Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/8

Trapped by a Sea MonsterEdit

"This is travelin' in style, all right," approvingly remarked Captain Britten, looking about the comfortably appointed cabin and sniffing the appetizing odor of lamb chops on the electric grill. When necessary, Ned Newton could cook an impromptu meal. He really was rather proud of his ability.

As the amateur chef placed the meal on a small, collapsible table, Tom announced that they were now flying over the state of Georgia. "We should reach Key West about three P.M.," he said.

The ship droned steadily onward. At two o'clock in the afternoon they were passing near a large city. "Miami," declared Ned, who had been poring over a chart. "Airplanes go to many parts of South America from there."

Tom sent the "Winged Arrow" lower and lower. Finally he leveled off at an altitude of about five hundred feet above the blue sea. Here the full force of the fierce subtropical sun began to make itself felt.

The travelers, fresh from the comparatively cool northern summer, made haste to open all the air vents in the plane. Then they changed into white linen suits.

"Whew!" exclaimed Tom, mopping his brow. "I've traveled in the jungles of Africa but have never felt hotter!"

"Ah, it's the ship, my boy. You see, the dark metal hull fairly soaks up the sun, an' that's why we're a bit uncomfortable," said Captain Britten. "Once we land, you'll think the climate fine!"

Shortly afterward they flew over a grim-looking American battleship. It greeted them with a hoarse blast of her whistle as the flying boat shot by at the rate of two hundred miles an hour. On either side tiny islands, or cays, appeared, then vanished as if by magic. Finally a blue blur straight ahead began to loom even larger, and in a few minutes the "Winged Arrow" landed in the harbor of Key West.

"Half-past three," said Tom, glancing at the clock on the instrument panel. "A slow passage."

"Fast as I'd want to make it," declared Captain Britten. "A steamer'd have taken a good many hours where we needed only minutes. There's the old 'Betsy B.' tied to her pier, so let's get over to her!"

The idling engines were speeded up and the flying boat moved slowly across the harbor. A tug with smoke curling from her single thick funnel lay near the broad-beamed barge.

Over the stern of the latter several grinning Negroes leaned. Their ancestors might have been stricken dumb at sight of the great sky craft tying up to their ship, but these darkies were familiar with daily passage of planes bound for South America and showed but little astonishment. In a liquid Spanish-English patois they bade the whites welcome. All of them were old retainers of Captain Britten.

As the elderly man had said, the old barge had served as winter quarters for him during the past years. In consequence, he had had her little cabins fitted up more luxuriously than is customary on such vessels. Tom and Ned were given one far more comfortable than they had expected.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with inspection of the ship, the arrangements for the safe-keeping of the "Winged Arrow," and the laying of plans. Immediately after the hydroplane had been moored to a small pier owned by Captain Britten, the tug-boat chugged out into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of ten knots.

"I'd say we should reach the spot some time tomorrow afternoon," said Tom after studying the chart. "It's just under two hundred miles."

"And we'll get your meteorite for you!" predicted the old salvage man confidently. "Lucky the captain of that freighter 'Perry' took a bearing on the lighthouse at Port Baracoa; otherwise it would be like lookin' for a boll weevil in a bale o' cotton!"

Ruiz, the coal-black cook, served a good supper at sundown. Shortly afterward the boys went to their bunks, for both were tired after the long flight. Then too, Tom was still feeling the effects of the gas inhaled the previous night.

Next morning found the "Betsy B." wallowing through a smooth sea a few miles off the east coast of Cuba. Under the supervision of Captain Britten, several of the crew were busy oiling the huge winch, overhauling steel cables, and seeing to a dozen other minor but important details. Altogether, it was a busy scene that met the eyes of Tom and Ned when they emerged on deck.

"Your father was right, I think," said Ned. "You certainly have a competent man. See how the crew jump at his word!"

"I agree," said Tom with satisfaction. "But me for breakfast! This sea air surely gives a fellow a good appetite."

A head wind coupled with a rising sea combined to hold back the tug and her rather clumsy tow as the day waned. Occasional heavy rain squalls made the deck of the barge a rather uncomfortable place, so the boys stayed in the main cabin and discussed plans.

"I think the rainy season must be at its height," groaned Ned at last as he and Tom sat sweltering. "Maybe we'll be cooped up here for the whole voyage."

"Not me," declared the young inventor with a laugh. "Since when have you grown afraid of a little rain? By afternoon we ought to be near the spot where Captain Mawson jettisoned the meteorite and then we'll begin to get busy, weather or no weather!"

"I hope the thing will be worth all our trouble," said Ned a bit crossly. "Perhaps we won't even be able to find it. What then?"

