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Title: Bill Bolton—Flying Midshipman
Author: Sainsbury, Noel
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              BILL BOLTON
                          _Flying Midshipman_

                                   BY

                    _Lieutenant Noel Sainsbury, Jr._

                              _Author of_
                  _Bill Bolton and Winged Cartwheels_
                   _Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish_
                    _Bill Bolton and Hidden Danger_


                      THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.
                                CHICAGO



                           _Copyright_, 1933
                   _The Goldsmith Publishing Company_

                            MADE IN U. S. A.



                              _Dedication_

                                  _To_
                     OLIVER TEMPLETON JOHNSON, JR.
                  _known to his friends as “Buzz”—an_
                    _inveterate reader of my books._



CONTENTS


  · CHAPTER I—THE HURRICANE

  · CHAPTER II—THE KEY

  · CHAPTER III—PRISONERS

  · CHAPTER IV—THE INVITATION

  · CHAPTER V—TAKEN FOR A RIDE

  · CHAPTER VI—OSCEOLA

  · CHAPTER VII—THE ATTEMPT

  · CHAPTER VIII—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SWAMP

  · CHAPTER IX—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COMPOUND

  · CHAPTER X—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MORNING

  · CHAPTER XI—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE AIR

  · CHAPTER XII—’TWIXT WIND AND WATER

  · CHAPTER XIII—OSCEOLA FINDS A WAY

  · CHAPTER XIV—IN THE DUGOUT

  · CHAPTER XV—SEMINOLES

  · CHAPTER XVI—THE ADVANCE

  · CHAPTER XVII—THE ATTACK

  · CHAPTER XVIII—BIG CYPRESS AGAIN



                     BILL BOLTON—FLYING MIDSHIPMAN



CHAPTER I—THE HURRICANE


“I can’t keep her in the air any longer, Dad!”

Bill Bolton shot the words into the mouthpiece of his headphone and
pushed the stick gently forward. The amphibian which he was driving
nosed into a long gliding arc toward the angry whitecaps of the Bay of
Florida, a thousand feet below.

“Too much wind?” called back Mr. Bolton from his seat in the rear
cockpit.

With a sharp bank Bill saved the plane a side-slip as an unusually heavy
gust caught her.

“Too much wind is right. Those black clouds to the southeast mean a
hurricane or I’m a landlubber. We’re soon going to be in for it good and
plenty. It’s already kicked up a heavy sea below. I should have landed
sooner.”

“If we crash, we’ll have a long swim,” was his father’s sole comment.

Bill cut his gun and having brought the plane into the teeth of the wind
which was increasing in violence momentarily, he shot a quick glance
overside. Row after row of spume-capped combers met his eye and his face
became grim with determination.

At an altitude of perhaps twenty-five feet he began to draw the stick
slowly backward, breaking his glide. Careful not to stall her, with his
eyes on the water just ahead he allowed the nose to come gradually up
until the amphibian was in level flight. In such a wind this proved a
most difficult evolution, for savage squalls lashed the plane until she
acted like a wild colt on a leading rope; and a crash seemed imminent.

Struggling to keep the plane on an even keel, Bill continued to pull
back his stick, raising the nose and depressing the tail. Then with a
final pull he stalled her, the heel of the step made contact with the
top of a whitecap and amid a cloud of spray the amphibian skimmed ahead
on the water. Before her nose could play off, Bill had the sea anchor
overside and a moment later the heavy boat was tugging on the line to
the collapsible canvas bucket that kept her head into the wind.

Bill whipped off his headphone and goggles. Then he made the pilot’s
cockpit secure by cleating down a waterproof tarpaulin over the top,
flush with the deck, and climbed into the rear cockpit which had seats
for two passengers.

Vast clouds growing out of the southeast almost covered the heavens now,
concealing the sun. And as it grew darker the wind’s velocity steadily
increased.

“She’ll ride better with me aft,” he explained to his father, “and the
tarpaulin will shed water like a deck. If the fore cockpit shipped one
of those big seas, we’d fill up and go down like a plummet.”

“I admit that I’m not much of a seafaring man,” said Mr. Bolton, “but
why you keep the plane heading into those combers is beyond me! Why not
run before the gale? Wouldn’t we ride easier?”

“Possibly—but we can’t get into position to do that now. I threw over
the sea anchor to keep her as she is.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because if I hadn’t, she’d have nosed round broadside to the waves and
foundered with the weight of the water pouring down on her lower wing
sections. If I tried to bring her before the wind now, she’d do exactly
that as soon as her head played off.”

In the white glare of a lightning flash which brightened the horizon for
an instant, Mr. Bolton glimpsed his son, staring into the teeth of the
storm.

“Then why didn’t you land the plane with the wind instead of heading
into it?” he queried in a perplexed tone.

“All landings must be made directly into the wind, Dad,” Bill explained
patiently. “A plane stalls when its speed through the air drops below a
certain point. If there’s no wind its speed over the surface will be the
same as its speed through the air. But any wind at once affects its
velocity over the surface, which will be the composition of the speed of
the plane through the air with the speed of the air over the surface.
You see, a plane which stalls at forty miles an hour will, when landing
into a fifteen-mile wind, make contact at twenty-five miles an hour. The
same plane headed down-wind would land at fifty-five miles an hour. And
that difference of thirty miles an hour in landing speed might easily
spell the difference between a good landing and a wrecked plane.”

His father smiled in the darkness.

“You talk like a textbook, Bill. But you do seem to have learned
something at Annapolis during the past year.”

“Learned that in flight training, before I entered the Naval Academy,”
replied his son. He ducked his head as an unusually vicious wave swept
over the forward decking, deluging the two in the cockpit with stinging
spray. “This is going to be a wet vacation, by the looks of things.”

“Who’d have thought we’d be in this fix when we left Key West at four
this afternoon! Now we’re stranded—somewhere in the Bay of Florida—and
instead of dining cheerily with the Wilsons at Miami, and going on to
that important business conference afterwards—”

“We’re likely to make good bait for the sharks in this neighborhood!”

“I don’t suppose there’s anything we can do, son?”

“Not a thing—but grin and bear it until this wind blows itself out.”

“And it will get worse before it gets better!”

“Sure! Cheer up, Dad—we’ll weather it yet.”

“Don’t mind me, Bill. I’m—that is, I’m not feeling quite myself. Haven’t
since we came down, as a matter of fact. I’ve never
been—seasick—before—” Mr. Bolton’s voice sounded rather feeble.

“It’s the motion, combined with the smell of gasoline, Dad. Every naval
flyer knows that feeling, your son included, at this particular time.
You’ll feel better when you’re empty.”

“I certainly hope so,” faltered Mr. Bolton.

“Just let your mind rest on a fatty piece of pork swimming in its own
hot grease, for a starter,” Bill suggested, grinning to himself.

“Mmmm—” Bill’s father stood up suddenly and leaned far overside.

His son followed suit almost immediately.

Presently they returned to their places, weak and empty, but
considerably more comfortable.

“I wonder why the thought of fat pork always gets one going,” mused
Bill, handing his father the water bottle.

Mr. Bolton slaked his thirst and handed it back, whereupon Bill took a
couple of long pulls.

“Feel better, Dad?”

“Yes, thanks.” He paused a moment, then continued in his normal tone.
“The plane doesn’t seem to be pitching so wildly—”

“No, the wind is increasing steadily, and flattening out the water.”

“Isn’t there something we can do now?”

“Yes. It’s getting pretty wet in here. Give me a hand with this
tarpaulin, please.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Batten down the cockpit cover.”

“But, my boy!” Mr. Bolton’s voice showed a trace of nervousness for the
first time. “If we put the cover on the cockpit, we’ll be drowned like
rats in a trap if the plane goes down. I confess I’m not keen on the
idea.”

“If the plane founders, we’ll drown anyway,” was his son’s business-like
reply. “No swimmer could live more than a minute in water like this.
We’re in a tight fix, Dad, and our only chance is to ride out the gale.
This plane will sink like a stone, once the real hurricane hits us,
unless she is pretty near watertight overall. Let’s get busy before the
wind makes the job impossible.”

“I guess you’re skipper,” Mr. Bolton replied, and he hastened to comply
with Bill’s request.

It was difficult work fastening on the waterproof cover from the inside,
but at last it was accomplished, and Bill flashed on his electric torch.
With some trouble, because of the violent pitching and rolling of their
little ship, he took down the two passenger seats which were
collapsible, and stowed them in the luggage hold aft. It now became
possible for father and son to sit upright on the flooring.

“We’re as snug as a couple of bugs in a rug, now,” breezed Bill with
satisfaction as he made the last seat secure.

“More like nailing down the lid of our coffin,” observed his father. “I
hope I’m not afraid to meet my Maker, but I’d much prefer doing so in
the open. However, I am certainly proud of the way you’re handling
things, my boy. From now on, I’ll stop grumbling. When you reach my age,
you’ll find that an upset stomach paints everything else black.”

With startling suddenness, the howl of the wind stilled, and the two in
the cockpit could hear plainly the splash of the waves against the hull.
This eerie silence lasted for perhaps a minute, to be superseded by a
dull roar that grew stronger and louder every split second.

“Hold fast! Here she comes!” shouted Bill. With his back against one
wall and his feet against the other, he braced his body for the shock of
the wind.

In a crescendo of thunderous warning the hurricane struck them. Down and
still further down went the nose of the plane beneath the smashing wind.

Would she never come up? Would the anchor line hold? Bill wondered
frantically. Then he caught his father’s twisted smile, and answered it
with another. Dad was a real sport—true, he was a business man, and more
at home in a swivel-chair behind a desk than in a pounding seaplane in a
gale. But the old man was right there when it came to real pluck. That
smile, with beads of perspiration standing out on his forehead proved
it. Bill tingled with pride and satisfaction.

It was different, of course, with himself. He was a midshipman and a
flyer, and it was his business to take risks. This was about the
tightest fix he had been in so far, he thought. Never had he heard
anything like the fearsome, shrieking roar of this wind.

Ah! The plane’s head was rising! He could feel it. Soon the sea would
get up again. Would they be able to ride out the storm?

Mr. Bolton fished a notebook and pencil out of his pocket, and after
writing a few words, passed them to Bill.

“Have you a map of these waters?” he had written.

Bill shook his head. “It’s in the forward cockpit,” he wrote. “We were
about twenty-five miles south of Oyster Keys when we landed. The
mainland is a few miles north of them. Uninhabited mangrove swamps, I
think.”

He passed back the notebook and pencil. And after glancing at what he
had written, Mr. Bolton scribbled a few more words and handed Bill the
book again.

“How about Oyster Keys?” read his son.

The wind was making less commotion now, so Bill tried using his voice.

“Low-lying islets,” he shouted. “I don’t think anybody lives there. Even
head on to the storm as we are, the plane is drifting toward the
keys—sure to be.”

“That’s good,” shouted back his father. “Maybe we’ll make one of them by
morning.”

“I hope not!” was Bill’s reply. “Not in the sea that will be running by
then. We’d smash up sure in the breakers.”

Mr. Bolton made no answer to this announcement and Bill spoke again. “We
may need this flashlight again before morning, Dad. The batteries are
small. They won’t last forever. Sorry, but I’m afraid we’ll have to sit
it out in the dark.”

Mr. Bolton nodded. “Goodnight—-and good luck, son.”

Bill snapped off the light. For what seemed a long time he sat there in
darkness so black that with a hand held close to his eyes, he was unable
to see the faintest outline of it. The strain and excitement were
beginning to make themselves felt. Bill began to realize that he was
tired. He curled up into a more comfortable position and rested his head
on his arms. Five minutes later he was sound asleep.

He was awakened from dreamless slumber as his head struck something hard
and unyielding. His hand sought the electric torch in his pocket and
drew it forth. By its light he saw his father sleeping on the flooring
close to him. A glance at his wristwatch showed that it was five
o’clock, and therefore daylight. He wound the watch, and without waking
his father, undid a corner of the cockpit cover.

The wind had fallen to a fraction of its former strength. A grey,
cloudswept sky met his gaze, and below it, towering waves which seemed
bent on burying the small craft beneath tumbling torrents of angry
water. The plane was probably leaking a bit, but that was to be expected
after the beating she had been taking all night long, and was still
taking. Staunch little bus!

Then he turned his head and involuntarily caught his breath. Dead aft
and not a quarter of a mile away lay a long line of pounding breakers!



CHAPTER II—THE KEY


“Good morning, son,” said a voice behind Bill. “Reckon the Old Man got
his wish. One of the Oyster Keys, isn’t it?”

“Shouldn’t be surprised,” returned Bill without enthusiasm. “We’ll soon
know more about it. At the rate the plane is drifting backwards, we’ll
be up to the breakers in about an hour.”

“How about starting the engine and—er—sheering off?”

“Not in a sea like this, Dad. She’d go down in a minute, just as soon as
her head played off. Our only chance is that she drifts past that point
over there to starboard. There may be a bay behind it and if we can make
quieter water, we may win out yet.”

Mr. Bolton slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the way to talk! You’re
a great comfort to your old Dad. How about a little breakfast before
rounding the point, eh?”

Bill laughed. “You’re on, sir,—if you’ll take off these cockpit covers,
I’ll go below for the emergency rations!”

“Make it snappy, then. I’m hungry enough to eat a horse. Or fat pork
swimming in its own grease, for that matter!”

By the time Mr. Bolton had the tarpaulins stowed away. Bill produced
sandwiches and coffee hot from the thermos bottle.

“New life and no mistake,” Mr. Bolton remarked, munching contentedly.
“What do you think of our chances now that you’re able to satisfy the
inner man, Bill?”

“Not very good, sir. The tide is carrying us toward the point, but this
wind is causing us to drift backward onto the breakers at a rate of at
least three feet to the tide’s one.”

“I don’t see any signs of life on the island,” observed his father.

“No, if anybody lives on that key, the house is behind the cliffs. I’ve
been watching for a sign of smoke, but haven’t sighted anything so far.
Queer formation, those cliffs, for this part of the world. Most of the
islands are so low and flat they’re covered with water at high tide.”

They finished their breakfast in a leisurely manner, and stowed away the
remainder of the food.

“I guess we aren’t going to make the point,” said Bill when their
tailplane lay not more than a quarter of a mile off the breakers. “I’ve
got another idea, though. Stupid of me not to have thought of it before.
It’s a ticklish job, but if I don’t swamp her, we ought to get round
that promontory.”

“Anything is better than this inaction. What’s the good word?”

“I’m going into the fore cockpit and start the engine.”

“You mean we can pull in the sea anchor and taxi out of this dangerous
position?”

“Hardly that. The old bus would pound to pieces in this sea if I tried
to send her over these waves. The idea is to give her just enough
headway to offset the wind drift that is driving her ashore. I want to
keep her the same distance off the surf that she is now. The tide will
then have a chance to carry us sideways round the point. There’s bound
to be quieter water to leeward of that headland.”

“Sounds fine! Anyway, it gives us a chance. What can I do to help?”

“Crawl out on the nose, please. When I give the word, haul in the anchor
line. If you try to get the sea anchor aboard from a cockpit the bus
will slew to the side and I’ll never be able to keep her headed into the
wind.”

Bill took his place at the controls in the fore cockpit and idled the
engine until he was convinced everything was running smoothly. Then he
placed his feet on the rudder pedals and motioned his father to proceed.

The huge white-capped rollers, aftermath of the hurricane, tossed the
plane up and down as though each oncoming wave was bent on destroying
her. Bill knew that his father’s task was no easy one. The decking
forward of the cockpit was rounded and absolutely smooth. There were no
handholds to prevent one slipping off its wet surface.

With a smile, the middle aged gentleman climbed out of the cockpit, lay
flat on the deck and wormed his way toward the nose with a wriggling
motion that allowed both his arms and his legs to hug the slick
planking.

Arrived at the end of his short but perilous journey he sat up, and
straddled the deck as though he were riding a very broad horse. Then
with a hand on the anchor line, he looked back over his shoulder.

Bill was ready for him to start, and with his stick held well back of
neutral to prevent the nose dipping under the waves and throwing spray
into the propeller, he held up his free hand.

Mr. Bolton immediately started to haul in the line and Bill opened his
throttle. Keeping just enough headway on the plane to be sure he could
hold her pointed as he wished, he waited until the sea anchor was on
board and his father safely aft in the passenger cockpit again, and then
slightly accelerated the engine. Even this small burst of speed caused
the amphibian to bury its nose in the combers; and all but foundered her
under a torrent of sea water. Bill instantly idled down until the
staunch little craft was moving through the water at the speed of a fast
walk. He soon found that by keeping her going at this rate he prevented
her drifting backward with the wind. Deviations from his heading were
prevented by use of the throttle rudder and ailerons.

It was strenuous work, fighting waves in a heavy amphibian, and
incomparably more tiring than driving her through the air. Moreover it
took his whole power of will and concentration to keep her head from
playing off and becoming the forerunner of sure disaster. His back and
shoulders began to ache under the strain; and soon his leg muscles were
an added source of torture because of the excessive pressure he was
forced to use on the rudder pedals. He dared not shift his gaze aft, so
when they had been travelling the monstrous treadmill grind for an hour
by the clock, he hailed his father: “How are we making it?”

The roar of the propeller and engine almost drowned the words as the
wind whipped them back to Mr. Bolton. Sensing, however, that his son
wanted something, he donned a headphone and picked up Bill’s set on the
other end of the line. He climbed out of the cockpit and leaned over
Bill, adjusting the receiver and transmitter so that the busy pilot
could talk to him.

“What did you say?” he asked from the rear cockpit once more.

“Want to know if we’ll round the point. If I turn to look, I’ll swamp
her.”

“Sorry,” returned his father. “I hadn’t realized—— Yes, we’re abreast of
the head now. There seems to be quite a large cove and quiet water
beyond. Can’t make it out just yet. Anything else?”

“Yes. When we’re round, let me know what’s behind the head.”

For nearly ten minutes there was no further conversation. Then Bill
heard his father’s voice in his ears again.

“We’re past now. That head is the western end of the island, and behind
it is an almost landlocked cove. You’ll have to make a turn to the left
to get in there. Think you can do it OK?”

“It’s a case of have to, I guess,” was Bill’s answer.

He closed the throttle and, careful to maintain sufficient speed for
steerageway, allowed the plane to drift backward in the heavy wind until
the mouth of the little harbor lay off his port quarter. Exerting
pressure on left rudder, he allowed the plane’s nose to play off to port
for the fraction of a second, then kicked her ahead and dead into the
wind again, so as to take the advancing wave nose on.

Soon their slow progress to port was perceptible. As they drew closer
into the lee of the headland, the wind was less violent, the waves
though high lost their caps of white spume.

Bill gauged his distances to a nicety. His spurts to port became longer,
until at last he manœuvered his craft, floating backward and sideways,
to leeward of the narrow opening between the cliffs. Then with a
vigorous burst of the engine, he swung round to port and sent the
amphibian hurtling into the harbor.

“Splendid, son, splendid!” sang out Mr. Bolton, as Bill cut his gun and
ripped off his headphone. “We certainly are in luck. This island is
evidently inhabited, after all. Look over there!”

Bill was already scanning the cove with a gaze that grasped every
detail. As the plane continued to float shoreward over the quiet water,
he saw that the harbor was almost landlocked. Broad white beaches ended
abruptly in steep cliffs, forty or fifty feet high. Directly ahead a
long concrete pier jutted into the bay and nearby a large yacht and two
big amphibians lay at their moorings.

“Yes, there are people here,” replied Bill. “That road zig-zagging up
the cliffs probably leads to the houses. Funny that nobody has sighted
us. I wonder what they’re doing with a sea-going yacht and a couple of
planes?”

“Some millionaire’s hobby, no doubt. This key probably belongs to him.
Hadn’t we better tie up to the dock and go ashore? We’ve had a strenuous
time of it, and I frankly admit I’m dog tired. Clean sheets and a
comfortable bed, for five or six hours, will make new men of us both.”

“I’m with you,” smiled his son and sent their plane skimming toward the
pier. They made fast to a couple of ringbolts in the concrete and after
securing the plane, picked up their suitcases and stepped ashore.
Without further waste of time they breasted the winding road that led up
the cliff.

“I hope you’re right about the millionaire,” remarked Bill, as he
trudged beside his father. “That should mean a comfortable house and a
good feed. Sandwiches are all right, but they don’t go very far when
you’re downright hungry!”

“Well, this road cost a lot of money to build,” puffed Mr. Bolton. “It
seems to me that this key is the winter home of some pretty wealthy
people. Ah, here we are—top at last!”

The cliff they had just ascended evidently extended entirely around the
shoreline of the key. Before them the ground sloped into a natural,
bowl-like depression. This valley ran the length and breadth of the
island, which was about five miles long by two miles wide. The road,
gleaming white in the morning sun, ran straight down the valley, to a
group of low white buildings, a mile or so away. A heavy growth of trees
and shrubs covered the valley. There seemed to have been no attempt to
cultivate the soil, and except for the road, the group of buildings and
a large house that perched on a knoll in mid-valley, nature had been
allowed to run its own pace.

“Quite a settlement,” commented Mr. Bolton.

“And quite a walk—in this hot sun,” grumbled Bill, shifting his loaded
suitcase from one hand to the other.

“Oh, it will do us good to stretch our legs. Come along. Southern
hospitality is famous, you know. We’re sure to get a warm welcome,
especially in this out-of-the-way place.”

“It’s warm enough for me, right now,” retorted Bill. “Gee—what’s that!”

“Halt!” cried a rough voice. “Stand where you are, or I’ll fire!”

Two men sprang from behind the cover of a rocky outcropping near the
roadside. Both of the newcomers held repeating rifles at the ready. They
advanced down the incline toward the Boltons.



CHAPTER III—PRISONERS


The armed strangers were a swarthy, black-browed pair, clad in
sleeveless cotton under-shirts and ragged cotton trousers of no
particular hue. Both wore the floppy, broadbrimmed straw hats common in
the tropics, both were barefoot and carried canvas cartridge belts slung
over their left shoulders. A more villainous pair could not be found
anywhere.

“Stick ’em up!” commanded the taller of the two.

Bill dropped his suitcase and defiantly thrust his hands into the
pockets of his breeches.

“We’re not armed,” he said steadily, and ignoring the man’s angry growl,
turned to his father. “If this is a sample of the famous hospitality you
were talking about, Dad, a little of it is plenty!”

“Search ’em and search ’em good, Diego!” shouted the leader. “If they
make a move ter pull a rod, I’ll drill ’em.”

“But, I say—— Hold on!” Mr. Bolton exclaimed indignantly as Diego
relieved him of his watch and wallet.

“Hold up, you mean,” remarked Bill grimly. “A sweet gang of robbers
we’ve fallen into if the rest of them on this key are anything like
these two thugs.”

“Shut yer mouth, or it’ll be the worse fer youse!” snapped the
highwayman. “Mebbe yer get dese tings back when yer goes up ter de big
house, an’ mebbe yer don’t. Dat’s none o’ my business. It’s up ter de
boss.”

“I’ll bet he’s a gentleman of the old school,” mocked Bill. “Tell me,
Bozo, what do they call this place? Who is the hospitable owner?”

“Ain’t none o’ yer business,” snarled the man. “Gimme more o’ yer lip,
an’ I’ll give yer de butt of dis rifle between de eyes. Pick up dem bags
and march. Straight down de road—dat’s de way.”

Forced to obey, the Boltons took up their suitcases again and continued
along the dusty highway, but this time accompanied by an armed rear
guard.

“We’re arriving in style, anyway, with an armed guard,” Bill muttered to
his father. “What sort of a dump do you suppose we’ve crashed into?”

Mr. Bolton, whose face was crimson with annoyance, shot a glance of
reproof at the tall, broad-shouldered young fellow at his side.

“Whatever it is, you’ll only make things worse by trying to heckle these
people. The men behind are quite evidently underlings. When we meet this
boss they speak of, it will be time enough to demand an explanation. Why
the owner of this place should treat strangers in this cavalier manner
is beyond me, I confess.”

