Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE Scottish-born author Robert Duncan Milne, who lived and worked in San Fransisco, may be considered as one of the founding-fathers of modern science-fiction. He wrote 60-odd stories in this genre before his untimely death in a street accident in 1899, publishing them, for the most part, in The Argonaut and San Francisco Examiner.
In its report on Milne's demise (he was struck by a cable-car while in a state of inebriation) The San Fransico Call of 17 December 1899 summarised his life as follows:
"Mr. Milne was the son of the late Rev. George Gordon Milne, M.A., F.R.S.A., for forty years incumbent of St. James Episcopal Church, Cupar-Fife. and nephew of Duncan James Kay, Esq., of Drumpark, J.P. and D.L. of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, through which side of the house, and by maternal ancestry (through the Breadalbane family), he was lineally descended from King Robert the Bruce.
"He received his primary education at Trinity College, Glenalmond, where he distinguished himself by gaining first the Skinner scholarship, which he held for a period of three years; second, the Knox prize for Latin verse, the competition for which is open to a number of public echools in England and Ireland, and thirdly, the Buccleuch gold medal as senior and captain of the school, of the eleven of which he was also captain.
"From Glenalmond Mr. Milne proceeded to Oxford, where he further distinguished himself by taking honors, also rowing in his college eight and playing in its eleven.
"After leaving the university he decided to visit California, a country then beginning to be more talked about than ever, and he afterward made the Pacific Coast his residence. In 1874 Mr. Milne invented and exhibited in the Mechanics' Fair at San Francisco a working model of a new type of rotary steam engine, which was pronounced to be the wonder of the fair.
"While in California Mr. Milne for a long time gained distinction as a writer of short stories and verse which appeared in current periodicals. The character of his work was well defined by Mrs. Gertrude Atherton, who said:
"'He has an extravagant imagination, but under it is a reassuring and scientific mind. He takes such a premise as a comet falling into the sun, and works out a terribly realistic series of results: or he will invent a drama for Saturn which might well have grown out of that planet's conditions. His style is so good and so convincing that one is apt to lay down such a story as the former, with an anticipation of nightmare, if comets are hanging about. His sense of humor and literary taste will always stop him the right side of the grotesque.'"
"NO!" shouted the Captain, with an expletive, as he brought his heavy clinched brown fist down upon the table with a bang that made the glasses ring. "No! I won't be a party to any such transaction. I have my owner's interests to protect What shall I gain by going back on them?"
There was no mistaking either the purport or the tone of Captain Ransome's words, and a minute passed, during which the glasses were again replenished, before any one broke the silence.
Then Señor José Maria Gallegos spoke.
"But suppose, Captain," he began, in most persuasive accents, "suppose we contract to protect your owners and yourself against any possible loss. Suppose we put so much money down—"
"In short, buy your vessel," interrupted Señor Don Manuel Fowler, "and—"
"And," broke in Señor Don Juan Batters, without giving the other time to proceed and evidently anxious to clinch the argument, "arranged matters so that neither you nor your employers or agents will appear in the affair at all. Do you take?"
Captain Ransome smiled incredulously, but it was evident that the earnestness and thoroughly business manner in which the other three gentlemen talked were having their impression.
"Suppose we go out on the veranda where it is cool and light our cigars," suggested Señor Don Manuel Fowler. "We shall be able to discuss matters better there."
The four gentlemen rose, and leaving the brilliantly-lighted and luxuriously furnished dining-room, in which the foregoing conversation took place, passed through one of the open Venetian windows to a bloom-embowered veranda without.
The foregoing conversation took place in the beautiful country villa of Don Manuel Fowler, the great nitrate speculator, about half a mile out in the suburbs of Valparaiso. The other participants were his three guests, Don Juan Batters, who had made five or six millionaire fortunes in the Guano islands, and had come down from Callao on a visit; Don José Maria Gallegos, one of the greatest landowners and bankers in Chile, and thirdly, Captain Hall Ransome, Captain and master of the new iron-clad cruiser, secretly ordered by President Balmaceda, several months before from a noted Clyde shipyard, which had anchored in the roadstead early that morning, only to find that Balmaceda's government went out of existence while the vessel was on the high seas; that the dictator himself had committed suicide some weeks before; that the temporary Government could not see its way to fulfilling any contracts made by Balmaceda; and that, in short, the stout warship El Presidente was as much a drug in the market in Valparaiso as it would have been in Switzerland or the Corea.
All this was, of course, very aggravating to Captain Hall Ransome; and so it happened that, in the bitterness of his disappointment, after leaving the Government House at Santiago that forenoon, he gladly accepted the invitation of Don Manuel Fowler, whom he had met there, to make his headquarters at the latter's country residence near Valparaiso during his stay.
And now for the origin and meaning of this at present somewhat incomprehensible conversation.
Briefly stated, the situation was this. The three Chilean gentlemen aforesaid, Don Manuel Fowler, the nitrate king, and Don Juan Batters, the guano potentate—both of whom, though of Chilean blood on the mother's side only, were thoroughly so in disposition and temperament—along with Don José Maria Gallegos, the real estate owner and banker, had lost ruinous amounts during the intestine war just over. Favoring the Congressional party both through family connections and private interests, they had naturally incurred the vigorous hatred of Balmaceda, which had shown itself in a very practical way by arbitrary confiscations of property and legislation detrimental to their interests; in short, being high and shining marks, they were the first and last to feel the vengeance of the dictator. Though they had lost millions during the last year or so they had still millions left, and now that the Congressional party was on top, their names were good for anything in the land. Being practical business men, however, it was only natural that they should look about them for some means of recouping themselves for the millions they had lost. This had led them to reasoning as to who or what was accountable for this loss, and the conclusion at which they had arrived was—Balmaceda first and the American people second.
This conclusion appeared perfectly logical from their point of view; remember they were Chileans. They reasoned that if Minister Egan had not stood by Balmaceda, Balmaceda's government might have been overthrown many months before, and they would have thereby saved millions for each month the unnecessary rule of Balmaceda continued. Minister Egan, then, was responsible for these lost millions, and through Minister Egan the American Government, and through the American Government the American people. This line of reasoning, though thoroughly illogical, was from their point of view perfectly natural; remember they were Chileans.
They did not stop to consider that Mr. Harrison's government and Mr. Blaine's foreign policy were not the only exponents of American sentiments. People who are irritated in mind and injured as to property are apt to be unreasonable. They reasoned like the Indians, and they visited the sins of a government and its agents upon—the people.
Having arrived at this conclusion the three gentlemen in question had forthwith begun to devise some plan of action by which the aforesaid American people could be made to reimburse them for the heavy losses they had suffered through that people's overt hostility to their interests during the late war, and this plan of action had been gradually assuming proportions of a very definite and momentous character indeed during the two weeks that had now elapsed since Balmaceda's suicide. It was well known to them that a very formidable war-vessel of the latest pattern had been constructed to Balmaceda's order in England, and that this vessel might be looked for in Chilean waters every moment They knew that the present Government of Chile was not responsible for any contract made by Balmaceda. They foresaw the trouble that would arise from the repudiation of the contract in the case of this vessel. Nay, they did more. Being highly influential personages themselves, they went deliberately to work to foment that trouble, with a purpose which had assumed shape and grown to its present proportions during the past two weeks. This purpose embodied one of the most original and audacious privateering measures which has ever figured in the history of the world. Their object was neither more nor less than to put some rich American seaport city under contribution to a large amount of money, with the alternative of having an equally large amount of its valuable property destroyed, in case of a refusal to acquiesce in the conditions named; and the tool with which this purpose was to be accomplished was the new belted cruiser El Presidente, which had anchored in the roadstead of Valparaiso that morning. It was no chance meeting, that of Señor Don Manuel Fowler and Captain James Hall Ransome, at the Government House in Santiago that day. It was no chance event that the guests who met the gallant captain at dinner were Don José Maria Gallegos and Don Juan Batters.
