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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE "KILLER"

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Based on a Victorian print

A STORY OF THE DEPTHS

Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 1 September 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-24

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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Illustration

Illustration

His resolution to die fighting was still strong within him... But the knife was blunting.


THE signal-cord jerked three times in quick succession, and Joe Merrill turned to the others.

"Pull up!" he said.

Slowly and steadily the life-line was hauled in, but it was nearly ten minutes before the clear green water parted, and out of it appeared the great, gleaming copper globe of the diver's helmet.

A tall, thin elderly man who had been standing by the little group around the pump spoke:

"Surely he can't have got the cases yet, Merrill. He has been down so short a time."

"No, sir. Salter can't have reached the hold in the time. There's something wrong. But he'll tell us in a minute."

He turned to help the diver over the side. Another man, hardly more than a boy, with a frank, open face and the shoulders and chest of a Hercules, gave the helmet a half-turn and lifted it off.

The diver, a man of about thirty, but looking older, dropped on a bench and wiped the sweat-drops from his forehead. His face was very pale, and his hard eyes had an odd, strained look.

"A drop of brandy," he said weakly.

Cummins, Salter's mate, who had been working the pump, had a flask out in a moment, and Salter took a stiff nip.

"That's better," he panted. "Got a touch of heart, sir," he explained to Mr. Paton. "Afraid I won't be able to go down again to-day."

"I'm sorry, Salter," replied Paton gravely. "Then perhaps Bulfin had better try."

"Yes, sir, if you think right; but the pressure is pretty bad down there. It's twenty-four fathom."

The boy stepped forward eagerly.

"I'll be glad to try, sir. Did you reach the wreck, Mr. Salter?"

"Aye. We're right over her. I was on her deck when I was taken bad."

Mr. Paton turned to Frank Bulfin.

"Very well, Bulfin. You go down. But take no risks. Much as I value the specimens, I won't risk a man's life for them."

"I shall be all right, sir," said young Bulfin cheerily. "I've been to twenty-five fathom before now."

"Help me on with the suit, Joe," he said, speaking to Merrill.

Joe Merrill, usually a most cheery soul, was looking oddly glum.

"What's up, Joe?" asked Frank.

"Not sure whether anything is," replied Merrill in a low voice. "But I never knew Salter suffered from heart."

"What on earth do you mean, Joe?"

"I hardly know, old chap. But it's a bit funny to me that Salter should hand the job over to you as easy as this. You know there's an extra fifty quid for the man who actually gets the cases."

"I know that, and I jolly well mean to have it. You know how badly we need it, Joe. But you may be sure Salter wouldn't have chucked his chance unless he had to."

Merrill frowned. "Don't be too certain, Frank. Salter's a queer fish, and he's had it in for you ever since you got ahead of him in that Barren Island business. I tell you the fellow hates you, and if I were you I'd keep my eyes skinned."

Frank chuckled softly.

"He can't hurt me so long as you're at the pump, Joe. And the suit's our own, so he can't have tampered with that. There, I'm ready. Stick the helmet on and I'll get down."


A MINUTE or so later Frank Bulfin, sweating inside a suit which weighed nearly as much as he did, climbed heavily down the ladder into the calm sea.

The relief, once he was under water, was enormous. He ceased to feel the terrific weight of his leads, while the coolness was entirely delightful.

Reaching the lowest rung of the ladder he let go and was lowered quickly into the depths. The life-line paid out slowly. A diver never hurries. He must get accustomed slowly to the tremendous pressure of the depths.

His suit was new and perfect. A powerful electric of the latest under-water pattern was fitted on his helmet, and at his side he carried a small armoury of tools, including a heavy, double-edged sheath-knife. This was attached to his belt by a lanyard to avoid any risk of losing it.

The sea was so exquisitely clear, the tropical sun so nearly overhead, that he was full ten fathoms down before he needed to switch on his light. He kept a sharp look out all around. In these hot seas there is always a chance of sharks. But nothing of the sort showed up. Indeed, there was no fish of any size visible, and he rather wondered at their absence.