“If you ask me, Dad, I believe we are walking into a mess that has last
night’s seance at sea beat forty ways to Sunday.”

“I hope you are wrong,” his father answered stiffly. “But if Diego and
his loud-voiced friend aren’t criminals they should be, with faces like
theirs. We certainly seem to have been blown out of the frying pan
straight into the fire.”

Quarter of an hour’s walk brought them to the first of the buildings
they had sighted from the hillside. Closer inspection proved it to be a
long, one-storied affair with a flat roof and whitewashed stucco walls.
It looked hot and stuffy, and the Boltons noted that the small windows
set high up were barred with rusty iron.

“Looks like a Mexican jail to me,” declared Bill.

“I’ve never seen one,” his father replied. Mr. Bolton was in no state,
physically or mentally, for facetious conversation.

“Neither have I, except in the movies—”

“An’ dis is where we stops. In yer goes!”

Diego’s partner appeared at Bill’s elbow and motioned toward the
building with the muzzle of his gun. Diego, who so far had made no
observation of his own, produced a key. The heavy door swung inward and
the Boltons were rudely forced to enter.

They came into a fair-sized room, sparsely furnished with a chair and a
few wooden benches. As they passed into a long corridor lined with
cells, Diego’s pal relieved them of their suitcases, while Diego
unlocked a door and motioned with his rifle for father and son to step
into the cell.

“This is an outrage!” exploded Mr. Bolton.

Without a word, Diego slammed and locked the door behind them.

Bill, who feared that a show of resistance might cause the men to
separate him from his father, cut in upon his parent’s fury.

“Hey, you, Diego!” he called.

Diego stopped and turned round.

“Speak English?” Bill pressed his face against the bars and stared at
the man, who exhibited no sign that he understood.

“My Naval Academy Spanish won’t pass muster, so I reckon it must be
English,” continued Bill ruefully. “Anyway, I’ll take a chance. Look
here, Diego. Bring my father and me something to drink—something cool
and wet—with ice in it if you can—and I’ll make it all right with you
when the boss learns who we are and lets us go. If I’m talking too fast
for you to follow, I’ll say it all over again. How about it, my lad, do
you get me?”

A sour grin spread over Diego’s none too prepossessing visage.

“Youse an’ yer ole man go blow yer tops!” he replied in the best Bowery
argot. “Whadda yer take dis joint for—de Waldorf?”

He spat his contempt on the filthy floor and passed out of sight.

“You never can tell when you’ll run into home-folks,” said Bill with a
smile at Mr. Bolton.

Bill’s father looked hot and desperately weary. He spoke in a dejected
tone. “I admire your cheerfulness, son, in this trying position. But if
you will desist from buffooning the situation, it would be a relief to
me. Of course, I realize our arrest is a mistake. And the owner of this
island will surely make amends as soon as I tell him who we are. In
missing that conference in Miami last night, my entire business
interests were jeopardized. If I can’t get there before those men leave
for the North, you and I, boy, are liable to suffer a heavy financial
loss.”

Bill tossed his jacket on the dirty floor and sat down with his back to
the wall. “Thanks, Dad—but I guess you know I’m not playing for
admiration. I realize the seriousness of this mess we’re in just as
fully as you do. And one thing I do believe: we’re going to have to
shell out plenty of cash in a very little while, if you let the ‘boss’
over at the big house know you’re Bolton of the Bolton Sugar
Corporation!”

His father looked at him sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I believe,” went on Bill, “that this is going to be a hold-up game from
start to finish. If we haven’t dropped into the winter hangout of some
Chicago beer baron or New York racketeer, I’m a ground hog!”

“Mmm—ransom, you mean?”

“I do. I shouldn’t be surprised at anything after meeting Diego and his
bullying pal. Any man who would hire a couple of gunmen like those
fellows is sure to be a bad egg. And we’re getting a taste of his
generous hospitality right now. Of course, I don’t know what his
particular game is, but it’s bound to be something pretty low. When he
finds out you’re a power in the business world, he’s sure to bleed you.”

“I dare say you’re right,” his father returned gloomily. “I’ll have to
keep my identity hidden. By thunder!” he slapped his knee in vexation.
“The man knows _now_, exactly who I am. Those villains took my wallet!
My cards and some valuable papers were in it, to say nothing of the
currency I carried, though he can have that and welcome.”

“Tough luck, Dad—-I never thought of that. Now we are in for it. Ugh! I
wish those birds would bring us a drink. My mouth hurts, it’s so dry.”

“Filthy place, this—what with the stench and the heat—One of these days
I’ll make it even hotter for the man who is accountable for this!”

“Sh!” cautioned Bill. “Here they come!”

Diego and the other man came into sight between the bars. Diego unlocked
the cell door.

“On yer way!” he barked. “De big boss wants ter look youse over.”

“Anything’s better than this hole,” observed Mr. Bolton, and picking up
his coat he preceded Bill out of the cell.

“Mebbe—and mebbe not,” said Diego’s partner, and they both chuckled
hoarsely.

“How about some water to drink?” inquired Bill.

“Do I look like a soda fountain? Tell yer troubles to de boss. Servin’
drinks ain’t my job.”

The sun’s heat was terrific out on the road, and the glare was blinding.
All wind from the sea was cut off by the valley, and the very trees
seemed to shimmer under the broiling rays.

They passed several other buildings which looked like barracks and
warehouses, but saw no people. If there were any, they remained indoors.

“This is a sweet place to pick for a winter home,” gasped Bill, mopping
his streaming forehead. “The thug who runs things here must be a darned
cold-blooded guy.”

“Very probably,” returned Mr. Bolton, “but the place, though hot, has
its advantages, if he is what we surmise. It is quite out of the world,
and except from the air, no one would guess that the island is
inhabited.”

“Home at last,” remarked Bill after a few minutes, as they turned up the
incline toward the white house on the knoll. “Thank heaven there’s a bit
of a breeze up here. Whew! This bird certainly lives in style!”

The road swept up through beautifully kept flower gardens to the front
of the house, which appeared to be a really huge mansion. Wide verandas
surrounded the rambling building on three sides, and the cream stucco
walls contrasted pleasingly with the dark green of its tile roof. Money
had been spent here with a lavish hand. The place looked cool and
inviting. The Boltons wondered what it would hold for them.

They were led into a spacious hall, panelled in mahogany. Here again,
the Persian rugs scattered over the polished floor, the fine wood and
carving of the furniture, and a number of excellent paintings on the
walls, all bespoke the hand of wealth.

Bidding his prisoners remain where they were, Diego crossed the hall and
knocked at a closed door.

“Come in,” called a man’s voice, and Diego disappeared into the room,
closing the door behind him.

Bill started to make some comment on their surroundings to his father,
but their other guard growled at him to keep quiet. Then Diego
reappeared and beckoned them into the room.

This large apartment was handsomely furnished in the manner of a
business office. Behind a huge, flat-topped desk sat a fat young man
dressed in immaculate white linens. Blue-black hair and an olive
complexion bespoke his Latin origin. Two other young men, clad also in
white, and bearing a strong resemblance to the man at the desk, lounged
in wicker arm chairs. All were smoking long black cigars.

“And what, may I ask, is the reason for this outrage?” began Mr. Bolton,
walking up to the desk. “Is it your custom to have visitors to this
island treated like criminals and thrown into jail?”

“It is,” the fat man remarked blandly, without removing the cigar from
his lips.

Bill’s father was taken aback by this unadulterated candor, but neither
by manner nor change of tone did he betray his surprise. “How much do
you want to let us go?”

The man at the desk knocked the ash from his cigar.

“Why, it’s not a question of money at the present moment, Mr. Bolton.
That will undoubtedly come later. Just now, my brothers and I have need
of you in other ways.”

“You mean that we are to be kept here as your prisoners?”

“You have guessed the secret, Mr. Bolton. And my advice to you and to
your son is to do exactly as you are told, without argument or question.
Strangers on Shell Island have always found that to disobey commands
here is a particularly unhealthy pastime. Obey on the jump—is our
slogan. I hope for your sakes that neither of you forgets it.” He smiled
at them affably and puffed on his cigar.

Mr. Bolton was about to speak his mind when Bill caught his arm. “Stow
it, Dad,” he said. “That lad has us just where he wants us. I’d like to
say what I think, too,—but what’s the use?”

Their host waved his hand and their guards led the Boltons out of the
house.

Once on the road, tramping back toward the settlement below, Mr. Bolton
passed his arm through Bill’s.

“Your Naval Academy training has put a head on your shoulders, son,” he
said affectionately. “You have developed better control of your temper
under stress than I have. I’m glad you stopped me. Ordinarily a man of
my position in the world is in the habit of speaking his mind when
provoked.”

Bill nodded. “One of these days,” he said grimly, “I’m going to get that
fat slob in there—and when I do, there won’t be enough left of him for
the state to burn. What’s his game? Have you any idea?”

Mr. Bolton shook his head. “Not the slightest glimmer. It doesn’t appear
to be a case of ransom—or at least, not just yet. Whatever he is up to
is obviously illegal. But we’ll probably learn about it before long. The
man is an educated criminal. His actions prove it. Our position is
certainly serious—very serious.”

“I vote we make a stab at getting out of that cell tonight,” suggested
Bill. “If I can get hold of our bus or one of the other amphibians,
we’ll get clear of Shell Island in short order.”

“We’ll spend the day thinking up a plan of operations,” agreed his
father.

As they came into the settlement, Diego tapped Bill on the shoulder.
“Come along with me, guy,” he ordered. “Not you—” he snarled at Mr.
Bolton as he started to turn out of the road with his son. “Back to the
lockup for yours!”

“Good bye, Dad, and good luck,” Bill called as Diego’s partner herded
his father down the road.

“Good luck, and keep a brave heart,” answered Mr. Bolton.

He called out something else, but Bill could not catch the words, for
Diego had him by the arm and forced him through the doorway of the
barracks before which they had been standing.

He found himself in a large room where thirty or forty men quite as
villainous-looking as his guard were lounging about, smoking, sleeping
or playing cards. Diego hurried him through this apartment, and down a
bare hallway to the open door of a small room. Bill saw that except for
an unpainted table and a chair of the kitchen variety, the place was
empty of furniture. Over the chair a coarse cotton shirt and a pair of
cotton trousers were draped. Leg-irons and a pair of handcuffs lay on
the table.

“Strip!” Diego pointed to the chair. “Them’s your clothes, guy. Get into
’em.”

“How about wearing my own?” Bill was fast losing his temper. Only the
rifle which Diego held pointed in his direction prevented him from
sending a right hand jab to the point of the thug’s chin and taking his
chance with the others in the room beyond.

“Nuttin’ doin’, bo—” snarled Diego. “Dem’s de boss’s orders. Make it
snappy. We gotta get out o’ here right away an’ I want to pin de jewelry
on yer.”

“Where are we going?”

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere—but you are—” He grinned evilly at the lad—“youse
is goin’ ter be took fer a ride.”



CHAPTER IV—THE INVITATION


Diego gave vent to a raucous laugh after making this announcement. He
walked across the room, leaned his rifle against the table, and picking
up the handcuffs inspected them critically. His prisoner was unarmed and
too far away to offer an assault before he could snatch up his gun
again. He did not fear Bill physically. But many people misjudged that
slender body with the broad shoulders. The young midshipman was not yet
seventeen; nevertheless he was star right end on the Navy team and as
strong as a steel bridge. Now he saw his chance and took it.

Bending down as though to untie the pair of rubber soled sneakers he
wore, Bill suddenly half straightened and his lithe form shot through
the air. Before Diego could drop the handcuffs, one hundred and sixty
pounds of bone and muscle struck him just above the knees and he crashed
over backward beneath a perfect tackle. The unexpected jar and shock
half-stunned him and before he could gather his faculties, Bill’s fist,
backed by the venom of a sorely tried temper smashed him behind his left
ear. All lights went out for Diego, gangster and gunman, right there.

Bill scrambled to his feet, ran to the open door and peered out. The
corridor was empty. He closed and bolted the door and after a moment’s
thought, he approached the unconscious gangster.

Five minutes later, a young man clad in cotton undershirt, ragged cotton
trousers and rubber soled sneakers stepped through an open window on to
the wide veranda which ran along the side of the barracks. On the young
man’s head was a floppy broadbrimmed hat of straw. He carried a rifle.
The owner of these articles lay on the floor behind the window, quite
oblivious. When he came to again, he would find his wrists manacled
behind his back, his right leg chained to the table, and a gag in his
mouth. As Bill Bolton walked swiftly along the veranda, he conjured up
the pleasing picture of Diego’s awakening, and grinned.

With the hat’s brim pulled well down and acting as a partial screen to
his features, he ran down the broad wooden steps and out to the road.
Not a soul was in sight. Then suddenly his heart missed a beat.

“Hey, you! Where you goin’?” called a voice from the porch behind him,
and a man he had not seen before ran down the steps. Just then a large
handbell was rung somewhere within the building.

“Come in and get yer chow,” called the man.

Bill felt that he would certainly cause suspicion if he refused to obey
this suggestion. Moreover, he was thirsty and half famished. So he
walked back to the steps.

“I reckon you’re one of the new hands on the yacht,” observed the man.

“That’s right,” admitted Bill.

“Thought so, when I seen yer beatin’ down toward the harbor just afore
dinner time. The boss feeds us swell here. Has to, with this gang to
look after. Men get easy discontented in a sweatbox like this here
island. How’s the grub aboard the _Pelican_?. Useter be pretty bad.”

“I’ve eaten worse,” said Bill.

“Well, come along in and feed here today,” turning back up the steps
with him. “It’s a hot walk along that shell road, and I’ll need yer to
help herd some of them prisoners down there later on.”

Bill followed him into the building. This time he found the large room
deserted, and passing through a doorway to the right, the two entered a
big hall, down the middle of which ran two long, narrow tables.

The men were already seated at dinner, and nobody paid the slightest
attention to the new arrivals. Bill’s companion took his place at the
head of a table and motioned the lad to a vacant seat just below. A
pitcher of what proved to be lemonade was within Bill’s reach. He filled
and emptied his glass three times before he began to feel refreshed. A
slatternly negress placed a plate piled high with fried chicken, rice
and fried plantains before him and he dug into it with the relish of a
starved man.

“Reckon the _Pelican’s_ chow ain’t so good, the way you tackle yer
dinner,” laughed the man at the table’s head.

“If they have fried chicken aboard, it never gets for’ard of the cabin,”
Bill grinned back. He knew that his identity might be discovered at any
time and planned to make the most of the meal while he could.

“I run the commissariat and the men here at the barracks,” his new
acquaintance informed him. “Y’ got to feed ’em right to keep ’em
contented. The boss is liberal. ‘He knows his oats. Bum chow makes fer
fights and knifin’s in this climate.”

Bill nodded and kept on eating. A man further down the table raised his
voice above the clatter of cutlery on dishes and the hum of
conversation.

“Did you hear about the two guys that blew in here on a plane this
morning, Tom?” he asked the man at the end of the table.

“I sure did,” laughed that person. “I guess they didn’t know what they
was bumpin’ into when they hit Shell Island. You guys won’t have to take
so many trips to the mainland if suckers come here of their own accord,
eh?”

The laughter became general. The men apparently enjoyed the joke.

“Where are they now?” inquired another.

“Tony and Diego’s got them over to the calaboose. They was up to the big
house and Martinengo looked ’em over. It’s Bolton, the sugar
millionaire, and his boy.”

“The boss could squeeze a bunch o’ kale outen that pair!”

“But then he’d have to let ’em go,” said Tom. “And that would blow the
gaff. He’s shippin’ them up to the workin’s this afternoon with the rest
of the bunch.”

“I bet there’ll be a holler raised, when old man Bolton doesn’t show up
at home,” observed a voice far down the table. “That gang’s got
influence and friends. Yer can’t cop a millionaire without runnin’ into
trouble.”

“That’s where yer all wet, Zeppi,” called down Tom. “Bolton’s influence
won’t count him nothin’ with the Martinengo boys; and his friends will
think he’s dead. Went down with his son in the blow last night. There
won’t be no comeback. The two of ’em will be dead soon. The workin’s
ain’t no health resort.”

“I’ll say they’re not,” returned Zeppi. “Martinengo wouldn’t get me to
stick ‘round that dump—double pay or no double pay.”

“Oh, yes, he would—and on the jump,” Tom contradicted. “You’re a new
man, Zeppi. Y’ got a lot to learn, and the first thing is that the boss
don’t ask—he orders—and so do I. Them what tries to make trouble is put
on the spot. Get me?”

Tom turned to Bill. “Some o’ these boobs don’t know when they’s well
off,” he remarked genially. “What do they call yer, young feller?”

“Bill,” said Bill. He finished the last bit of his food and poured
himself another glass of lemonade.

“Well, Bill, if you hike back to the _Pelican_, that bo’sun will put you
to swabbin’ decks or somethin’. I need you later and I’ll fix it up with
him. You go into the bunk room and turn in with the rest of this crew.
Gotta take yer rest now—the bunch o’ you’ll be up all night.”

Bill saw that he had no option but to obey, so when the men left the
table he went with them. His plan had been to go to the jail, overpower
Tony and release his father. They would then make for the harbor, take
his amphibian or one of the others moored in the little bay and fly
away. Now he realized that he must conform to circumstances as he found
them. Nobody knew that he was not what Tom took him for, a deck hand on
the yacht _Pelican_. If only Diego were not discovered, he would make
another sortie in an hour or so, when the men were deep in their siesta.

No sound came from behind the closed door to the room where he had left
the gunman, lying gagged and bound, as he trooped down the hall with the
rest. The rear of the long corridor opened into a huge, airy apartment
which ran the full width of the building. Screened windows opened on to
verandas on three sides. The room looked like a hospital ward, with its
long rows of cots. At the head of each bed was a wooden chest with a
padlock for the owner’s belongings. A single sheet and a blanket were
folded at the foot of the bed, under the pillow. Everything was neat,
and evidently kept in the orderly arrangement of a military barracks.
Framed signs on the four walls read, “Silence—No Talking.” Tom, though
seemingly a genial soul, ruled with an iron hand.

Bill spread his sheet on the cot pointed out to him, and placed his
pillow at the head of the bed. Then he kicked off his sneakers and lay
down. Except for the sound of breathing and the buzzing of a bluebottle
against a window screen, the place was absolutely quiet. It was hot,
notwithstanding the ventilation, but the cot was comfortable, and try as
he might, Bill could not fight off the drowsiness that assailed him.

He awoke with a guilty start to the loud clang of a ship’s bell and sat
up on his cot. The hands of the clock on the wall opposite marked five
o’clock. He had slept four hours.

“I reckon you had a good snooze by the look of them eyes o’ yourn,”
remarked a jovial voice and Bill looked up to see Tom standing at the
foot of the bed. “Make it snappy, now,” he continued. “Take yer gun an’
wait fer me on the front porch. I’ll be along in a minute and I’m
puttin’ you on the detail that’s goin’ down to the harbor with them boys
in the calaboose.”

Bill nodded and slipped into his sneakers. He jammed his hat on his
head, and picking up his rifle, hurried from the room. He was angry with
himself for having fallen asleep, and now that he had the chance, he
meant to take it. Tom, when he came out, would not find him on the
veranda. Bill made up his mind to beat the detail over to the jail and
to follow out his original plan of rescuing his father and making their
getaway before the men arrived.

He passed down the hall and on through the lounge room, and was running
lightly down the piazza steps when a voice hailed him.

“Hey, youse! Where d’ you think yer headin’ for? Didn’t yer hear Tom
tell yer to stick around with this detail until he came?”

Bill stopped and looked back. The man called Zeppi was leaning over the
railing. Behind him ten or a dozen men were lounging in various indolent
attitudes and laughing at this diversion. Bill saw that they all carried
rifles.

“I guess youse ain’t been round dis dump long,” Zeppi was still
speaking. “Let me tell yer, kid, t’ain’t healthy to disobey orders,
‘specially Tom’s. He’s a soft-speakin’ guy, Tom is—but I seen him shoot
three guys in the last three weeks fer doin’ no more than you done just
now. Get up on this porch before he shows up, if yer ain’t tired o’
livin’.”

Bill hid his disappointment and chagrin and ran up the steps.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m half asleep, Zeppi. I didn’t think where I was
going.”

“Okay with me, kid. I’m fair sick of seein’ guys put on the spot fer
nuthin’ at all. Just remember that when yer told the _porch_, don’t go
out in the road, or anywheres else, when they’s Tom’s orders.”

“Who’s talkin’ about me,” gruffed Tom from the doorway. “Oh, it’s you,
Zeppi! Well, what’s the trouble now?”

With a sleight-of-hand motion, he jerked an automatic revolver from a
holster under his left armpit and covered the man.

“Okay, Tom.” Zeppi dropped his rifle and raised his hands above his
head. “I was just tellin’ the kid here that he should shake a leg when
it come to takin’ your orders, or—”

“Oh, _that_ was it, eh?” Tom cut him short and put away the gun. “Sorry,
Zeppi—I come near drillin’ you. I’m always a bit rough after a
sleep—must watch myself. We’re losing too many men. Get into line, you
bozos,” he commanded, “follow me by twos—march!”

Bill fell in beside Zeppi, who winked at him. The party clattered down
the steps and started along the white road at a smart pace. He felt much
as a man might who is being led to execution. His only hope was that
Tony would remain inside the jail and that the detail would not be
forced to enter.

When Tom turned into the place, motioning the others to follow him,
Bill’s usually optimistic spirits fell. Tony was found pouring over a
_Police Gazette_, his chair tilted back against the rough plaster wall.

“Hello, Tom,” he greeted, raising his eyes from the pages. Then his
chair came down with a crash and he sprang to his feet.

“What’s that feller doin’ wid you, Tom?” he cried. “What’s he done wid
Diego?”

“What feller? What you shoutin’ about, Tony?” growled the barracks boss.

Seeing that the game was up, Bill rested his gun against the wall and
stepped forward.

“It’s me he’s talking about,” he said. “I’m Bill Bolton.”



CHAPTER V—TAKEN FOR A RIDE


The barracks boss stared at Bill in undisguised amazement, while the
others fingered their rifles. Slowly a twinkle came into the man’s eyes
and he broke into a roar of laughter.

“When it comes to cast-iron, dyed in the wool _nerve_?” he choked,
“you’re sure a winner, Bill—Bolton! I took a fancy to yer when I first
laid eyes on yer and I’m sorry for yer now. If I wasn’t,” he shot out
venomously, “I’d certainly put a bullet in yer carcass. The joke has
been on me, all right—now it’s on you. If you bumped Diego off, the
boss’ll put yer on the spot. Them’s rules. What did yer do with him?“

“He’s lying in the room over at the barracks where he was about to
handcuff me and put me into a pair of leg irons. He’s wearing them now,
or was when I left him.”

“Did you bump him off?”

“No. His jaw may be broken where I socked him—otherwise, I guess he’s
O.K.”

Tom took half a cigar from his pocket, thrust it into his mouth and
chewed steadily for a minute or two.

“Well, you’re a smart kid, Bill,” he admitted, “but not quite smart
enough for this outfit. Got the keys to them cuffs and leg irons?”

Bill handed over the keys without a word.

“Zeppi,” Tom ordered, “trot up to the barracks. Let that fool Diego
loose and bring them things here.” He tossed him the keys and Zeppi
hurried away.

“You men,” continued Tom, “go back to the cells with Tony and bring out
them guys. Not old man Bolton, remember. Martinengo ain’t sendin’ him
along with this batch. Take ’em out the back way and line ’em up in the
road till I come. That’s all—beat it!”

Tony and the detail trooped into the corridor, closing the door behind
them. Tom ejected a stream of tobacco juice on to the floor.

“I don’t know as how I can blame yer,” he said to Bill. “You’re in a bad
way, kid, and I reckon you know it.”

“What about my father? Will Martinengo have it in for him because I
tried to get away?”

“Naw—the boss is hot on discipline, but he’ll enjoy the joke, seeing as
how nobody except Diego is the worse for it. That mug is sure to have a
sweet time explaining but youse two won’t get strafed. The workin’s is
bad enough punishment. He’ll let it go at that.”