The conversation on the verandah continued for about half an hour, when the window again opened and the quartet of gentlemen re-entered the apartment.
"Then it is understood that you accept the commission?" remarked Don Manuel Fowler, ringing for coffee.
"Only on condition that you prove to me the undeniable practicability of the engine you describe. Nothing will convince me but an inspection of the machine and seeing it actually at work. God! gentlemen, consider what risks we run," said the captain, bluntly.
"Twenty millions are not to be made every day, nor are they to be made at all without risking something," sententiously observed Don José Maria Gallegos.
"And you need not confine yourself to that sum, if you wish more," put in Don Juan Batters. "Ten millions will content us three. San Francisco can certainly stand twenty. We think the terms of half for you and half for ourselves fair ones, with a million for the inventor for the use of his machine."
"And the three millions—the balance of the purchase money of the vessel?" queried the captain.
"Will be deposited to the order of the Glasgow firm, in your presence, in whichever bank you designate, to-morrow," replied Don Manuel Fowler.
"Neither you, nor ourselves, nor anyone appears in the matter at all," went on Don José Maria Gallegos. "The balance of the purchase money is paid into bank—the owners are satisfied. It is none of their business what becomes of the vessel. You leave port in a day or two ostensibly for England, having failed to negotiate the sale of the vessel with the present Chilean Government—the public is satisfied. You steam out to sea, repaint your vessel, change her name so as to make her pass for one of the new British cruisers of the Chinese squadron, few if any of which are known upon these seas — your compunctions are satisfied. I cannot see, for the life of me, what more you want," concluded Don José, in an injured tone.
"And then?" queried the Captain.
"Why, then," continued Don Manuel Fowler, "after the thing is done and you have steamed out of San Francisco harbor you will, of course, lose no time in repainting your vessel in her original colors, modifying her rig into its original details, re- christening her by her original name, and anchoring again in Valparaiso roadstead, ostensibly after a cruise in Southern Pacific waters."
Captain Hall Ransome's face, however, still wore a somewhat dubious expression.
"But you make two assertions," he said, "which I confess I do not understand. The first is that the mission of the ship will not be known. The second is that I will depend for success, not upon my guns, but on some new engine of war the nature of which you have not explained."
"Exactly," returned Don Manuel; "although the El Presidente, with her sixteen-inch armor and two eighty-ton barbette guns, could cast anchor under the shadow of Alcatraz, sink the Charleston or San Francisco if they came within range, and bombard with impunity any seaport on the Pacific, we do not propose to show our teeth at all unless driven to it. That is why we have concluded to make use of this new invention, in the event of the successful working of which, neither guns nor armor will be put to the test."
"But the receiving of the money, the taking on board of the bullion," urged the captain. "That cannot be done without subjecting us to the severest scrutiny from within as well as from without."
"Nothing of the kind," rejoined Don Manuel, with a superior smile. "Another vessel!—a coasting steamer which has been chartered for the purpose—will receive and stow away the bullion. You will act as convoy, that is all. To all outward appearance there will be no connection between you. In fact, you will probably be called upon by the San Francisco authorities, England being a friendly nation, to give this piratical vessel chase. Do you begin to understand?"
"I partly understand you, and partly don't," rejoined the Captain in a puzzled manner; "but gentlemen, as I said before, I must see this engine, or machine, or whatever it is, before I give any definite answer or conclude any negotiations."
Just then a servant entered with the coffee that had been ordered a few minutes before, and at the same time handed Don Manuel Fowler a card. As he glanced at it a smile of satisfaction came over his face. The card bore the following inscription:
PROFESSOR AARON TELLUS
Electrician and Mechanical Engineer.
"SHOW Mr. Tellus in," said Don Manuel to the servant, and presently a spare, dark man, of middle age, quick and alert in his movements and dressed neatly and unobtrusively in black, entered the apartment. He shook hands with the three Chilean gentlemen, whom he evidently knew.
"Captain Ransome," said Don Manuel after introducing the Captain to the new arrival, "this is the inventor of the new machine you are so desirous to see, and who will accompany you on your next cruise which is to make us all so rich."
Mr. Tellus bowed affably and smiled pleasantly, while Captain Hall Ransome eyed him askance in much the same manner as a dog does a cat when he is not quite sure of pussy's intentions.
"Very happy to meet you, Captain Ransome," said the professor. "I hope our relations will be as cordial as they certainly will be profitable, if our plans are properly carried out."
"Captain Ransome is anxious to see how your invention works, Mr. Tellus," remarked Don Manuel. "Have you brought your model with you?"
"I have it with me," replied the professor, stepping toward a small portmanteau, which he had placed on a side table on entering, and unlocking it produced therefrom a small oblong, rectangular box, about eighteen inches long by twelve in height and width. Throwing back the lid of this, there appeared at the end of the box and occupying about two-thirds of its length, some electrical instrument that looked like a combination of a commutator with a dynamo, the remaining third containing a spindle or reel, round which was coiled what appeared to be a fine silken cord. Mr. Tellus then picked from the box a little object, about a couple of inches long by the same in diameter, resembling in many particulars the little toy known as a Japanese flying top, and held it up so that the party could inspect its mechanism more closely.
"This little instrument," explained the professor, "is perfectly simple in its construction—all practical inventions always are—and is built, as you can easily see, upon the principle of the ordinary flying top. Here, at its upper end, you see is the horizontal screw propeller, by which it rises or sustains itself in the air. Here, at the stern, is a propeller, smaller in size though similar in make, which impels the body of the little vessel forward. You see it is cone-shaped like a candle extinguisher to penetrate the air with the least resistance. Here, above the stern propeller, is a projection which looks like a tail, and which acts as a rudder, and by moving which the course of the vessel is deflected. Perfectly simple, you see, only three parts in it, acting in bearings set in the body. If we can apply and regulate the power necessary to actuate and modify these three motions we have a machine which will navigate the air at any speed and in any direction, up, down, zig-zag or curvilinear. You comprehend the principle, gentlemen?" The others assented.
"There is no obstacle to the construction of an air-navigating vessel built on this principle, but the mechanical one of supplying sufficient power to the sustaining and propelling machinery, to support the weight of said machinery, plus the weight of the power to drive it, plus the weight of the body of the vessel to be sustained. It is purely a problem in simple arithmetic. If the blades of the horizontal propeller are expansive enough and revolve rapidly enough they will raise a weight exactly equal to the difference between their area and speed—in other words their air-displacing power—and the weight to be raised. Your flying top soars to the height of a hundred feet or more, then poises and descends simply because its power is exhausted. If it possessed power within itself to maintain its initial velocity it would continue to rise till the limits of the atmosphere were reached. But the weight of the top is insignificant compared with the area and rotation of the screw which propels it Weight, gentlemen, weight, that is all that stands in the way of making aerial navigation one of the simplest problems in mechanics. Do you follow?"
The company nodded.
"Now, so far as the element of weight is concerned, and for the purposes I have in view, I have solved the problem by constructing a machine (of which this is the model) of aluminum, the lightest and at the same time one of the most elastic and tough of the metals known. The conical body of this machine is eight feet long by about four feet in diameter at the base of the cone, which is composed of ordinary sheet-iron, the propeller blades, shafts and bearings and the rudder with its bearings, in short all the working parts, being composed wholly of aluminum. The blades of the horizontal propeller, on which by far the greatest proportion of the work falls, are four in number, eight feet long by two in width, their extremities bound together by a tire or hoop. This gives an aggregate area of 128 feet of air- displacing surface. The stern propeller is much smaller—but I will not weary you with details; suffice it to say that I have calculated the number of revolutions per minute necessary to elevate the weight of the whole and propel it forward at a maximum speed of eighty miles an hour, and I have found that a forty horsepower engine will supply that power."
The listeners murmured their approval.
