contents of the pocket to fall into the sea. Then, by means of a donkey-engine, the great valves could be drawn up and closed as before.
The question of how to get the Mermaid to Havana had proved most puzzling. She was too small to undertake such a voyage by herself, and had she been shipped on the deck of another vessel, her every movement would have been watched and heralded, while the success of the proposed expedition depended upon its secrecy. Thus, at the very outset, the would-be rescuers seemed to be confronted by an insurmountable difficulty. Then Carl Baldwin had thought of the sea-going dumping scows, several of which had been built in his father's shipyard, where one recently completed even now awaited a purchaser.
"Why couldn't we take the Mermaid to Cuba in it?" he suggested, after several other plans had been dismissed as impracticable.
"The very thing," cried Carlos Moranza. "In that way we could carry her right into Havana harbour, and there offer the scow for sale to the Spaniards as a blind. It is a noble idea, my Carol, and will prove our salvation."
"It might be done," said the Professor thoughtfully. "Let us go and take some measurements."
This they did, and found that the pocket of the dumping scow was amply large to hold the Mermaid, at the same time allowing her free egress and exit. It would even float her when closed and half filled with water. Only a few alterations that readily suggested themselves to the Professor were needed to exactly suit the great craft to their purpose.
While he took charge of these, and Carlos took a trip to New York for consultation with the President of the Cuban Junta, Carl Baldwin arranged for the charter of the finest sea-going tug on the Delaware, and through her captain for the purchase of the dumping-scow.
The Professor had long since placed the practical direction of his school in the hands of able assistants, so that he was free to leave it at a moment's notice for any length of time. Thus, when he announced that he was about to devote a few weeks to the testing of his pet invention, and should need the assistance of his two ranking pupils, their departure was effected without arousing undue curiosity.
The clearing of the tug, with its novel tow, for Havana, was, however, quite another thing; and, from the moment their destination was announced, both craft were watched by Government officials and Spanish spies to see that no contraband cargo was taken aboard. Of course nothing of the kind was found; but this did not prevent a revenue cutter from escorting the tow down the river and across Delaware Bay until it was clear of the breakwater and well out at sea. Finally, the cutter turned back; but even then her commander continued to watch the tow through a glass.
"In spite of their seeming innocence, I regard that as one of the most suspicious departures ever made from the Delaware," he remarked to a lieutenant who stood beside him. "The pretence of trying to sell that scow in Havana is only the baldest kind of a bluff. Any fool knows that those blooming Spaniards aren't going to put themselves to either the expense or trouble of carrying garbage out to sea so long as they can dump it in their harbours. Hello! What's that? Look quick and tell me if you don't see something between us and them."
Through the glass thrust into his hand, the lieutenant took a long and comprehensive survey of the intervening waters.
"No, sir, I don't see anything," he reported at length.
"Neither do I now," said the other after another look. "I would have sworn, though, that I saw something like a raft moving towards that scow."
The commander had indeed caught a glimpse of the Mermaid rising to the surface to get her bearings, but she had instantly dived, nor did she again visit the surface until safely within the shadow of the great scow.
She had run down the river the night before, and had lain behind the breakwater with only a small portion of her turret above the surface, until the tow, with its accompanying cutter, had passed out to sea. Then she followed, with her eyes just awash, and dove deep beneath the revenue vessel when it turned back. Upon next coming to the surface, she had been allowed to rise a little too far, and so was very nearly discovered.
"It was a close shave," admitted Carl Baldwin, after the Mermaid was safely ensconced within the closed pocket of the great scow; "but a safe miss is as good as a thousand miles, and now we are all right till we get to Havana."
"Don't you he too sure of that," admonished the captain of the tug gruffly. "There's many a cruiser between here and there, and every one of 'em is sartin to board us."
So it proved. At Charleston, where the tug put in for coal, leaving her tow in the lower bay, the scow was boarded by revenue officers, who did not leave her until she was again at sea; and all the while the poor little Mermaid was dodging about under water, only coming up now and then for a breath and a quick glance at her surroundings, like a hunted sea-fowl.
Off the mouth of the St. John's River, the tow was hove-to by a blank shot from a Government cruiser, and again was the Mermaid forced to seek safety at the bottom of the sea. This time she avenged herself by rising directly beneath the cruiser, and demonstrating to the Professor's entire satisfaction how easily he could if he chose place and fire a torpedo that would blow her from the water.
It had been decided to touch at Key West, the most southerly extremity of Florida, as well as of the United States, and only eighty-five miles across the Gulf Stream from Havana, and finally, after many narrow escapes from discovery, our adventurers reached the port of that quaint island-city in safety.