“What are these workings you’re all talking about, Tom?”

The man shook his head. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he returned
evasively. “Here comes Zeppi. Orders is orders, and you gotta get into
that hardware.”

Bill was handcuffed and his ankles were locked into iron bands on either
end of a short chain. This made walking possible, but scarcely
comfortable, since he could not take a step over a foot in length. He
shuffled out of the jail, accompanied by Tom and Zeppi, to find a group
of twelve men in chains like himself, lined up by the roadside. Tom gave
the word and the party and its guard filed off down the road toward the
harbor.

From his place at the rear of the line Bill studied his fellow
prisoners. They were a nondescript crew, negroes, Indians (Seminoles,
from the Everglades, he thought) and poor whites. All were dressed as he
was. They were dirty and unshaven, stumbling along quite evidently
dispirited and hopeless.

The atmosphere was stifling and the white shell dust stirred by the
tramping of many feet set them to coughing. Bill tried to show a brave
front to his guards but the utter hopelessness of his position, the
uncertain future and the separation from his father made him feel
desperately blue and discouraged. He trudged along in the blinding dust
and heat, almost praying that his troubles might be ended with a bullet.

But when they topped the rise and began to follow the zig-zagging road
down the cliff, the sight of blue water below cheered him considerably.
It was cooler out of the valley, and he somewhat regained his spirits.
He spotted his own plane, moored out in the bay near the yacht
_Pelican_. Tied up to the concrete pier was the larger of Martinengo’s
two amphibians, a tri-motor plane of huge dimensions.

The shambling party drew closer and he saw that she was constructed with
a windowed cabin forward to house pilots and passengers. Aft of this and
having a separate entrance was a large freight hold. When carrying a
capacity load, he fancied that her weight must be terrific. Now, with
her retractible wheel landing gear drawn up to the metal covered hull,
the big flying boat rocked gently at her mooring. A mechanic tinkered
with her central engine. Two young fellows in smart white uniforms and
gold-banded caps, who were smoking cigarettes on the wharf called a
greeting to Tom as the party arrived. Bill realized that they must be
pilot and assistant pilot of this craft. A short gangway led across from
the pier to the freight cabin entrance and over this Bridge of Sighs the
clanking prisoners were herded.

The interior of this large compartment of the air cruiser may have been
originally designed for carrying freight. Bill now found that the
remodeled hold served quite another purpose. At right angles to the
entrance, a narrow corridor ran lengthwise down the middle of the cabin.
Opening off this were tiny wooden cubicles with just enough space behind
their barred doors for a man to sit on the narrow bench which served as
the sole article of furniture in each tiny cell. The place reminded Bill
of the eighteenth century prison hulks about which he had read. Light
and air were let in through iron barred portholes and Bill was glad to
find that the cell that housed him contained one of these small windows.
By squeezing sideways on his seat, he got a restricted view of the bay.

Presently the door to the prison hold was shut and an armed guard took
his seat at one end of the cell corridor. A few minutes later, Bill
heard the engine idling and they floated away from the dock. The hum of
the three motors soon increased to a roar and they started to taxi
toward the mouth of the harbor.

Trained aviator that he was, Bill Bolton knew the exact instant that the
pilot lifted his heavy bus on to her step. There came an increased spurt
of speed, as the plane skimmed the surface of the bay and rose into the
air with the smooth grace of a bird taking flight.

Her nose pointed toward the western horizon she sailed over the heads at
the harbor’s mouth, gaining altitude every second. When she reached a
height which Bill, staring out of the porthole, judged to be about a
thousand feet, her pilot banked sharply to starboard. Again she swung
back on an even keel; and now with throttle wide open the big flying
boat roared into the northwest.

Bill saw that the round red orb of the sun was perhaps still an hour
above the horizon. He craned his neck and the sea near at hand became
visible. It looked smooth and calm. Here and there low islands, the dark
green of their vegetation contrasting with the bluish green of the
water, dotted the silken surface of the bay.

Bill straightened on his narrow, uncomfortable seat. Rather than stare
at the poor fellow in the cell opposite, who was weeping, he closed his
eyes. But this did no good, for he conjured up the dreadful picture of
his father in the stifling calaboose on Shell Island.

Twisting round again, he sought relief from troubled thought in the view
from his tiny porthole. They were traveling overland now. Fifteen or
twenty miles away, he could make out the sea’s dim outline. But what
interested Bill far more was the nature of the country below.
Innumerable water-courses intersected a dense cloak of dark green
foliage which seemed to be banded with a somber red along the waterways.
Then as the plane’s pilot dropped her nose, seeking to avoid the
increasingly strong headwind, Bill caught the sickening stench that he
remembered so well.

“Mangrove!” he exclaimed aloud, his voice drowned in the roar of the
engines. “We’re over the mangrove swamps of Florida, south of the
Everglades! That red line along the banks of the streams—exposed roots,
of course.”

He watched the swamp for some time, wondering what the pilot would do if
a forced landing became necessary, and thanking heaven that the motors
seemed to be running smoothly.

Then the amphibian sailed over wide water again. “Whitewater Bay, on a
bet,” thought Bill, who remembered his map of Southern Florida. “Chuck
full of mangrove islands, too. If I’m right, we’ll cross a strip of
mainland soon, and if that pilot keeps to this north-by-west course,
we’ll be over the Ten Thousand Islands in fifteen or twenty minutes!”

Bill’s guess was a good one. The bay gave way to swamp once more, and
then they shot out over a weirdly beautiful stretch of water, studded
again with countless islands. He knew now that the plane was paralleling
the south-western border of the Everglades—that huge, swampy basin on
the southern Peninsula which covers an area much the same as
Connecticut. But unlike the populous New England state, the only human
inhabitants of the Everglades are a few hundred Indians who thread its
lonely water-paths in primitive dugout canoes.

Evidently the plane’s pilot did not intend to cross the Everglades. They
were still heading north, but the amphibian’s nose had been swung to
starboard. By the time they left the Ten Thousand Isles, Bill realized
that they were traveling a point or two east of north. Could it be that
they were making for those dark, watery woodlands known as the Big
Cypress?

Bill had heard about the Florida Cypress Swamps, and knew them to be a
trackless labyrinth of swamps, lagoons, creeks and low, fertile islands,
all deeply buried in the shadows of a mighty cypress forest. Twilight
was deepening over the earth now, as the red ball of the sun sank below
the horizon. Bill thought he could just discern the first outlines of
the big trees; then all was dark, and the amphibian roared on into the
maw of black night.

He continued to gaze into the darkness. Perhaps fifteen minutes later,
his vigil was rewarded by the sight of a pinpoint of red light far ahead
and slightly to the left of the speeding plane. It was soon evident that
the pilot recognized this signal, far below in the wilderness. The light
disappeared from Bill’s view, and he knew the reason why. The plane’s
nose was now headed directly for the light and therefore it was out of
range from his porthole.

Down there in the trackless swamps of Big Cypress, someone was
signalling the amphibian. Could this be their destination? Had they
reached “the workings” that the men on Shell Island mentioned with such
obvious loathing?

The big bus tilted forward and down. The three motors ceased to function
and Bill knew that the plane was about to land.



CHAPTER VI—OSCEOLA


Bill was conscious of the amphibian’s upward swing as she leveled off
preparatory to landing. Her tail dropped slightly and a second or two
later she was gliding through smooth water propelled by her own
momentum.

Electric lights flashed in the prison cabin, illuminating the place with
blinding suddenness and making it impossible to see further into the
black night outside the porthole.

The plane’s momentum decreased and she stopped with a slight jar. Orders
were shouted. Men called to each other to pull on this rope and that.
Then the door to the cabin swung open, the prisoners trooped from their
cells, and marched up a gangway on to a large wooden dock.

Lanterns glowed in the darkness. Bill caught a glimpse of black water,
then he found himself shuffling along a narrow corduroy road with the
rest. Great trees arched intertwining branches overhead and cast an even
deeper gloom on their path. From time to time the swaying lantern of a
guard cast its beam on gnarled trunks covered with creepers which reared
upward from black water. There was the rank stench of rotting vegetation
in the humid air. Before Bill tramped the log road twenty feet, he was
wringing wet with perspiration.

They swung to the right and up a sharp incline, halting before a high
stockade. Thick plank doors in the wall of tree-trunks opened inward and
the party entered the enclosure. Here arc lights on high wooden
standards flooded the yard with brightness. Numerous one-story buildings
were set about a large open square of hard baked earth. So far as Bill
could see there were no trees within the stockade, nor had any attempt
been made to beautify the place. Most of the buildings were of unpainted
boards, although the squared logs of several of the largest proved them
of more solid construction.

Few people were about. The enclosure was as bare and uninviting as a
military training camp. It was toward one of the log buildings that the
prisoners were hustled. A guard unbarred an ironbanded door and they
were thrust within the building. With a clang the door slammed and at
last the band from Shell Island were left to their own devices.

Bill looked about him. The only light came from the arc lights’ rays
which shone through barred windows set high in the four walls. This
meager illumination cast the place into somber twilight. Their new
quarters consisted of a not too roomy, barn-like, rectangular space, the
peak of whose slant roof was lost in the shadows overhead. The terrific
heat, the reek of perspiring humanity added to the rank odor of the
swamp was almost overpowering.

As Bill’s eyes gradually became accustomed to the gloom, he soon
discovered that the newcomers were to have plenty of company. Dark
figures sprawled in all sorts of attitudes on the damp earthen floor.
Most of them seemed sunk in the slumber of exhaustion. A few talked in
low tones as though the humidity had sapped all vitality from their
voices. From a dark corner came the uncontrolled sobbing of a man in
agony.

Bill picked his way over the huddled bodies toward one of the posts in
the middle of the room, that helped to support the roof. The clanking
chain that connected the ankle cuffs impeded his progress, caught on a
projection and sent him headlong on top of another figure crouched on
the ground near the post.

“Sorry!” apologized Bill, hauling himself off his victim. “I certainly
didn’t—”

“No harm done,” replied a pleasant, though languid voice.

Bill leaned back against the upright and crossed his legs.

“Decent of you to take it that way,” he observed.

“Too much effort to fight,” remarked the unknown with surprising candor.
“This beastly place saps one’s pep. After you’ve been here a while,
you’ll feel that any unnecessary effort just isn’t worth while. Came in
just now with that new batch, didn’t you?”

“That’s right—how did you guess it?”

“You’re still carrying the iron-ware. Those beasts will take it off in
the morning. They always leave you weighted down the first night.”

The man’s voice was deep and resonant. He spoke with the accents of
education which prompted Bill to continue the conversation.

“My name is Bill Bolton,” he said, by way of a starter.

“Not Bolton, the Naval Academy end?”

“You _are_ some guesser!” Bill’s tone showed his surprise. “I made the
team last fall; but how did you happen to place me that way?”

“I played against you in the Carlisle game last year. I’ve got a number
now, but before I came here I was Osceola, Chief of the Turtle Clan of
the Seminole Nation.”

“Carlisle’s All-American half back! I remember you now—I should say I
do. How in the world did you get here?”

“Pretty much the same way we all do. I was kidnapped. And the worst of
it is that now these devils have got us, there’s no possible chance of
escape.”

“What is this joint, anyway?”

“You mean you’ve no idea what you’re in for?”

“Not the foggiest. The men on Shell Island spoke of ‘workings’
somewhere—”

“These are the workings, Bolton—gold workings.”

“But I thought I was in Big Cypress.”

“You are.”

“But—surely you can’t have a gold mine in the middle of a swamp!”

“There you’re wrong. Martinengo not only has a gold mine, and a most
profitable one, at that—he also runs suction dredges.”

“How come?” Bill was intensely interested.

“The rock floor of the Everglades and these cypress swamps is usually
found at a depth not exceeding six feet; but in some places it is twice
that far down,” replied the young Seminole chief. “There is gold in the
rock below the swamp near here. Martinengo has workings in that rock.”

“Coffer dam?”

“Yes, a coffer dam has been built to keep the water out. The rock near
the top is fairly soft and that is probably why the muck on the bottom
of the swamp hereabouts contains gold. The colors or particles of the
metal run very fine, but they are profitable to mine. At least
Martinengo finds it so. For that work suction dredges are used. Oh,
you’ll get better acquainted with the whole business soon.”

Bill said nothing for a minute or two. Presently he observed: “What I
don’t understand yet, is why Martinengo kidnaps people and keeps them
prisoners in this horrible place.”

“Because,” Osceola answered slowly, “the mines are made doubly
profitable by using slave labor.”

“What!” exploded Bill, leaning forward.

“Slave labor, my friend. And you and I are two of the slaves. It is
cheaper for that gangster Martinengo and his brothers to kidnap negroes,
Indians and poor whites than to hire miners. The work is terrific and
the climate frightfully unhealthy. These devils would have to pay a very
high wage to legitimate workmen. As it is, we don’t live long, here.
What with long working hours in a climate that approximates a Turkish
bath, the cruelty meted out by the overseers, starvation rations, the
general filth and the hopelessness of our position—well, two or three
months of it is about as long as the average man can stand. Swamp fever,
snake bite and other diseases usually cut the time shorter.”

“It’s deadly.” Bill’s voice, when it came, was very low. “And to think
that this is going on in the United States of America! Surely, though,
the government will eventually put a stop to it?”

“Maybe,” returned Osceola apathetically, “but it isn’t likely that you
and I will live to see it. If the federal government has done anything
to break up organized crime that’s terrorizing the country, I haven’t
heard of it. By the way, how did these people get hold of you?”

Bill told him, and ended by stating his worries concerning his father.

“Martinengo probably means to get money out of Mr. Bolton before
shipping him over here. He’ll never let him go free, no matter what he
may promise. If the secret of Shell Island ever leaks out, it means an
end to Martinengo’s profits here.”

“Were you taken on the Island?”

Osceola laughed contemptuously. “I was a fool, Bolton. My ambition since
I was a small boy has been to do something for my people. Once we were
great warriors, today we are a degenerate, ignorant race. White man’s
fire-water and lack of education have made us go backward while the rest
of the world has progressed. I meant to educate myself first, and when I
had acquired knowledge, I felt I would then be fitted to take up my
task. So I went to school and won a scholarship at Carlisle. I still
have two more years to go there before graduation. Shortly after the
summer holidays began this year,—I had gone back to my people—I took my
gun to bring in some waterfowl.

“Well to cut the tale short, I ran into a man-hunting gang of
Martinengo’s. They pretended they were lost and I offered to lead them
back to Whitewater Bay. I suspected nothing. They took me off guard,
carted me over to Shell Island with some other poor fellows—and
eventually I was put to work here.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Six weeks ago yesterday. We Seminoles stand it better than the others.
Most of us are fever-proof, probably because we have lived in the
Everglades for generations.”

“Haven’t you tried to escape?” Bill asked him, and voiced the thought
that had been uppermost in his mind ever since he left Shell Island.

“I’ve thought about it,” the young chief admitted, “especially when I
first came here. Everybody does, I suppose, but the thing is next to
impossible. Trackless swamp all around—it would be sure death to face it
without a boat or canoe. And even if a craft of some kind could be
obtained, you would starve to death. About a month ago, two men escaped
but they were caught and brought back.”

“Punished?”

“They were.”

“What happened to them?”

“Condemned to two hundred lashes apiece with an overseer’s wirewrapped
whip. We slaves were forced to witness the—execution.”

“Execution!”

“That’s what it amounted to. Both of the poor chaps were, mercifully,
dead before the first hundred lashes could be administered. Human flesh
and blood couldn’t stand it. The whips these beasts use cut a man to
ribbons. We all get a taste of it, no matter how hard we work. I have no
shirt any more. You’ll see my back in the morning.”

For a long while the two lay there on the filthy earthen floor without
speaking. Most of the weary souls had found a temporary relief from
their troubles in slumber. Except for the sound of their uneven
breathing the place was still as a tomb. Through the barred windows came
the occasional sound of a splash where some denizen of the great swamp
slipped from a gnarled root into water, and once the scream of a bird
sent echoes reverberating through the night.

Bill came to a decision.

“I’m going to take the first chance that offers,” he whispered.

“Chance to escape?”

“Yes, Osceola. This hopeless slavery is worth any risk.”

“I believe you are right—but think! Even if you can escape the guards,
you will certainly die in the swamps.”

“Not if you will come with me?”

“But even I, who know the ways of swamps, can’t guide you to safety
without a canoe—and there is absolutely no chance of securing one.”

“I’ve got the germ of an idea,” said Bill, “It still has to be worked
out in detail. Also, it will, of course, depend on whether I am put to
work on a dredge, or underground.”

“You’ll work on a dredge,” affirmed Osceola. “We all do in this prison
house.”

“Good! And I am going to put the plan to test just as soon as I can.
Tomorrow, if the opportunity offers. _Will_ you join me?” Bill’s tone
was deadly earnest.

“Any death is better than this living one,” replied Osceola in a voice
that matched the former’s.

“Then—it’s a go?”

“You bet it is!” whispered the Seminole, and the two, after sealing the
bargain with a handclasp in the darkness, lay down again on the hard
ground and fell asleep.



CHAPTER VII—THE ATTEMPT


The first faint rays of morning filtered through barred windows and
there came a rattling of locks on the prison-house door.

“Up and out, you lazy dogs!” shouted a harsh voice.

The overseer’s whip cracked, bringing forth a scream from a weary wretch
near him.

The slaves got to their feet and shuffled out of the evil-smelling
place. Two of them, however, remained slumped on the floor. The overseer
turned them over with his foot, then realized that these two would slave
no more. He muttered a curse and followed the others into the square.

Here under the supervision of extra guards the slaves were drawn up in
line. Bill, and the party who had arrived with him were unshackled and
the woebegone crew was ordered to march on again.

Along the side of the square they stumbled, halted again at an open shed
where a ship’s biscuit and a small crock of water were handed to each
man as he filed past. The line of slaves swung round toward their prison
house. Back there once more, they sank to the ground and partook of
their morning meal. Bill noticed that files of other slaves were being
herded out of buildings on the farther side of the square, toward the
food shed.

“Knock the maggots out of your biscuit and soak it in the water,”
advised Osceola, who was seated beside him. “You won’t find it fit to
eat otherwise.”

Bill made a grimace. “I can’t eat this filthy stuff, Osceola. Why, it’s
crawling with the beastly things.”

“You’ll get nothing more until one o’clock when we knock off for an
hour,” returned his friend. “And at that the ship’s biscuits are better
than the mess we get at noon. If you don’t eat, you’ll pass out in short
order. Make it snappy, too—they don’t give us much time.”

Bill nodded and after ridding the biscuit of as many worms as he could
find, gulped down half of the tepid water in his crock and dunked his
breakfast in the remainder. While the stonelike substance was softening,
he studied the young Seminole chief. By daylight, Osceola proved to be a
tall, rangy fellow, with the finely cut features and the high cheek
bones of his race. Like most of the slaves, he wore nothing but frayed
trousers and Bill saw that his red-bronze back was crisscrossed with
ugly welts from the lash.

When the biscuit was soft enough to eat, Bill crunched it between his
teeth and forced it down with the rest of the water. The evil mess
gagged him in spite of his hunger, but he could not afford to starve and
lose his strength. By the time he had finished, the slave gang were
ordered to their feet again.

Down to the shed they marched, and after depositing their empty water
crocks on a table, they were crowded over to the wall of the compound.
An overseer, armed with shortstocked whip and automatic revolver
unbarred the double doors of the stockade and swung them inward. The
guards, armed like their leader, took their places on either side of the
long line, and two by two the slaves moved forward on to the corduroy
road.

This time, instead of going down toward the lagoon and the dock where
the amphibian lay moored, they turned off on a side road. This wound
through the swamp between great cypresses whose dark green foliage was
intertwined with the lighter green of vines and air-plants, and other
parasites. Exposed roots of the trees, interlocked with the roots of
their neighbors, looked like giant snakes twisting in and out of the
muck and water. Though the sun was but half an hour high the steaming
swamp seemed to sap every ounce of Bill’s vitality, and with it, the
last shred of that hope to which he clung so desperately. In the
cavernous gloom of the forest, the vile stench of rotting mangrove was
nearly overpowering; and as they plodded on, the heat grew more and more
oppressive.

The log roadway was never more than ten feet wide, and sometimes, where
it was built to run between two mighty trees, it was even narrower. It
wound an uneven passage through the swamp, until about a mile from the
stockade, it came out on a lagoon, dotted with cypress-covered islands.
Here, sunlight brightened the long stretches of open water, and Bill saw
that lovely orchids bloomed on many of the trees, and that the matted
upper branches of the cypresses were brilliant with masses of flowers.
Then a black blob on a root near the road uncurled itself, one of the
guards tossed a stick and a huge snake slid into the water.

The roadway extended along the lagoon’s edge for half a mile. Though it
ended abruptly at this point, Bill saw that preparations were in view to
extend it further.

“Those are the gold dredges,” affirmed Osceola, indicating three hulks
which looked like crosses between coal barges and canal boats. “Those
big funnels at the ends, sticking into the water, are the suction
pipes.”

“How do the dredges work?” Bill inquired as they drew nearer.

“They are driven by stationary steam engines,” explained the young
Chief. “Muck and water are sucked up from the lagoon’s bottom, then
forced through screens and allowed to flow in shallow streams over wide
inclined surfaces called tables. These tables are corrugated in such a
way that all heavy substances in the silt, like fine particles of gold,
are caught in the channels and washed down on to the blankets, while the
lighter stuff passes over the side.”

“A bit too technical for me,” said Bill. “What are blankets?”

“I’m not much on mining, but here, blankets are just what they sound
like. They are covered with quicksilver to which the gold particles
become attached. Later the quicksilver is washed from the blankets, and
the gold taken from it by some process I don’t know about. I may have
missed a few details—probably have. I’ve only worked on the dredges
three days.”

“Then we aren’t _all_ gold-miners?”

“Oh, no. Slaves do all the work of the camp. At present, some of the
strongest of us are extending this road farther along the lagoon. But
we’ve arrived—stop talking now, for it means the whip, during working
hours.”

The line halted opposite the dredges moored to the bank, and a certain
number of the slave gang were ordered aboard. Axes were passed out to
others, who went on board flat-boats and poled out toward the young
growths of the cypress islands.

Bill hoped that he would be one of this number, for, with an axe in his
hands, many things might be possible. Instead, when his part of the line
moved up to where the head overseer was issuing directions, the man
pointed to a stack of iron wheelbarrows. After taking an empty barrow
apiece, the two friends trundled them in a long line of barrow men down
a planked incline to the muck heap formed by the gold dredges. Men with
shovels were already stationed here and Bill found that with the impetus
of the guards’ whips behind them, each man had his barrow filled with
mud and rubble in less than no time.

As soon as his own was filled he trundled it up another series of planks
to the roadway. Along this the continuous stream of sweating
barrow-pushers led him to the end of the road. Here, under the direction
of overseers, the loads were dumped into the virgin swamp. It looked to
Bill as though the black water would swallow up all the mud they could
carry and more, but before many trips had been completed, he could
plainly make out the progress of the roadbed.

Soon the labor became a back-breaking, seemingly endless grind. Never
once was the weary, sweating crew given a chance to rest. At the
slightest lagging, the overseer’s wirebound lash descended upon the
defenseless back of the transgressor. Loads were heavy and the strain on
little-used muscles was terrific, especially on the stretch of planking
from the incline up to the road. Before an hour had passed, Bill ached
in every limb. Blisters quickly formed on his perspiring hands; he felt
dizzy and sick.

All at once a red hot iron seared him across the back and shoulders, and
with a yell of pain Bill sprang forward. From behind him came the
guard’s warning:

“Snap into it, y’ lazy hound—or I’ll cut your liver out!”

