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For A Breath Of Air







From: Tom Swift And His Submarine Boat

They could hardly realize it, yet the depth-gage told the story. It
registered a distance below the surface of the ocean of five thousand
seven hundred feet--a little over a mile. The Advance had actually come
to rest on the bottom of the Atlantic.

"Hurrah!" cried Tom. "Let's get on the diving suits, dad, and walk
about on land under water for a change."

"No," said Mr. Swift soberly. "We will hardly have time for that now.
Besides, the suits are not yet fitted with the automatic air-tanks, and
we can't use them. There are still some things to do before we start on
our treasure cruise. But I want to see how the plates are standing
this pressure."

The Advance was made with a triple hull, the spaces between the layers
of plates being filled with a secret material, capable of withstanding
enormous pressure, as were also the plates themselves. Mr. Swift, aided
by Mr. Jackson and Captain Weston, made a thorough examination, and
found that not a drop of water had leaked in, nor was there the least
sign that any of the plates had given way under the terrific strain.

"She's as tight as a drum, if you will allow me to make that
comparison," remarked Captain Weston modestly. "I couldn't ask for a
dryer ship."

"Well, let's take a look around by means the searchlight and the
observation windows, and then we'll go back," suggested Mr. Swift. "It
will take about two days to get the stores and provisions aboard and
rig up the diving suits; then we will start for the sunken treasure."

There were several powerful searchlights on the Advance, so arranged
that the bow, stern or either side could be illuminated independently.
There were also observation windows near each light.

In turn the powerful rays were cast first at the bow and then aft. In
the gleams could be seen the sandy bed of the ocean, covered with
shells of various kinds. Great crabs walked around on their long,
jointed legs, and Tom saw some lobsters that would have brought joy to
the heart of a fisherman.

"Look at the big fish!" cried Mr. Damon suddenly, and he pointed to
some dark, shadowy forms that swam up to the glass windows, evidently
puzzled by the light.

"Porpoises," declared Captain Weston briefly, "a whole school of them."

The fish seemed suddenly to multiply, and soon those in the submarine
felt curious tremors running through the whole craft.

"The fish are rubbing up against it," cried Tom. "They must think we
came down here to allow them to scratch their backs on the steel
plates."

For some time they remained on the bottom, watching the wonderful sight
of the fishes that swam all about them.

"Well, I think we may as well rise," announced Mr. Swift, after they
had been on the bottom about an hour, moving here and there. "We didn't
bring any provisions, and I'm getting hungry, though I don't know how
the others of you feel about it."

"Bless my dinner-plate, I could eat, too!" cried Mr. Damon. "Go up, by
all means. We'll get enough of under-water travel once we start for the
treasure."

"Send her up, Tom," called his father. "I Want to make a few notes on
some needed changes and improvements."

Tom entered the lower pilot house, and turned the valve that opened the
tanks. He also pulled the lever that started the pumps, so that the
water ballast would be more quickly emptied, as that would render the
submarine buoyant, and she would quickly shoot to the surface. To the
surprise of the lad, however, there followed no outrushing of the
water. The Advance remained stationary on the ocean bed. Mr. Swift
looked up from his notes.

"Didn't you hear me ask you to send her up, Tom?" he inquired mildly.

"I did, dad, but something seems to be the matter," was the reply.

"Matter? What do you mean?" and the aged inventor hastened to where his
son and Captain Weston were at the wheels, valves and levers.

"Why, the tanks won't empty, and the pumps don't seem to work."

"Let me try," suggested Mr. Swift, and he pulled the various handles.
There was no corresponding action of the machinery.

"That's odd," he remarked in a curious voice "Perhaps something has
gone wrong with the connections. Go look in the engine-room, and ask
Mr. Sharp if everything is all right there."

Tom made a quick trip, returning to report that the dynamos, motors and
gas engine were running perfectly.

"Try to work the tank levers and pumps from the conning tower,"
suggested Captain Weston. "Sometimes I've known the steam steering gear
to play tricks like that."