Here they found several American men-of-war, a small fleet of torpedo-boats, four revenue cutters, and a Spanish cruiser, to all of whom the strange tow, slowly making its way up the harbour, seemed an object of especial interest. Their fame had preceded them; every one knew that they were bound for Havana, and that they had been objects of suspicion all the way down the coast. So, before they came to anchor, they were boarded by United States officers, and a guard was placed on both tug and scow, with orders to allow no communication between them and the shore, except under strict surveillance.
In the meantime, the little Mermaid had sunk quietly out of sight, nor did she again rise to the surface until safely beneath a wharf covered with freight sheds, that extended out to deep water. Here, hidden in deepest shadow, she lay unobserved until nightfall, when our lads found no difficulty in gaining the streets of the town, leaving the Professor in charge of his beloved boat.
As Carlos Moranza had visited Key West before, he led the way without hesitation amid throngs of promenaders, among whom white was the rarest colour to be seen. Coal-black negroes from Jamaica, sallow-complexioned Spaniards, swarthy Cubans, mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, and Creoles, with faces tinted in every shade of brown or yellow, jostled each other on the sidewalks, all talking, singing, or laughing, with eager gesticulations. Electric lights gleamed among the softly nestling leaves of tall cocoa-palms. Open carriages, bearing cigarette-smoking men in white linen, gaudily-clad negresses, or languid Cuban women, whose only sign of animation lay in their flashing eyes, rattled over the white pavements, while, above all, innumerable flags, displaying the blue and white stripes, the crimson field and single white star of Cuba Libre, fluttered in the faint night breeze.
The entire city, which is wholly Cuban in sympathy, as well as two-thirds so in population, was rejoicing over the news just received of an insurgent victory. The exulting throngs were most dense about the building occupied by an agent of the Cuban Junta, on a balcony of which the glad tidings were being read aloud from a paper just snatched off the press, while a guard stationed at the main entrance forbade admission, except to such persons as were of well-attested patriotism.
"Halt! You may not pass!" cried one of these, as our lads, having forced their way through the crowd, sought to enter.
For answer Carlos Moranza spoke a few words in so low a tone that only he might hear them.
Instantly the man stood aside, touched his cap respectfully, and motioned them to enter.
As they did so, a third person attempted to pass the guard in their company, but was seized on the threshold.
"Is this hombre of your party, señor?" asked the guard.
"Certainly not," replied Carlos. "I never saw him before."
So the intruder, who was evidently of Spanish blood, was ignominiously thrust back, and as he slunk away he muttered words that boded no good to Carlos Moranza, in case they should again meet.
In the meantime the young Cuban, accompanied by Carl Baldwin, made his way to the balcony where the agent of the Junta had just Finished reading of Garcia's victory. As Carlos touched him on the shoulder he turned quickly and frowned at sight of a stranger. Again the lad whispered his magic formula, and in another moment the agent was embracing him with the fervour of a life-long friendship. Then he led his guests to a private room, where for half-an-hour he engaged Carlos in earnest conversation, of which young Baldwin could only understand an occasional word.
When our lads finally left the building and regained the street, the latter asked curiously, "What was it all about, old man?"
"He said," replied Carlos, "that the Spanish cruiser now in port is here for the express purpose of escorting us to Havana, and that, as soon as we are outside Key West harbour, she will place a guard on both tug and scow."
"Hm!" remarked Carl Baldwin reflectively; "we can't allow that."
"I should say not," agreed Carlos Moranza; "only I'd like to know how we are to prevent it."
"Just you leave it to me, and I'll show you the trick," rejoined the young American.
So intent were the lads upon their conversation, that they mistook another freight shed for the one beneath which the Mermaid was hidden, and walked a few paces beside it before discovering their error. When they did so, they at once began to retrace their steps, and in turning a corner of the building came plump upon a cloaked figure evidently on their trail.
"Hello! what do you mean, sir, by following us?" cried Carl Baldwin, seizing the stranger's arm as he spoke.
With a muttered oath the man wrenched himself free and darted away, but not before the gleam of a street light had revealed his features to Carlos Moranza.
"The very fellow who tried to force his way into the quarters of the Junta!" he exclaimed, "and more than likely a Spanish spy. It is a narrow escape, my Carol, for if our blunder had not forced us to turn back, he must have discovered the Mermaid. In that case we should indeed have met with trouble."
"Let us hasten, then, before he returns."
"I don't believe he will dare do that. He is too badly scared."