To retaliate would be suicidal. The man carried an automatic besides
this fearful, wirebound cowhide lash that laid open the bare flesh with
every stroke. Bill’s anger blazed at the cowardly blow, but at the same
time his hopes of escape sank to lowest pitch. What could unarmed men do
against these beasts? An uprising of all the slaves would be practically
an impossibility, quartered as they were in separate prisons. He also
began to understand that even the uprising of one prison-house gang was
not to be considered. By the end of the day, these worn out men were
sure to be apathetic to any such proposal. The fearful punishment meted
out for failure would stop all but the most courageous from joining a
concentrated revolt against their masters—the slim chances of success
would deter the others.

Bill discarded all thoughts of such a plan. If he and Osceola were to
escape, they must go it alone. Yet how could it be accomplished? He was
still cogitating the matter, when the head overseer raised a police
whistle to his lips and blew a sharp blast. Barrows and shovels were
immediately stacked and the men lined up for their noonday meal.

This time a greasy mess of vegetables and small pieces of rubber-like
meat were ladled on to wooden platters from a barrel on wheels. With
this went a slab of stale bread and a crock of water. The stew, if it
could be called that, was lukewarm and so rancid as to be almost
uneatable. But Bill wolfed it down, following the others’ example, only
sorry that no more could be had.

The gang ate their dinner squatting on the corduroy road, and as soon as
they had finished, most of the toilers fell fast asleep.

“They prepare this mess for us once a week,” Osceola informed Bill.
“Today is Thursday, and by Saturday the heat has soured it to such an
extent that hungry as we are, we leave it alone. No man’s stomach can
hold it then.”

Bill finished his bread and the last drop of his water.

“I should think it would pay Martinengo to feed us better,” he muttered
wearily. “No wonder the men die off quickly, forced to such labor and
undernourished this way.”

“It costs him little to kidnap new slaves,” grunted the Seminole. “All
supplies have to be flown here by plane from Shell Island. But I’m too
tired to talk, Bill. Better get what rest you can—the afternoon is
always worse than the morning grind.”

He stretched out on the logs of the roadway, and a couple of minutes
later, his regular breathing told that he was asleep.

Bill lay down, too, but his aching muscles, the smart of his back where
the guard’s lash had cut the flesh, and his blistered hands made slumber
an impossibility. Myriads of buzzing, stinging mosquitoes added to his
discomfort and he was not sorry when the overseer’s whistle brought the
men staggering to their feet again.

Instead of a wheelbarrow, now, Bill and Osceola were given shovels for
the afternoon’s work. At first, Bill welcomed the change but soon found
that it was quite as arduous as the morning’s toil. There was absolutely
no let up. As soon as one barrow was filled, another took its place. The
wet mud was slippery, the mosquitoes by the water even more tenacious.
He began to feel that death was preferable to endless days of this kind
of thing.

To make matters even worse, the overseer in charge of the shovelers used
his lash without mercy at the first sign of flagging. Bill felt its
burning pain several times during those hours, as did every other man on
the muck-heap.

The woodcutters returned late in the afternoon and began carting their
logs up the incline where they were dumped on the mud at the end of the
corduroy to solidify the foundation of the extended roadway. The tree
trunks were heavy and the men so weak that it took eight or ten of them
to carry a single log.

Slowly the sun sank toward the western end of the lagoon and Bill knew
that within five or ten minutes they would be forced to knock off for
want of light. Then Osceola slipped in the muck and fell flat.

Before the poor youth could get to his feet, the overseer’s lash felled
him again. But instead of desisting in his cruelty, the man continued to
rain blows on the prostrate and half-unconscious body of the Indian.

This was too much for Bill. As the wicked lash descended for the third
time, he dashed toward the guard and swinging his shovel like a club,
brought it down on the man’s skull. The overseer dropped in his tracks
and Bill helped Osceola to his feet.

“Follow me,” he shouted, “it’s now or never!”

Osceola, half dazed, ran with him through the crowd of amazed workmen to
the far edge of the muck heap. There came two splashes as the lads dove.
Revolvers barked, men shouted orders and the lagoon’s glassy surface was
churned with bullets.



CHAPTER VIII—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SWAMP


The water closed over Bill’s head. The shock of the plunge put new heart
into him and he struck vigorously out keeping well under the surface.
His plan was to make for one of the small islands of the lagoon,
trusting that oncoming darkness would cover his escape. What he would do
after reaching the island must depend upon circumstances.

The green depths of the lake were surprisingly clear. He could see
myriads of small fish dart away as he forged ahead. Then a long dark
body swept alongside of him. Osceola’s sinewy arm caught him by the
shoulders and swung him round to the left. The Indian swam ahead,
keeping parallel with the bank, his actions showing Bill that he wished
him to follow.

By this time, Bill’s lungs were nearly bursting and his head throbbed
with the strain of remaining under water. Feeling that he must have air
or drown, he turned on his back and rose, careful that no more than his
nose and mouth appeared above the surface. Two or three life-giving
breaths, and he sank again, with the muffled sound of revolver shots in
his ears. After another spurt under water in the direction indicated by
Osceola, he came up to the surface again, sinking as soon as he had
filled his lungs with air.

Rising for the third time, he was surprised to find the young Seminole
at his side. Osceola was floating with his head just above the water.

“It’s safe to stay up now,” he murmured. “Make no sound—and follow me.”

The Indian turned on his side and glided forward with the speed and
silence of an otter. Bill understood that a splash might be fatal in
advertising their whereabouts, and followed in his wake. Though a strong
swimmer and a fast one, he could not keep up with the Chief.

Then the sun, already low on the horizon, sank out of sight. Osceola’s
sleek head disappeared under the canopy of overhanging boughs that lined
the lagoon’s swampy shore. Soon Bill glided beside him, into the deep
shadow under the branches, and although he could not see his friend, he
heard his low voice.

“Give me your hand, Bill. We’ve got to get out of this. They will come
here when they find no sign of us in the lagoon.”

“Lead on, old sport,” answered the white youth. “You’re a better man
than I am if you can navigate in this gloom.”

“Oh, I’ve got eyes like a cat,” chuckled Osceola. “Come on now—there are
roots below us—stand on them.”

Bill found a foothold on the slimy roots and hand in hand they scrambled
out of the water. Osceola led him round the base of a huge tree and onto
the sprawling roots of another forest giant.

“This is the one—I’ve had my eye on it ever since we’ve been working
this end of the lagoon. There’s a cleft in the trunk, about thirty feet
up that will hold us nicely.”

“Mmm—after we get there!” was Bill’s unenthusiastic reply.

“Oh, that’s not so difficult. There are plenty of vines.”

Bill followed Osceola a few steps round the trunk, then felt his hand
touch a thick stem that clung to the bark of the tree.

“Follow that straight up,” directed the Seminole. “I’ll go ahead, for I
can see.”

“I wish I could,” said Bill. “I’m as blind as a bat in this darkness!”

“You’ll get accustomed to it,” Osceola assured him. Then Bill’s hand was
released from the Indian’s grasp and he heard the other moving upward.
“Follow me,” he went on, when he was just above Bill’s head, “and if you
get into trouble, grab my foot until you can find a toehold.”

The thick stem of the vine proved a comparatively easy means of ascent,
and especially so to an Annapolis midshipman. Up he went, hand over
hand, his rubber-soled shoes gripping the bark’s rough surface.

“Here we are,” said Osceola’s soft voice presently, “give me a
hand—that’s right. Now step in here and squat down. Not so bad, eh?”

“Could be a lot worse,” agreed Bill, finding a seat next to his friend
in the wide cleft. “If those guys can’t see any better than I can in
this murk, they’ll have a time locating our hideout.”

“They’ll have torches to give them all the light they need,” replied
Osceola. “But they’re not counting on their eyes to find us.”

“Listen!”

Across the swamp sounded the deep bay of a dog.

“Bloodhounds?”

“They keep four of the brutes in kennels over at the stockade.”

“Think they’ll be able to track us?”

“I doubt it. We were walking on roots under water until we started to
climb. Of course we left a trail up the tree trunk, but the hounds are
not likely to scent it.”

“Then you think we’re O.K. for a while?”

“We can’t stay here forever. When daylight comes, the guards can spot us
easily from the end of the road. This tree isn’t more than thirty yards
from there.”

“The question being—where do we go from here?”

“Well, where do we go! We’ve got neither food nor a boat. What with
snakes, alligators and other pleasant companions, we won’t get very far
on a hike through the swamps. You spoke of a plan some time ago. How
about it?”

“Just a germ of one,” sighed Bill. “It needs working out—but with luck
you and I will be able to get away from this vile place and go pretty
much where we like. It all hangs on whether we can—”

“Hush!” warned Osceola. “They’re coming this way. Look over your
shoulder!”

Bill did more than that. He twisted round in the niche and stared into
the black opaqueness toward the corduroy road.

Lights, twinkling pinpoints of red, dotted the black night in wavering
clusters which advanced along the road. And again the damp, lifeless air
was burdened with the deep-throated cry of bloodhounds.

“Those lights will discover us if the searching party leaves the road
and comes over this way,” whispered Bill.

“There’s only one thing to do,” admitted his companion. “And we’d better
do it now.”

“What’s that?”

“Crawl out on one of these branches and lie flat. You take that one
nearest you and I’ll lie on the one that parallels it. Don’t move if
they come underneath us. Some of those guards have ears like their
hounds.”

Bill had no difficulty in performing this feat, for the branch was
thicker than his own body and he wriggled along until he lay fifteen or
twenty feet from the trunk of the tree. His eyes had at last grown used
to the inky darkness of this forest in the swamp. Peering down through
the heavy screen of foliage and vines, the gnarled roots, underbrush and
stagnant water below became dimly visible. To the left, possibly ten
feet away and slightly above him, was the branch on which his Indian
friend lay. Of Osceola he could see nothing, but he heard the Seminole’s
muffled warning as he twisted his body to get a better view and in doing
so, cracked a twig.

The lights of the searching party were steadily moving nearer. For a few
minutes they seemed to hesitate at the spot where the road ended. Then
they came on again and he could plainly hear the dogs splashing noisily
about in the swamp. Still nearer—and the glare of pine torches made it
possible for Bill to see that the party were poling canoes—three of
them. The flares lit up the swamp, sending weird shadows here and there
as the canoes advanced.

“Them dogs is tryin’ t’ climb in this here canoe,” sang out a rough
voice. “There ain’t no scent on th’ water fer them t’ follow.”

“Let’s go back, Pete,” argued another voice, “if dose guys is in dis
swamp dey’ll have t’ stay put till mornin’. Den we can catch ’em easy.”

“Sez you!” returned Pete with a snort. Bill recognized his surly voice
as that of the overseer he had felled with his shovel. “Them two can see
in daylight just the same as us. An’ one of ’em is an Indian, don’t
forget. They’s round here somewhere now an’ with sunup, they’ll hike
it.”

“Oh, yeah?” sneered the other. “They ain’t got no boat nor grub. What’s
de use of rustlin’ in here now, Pete? Them hounds ain’t no good. What we
need is water-rats.”

“Shut yer trap—and step on it with dat pole!” Pete’s ire seemed to be at
the boiling point. “Long as I’m bossing this job, we goes on—see? You
bums is pushin’ yer faces into de wrong picture when yer bumps up
against me. Scram now—an’ _shut yer traps_!”

Bill held his breath. The canoes were now directly underneath the
spreading branch of the cypress where he and Osceola lay hidden. He
hugged the limb close, praying that the blazing flares below would not
disclose his whereabouts to the trackers.

Suddenly a sharp hiss sounded in his ear. Thinking that Osceola wished
to attract his attention, he turned his head toward the neighboring
branch. To his horror he saw a huge snake lower its long black body from
the branch above. The reptile’s furiously hissing head was not over a
foot from his face. Disturbed by the lights, the angry creature was bent
on attack!

Bill clung frozen to his branch. If he moved, the men beneath the tree
would be attracted by the sound, and would probably sight him at once.
Far better a swift death in the gloom of the cypress than slow torture
for Osceola as well as himself if they were discovered.

All this shot through his mind with the speed of light. Then a branch
cracked, there came a swishing sound through the air and the snake slid
downward, missing him by inches. He saw Osceola draw back the stick with
which he had lashed the moccasin, and the air was rent with a terrified
scream from below.

Peering down, Bill saw a horror which he would never forget. Twined
around Pete’s throat and head was the viper that a moment before had
nearly caused his own death. The frenzied overseer leapt shrieking to
his feet and lurched into the water. The canoe capsized and its two
other occupants were precipitated into the swamp with their leader.

For several minutes, bedlam reigned. Dogs barked, men shouted hoarsely,
their yells awakening the forest birds whose cries of alarm echoed and
reechoed throughout the night.

Pete’s companions splashed aimlessly about in the muck and water for a
time, then with the help of the other two crews, their canoe was righted
and they climbed aboard. The overseer’s body did not come to the
surface.

“Youse guys can do what yer like,” declared one of the dripping men when
the uproar had subsided, “Me——I’ve had enough. I’m goin’ back.”

“I’m wid ye,” agreed a voice from one of the other canoes. “Let’s fish
Pete out an’ go home.”

“Say! If youse expects me ter wade round in this muck, lookin’ fer a
stiff, wid dat snake ready ter bite and plenty more of ’em in dis here
swamp, youse got another think comin’——” snarled the first man with
profane emphasis. “Dis baby’s goin’ to catch some sleep before sunup—er
somebody else is goin’ on de spot ‘long wid Pete. Hey dere, bozo—turn
dis boat round. I want t’ get me feet on solid ground again before
sumpin else falls outen de trees ter croak a guy!”

Grunts and shouts of approval greeted this lengthy speech. The canoes
headed back toward the road. The trackers, by common consent, were
through for the night.

When the lights of the party had disappeared in the distance, Osceola
spoke to Bill.

“Come back to the niche on the trunk. Those chaps are off till morning.
We’ve got to plan, now.”

Bill scrambled backward along his limb, and found Osceola before him at
their perch. He grasped the young Indian’s hand and wrung it.

“You saved my life, Osceola! I thought I was a goner. Some day perhaps I
may be able to show you that I appreciate what you did for me.”

“Oh, that’s all right!” Osceola’s voice showed his embarrassment. “And
you did more than that for me on the muck heap this afternoon. Pete’s
out for good now—and I must confess I’m not sorry.”

“Here, too.—You spoke of plans just now. Got any?”

“Not a single idea—but what about yours?”

“Well, I was tired and sleepy a while back. Couldn’t think. But that
snake woke me up—and how!”

“What are you thinking of?”

“That we wait here for an hour—then hike over to the compound.”

“But—you mean—to give ourselves up?” Osceola cried in astonishment.

“Give ourselves up—nothing! I’m going to get us out of this rotten
cypress swamp for good and all. But to get away from here we’ve got to
go back there first.”

Osceola grunted. “What you are saying probably means something to you—to
me it is as plain as mud. Sounds like a minstrel gag. Tell me, Mr.
Bones, when and why we must go in there in order to get out of here!”

Bill laughed for the first time since his arrival at the workings.

“You’re a sketch, Osceola! But I guess you’re right. My plan in a
nut-shell is just this. You may not believe me, but if we live, you and
I are going out of here by plane—and I’m going to fly it. Do you see
now?”

“The amphibian is here, all right,” affirmed the Seminole. “She won’t
fly back to Shell Island until tomorrow. But there’s no stealing her,
young fellow. First, she’s locked up tight. Second, she’s too well
guarded.”

“Just so,” Bill declared, grinning in the darkness. “But my plan is not
to steal the _plane_, you know.”

“What then?”

“Steal the pilots, my hearty!” This time Bill laughed outright.



CHAPTER IX—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COMPOUND


“How about it?” asked Bill an hour later. “Time to travel?”

“I guess those lads behind the stockade should be pretty well off to
bye-bye by this time,” yawned Osceola, getting stiffly to his feet. “In
more ways than one, I hate to leave the shelter of this good old tree.
It certainly has proved a help in time of need!”

Bill likewise stood up and balanced himself on their airy perch in the
darkness. “Well, I can see your point,” he answered, “but I’m not
getting sentimental about it. Ever since that filthy snake poked his
nose at me, I’ve been waiting for his wife or brother or sister to drop
on me. I can’t see in the dark like you. So the sooner we make the road,
the happier I’ll be.”

Notwithstanding the urge that prompted Bill to hasten, it took the two
some time to reach the corduroy road. Osceola took the lead. He seemed
to have no trouble in discerning obstacles quite invisible to Bill. At
the base of the tree, he caught his white friend’s hand, and after a few
words of caution, started forward.

To Bill the trip seemed endless. They had not gone far when he lost all
sense of direction. Along slimy roots, first above and then below water,
they made their way. It was impossible to pierce the inky shadow under
the trees. If it had not been for Osceola’s uncanny power, half
instinct, half sight, Bill would have floundered into the soft mud of
the swamp and been sucked down into the ooze. How long the journey took,
Bill could never figure out when later he thought about it. The actual
distance was not great, but the time taken to travel it seemed years.

“Here we are,” exclaimed Osceola at last. “Step on to that log, and be
careful. It runs up the side of the dump at the end of the road.”

Bill felt with his foot in the darkness, touched one of the tree trunks
thrown down to act as road ballast. A scramble up the steep incline
followed, the Indian still guiding him by the hand, and they were
standing on the corduroy.

They were now no longer under the forest canopy and above their heads
the heavens were studded with stars. Without a word, the youths broke
into a trot. Fifty yards from the stockade gates they halted. There came
a whispered conference, and then two dark figures entered the shadow
cast by the trees and crawled forward along the roadside.

Just before they reached the gates they turned to the right. Following
the log wall, they continued to creep on until they arrived midway
between two of the flood lights which illuminated the compound. These
were placed on high poles, perhaps ten feet above the twelve-foot
stockade.

Bill grasped more firmly the short, thick stick he carried, and placed
his mouth close to Osceola’s ear. “Lucky Martinengo never thought that
prisoners might want to get _into_ this place, rather than break out of
it,” he whispered. “If those lights faced this way, we’d sure be out of
luck.”

The Seminole grunted a low assent.

“Stand with your back to the wall,” Bill continued, “and give me a hand
up. When the guard comes along, I’ll bean him with this club. Then I’ll
pass him over to you.”

“Okay. But after you drop him over, get on this side of the wall again,
while I’m tying him up with the creepers. One of those devils inside is
likely to spot you, otherwise.”

“Good idea—I’ll do that. Ready?”

For, answer, Osceola got to his feet and walked over to the stockade.
Here he turned, placed his back against the wall and made a stirrup of
his clasped hands.

Bill stuck the club into his waistband and a moment later was standing
on his friend’s broad shoulders. Up went his hands and he chinned
himself to the top of the wall. A broad sentry-bench ran along the
inside of the stockade. Lounging with his back to the logs, sat a guard,
every feature of his unpleasant face made plain by the blazing
floodlights.

Bill lowered himself onto Osceola’s shoulders and leaned forward.

“He’s sound asleep!” he whispered tensely.

“Fine. We’ll leave him alone, then. Get an arm over the top and stand by
for my weight when I hoist myself up.”

Bill obeyed and the Indian caught his leg. Then came a moment of severe
strain—and Osceola clung to the wall at his side.

Up and over they went together. Bare feet touched the sentry-bench,
tiptoed to the edge and the lads disappeared beneath it. They had
reached their first objective in less than two minutes.

Safe for the moment from outside observation, Bill followed Osceola as
the young Indian skirted the wall in the deep shadow below the
sentry-bench. No word was spoken. Each knew exactly what he must do, and
kept his mind focussed on that performance. True, the first part of
their plan was working out far better than they had expected, but the
second and third stages of their enterprise were far more dangerous.
Although they were elated by their success so far, neither was
overconfident.

Osceola stopped short and pointed to a building that stood possibly
twenty yards away. Smaller than most of the houses, it was a bungalow,
with wide verandas extending round the entire structure. It was
shingled, and topped with a low-eaved roof of attractive green tiles.
The contrast between this comfortable-looking dwelling and the barn-like
quarters of the slaves was as pronounced as day and night, or the
contrast between home and prison. Bill had not slept in a comfortable
bed for some time. Then and there he determined to finish out the rest
of the night in that bungalow!

Between the sentry-bench and the house there was no shelter of any kind.
Floodlights streamed down on the hardbaked clay of the compound,
bringing every rut or small unevenness of the surface into clear relief.
Moreover, the ground was within the direct line of vision of the
sentries.

“Do we crawl—or make a dash for it?” hissed Osceola.

“The sooner, the quicker. We’re more likely to attract attention moving
fast, but we’re harder to hit!”

The Seminole nodded. “Ready if you are.”

“Let’s go!”

Together they sprinted across the open space. Each moment Bill expected
the drilling pain of a rifle bullet between his shoulders, and it took
considerable will power not to crouch and slacken his pace. Their naked
feet made no sound at all on the hard earth and rather less than a
second later, the two vaulted the veranda railing and sank down behind
it.

Certain that so far their presence within the compound had not been
discovered, Bill got to his feet again. With Osceola at his heels, he
crossed the piazza to a screened door, pulled it open and entered the
house.

They found themselves in a kitchen where a gas stove stood in one
corner, across from a large sink. Polished pans and cooking pots hung
below long shelves stacked with cans of food, packages of cereal and the
like.

“Too bad we can’t help ourselves to a meal,” whispered Osceola. “I’m
famished, aren’t you?”

“Sure am. But come on now, when we’ve finished the job ahead, it will be
time to think of food. I prefer starving a bit longer—it’s one better
than dying by the lash! Through that door is our way. Quiet! if those
lads in there wake up before we want them to, you and I are out of
luck.”

Osceola opened the door indicated by Bill and they slipped through it,
closing it softly behind them. They were now in a hall which ran forward
bisecting this part of the house. There were two open doors on their
left. Bill pointed to the nearer and they tiptoed to the sill.

Thin rays from the floodlights filtered in through half open blinds. By
this dim light Bill and Osceola made out the figure of a man sprawled on
a cot by the window. A small bureau, two straight chairs, a wardrobe
trunk and grass matting on the floor completed the room’s furnishings.
On one of the chairs lay a small pile of clothes; on the other, close to
the head of the bed was an automatic revolver and a gold-faced watch.

Osceola passed like a shadow across the intervening space and grasped
the gun. Bill closed the door to the hall. Neither made the slightest
sound. Then Bill nodded to his friend. Osceola promptly kicked the side
of the cot and the sleeper awoke to find himself looking into a
blue-black muzzle.

“One peep out of you and I’ll blow your head off!” remarked the Indian
in a low, dispassionate voice. “Turn on your face and put your hands
behind your back.”

A single glance into his captor’s eyes was enough for the fellow on the
bed. Those smoldering fires of pent-up hate won the battle before it was
begun. The young man hastened to comply with instructions.

Bill came over to the bed and while Osceola continued to cover their
prostrate prisoner with the automatic, he tore a sheet into long strips.
With these the fellow on the bed was scientifically bound and gagged.
Then the two friends moved on to the next room.

In there, exactly the same thing happened. Ten minutes after entering
the bungalow, Bill and his Seminole friend were masters of the place.

“I don’t suppose this house has a cellar,” mused Bill. They were in the
kitchen, preparing a much needed meal.

“Not a chance,” said Osceola, from the stove. “You’ll strike water a
foot down anywhere in this compound. Haven’t you got those cans of
corned beef open? This skillet is piping hot.”

Bill tossed him the cans, placed a bowl of eggs within reach of the cook
and commenced to slice bread.

“I asked, because we’ve got to stow those aviators somewhere. Perhaps
the joint runs to an attic. That will do just as well.”

“Well, we’ll find a good place for them,” replied the Seminole, intent
on his cooking. “Confound them! These aviators of Martinengo’s live like
kings. A house to themselves, all kinds of good things to eat, and we
poor devils pigging it a stone’s throw away!—Better break open some more
of those cans. I see tomatoes, corn, asparagus and cherries on that
shelf. Let’s sample them all. I haven’t had a decent meal, let alone
half enough to eat for weeks. How about it? Have you got an appetite?”