Down, down, until the green twilight changed to a darkness in which the lamp cast a circle of pinkish light. Then his lead-soled boots touched firm ground, and he found himself standing on a rough, rocky bottom.

He signalled his position and stood still to survey his surroundings.

"Ah, there she is!" he exclaimed, as the light fell upon the stern of the wreck.

The Stella, Mr. Paton's wrecked yacht, was a craft of six or seven hundred tons. On her way back from South America, carrying in her hold a wonderful collection of fossil bones of extinct monsters, she had struck a submerged rock off Omen Island, and in spite of all efforts sank before she could be beached.

Fortunately for Mr. Paton, he was a very rich man, and as money was no object, he had at once financed an expedition to recover his treasures. It was from the salvage vessel Prosperine that Frank Bulfin had descended to make his effort to get up the cases from the hold of the Stella.

The pump worked perfectly; the water was clear. Frank, though, of course, he felt the pressure, believed that he could easily stay down for half an hour. His spirits rose, and he went forward at once to examine the wreck.

In sinking, she had remained fairly upright. Although she had only been under water a matter of four or five months, she looked a mere scrap-heap. On the sea floor a steel ship goes to pieces in a tenth the time that a wooden vessel takes to break up.

The deck-house had come adrift altogether and slipped over the side. It lay like a huge broken packing-case alongside the wreck. Frank wasted no time in examining it. He clambered aboard and made straight for the main hatch.

It was wide open, and down he went, treading cautiously the rungs of the rusty ladder. Going below in a wrecked ship is always an ugly job. Any tangling of air-pipe or lifeline spells disaster with a big "D." But in the case of such a small ship the difficulty was not great, and in a very short time Frank found himself safe in the hold.

Hurrah! Here were the cases, iron-bound, covered with slime but quite intact.

"That fifty is mine all right," said the youngster delightedly to himself, as he set to work at once to lift the first one and get a line around it.

Each case weighed a couple of hundred pounds, but weights are all changed at the bottom of the sea. Frank could handle the big box quite easily. He gave the signal to haul, and guiding it up through the hatch, saw it sail away rapidly towards the surface.

As he stood on the deck, watching it rise he felt a sudden touch on his right leg. He glanced down and started back with a shutter of loathing. A pale-coloured tendril resembling a stalk of seaweed, but armed with cup-like suckers, had suddenly fastened on his ankle.

No need to tell Frank what the livid, slender thing was. His hand flew to his knife, and with one quick stroke he slashed away the tentacle.

The severed stump shrank back, writhing like a scotched snake, and Frank leaped away in the other direction. But one cannot move as rapidly in water as in air, and he was not quite quick enough to avoid a second arm which came darting over the broken rail and seized him around the thigh.

Again he sliced himself free, at the same time signalling furiously to be pulled up.

Too late! Two more of the clutching feelers had him, and he was anchored to the bottom as though chain cables were round him. Furiously he signalled to stop hauling and slack away.


BY this time he knew what he had to face, and never in all his life before had be felt so cold a clutch of fear at his heart. His enemy was not the octopus, though that in itself would have been bad enough. It was the terrible decapod, the kraken of the ancients, that vast and hideous devil-fish which, as a rule, haunts the greater depths of the ocean, but which, for some unknown reason, had come up to shallower waters and was harbouring alongside the sunken ship. Such a creature has the strength of ten elephants, and could, so Frank knew from stories of old whalers, make but one bite of a ten-foot saw-fish, or pull a whole boat under water.

A loathsome horror seldom seen by man, and for the moment a chill seized him, and he felt sick and weak as water.

But there was good fighting blood in Frank Bulfin's strong young body, and almost as quickly as it came the weakness passed. His fate, he knew, was certain, but, at any rate, he would not yield without a struggle.

He found himself being drawn rapidly towards the rail, which at this point was still sound and unbroken. Flinging his left arm round it, he managed to slash away the tip of the feeler that was around his leg. Then he drove at another arm which had him round the body. It was thick and tough, like leather, and though he shore it through he was caught again before he could get clear.

A tentacle fastened on his chest, and to his horror and disgust he saw that it was the tip of which he had already cut away.