But the spy did return, and, crouching in deepest shadow, became convinced that those whose business he was so anxious to discover had passed beneath the wharf. As he dared not attempt to follow them through the impenetrable gloom into which they had disappeared, he sought a hiding-place, and from it watched with infinite patience for them to again come forth.
They had, in the meantime, safely regained the snug living-room of the Mermaid, and reported all that had happened, to the Professor. Then Carl Baldwin unfolded his scheme for delaying the Spanish cruiser in port until after their departure.
As a result, the submarine boat was allowed to drift down the harbour with the ebbing tide, until she came abreast the great black hull of a man-of-war. Then she imperceptibly sank beneath the surface.
"She hovered like a gigantic fish."
The watch officer of the Spanish cruiser, leaning on her after-rail and gazing musingly down into the dark waters sweeping seaward, speculated idly concerning the stream of phosphorescent light tailing out from under her counter, but thought of it only as a natural phenomenon. Had he known that it was caused by the motion of the Mermaid's propeller necessary to hold her in position against the stream while she hovered like a gigantic fish directly above the screw of his ship, how easily could he have won the promotion for which he longed. But he suspected nothing; and as Carl Baldwin, working from the diving chamber of the submarine craft, had succeeded in fastening one end of a short length of stout wire rope to the propeller blade, and shackling the other to a ring-bolt in the massive rudder, the officer turned with a sigh and walked away.
On the following morning the Spanish spy, weary and cramped with his long vigil, was amazed to see an utter stranger emerge cautiously from beneath the wharf he had been watching, and walk quickly away. For a moment the spy was undecided as to whether he should follow this person or seek to discover where he had come from. Then choosing the former course, he followed Professor Rivers at a respectful distance, until he had the vast satisfaction of seeing him meet, near the custom-house, the captain of the tug that was avowedly bound for Havana.
There was a connection then between those who hid beneath the wharf and the suspected tow anchored in the harbour. Undoubtedly a store of contraband goods was concealed under the wharf, and an effort would be made to convey them on board the tug before she sailed. What a reward was in prospect for him could he but discover it!
A little later the spy, with two companions, all armed, occupied a skiff that made its way cautiously through the dark spaces beneath the wharf he had watched so long. Suddenly between them and the outer daylight two men appeared one after the other. Both slid down one of the piles supporting the pier and dropped into the water, or at least the exulting spy thought they did so as he hastily urged his boat in that direction.
To his amazement and disgust, when he reached the spot where they had disappeared, he could discover no trace of them. Neither was there a boat or a hiding-place into which they could have gone. The man was furious at being thus baffled, and uttered many a fierce Spanish oath. Finally, convinced that further search in that direction was fruitless, he pulled out into the harbour to watch the mysterious tow that still lay at anchor. As he drew near to it he saw its captain come off from shore alone. Then the guard from one of the revenue cutters was withdrawn, anchors were lifted, and the tow began to move slowly down the channel. It was certain that no one save the captain had gone aboard, nor had any cargo been taken in except a few tons of carefully examined coal.
Never in his life had the spy been so puzzled and disappointed; but it was a slight consolation to know that Spain's vigilant cruiser would accompany the Gringos to Havana. Even now was the black-hulled warship preparing to follow the departing tow. As the massive anchor broke away from the bottom, her great screw began to churn the water, and she slowly forged ahead. Suddenly her screw ceased to act, she took a sheer in the wrong direction, there was a vast amount of confusion on her decks, and in another minute she was fast aground on a bank of the narrow channel. Every eye in Key West harbour was fixed upon her, and before any one again thought of the departing tow, it had gained the high seas, and was beyond the jurisdiction of either Spain or "Uncle Sam." A little later, with the saucy Mermaid safely hidden in the ample receptacle of the great dumping scow, the tow had vanished in the direction of Havana.
That night the spy boarded a swift passenger steamer bound for the same port, which at sunrise of the following morning passed beneath the frowning walls of Moro Castle in company with the tow he had come to watch.
The Mermaid retained her berth even after a pilot had boarded the tug, and her crew looked eagerly upon the wonderfully beautiful scene unfolding before them as they passed through a narrow entrance into the broad, land-locked harbour of Havana.
Carl Baldwin, to whom everything was excitingly novel, viewed with delight the grim Moro with its tall lighthouse tower, the white Cabanas fortress, the tinted, flat-roofed buildings of the city across the placid basin, the quaint cathedral spires, and the thousand other curious features of Spain's chief stronghold in the New World.