"And," continued the professor, "now for the power. The simple fact is that a machine of this construction could not carry within itself an engine of any known type, even if built of aluminum, of this power and raise itself from the ground, much less so when to this would be added the weight of the operator necessary to guide and control the machinery. It is clear, therefore, that the power must be supplied from without. How is this done? I will show you."
So saying Professor Aaron Tellus proceeded to unroll from the drum or spindle before referred to a foot or two of the cord coiled thereon, and attached the loose end to a small key in the side of the little model which he held in his hand.
"This cord, gentlemen," he explained, "contains no less than four insulated wires of extreme tenacity. One connects with an electric motor driving the elevating propeller, another with a motor supplying power to the driving propeller, the third with the steering gear, and the fourth with an appliance yet to be explained. This machine, as you well understand, was not built as a scientific toy or to demonstrate a mechanical truth, but for business. Yes, gentlemen, strictly business, and business, too, of a very peculiar nature. In short, gentlemen, it is an engine of destruction of the deadliest and most terrible type—an engine which, while containing within it the possibilities of infinite injury to others, is practically unassailable itself—a thing which, while pregnant with death, bears a charmed life—a thing which, itself inanimate, is endowed apparently with an intelligence which is human."
The professor paused to gather breath after this outburst of enthusiasm.
"This cone," he went on, "the body of the vessel, is nothing else than a magazine replete with missiles dealing destruction to property and death to man. The vessel I have constructed is capable alike of demolishing a city or demoralizing, yes, annihilating, an army. The base of the cone, the stern end of the vessel, is, as you see, securely closed by sheet metal, so that its contents cannot escape, and that is by raising this shutter at the lowest point of the cone, when whatever is next the aperture thus opened will fall out by its own gravity.
"It is thus possible to arrange the order in which the contents will fall. For example, empty shells containing messages can be so placed among the loaded shells as to drop out wherever desired, thus enabling the controller of the apparatus to correspond or make terms with an enemy. The fourth of the wires concealed in that cord connects with the shutter that opens, or closes this aperture. The other or stationary end of the cord, and of the four wires contained within it, passes through one of the axes of the drum upon which the cord is coiled, and then connects with the miniature dynamo you see at the other end of the box, each wire passing first through a key by means of which the operator can control to a nicety the strength of the current supplied to the wire from the dynamo. Now let us see how the machine works."
Professor Aaron Tellus then set the little vessel down upon the table beside the box and touched the first key connecting with the dynamo. Instantly the horizontal propeller became instinct with life, and with a humming sound the little vessel rose slowly upward toward the ceiling of the apartment, uncoiling the cord from the drum as it went The second key was touched and the little airship went sailing across the room.
A continued pressure upon the third key, that which connected the dynamo with the rudder, caused it to gyrate round the apartment in widening or narrowing circles, according as the current was diminished or increased, the professor explaining that the method of controlling the movements of the vessel by the strength of the current precluded it from being steered except in one direction, and as that was always to the right if it was desired to propel the vessel in the opposite direction it was necessary it should first describe a circle in order to reach the desired point.
"Now, gentlemen," said the professor, after the party had watched the gyrations of the little vessel for some time, "let us see how the fourth wire works, the one, I mean, which opens the shutter in the cone and lets the missile drop home, a point in the apartment where you would like to see an explosive dropped." Don Juan Batters laughingly suggested Captain Hall Ransome's hat, which happened to be resting on a chair near the window opening on the veranda through which the party had lately passed. The professor manipulated the keys of the dynamo, and the little vessel, after rising and gyrating several times about the room, at length poised itself in the air as motionless as a humming- bird directly above the Captain's hat. The fourth key was touched, and with a snap the shutter opened and a little pellet dropped from the cone. Being filled with fulminating powder of a highly sensitive nature, the pellet exploded with a sharp report upon striking the hard surface of the hat, affording a very realistic illustration of what the machine itself might accomplish under similar circumstances.
"The drum upon which the conducting line is coiled in the working machine," continued the professor, "is six feet in length by three in diameter, and as the cord containing the wires is only a quarter of an inch in thickness, one full coil on the whole length of the drum gives more than half a mile of play, and a thickness of five inches of coil gives more than ten miles of line, a length ample for all requirements on our proposed excursion."
"You are acquainted with the harbor of San Francisco, then?" queried the Captain.
"Yes; and the city, too," returned the professor with a smile. "A knowledge of localities is of the first importance in conducting such a scheme as ours to a successful issue."
Captain Hall Ransome expressed himself highly pleased with what he had witnessed, but expressed a desire to see the machine itself at work. It was accordingly agreed that next morning all the party should adjourn to the professor's laboratory, some four miles out of town, when a final decision in the matter at issue should be arrived at.
"And, Professor," asked Captain Ransome, as they were parting for the night, "may I ask how it happens that a scientist and mechanician of your ability should have chosen such an unfavorable locality as Chile for conducting your experiments and pursuing your investigations? Why! you might have the Governments of Europe at your feet."
"The answer is a very easy one," replied Professor Aaron Tellus, with a meaning smile. "I tried all the Governments of Europe; I tried the Government of the United States, and only got laughed at, or else called a crank or lunatic for my pains. When the Chilean war broke out, as a last resort, I unfolded my plans to President Balmaceda. He had the sense to see of what inestimable advantage such an engine of destruction would be to him, at once had a workshop and laboratory built, and supplied me liberally with all the money I needed for my experiments. He saw this model work months ago and urged me to use the utmost expedition to complete the working machine. He did not live to see it completed. Had he done so the result of the war would have been different The working machine was only completed two weeks ago. It being perfectly useless to me personally, I applied for advice to our friends here to-day, with what result you know."
"And you call it—?"
"I call it 'The Vampire Bomb.'"
TWO days later it was observed that a considerable amount of heavy machinery was being drawn through the streets of Valparaiso, loaded upon lighters at the wharf and conveyed thence to the belted cruiser El Presidente, lying about half a mile out in the roadstead.
On the following afternoon five gentlemen stood upon the same wharf, two of whom were taking leave of the other three, while the gig of a man-of-war flying the Captain's pennant waited at the steps below. Captain Hall Ransome and Professor Aaron Tellus were bidding good-by to Don Manuel Fowler, Don Juan Batters and Don José Maria Gallegos.
"Yes," said the Captain, "we can make San Francisco harbor within fifteen days, easy steaming. Whichever of us gets tired first—we or the Iquique—will wait outside the heads for the other. I will paint and alter as I go along. Two days is all we shall want there. The Charleston, I hear, is on her way here, and the San Francisco is laid up for repairs. We shall have very plain sailing. To-day is the 1st of November. We shall make port at latest by the 15th of November. We shall be back here by the middle of December, but you will hear a good deal about us before then—not us, by the way; we do not appear in it. Till then, au revoir."
The Captain and his companion stepped into the gig and were rowed swiftly to the belted cruiser lying outside, which weighed anchor half an hour later and steamed to the southwest At the same time a coast-wise steamer, named the Iquique, which had been lying idle for some time past, was seen to get up steam and leave the harbor in a northerly direction, presumably for Callao in search of freight.
EARLY in the morning of the 15th of November, 1891, about an hour before sunrise, the booming of cannon from the bay, followed by a return salute from the fortifications on the island of Alcatraz, indicated that a foreign war vessel was entering port The name upon the hull and the British ensign flying from the peak, had it been light enough to see them, would have shown that the vessel was H.M.S. Melpomene, and reference to the Nautical Register would further have shown that the Melpomene was a belted cruiser of the first class, with armor sixteen inches thick above the water line, two eighty- one ton rifled guns en barbette amidships, besides smaller guns below deck; drive by triple expansion compound engines of fourteen thousand horse power nominal, but capable of running up to twenty-one thousand horse power under forced draught and steaming up to the rate of twenty-two knots an hour.