The thick stump was as full of life as ever, and the sucking discs far larger and more powerful than the smaller ones which he had at first shorn off.

With a downward slash he sliced rigid through the cup-like suckers, and the hideout stump fell writhing away. Again, before he could retreat, he was clutched, and this time by the right shoulder. The grip was so tremendous that he was drawn forward with his body across the rail, while at the same time the knife dropped from his powerless hand.

Now for the first time he saw the owner of the arms, and never in his worst dreams had he conceived anything so ghastly. The monster, apparently astonished at the difficulty it was experiencing in drawing in its prey, was emerging bodily from under the old deckhouse, in which it had made its home.

Its body was a vast, pale, bloated sack at least ten feet in diameter. It was spotted all over with darker blotches, and in front, just above the spot from which the cable-like tentacles were rooted, two huge, black, pupil-less eyes reflected the light of Frank's lamp. They were each the size of a large saucer, and were fixed upon him with a cold, expressionless glare quite beyond words to describe.

Again the feeling of sickness almost overcame him, and he gave himself up for lost. But his resolution to die fighting was still strong within him. Glancing down, he had time to see that his knife still hung by its lanyard. He managed to grasp it in his left hand, and though every muscle in his body was cracking with the dreadful strain, he made fierce play against the coil which dragged upon his right shoulder.

But the knife was blunting, and before he could hack through the tough feeler two more of the horrible stumps closed upon him, and this time the enemy was successful. Before he could gain new hold upon the rail, Frank Bulfin was drawn right over it. He found himself on the sea floor, face to face with the horror of the depths, and not a dozen feet from the huge lipless mouth, which he could distinctly see opening and shutting in anticipation of its meal.


NOW Bulfin went clean crazy. The Berserk fury which most Saxons inherit from their pirate ancestors of old time woke within him and went boiling through his veins. His whole body seemed filled with fresh strength, and instead of resisting any longer he drove forward. If the horror had a brain he would bury his blade in it. Even if he died himself, this formless atrocity should perish also.

Before he could put his plan into execution there was a sudden darkness overhead, as though a thunder cloud was passing above. Frank, in his fury, hardly noticed it. He was hacking desperately at a monstrous tentacle which, waving high above him, seemed to be setting full upon his helmet.

He grasped it with, one hand and sliced furiously at it with the other.

The darkness thickened; then, as if by a miracle, the row of sucker-shaped cups at which Frank was carving so savagely was no longer there. At the same time another huge trunk, which was curved around his right leg, fell away, and so did a third, which was twisted across his shoulder. They all drew back and vanished with the speed of light, leaving Frank standing free but swaying with exhaustion.

Even so, he found strength to stagger away towards the stern of the wreck.

Just as well, for next instant a great black fish, shaped like a blunt-headed torpedo, came swooping downwards with the power and velocity of a thunderbolt, and drove straight at Frank's enemy.

The creature was trying to shrink back beneath its shelter, but it was too late. A rush of water nearly swept Frank off his feet. When he recovered his balance he saw in progress the most fearful battle that mind of man could conceive.

The new arrival, which was fully thirty feet in length, and must have weighed at least five tons, was provided with a mouth as big as a barn door and armed with great, flat, crushing teeth.

All these it seemed to have buried at once in the jelly-like body of the great decapod. The latter's tentacles, writhing hideously, had fixed upon the fish, but seemed unable to harm the active creature's black, indiarubber-like skin. Paying no more attention to them than if they had been silkworm threads, the latter shook and worried the monster as a terrier shakes a rabbit.

"Go it! Oh, go it!" Frank found himself shouting as he saw the cable-like tentacles bitten apart and torn out by the roots. The rest fell flat and limp, and the "killer," driving lower, tore his prey bodily out into the open and began to rend it to pieces.

Frank knew it was dangerous, knew that one flick of that mighty tail might sever his air-hose or life-line. Yet for the life of him he could not help waiting a few moments to see the killer whale biting huge chunks of flesh from the carcass of the hideous decapod.

But presently he took hold of the signal cord.