Carlos Moranza, filled with conflicting emotions at again approaching his native land under such strange conditions, gazed in silence, but as though hoping with the very intensity of his vision to pierce the crowding walls and discover the prison of his beloved sister. Professor Rivers had eyes only for the warships, of which the harbour held half-a-dozen, as he speculated upon the ease with which his little Mermaid could humble their pride and render them powerless.
At this very moment the Spanish spy was regarding, and triumphantly recognising, all three of the Americans through a glass levelled at them from the deck of the steamer on which he was a passenger. Thus it happened that, as the captain of the tug was preparing to go ashore and make formal entry at the custom-house, after having successfully passed examination by both health officers and port authorities, two barges filled with soldiers dashed out from the mole and headed directly towards the new arrivals. One of these tookof the tug, while the other, in which sat the exulting spy, ranged alongside the dumping scow.
For nearly an hour the soldiers searched every compartment and corner of the two vessels, even overhauling the coal in the tug's bunkers. When there was no longer an unexplored crevice, even the spy was forced to confess that there was no person aboard unaccounted for in the tug's papers, and that he must have laboured under a delusion as to what he had seen. He was bewildered, mortified, and angry, and was rendered furious by the ridicule heaped upon him by the officer to whom he was obliged to report his failure to discover anything that would justify a seizure of the tug.
This craft the Spaniards would have been glad to possess, but when its captain went ashore and announced his desire to dispose of the dumping scow, the authorities only laughed at him, and referred him to General Weyler, who happened at that time to be absent with an expedition to the interior. This was gratifying information, as it afforded an excuse for remaining in Havana harbour until he should return.
In the meantime the Mermaid, having sunk out of sight on the approach of danger, had found safe refuge under the stern of a Spanish man-of-war that was moored close at hand. Here she received a supply of fresh air through a flexible tube, one end of which was supported on the surface of the water by a small float. During the time that her occupants were thus compelled to remain in hiding, they amused themselves by so wedging the rudder of the warship as to render it immovable.
With the earliest twilight of that evening they returned to the tug and held a short consultation with her captain, who had used his eyes to such good purpose while on shore that he was enabled to direct them to a place from which he believed they could gain the city streets. This was most important, for though in the darkness they might have landed anywhere along the quay, they would still have been shut off from the streets by a tall and stout iron fence, the gates of which were always guarded, and at sunset locked for the night. This is in accordance with a regulation that not only forbids any vessel to enter or leave the port of Havana between sunset and sunrise, but also prohibits all communication between the city and its harbour during the night.
The place indicated by the captain was a dock in which lay a number of fishing craft, and the entrance to which was closed by iron gates. As it was not likely that these extended very far below the surface, it was possible that the Mermaid might pass beneath them. This proved to be the case; for when, after a long search and several narrow escapes from discovery, the dock was reached, the Mermaid managed to squeeze under the barrier, and when she next rose to the surface she was inside the city lines. Here she remained with her deck just awash, and in charge of the Professor, while the two lads, filled with hopeful excitement, set forth in search of information that should guide their future action.
The part of the city in which our lads found themselves was dark and deserted, save for an occasional soldier pacing a lonely beat and a few slouching figures that seemed trying to avoid observation. At the suggestion of Carlos they kept the middle of the ill-paved streets, for in Havana no one uses the narrow side-walks at night. To do so would be to invite a knife-thrust from the first dark pasadizo. Even in the more open spaces that they sought, each lad kept a hand in the pocket containing his revolver, and they took care not to allow any person to approach them closely from behind.
At length they came to a region of plazas and lighted thoroughfares, in which they encountered ever-increasing numbers of beggars and soldiers. The former were pitiable objects, horribly emaciated by the starvation which Spain was deliberately inflicting on her rebellious subjects, while most of the soldiers were mere boys, ill-fed, poorly clad, and wasted by sickness, but well armed and insolent to all save their own officers. These latter, who swaggered by in noisy, cigarette-smoking groups, seemed the only well-fed persons in the city, as well as the only ones who still found life worth the living. They stared impudently at our lads, and more than one, recognising Carl Baldwin as an American, treated him to insulting epithets, most of which he fortunately failed to understand.