As this was by far the most powerful vessel that had ever entered San Francisco harbor, the attention it attracted was considerable; the more so as no notice had been given of its intended visit It was not a member of the regular Pacific squadron, and was supposed to be then on duty in Chinese waters. It was also noticed, when daylight came, that after passing Alcatraz the cruiser cast anchor much farther out in the bay than vessels ordinarily do. About an hour afterwards a screw steamer of about eight hundred tons burden, flying the Mexican flag, and bearing the name Salvador on its stern, also dropped into the bay and cast anchor about half a mile inside of the cruiser, though still considerably outside of the ordinary anchorage.
While the cruiser was steaming up the bay and casting anchor it was evident that some preparations of an unusual nature were going on in a deckhouse near the stern. This deckhouse was merely a wooden inclosure some twenty feet square by the same in height, within which there appeared, firstly, a good-sized dynamo with belting running below deck; secondly, an operating table provided with four electric switch keys, connecting by as many wires with the dynamo; thirdly, showed by means of blocks in an upright position, a peculiar looking machine, with a cone-like body and gigantic propeller-like fans, bound with a hoop or tire like the spokes of a wheel and set at right angles to one another, one on top and the other at the stern. Beside this machinery stood two men, in one of whom might be recognized Captain Hall Ransome and in the other Professor Aaron Tellus.
"Are the bombs properly arranged?" asked the Captain.
"Just as we agreed upon," returned the Professor. "First, the empty shell with the letter. Then two of our fifty-pound dynamite shells. Then an empty shell with the other letter. Then three more shells charged with fifty pounds of dynamite each. The last three I don't think will be required, but it is as well to provide for emergencies."
"Then set the machinery going," said the Captain. "We must get the Vampire into the air before daylight It would never do to run the risk of having any connection traced between the flying machine and the vessel. Once the Vampire is well up, I defy the keenest eye with the strongest telescope to locate our quarter- inch line or trace it to the vessel."
Professor Tellus applied his hand to a lever, transferring a belt, which was already in motion, from a loose pulley to the one which ran the dynamo. As the machine began to spin the Professor depressed the key connecting with the motor in the cone of the flying vessel. Immediately the horizontal fans upon the top began to revolve, slowly at first, and then, as their speed increased, the sound they emitted turned from a whirr into a hum, and from a hum to the angry, rasping noise made by a sawmill in motion. And now, as the sound increased in pitch, the cone throbbed and quivered and shook upon the supporting blocks, till, with something like a wail, the ponderous object lifted itself clear of its supports, slowly, and as if loth to leave them. Then the upward motion, little by little, increased in speed, till, within fifteen seconds from the time the current was turned on, the machine was clear of the inclosure, and in fifteen seconds more had risen majestically upward and disappeared in the darkness.
ABOUT 9 o'clock the same morning General Barnes overtook Mayor Sanderson on Market street, as the latter was on his way from his warehouse to the New City Hall, and the pair went along, chatting on the salient topics of the day. So engrossed were they in their conversation that it was some little time before they noticed that nearly everyone in the street had stopped and was looking up into the air. The General raised his eyes in the direction toward which the popular gaze was bent, without, however, slackening his pace, and resumed his talk.
"What are the people looking at?" asked Mayor Sanderson, whose eyes are not so good as they used to be.
"Oh, there's a balloon, or a Chinese kite, or something of that sort up there," replied the General, testily. "A San Francisco street crowd is made up principally of fools anyway. They stand amazed at a man blowing soap-bubbles, or—"
Just then there came a loud crash upon the street about half a block ahead, causing the horses in a passing car to rear and instantly drawing a crowd of people to the spot.
"What's the matter?" asked both gentlemen in one breath as they came abreast of the place where the crash had come from.
"Something dropped from the air," returned the person addressed. "I guess it must have been from that balloon up there."
"A pretty thing to drop missiles in a crowded street," muttered the Mayor, angrily. "This sort of aeronautics must be stopped. If I find out—"
"Here's the Mayor, himself!" cried a man, pushing his way out of the heart of the crowd with a large, spherical black object that looked like a bombshell in his hands.
"What have you got there?" inquired the Mayor as the men came up.
"This thing fell down in the middle of the street an instant ago," replied the man; "and, see, it's addressed to you."
"Why! It looks like a bomb!" exclaimed the Mayor, stepping involuntarily backward.
"Ye needn't be afeard," said the man, reassuringly. "I seen it was empty afore I tetched it The cork come outen the nozzle when it hit the ground."
Minuter inspection showed that the object was made of very thin sheet iron, and was the exact counterpart of a large bombshell. Upon its side was painted, in large, white capital letters:
TO THE MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO.
"What tomfoolery is this!" murmured Mayor Sanderson, knitting his brows ominously.
"See, there's something inside," said General Barnes, looking into the open nozzle. "It's a paper of some kind or other. Let's see what it is." And by dint of shaking and working at it a few seconds with a stick a sheet of paper, rolled and tied with string, was at length coaxed out of its receptacle.
The Mayor unfolded the paper and glanced hastily over it As he did so his features assumed a variety of expressions hard to analyze. Anger, perplexity and alarm chased each other in swift succession over his countenance. Then his eye mechanically followed those of the surrounding group, which were now fixed upon a peculiar looking object in the sky, seemingly anywhere from half a mile to a mile overhead, and which remained comparatively motionless. At this moment an empty hack passed and the Mayor hailed it.
"Barnes," he said, "come with me, and bring that thing along. City Hall," he cried to the driver; and the two gentlemen were whirled off, leaving the mob staring up into the sky and wondering more than ever what it all meant.
"Barnes, read that," continued the Mayor as they drove along, at the same time handing the paper over to the General.
General Barnes unfolded the paper—an ordinary sheet of foolscap—and read as follows:
TO THE MAYOR, CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
AND CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO
GENTLEMEN: I am under the painful necessity of requesting you to contribute the sum of twenty million dollars, without delay, in order to save your city from destruction. The object you see floating in the air above your city is loaded with dynamite bombs, and these bombs I can drop at any desired spot, just as the empty shell containing this letter has been dropped. Precisely at 11 A.M. a bomb will be dropped upon the warehouses on the city front north of Broadway, merely as a demonstration of what can be done. At 12 noon a second shell will be dropped in the neighborhood of Fourth and Townsend streets. At 1 P.M. the palaces upon California-street hill will be destroyed. At 2 P.M. the New City Hall will be visited. At 3 P.M. the buildings in the neighborhood of Montgomery and Pine are doomed. At 4 P.M. an unbidden guest will register at the Palace Hotel. There is, however, no necessity that any of this terrible and, to me, most repugnant destruction of property should ensue. Twenty millions is but a small tax compared with the assessed value of the property in your city. To save this property you will do as follows:
You will box and convey to the side of my steam vessel, the Salvador, now anchored in the stream, $4,000,000 every hour, beginning at 1 P.M. and ending at 5 P.M., $3,000,000 of which are to be in silver and $1,000,000 in gold. The boxes will be hoisted by derrick on board my vessel, where they will be weighed and measured. Any attempt on the part of your agents to play false, either by short weight or by trying to capture or injure my crew or vessel, will be made known to me by signal, and will be the signal for the wholesale destruction of your city. If the terms are agreed to hoist a white flag on top of the observatory on telegraph Hill.
"What do you think of that?" said the Mayor, when General Barnes had finished reading.
"Nothing at all," returned the General. "Some crank playing a practical joke. He must come down sooner or later and then we'll find out who he is. He should get the very limit—ten years, at least—for endangering life in the way he has done, by dropping the thing in the street. But more likely he's crazy and will have to be sent to Stockton."
The hack had by this time reached the City Hall, and as the Mayor and General alighted they saw that the terrace was thronged with the attaches of the various offices, lawyers and others, all engaged in intently watching the strange object which hung suspended in the air above the city. The news soon spread about the strange communication the Mayor had received and the strange manner in which he had received it.
"Balloons don't move like that," suddenly exclaimed one of a little knot of gentlemen who had joined the Mayor on the steps. "Look!"