“_Have_ I!” Bill began opening the other cans and dumping their contents
on plates which he placed on the kitchen table. “I’ll tell you one thing
and that is, we eat the rest of this as is. I can’t wait for cooking.
Bring over that skillet of eggs and corned beef. I’ll get the coffee.
The smell of this stuff has turned me ravenous!”

Half an hour later, the two lads drained the last dregs of their coffee
and grinned sleepily at each other across the table.

“Some feed!” Bill yawned and raised his arms above his head. “I bet
we’ve got away with three days’ rations. Gosh! One more crumb and I’ll
bust! Do you think it’s safe, now, to turn in? I could go to sleep
standing up.”

Osceola rose slowly to his feet. “Of course it’s safe, Bill. I wouldn’t
take a chance—not at this stage of the game, you know.”

“But how about the lad who cooks for our aviator-friends? He’ll mosey
along here in the morning, and when he finds _us_ sleeping here,
there’ll be the devil to pay!”

“Oh, no, there won’t! I know the man who acts as their servant, luckily
enough. He’s a sort of trusty—been here a long time—but he is locked up
in our prison house every night. That chap is just as keen to get back
to his home and his people as we are. There won’t be a peep out of Sam.
Our worries will begin again when we leave this place in the
morning——But sufficient unto the day——”

“Good enough!” enthused Bill, also leaving the table. “That being the
case, I vote we put the careless aviators in a good safe place. Then me
for bye-bye P.D.Q.!”

“If you think,” grinned Osceola, “that _I’m_ going to stay up and wash
dishes ...” he yawned, “you’ve got see-vee-rial thinks coming!”



CHAPTER X—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MORNING


“Eight o’clock, suh! A fine hot day—an’ yo’ baf is runnin’.”

Bill opened his eyes and stared upward from a soft pillow into the
grinning face of an ancient negro.

“Ise Sam. Reckon Marse Osceola done tell yo’all ‘bout me. Yessuh—yo’ baf
is runnin’.”

Bill stretched and sat up in bed. “Pinch me, Sam,” he yawned. “Did you
really say ‘bath’—or am I still sound asleep?”

“No, suh, yo’ sure is awake, Marse Osceola has just got out o’ the tub.
He done tol’ me to wake yo’all.” The old darkey seemed a bit flustered.
“Ef yo’ll kindly tell me how yo’ likes yo’ eggs, Marse Bolton, I’ll go
on in de kitchen and dish up breakfast.”

“Sam,” said Bill, springing out of bed. “You’re a sight for sore eyes,
and your voice is music. Lead me to that bath you mentioned, and lead me
quick. Real soap and clean water! Gee—it’s wonderful!”

“An’ de eggs, suh?”

“As long as they are fresh and there’s plenty of them, you cook them any
way your heart desires.”

“Yessuh——I will, suh. De bathroom’s through dat door over yonder.”

Thirty minutes later, two spruce young fellows in freshly laundered
uniforms of white duck met at the breakfast table in the dining room of
the bungalow.

“Is it really the wild Seminole chief, Osceola?” grinned Bill as he
stood and gazed admiringly at his friend.

Osceola grinned back at him. “It sure is,” he laughed and took his seat
at the table. “They tell me that clothes don’t make the man, but—well,
I’d never have known you for the chap I said good night to a few hours
ago.”

“I feel like a million dollars!” Bill unfolded a snowy white napkin,
while Sam filled his coffee cup. “Rest, good food and decent clothes,
not to speak of a bath, sure do make a difference. These uniforms fit as
if they’d been built for us, too.”

Osceola nodded. “These white shoes I’ve got on pinch a bit, but even so,
I’m probably a darn sight more comfortable than the lad who owns them.
It must be getting pretty hot under the roof by this time.” He motioned
toward the ceiling.

“They’ll be found and released later on,” said Bill, his mouth full of
buttered toast. “In fact, I’ll leave a note on the table here, when we
go, telling where we’ve hidden them.”

“They don’t deserve it,” returned Osceola, “but you’re the boss. Do as
you like about it.”

“What time is the plane scheduled to shove off?”

“She generally takes the air about ten. We’ve plenty of time.”

“O.K. We’ll finish breakfast, then I’ll write the note, and we’ll go
down to the dock. I want to get to the plane early. A helmet and goggles
for each of us will be a grand help to this disguise. What’s worrying me
is the getting down there. If the guard at the gate happens to know
those lads upstairs, and smells a rat, things are likely to become
rather unpleasant.”

“They are,” said Osceola with conviction. “If we are stopped, there’s
nothing for it but to shoot our way out and beat it down to the plane.
Maybe we’ll make it and maybe we won’t—— Anyway, we’ll have lived like
human beings again for a few hours—and that’s something!”

“You’re right there, old man!” Bill pushed back his chair. “Come in
here, Sam,” he called. Then as the darkey appeared through the swinging
door, “How’d you like to take a hop, Sam?”

“Oh, suh,—if you on’y could take me with you!” The old man’s voice was
husky with excitement and longing.

“If we go, you go,” declared Bill.

“God’ull bless yo’all for dis, Marse Bolton. ‘Deed he will. I done give
up all hope o’ seein’ Lize an’ de chilluns long ago. I——”

Bill stood up and clapped him on the shoulder.

“That’s all right, uncle. If things go as we hope, we’ll all be seeing
our folks soon. Go into the room I slept in. There’s a suitcase in
there, and there’s one in the other bedroom, too. Pack them with
anything you please, and follow us down to the dock with both bags when
we leave here. Carry them aboard the plane and forget to come ashore.
I’ll find a place you can stow away, never fear.”

He cut short the old darkey’s thanks and sent him hurrying off to pack.
Then, after rummaging about, he found paper and pencil. A moment or two
later he tossed the note he had written on to the table, for Osceola to
read.

“I don’t suppose there’s much of a chance we’ll have the bus to
ourselves?”

“Hardly. She only runs three times a week and from what I’ve heard,
there are always passengers to be taken to Shell Island. Where will you
head for?”

“Miami, I guess. Any town with a police station and a jail for our
passengers! But Dad and I have slews of friends in Miami, and we may
need friends badly before we’re clear of this business. How does that
suit you?”

“It’s as good a spot to land as another. I want to see this place and
Shell Island cleaned out before I go home.”

“Just one thing more, Osceola.”

“What’s that?”

“If there’s trouble aboard the amphibian—with the passengers, I
mean—well—I’m not coming back unless I can bring a posse.”

“You’ll crash her first?”

“Just that—agree?”

“Of course I agree to it. I’d a thousand times rather be dead than live
the life of the last few weeks over again. If there’s no other way out,
crash her. That’s a quick end—but to be brought back here means death by
inches for both of us.”

Sam appeared in the doorway, carrying a couple of suitcases. “I’se all
ready, gennulmen, when yo’all is.”

“That being the case,” smiled Bill, “my vote goes for a speedy
departure. Ready, Osceola?”

“Rearing to go.” He picked up his gold braided cap and clapped it on his
head. “It always sets me on edge to wait—for danger.”

“So you rush into battle so as to get it over with, eh?” Bill laughed.

“Something like that. To tell the truth, I think we’re both just a bit
beyond ourselves at present. Let’s get out of here.” He walked to the
front door and flung it open.

Bill caught up his cap and followed Osceola, with Sam at his heels.

Sun from the cloudless sky poured down on the unlovely prospect before
them in a deluge of steaming, tropical heat. The compound, except for a
mangy cur or two and a remarkably thin cat, was deserted. The members of
Martinengo’s company who were not driving his slaves in the swamp
preferred the shade afforded by their quarters rather than this
blistering sunlight. Presently the little party came to the closed gates
of the stockade.

A man shambled out of the guardhouse with a huge key in his hand.

“Youse high-flyers certainly have the life,” he grumbled and rattled the
padlock that held the gates. “Nuthin’ ter do but take nice breezy rides
and have niggers to wait on you. And me sweatin’ blood ter let you in
and out of this here stockade!”

He pushed open the heavy doors just far enough for one man to pass
through at a time, stood aside and scowled at them.

“So much obliged, Oswald, old chap,” beamed Bill. “Sorry I’ve got
nothing smaller than a demi-grand. Sam, if the worthy turn-key insists
on a tip, hand him a cake of soap. He’ll smell the sweeter for it.”

He passed out of the stockade behind Osceola, with Sam grinning from ear
to ear, bringing up the rear. Through the closing gates came a torrent
of sizzling invective.

“Kind of risky, wasn’t it, Bill?” The Seminole waited for his white
friend, then paced beside him down the winding corduroy road.

Bill grinned. “Maybe,” he admitted. “But he seemed to expect an exchange
of courtesies. He’s used to getting an earful from the pilots, I’ll bet.
And returning it with interest, for that matter. Well, here we are at
the dock—and there’s the old bus waiting for us!”

“And nobody around yet but our own sweet selves!” exulted his friend.
“But I’m a blushing rose today when it comes to showing my lovely phiz.
Me for a helmet and goggles as soon as possible. Let’s get aboard.”

They slid back the door to the cabin and passed inside. The long
apartment was equipped with comfortable passenger seats, five on each
side of the narrow central aisle. Big observation windows ran the length
of the cabin, and a door at the rear led direct to the prison hold in
which Bill had made the trip from Shell Island. Investigation proved
that the wooden bars of the cells had been removed and piled at the
farther end. Neatly stacked in bins arranged for the purpose were a
goodly number of small canvas sacks. Each bag was padlocked.

Bill lifted one of the sacks. “Gold!” he cried. “Nothing else could be
so heavy. The Martinengos certainly are making a fortune out of these
diggings if this is a sample shipment!”

“They’ll not get a chance to lay their filthy paws on that lot if I can
help it,” said Osceola grimly. “Let’s go up front. I haven’t seen a hole
a mouse could hide in so far, much less Sam. Perhaps that door with the
window in it, at the other end of the passenger cabin will solve the
problem.”

“I can tell you now that it opens into the pilot’s cockpit.” Bill
started forward.

Upon reaching it, he slid open the door to find himself in a roomy
cockpit, fitted with two pilots’ seats and complete dual control of the
wheel and column type. A three piece glass windshield gave such
protection that Bill knew goggles would not be necessary under normal
flying conditions.

“It’s a swell boat,” he remarked. “Luxurious devils, these slave
drivers.”

Osceola nodded. “Looks pretty nice to me. Certainly is a big ship. Do
you know anything about her? I mean to say, can you fly this kind of an
airplane?”

Bill smiled good humoredly at the Seminole’s worried expression. “This
bus is a tailor-made job—no stock model was ever built like this. But I
can fly her all right, once I’ve seen that her tanks are full and tested
her three engines. The man who assembled this ship knew what he was
doing. There’s nothing better for commercial work than the 200
horsepower, air-cooled radial engines she’s equipped with.”

“I’ll take your word for it, old man. But why not get busy and take off
right now? If there are any passengers, they’re likely to spot us for
what we are. I’m not eager to shirk a fight, you know, but things are
sure to become hectic when they find out we’re not bound for Shell
Island.”

“True,” said Bill. “But I reckon we’ve got to go through with it. Your
idea’s a good one, Osceola, but it just won’t work. I thought of the
same thing on the way down here. Cast your eye yonder, old sport.
Martinengo’s minions are taking no chances with pilots pulling anything
phoney on their own hook!”

Both Osceola and old Sam glanced in the direction indicated by Bill. On
a broad mound of earth, half way up the incline toward the stockade, the
ugly nose of a field gun could be plainly seen, Beside the gun stood a
sentry.

“That gun would blow this bus to kingdom come if I ‘got busy’—as you
call it. I’m going to give the ship a looking-over now, but that’s all,
till I get word to shove off.”

Osceola’s face was a study in chagrin and gloom.

“You’re right, of course, Bill. I’d forgotten about that gun. Tell
me—what are we going to do with Sam?”

“Oh, he can stay in this cockpit. Crawl in behind the pilot’s seat, Sam.
Lie down on the deck, and curl up so your legs don’t show. The partition
will screen you from the passengers. Better hop in there now—there’s no
telling when they’ll be along.”

“Yassuh, boss, Ise a-gwine dar now. I ain’t takin’ no chances.”

Sam wriggled into his hideaway and Bill turned to Osceola.

“Slip into that jumper and put on your helmet,” he suggested. “It looks
no end professional. There’s nothing for you to do but sit in that seat.
You can’t very well put down your goggles until just before the take
off. So if anyone shows curiosity, pretend to be fixing something on the
instrument board. You’ll find a screwdriver in the locker, I guess. That
ought to help the picture fifty percent at least,” he grinned, then went
on—“But if you love your life, don’t unscrew or tighten anything! There
are some men coming down the road now. I’ve got an inspection to make
and then—I’ve got to get out on the dock and meet them.”

“Can’t you stick around here, get the motors started or something?”
Osceola’s voice was muffled by the jumper he was pulling over his head.

“I’d like to,” Bill assured him. “But it would look queer and somebody
would be sure to smell a rat. There’ll be a guy down here to give me
orders, all right. From what we know, the pilots of this outfit keep
pretty much to themselves. Here’s hoping I don’t run into any of their
pals.”

“I’ve got my gun handy, and you’re wearing one,” said Osceola pointedly,
as he adjusted the chinstrap of his helmet. “If it comes to a pinch,
we’ll shoot it out—field gun or no field gun.”

“That’s the way to talk!”

Bill slapped his friend’s shoulder and went into the cabin.



CHAPTER XI—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE AIR


Then there came the sound of tramping on the wooden planks of the dock.
Bill took a deep breath and stepped out of the cabin into the bright
sunshine. He counted seven—seven men approaching him.

“Morning,” he greeted affably as the leaders drew near. “All
passengers?”

“All but me—fer the island,” announced the man in advance of the rest, a
cadaverous person with a Vermont twang in his voice. “I got too much to
do round here to go joy ridin’. Guess I ain’t seen you before. Funny,
but I thought Thompson piloted the plane up last night.”

“Not this plane, Mr.—?”

“Weed’s my name, youngster. Who be ye anyway?”

Bill smiled at the matter-of-fact Mr. Weed. “First pilot of this
amphibian,” he answered calmly.

Several of the other men chuckled. “That’s one fer ye,” exploded one,
“what’s his moniker matter, so’s he can fly the plane?”

“That’s my business,” growled the Vermonter. “Shut yer face, Pete!
You’re too goldarned mouthy!”

“Who sez so?” Pete scowled at him and laid a hand on the revolver he
carried in a holster under his left arm. “Not you, you nosey hayseed—cut
yer cackle and let’s get goin’. I’m fed up to the eyes with you and this
stinkin’ swamp.”

He beckoned to the others to follow and the party filed aboard the
amphibian.

Weed splashed the dock with tobacco juice. “Guess you must be one of
them new aviators the boss has hired,” he observed in his nasal twang.

“I guess you’re right,” said Bill. “Made my first trip yesterday. Any
orders?”

“Nope—no orders. You’ve got a bunch of gold aboard—be careful of it,
that’s all. What’s become of Thompson? He wasn’t so goldarned stuckup as
most of you fellers.”

“Search me—I’m not wet nurse to every bum pilot Martinengo hires,” Bill
shot back carelessly. “If that’s all, I reckon I’ll say bye-bye and
shove off. The big boss doesn’t pay me to argue with slave drivers.”

“Is that so?” snapped Weed. “Well, let me tell you, young feller, that
I’m boss of this camp. What I say here _goes!_”

“Good!” said Bill. “That’s just what I’m going to do now!”

He cast off the lines that moored the plane to the dock. Then he sprang
aboard and slid the cabin door shut and locked it amid a torrent of
abuse from the camp boss.

Without a word to the grinning men seated in the cabin, he went forward
and into the pilot’s cockpit shutting this door after him as well. With
a wink at Osceola he slipped into his seat behind the wheel and after
giving the plane’s three engines a short test, he let in his clutch.

The big ship, which had been slowly drifting away from the dock and the
irate Mr. Weed, began to gather headway. Bill taxied her round in a wide
half circle until he got her head into the light wind with a long
stretch of open lagoon ahead. A slight widening of the throttle sent the
big bus hurtling down the straight-away. Then Bill jerked her onto the
step and a moment or two later she was in the air.

Bill climbed until the altimeter on the instrument board marked four
thousand feet. Then he leveled off and after a slight bank to port,
headed the big amphibian due east. Flying conditions were excellent. A
light wind blew out of the southeast, but the air was smooth, without a
ripple. A cloudless sky of light blue dipped to a sharply defined
horizon; and near the rim of the inverted bowl the pale green of the
Everglades contrasted with the darker foliage of the cypress swamps.
Here and there and everywhere, lakes, lagoons and wandering streams
sparkled and danced in the sun glare like uncut brilliants on a bed of
green velvet.

With his free hand, Bill unhooked a headphone set from the side of his
seat and adjusted it. At the same time he motioned Osceola to don the
set at the other end of the cord.

“So far, so good,” he spoke into the transmitter which hung on his
chest. “I don’t think we’ll have trouble with our passengers for a while
yet, anyway. They seem to have no suspicion but what we are Martinengo’s
pilots.”

“But you do expect trouble?”

“Bound to have it. We are off the regular course to Shell Island now.
Those lads aft probably won’t smell a rat until we get over the
Everglades. Then they’ll want to know the reason why.”

“What can we do about it?”

“Stall ’em off somehow. I’ll think of some gag to tell them. When we get
nearer Miami, I can wire the chief of police to bring some of his men
and meet the plane at the airport.”

Osceola’s tone was not encouraging. “I wonder,” he said.

“Wonder what?”

“I’m afraid you’re too sanguine, Bill. I know this type of bully and
scoundrel we’re up against. What is more—several of those men back there
in the cabin know me—I bear the marks of their whips on my back.”

“Umm!” grunted Bill, his fingers drumming a tattoo on the wheel.
“They’ll have to smash the cabin door to get out here. I shot the bolt
when I came forward.”

“But that door won’t hold them if they once get going,” he argued.
“They’ll probably bust through—stick a gun to your head and force you to
fly them to the Island.”

“But they won’t shoot,” replied Bill with conviction. ”They’ll know that
that would mean a crash and pretty certain death.“

“How do you figure that? If they don’t recognize me in this rig, they’ll
think I can take over from you and fly this ship—after your lights have
been put out. I tell you, Bill, we’re up against it, good and plenty!”

“I reckon you’re right,” sighed Bill, and was silent.

Presently he spoke again. “A captain should stay with his ship to the
last,” he murmured, as if giving vent to his secret thoughts. “But there
are exceptions to every rule.”

“What are you saying?” Osceola was puzzled.

Bill hesitated for a moment, then went on with sudden energy.

“Open the locker under this seat. There are three or four parachutes
stowed away there. I saw them when I first came aboard. Pull out three
of them—one for each of us. When you and Sam have got into yours, I’ll
put on mine.”

“How are you going to fly the plane and do that, too?”

“Get yours on and I’ll show you.”

Osceola brought forth two of the parachutes and passed one over the seat
to Sam. A motion or two from Bill gave them an idea of how to adjust the
harness, and presently Osceola brought out the one for Bill. That young
gentleman laid it on his wheel and began to issue further instructions.

“Place your feet on your rudder pedals, Osceola, and keep her nose
pointed just as she is. That’s right. Now take hold of your wheel.
No—don’t clamp onto it that way. Hold it lightly—that’s better. This
wooden yoke to which your wheel and mine are attached controls the
elevators, those horizontal planes on either side of the rudder—Push
your wheel forward and with it the yoke—your plane flies downward. Pull
back your wheel and she flies upward.”

“I didn’t expect to be given flight instruction today—”

Bill laughed. “That isn’t the half of it, boy. I’m telling you this much
just so you can guide the ship while I put on my parachute. But here’s
some more dope. These wheels are attached by wire cables to the
ailerons, those hinged surfaces at the end of each wing. Their function,
as they say in the Air Service, is primarily to impress a rolling
movement to the airplane; just as the elevators are to impress a
pitching movement. You see, in flying a plane, one not only has to steer
it and balance it for the roll to either side like riding a bicycle,—the
plane has to be balanced for the pitch fore and aft as well.”

Osceola nodded his understanding. “I get you. Balance for the roll
sideways by turning this wheel in the opposite direction from which
she’s tipping.”

“Right-o!”

“To raise the nose, I pull back the wheel; to lower it, I push it
forward.”

“Go to the top of the class,” grinned his friend. “You’re letter
perfect, at least.”

“Good enough. But those gauges on the instrument board?”

“You can keep half an eye on the inclinometer and fore-and-aft level if
you want to; but I always think it is better to learn by the feel of the
plane.”

“I’ll do my best,” asserted Osceola, intent now on what was before him.

“Good fella! Some day I’ll start giving you real flight instruction.
This is just a makeshift. Oh, I forgot—this plane is a bit noseheavy.
Don’t let it worry you. Keep pulling back on your wheel as she dips. All
ready to take over?”

“—Ready’s brother!”

“Okay. She’s yours. Fly her!”

With an eye on his assistant, Bill gave up the controls and busied
himself with the parachute. That job completed he made sure the release
cord was in working order and spoke to Osceola.

“You’re doing fine. I’ll take her back now. There’s something else I
want to say. We’ll be over the Everglades in a few minutes. And those
guys in the cabin will be getting nervous. When the trouble comes, it
will come fast. If the ship gets out of control—don’t stay with it—jump!
And don’t forget to pull the release cord on your parachute. Pass the
word to Sam and tell him to stand up. And, by the way, if I should wave
a hand above my head, jump anyway—don’t wait for me—get that?”

“You bet.”

Osceola pulled a pencil and small pad from the pocket of his jumper. He
wrote a few lines and passed the slip of paper to Sam.

“Just one thing more and then we’re set,” added Bill into the
transmitter on his chest. “Have your gun handy—and don’t be afraid to
use it. Good luck, old skate.”

“Good luck, Bill.”

“Get rid of your phone set now. We won’t need it for the present. The
cord might get tangled in things if there’s a rough-house.”

He stripped his own headgear and turned his full attention to guiding
the amphibian.

They were past the Big Cypress now, and far below lay the Everglades.
This western edge of the great lake was dotted with uncounted islands,
some large, some small, and all covered with a luxuriant forest growth.
High sawgrass hid the water, save in numerous little channels wandering
in a network, sometimes coming to a blank end, sometimes broadening into
clear spaces abloom with pond lilies. This flat, rather monotonous
landscape spread on and out as far as the eye could see.

Bill had decided that it would be well to head farther into the north,
when he felt the vibration of a sudden jar. His head snapped round as
the cabin door crashed open and two men sprang into the cockpit. Both
held revolvers and behind them crowded the other passengers.

Instinctively he pushed his wheel forward, then pulled it sharply toward
him. The plane nosed over and with increased momentum from the dip it
shot upward at a precipitous angle. The result so far as her passengers
were concerned was much as though they had been standing on the broad
back of a steady circus horse who suddenly metamorphosed into an
outlawed bronco—and bucked! Losing their balance as the amphibian nosed
over, the gangsters were hurled backwards by the second maneuver and
landed in a sprawling heap by the door, and along the cabin aisle.

A bullet crashed into the instrument board. It had missed Bill’s head by
the fraction of an inch. And although he knew that the duration of his
life would probably be a matter of seconds, he stuck to his post.
Forward went his wheel again, the plane leveled off and with a glance at
the calm-eyed Indian beside him, he held up his right hand.



CHAPTER XII—’TWIXT WIND AND WATER


Osceola stood up and gave Bill a questioning glance which said plainer
than words—“Further directions, please?”

Bill motioned toward the lower wing section on Osceola’s side of the
plane, mouthed the word “jump,” and patted the pull ring on his own
parachute harness.

Osceola scrambled out of the cockpit onto the wing. For a moment he
clung to an interplane strut and beckoned Sam to follow. Sam hurried
after him, although from the expression on the negro’s face, it was
evident that he was terrified. Bill saw him crawl across the wing to the
rear edge where Osceola stood. Then as the old man got to his feet,
still clinging frantically to the strut, the Seminole, facing forward,
gave a tug on his pull ring. The seat pack parachute bellied out behind
him and he disappeared from sight.