Not knowing whom they might question, or even address with safety, the young adventurers finally turned into the brilliantly-lighted cafe of the Pasaje, where they hoped to gain some guiding clew from chance bits of conversation. The place was so crowded that for several minutes they failed to find vacant seats at any of the little tables scattered about the floor. At length they secured two that had just been vacated, and slipped into them. Two other seats at the same table were occupied by a supercilious-looking Spanish officer and a fashionably-attired civilian. The former, with an expression of deepest hatred cast toward Carl Baldwin, slowly rose, reversed his chair with a loud scraping on the marble pavement that attracted general attention, and reseated himself with his back turned squarely toward the young American. The latter had suspected the nature of the insulting epithets applied to him in the streets, but had been unable to reply to them on account of his limited knowledge of Spanish. With enforced silence his anger had smouldered until now, when it broke into a sudden fierce heat. Acting upon the impulse of the moment, he lifted his own chair, planted it in front of the Spaniard, deliberately reoccupied it, and stared his enemy full in the face, but without uttering a word.
As Carlos Moranza realised his companion's intention, he started towards him, but was detained by the fourth man who had been seated at the table, and who whispered hurriedly—
"Fly for your life, amigo, while there is yet time. For a Moranza to be arrested in Havana means sure and speedy death."
"But I cannot leave my friend," gasped the young Cuban, bewildered at being thus promptly recognised where he believed himself to be unknown.
"He will only suffer imprisonment. They dare not kill him. His Government is too powerful."
For a moment Carlos Moranza hesitated. Then his resolution was taken.
"I cannot desert him," he cried; and, gaining the place where Carl Baldwin sat, he grasped his arm with the intention of dragging him from the café. At this, the officer, who had cowered irresolute beneath his adversary's unflinching gaze, clapped a hand to his sword and attempted to rise. In an instant the young American had thrust him back with such force that the frail chair crashed beneath him, and the uniform of Spain was rolled ignominiously in the dust.
Then, without regarding the man further, or noticing the other inmates of the café, who were thronging towards them, Carl turned to his friend, saying—
"I don't think I like this place, West. Isn't there some other in which we might be just as happy?"
" Yes, yes, come quick," replied Carlos, starting towards the street as he spoke; but it was too late, for at that moment a file of soldiers appeared in the. They were led by the Spanish spy who had followed our friends from Key West, and who had been sitting in the Café Pasaje brooding over the futility of his attempts to apprehend them when the two lads unsuspectingly entered it. "There they are! Seize them!" he now cried exultingly, and the obedient soldiers rushed forward.
With all the latent fury of his nature aroused and blazing from his blue eyes, the young Anglo-Saxon American fought single-handed the minions of Spain. Two of them fell like logs beneath crashing blows from his fists. Two more were hurled breathless to right and left. The others hesitated, and even shrunk before him as with a cry of "Come on, West!" he dashed toward the doorway. At that moment some one flung a chair before him. He tripped over it, staggered wildly, and then measured his length on the pavement with half-a-dozen Spanish soldiers on his back.
When next he was allowed to regain his feet, he was helplessly bound and being marched away to prison, together with Carlos Moranza, who was in the same unhappy plight. Even then the spirit of the young American was unsubdued; and, in defiance of his enemies, he raised a cry on gaining the street that he felt certain was as good Spanish as it was English.
"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" he shouted, with all the breath left in him.
"Silencio, Gringo!" growled the nearest soldier, at the same time striking his prisoner full in the mouth with the flat of his hand.
For a wonder, Carl Baldwin retained sufficient wisdom to accept the blow without a word, though, had he known the full value of his outcry, he might have been tempted to repeat it.
A crowd had already gathered in front of the café, and from it instantly arose answering shouts, in tones indicating both derision and amazement, of "El gallo! El canto del gallo!"
Carlos Moranza wondered how his friend had obtained a knowledge of the Junta's defiant password for the current month, since even to him it had only been revealed under promise of a strict secrecy that he had not broken. He had used it but once, and then the whispered "Canto del gallo" had instantly admitted him to the presence of the Junta's agent in Key West. No matter, though, how Carl had discovered it, he was justified in using it under the circumstances, for it might raise friends to their assistance, if, indeed, there were any within hearing who understood its hidden meaning. Thus thinking, the young Cuban also uplifted his voice in a ringing "Canto del gallo."
At sound of this second note of defiance, the Spanish spy, with a malediction upon the gallipollo, sprang towards the lad, but, ere he could strike a blow, some one in the crowd hurled a paving-stone that stretched him senseless on the ground. As though this were a signal, the mob, led by a tall man in the dress of a carboncro or charcoal-burner, rushed upon the slender file of soldiers, and swept it irresistibly before them.
A few moments of pandemonium — shots, yells, screams of pain, cries of exultation, a crash of flying missiles, the ominous clatter of a cavalry patrol galloping down the street, and then all was over. The mob melted away like a puff of smoke, leaving only a few innocent and inoffensive citizens to be cut down by the sabres of the troopers. The prisoners who had caused the outbreak had also disappeared, and when the Spanish spy, slowly regaining his senses, became aware of this fact, he gnashed his teeth with rage.