All eyes were turned up towards the heavens. The object which had, a moment before, hung stationary in the sky had all of a sudden begun to move. It was near the Phelan Building that the shell containing the letter had dropped some ten minutes before, and now the balloon, or whatever it was, was coursing swiftly through air in a westerly direction. In a minute more it had passed over their heads, describing an arc with a radius of at least a mile, and sweeping gracefully through the air, as an eagle does upon its acquired momentum, without apparent effort or motion of its wings. Then it rose a thousand feet or so, and as suddenly fell, and again sailed onward, seemingly endowed with volition and the capacity to go whithersoever it listed.
"That is no balloon," gravely observed Professor Davidson, who had joined the group, and was intently watching each movement of the strange object through a field glass of high power, "but a flying machine of very unique but rational construction. I detect the principle of the horizontal and stern screws, but I fail to see where the power comes from. From the size of the body of the vessel it is impossible that it should contain an engine capable of supplying it with the very high power necessary for these evolutions, and yet it must have such an engine on board and likewise an engineer to guide it."
"What do you think of this letter, Professor?" asked the Mayor, handing that gentleman the letter taken from the shell.
Professor Davidson read it attentively and returned it.
"Simply this," he replied, gravely. "If the controller of that flying machine has dynamite bombs on board the city is at his mercy. He could do fifty million dollars' worth of damage within an hour, if he so desired."
The Mayor's cheek blanched. In another minute the wires were bearing messages from the City Hall to all portions of the city.
IT was an excited throng of citizens which gathered in the Chamber of Commerce in response to a call from the Mayor that forenoon. By a quarter to eleven the hall was crowded with bankers, brokers, merchants and business men generally, all with anxiety depicted upon their faces, and eager to forecast probabilities as to what would happen next. There was not a man, woman or child in the city who had not by this time seen and speculated upon the strange object, wheeling and darting through the air two or three thousand feet above them. The daily papers had at once got hold of the Mayor's letter, and extra editions, giving the full text of the letter, with descriptions of the steamer Salvador, between which and the flying-machine there was a declared connection, and the British warship Melpomene, between which and the flying-machine no one ever hinted at a connection, were selling on the street by the thousand.
"Precisely at 11 A.M. a bomb will be dropped upon the warehouses on the city front north of Broadway, merely as a demonstration of what can be done." So ran the text of the letter, and as the hands of their watches neared the hour throngs of people stood spellbound upon all the business streets waiting for the outcome. A minute before the hour the machine, which had been slowly circling above the city front, seemed as though satisfied with its position and maintained a stationary attitude. A second or two later those who had field-glasses saw a tiny black object detach itself from the machine and drop downward with the ever-accelerating force of gravity. Such was the height of the machine that fifteen seconds elapsed before—bang! a flash burst heavenward, visible even in the noonday light, a report like the discharge of a battery of artillery reverberated through the air, while all the made ground upon the city front shook in sympathy with the concussion.
The next minute the streets were full of wildly-excited people, of firemen urging their horses furiously toward the blazing quarter, of business men staring aghast into each other's eyes and asking what was going to be done next.
All the members of the Chamber of Commerce with their friends, comprising the wealth and brains of the city, rushed in a body into the street at the explosion.
"It is no use to temporize any longer, gentlemen," said Captain Merry, mounting an express wagon which stood handy. "We are at the mercy of that machine, whatever it is, and of the person who's running it, whoever he is. The sooner we make up our minds to that the better. He has done what he has said—dropped a shell into the warehouses on the front—and done probably a million dollars' worth of damage already. My advice is to hoist the white flag on Telegraph hill, so as to let him see we mean business and go to work raising the money."
"And how do you propose to raise it?" shouted a voice from the crowd.
"Let the city issue bonds for it and borrow the money on the strength of the bonds."
"City's no good; nobody'd buy its bonds," from the same voice.
"I think the city's bonds are good," returned Captain Merry, warmly. "Have we a quorum of the board here? Mr. Mayor, Mr. Carnes, Mr. Ellert, Mr. Taber, Mr. Burling, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Curtis—that's enough. I propose, gentlemen, that we call an extra session of the Board of Supervisors right here and right now; that we authorize the issuance of new bonds to the amount of twenty million dollars; that we get them cashed—"
"Yes; how are you going to get them cashed?" sarcastically observed the same voice. "All the banks in the city put together couldn't turn out half the amount."
"Never mind; we'll get them cashed," rejoined Captain Merry, cheerily. "It's only 11 now. There's no reason why we shouldn't get the first 4,000,000 off by 12. The Fourth and Townsend people ought to help us to that amount themselves—they come next on the programme. Beside, gentlemen, remember this—there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. Twenty millions on board that steamer does not necessarily mean twenty millions out of pocket by any means. We have still a lien upon that steamer. It has not yet left the bay. That airship cannot stay up there forever. Our best plan is to seem to acquiesce in the proposed terms and keep a weather eye open to take advantage of every occurrence that holds out the least promise of getting back our property. Is it agreed, gentlemen?"
A shout of approval endorsed the speaker's words, and the Supervisors, with most of the gentlemen present, returned to the meeting-room to take action on Captain Merry's proposition.
AS soon as the bomb had been dropped in the warehouse quarter below Telegraph Hill the flying machine moved southward and took up a position directly over the Southern Pacific Railroad Company's premises at Fourth and Townsend streets. It was very evident that whoever was controlling its movements was well acquainted with the city. Five minutes later Colonel Crocker and Mr. Towne were driving furiously in the direction of Market Street. Before 12 o'clock noon one million dollars in gold coin and three million dollars in silver had been contributed by the various banks—the Nevada Bank supplying all of the silver, taking in security city 5 per cents at eighty. By 12:30 a long line of four horse drays, on the beds of which lay neat wooden boxes that might have contained hardware or dry-goods, so far as outward appearance went, were making their way down California street to the city front. The first dray, however, carried two tons of gold, in ten neat little boxes, each containing one hundred thousand dollars and weighing 200 pounds. Behind this was a string of thirty drays, stretching from the Nevada Bank to the Washington-street wharf, each of which carried twenty boxes containing 300 pounds weight of silver apiece. Such, however, was the expedition used that between 11 and 12 in the forenoon upwards of ninety tons of silver, valued at three millions of dollars, had been transferred from the vaults of the Nevada Bank to the Washington-street wharf.
"Another three millions will about break us," remarked Mr. Hellman ruefully, as he stood on the sidewalk in his shirt- sleeves, superintending the hoisting of the bullion boxes from the vaults in the basement.
It was a quarter to one before the last of the 600 odd boxes of bullion was wheeled across the gangway to the deck of the lighter waiting to receive them, and a minute later the rich cargo was being tugged out to the steamer Salvador, where it lay nearly two miles out in the stream. The white flag floated from Telegraph hill, and the Vampire no longer hung threateningly over Fourth and Townsend streets, but had taken up a position directly over the palaces on California street hill.
There was a crew of ten men on board the lighter, hardy, browned longshoremen, all of them, in appearance, in their woolen shirts and overalls, though a closer inspection of the dirt- begrimed features of four of them might have disclosed the well disguised countenances of Captain Lees and detectives Rogers, Byram and Bohen. Captain Lees' theory was that the Salvador was manned with a white crew and only masquerading under a Mexican guise. When the lighter made fast to the steamer the four detectives jumped on board the latter, ostensibly to assist in manning the derrick by which the chests were to be transferred from the lighter, but really to find out something about the personnel and character of the vessel. They might have saved themselves the trouble, however, for both officers and crew were unmistakably Mexican in appearance, and nothing but monosyllabic answers could be got from them during the time of transfer. The boxes were chained together and hoisted on to the deck of the steamer, ten at a time, where they were weighed, and at 1:30 the tug and lighter started for the wharf to be ready for the 2 o'clock trip.