At the same instant, Bill felt a heavy hand on his shoulder, and the
blue-black muzzle of an automatic was pushed into his face.
Instinctively he leaned forward to dodge the gun. The wheel went with
him, and bucking like a frightened cow pony, the big plane shot into a
nose dive.

This maneuver sent Bill’s antagonist sprawling onto the wooden yoke to
which both wheels were attached, forcing it forward as far as it would
go. The gangster’s head smashed into the instrument board and he lay
inert. Himself thrown forward by the amphibian’s dive, Bill caught at
the seat to save his own head. The man’s unconscious body prevented any
manipulation of elevators or ailerons. The plane was beyond his control,
and racing earthward with wide open throttle at a hair-raising rate of
speed. He must save himself if he could: within a second or so the big
aircraft would be but a twisted mass of burning wood and metal flaming
in the swamp below. Luckily, the pilot’s cockpit had no roof. Bill
dragged himself on to the back of his seat, which, now due to the
plane’s almost vertical position, had become a small, horizontal
platform. With a hand on the pull ring of his parachute pack, he dived
head first over the cockpit’s cowl into the open ether.

The approved types of parachutes are the manually operated free type. A
“free” type parachute is one that is complete in one unit, strapped to
the person of an aviator by a suitable harness, and one that has no
attachments whatever to the aircraft. A “manually operated” parachute is
one that will unpack automatically when the wearer gives a slight pull
on the ring located in a readily accessible place on the harness. The
aviator can open his parachute just when clear of the disabled airplane
or he can make a long free drop away from burning wreckage or a pursuing
enemy plane before he pulls the ring.

And this is why Bill did not pull the ring on his manually operated,
free parachute before diving out of the amphibian. Should the body or
air bag of the chute come in contact with the plane, he would naturally
crash with it.

Bill was not a trained parachute jumper. That part of an aviator’s
training is usually confined to those who specialize in lighter-than-air
craft, and Bill was a heavier-than-air pilot. The sensation of diving
into the air, several thousand feet above the earth was anything but a
pleasant one. But his nerves were steady. He kept his head.

“One,” he said to himself, as he sprang outwards and down...

“Two—” He felt his body twisting in his fall. He knew he was catapulting
earthward at a falling speed of nearly 400 miles per hour.

“Three!” He jerked on the pull ring. Would the chute open? Would it be
capable of withstanding the shock incurred by the weight of his body
falling at this terrific rate of speed? (He knew that the average time
required for an air chute to open and assume normal descent is
approximately one and three-fifths seconds after the rip cord has been
pulled). But that mere second and a fraction seemed interminable. He was
falling ... falling...

There came a sudden jerk that wrenched every muscle in his tense body.
His projectile-like speed decreased with uncomfortable suddenness, and
he was swung round and upward to find himself sitting in what amounted
to a swing, with webbing representing the ropes on either side of his
aching body. Looking up, he saw that slightly above his head and within
reach, the webbing divided into two, and that the shrouds or small cords
leading to the outer edge of the parachute were here attached to the
harness he wore, in four places. He was swaying wildly. In an effort to
prevent that, he pulled the ropes, first on one side, then on the other.

All this had happened in an inconceivably short space of time. Three,
possibly four seconds had elapsed since Bill had sprung out of the
doomed amphibian. For the moment, his mind had been intent upon his own
particular troubles, but now that he swung safely in his harness, memory
came back. He turned his eyes earthward.

Almost directly below him, a column of black smoke smudged the clear
green of the swamp grass. At the very base of the dark cloud, red
tongues of flame shot skyward. Bill turned his gaze elsewhere. His
former passengers were undoubtedly as cold-blooded, black-hearted a band
of villains as had ever lived; still, they were, or had been human
beings. And Bill had no desire to watch their cremation and the
demolition of a splendid plane.

His eyes swept the horizon. Yes, over there perhaps a mile to westward
two parachutes, one far below the other, were floating down toward
earth. Even as he looked, the farther one disappeared behind tall trees
on an island.

“Confound it all! I clean forgot to tell those two innocents anything
about landing. Hope they don’t get into trouble—it’s my fault if they
do!”

He knew that the average rate of descent is sixteen feet per second, and
unless one knows how, a broken leg or worse may be the outcome of an
inexperienced landing. But their luck had held so far, apparently.
Osceola and Sam were both sinewy, well-muscled fellows—they would
probably come out all right. For all their sakes, he hoped so. A
disabled companion in the middle of the Everglades, with no means of
transport other than one’s two legs, would prove a problem that Bill did
not care to contemplate.

Then he saw Sam disappear with his parachute in the high sawgrass. He
was coming close to earth himself. In a very few minutes, he would land,
and his gaze switched to the terrain directly below.

Osceola had landed on the firm ground of a large island. Sam had not
been so lucky, for Bill knew that the Seminole name for the Everglades
is Grassy-Water, and that sawgrass does not grow on dry land. He himself
was floating over the island, but he soon saw that the wind-drift would
carry him, too, into the grass unless he could prevent it.

Up went his hands, and getting a good grip on the parachute shrouds, he
pulled down hard on the ropes to windward. The chute immediately bellied
in and sideslipped into the wind. He dared not overdo the business, and
presently righted the chute by the simple expedient of releasing the
shrouds. In a fall of one hundred feet, Bill figured he had sideslipped
ten. He had seen men spin their parachutes in order to swing aside from
some building or other obstacle. He knew that the trick is done by
pulling down on one side, then releasing the pressure with a sort of
flipping motion. He attempted it, without success; after a few failures
gave it up in favor of the easier sideslips.

He was almost down now, and delighted to see that due to his system of
sideslipping, the parachute would land him on the island.

Down he came, swaying slightly, onto a patch of soft green turf, dotted
with wildflowers. Knowing that the body should relax in landing, he made
no effort to stand erect, and endeavored to absorb the shock of his fall
to some extent by rolling over in the direction that he was drifting.
Consequently, his tumble did him no harm; the parachute rolled into a
large cypress at the edge of the open space and came to a stop. The jump
was over.

Bill got out of his harness, repacked it, and throwing the bundle over
his shoulder, set off to find his two companions. Over to the west, a
mile or more from the island, the burning amphibian sent its tower of
thick black smoke mushrooming skyward.

Bill walked for half a mile along the edge of the sawgrass, and then he
saw two familiar figures appear from out a clump of trees.

“Osceola! Sam!” he called, and ran forward to meet them.

His friends waved to him, but did not quicken their pace. The old negro
seemed to be leaning heavily on Osceola’s arm, and as he drew nearer,
Bill saw that their clothes were dripping wet.

The young Seminole grinned as he came up. “You look as fresh as a
daisy!” His tone was cheerful, though it held a hint of weariness. “I
certainly hated to leave you up yonder in the plane with that bunch of
cutthroats. Sam did too. We’ve been talking about it. Until I saw your
parachute open up, I was darned worried, I can tell you.”

“Well,” beamed Bill, grasping their hands, “it sure is good to see you
both again, I’m okay, but I take it you made bad landings. My fault,
too,—I should have explained more about it before you jumped.”

“Dat’s all right, Marse Bill,” piped up Sam. “It’s me what brung de
trouble. Marse Osceola, he sure am a born parachuter! He done landed
fine on dis island—but dis old nigger crabbed everything. Come down in
de grass out yonder. Dem sharp-tooth edges sure cut me pretty bad. And I
ain’t no hand at dis jumpin’ business nohow. Like to drownded myself if
Marse Osceola hadn’t come in an’ drug me out. Got all tangled up in de
grass and dem ropes, wif de big umbrella down on top of me, tryin’ t’
smudder me to death. I sure is obliged to you gentlemen for gettin’ me
away from de workin’s—but I’d rather stay put there all my born days
than go through all dat again. Not _me_, suh!”

The old man sat down suddenly, and began to shake all over.

“Take it easy, Sam,” cautioned Bill. “Just don’t think about it for a
while. Everything will come out all right.”

“I hope so, Marse Bill.” Sam’s tone, though gloomy, was much less
excited. “Dis heah airplane stuff an’ parachutin’ may be all right fo’
white folks—but if I must do a loop-de-loop, let mine be roun’ some
chicken coop.” He grinned appreciatively at his own joke. “Thank
goodness I’m down here where I’s gwine to stay. I ain’t gwine to be
a-oozin’ round de sky no mo’—Dis heah nigger ain’t got too proud to
walk. Nobody ain’t gwine to ketch Sam a-flirtin’ wif de sun no mo’.
Unh—unh! Not _me!_”

Both lads burst out laughing. “You’ve got more nerve than the rest of us
put together, Sam,” declared Osceola.

“You sure have!” Bill knelt at his side. “Osceola is a warrior and a
gentleman, but he can’t bandage for a tinker’s hoop. Let me fix those
things. And how about this ankle—you were limping, uncle?”

“It ain’t no sprain, suh. I kin walk on dat foot—but she sure do hurt
po’werful bad.”

“You’ve wrenched and strained it.” Bill’s deft fingers were lightly
pressing the old man’s ankle. “We’ll bind it up tighter and keep you off
your feet for a couple of days, and you’ll be able to do your hundred
yards in ten flat!”

“Help him off with his wet clothes, Bill, while I get rid of mine,”
Osceola suggested. “They’ll soon be dry in this sun.”

“That’s a good idea. While you two are drying, I think the best we can
do is to have a meeting of the Ways and Means Committee. We’re still an
awful longways from anywhere.”

Sam nodded his head vigorously. “You done said a mouf-ful, suh. I hope I
ain’ no gloom—but we sure is in a bad fix. Dese heah Glades is a mighty
bad place to git stranded in widout a boat. I don’t know but what dem
fellers what come down in de airplane wasn’t de lucky ones!”



CHAPTER XIII—OSCEOLA FINDS A WAY


The young Seminole spread his dripping uniform on the grass to dry and
dropped to his full length on the sward near Sam and Bill.

“We’ve got to build a boat of some kind,” he declared. “Otherwise
there’ll be no leaving this island. Let’s see what we can scare up
between us in the way of tools.”

“I got a big clasp knife what belonged to one of dem pilots,”
volunteered Sam.

“And I’ve got the same chap’s automatic, and a knife I picked up in the
kitchen,” added Osceola. “How about you, Bill?”

“Another automatic and a dry box of matches are the limit of my
contributions,” returned that young man. “Not much of an assortment, eh?
If we could get out to the plane we might be able to find an axe or
something.”

Osceola shook his head. “I doubt it. The smoke has almost disappeared,
which means that the amphibian or what’s left of her is sinking in the
swamp. Anyway, without something to float on we can’t leave this island.
The rock floor of the Everglades basin lies from six to twelve feet down
in the muck and water. Even with a boat, traveling is no joke. That
grass grows ten feet high in some places. You’ve seen what its saw-tooth
edges have done to Sam. That’s nasty stuff to fool with—take it from
me!”

Bill stared gloomily over the prairie-like monotony of the Glades. Smoke
from the wreck had now entirely disappeared. He shuddered as his mind
dwelt for an instant on the horrible fate of its gangster-passengers.
Then his eye caught the deeper green of trees in the far distance.

“There seem to be a lot of islands in this big swamp,” he said. “Many of
them inhabited, Osceola?”

“Not in this part of the Glades, Bill. My people are practically the
sole inhabitants of this part of the world. And they live on islands, of
course. But a long, long way from here.”

“Have you any plan?”

“Yes—I think so.”

“Well, spring it then, old top. You’re in command from now on. I know as
little about this kind of thing as—”

“As I do about flying,” supplemented Osceola with a grin.

“Rather less, if you ask me. Let’s hear what you propose, Chief.”

The young Seminole did not reply at once. His bronzed forehead was
corrugated in a frown. For several minutes he seemed lost in thought.

“There are just three things we’ve got to have,” he said suddenly. “And
we’ve got to have them right away.”

“Water, food and a boat,” Bill suggested.

“Right. If we’re forced to, we can drink Glades water, but it’s
dangerous, and would probably make us ill. There ought to be a spring or
two on this island; I reckon you’re elected to the job of locating fresh
drinking water, Bill, and bringing it into camp.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Food, next,” mused Osceola. “Sam—do you think you can hobble round well
enough to attend to the commissariat?”

“I sure can,” grinned the old darkey. “If I ain’t mistook, I done catch
a glimpse of half a dozen blue heron back yonder. Dey ain’t chicken,
a-course, but dey sure is a mighty fine eatin’. Loan me dat shooter of
yourn, Marse Bill, and dis heah nigger will provide dinner.”

Bill passed over his revolver. “I’ll trade you for your knife, Sam,
while you get into your clothes. I’ve got to have something to make a
water container—that is, when I find the water.”

He pulled his parachute toward him and commenced to untie the pack.

“Reckon I’ll mosey along,” announced Osceola. “I’ve got to manufacture a
boat of some sort.”

“You ain’t a-gwine to get far with dat knife o’ yourn in makin’ a
dugout, Marse,” broke in Sam.

“But that’s not my idea,” the Seminole said quietly, but without giving
any further information about his plans. “Bill, when you get through
totin’ water, look me up, will you? I’m going along there to the east.
You’ll find me near the shore—and I’ll probably need your help.”

“Okay,” sang out Bill, pulling his parachute from the pack. “I’ll join
you as soon as I can.”

Osceola departed, and presently old Sam, after watching Bill for a
moment, hobbled off in the opposite direction.

Bill spread out the parachute on the ground and proceeded to cut off a
large circular piece of the fabric. Next he cut a piece from the shroud,
and painstakingly unravelled strands from the rope. That completed, he
cut off three green branches from a nearby sapling—trimmed them, and cut
two to a length of approximately eighteen inches and the third somewhat
shorter. After notching their ends, he laid the two longer ones side by
side and bound the ends together with strands from the parachute rope.
The next operation was to bend them outward and apart at the center and
to slip the shorter notched stick crosswise between them. When its ends
were bound to the other poles to keep it firm and in place, he found
himself possessed of an oval wooden frame.

Bill now laid this aside and picked up the piece of fabric he had cut.
The outer edge of this he lapped over his oval frame. Then with his
knife blade he punched eyelets through the double lap of cloth, and by
passing strands of the rope through them, shortly managed to bind the
edges of the fabric to his frame. The result was an open-mouthed
bag-like container or bucket, which, inasmuch as the fabric was
waterproof, would carry any liquid he placed in it.

His task was now completed, so sticking the open knife in a log where
Sam on his return would be sure to see it, he set off with his
collapsible pail to find drinking water.

The island, which Bill found to be about two miles long by half a mile
wide, was covered with a heavy growth of cypress. Some of these trees
were very old. He came across many whose trunks and branches were smooth
and white, crowned with feathery foliage of a dazzling golden green.
These beautiful trees usually grow amid clumps of dark evergreens such
as bay, magnolia, and myrtle, and the effect was very striking. The
small jungle was tropical in nature: stately palmettos raised their
plumed heads toward the brilliant blue sky, and the forest glades were
painted bright with flowers.

Bill followed one of the green aisles which wandered through the trees
toward the middle of the island. Twice he heard the dull intonation of a
distant revolver shot and wondered what luck Sam was having with his
substitute for chicken. The wood was alive with birds. All seemed quite
tame, and paid no attention to this unusual visitor to their sylvan
haunts.

Presently he found the marshy ground that he was looking for; and in a
little hollow nearby, a bubbling spring of cold, sweet water. Bill
refreshed himself with a long drink of the life-giving liquid. Then he
filled his fabric pail and went back to the spot where the conference
had been held.

Here he found Sam, who already had a fire going and was plucking the
feathers from a big, long-legged bird. On the turf beside him lay
another. Bill recognized the great blue heron, familiarly known to the
natives of Florida as “the Major.”

“I didn’t know that those things were good eating,” he observed as he
hung the waterbucket on a branch in the shade. “Dad shot a couple last
year which he has had stuffed. They were pretty skinny—bags of bones,
that’s all.”

“Dere warn’t no moon, I reckin,” Sam said, busy with his plucking.

“Moon—what do you mean?”

“De moon am full now.” Sam’s grin disclosed two perfect rows of snow
white teeth. “Dat’s de reason, Marse Bill.”

“Oh, quit your kidding, Sam!”

“I ain’t a-kiddin’ you, suh. Feel dis heah Major.”

Bill lifted the bird from the old darkey’s knees. It was plump and
heavy.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” he exclaimed. “That’s sure a surprise to me,
Sam. But I still can’t see what the moon’s got to do with its being
fat.”

Sam’s laugh awoke the forest echoes. Evidently he was enjoying the joke.
He reached for the heron and went on denuding it of feathers.

“Reckin eddication ain’t everything,” he chuckled. “Dis nigger never had
no schoolin’, but he know dat de Major only eats when de moon am full.
Twelve times de year he am fat an’ twelve times de year he am lean.”

“Well, I’ve got to hand it to you, all right,” laughed Bill. “Now I’m
going to shove off and give Osceola a hand. So long!”

“So long, suh. When yo’all hears me whistle—come to dinner.”

Bill found Osceola near the marsh half a mile away. Close by stood a
giant cypress whose straight stemmed trunk must have measured at least
twelve feet where the tall shaft sprang from the buttressed base of the
tree, and rose perhaps a hundred and fifty feet in the air, topped by a
wide-spreading head of great limbs and branchlets. At the Indian’s feet
lay one of these limbs and a glance at its five foot butt showed Bill
that the big branch was hollow.

“Hello!” greeted Osceola. “Find your spring?”

“You bet-cha,” returned his friend. “There’s a bucket of fresh water in
camp now.”

“That’s fine. We’re in luck all way round the circle.” He pointed to the
hollow limb. “There’s our dugout. Nature is a great help when you lack
tools. She’s half built already.”

“How did you happen to find it?”

“Well, you see, I knew exactly what I was looking for, and headed toward
the biggest cypress in sight. An immense tree like that one is very,
very old. It’s been here for a thousand to two thousand years, I
suppose.”

“Whew!” Bill stared up at the towering giant with an interest that was
almost reverence.

“Yes, it was an old tree when Ponce de Leon was looking for his fountain
of youth in these Glades,” continued the Seminole. “But for hundreds of
years it has been dying, and these old cypresses die backward, or
downward, during a period of one to four centuries. The heart decays and
the last stage is generally a hollow cylinder. A hurricane from the Gulf
brought down this limb, of course.”

“But surely you don’t expect to fashion a canoe out of that with a
knife!”

“What we can’t cut, we can burn. And after dinner, we’ll have Sam’s help
and his knife.”

“Gosh—it looks to me as if it will take a year!”

“Two days at the most,” countered the Indian. “The wood, though very
strong, is not heavy, except when it’s green; and a dead branch like
this is easy to work on. Break off some of the smaller branches and get
a fire going in that hole I’ve just finished digging under the limb—see
it?—halfway down its length, there.”

Bill went to work, collecting dry wood and twigs for the fire.

“Aren’t you afraid we’ll burn up the whole thing?” he asked, after a
moment or two.

“Oh, no, that’s easily prevented,” Osceola replied. He had whittled a
flat spade wherewith to dig the fire hole and now he began to pack moist
earth round the trunk on the side of the hold nearest to the butt of the
log. “Of course she’ll burn a bit inside,” he went on, “but I’ve plugged
the butt with moss and dirt. Mighty little air can get in through that
end.”

For the next hour or so the lads were kept busy; the one adding to the
pile of burning brush heaped completely around the limb, the other
preventing the spread of the fire toward the butt of the log. By the
time Sam’s shrill whistle announced dinner, the hollow shell had been
burned clear of its upper end and they were able to roll the twenty-foot
log clear of the fire.

It was delicious fare Sam had waiting for the lads by the camp fire.
True, it consisted of but one dish, roast heron, washed down with spring
water. But all three diners voted it a success, for a keen hunger is the
best of all appetizers, and anyone who has eaten “the Major” when
roasted, knows that this great bird is worthy of any feast.

The meal over, the three adventurers repaired to the hollow cypress log.
Bill and Osceola got to work cutting horizontal grooves along the trunk
on lines that marked the top of the gunwales. Their progress was slow,
but the dying wood was not over-hard and they made fair headway, despite
the inadequacy of their tools.

Stones of any kind were a rarity on the island, and it took Sam all of
two hours to find one that would be suitable for an ax-head. This he
bound to a wooden shaft with strips of cloth cut from Bill’s jumper.
When he finished the job to his liking, the ax or hammer resembled those
Indian curios one sees in the museums of our large cities.

Toward sundown the mosquitoes which had been pestering them all day,
seemed to take on a new lease of life. Clouds of the vicious,
blood-thirsty insects swarmed about the toilers, at last making further
work impossible. By a vote of mutual consent they left the
half-completed dugout to the tender mercies of the stinging pests, and
hastened back to the camp fire.

While Sam removed the second heron from the hanging bucket and commenced
its preparation over the fire for the evening meal, Bill trudged over to
the spring. Upon his return with a brimming bucket, he found that
Osceola had built a line of smudge-fires in a circle around the fire,
and that once within the ring, there were no mosquitoes.

When Bill suggested that a series of small fires would have been easier
to build than a solid circle of flame, the Indian had smiled
good-humoredly.

“Maybe so. But then, you know, snakes like warmth and seek it. We’ve got
to sleep on the ground tonight, and there are several species in this
neck of the woods, that I’m not keen to have for bedfellows. They won’t
cross fire or hot embers, though—‘Quod erat demonstrandum,’ as the
geometry books have it.”

“My error,” laughed Bill. “After this, I shall refrain from criticizing
my elders and betters.”

When the moon rose, Sam left them, while the lads lay back on their beds
of evergreens and conversed. Several times they heard the report of his
gun, but when the hunter returned, carrying three heron and a brace of
duck he found them deep in the slumber of exhaustion.



CHAPTER XIV—IN THE DUGOUT


Old Sam was up with the sun, but it was not until the big gourd he had
found the night before was steaming with a luxurious duck stew that he
awoke the tired lads.

“How in the world did you concoct this stew, Sam?” Bill waved his wooden
spoon—handmade by the old darkey—toward the savory-smelling gourd, which
was their common pot.

“But how come, Marse Bill?”

“This stew is boiled isn’t it?”

“Dat’s right, suh, it am.”

“Well, what I want to know is how you were able to make a stew over the
fire without burning the gourd.”

“Dat stew was made in the gourd, jes’ as you say,” he chuckled. “But de
gourd warn’t over the fire, Marse Bill.”

“Quit your kidding, Sam—and tell me.”

“I done hung the gourd on a low branch yonder, suh, after I put in the
meat an’ water. Nex’ I heated two stones over the fire and when dey was
real hot, I dropped dem in the stew. Soon as dey got cool, I put in two
mo’ hot stones—”

“And that,” broke in Osceola, “is the oldest method of heating water
known to man!”

Bill shook his head. “Well, when we left the workings, I thought I was
supposed to run this show,” he said gravely. “Guess I was a bit high-hat
about it, too. And now, everywhere I turn, you two teach me something
new. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.—Let’s get to work—I can use brawn
if not brain!”

There followed a day of strenuous labor for all of them. The top of the
log above the long grooves they had cut the afternoon before, was beaten
in with the stone hammer. When it was at last removed, Bill took his
wooden adze that he had hardened in the fire, and began to scrape the
rotten wood from the inner shell of the canoe. Meanwhile Osceola and Sam
whittled out two blocks of soft wood wherewith to plug the ends of the
open log. These were wedged into place and moss hammered into the seams.
Then, thwarts were fitted and the canoe sunk in shallow water to give
the seams at bow and stern a chance to swell. After supper, all three
busied themselves making paddles.

Next day they were up before dawn and hauled out their canoe. After a
night’s submersion, she appeared to be absolutely watertight. At an
early hour, they got aboard, with the remains of their slender store of
provisions, and pushed out through the saw grass.

Bill took his place amidships, with Sam in the bow, and the young
Seminole wielded a paddle in the stern. “I know that you’re skipper of
this cruise, Osceola,” he flung the words over his shoulder, “but I
think we ought to go out to the wreck of the plane before we leave this
locality for keeps. What do you say?”