Our lads were in the meantime dragged at top speed through a labyrinth of narrow streets and dark alleys, until, breathless and bewildered, they finally found themselves in a dimly-lighted room, surrounded by a group of those who had effected their release. One of these severed the cords binding their arms with two blows of a dirk-like machete, and said in reassuring tones—
"Fear nothing, señors; you are with friends, sworn to aid all who suffer in the cause of Cuba. Tell us, then, who you are, whence you come, and how it happens that you possess the most secret password of the Junta."
"I," replied the young Cuban boldly, for to him alone of the two was this address intelligible, "am Carlos Moranza, son of——"
Here the lad was interrupted by a great cry from one of his auditors, and in another instant he was folded in a close embrace by the carbonecro who had led the mob to the rescue.
"Carlos, my son! my own brave boy! do you not know your father?" cried the man, half-sobbing, half-laughing in the excitement of his discovery.
"Father! my father! can it be?" screamed Carlos, staring wildly at the man. "It is indeed his voice; hut without hearing it I should never have known him. But, father, they told me you were shot, and I have mourned you as dead."
"I was indeed captured and condemned to be shot, hut managed to escape," replied General Moranza. "And I should have joined you in the land of freedom ere this, but for Catina."
"What of her?" inquired the young Cuban eagerly. "Is she still alive and well? I heard that she was a prisoner, condemned to Africa, and am here to effect her release, if it be not too late."
"The child is indeed an inmate of the vile Jacoba, and sentenced to transportation in a ship that will sail on the morrow," replied the General. "This I learned but an hour since from Don Estevan."
"Now I know," interrupted Carlos. It was also he who gave me warning in the café."
"'Twas to meet him, who is a true friend of the cause," continued the other, "that I lingered near the Pasaje, and so was on hand to rescue from Weyler's clutches those who appealed for aid with the password of the Junta."
"Yes," laughed Carlos, "the 'Canto del gallo' of my friend, who yet declares that he knew nothing of its secret value, did us a fine service; but of Catina, my father, what more have you to tell?"
"Nothing, my son; all efforts to rescue her have been made in vain, and on the morrow the little one will sail away for ever. I have lacked two things—a demonstration of sufficient magnitude to attract attention from the prisons, and the means of conveying her from the island undiscovered. But alas——"
"Both of them I can supply," cried Carlos eagerly. "Such a demonstration may be contrived as will cause every Spaniard in Havana to tremble in his shoes and call on the saints for protection. As for a conveyance, it is already at hand. Furthermore, the transport ship can certainly be prevented from sailing on the morrow, and shall be."
"What then, my Carlos? Have the United States espoused our cause and sent a fleet to our aid?"
"Not so, father, only two of her brave citizens, of whom this, my dearest friend, is one, have come with me; but we have brought that which may accomplish all that I claim and more. Do not question me as to its nature, for I am bound to present secrecy. Only be prepared for our demonstration which will be made to-morrow night; effect the release of the little one from La Jacoba, bring her to the dock of the fishmarket on the exact stroke of midnight, and her safety together with thy own shall be assured."
After another hour spent in joyful congratulations, explanations, and a perfecting of details for the proposed rescue, our lads took their departure, and cautiously returned to the place where Professor Rivers anxiously awaited them.
Although amid the excitements of the night Carl and Carlos had not realised the flight of time, the hours of waiting passed by their companion in anxious suspense on board the Mermaid had seemed interminable. He had not dared desert his boat for a minute, nor would it have been safe to move from the precise position in which the lads had left her. So he could only watch from the turret of his submerged craft, with every sense keenly alert for the return of his young friends. After a while he seemed to hear guarded footsteps and whispering voices close at hand, though unable to see the figures to which they belonged. The impulse to turn on a search light and thus discover the nature of his surroundings became so strong that at length he disconnected the wires in order to remove the temptation.
He had hardly done this and resumed his position in the turret, when there came a shout, a shot, and a rush of feet. Then a cry in English of—
"Show a light, Professor; a light—quick!"
"Then two dripping figures scrambled aboard."
The startled man struck a match and held it aloft, where it was instantly extinguished by a little puff of wind. But its purpose was served, for even as it expired two dark forms leaped into the black water that closed above them. At the same moment half-a-dozen shots rang out spitefully, and one of them, evidently attracted by the Professor's light, glanced from the Mermaid's iron turret. Then two dripping figures scrambled aboard, the turret hatch was closed, and, with her crew safely reunited, the marvellous craft sank beneath the surface, without leaving a trace to be discovered by the flashing lanterns that, a few minutes later, were exploring every inch of the dock in which she had lain.