At 1:30 much anxiety prevailed in that part of the city contiguous to Montgomery, California, Pine and Sansome streets. It had not required a great amount of exertion to raise the first 4,000,000, but yet that was only one-fifth of the whole amount It was true that the next installment was already subscribed and would be delivered on time. The Nevada Bank had again come gallantly to the rescue, and at that moment the thirty drays were again filing slowly toward the wharf, with another ninety tons of silver for the steamer in the stream. It had, however, required all the cleaning and scraping in the world to collect the million in gold. All the smaller banks had been called upon to their limit. Where, then, were the remaining three millions in gold to come from, not to speak of the nine millions in silver? The Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, the Supervisors were in despair. And high up in air, still above California-street hill, hung, ominous and motionless, the inexorable destroyer, which offered no opportunity for negotiation, no chance for reprisal—the Vampire Bomb.
The 2 o'clock delivery was made on time to the Salvador, and no further demonstration took place on the part of the aerial destroyer, which kept the same position. Between 2 and 3, however, paralysis seemed to have overtaken the street. No further effort was being made to assess the banks, nor would it have been of any avail to do so. They had contributed the last dollar they could afford without becoming actually bankrupt. Eight millions is a good round sum to raise in two hours. Where were the other twelve to come from? Little knots of business men were gathered together at every corner discussing the situation in whispers, and gesticulating earnestly over some proposition that had been mooted to meet the emergency. By degrees the rumor assumed shape that the sub-Treasury and the Mint were to be called upon to furnish the remaining twelve millions—peacefully if they would, forcibly if they must.
As the dial on the Merchant's Exchange clock neared the hour of three all eyes were turned upon the Vampire Bomb. A minute passed, and again a tiny black object detached itself from the machine and dropped lazily through the air. Fifteen seconds later a flash, followed by a stunning report, came from the direction of California street hill. As the smoke cleared away it was found that Mr. Edward F. Searles' two-million-dollar house had disappeared, while the adjacent residences of Senator Stanford and Mr. Flood had evidently suffered very serious damage. At the same time, with a shout and a roar, as if moved by a common impulse, the scattered groups of business men gathered to a nucleus at the corner of California and Montgomery streets and forming into serried ranks, marched with determined steps northward. A block and a half up Montgomery street the crowd stopped and turning up Commercial street halted before the closed door of the Sub-treasury. In less than a minute a throng of at least a thousand resolute men filled the street from Montgomery to Kearny. Sticks and canes were liberally applied to the door, which was presently opened and Colonel Jackson appeared upon the steps.
"Gentlemen," he said, "what am I to understand by this extraordinary demonstration?"
"We want nine million dollars in silver, Colonel," returned a voice from the crowd, "and we're going to get it."
"Then, gentlemen," returned the Colonel, "all I have got to say is that you will have to get the money over my dead body." At the same time he brandished a revolver in each hand, while behind him appeared a dozen or more of the employees and watchmen similarly armed.
There was a silence for a moment, and then something darted from the crowd and made a rush for the doorway. It was the figure of a man holding up in his hands before his face a roll of boiler iron which he had evidently picked off the street. Armed with this shield he rushed full at Colonel Jackson, both of whose weapons were ineffectually discharged, and behind him came the irresistible strength of the massed business men of the city. The Treasury employees were demoralized by the overthrow of their chief, and their weapons were discharged either aimlessly or not at all. Within a minute Colonel Jackson and his assistants were securely bound, and the Sub-Treasury was in the hands of the citizens.
Order was soon established, companies formed and assigned to different duties, and steps taken to appropriate the necessary money in the strictest and most accurate possible manner. Most of the citizens concerned in this movement had furnished themselves with revolvers, and 500 of these were detailed to guard the entrances to Commercial street in case any demonstration was made by the police. Chief Crowley, however, knowing the character of the men who were engaged in the movement, did not think it wise to jeopardize the lives of the few officers he had then at call, it having been necessary to send every available man to the outlying quarters of the city, such was the excitement occasioned by the events of the morning.
The Sub-Treasury was found amply equal to the occasion, and such was the order and the system displayed under Colonel Jackson's regime that it took much less trouble than was expected to tally and pack the three millions in gold and nine in silver required to complete the ransom. Between half-past 3 and 5 the thirty drays had made three trips to the Washington street wharf, and by half-past 5 the last box had been transferred from the lighter to the steamer Salvador.
"And who is to be responsible for this money?" asked Colonel Jackson, when the thing was over.
"Certainly not you, Colonel," replied a well-known merchant "The Grand Jury is in session and can indict the whole of us, including a dozen of themselves, who are in it. The United States Courts can prosecute us, but I think we have good cause for action against the Government in leaving the city in the unprotected state it is."
At 6 o'clock the Vampire Bomb was hanging motionless in the sky above that portion of the bay where lay the steamer Salvador, which was evidently getting up steam to leave, to judge from the smoke issuing from its funnel.
"O, if the Charleston or San Francisco were in port now!" sighed Mayor Sanderson. "I fear there is very little chance of seeing any of our twenty millions again, if that steamer once gets outside the heads."
"Why not invoke the assistance of that English cruiser?" suggested General Barnes. "I think under the circumstances, if the matter was explained to the Captain, that he would not be going much outside his commission to follow the vessel up and bring her to, after it has left the bay. I am perfectly willing to form one of a committee to wait upon him."
The suggestion was considered a good one, and about dusk a tug containing Mayor Sanderson, General Barnes, Colonel Jackson, Captain Merry and several other well-known citizens came alongside of the cruiser Melpomene, which was also weighing anchor and getting ready to sail. The visitors were courteously received by Commander Harcourt—otherwise Captain Hall Ran-some—and departed half an hour later with the assurance that the steamer Salvador would be well looked after and not allowed to get out of the Melpomene's sight.
IT was dusk when the gentlemen returned to the tug after testifying to the excellence of Commander Harcourt's champagne, at the same time cautioning him regarding the terrible aerial engine of destruction, which was then almost in a direct line over his vessel and seemed to be dropping lower and lower in the air.
"Yes," said Captain Hall Ransome, "I have been watching it all day through my field-glass and know what it is capable of. If, as I suspect, the aeronaut who guides it means to descend upon the deck of the Salvador, his wings will be clipped and incapable of doing further mischief. In that case he is our easy prey. Never fear; I will keep a good lookout for him. I wish you a happy return of your twenty millions."
Just as night fell and objects on the bay became so dim as to be practically invisible, the Vampire Bomb returned to its nest on the quarter deck of the Melpomene, and that vessel immediately prepared to leave the harbor, so as not to lose track of the Salvador, which had got under way about half an hour before.
"Excellently done," said Professor Aaron Tellus to Captain Hall Ransome, as the crew was weighing anchor. "And the beauty of it is that our own crew does not know how or why the treasure was obtained."
"Not bad pay for five hours' work," remarked the Captain, "is twenty millions."
HITHERTO everything had gone without a hitch. San Francisco had been completely terrorized; $20,000,000 had been contributed and the treasure was now safe on board the Salvador, which vessel was on her way to sea, followed by an almost impregnable warship as convoy. A little circumstance, however, intervened to mar the hitherto unvarying fortune of the enterprise. It was nearly dark before the Salvador had got fairly under way, and, either through lack of knowledge of the bearings or by the strength of the tide, the stern of the vessel was carried against Arch rock and before the danger could be averted her rudder was damaged so much as to be useless. There was nothing left for her to do but to cast anchor, and in that condition she was found half an hour later by the cruiser. Captain Ransome swore at his luck, necessitating, as it would do, a delay of a good many hours before the vessel was again rendered seaworthy. Carpenters were immediately sent on board to assist in repairing the rudder, a job it would take at least until morning to complete.
