There came suddenly a faint buzzing from the interior that startled everybody near. Then followed the ticking sound, which lasted at least a full minute.
The warrant officer jerked away a layer of pasteboard that hid what was under the tray. Several grim cylinders lay side by side in the chest’s bottom. They were connected by wires with a mechanism that hummed like the purring of a well-piled motor.
“Clockwork!” exclaimed the carpenter’s mate, bending over the chest. “That’s what she is. Ah! It reverses itself. See that spring—winding tighter and tighter? Why, it’s almost perpetual motion! Some inventor that fellow!”
“What fellow?” growled the warrant officer.
“Whoever built this.”
“Can you stop it without exploding those cylinders?”
“Great Scott! Do you s’pose that’s dynamite under there?”
“Or T N T.”
The petty officer thrust an iron bar suddenly into the heart of the complicated machine. Something snapped. The mechanism stopped.
“Great heavens, man!” gasped the warrant officer, “suppose you had set it off?”
“No. Couldn’t be done till the spring here was wound up to the top-notch. This machine was arranged to run for weeks. Some ingenious arrangement, take it from me!”
The discovery and destruction of the infernal machine, and a big one at that, relieved the tension of feeling aboard the warship. As Frenchy Donahue remarked:
“It’s bad enough to have a banshee tick-tocking around the place; but that tidy little bunch of cylinders would have made a lot more noise if they had been exploded.”
But the matter was serious. The captain took the opportunity to lecture the entire ship’s company regarding foolish rumors and gossip.
“If there is anything strange comes under your notice, report it properly,” he said. “Don’t camouflage it with a lot of superstitious nonsense so that the officer you report to must disbelieve the yarn. There never was a strange occurrence yet that could not be explained.”
“How does he explain Jonah being swallowed by the whale?” whispered Frenchy.
“He doesn’t have to explain it,” retorted Torry. “If you don’t believe a whale can swallow a man, jump down the throat of the next one you see.”
As a whole, the crew of the Kennebunk were not inclined to consider the incident of the infernal machine carelessly. A serious impression was made upon them all.
But the mysterious prospect of what was ahead of them shortly smothered the matter of the peril escaped. There might be greater perils ahead.
The superdreadnaught halted but for an hour at a port of the Azores. This was to send mail ashore. Then she picked up speed again and traveled north.
She passed convoys of merchant vessels guarded by French, British and American destroyers. The Kennebunk exchanged signals with several cruisers of the United States Navy as well.