The lads had made a second narrow escape, and that they had made it at all was not due to any lack of precaution on the part of the Spanish spy, who, fully convinced that they were in some way connected with the mysterious tow in the harbour, had taken every means to intercept them in case they should attempt to regain it from the water-front of the city.
Daylight was tinting the eastern sky when the Mermaid again cautiously showed her eyes above the surface in close proximity to her tow, and, in obedience to a safety signal from the captain of the tug, who had long been watching for her, quickly regained her old position within the capacious pocket of the dumping scow. In the meantime the lads had recounted their adventures and told of their joyful meeting with General Moranza, together with what Carlos had promised should be done on the following night.
To all of this the Professor gladly agreed; for would it not afford him the longed-for opportunity of testing the powers of his beloved boat to the utmost? Thus, even before regaining her berth in the scow, the Mermaid paid a submarine visit to the Spanish transport that was to have borne many a heart-broken exile away from Cuba that day, and so tampered with propeller and steeringgear that her date of sailing was certain to be indefinitely postponed. A few hours later our adventurers watched with intense interest the consternation and bewilderment manifest on board the transport, and, when it became evident that she could not be moved, began to make active preparations for the coming night.
On the part of the Professor these consisted in mixing certain chemicals that required the utmost delicacy and skill in handling. Carl Baldwin devoted himself to so arranging a number of giant dynamite crackers, that they might he ignited under water and made to explode on reaching the surface, while Carlos spent his time in carrying out a design that he had borne in mind ever since the planning of their expedition. It was the preparing for service of two Cuban flags. One was a transparency fitted with electric wires and made fast to a float that would support it on the surface of the water. This was intended only for night use, while the other, which was of silk with a slender staff of steel, was designed to attract attention by daylight.
"The explosion, close under their bows, of a giant fire-cracker."
Shortly before sunset, with everything in readiness for her great venture, the Mermaid forsook her snug berth and began to move across the harbour, with the eyes of her turret just awash and the flag of free Cuba fluttering bravely a foot above the surface of the water. It did not attract attention until it passed slowly within a hundred yards of the Spanish battle-ship Alfonso XIX., when a clamour of voices from her decks announced its discovery. A few minutes later a boat, manned by Spanish bluejackets and commanded by a dapper lieutenant, dashed forth in pursuit of the hated emblem. It was easily overtaken and the officer stretched forth a hand to seize it. As he touched its steel staff he received an electric shock that caused him to utter a scream of terror and fall like one paralysed in the bottom of his boat. With this the little flag, proudly displaying its broad stripes of white and blue and a single white star in a crimson field, danced away over the placid waters towards another great ship flying the red and yellow ensign of Spain. Again was the bait taken, and a second boat was sent in pursuit. This time not only was the man who attempted to seize the Cuban emblem numbed as though by a stroke of lightning, but the boat's crew was thrown into a state of wildest panic by the explosion, close under their bows, of a giant fire-cracker.
"Isn't it great fun?" cried Carl Baldwin, who was in charge of the diving-room, the ventilation, and the explosives.
"It is bewildering," answered the Professor, without taking his eyes from the pressure-gauge that indicated their exact distance below the surface. "At this moment we three are demonstrating the worthlessness, as fighting machines, of the world's navies. From this time on, the nations of the earth will be compelled by fear to live at peace with each other."
"I wish we could sink just one Spanish ship," said Carlos Moranza from the engine-room.
"Of course we could do it," replied Professor Rivers. "In fact, we could within one hour's time destroy every warship in this harbour, but it would be a wicked and cowardly act. No, no, my boy, we will not harm a single human being in this glorious experiment. At the same time I am perfectly willing to inspire them with a wholesome fear."
"Just scare 'em stiff," laughed Carl Baldwin.
"The Alfonso XIX. lay in a glow of diffused light that seemed to come from beneath her very keel."
By the time darkness had settled over the scene the entire Spanish fleet was fully aroused. News of the mysterious happenings in the harbour had even spread to all parts of the city, and General Moranza realised that his powerful friends were already at work.