Tom hurried up the circular stairway into the tower. He pulled the
levers and shifted the valves and wheels there. But there was no
emptying of the water tanks. The weight and pressure of water in them
still held the submarine on the bottom of the sea, more than a mile
from the surface. The pumps in the engine-room were working at top
speed, but there was evidently something wrong in the connections. Mr.
Swift quickly came to this conclusion.

"We must repair it at once," he said. "Tom, come to the engine-room.
You and I, with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharp, will soon have it in shape
again."

"Is there any danger?" asked Mr. Damon in a perturbed voice. "Bless my
soul, it's unlucky to have an accident on our trial trip."

"Oh, we must expect accidents," declared Mr. Swift with a smile. "This
is nothing."

But it proved to be more difficult than he had imagined to re-establish
the connection between the pumps and the tanks. The valves, too, had
clogged or jammed, and as the pressure outside the ship was so great,
the water would not run out of itself. It must be forced.

For an hour or more the inventor, his son and the others, worked away.
They could accomplish nothing. Tom looked anxiously at his parent when
the latter paused in his efforts.

"Don't worry," advised the aged inventor. "It's got to come right
sooner or later."

Just then Mr. Damon, who had been wandering about the ship, entered the
engine-room.

"Do you know," he said, "you ought to open a window, or something."

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Tom quickly, looking to see if the odd
man was joking.

"Well, of course I don't exactly mean a window," explained Mr. Damon,
"but we need fresh air."

"Fresh air!" There was a startled note in Mr. Swift's voice as he
repeated the words.

"Yes, I can hardly breathe in the living-room, and it's not much better
here."

"Why, there ought to be plenty of fresh air," went on the inventor. "It
is renewed automatically."

Tom jumped up and looked at an indicator. He uttered a startled cry.

"The air hasn't been changed in the last hour!" he exclaimed. "It is
bad. There's not enough oxygen in it. I notice it, now that I've
stopped working. The gage indicates it, too. The automatic air-changer
must have stopped working. I'll fix it."

He hurried to the machine which was depended on to supply fresh air to
the submarine.

"Why, the air tanks are empty!" the young inventor cried. "We haven't
any more air except what is in the ship now!"

"And we're rapidly breathing that up," added Captain Weston solemnly.

"Can't you make more?" cried Mr. Damon. "I thought you said you could
make oxygen aboard the ship."

"We can," answered Mr. Swift, "but I did not bring along a supply of
the necessary chemicals. I did not think we would be submerged long
enough for that. But there should have been enough in the reserve tank
to last several days. How about it, Tom?"

"It's all leaked out, or else it wasn't filled," was the despairing
answer. "All the air we have is what's in the ship, and we can't make
more."

The treasure-seekers looked at each other. It was an awful situation.

"Then the only thing to do is to fix the machinery and rise to the
surface," said Mr. Sharp simply. "We can have all the air we want,
then."

"Yes, but the machinery doesn't seem possible of being fixed," spoke
Tom in a low voice.

"We must do it!" cried his father.

They set to work again with fierce energy, laboring for their very
lives. They all knew that they could not long remain in the ship
without oxygen. Nor could they desert it to go to the surface, for the
moment they left the protection of the thick steel sides the terrible
pressure of the water would kill them. Nor were the diving suits
available. They must stay in the craft and die a miserable death-unless
the machinery could be repaired and the Advance sent to the surface.
The emergency expanding lifting tank was not yet in working order.

More frantically they toiled, trying every device that was suggested to
the mechanical minds of Tom, his father, Mr. Sharp or Mr. Jackson, to
make the pumps work. But something was wrong. More and more foul grew
the air. They were fairly gasping now. It was difficult to breathe, to
say nothing of working, in that atmosphere. The thought of their
terrible position was in the minds of all.

"Oh, for one breath of fresh air!" cried Mr. Damon, who seemed to
suffer more than any of the others. Grim death was hovering around
them, imprisoned as they were on the ocean's bed, over a mile from the
surface.





Next: Off For The Treasure

Previous: On The Ocean Bed



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