Captain Ransome now found himself in a quandary. He had promised to assist in the capture of the Salvador. If then it should be ascertained by the citizens of San Francisco that he had neglected to do so when the prize was within his grasp how should he consistently account for the neglect? There were two courses open to him; one was to return to his anchorage, and before daylight again fly the Vampire Bomb, so as to menace the city and prevent any attempt to interfere with the movements of the Salvador, should that vessel not be able to proceed before daylight next morning; the other was to steam outside the heads at once, as though he had missed seeing the Salvador, still keeping the machine flying above the city, as with his ten-mile line he could easily do. In either case his reluctance to board and capture the treasure vessel would be attributed to a fear lest any aggressive movement should be the signal for further destruction to the city. Finally, the Captain decided to return to his anchorage, keeping his steam up, however, ready to start at a few minutes' notice, should the Salvador signify by rocket that she was ready to leave the bay before daybreak.
Meanwhile another event was occurring in the city of almost equal importance. As the party of gentlemen appointed to confer with the Captain of the Melpomene reached the wharf on their return they were met by several reporters bearing the welcome and entirely unexpected news that a telegram had been received from Santa Cruz half an hour before stating that the Charleston had cast anchor in the bay about sundown on her passage north. This was welcome news indeed, and it was instantly decided to send a message to the Captain of the new cruiser, explaining the situation with full details, and begging him to use his utmost speed to reach the bay and intercept the Salvador before that vessel could make good its escape. It was about 8 o'clock when the message was flashed across the wires to Santa Cruz.
"Captain ——— will get it before 9," said the Mayor, "unless the cruiser is lying very far out. The Charleston can steam here easily in six hours, so that in any case she will be here before daybreak. All we have to do now is to pray for clear weather. With the Charleston on our side and the English man-of-war on the other, that little steamer cannot possibly escape, in spite of her infernal flying- machine."
The news that the Charleston was expected to arrive early the next morning and capture the steamer with the $20,000,000 aboard created the greatest excitement in the city. All the leading papers had been issuing extras during the day, and this latest piece of news called for another extra at 9 o'clock, with still another at 10 P.M., a leading paragraph of which read thus:
SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER.
SANTA CRUZ, 9:45 P.M. - The cruiser Charleston has just sent up a rocket to indicate that she has steamed north for San Francisco bay.
ABOUT midnight the moaning of the foghorns indicated that fog had settled on the bay, and when day broke the white bank still lay thick and heavy on the waters. Captain Hall Ransome and Professor Aaron Tellus were on deck at daybreak discussing the situation. The conclusion they came to was that their safest course would be to steam gently down the bay to the spot where they had left the Salvador, and, as that vessel must have certainly repaired her rudder by this time, accompany her over the bar and steam as far out to sea as possible under cover of the fog.
Although the bank of fog upon the bay and the lower portions of the city shrouded with an impenetrable veil the shipping and other objects within it, it did not stretch more than a hundred feet high into the air. Above it the sun shone serene and cloudless. So great was the excitement occasioned by the news that the Charleston was waiting for the piratical steamer outside the Heads, that the whole tribe of curiosity seekers was alive to the occasion, and before the sun was an hour high the various lines of transit to the Cliff House and Ocean Beach were taxed to their utmost capacity. Thousands of sight-seers were carried over the lines and by 9 o'clock Sutro's grounds and every elevated spot commanding a view of the ocean was black with spectators on the qui vive to witness everything that might transpire. About five miles to the south and the same distance out at sea there lay a long white object glistening in the sun's rays, in which the possessors of field glasses had no difficulty in distinguishing the Charleston.
Presently out of the fog-bank which still shrouded the waters of the Golden Gate there stole a vessel into the clear light of day. It was the steamer Salvador. For a minute or two she steered in a due westerly direction, soon changing, however, to a more northerly course. Whether or not she had seen the Charleston the cruiser had evidently sighted her, as it now began to move also in a northerly direction. And now from the fog there emerged yet another vessel, outward bound, this time an armed cruiser flying the British flag and purporting to be H.B.M. warship Melpomene. At the same moment a jet of flame burst from the forward deck of the Charleston, indicating that one of her six-inch rifle guns had fired a shot in the direction of the Salvador, with the intention, doubtless, of bringing her to. Thirty seconds later a remarkable spectacle was presented to the eyes of the spectators on the bluffs above the beach. The British ensign was pulled down from the peak and replaced by a black flag. At the same time a strange-looking object rose slowly from the afterdeck of the cruiser, like some gigantic bird of prey, acquiring speed as it went and mounting higher and ever higher into the air. A thrill of horror, a suppressed exclamation of dismay, ran through the multitude as they recognized in this flying object the thing that had hung like a demon of destruction over the city the preceding day. And while they gazed a deafening roar caused the air to vibrate. One of the eighty-one-ton guns of what had now declared itself a pirate cruiser had been discharged at the Charleston, ineffectually, however, as that vessel showed no sign of injury. Instead of keeping straight on, however, she steered at right angles to the position of the pirate, with the evident purpose of disconcerting the aim of those enormous guns, a shot from which, if it struck, would inevitably sink her. The relative position of the three vessels engaged in the deadly contest was now approximately this: The pirate cruiser had come up with the Salvador at a point just outside of the Heads, and interposed her hull between the treasure ship and the Charleston, which was now running free about two miles to the south. The contest was apparently a most unequal one. On the one side the Charleston, with her comparatively light armor and guns which could not be sure of penetrating the sixteen-inch armor of the pirate cruiser; on the other, that vessel with her heavy armor and enormous guns, supplemented by the engine of destruction now being evidently guided through the air to a position where it could drop upon the Charleston one of its destroying bombs.
Again the vivid flash of flame burst from the side of the Charleston, followed a few seconds later by a suppressed exclamation from the crowd. All eyes were turned skyward. The flying engine of destruction, which a moment before had been poising itself and moving as if possessed of volition, was falling through the air. Down it dropped from its height of half a mile or more. More and more swiftly as it gained in momentum, till in a few seconds it struck the smooth surface of the water. A pillar of white foam rose majestically to a height of fifty or sixty feet where it fell, accompanied by a thunderous report The force of the concussion had caused its whole magazine of bombs to explode. Five seconds afterward the water had subsided, the sea had closed over the fragments of the Vampire Bomb. The last hundred-pound shot from the Charleston, though it had sung over the quarter deck of the pirate, twenty feet too high to do any damage, had struck in its passage the line connecting the dynamo with the electric motor in the flying machine. One of the long odds had been eliminated from the calculation. But still the odds were tremendously in favor of the foreign vessel. Given anything like an equality between the two vessels in the matter of marksmanship and the outcome could not be considered doubtful. While the hundred-pound projectile fired from the Charleston at a distance of two miles might possibly penetrate the sixteen-inch sheath of her antagonist, no serious injury was likely to be done unless the shot struck fairly between wind and water.
Again a flash of light burst almost simultaneously from the decks of both vessels.
"The Charleston has been struck!" exclaimed Colonel Mendell, who was provided with a powerful field glass. "There is the utmost excitement on board. The water seems to be rushing in through a breach some forty feet from her bow."
Just then a thin bank of fog which had been rolling in from the west all morning—an unusual phenomenon so early in the day—enveloped the Charleston as in a shroud, and a minute or two later the two other vessels were similarly enveloped.
"Never fear," returned Irving Scott, who was standing close beside Colonel Mendell; "that only means one of her compartments gone. She can stand two or three more of these five-hundred- pounders yet. That cruiser was put up for business, and she'll come out on top yet. I wonder they haven't got that new torpedo out yet."
"Torpedo!" returned Colonel Mendell. "What torpedo? I didn't know that Tracy had sent out those torpedoes yet."
"It's not one of the navy torpedoes I'm talking about," rejoined Mr. Scott "The one, I mean, and which they now have on board for trial, is a totally new thing. It was invented here some weeks ago and put together at my iron-works. It combines most of the best features of the Hall and Sims-Edison torpedoes, but it has points peculiarly its own which exactly fit a case like the present."