Some two hours later, while the officers and crew of the Alfonso XIX. were still discussing with bated breath the recent supernatural appearance of the Cuban emblem, they were startled by again seeing it floating on the surface but a short distance from them. This time, instead of being a simple silken flag, it was outlined in flames of red white and blue. There was a confused shouting of orders, and then the rattling fire of a machine-gun began to tear through the water just beyond the blazing emblem. With the first sound of firing it vanished, but a minute later the Alfonso XIX. lay in a glow of diffused light that seemed to come from beneath her very keel. And so it did, for that was the point from which the Mermaid was just then operating her 4000 candle-power search-light.
As the Spaniards waited in breathless terror for what should happen next, and fully expecting to be hurled into eternity by some tremendous explosion, a dense volume of sickening smoke rose slowly from the water on both sides of the ship, until she was completely enveloped in its suffocating folds. In a vain effort to escape this terror against which they could not fight, the Spaniards slipped their moorings with the idea of steaming out to sea, but, to their dismay, the great screw, that should have driven them through the water at a speed of twenty miles an hour, refused to move, and the vast bulk of the Alfonso XIX. only drifted helplessly.Now the fiery emblem of free Cuba was again seen moving swiftly from point to point, fired at by ship after ship, disappearing with each shot only to flash out again a moment later in some unexpected quarter. Its erratic course was marked by eddying clouds of pungent smoke, bursts of flame, and loud explosions that threw the whole harbour into an uproar of terror. The panic-stricken ships of Spain dropped their moorings and made desperate efforts to escape from the enemy that they could neither see nor fight, but which seemed to hold them at its mercy. Some of them could not move, others could not be steered, and all drifted helplessly, colliding with one another, running aground, blinding each other with flashing search-lights that incessantly swept the black waters
"Threw the whole harbour into an uproar of terror"
Nor was the alarm confined to these, but it spread to the city, where in every quarter church-bells rang madly, drums sounded their quick call to arms, trumpets blared, masses of people poured through every avenue leading to the water-front, and Havana was dominated by such a reign of terror as its history had never known. While the confusion was at its height, a heavy firing from the south announced an insurgent attack, and, with the general call for troops that followed, even the military guards of the prisons were temporarily pressed into service.
At five minutes before midnight, as marked by Carlos Moranza's watch, the cause of all this turmoil slipped unnoticed into the dock of the fishmarket, and lay motionless with only her low turret rising above the surface. At exactly midnight the young Cuban closed his watch with a snap, and listened eagerly to a rapidly approaching rattle of wheels. Then a carriage dashed through the crowds lining the water-front, and staring like so many bewildered moths at the flashing search-lights of the warships. As it drew up sharply at the head of the dock, a man in the uniform of a Spanish general leaped from it, and was quickly followed by a slender youth, apparently a mere boy, also in uniform.
At this moment the whole scene was suddenly illumined by a glare of light that seemed to come from the very waters of the dock, and a great cry rose from the spectators as they fell back in affright. Only two men dared press forward the Spanish general and his aide. These stood for a moment on the very edge of the stone coping. Then the lad seemed to slip down into the water. As he disappeared, the general, waving his plumed chapeau high above his head, uttered a loud cry of "Viva Cuba libre!" and sprang after his companion.
Half-an-hour later the little Mermaid was slipping swiftly but unseen beneath the very walls of Moro Castle and out of Havana harbour. In her tiny cabin, Catina Moranza, weak with reaction from the terrible strain of the past few days, lay sobbing in her brother's arms, and striving to tell of her blessed deliverance from the horrors of La Jacoba. At the same time General Moranza stood beside Professor Rivers and watched with wondering admiration his conning of the most powerful battle-ship the world had ever known.
Two miles out at sea they found their tug, that, with its tow, had taken advantage of the dire confusion in Havana harbour to leave it unnoticed. Here the Mermaid took the last dive of her eventful cruise, and in another minute was once more safely ensconced within the dumping scow.
Ten days later the clumsy tow, with the real object of its long voyage still unsuspected, moved slowly up the Delaware River, and came to anchor off the Baldwin shipyard.
In answer to the chaff of such acquaintances as rallied him on the folly of trying to sell a dumping scow to the Spaniards of Havana, the captain of the tug was wont to say, "Yes, it is true I failed to sell the scow, but I made five thousand dollars out of the trip all the same."
Professor Rivers is equally satisfied with the success of his venture, and so of course is Carlos Moranza. As for Carl Baldwin, he made the home voyage in a state of delightful bewilderment.
"Why didn't you tell me, West, that your sister, instead of being a mere child, as I was led to suppose, was the very loveliest and most beautiful girl in the world?" he asked of his friend after his introduction to Catina.
"Because," answered Carlos Moranza, who had heretofore only seen the young lady in question through the eyes of a brother, "I didn't know she was."
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.