“It’s okay with me. I don’t expect we’ll find much. The water is pretty
deep in this part of the Glades.”

“Do you think you can find the spot? It’s more than I could do.”

“Oh, yes, easily enough. I was raised in these swamps, remember. I know
exactly where the amphibian nosed in.”

He swung the dugout to the left, and a few minutes later they came out
of the high saw grass on to one of the myriad water leads that
crisscross the Everglades in every direction. The grass near the Island
had not been particularly dense; but now they noticed that the growth
which lined the lane of open water was a ten-foot jungle of stiff,
saw-toothed stems. Even the lead they were following was not free from
obstruction, for huge patches of water lilies choked the way, and the
power needed to force the canoe through the tangled masses of blooms
came only by back-breaking effort.

“Bill, I think we’ll have to pass up the wreck,” declared Osceola from
the stern of their little craft. “It would take us all day to push our
way through the grass and we’d probably get some bad cuts into the
bargain. It isn’t worth it.”

“I thought we might be able to salvage something,” said Bill, resting
his paddle on the side of the dugout.

“No chance of that, anyway. The chances are that nothing but the
tailplane is above water after her nosedive. These swamps are dangerous
to wade about in, even if there is a high bottom over there, which I
doubt.”

“He means de ’gators and snakes,” Sam explained fearfully. “We alls been
lucky so far, but let me tell you, Marse Bill, dese Glades is sure plumb
full o’ vipers. Dis nigger ain’t gwine to do no mo’ wadin’ unless he has
to. Unh-unh! Not _me!_”

Bill grinned. “I retire under force of argument,” he said with mock
resignation. “Let’s be on our way again. I think I can see clear water
ahead.”

For the next half hour they slaved through the lilies, and in the
stretch of open water finally reached, Bill spoke again.

“I know you’re making for the southeast, Osceola. And I suppose you’ve
got a plan. But I should have thought you’d point north. Isn’t there an
automobile causeway that crosses the Everglades somewhere up there?”

Osceola nodded. “There is, Bill, but I am going to make for the home of
my people. I figure that we can get down there in three or four days, if
our luck holds. It would take us much longer to reach the causeway.”

“Good enough! Swell plan, I should say.”

“But that’s only half the plan, Bill.”

“What’s the other half?”

“I’ll tell you when I’ve talked with my people. I’m not trying to be
cagy, but I’ll need their consent to put it over—and I don’t want to get
up false hopes, you know. You don’t mind, if I keep it to myself till
I’m more certain?”

“Of course not. I’ve been doing a little thinking on my own. And maybe I
can spring mine when you come across with yours. If these all-fired pond
lilies would only—”

Bill never finished that sentence. There was a stirring among the
lilypads just aft of Bill’s paddle. He caught a fleeting glimpse of what
he took to be a gnarled tree trunk among the blooms overside. Then the
stern of the dugout rose in the air, toppled over, and clutching wildly
at the gunwale, he catapulted into the lilies.

“‘Gator!” yelled a voice which he took to be Sam’s, and the water closed
over his head.

Bill landed on the small of his back, but just as soon as he was able to
get his balance under water, he struck upwards with both hands and feet.
If a rising alligator had been the cause of the canoe’s capsizing, he
wasn’t staying in that unlikely spot!—not any longer than needful.

But instead of shooting to the surface, as he naturally expected, Bill
found himself held fast in an interminable network of stems and roots.
The horrible sensation of strangling sent all thought of ’gators,
poisonous snakes out of his head. Air—he must have air. Nothing else
mattered now. He tore at the tangled stems with the vicious energy of a
madman.

At last, his lungs bursting, his head popped up through the pads. As he
shook the water from his eyes, Sam’s black pate appeared above the
surface.

“Whar de ’gator?” he spluttered.

“Search me,” gasped Bill. “I didn’t even see him.”

The dugout floated bottom upwards a few yards away. From beyond it came
Osceola’s voice.

“Hey, you two! This is no swimming pool. Quit swapping yarns and give me
a hand with this canoe!”

“You go, Marse Bill,” begged Sam. “I’se afraid dese here chaps will
sink.” With an effort he raised his right hand above the water, and Bill
saw that it grasped a duck. “I done tied dese here birds all together
fore we shoved off,” explained the darkey. “Dey’s de first thing I
grabbed when dat ol’ ’gator come up underneath de boat and turn us over.
Dey like to drownded me down in de weeds, an’ it ain’t likely I’se gwine
to turn ’em loose now to fix no dugout. Unh-unh! Not _me!_”

Bill, with an amused grunt, started swimming for the canoe in the middle
of this narrative. But by the time he reached it, Osceola had righted
it, and worked his way aboard by pulling himself up the rounded stern.
When waist-high to the counter, he seemed to spring forward on his
hands, spreading his legs at the same time so as to straddle both
bulwarks. A second later he was sitting on the low thwart, holding out a
helping hand to Bill.

“Gee, you’re an ace in the water, all right,” gasped Bill, once he was
aboard. “Some day you’ve got to teach me that trick, Osceola.”

The Indian chuckled. “It takes little more than muscle, Bill, and a
certain nicety of balance. You’ve got plenty of the first requirement,
and the other is only a matter of practice.”

“Look, here comes the commissary—he’ll take a bit of hoisting!”

Osceola leaned overside and took the string of birds from Sam. “How you
managed to hang on to these in the upset is beyond me,” he said,
depositing them in the bottom of the canoe.

Sam was helped aboard.

“You can’t keep dis nigger from his dinner,” he grinned. “Dat is, no
’gator can’t. Did you see him, Marse Osceola? He was sure a big ol’
feller.”

“He sure was, Sam. Reckon he was as surprised as we were when the bunch
of us came splashing in on top of him. I was glad to get out of the
water, though. It’s not my idea of a happy death to form a meal for an
alligator. It didn’t seem to worry you much. The way you and Bill were
holding pleasant conversation out yonder was a temptation to any ’gator
or his friends.”

“So that’s why you asked for help in righting the canoe?” Bill asked.

“You’ve guessed it. I’ve got my paddle, and while I collect the other
two, I suggest that you clean the guns, Bill. Lucky they were strapped
to us.” He ripped off the tail of his shirt and passed it over. “That
will soon dry in the sun, and a gat that shoots is worth somebody else’s
shirt any day in the week.”

“There’s one thing about traveling light,” admitted Bill, “and
especially when your canoe turns over. If you haven’t anything to lose,
you can’t lose it.”

“You is forgettin’ the grub, suh,” chimed in Sam.

“But you clung to that like a hero,” grinned Bill. “When we get to
wherever we’re getting, I’ll pin a medal on you, Sam. Just now, I’m out
of pins.”

“I know you is kiddin’ me,” returned the darkey, showing his teeth in a
wide smile. “Some day mebbe I’ll hold you to dat promise, Marse Bill.”

“Okay, Sam. Pass over any hardware you may be toting. I want to clean
it.”

That night, after, a weary day of paddling, they camped on an island
which embraced several miles of dry land. Here Osceola shot a small
deer, which they found a welcome change in diet, from the fish-tainted
flesh of birds.

“There are just two things queer about this place,” remarked Bill as
they rested beside the fire after supper.

“What are they?” asked the young Seminole chief.

“In every picture I’ve ever seen of the Florida swamps, they have snakes
hanging in festoons from the trees—great, big fellows. Yet, so far, I
haven’t seen a single one.”

“That’s because they don’t happen to roost in trees. Not in this state.
That is, except in the artist’s imagination. There are plenty of snakes,
though—rattlers, moccasins and the like. Never go into high grass on
these islands, or you are not likely to come out alive. What’s the other
queer thing?”

Bill stretched his arms above his head, and lay back comfortably on the
warm earth. “Last night,” he yawned, “the mosquitoes nearly drove me
crazy. Today there were very few, and tonight, I haven’t felt one.
There’s been no wind to speak of—they can’t have been blown away.”

Osceola laughed. “These glades aren’t such bad places to live in. They
have some advantages. Of course, it is a snake infested wilderness, but
there is such a dearth of stagnant water that few breeding places are
furnished for insects. You won’t find mosquitoes except along the
borders. We are well into the interior of the Everglades, now, that’s
why they’ve disappeared.”

“Three cheers and a tiger,” Bill applauded in a sleepy voice. “Good
night, everybody—I’m off to bye-bye.”

The next three days were counterparts of the first, except that the
party met with not a single mishap. Whenever possible they kept to the
waterleads, and Bill soon grew sick of the sight of pond lilies. But at
times it was necessary to pole their way through the sawgrass. Often the
grass had to be cut away in front, and all three suffered from wounds
made by its sharp-toothed edges.

About five o’clock on the fourth day of their journey, they came through
half a mile of grass on to an open lead, free for once from lilies. This
led toward a large island, little more than a mile away.

“Well, we’re here at last,” announced Osceola, as they rested from their
labors.

“_Here_ is right—but where?”

“Some of my people live on that island. We’ll be—home—in half an hour.”

“You certainly are a wonder!” cried his friend. “I never really thought
you would be able to locate them in this wilderness.”

“If you asks me,” broke in Sam, “I says, let’s go! I never did think
we’d get dis far without bein’ cotched back to those workin’s. But now,
oh boy! Deer meat is all right an’ so am bird flesh. But I likes my
vittles varied. Too much of a good thing am nothin’ more than too much.
Let’s go—cause I’m hungry!”



CHAPTER XV—SEMINOLES


The three weary paddlers sent their dugout skimming down the open
waterway toward the island. As they approached, Bill saw that Osceola
was steering for an encampment that covered about an acre, in a clump of
palmettoes near the water. He soon noticed that the dwellings were built
of six upright poles, three on a side, and had gabled roofs of palmetto
thatch. Later he was to learn that the floors were made of earth, and
the main articles of furniture were large tables which nearly filled the
interior. On these tables the Indians ate and slept. Usually there were
chests that held their clothing and tools and firearms. Barrels and
boxes for provisions and, in rare cases, a sewing machine, completed the
essentials. An old sheet or blanket is generally hung at one side of the
dwelling to keep out the wind and rain.

Soon the inhabitants of this colony began to crowd to the waterside,
waving friendly greetings. A few of the men were dressed in store
clothes, but most of them seemed to have an antipathy for trousers. The
habits of the Seminole are so amphibious, they are in and out of the
water all day long, so that they invariably prefer bare legs. The
majority were costumed in the old Seminole manner, in knee-length tunics
of banded red and yellow, tied with a sash at the waist. The heads of
the braves were covered with red bandanna turbans.

The squaws were easily recognizable by their long calico dresses of blue
or brown, gaily striped in red and yellow, and they all wore long
strings of small beads, usually turquoise and crimson. Silver coins
beaten into various designs decorated their head-dresses, and were worn
as bracelets and necklets. The elder children were dressed exactly like
their parents. The younger ones wore what nature had given them and
nothing more.

The canoe drew closer to the bank. Osceola stood up in his place and
shouted some words in a strange tongue. Immediately there came a change
in the demeanor of the waiting Seminoles. The mild curiosity in the
arrival of strangers, turned to shouts of jubilation as they recognized
their Chief. The braves rushed into the shallow water, and raised the
dugout with its occupants to their shoulders. Amid cries of welcome the
men carried their heavy burden up the bank and into the center of the
village.

Here Osceola made them a short speech. There was much handshaking, in
which both Bill and Sam participated. Meanwhile, the women rushed off to
a circular shed nearby where the cooking for the camp was done. There
was a great clattering of pots and pans by the fire, from which logs
radiated like the spokes of a wheel, and soon the appetizing odor of
food was wafted to the tired travelers’ nostrils.

“My people understand and speak English readily enough,” Osceola told
his friends. “But they like me to speak to them in the mother tongue.
I’ve informed them that you are my friends, that we are weary and hungry
and in need of sleep. Come now, we can make ourselves comfortable while
the women prepare us a meal.”

“An’ whatever it is they’s fixin’, it sure do smell good—yes, mighty
fine to _dis_ heah chile!”

Sam grinned at Bill happily as they followed their host toward a
dwelling somewhat larger and apart from the rest.

“Some of dem squaws sure is grand women,” chortled Sam, hobbling along
in high glee at Bill’s side. “Dis is what I likes, Marse Bill—good
eatin’s plenty of it, and a fine, strong woman to cook an’ work for
you.” He waved at a two hundred pounder, and when the squaw waved back,
he deliberately closed one rolling black eye in a wink.

“Why, you old rascal!” Bill broke into a shout of laughter. “I thought
you told me you had a wife and family somewhere!”

Sam shook his woolly pate in mock pathos. “Done had, Marse Bill, done
had. My ole woman b’leeve I’m dead years ago. If she’s alive she’s
married, dat am certain. Liza were a sure goodlooker an’ a fine cook—an’
dat kind never am neglected—not for long anyhow.”

“Take my advice and stop flirting with the Seminole squaws, just the
same, or some brave will bounce a tomahawk off that skull of yours.”

Sam spread his palms upward in a gesture of apology. “’Tain’t my fault,
Marse Bill, really it ain’t.”

“Whose then?”

“It’s de wimmen, Marse Bill.”

“How do you make that out?”

Sam chuckled and brought his head near Bill’s.

“They’s always a-botherin’ the goodlookin’ men,” he whispered.

Osceola, who had the ears of a cat, turned and winked at the old darkey.
“Well, that lets you out, Sam,” he laughed. “Come inside my house, and
rest. Tomorrow or the next day, there is work to be done. After that you
can come back here, Sam, and loaf for the rest of your life. And if you
still want a squaw to look after you, I’ll see about it.”

Osceola’s house was in reality no different from the other shelters in
the camp, except that it was larger, and more solidly constructed. They
entered, and Osceola swung himself onto the central table, and the other
two followed suit. A semi-circle of Seminole warriors squatted on the
ground a few yards distant and talked together in low tones.

Presently two women came in, carrying a large kettle that swung on a
stick between them. They placed this on the table, and from its open
mouth protruded a single large spoon.

“When in Rome, you know—” smiled Osceola. “Help yourselves—take some,
Bill, and pass it on. If you must have knife and fork and plate, they
can be produced, but when I am with my people I like to conform to their
customs. Hope you don’t mind.”

“The community spoon for me, old top,” and Bill reached for it. “Is this
the national dish?”

“I reckon so. It’s a meat stew thickened with vegetables and meal. You
ought to find it pretty good.”

“I do,” sighed Bill, blowing on a piece of hot meat. “This is the best
grub I’ve tasted for a month of Sundays.”

“An’ could you all please hurry up an’ pass dat spoon,” Sam broke in
eagerly. “My mouf sure am waterin’ for dat stew and my stummick he say
‘hasten, brother, hasten’!”

All three enjoyed the feast immensely and it is to be feared that as the
stew grew cooler, fingers were quite as often in use as the common
spoon. Although it was still broad daylight when they found the bottom
of the pot, they turned in, on the table, and slept like logs, rolled up
in blankets, until morning.

The early sun came streaming in through the open front of Osceola’s
house. It shone in Bill’s face and woke him. He stretched, yawned and
sat up. The young chief and Sam were going through the same motions at
opposite ends of the table.

“Morning, men!” he saluted them, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Am I
still dreaming, Osceola, or has your village grown during the night?
There seem to be three or four times as many people around.”

The chief swung off his table bed. “There are probably five times as
many,” he answered. “The villages of my people are small, but there are
many of them. Last night, while we slept, signal fires flashed the news
of my return. Come along, and let’s get a wash before breakfast.
Afterward, there will be a big pow-wow. I am going to put my plan up to
the warriors. You can do likewise.”

“But I can’t speak Seminole,” Bill reminded him as they started toward
the shore.

“Don’t worry, this conference will be held in English. You see,” he
explained, “our villages only run to a few families because an island
can support only a few people. Over there, beyond those trees, you will
find a clearing where our crops are raised; corn, squashes, sweet
potatoes, sugar-cane and so on. As you may have noticed, chickens and
razor-back hogs run about wild.”

“Oh, yes, and in all the big cities of Florida, too,” said Bill with a
straight face. Then they both roared with laughter at Sam’s perplexed
frown.

“Humph! You tryin’ to joke dis nigger,” the darkey rolled his eyes, “but
dat’s over my head, suh, over my head!”

“You think it is now, but you’ll see!” warned Bill with a twinkling
grin. Then he joined Osceola in his morning ablutions.

An hour after breakfast, the men of the tribe gathered in the open space
between the shore and the village. They sat in a wide circle on the
ground, with their squaws and children in the background. Bill and Sam,
led by Osceola, were escorted to places in the center of this group. The
young chief lighted a long pipe of tobacco, took a puff of the pungent
smoke and passed it to his white friend. Bill choked over the pipe, then
handed it to Sam. From the old negro it went the round of the braves.

When the pipe was laid aside, a deep silence fell over the gathering,
broken only by the raucous call of birds in the treetops, or the sudden
splash of a leaping fish. This lasted for fully ten minutes, then
Osceola arose and with quiet dignity began to speak. This time he used
English, and in simple words, but with the art of the born story-teller
that seems inherent in all tribes of North American Indians, he told the
tale of his disappearance from the village.

First he spoke of his capture by the Martinengo gang, and how he had
been taken to Shell Island. Then came his trip by plane with other
prisoners to the gold diggings in the Cypress Swamp. In graphic language
he told of his slavedom and of the pitiless cruelty of his taskmasters.

Outwardly calm, the warriors of his tribe sat listening with faces
devoid of all expression. Yet if one looked closely, one saw clenched
fists and tightened muscles, and could realize that this stoic behavior
was but a poise that was part and parcel of their tribal training.
Actually these Seminoles resented keenly the insult which had been
placed upon their young chief. Sometime in the future their deeds would
prove their loyalty—now, he must not be interrupted, he had more to
tell.

Osceola then went on to describe the coming of Bill, the feeling of the
overseer, their subsequent escape and the crash of the amphibian.

“My white brother who sits beside me here,” he concluded, “downed the
man who struck me, thereby risking not only death for his act, but the
terrible torture of the lash. He is an officer in the White Father’s
great navy, a flyer of airplanes, a person of importance among his own
people; yet he did that for a Seminole he had known less than a day.
Without his knowledge of flying, escape from the Great Cypress would
have been impossible: and again, when death at the hands of those
gangsters stared us in the face aboard the flying ship, he arranged for
the safety of this black man and myself while he stayed behind to battle
with them. That is why I take him by the hand now and thank him in the
name of the once-great Seminole nation!”

“How! how!” chanted the warriors, while Osceola bent down and grasped
Bill’s hand.

“Now,” he continued, his thrilling tones chaining the eyes of his
audience to him, “what are we going to do? Are we going to sit quietly
on our islands, and let these devils incarnate continue to enslave our
brothers and other defenseless people? Have we become women now that the
number of our braves is small? Have we forgotten the deeds of our heroes
in the past? Are we content to stand aside, content to let this scum
from the big cities offer insult day by day to our once proud nation?
Answer me—are we men—or something more pitiful than the weakest of
women?”

“We are men!!” shouted the braves, a hundred hands beating the air while
their voices rang resonantly in the stillness. “Lead us, Great Chief. We
will follow!”

“Good. Go to your homes now. Come back here on the third day from this.
Let every man come armed for battle and let him come with food that will
last for a week. Go now my brothers, warriors of the Great Seminole
Nation—I have spoken.”

Without a word, the men got to their feet, collected their wives and
children, and launched their dugout canoes.

“Now let’s hear your plan of campaign,” suggested Bill, as he and
Osceola stood watching the departing flotilla. “That was some speech you
made just now, even though you did lay it on a bit thick about me. I’m
keen to know exactly what you intend to do, now that you’ve got your
little army in back of you.”



CHAPTER XVI—THE ADVANCE


“I told those chaps of mine not to come back here until the third day,”
said Osceola, “because they will need a couple of days at least to
prepare for an expedition of the kind I have in mind.”

“I shouldn’t think it ought to take them that long—what have they got to
do?”

“Oh, paint themselves for battle, for one thing. Have a war dance or
two, and a lot of the same. You must remember that my people are only
semi-civilized. The only way that anyone can control them is to let them
go their own way, when it comes to tribal customs, that do no one any
harm. Buck that sort of thing—and you are out of luck—good and plenty!”

“What do you mean?”

“Simply that if I tried to ‘convert’ them, they’d have little use for
me—dead or alive.”

“You mean they’d do away with you?”

“Literally, yes.” Osceola laughed at the expression on Bill’s face. “But
don’t worry—I understand them, and so long as I let them alone, they’ll
love me. Anyway, you and Sam and I can do with a couple of days’ rest,
you know, before we start out for the Big Cypress.”

“I agree with you on that. Gee, this sun is getting hotter than hot. How
about going up to your abode? I haven’t sprung my idea yet.”

“Why, that’s so, old man. Certainly, come along—I want to hear what
you’ve got to say.”

Once in the dim shelter of the chief’s house, the two sat cross-legged
on the central table and Bill opened the conversation.

“Where’s Sam?”

Osceola shook his head amusedly. “Gone off to see how the squaws make
that stew. We don’t need him. Spill the good old beans, Bill.”

“Well—your plan is to take your fighting men across the Glades and clean
out the diggings, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. Of course the details must still be arranged, but we have
plenty of time to work them up before we start. Have you any suggestions
to make?”

“Why not tackle the island first?”

“Yes, I thought of that. But it’s a bigger and harder job than the
workings. Over in the cypress swamps we can come down on the stockade at
night and surprise them. Shell Island is quite another proposition.
There’s only one entrance to the place,—the bay. And the Martinengos
keep it well guarded. The rest of the coastline is one continuous
palisade of unscalable cliffs.”

“But that’s where you’re wrong!” cried Bill. “There is a spot where the
cliffs can be climbed—_and, not even the Martinengos know of it!_”

Osceola looked his amazement. “How did you get on to it?”

“Through Sam. He was a house servant, he tells me, for the bosses on
Shell Island for several years. Gradually he became a trusty. They gave
him the run of the island, and while off duty one day he discovered this
place in his rambles. He says that there is a small, sandy beach at the
foot of the cliff, and that any active man can climb up or down without
a great deal of trouble. He has done it himself, so he ought to know.”

“Well, that throws a little different light on the picture. I’d
certainly like to clean out that nest of cutthroats—but it’s a big job.
I hadn’t contemplated doing anything like that. My plan was to free
those poor devils who are slaving in the Big Cypress—but——”

“Why not do the thing up brown, while we’re at it? Of course, I needn’t
tell you my main motive is to release my father. And incidentally to be
revenged on the brains of this outfit—the Martinengos. By Jove, man,
I’ve hardly dared think about Dad—let alone mention him—when I picture
him in that filthy dungeon——” Bill’s voice broke and he clenched his
fists on his knees.

“Naturally, Bill, I understand that. And I am with you every bit of the
way. But I feel that we must reason it out very carefully—we dare not
fail, either way.”

“But how can we? With Dad free and Shell Island in our hands, we could
clean up the other place properly!”

Osceola shook his head thoughtfully. “It’s a long, long hike from the
island to the gold workings—twice as far from there as it is from here.
Even if we are able to capture the island, some of the men are sure to
slip through our hands, get away in one of the planes, perhaps and by
the time we travel on to Big Cypress, that gang there will have been
warned, they’ll be ready and waiting for us. The chances are, in that
case, we’d be cleaned out. A surprise attack is one thing, Bill, but a
pitched battle with trained gunsters—I’d simply be throwing away the
lives of my men who trust me. No, I can’t see it.”

Bill slid off the table and stood facing his friend. “But you are
leaving Dad out of the picture!”

“What do you mean?”

“Dad has influence in Washington. The President is a personal friend of
his. Our job is to clean up the island. Then he will get the U. S.
government to step in—and they will attend to the Big Cypress business
themselves. You see? I should have told you this in the beginning, but I
guess I was sort of hazy when I got thinking about Dad.”

The Seminole clapped him on the shoulder. “That,” he said heartily, “is
a bird of another color, Bill! And I was worried about my men. Your plan
is approved and accepted without question! Now, let’s forget the whole
business until my Seminoles come back here. I don’t think I’ve ever been
quite so tired as I am at this minute. Just remember that those workings
are not any health resort. I’m all in—and I’m going to sleep until I’m
called for dinner.”