"But the fog, man; the fog!" returned the Colonel irritably. "How on earth are you going to direct a torpedo unless you can see the object you are directing it at?"
"That is just where the strong point of this new torpedo comes in," rejoined Mr. Scott with a mysterious smile. "It follows up and runs down its prey with the unerring sagacity of a bloodhound upon the track of its victim. Even a bloodhound can be misled by a false scent, but this torpedo never."
MEANWHILE many things had been transpiring on board the Charleston. That vessel had arrived outside the Heads about daylight and taken up a position favorable for subsequent maneuvers. At the appearance of the Salvador it had immediately started in pursuit, firing a shot over her with the intention of bringing her to. Admiral Brown was completely nonplussed by the action of the warship, which appeared a few minutes later, and which he had been led by Mayor Sanderson's dispatch to consider an ally instead of an enemy. This, of course, occasioned a complete change of tactics and an immediate one also, as when the engagement began the opposing vessels were little more than two miles apart The guns were immediately manned and brought into action with the results we have already seen.
There was on board the Charleston as a guest of Admiral Brown a Mr. Needham, who had invented a new kind of torpedo and obtained permission to try it in deep water. It had not, however, been anticipated that the torpedo would be called into requisition on the present occasion, and accordingly when the pirate cruiser came out in its true colors the machine was not ready for action. At the first intimation of hostilities, however, the dynamo which controlled the torpedo had been put in motion.
At the rising of the Vampire Bomb from the deck of the pirate Mr. Needham's quick appreciation of mechanics told him that the power was applied to its propellers by electricity generated on board the vessel. It was by his advice that a chain-shot was introduced into one of the guns and aim taken over the stern of the pirate, so as to snap the connecting line, with the result described.
When the quarter of a ton of metal projected from the eighty- one-ton gun of the pirate plowed its way through the side of the Charleston it was only the compartment system on which she was built that saved her, but beyond sinking another foot in the water the cruiser was as stanch as ever. Admiral Brown and Mr. Needham were at the moment engaged in giving directions for the launching of the torpedo.
"Thank God for the fog!" ejaculated the Admiral. "I would rather be six miles away than two from those guns. A shot like that in the engine-room would dish us. What do you propose now, Mr. Needham?"
"You are right," said the other. "Besides, my torpedo would work as well six miles away as two. But as we are so near, I propose that we go nearer and make sure work of it. Remember, this is the only one we have got, and if we fail I dread to think of the consequences."
Admiral Brown gave orders to steam slow another mile to the north in the direction the cruiser had been lying when the fog came on. Meanwhile Mr. Needham busied himself in adjusting a peculiar looking instrument on the after-deck near the wheelhouse. It was, in effect, nothing more than a very long and very light plate of steel, poised exactly at its center upon a point as fine as a needle. Though about ten feet long, it was not more than half an inch in width and of just sufficient thickness to prevent any downward deflection through weight.
"This highly magnetized needle," said Mr. Needham, "cannot fail to indicate the proximity of such a vast body of iron as that sixteen inch armored cruiser puts into the magnetic field. See! it already begins to vibrate; but we must not get too near. Tell the quartermaster to turn her head to the west."
Slowly the Charleston swung round and began moving westward. But whereas the compass in the binnacle now pointed at right angles to the ship's course, the long and delicate needle beside it began to be deflected in a direction east of north, with an angle growing more and more oblique as the cruiser moved westward.
"Now turn the vessel broadside on to the direction the needle points, and bring our torpedo tube directly in line with the needle. Also tell your men to launch the torpedo instantly I give the signal."
The Admiral issued the necessary orders.
"You are sure your torpedo will reach that vessel?" he asked as they waited.
"Just as sure as that a magnet attracts steel," responded Mr. Needham. "How can it be otherwise? The bow of the torpedo is, in effect, one vast insulated horseshoe magnet, surrounded by a coil of wire, through which runs a current of electricity much stronger than that which works the motor in the stern. The torpedo is propelled from the tube in exactly the direction indicated by our delicate needle as that in which the ship is lying. The torpedo runs at first in the direction in which it is propelled, but the closer it approaches to its quarry the more potential does the affinity of the magnet in its bow become towards the vast body of iron ahead. The Hall or the Sims-Edison torpedoes can run down their game with unerring certainty, no matter how it turns and doubles upon itself in its course, so long as the operator can see the direction the doomed vessel is taking. Mine, after the initial impulse is given it in the right direction, requires no further guidance. The Hall and the Sims- Edison are the greyhounds of the deep—they run by sight; mine is the bloodhound—it runs by scent."
Mr. Needham here noticed that the mouth of that one of the torpedo tubes he was cleaning had come in line with the magnetic pointer, and gave the signal for discharge. There was a slight swish in the water at the side of the cruiser, and then all was still. The bloodhound of the deep had gone on his relentless errand, endowed with an instinct more delicate and more unfailing than even the bloodhound's sense of scent.
"How far off do you think that vessel is?" asked Admiral Brown anxiously as the discharge was made.
"Judging by the needle, I should say somewhere about a mile," replied Mr. Needham. "See!" he went on. "See how quickly that needle is moving westward. They must have got up steam and are trying to get away under cover of the fog."
"Then our torpedo will miss its mark after all," said the Admiral, gloomily, as he noticed the needle deflecting a degree in a westerly direction.
"In five minutes we shall know," returned Mr. Needham, grimly.
THE fog which obscured the view of the vessels from the anxious and expectant multitude upon the bluffs overlooking the ocean was of so light a character and became so alternated in its upper stratum that it was evidently liable to be dissipated very shortly by the warmth of the sun's rays. About a quarter of an hour had elapsed since the pirate cruiser fired the shot, which did such terrible damage to the Charleston, and as the fog had immediately shrouded her from sight the utmost anxiety prevailed as to her fate. Colonel Mendell and Irving Scott were still standing in the same place discussing the situation.
"And, I say," said Colonel Mendell, in answer to some observation just made, "that as soon as the fog lifts—and it cannot be long before it does so—the Charleston is at the mercy of those heavy guns. It is true that a well-aimed shot from the Charleston may put the ironclad hors de combat, but it is ten to one that our cruiser is blown out of the water first."
"I have a great deal of confidence in the effectiveness of this new torpedo," said Mr. Scott "Its bow is so powerfully magnetized that it cannot help being irresistibly attracted by the vast body of iron and steel contained in the sixteen-inch armor of that vessel. If it ever reaches her, 300 pounds of dynamite will have to give an account of itself."
"And if it doesn't," returned the Colonel, "what then? It is true that diabolical flying engine is destroyed, but what of it? It is plain that that was only used to conceal the part the armed cruiser was playing in the affair. Those eighty-one-ton guns would have been equally powerful persuaders had they been brought into action. But the object of whoever is responsible for the operation was to conceal the identity of the cruiser and not seem to have any connection with the acquisition of the treasure. Now that the mask has been thrown off, there is nothing to lose, nothing to conceal. What is to prevent the pirate, after sinking the Charleston, from steaming back into the bay and collecting another twenty million? Those pop-guns at Fort Point and Alcatraz couldn't harm her if they hit."
What answer Mr. Scott would have made, had he made one, will never be known, as at the moment he was opening his lips to reply to Colonel Mendell a dull, thundering boom, as if a mine had exploded at a considerable distance, accompanied by a sensible vibration of the atmosphere, was borne in from the ocean. At the same time the remnant of the mist that had been hanging over the water was dissipated as if by magic. Fifty thousand eyes turned simultaneously seaward, straining themselves in the effort to grasp the situation, to ascertain the cause of the thunderous explosion. A second later a shout went up from the multitude, swelling and gaining volume as the last of the 200,000 lungs that took part in it contributed its quotum of sound. Far as the eye could reach, from Point Bonita to the Farallones, nothing could be seen but one white object, glistening like a swan upon the dancing waters—the Charleston was alone upon the ocean.
Roy Glashan's Library
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