"You're just suffering from a touch of 'mal de mer'!" teased Tom, refusing to consider his chum's gloomy remarks.

"I'm not a bit seasick!" protested Ned indignantly. "I just think we're on a wild goose chase, that's all!"

"Wait and see."

Evening drew nigh, and the sudden tropical night fell. On the Cuban coast lights went on, dominated by the intermittent glare of a powerful beacon many miles ahead.

"Baracoa Light," announced Captain Britten, seeing this. "We will lay off-shore till morning and begin our work tomorrow."

It spoke well for Tom Swift's nerves that he slept soundly, despite his great interest in the morrow's activities. During the night the sea abated and the rain ceased. Dawn broke with a brilliance to be seen only in tropical lands.

In order to reach the spot in the sea beneath which the meteorite lay, it was necessary to get the barge into a position corresponding to the apex of an isosceles triangle in relation to the lighthouse tower and the peak of a small hill near by.

Captain Britten and Tom, sextants in hand, made repeated observations. Ned stood by the telephone connecting the tug and her tow, transmitting to the former's captain the navigation directions. Finally the barge was supposed to be exactly where the freighter had thrown overboard the big stone.

"We may have to look around a little, though," remarked Tom as Captain Britten ordered the tug halted and anchors lowered. "In the big storm Captain Mawson might have made a mistake in his reckoning."

The water was about three hundred feet deep here, the Hydrographic Office charts showed. When Ned learned this, he looked serious.

"The record depth attained by a diver is only 204 feet!" he exclaimed. "At least, that's what I read in an encyclopedia."

"Guess you're referring to James Hooper, who reached that depth off the South American coast some years ago," smiled Tom Swift. "But since then diving-dress has undergone considerable improvement, eh, Captain Britten?"

"That's right. I have on board several of the newest type suits. Besides, I use native divers, men who, even without protection, can descend to almost unbelievable distances."

Quickly a boom was swung out overside. From it hung several pulleys to which was attached a narrow steel platform. Presently three tall Negroes carried out of the storeroom grotesque-looking diving suits which weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds apiece.

Captain Britten spoke in Spanish to one of them, then the fellow began putting on the weird uniform. It made him look like a visitor from another world. The tremendous weight of his garb prevented him from moving at more than a slow shuffle across the deck, strong though he was.

A section of the railing had been removed to allow access to the dangling metal platform upon which the diver stepped. The boom swung out and the drum of the winch began unrolling. In a few seconds only a trail of vanishing bubbles marked the spot where the Negro had gone into the sea.

"How long will it take him to reach bottom?" asked Ned, peering overside in fascination.

"About forty minutes," replied Captain Britten. "A diver must be lowered and raised gradually in order to avoid the terrible after-effects of a sudden change in pressure. At three hundred feet the pressure is more than eighteen thousand pounds per square foot!"

Time dragged on. Down, down rolled the heavy cable supporting the diver. Finally Tom held his watch to his ear, as though he were afraid it might have stopped.

"Oh, it's still running," laughed Ned a little nervously as he observed his chum's action. "Only five more minutes, Tom!"

At last a bell tinkled and Captain Britten grabbed up the telephone instrument which connected barge and diver. For a few seconds he listened, then replied briefly in Spanish.

"Alvarez is down," he said to Tom as he hung up the receiver. "He reports a good, sandy bottom but no sight yet of the meteorite. At any rate, there's no danger of it having sunk in an oozy bottom."

Ten minutes later the phone buzzed again, this time with a request that the ship be moved a little east and that Manuel, Alvarez's mate, be sent down to help. This was done, and another telephone instrument was plugged in.

Tom, who understood a little Spanish, stood by to hear the report of the second diver. Both lines were now kept open continuously.

Finally Manuel reached bottom, saying that he had contacted Alvarez. For some minutes nothing came through either telephone but the sound of the submerged men's breathing.

"I see something, Se�or! A rock--'que grande'!" came to Tom's ears suddenly. "It must indeed be that which the Se�or seeks. But, Santa Maria! there is something else--!" Manuel's voice broke off suddenly.

"Captain Britten! Can you hear your man?" shouted Tom after his repeated attempts to renew, the connection had failed.

"No! I can hear only a muffled groaning. Something has gone wrong. That's sure!

"Pull 'em up quick, then!" advised Ned.

This seemed good advice, so the auxiliary engine was started and the winches began turning slowly.

"Stop, Se�or!" suddenly screamed the native engineer, waving his arms excitedly and cutting off the steam. "The drums turn--si--but the cables do not rise. Something has caught the men!"