"Good luck to you, old killer!" he said fervently, and gave the three necessary pulls. A moment later he was being drawn steadily to the surface.


"WHAT was the matter? Did anything go wrong?" was Joe Merrill's first anxious question, as he lifted off the helmet.

It says something for Frank Bulfin's pluck that he showed little sign of the awful ordeal he had been through.

"Yes, it was awkward for a bit. I got rather tied up," he said. "If Mr. Paton doesn't mind, I shan't go down again to-day."

Mr. Paton, rejoicing over the safety of the case that had come up already, made no objection, and Frank, only too glad of a chance to rest, stretched his aching body on his bunk and slept. So far he had not even told Merrill of his awful experience, and did not mean to—for the present.

He was on deck in good time next morning, waiting quietly in a cool spot by the deckhouse, and presently up came Mr. Paton.

"Feeling better, I hope, Bulfin?"

"Yes, thank you, sir. I was down a bit too long, though, yesterday."

"What! Won't you be able to go to-day?"

"I hope so, but if Salter is fit, perhaps he would make the first trip. Then I would finish up."

"Quite so. Ah"—turning—"here is Salter."

The other diver, came up slowly. There was a queer expression on his rather flat and expressionless face as he looked at Frank Bulfin.

"Good morning, Salter," said Paton. "I'm glad to see you, for I want you to make the first descent to-day."

Bulfin, watching Salter closely, noticed a greyish tinge under the tan of his cheeks.

"I—I—" he stammered.

"Tell you what, Salter," said Frank, "if you like, we'll go together. It's really two men's job to shift one of those big cases."

Salter gave Frank a venomous glance.

"I'm afraid I'm hardly up to it to-day, sir," he said, speaking to Mr. Paton.

"Sure you're not funking it, Salter?" suggested Frank.

Salter swung round on him with an oath. His fists were clenched.

"Really, Bulfin," broke in Mr. Paton rebukingly. "Surely that was a very uncalled-for remark!"

"I wish it had been, sir," said Frank, drawing himself up and looking his employer very straight in the face. "Unfortunately I have good reason to believe it is nothing of the sort. Do you know why I was so long below yesterday?"

"You were caught up in some way, I understand."

"Yes—in the tentacles of the biggest devil-fish I ever set eyes on. He was sheltering in the deck-house which lies beside the wreck, and he almost had me in there, too, before I was saved by a most marvellous piece of luck. A killer whale tackled the brute, and let me get away and come up."

"What's this got to do with me, I'd like to know?" blustered Salter.

"I'm coming to that," said Frank quietly. "I accuse you, Salter, of having seen the devil-fish when you first went down, and of having let me drop into his jaws, so to speak."

"The boy's crazy!" cried Salter scornfully.

"This is a very serious accusation to make, Bulfin," said Mr. Paton gravely.

"Sort of thing you'd get prosecuted for, for libel," added Salter fiercely. "And if you'd got a bean I'd take action against you as soon as we got home."

Frank smiled slightly.

"Pure bluff, Salter! You know very well you would do nothing of the sort. Why, the brute actually had hold of you before you got clear."

"You couldn't see—" began Salter. Then his jaw dropped. He realised how he had given himself away.

"You've no proof," he added violently.

"That's just what I have got," Frank answered calmly. And putting his hand into his pocket, took out a white, flabby, leather-like object about three inches long and provided with hooked suckers.

"That," said Frank, "was found clinging to your diving-suit, and Joe Merrill can witness to the fact. Now what have you got to say?"

Salter said nothing. He staggered back with a groan.

"Is that good enough, sir?" asked Bulfin of Mr. Paton.

"Bad enough, you mean," replied the other in disgust. "A more detestable attempt at murder I never heard of in my life. Well, I will take good care that the man does not get a second chance, Bulfin."

Salter did not, for he spent the rest of the voyage in irons below. It was Frank who finished the job, and at the end of it received from Mr. Paton a cheque for 200.

"Don't thank me," said the millionaire. "You've earned it; and may luck go with it. I wish you and Merrill every good fortune in your new venture together. And when danger threatens may you always find as good a friend as the killer whale."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.