“And I’m going to do the same thing. Isn’t that a hammock over there
between those palms? Me for it. You may find a wooden table comfortable
to retire on, but as Sam says—‘Unh-unh! Not _me!_’ Your hospitality is
lavish—but after last night I ache from head to foot. Does the mighty
chief mind if his humble servant retires to the hammock?”

“If I had a shoe I’d throw it,” laughed Osceola. “For goodness’ sake,
take the hammock, and anything else you want. On your way—I’m sound
asleep!”

Sunrise two days later saw a flotilla of Indian dugouts drawn up on the
shore of the Seminole’s island. The squaws of the little community had
been up half the night cooking, and now the warriors were busily
consuming what would probably constitute their last hot meal for some
time to come.

There were about sixty braves all told. Gone now were their brightly
colored tunics and head-dresses. The entire band had stripped to a
loin-cloth, and the face and body of each man was painted in designs of
his own fancy. All heads were shaven clean except for the scalp lock,
which was decorated with a single feather of the red heron. Each brave
carried a rifle, knife and tomahawk.

After they had eaten their fill, Osceola lined them up on the shore and
spoke a few words to them in their own language. Bill stood beside him
and viewed the little army with keen interest. Never had he seen such a
fearsome group. They brought to mind pictures of the frontier days in
the old West. If these fellows were really as fierce as they looked, he
thought it boded ill for the Martinengos and their gunmen.

When Osceola had finished his harangue, the band of warriors commenced
to board their canoes.

“Where in the world is Sam?” Bill asked the chief as they walked toward
the handsome dugout that was Osceola’s private property.

“Here I is, suh!”

A painted savage broke from the embrace of a squaw twice his size and
girth, and came running up to them.

“Good Lord, Sam! Where are your clothes?” The chief stared at him in
open-mouthed astonishment.

“Ise a Seminole brave, now!” proudly announced the darkey. “Lil Eva, she
done fix me up last night!”

“Little Eva!” exploded Bill. “That squaw must weigh two hundred and
fifty!”

“Yas, suh! Fine woman. We gwine to git married when I come back from
killin’ off dem gangsters. She say dat I’m her fightin’ man now—an’ I
b’leeve I cert’nly do look like one.” He admired his painted chest,
grinning from ear to ear.

Bill and Osceola looked at one another and roared with laughter. “Well,
it’s okay with me, Sam,” declared the chief. “Hop aboard with your
armory. It’s time we were on our way. Lucky there are some blankets in
the canoe,” he added as he shoved off and sprang in after them, “you’ll
probably need several before we get through with this picnic.”

The chief’s dugout, with Bill, Sam and Osceola wielding the paddles,
shot swiftly down the waterway. The flotilla of canoes closed in single
file behind. At last the expedition was under way.

The journey south through the Everglades seemed but a repetition of
their former trip to Bill. The same endless stretches of sawgrass,
intersected by lily-choked waterleads swept out to a low horizon.
Occasional islands covered with a dense jungle of brilliant green
provided the only variation in the monotonous landscape. The sun swam in
cloudless skies, pouring down a heat that burned Bill’s flesh and sapped
his vitality. The others, if they minded the terrific discomfort,
appeared to ignore it. But Bill was thoroughly glad when at the
beginning of the third day, they left the Everglades behind and paddled
slowly down the broad bosom of a winding bayou.

That night the little army camped on the shore near the mouth of this
arm of the sea.

“We’ll rest up tomorrow and plan the details,” said Osceola, as they sat
by their campfire that evening. “Shell Island lies out there—about
fifteen miles away. So far, so good. I, for one, am going to turn in
now.”

“Call me at noon,” grunted Bill. “This may be my last sleep on earth—and
it’s going to be a good one.”



CHAPTER XVII—THE ATTACK


For some hours earth and water had been bathed in the semi-darkness of a
misty night when the Seminole canoes issued from the broad mouth of the
bayou. The stench of the mangrove swamps behind them still hung heavy in
the lifeless air, and as they advanced, a thick gray fog crept in from
the sea. Soon the trailing folds of vapor rolled in opaque clouds along
the water, and hovered, damp and billowing, over the moving flotilla.

Osceola shouted an order in Seminole and a moment later, the bow of a
canoe nosed beside the stern of the leading dugout.

“Stop paddling!” he commanded, and his two companions obeyed. “I told
the men to close up in single file,” he explained to Bill and Sam. “It
is easy to go astray in a fog like this.”

“You said a mouthful,” returned Bill. “And the first thing you know
we’ll be heading back to the mainland. There’s not a compass in the
whole outfit.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll see that we get to Shell Island all
right.”

“Well, you’ve got your hands full,” retorted his friend. “How do you
expect to guide us? I can’t see three feet overside.”

“By instinct—an extra sense, perhaps, you would call it. No man of my
race ever loses his bump of direction.”

From the fog behind them came the hoot of a nightbird.

“All set—let’s go!” Osceola dipped his paddle. “No talking, please, from
now on. Voices carry a long way over the water, you know.”

For the better part of the next three hours, the long line of dugouts
forged ahead through the heavy blanket of sea fog. Once more, the
journey seemed endless to Bill. His nerves were tingling with the
thought of the night’s work ahead. Would Osceola be able to guide them
to the island? The chief paddled steadily onward, seemingly never at a
loss as to the direction his little craft should take.

Gradually this confidence was imparted to the white lad. They would
succeed ... they must. Yet these Seminoles were but untrained aborigines
at best. Would they be able to overcome the white men, professionals,
only too well versed in all the exigencies of gang warfare? To the
Seminoles this expedition meant merely a matter of revenge, an insult to
wipe out. To Bill it meant the life and liberty of his father. They must
succeed, he told himself desperately, for the twentieth time—they
_would_ succeed.

The fog grew less dense. A few straggling wisps of mist played round the
line of canoes and were gone. From out the murk came the dull roar of
surf breaking on a rocky shore. Then suddenly the grayish white of
cliffs loomed up straight ahead.

From Osceola’s throat came the raucous screech of an owl. As one man the
flotilla stopped moving.

“Shell Island,” the chief whispered. “The path up the cliffs is yonder,
to the left. You go to the right, Bill. You know my plans, and I know
yours.”

“O—and likewise, K.” Bill’s voice was husky with excitement, though he
strove to keep it casual. “Good luck and good hunting, old man.”

“Good luck, Bill.”

They clasped hands, and an instant later, the canoe following drew
alongside. Bill immediately changed places with the Indian who had been
paddling in the stern. He placed his rifle carefully on the bottom of
the canoe and grasping his paddle, swung the craft round to the right.
Three more canoes fell into line behind him, and the four left the main
flotilla and headed off to the westward, keeping the cliffs and the
pounding surf off their port quarter.

Bill’s canoes pushed swiftly ahead over the long ground swell until
three quarters of an hour later, the narrow entrance to the bay was in
sight. Now their pace slackened, the dip of their paddles in the quiet
water became barely perceptible, and hugging the deep shadow of the
cliff, the canoes glided into the bay like dark water wraiths on a jet
black background.

The sky was overcast, the visibility poor, but Bill could make out the
night lights of Martinengo’s yacht. Nearby floated a large amphibian,
evidently a sister ship of the one wrecked in the Glades. Tied up to the
concrete pier was a smaller seaplane.

For a moment they rested on their paddles. Then at a sign from Bill, the
other three canoes made off silently for the yacht.

Bill pointed his own craft for the amphibian. He doubted that a harbor
watch would be kept aboard the plane, and in this he found his surmise
correct. Drawing alongside, he made the canoe fast to an interplane
strut, and motioned to his two companions to climb aboard.

While the Seminoles searched the hull, Bill busied himself with the
engine. He removed two spark plugs, and disconnected the joints in the
pipe line at both the fuel tank and carburetor. When he had finished the
Seminoles reported that there was no crew aboard.

Bill nodded his satisfaction and the Indians followed him back into the
canoe. Their next port of call was the seaplane, moored to the pier,
where the same performance took place. When this aircraft had also been
put out of commission, they turned their attention to the yacht.

As his canoe slid close to the long, black hull of Martinengo’s palatial
craft, Bill dimly discerned the dark blotches on the waterline below the
overhang of the stern. An instant later, his canoe nosed in among the
Indian dugouts.

Not a word was spoken. Except for the lap of wavelets against the
yacht’s hull, and stentorian snores from somewhere above their heads,
the night was peculiarly silent. From afar came the dull boom of the
surf. Then they heard the _pop-pop_ of rifle fire from the interior of
the island, more than a mile away.

Bill faced about. “If these gunsters show fight, shoot to kill!” he
hissed in a tense whisper. “But if a man throws down his arms, he is to
be bound and held prisoner. I will have no murdering of unarmed men. And
anyone who disobeys this order will be shot out of hand by me. Am I
understood?”

He was answered by a low chorus of grunts.

“Then—let’s go!”

Leaving but one man to guard the canoes, the little band swarmed over
the low bulwarks and on to the yacht’s deck. The sailor on watch was
roused from his slumbers to find himself held fast by painted savages.
Before he was sufficiently awake to shout for help an oily rag was
thrust into his mouth. Then while one Seminole knotted a scarf about his
face to keep the gag in place, he was trussed up with rope from the coil
on which he had been sleeping. His bonds were further secured to a
ringbolt in the decking and then he was abandoned.

At a word from Bill, four Indians entered the companionway amidship,
while he and the others hurried on to the forecastle entrance. He found
the door closed, jerked it open and ran down a steep flight of steps.
His hand groped along the wall in the darkness, there came the click of
a switch and the quarters of the crew sprang into view. A table ran down
the middle of the long, narrow cabin, and twelve bunks lined the walls,
six on either side. Eight of these were occupied.

Bill’s words came sharp as the crack of a pistol.

“Hands in the air! Legs overside—and stay put!”

The man in the second bunk on the right reached stealthily under his
pillow, and flashed an automatic into sight, while Bill’s eyes raked the
other side of the cabin. But before the sailor could crook his trigger
finger, Bill felt an object whizz past his head from the rear, and to
his astonishment, he saw the man crumple as though struck by lightning.
The dead body fell to the floor. Imbedded in the middle of the man’s
forehead was a Seminole tomahawk.

This summary piece of justice evidently cowed the other forecastle
hands, for they offered no resistance. They were led on deck and
effectively bound with rope and laid in a row beside the deck watch.

Bill did not wholly trust his Seminoles to keep to the promise he had
extracted from them. In their eyes this night’s work was a vendetta, war
to the death, vengeance to be atoned by blood alone. They had come here
to kill or be killed. He felt almost certain that they would murder
these prisoners if given the slightest provocation. Therefore he
remained on deck until the last gunster was laid beside his fellows,
before going below. As it was, he met the men he had sent down to the
cabins as he entered the companionway.

“Anybody down there?” he asked brusquely.

“Great Chief, there _were_ three white men,” the leader said slowly.

“Where are they?”

“They were foolish enough to fight, Great Chief. They have gone to the
Happy Hunting Ground. We have brought their scalps.”

Bill turned away in disgust. Yet there was nothing he could do. Censure
at this stage of the game would be sure to provoke mutiny. If he
upbraided these savages for acts which according to their code were acts
of justice, they would probably throw off his leadership and massacre
the remaining prisoners.

“Yellow Wing!” he beckoned to a subchief. “You and Long Snake will stay
here with these men. You will be accountable to Chief Osceola for their
safety. The rest of us will take three of the canoes and go ashore.”

Bill knew that this order did not please the two Indians, but they made
no comment, and he led his group overside.

At the concrete pier he left another Indian on guard, and then, followed
by the remainder of his band, hastened up the road to the top of the
cliff. Ever since they had heard the report of the first gun, the firing
in the middle of the island had been practically continuous.
Occasionally it would lessen for a few seconds, to break out in fresh
bursts directly afterward. Now, as they ran along the road which led
down into the broad valley of the island, the firing became more
intermittent, and at last died away altogether.

They entered the belt of woods and were traveling along the winding
roadway at a trot when the sound of rifles broke out afresh. This time,
the volleys seemed to come from the woods ahead. The party stopped and
listened.

“They’re getting nearer,” muttered Bill, after a moment.

“White Man retreating along this road, Red Man following, Great Chief,”
declared an elderly Seminole at Bill’s side.

“How do you know they are White Men, Straight Arrow?”

“Those nearest us wear white men’s boots, Great Chief. No Seminole makes
noise like that when he runs.”

Bill could hear nothing except the firing, but it never occurred to him
to doubt the keen-eared Indian’s word.

“Into the woods!” he commanded. “And don’t fire until you hear me
whistle!”

The dark shadows of his savage allies seemed to melt into the forest.
Bill slid behind the trunk of a palm, from where he had an unobstructed
view of the turn in the road beyond. He could hear the sound of running
footsteps now. The reports of rifles came nearer and nearer.

Finally a band of fifteen or twenty men appeared around the bend. In the
darkness of the dense woods it was difficult to distinguish objects
clearly, but Bill saw that four of the men bore a burden, and as they
got well past the turn in the road, they stopped and lowered it to the
ground. Immediately afterward the trip hammer detonations of a machine
gun shattered the night.

There came a flash and a sharp report from the woods on the opposite
side of the road. The machine-gunner fell sideways, clutching his
shoulder. Another took the wounded man’s place. Before Bill could purse
his lips to whistle, first one side of the road, then the other were
raked with a hail of lead.

Bill could hear the bullets pinging into the soft palm that sheltered
him. He dropped to the ground and lying flat, opened fire with his
rifle, while the gangsters’ bullets went on singing above his head.
Flashes lit the woods continuously in every direction now, and the night
was made hideous by the bloodcurdling yells of the Seminoles.

Then another and heavier burst of firing came from the bend of the road.
The machine gun was suddenly silenced. The few gangsters that were left
turned and fled toward the bay.

Out of the woods leapt painted demons, shouting war cries. The cornered
gunmen wheeled and fought like frenzied rats. No quarter was asked or
given. Presently the Indians returned to the machine gun.

Bill stood in the middle of the road, his rifle at the ready.

“The first who touches one of these wounded gets a bullet from me!” He
shouted menacingly at the Seminoles, who, he knew were bent on taking
their trophy.

“And I’m with you on that, Bill!”

Osceola ran up, accompanied by his band of painted henchmen, and
immediately reeled off a series of fiercely shouted gutterals in
Seminole.

“That will hold them for a while,” he added in English to Bill.
“There’ll be no scalping if I can stop it.—Sam! Where’s that nigger?” he
raised his voice.

“Here I is, Marse Osceola. Here I is, suh. ’Fore de Lord, I ain’t
scalped a prizner!”

“Oh, shut up, and pass over that electric torch you’ve been carrying for
me. I want to get an idea of the damage done here.”

“Yas, suh, boss! Here it am, suh.” Sam was still stuttering as he handed
Osceola the flashlight. “Truly, I ain’t done no scalpin’ tonight,
Marse——”

“Keep still—or I’ll scalp you!” The chief switched on the light. “Well,
if you caught the lads afloat,” he said to Bill, “this is the last of
the gang ashore.”

“You mean they’re all wiped out?”

“Well, hardly. Some are, of course, a good number, too. But the live
ones are under lock and key in the jail.”

“But Osceola—did you find Dad?” Bill’s voice was trembling with
eagerness.

“Sorry, old man—he’s not on the island.”

“What! Don’t tell me he’s dead?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. I captured the barracks boss, who seems to
be a pretty sound egg. He says that Martinengo left for the workings in
Big Cypress—it seems he is a trained pilot. He took your own plane, and
forced your father to go with him.”



CHAPTER XVIII—BIG CYPRESS AGAIN


Three o’clock on the afternoon of the next day found the two young men
standing on the concrete pier, watching the narrow entrance to the bay.
Beside them stood the old negro, Sam, an incongruous figure in his war
paint, and armed to the teeth.

“Here they come!” cried Bill, as two wicked-looking destroyers, belching
smoke from their squat funnels, glided into the harbor. “The old U. S.
Navy is pretty prompt, once it gets started, eh? That isn’t bad time at
all from Key West!”

“Lucky we were able to reach them by phone. That second ship is letting
go her anchor. The one in the lead seems to be making for this pier.”

“I told them there was plenty of water,” said Bill, and they waited
where they were until the destroyer laid alongside and made fast. A
young man whose smart white uniform bore the black and gold shoulder
stripes of a lieutenant-commander ran lightly across the gangway. He was
followed by a chief petty officer and a file of men carrying rifles.
Bill and Osceola stepped forward to meet them.

“Who’s in command here?” inquired the officer.

“I am, sir.” Bill stood stiffly at attention. He did not salute. It is
not Naval etiquette to do so unless one is in uniform, wearing one’s
cap.

“Mr. Bolton, I take it,” smiled the officer. “My name is Bellinger. If
it’s okay with you, Mr. Bolton, I’ll take over now?”

“Please do.” They shook hands.

Bill then introduced Osceola and gave Commander Bellinger a brief report
of his experiences during the past ten days.

“We’ve buried the dead gunsters,” he ended, “and the live ones are
safely housed in their own jail.”

“My word!” exclaimed the Commander. “You chaps have certainly put in an
interesting summer vacation—if not a very pleasant one! You’ve seen more
scrapping in a few days than I have since the Armistice!”

“The Seminoles were a bit difficult to control, sir,” Bill went on
rather hesitantly.

Commander Bellinger nodded. “I’ll bet they were. Probably scalped a few
of the gunmen, eh? Well, what I don’t know won’t go into my report. The
fortunes of war, you know. But I want you to understand now, Bolton,
that the report won’t do _you_ any harm with the Superintendent of the
Naval Academy—quite the reverse, in fact. Both you and Chief Osceola
have done well—very well indeed. And,” he added, “I think we’d better
look over this gangster outfit. You’ll want to start your hop soon, I
suppose.”

Bill nodded as they walked toward the hill.

“I have orders to meet a squadron of seaplanes from Pensacola Air
Station at four o’clock in Whitewater Bay, sir.”

“How long will it take you to fly over there?”

“Something under an hour, sir. With your permission I’d like the small
Loening moored out yonder, and take Chief Osceola with me.”

“That’s okay with me, Bolton. But we’ll have to get going with this
inspection. Before you leave I’ll give you the admiral’s orders, and
another envelope which you will turn over to Commander Thomson when you
meet the seaplane squadron.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered Bill, and the three breasted the winding road
up the cliff.

                                  ————

Bill pushed forward the stick, at the same time he cut his gun and the
Loening amphibian he was piloting shot downward. Far below, the
island-studded waters of Whitewater Bay sparkled in the summer sunlight.
Lying on its quiet bosom like great waterbugs with wings spread were the
five seaplanes of the Navy Squadron moored in simple V-formation. Even
at that distance, Bill could make out the difference in design of the
flying boats.

“Three Boeing PB-1’s,” he announced into the mouthpiece of his
headphone. “The other two are PN-10’s.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” answered Osceola. “It’s all Greek to me.
But how can you tell them apart at this distance?”

“Easily enough—knowing their construction. The PB boats have a tandem
engine mounting, for one thing. Can’t talk now—this has got to be a good
landing. We’ve a bunch of experts watching us.”

He brought his stick slowly backward, bringing up the nose to level.
Then he applied right aileron and simultaneously increased right rudder
considerably. When the desired bank was reached, he checked the wing
with the ailerons and at the same time eased the pressure on the rudder.

When the plane swung round so that it headed directly into the wind,
Bill applied left aileron and left rudder. With wings level once more,
he neutralized the ailerons and applied a normal amount of right rudder
to steady her.

Once more he nosed over, and this time the Loening sped downward on a
straight path into the wind, at an angle of 45 degrees. At a point
equidistant from the two rear seaplanes of the moored squadron, Bill
leveled off. A moment later, with hardly a splash his plane caressed the
water and glided forward under its own momentum until it came to rest
directly aft of the squadron’s leading seaplane.

Bill loosened the chinstrap of his helmet, as a figure in a monkeysuit
walked out on the lower wing section of the big PB boat, and waved.

“That you, Bolton?”

“Good afternoon, Commander. I’ve got the admiral’s orders aboard.”

“Good enough,” returned Commander Thomson. “Nose that Loening over here
and let me have them. That was a smart landing you made just now. You’re
a credit to your old instructor!”

“Aye, aye, sir,” replied Bill, with a wink at Osceola, and did as he was
bid.

“And I notice you haven’t lost your nerve, either,” smiled the Commander
as he took the long blue envelope that Bill handed him. “Cheek is a
better word, perhaps.”

“I never try to correct my superior officer,” laughed Bill, and they
shook hands.

Commander Thomson slit the envelope and read the message.

“The Old Man says you are to lead us over,” he announced. “And I take it
you know what to do when we get there.”

“Yes, sir. Received instructions from Commander Bellinger. I’ve got the
letter in my pocket. He sent his best regards to you, sir.”

“Good old Pat. I bet he’d give half a stripe to be with us. We’ll shove
off directly. Run your boat up to thirty-five hundred and retain that
altitude until you zoom the stockade. Then climb until you are above us
and don’t land until you see me on the water. Got that?”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Let’s go, then. Good luck!”

“Same to you, Commander.”

Bill returned to the cockpit of his plane and presently the Loening was
taxiing ahead, preparatory to her take-off.

Once in the air, he climbed to the prescribed thirty-five hundred feet.
A sharp flipper turn brought the little amphibian on a compass course
slightly west of north. Directly on his tail came Commander Thomson’s
PB-1, with the other four planes of the squadron bringing up the rear in
V-formation.

Bill, of course, did not know the exact location in Big Cypress of
Martinengo’s gold diggings, but here Osceola’s uncanny bump of direction
came into play once more. Not ever did the young Seminole appear at a
loss. On they sped, straight as an arrow shot from a bow.

The sun was three-quarters down the horizon when they caught sight of
the lagoon in the cypress swamp, with the stockade close beside it. They
had timed their arrival to a nicety. The prisoners had just been locked
up for the night and their guards were going to supper.

Forward went Bill’s stick and he dived for the buildings with a wide
open throttle. He caught a fleeting glimpse of figures running on the
open quadrangle that seemed rushing up to meet him. Then back came his
stick again. The Loening bucked like a frightened bronco and zoomed
upward a bare fifty feet above Mother Earth. As she rose, a weighted
letter was dropped overboard.

Again Bill climbed, until his plane reached an altitude of possibly a
hundred feet above the squadron, which had changed its formation and was
now flying in a continuous circle, high above the stockade. Bill leveled
off and sent his plane into a series of reverse control turns known as
figure eights.

Less than five minutes later, the two in the Loening saw a procession of
men form in front of the bosses’ headquarters. From there they marched
two by two out of the stockade and down the corduroy to the dock. One of
the leaders carried a white flag.

Bill reached for a pair of fieldglasses and clapped them to his eyes.

“Martinengo’s in front, with the flag!” he cried into the mouthpiece of
his phone, nearly deafening Osceola in his excitement. “And yes—that’s
Dad—beside him! Gee whiz! If I was a Frenchman, I could kiss the old
Admiral! His letter did the trick, Osceola. That old boy is some
humdinger!”

“Wonder what he said in it. It certainly brought them out in a hurry.”

Bill laughed. “Bellinger let me read it. Short and to the point—that’s
the Navy. It read: ‘You are through, Martinengo. Walk down to the dock
with your men—unarmed. Bring Mr. Bolton with you. My planes are bombers.
Charles S. Black, Rear Admiral, U. S. N.’”

“Short and sweet, and very _much_ to the point!” laughed Osceola. Two
seaplanes glided down out of the circular formation below them.

“There goes the skipper,” exclaimed Bill. “It’s about time we went down
and you were introduced to Dad.”

“Okay, boy, but watch your step. We don’t want to crack up now when
everything’s turned out so beautifully.”

“Unh-unh—Not me!” grinned Bill, and nosed her over.

                                  ————

Those who have liked this story will be interested in the next book of
this series, _Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish_.


                                The End.





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